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NAACP: Tea Party has ties to racist groups

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse

The “Tea Party,” the recently organized national group led in part by failed vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, has close links to white supremacists, anti-immigrant groups and independent militias, claims a new report by the NAACP.  

Released last week, the report documents the Tea Party movement’s racist elements and comes months after the NAACP called upon the movement’s leadership to repudiate racism within its own ranks.

In the report, the NAACP explores the roots, structure, finances and beliefs of the six most active Tea Party organizations across the country — Freedom Works Tea Party,  1776 Tea Party, ResistNet Tea Party, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express.

Drawing upon government documents, interviews, opinion poll data and Tea Party literature from online publications to e-mails, newsletters, blog posts and tweets, the report paints a troubling portrait of racism embedded within the Tea Party movement.

According to the report, the Tea Party movement has unapologetically linked itself and provided a platform to “known racists and anti-Semites,” like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, author Martin “Red” Beckman and Pastor John Weaver. While these three men are not Tea Party leaders, they have spoken and recruited at Tea Party events, using their ideas to generate support for the movement.

But the racist feelings go beyond just a few outspoken individuals, the report explains. Opinion poll data of Tea Party attendees reveals that racial animosity permeates the entire membership.

While the majority of Tea Partiers are white, their views on racially-charged issues differ considerably from white Americans in general. For instance, 52 percent of Tea Partiers believe that “too much” has been made of the problems that face blacks, while only 39 percent of white Americans think the same. Of those who strongly disagree with the Tea Party, 55 percent agree that blacks are “very hard working,” while only 18 percent of those who strongly approve of the Tea Party think so.

Moreover, 73 percent of Tea Party supporters stated that government programs aiming to provide a safety net for the poor actually encourage them to remain in poverty. The same percentage of Tea Party supporters said that Obama does not understand the “needs and problems of people like you,” and an even higher number, 75 percent, said the president does not “share the values most Americans try to live by.”

According to the NAACP, the Tea Party movement began in December of 2007, on the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, when Texas Congressman Ron Paul held a “tea party moneybomb” to raise money for his 2008 presidential bid. But the movement gained steam in 2009 — just weeks after the inauguration of President Obama.

Dozens of conservative grassroots organizations soon started to pop up under the Tea Party name. All called for smaller government, lower taxes, and balancing the budget deficit. But underneath this fiscal conservatism, The NAACP reported, the Tea Party is “permeated with concerns about race and national identity.”

National opinion polls put Tea Party support between 16 and 18 percent of the adult population, placing the number of its backers in the tens of millions.

Several Tea Party leaders have accused Obama’s presidency as being illegitimate, claiming he is not an American-born citizen. “Where’s the birth certificate?” tweeted

Pam Farnsworth, the marketing director of Tea Party Nation.

Islamophobia is also manifest in the Tea Party, the report claims. “Islam is a dangerous and savage culture that must either be tamed to live among us or be excluded to the wild corners of the Earth,” wrote Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams in his book “Taking Back American One Tea Party At A Time.”

Immigration is another issue the Tea Party places high on its agenda. In August of this year, the Tea Party Nation emailed its members: “If you have been the victim of a crime by an illegal, or if your business has gone under because your competition uses illegals, or if you have lost your job to illegals, we want to know about it.”

“If you have photos and videos of illegals or their supporters doing outrageous things (like burning the American flag or putting the Mexican flag above ours, or showing racist posters), please share those as well,” the email continued.

Tea Partiers have also come out in support of Arizona’s new immigration law, and in Congress, have pushed the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009, which would end birthright citizenship to the children of parents without papers — a direct challenge to the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause.

But Tea Party leadership has consistently maintained its innocence in the face of accusations of racism. After Tea Partiers hurled racial slurs and spat upon black members of Congress in March of 2010, including U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D.-Ga., who as a civil rights worker was beaten by police during the “Bloody Selma” march, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. and founder of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus, denied the incident ever occurred.

And after the NAACP’s July 2010 call for the Tea Party to repudiate racism in its ranks, Tea Party Patriots spokeswoman Jenny Beth Martin issued a statement that said, “A few offensive posters or obnoxious remarks of one person DO NOT represent the feelings or behavior of the Tea Party movement.”

Further, the “NAACP has a long history of racism,” she argued.

But the NAACP has remained steadfast in its opposition to Tea Party racism. “These groups and individuals are out there, and we ignore them at our own peril,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP in a statement.

“The danger is not that the majority of Tea Party members share their views, but that left unchecked, these extremists might indirectly influence the direction of the Tea Party and therefore the direction of our country: moving it backward and not forward,” Jealous continued.

But he was also careful not to condemn everyone involved in the movement. “We know the majority of Tea Party supporters are sincere, principled people of good will,” he wrote in the forward to the report.

 The report, “Tea Party Nationalism,” is a special report by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, authored by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind. It can be found at:  

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