New NAACP Report Puts the Heat on Tea Party Racism
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Professor, Howard University
The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights in conjunction with the NAACP released the report “Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size, Scope, and Function of Its National Factions”. According to the report it examines histories and the “corporate structure and leadership, finances, and membership concentrations” of “six of the national organizational networks at the core of the Tea Party Movement.” The six Tea Party organizational elements examined are the Freedom Works Tea Party, 1776 Tea Party, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, ResistNet and the Tea Party Express.
The report is very clear from the outset, “the majority of movement supporters are people of good will.” But, integrated into their calls for a reduction of the budget deficit, greater focus on the national debt, and smaller government are concerns about race, sexual orientation, national identity, national birth rights and who qualifies to be an American. As the Tea Party movement has taken shape amidst calls for less government, lower taxes, and less government spending; racist, white-nationalist, anti-immigrant, homophobic, and anti-Semitic elements have found their way into the “movement”.
The authors of the report use different methodologies to gather their data such as national opinion polls, Tea Party published literature and books, blog posts, tweets from Tea Partiers, hours of video from Tea Party events, and first hand accounts from attending Tea Party meetings, conventions and rallies across the country. They also conducted interviews with Tea Party members.
The report presents some very interesting findings. It estimates the size of the Tea Party movement to be between 16-18 percent of the adult population; putting the number of sympathizers in the tens of millions. This is considered the outer ring of support. The next level is a less defined group of a couple of million activists who go to meetings, buy literature, and attend national events. At the core is a group of 250,000 individuals who have signed on to the web sites of the six core groups in all 50 states.
The Movement is a vast array or loose affiliation of organizations, many listed above. It’s a “multimillion dollar complex that includes for-profit corporations, non-party non-profit organizations, and political action committees.” The 1776 Tea Party a.k.a TeaParty.org grew out of the anti-immigrant Minuteman Project. Tea Party Nation has grown from the “birthers” and Christian nationalist and nativist organizations. Many members of the Tea Party Patriots are calling to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution that allows for the direct election of U.S. Senators. Groups such as the Tea Party Express have made such vile racist pronouncements that other movement elements have distanced themselves from it.
One would think that based upon the Tea Party’s expressed concerns about the economy, national debt, and deficit spending that there would be a correlation between a rise in unemployment and an increase in movement membership. However, this report found no statistical link between movement membership and rising unemployment. A nationalist sense runs through many of these organizations that is focused on “Take it Back – Take Your Country Back”.
The idea of Tea Party Nationalism ties directly to Dr. Ronald Walters discussion of white nationalism, black interests and how many white conservatives perceive themselves as being under threat and are pursuing a politics and policies that directs resources towards their own interests (against social programs, too much government, etc.). The report states, “their storied opposition to political and social elites turns out to be predicated upon an antagonism to federal assistance to those deemed the “undeserving poor”. At the heart of a lot of their ire is the redistribution of wealth in America.
The language they use is very subtle, “We want our country back — Take it Back — Take Your Country Back.” As the dominant ethnic group; whites can speak in the context of “national interests” as code language for their own group interests. They can reward, punish, and so structure policy outcomes as to protect and enhance their own race based interests. According to Walters, “Given a condition where one race is dominant in all political institutions, most policy actions appear to take on an objective quality, where policy makers argue that they are acting on the basis of “national interests” rather than racial ones.” Even though many in the movement are outside of the system, the analysis holds true, the rhetoric is consistent.
There is a historical correlation between the Dixiecrats in 1948, Southern Democrats who left the Democratic Party over new civil rights planks that had been proposed for addition to the party platform and the modern day Tea Party. Will this movement result in a new party being formed as the Dixiecrats formed the State Rights Party in 1948 or will their politics translate or be absorbed into the politics of the Republican Party moving it further to the right?
Many in the Republican Party such as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich, former Congressmen Tom Tancredo and Dick Armey, and Republican spokesman Rush Limbaugh, play to the sentiments of the movement and court their voters. Others such as Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) try to keep their distance and not align themselves with the extreme and fringe elements of this movement. While RNC Chairman Michael Steele describes the Tea Party and Republican Party as ‘locked hand-in-hand’.
The report provides a clear historical presentation of the development of the Tea Party movement and the ideological struggles that are being waged within it. “The Tea Party movement has unleashed a still inchoate political movement who are in their numerical majority, angry middle-class white people who believe their country, their nation has been taken from them.”
Some such as The conservative Web site Daily Caller and Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns for Freedomworks — which supports many tea party groups are questioning organizations like the NAACP, Think Progress, Media Matters for America, and New Left Media for launching their web site TeaPartyTracker.org and the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights for publishing this report. Conservatives call this discussion of race and the Tea Party frustrating, divisive, unbalanced, and a distraction. Nothing could be further from the truth.
These issues are frustrating and divisive. In 2010 Americans still have to deal with Tea Party backed candidates such as Sharron Angle, U.S. Senate candidate in Nevada who thinks it’s appropriate to tell Hispanic students who questioned her campaign’s anti-illegal immigrant message, “You know, I don’t know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don’t know that …What we know, what we know about ourselves is that we are a melting pot in this country. My grandchildren are evidence of that. I’m evidence of that. I’ve been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly.”
If there are links between the Tea Party and racist hate groups as the report indicates, then, as former NAACP CEO and President Benjamin Jealous states, “These links should give all patriotic Americans pause.” The members and leadership of the Tea Party should “distance themselves from those Tea Party leaders who espouse racist ideas, advocate violence, or are affiliated with white supremacist organizations.” They have no place in our “one Nation under God”; they have no place in our politics.
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/Host of the call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University.