The charge of “racism” is one that the Tea Party movement would like to shake. In the past, it has dismissed the label as only representing a few of its members on the fringe.
However, the issue surfaced again on Wednesday when the NAACP – which made news in July when it asked the Tea Party to repudiate racist elements within its ranks – issued a report that details associations between Tea Party organizations and hate groups in this country.
In a conference call with journalists, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said that while there are policy disagreements, the civil rights group has “no problem with the Tea Party expressing their views in their great debate in our great democracy.” The majority of Tea Party members “are sincere,” and some are also in the NAACP, he said.
“We do however have a problem when prominent Tea Party members” use Tea Party events to recruit people for white supremacist groups, Jealous said. The NAACP is urging leadership and members of the Tea Party movement to take additional steps to distance themselves from those Tea Party leaders “who espouse racist ideas, advocate violence, or are formally affiliated with white supremacist organizations.”
He said the expulsion of Mark Williams of Tea Party Express was a step in the right direction, but said that Williams had been making controversial statements long before he was ousted for writing a mocking letter suggesting that blacks preferred life under slavery.
Some Tea Party leaders condemned the report, accusing the NAACP of abandoning its civil rights mission and of becoming a mouthpiece of the liberal left.
In a statement before the report’s release, Jealous said, “These groups and individuals are out there, and we ignore them at our own peril. They are speaking at Tea Party events, recruiting at rallies and in some cases remain in the Tea Party leadership itself. 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.”
The report, co-authored by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, examines six Tea Party groups: FreedomWorks Tea Party, 1776 Tea Party, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, ResistNet, and Tea Party Express.
Zeskind, who was also on the conference call, said they began research a year ago when they noticed that the white supremacist group stormfront.org had “started a thread to move into the Tea Party.” Burghart explained the report’s methodology and data-gathering techniques, which included investigating campaign finance reports, printed and online literature, Tea Party membership, government documents and databases (including court cases) finance reports and corporate filings. They also interviewed activists.
A document, “The Tea Party: The Racism Within,” lists six “Profiles of Troubling Tea Partiers” with current or one-time ties to white nationalist organizations. It singles out Roan Garcia-Quintana, “advisor and media spokesman” for the 2010 Tax Day Tea Party in South Carolina. A member of ResistNet, he also serves on the National Board of Directors of the Council of Conservative Citizens, whose statement of principles opposes “all efforts to mix the races of mankind.”
The NAACP said the decentralized nature of the Tea Party movement makes it difficult to police disparate groups for members who cross the line, but Jealous specifically called on Dick Armey of FreedomWorks and Sarah Palin, who “is out there with Tea Party Express,” to take a more aggressive stand against intolerance.
“Here we go again,” Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, told the Kansas City Star. “This is typical of this liberal group’s smear tactics.” Phillips was an organizer of the Tea Party national conference in February.
Sal Russo, a California political consultant and chief strategist for the Tea Party Express, told the Star, “To attack a grassroots movement of this magnitude with sundry isolated incidents only goes to show the NAACP has abandoned the cause of civil rights for the advancement of liberal Democrat politics.”
In addition to the report, the NAACP has been running Tea Party Tracker, a Web site in partnership with ThinkProgress, Media Matters and New Left Media set up to monitor “extremism in the Tea Party movement.”