Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Tribune. A graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship, Washington writes regularly on issues involving law, the criminal justice system, news media and inequities involving race and/or class. This ’information junkie’ teaches multi-media urban reporting at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in New Jersey and frequently travels abroad.
The Other Afrik - Politics - Racism
Tea Party ‘Talk’ tainted by racial bigotry
Tea Party members across America bristle at charges that racial bigotry flows within their ranks but the core rhetoric of this insurgent conservative political movement contains consistent use of code-words repeatedly employed by some of the most violent racists in U.S. history.
The “Take Back Our Country” mantra of America’s Tea Party triggers ugly memories for many in Wilmington, NC – the last city in the United States where armed white supremacists violently overthrew a legitimately elected municipal government murdering scores of people, primarily blacks.
The driving force for those November 1898 Wilmington insurrectionists – ire over blacks holding elected offices – parallels the rage of contemporary Tea Party members against U.S. President Barack Obama, the first black to hold that office.
The “White Declaration of Independence” issued by those Wilmington insurrectionists declared “…we will no longer be ruled…by men of African origin.”
Today, Tea Party members, including Tea Party candidates for Congress in the November 2010 election, openly advocate “Second Amendment remedies”…the use of guns to secure their goals.
A former Congressman (also an ex-Confederate Army officer) led that Wilmington insurrection described as a “coup d’état” in the official report released by the Wilmington Riot Commission in 2006 that faulted “government at all levels” for failing to reverse the political overthrow.
That Take-Our-Country-Back mantra of the Tea Party is a phrase used repeatedly by some of the most violent racists throughout U.S. history, states Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, America’s oldest civil rights organization.
“When the Klu Klux Klan emerged in the 1860s after the Civil War they talked about talking their country back. In the 1960s segregationists like George Wallace used hateful take-back-our-country rhetoric to resist civil rights,” Rev. Barber said.
Rev. Barber recently participated in the release of “Tea Party Nationalism,” an extensive report examining Tea Party activities around America that documents the leadership roles of individuals in the tea-bag movement who also hold leadership posts in fringe organizations including white supremacist, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant groups.
The report provides specific information on over a dozen such people including: Roan Garcia-Quintana of South Carolina, who the report states recently joined the board of America’s largest white nationalist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens; Texas Tea Party official Karen Pack, identified as being closely aligned with the KKK and Virginia’s Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, criticized in the report for frequently soliciting support from the Nazi-fawning Aryan Nation.
“Tea Party leaders have promoted and provided a platform to known racists and anti-Semites on multiple occasions,” states the report that details how extremists use Tea Party events for recruiting opportunities and for spreading their messages of hate.
“The oft-repeated Tea Party call to “Take Your Country Back” is an explicitly nationalist refrain,” the report states noting that “a bright line of racism threads through this nationalism.”
Significantly this report, prepared by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights of Kansas City for the NAACP, debunks many of the positions advanced by this overwhelmingly white, politically conservative, Republican-leaning movement, such as the claim that this Party’s sole focus is lowering budget deficits, taxes and federal government power.
Tea Party ranks remain “permeated with concerns about race, and national identity and other so-called social issues,” the report states in its introduction. This Party’s “storied opposition to political and social elites turns out to be predicated on an antagonism to federal assistance to those deemed the “undeserving poor.””
That “Nationalism” report credits the Tea Party with resuscitating “the ultra-conservative wing of American political life,” yet it criticizes the Tea Party for having had “a devastating impact on thoughtful policy making for the common good, both at the local and state as well as at the federal levels.”
The “Tea Party Nationalism” report examining instances of extremism in that movement’s most active organizations produced denunciations from Tea Party officials, including one leader who castigated it as a cheap political shot attempting to “tie crazy people together with a movement that is not about what these people are about.”
That “Nationalism” report follows up on the NAACP’s issuance this past summer of a resolution calling on the Tea Party to address racism within its ranks.
The NAACP received a barrage “of angry phone calls and death treats” after passage of their resolution, according to Benjamin Jealous, the head of America’s oldest civil rights organization.
However Tea Party starlet Sarah Palin (the 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate) and Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) who heads the Tea Party Caucus in Congress both quickly blasted the NAACP resolution dismissing it as drivel from an organization that practices racism.
That controversy-sparking NAACP resolution did produce surprising results within the raging political/social tea-bag movement, Jealous said.
Shortly after the NAACP’s resolution, national Tea Party officials ejected the chairman of the politically pivotal Tea Party Express – Mark Williams – for making outrageously racist remarks reacting to that resolution. Even before Williams’ racist retort to the NAACP he constantly utter bigoted comments about President Obama including calling Obama an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug.”
Jealous said another important Tea Party entity issued a tepid anti-racist statement and that movement began showcasing persons of color at its events, where participants proudly display racist and anti-Semitic signage. Jealous termed these reactions by the Tea Party as “small” but salient steps toward accountability.
Jealous, when releasing the “Nationalism” report, carefully noted that neither the report nor that civil rights organization labels all Tea Party members racist.
“Most Tea Party members are sincere and of good will. We do not have a problem with the Tea Party’s right to exist. We have a problem when a majority of its members stand silent when they see racism,” said Jealous, an Ivy League graduate and Rhodes Scholar, during a teleconference with reporters that accompanied release of the report.
“For the past 100-years, the NAACP has challenged the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of racism and now we challenge the Tea Party to stand for inclusion and basic civility.”
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