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Context of 'March 20, 2010: Liberal Columnist: Racial, Homophobic Slurs by Tea Party Protesters Proves Movement Dominated by Bigots'

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Liberal columnist Joan Walsh denounces the racial and homophobic slurs hurled at Democratic lawmakers by tea party protesters during a rally outside the US Capitol (see March 20, 2010). She writes that while the tea party movement may have had its start in economic protests (see After November 7, 2008, February 1, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009, and February 19, 2009 and After), it is now “disturbingly racist and reactionary, from its roots to its highest branches.” Based on just what mainstream media reports say (ignoring reports on Twitter and blogs), Walsh writes that Representative John Lewis (D-GA) was called “n_gger” at least 15 separate times, incidents confirmed by Representative Andre Carson (D-IN) and Lewis spokesperson Brenda Jones. Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) was spat upon; the perpetrator was arrested, but Cleaver declined to press charges. CNN’s Dana Bash personally heard protesters call Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) a “f_ggot.” Walsh describes Bash as seemingly “rattled by the tea party fury.” Walsh notes that Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity, one of the lobbying groups funding the various tea party organizations (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), recently appeared on an MSNBC talk show to deny that the violence and verbal assaults common at tea party rallies are emblematic of the movement as a whole (Phillips was on to discuss a tea party protester taunting a man with Parkinson’s disease at a recent Ohio rally—see March 16, 2010). Walsh writes, “But such demurrals don’t cut it any more.” She notes that tea party leader Judson Phillips, speaking at the recent National Tea Party Convention (see February 4-6, 2010), denounced the racism exhibited at tea party rallies, but then endorsed racist speaker Tom Tancredo (see May 26, 2009 and May 28, 2009), who received loud cheers when he advocated that US voters be given literacy tests, a Jim Crow-era tactic to keep blacks from voting. Walsh says she wants to believe the tea party movement is populated by something other than old-school racists who coalesced to oppose the first African-American president. She notes that Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) has criticized the slurs hurled at Lewis, Carson, Cleaver, and Frank, and went on to distance the Republican Party from the tea party frenzy, saying: “I think we’ve reached a tipping point here. I think the American people are rising up with one voice and saying, ‘Enough is enough.’” Walsh writes that Pence seems to blame Obama, Lewis, Carson, and their Democratic colleagues for the inflammatory rhetoric being hurled at them, “and ignore the role of GOP racism.” She goes on to note that Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY) hung a “Don’t Tread On Me” sign over the Capitol Balcony shortly after Pence’s remarks, and reminds readers that Davis called Obama “that boy” in a speech (see April 12, 2008). [Salon, 3/20/2010] Days after the incidents outside the Capitol, tea party leaders denounce the racism and homophobia at the event, but deny tea party members were involved, and claim Democrats and liberals are using the “isolated” incidents to whip up anti-tea party sentiment (see March 25, 2010). Tea party leaders will also claim that reports of racist epithets and sloganeering among their members are invented by Democrats and liberals (see March 26, 2010).

Entity Tags: Geoffrey C. (“Geoff”) Davis, Barney Frank, Andre Carson, Brenda Jones, Emanuel Cleaver, Joan Walsh, Tim Phillips, Dana Bash, John Lewis, Judson Phillips, Mike Pence

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

A portion of the Northern Colorado Tea Party logo.A portion of the Northern Colorado Tea Party logo. [Source: Northern Colorado Tea Party]In the wake of tea party anti-health care reform protests that resulted in protesters verbally abusing a disabled man (see March 16, 2010), hurling racial and homophobic slurs at lawmakers, spitting on a lawmaker (see March 20, 2010), and threatening Democrats with violence (see March 24-25, 2010), the leaders of some tea party organizations condemn the harassment and threats of violence their members are producing. At the same time, these leaders say that their members are responsible for the incidents they condemn. Politico reports, “There hasn’t been any hard evidence that the reported harassment is linked to the tea party movement, but Democrats have tried to draw the link between the harassment and the sometimes-inflammatory rhetoric that tea partiers and Republicans deployed in opposing the health care overhaul.” A group of Florida tea party organizers releases a letter to Congress and President Obama saying they “stand in stark opposition to any person using derogatory characterizations, threats of violence, or disparaging terms toward members of Congress or the president.” The letter calls the tea parties “a peaceful movement,” and says its leaders denounce “all forms of violence” and “support all efforts to bring [any perpetrators] to justice and have encouraged full cooperation within our movement and have asked for the same from the members of Congress who have laid such claims.” The letter is also signed by the Florida chapter of FreedomWorks, the Washington-based lobbying group that sponsors and coordinates many tea party organizations (see April 14, 2009). FreedomWorks spokesman Brendan Steinhauser, who helps organize local tea parties around the country for FreedomWorks, issues a statement saying, “Political violence is both immoral and ineffective, and will only set the movement back.” He says he is “reminding all grassroots leaders that it’s important to focus our efforts on peaceful, political efforts like protests, office visits, letters, petitions, and of course, voting.” However, Steinhauser says, there is no evidence that tea party members have engaged in any such actions: “We must remember that the folks committing these acts are small in number, extreme in their methods, and not yet proven to be members of our movement. But we must be diligent in denouncing all acts of political violence and racism, when they occur.” A Colorado tea party coalition issues a similar statement, which reads in part, “Tea party and similar groups across Colorado are saddened tonight to hear of threats made upon Democratic lawmakers in response to the passing their recent health insurance reform legislation, specifically… Rep. Betsy Markey.” Office staffers for Markey (D-CO) have reported at least one death threat from an unidentified caller. The Colorado release states, “[I]t does not appear that these threats stemmed from those within Colorado’s tea party movement.” However: “organizers and members alike are firmly denouncing any acts of intimidation or threat. Statewide, tea party leadership has encouraged disappointed members to get involved in the political process rather than dwell on the passage of the health care bill.” Lesley Hollywood, the director of the Northern Colorado Tea Party, promises: “I can assure you that myself and my colleagues will take immediate action if any of these allegations are discovered to be connected to our organizations. At this time, our internal investigations have not revealed any correlation between the threats and the Tea Party.” [Politico, 3/25/2010; Fox News, 3/26/2010] Of the threats directed towards Markey, Hollywood says: “Tea Party and similar groups across Colorado are saddened tonight to hear of threats made upon [Markey]. Although it does not appear that these threats stemmed from those within Colorado’s tea party movement, organizers and members alike are firmly denouncing any acts of intimidation or threat.… These threats are likely coming from rogue, outside sources.” [KDVR-TV, 3/25/2010] Days before, FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon said: “If the movement gets tattooed as at all sympathetic to those [racist and homophobic] views, I won’t want to be involved in it anymore. It’s very distracting not only to our side but also to the debate and the country.” [Politico, 3/22/2010] Atlanta Tea Party co-founder Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, says: “We support peaceful means.… There are so many tea party groups that are out there.… It’s like herding cats. It’s impossible.” James Clyburn (D-SC), a Democratic House member, accuses House Republicans of egging on abusive behavior from the tea partiers. “If we participate in it, either from the balcony or on the floor of the House, you are aiding and abetting this kind of terrorism, really,” he says. Steinhauser alleges that similar threats and rhetoric have come from liberal activists, and accuses the media of ignoring those actions. [Fox News, 3/26/2010]

Entity Tags: FreedomWorks, Barack Obama, Atlanta Tea Party, Adam Brandon, Betsy Markey, Debbie Dooley, Politico, US Congress, Northern Colorado Tea Party, Brendan Steinhauser, Tea Party Patriots, James Clyburn, Lesley Hollywood

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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