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Context of 'March 25, 2010: Tea Party Leaders Condemn Slurs, Harassment, Threats; Deny Involvement'

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FreedomWorks logo.FreedomWorks logo. [Source: FreedomWorks]The progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress profiles FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying firm that uses the practice of “astroturfing” to press its agenda home. FreedomWorks is one of the organizations behind the anti-tax “tea party” movement (see April 8, 2009). The organization denies that it is “astroturfing”—creating fake “citizens groups” that purport to be spontaneously organized grassroots organizations—and compares its work to that of liberal activism group MoveOn.org. However, Think Progress notes that MoveOn is a citizen-organized group, while FreedomWorks is headed by former Republican activists and corporate officials, and is funded by oil, energy, and tobacco companies. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and current Washington lobbyist (R-TX) leads FreedomWorks. [Think Progress, 4/14/2009]
'Amateur-Looking' Astroturfing Sites - Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed FreedomWorks’ use of “amateur-looking” Web sites for its “astroturf” groups to bolster their credibility as purported “citizen groups” pushing for corporate interests (see May 16, 2008). [Think Progress, 4/14/2009]
Represented by PR Firm with GOP Links - FreedomWorks is represented by the Washington public relations firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Shirley & Banister also represents conservative organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Citizens United, news outlet Human Events, and organizer Richard Viguerie’s direct-mail firm. (It also represents the Bradley Foundation, a conservative funding organization that in 2008 gave $25,000 to both FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity [AFP], gave FreedomWorks $75,000 in 2009, and is considering a grant request from AFP.) One of Shirley & Banister’s partners is Craig Shirley, a veteran Republican PR operative who helped develop the overtly racist 1988 “Willie Horton” political ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tells her audience: “This is a perfect system for the Republican Party. It’s a constant feedback loop. The Republican Party activists stir up fear and anger on the Internet… Fearful, angry people go to town hall events and then Republican Party officials say they are just responding to that anger and they have no idea where it came from. It’s [a] perfect cycle. Rile them up with made-up stuff and then sympathize with them that are so riled.” [MSNBC, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
Led by Millionaires - Three of FreedomWorks’ most prominent senior officials are millionaires. Armey makes over $500,000 a year working for the organization, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Board member Steve Forbes, the billionaire publisher of Forbes magazine, lives in a New Jersey home valued at $2.78 million, owns a chateau in France, and recently sold a private island in Fiji and a palace in Morocco. [Wall Street Journal, 5/16/2008]
FreedomWorks Supports Armey's Lobbying Efforts - Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, represents pharmaceutical firms such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, medical device supplier SleepMed, health care provider Metropolitan Health Networks, and another pharmaceutical firm, Medicines Company. One member of FreedomWorks’s board of directors is Richard Stephenson, the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He is also the president of International Capital and Management Company, which runs a hospital consulting company. The president of FreedomWorks is Matt Kibbe, the former senior economist for the Republican National Committee and the former chief of staff for Representative Dan Miller (R-FL). FreedomWorks is organizing protests against health care reform that would cut into pharmaceutical firms’ profits. DLA Piper represents a number of life insurance firms; FreedomWorks has organized support for the deregulation of the insurance industry. DLA Piper represents not only several American oil firms, but also Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on energy related issues such as maintaining the close ties between the US and the UAE. US oil firms are deeply involved in the UAE’s oil industry. [Center for Responsive Politics, 2009; Think Progress, 4/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009] In August 2009, after reporting on FreedomWorks, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her audience: “Washington lobbyists and health care executives and former Republican Party officials have just as much a right to shout down the policy debate about health care reform as anyone else does. These folks have just as much a right to try to derail this entire process as anyone else does. But we have a right to know who they are and who is paying them for their efforts. These guys are pros. This is an industry. This is beltway politics being organized and played out in town halls across the country.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] DLA Piper has also received $830,000 this year, so far, from the pharmaceutical firm Medicines Company; the same firm paid DLA Piper $1.5 million in 2008. [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
FreedomWorks Lobbying on Behalf of DLA Piper? - In August 2009, Maddow will ask, “[W]hy are DLA Piper’s clients relevant?” She answers herself, “There appears to be some pretty good evidence that when you pay Dick Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, you get what Dick Armey’s grassroots organization FreedomWorks does.” In the first half of 2007, the American Council of Life Insurers paid DLA Piper $100,000 to lobby on its behalf. During that time span, FreedomWorks began lobbying Congress on a “grassroots” basis to deregulate the life insurance industry. Maddow will sarcastically ask: “And, of course, perhaps it is just mere coincidence that FreedomWorks happened to have a newfound, ideological, purist grassroots commitment to life insurance deregulation at the same time the American Council of Life Insurers hired Dick Armey’s lobbying firm. It could just be a coincidence. Could be, right?” In 2006, DLA Piper began lobbying for the Senado de Republica, the Mexican Senate, for the purpose of “enhancing US-Mexico relations.” At the same time, FreedomWorks began promoting itself as “one of the few organizations willing to aggressively promote meaningful immigration reform.” In 2004, during the Bush administration’s push to privatize Social Security, a single mom from Iowa was introduced at a White House economic conference as a supporter of privatization. That mom was a FreedomWorks employee. Maddow will say: “This is how FreedomWorks does their work. They try to create the impression that their just regular grassroots Americans without any financial or political interests in the outcome of these policy fights.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: MoveOn (.org), Steve Forbes, Think Progress (.org), Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Wall Street Journal, Matt Kibbe, Bristol-Myers Squibb, DLA Piper, Medicines Company, FreedomWorks, Dick Armey

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Tea party protester Chris Reichert berates pro-reform protester Robert Letcher.Tea party protester Chris Reichert berates pro-reform protester Robert Letcher. [Source: Columbus Dispatch]During a tea party protest against the Democratic attempt to reform health care in front of the Columbus, Ohio, office of Representative Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), one protester, Chris Reichert, confronts a counter-protester, Robert Letcher, and verbally mocks his illness. Letcher suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and when Reichert accosts him, is sitting down in front of the anti-reform protesters carrying a sign announcing his illness. The sign reads: “‘Got Parkinson’s?’ I Do and You Might. Thanks for helping! That’s community!” The incident begins when an unidentified man berates Letcher, saying: “If you’re looking for a hand-out, you’re on the wrong end of town. Nothing for free over here, you have to work for everything you get.” Reichert then steps out of the crowd, bends over Letcher, waggles his finger in Letcher’s face, throws a pair of dollar bills in his face, and says: “I’ll pay for this guy. Here you go. Let’s start a pot, I’ll pay for you.” He throws more dollar bills at Leichert, and shouts: “I’ll decide when to give you money. Here. Here’s another one.… No more handouts.” Letcher, a former nuclear engineer who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000, later explains: “I feel I embody the controversy that was being fought out. No one was engaging, everyone was screaming. I thought, I don’t have to scream, I just have to be there. I walked over and sat down.… I sort of presented myself as an argument by myself.” Kilroy and Democratic supporters immediately condemn Reichert’s actions, and Kilroy enters a link to a YouTube video of the incident into the Congressional Record. Reichert initially denies doing anything of the sort, but the videos prove his involvement. He eventually admits his actions, and will explain: “I snapped. I absolutely snapped and I can’t explain it any other way.” He will continue: “He’s got every right to do what he did and some may say I did too, but what I did was shameful. I haven’t slept since that day. I made a donation [to a local Parkinson’s disease group] and that starts the healing process.… I wanted this to go away, but it won’t and I’m paying the consequences.” Reichert will go on to say that he fears for the safety of himself and his family after reading some of the comments people have posted on the Internet. “I’ve been looking at the Web sites,” he will say. “People are hunting for me.” Reichert says he is a registered Republican, but is not politically active: “That was my first time at any political rally and I’m never going to another one. I will never ever, ever go to another one.” [Columbus Dispatch, 3/17/2010; TPM LiveWire, 3/19/2010; Columbus Dispatch, 3/24/2010; CBS News, 3/25/2010] The progressive news blog TPM LiveWire later says Reichert may be connected to the conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP). The videos show him carrying an “I am AFP!” sign under his arm. AFP’s Ohio director, Rebecca Heimlich, says she does not know either Reichert or the other man who berates Letcher in the video. She states: “I have seen the video and found [Reichert]‘s behavior completely inappropriate. Americans for Prosperity certainly does not encourage or condone harassing behavior. Our goal is to send a message to Rep. Kilroy that we oppose this health care takeover bill. We always encourage our members to be considerate of others in their demonstrations.” AFP is a financial supporter of a number of tea party organizations, and sometimes helps the groups coordinate their rallies and actions. [TPM LiveWire, 3/22/2010; TPM LiveWire, 3/24/2010]

Entity Tags: Americans for Prosperity, Mary Jo Kilroy, Rebecca Heimlich, Robert Letcher, Chris Reichert

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Democratic lawmaker Emanuel Cleaver, walking through the crowd of tea party protesters around the same time he is spat upon.Democratic lawmaker Emanuel Cleaver, walking through the crowd of tea party protesters around the same time he is spat upon. [Source: EurWeb (.com)]Tea party and other anti-health care protesters in Washington denigrate African-American lawmakers with racial slurs, one African-American congressman is spat upon, and a gay congressman is called an anti-gay slur by another protester.
'Kill the Bill, N_gger!' - John Lewis (D-GA) and Andre Carson (D-IN), both members of the Congressional Black Caucus, after leaving a Democratic caucus meeting with President Obama, encounter a large and angry crowd of tea party and other protesters. According to Carson and a number of staffers accompanying the lawmakers, protesters first scream and chant, “Kill the bill!” referring to the pending health care legislation, then alter the chant to say, “Kill the bill, n_gger!” When Lewis confirms that he supports the bill, protesters shout, “Baby killer!” Police quickly escort Lewis, Carson, and their staffers into the Capitol building. Carson later tells a reporter that he heard the first slur from a single individual: “You see one or two tea party people kind of look at him, and then you hear it again as we’re walking. Then we walk across [Independence Avenue], and that’s when it starts getting deeper.… You heard it in spurts, in the midst of ‘Kill the bill. Kill the bill.’ One guy, I remember he just rattled it off several times. Then John looks at me and says, ‘You know, this reminds me of a different time.’” Lewis confirms Carson’s account of the racial slurs, and adds, “People have been just downright mean.” Heath Shuler (D-NC), a white congressman, also confirms that he heard the racial slurs.
Lawmaker Spat Upon - Another African-American congressman, Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), is spat upon by an unidentified protester; police arrest the man, but Cleaver declines to press charges and the man is later released.
Lawmaker Called 'F_ggot' - Protesters in the same rally accost Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), who is openly gay, inside the Longworth House office building; one, an elderly white man, shouts, “Barney, you f_ggot!” causing many in the group to laugh and a woman to shout, “We don’t need that.” CNN reporter Dana Bash later says that her producer personally witnessed the homophobic slur towards Frank. When Capitol police threaten to expel the protesters from the Longworth building, according to one reporter, the police are “outnumbered and quickly overwhelmed.” After tea party protesters equipped with high-end video cameras arrive to film the encounter, the police relent and allow them to continue protesting inside the building.
Rhetoric Similar to '60s Civil Rights Protests - Frank later says of the protesters: “I’m disappointed at a unwillingness to be just civil. [T]he objection to the health care bill has become a proxy for other sentiments.… Obviously there are perfectly reasonable people that are against this, but the people out there today on the whole—many of them were hateful and abusive.” Frank puts some of the blame for the incident on tea party organization leaders and Republicans who align themselves with the organizations, and notes that today’s incidents are not the first of their kind (see June 30, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28-29, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 11, 2009). “I do think the leaders of the movement, and this was true of some of the Republicans last year, that they think they are benefiting from this rancor,” he says. “I mean there are a couple who—you know, Michele Bachmann’s rhetoric is inflamatory as well as wholly baseless. And I think there are people there, a few that encourage it.… If this was my cause, and I saw this angry group yelling and shouting and being so abusive to people, I would ask them to please stop it. I think they do more harm than good.” Frank tells another reporter: “The Republican leadership is making a mistake not doing more to disassociate from this.… It’s a mob mentality that doesn’t work politically.” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), an African-American, says: “It was absolutely shocking to me, last Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus Pomford University where 50 years ago, as of last Monday, March 15th, I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit-ins… quite frankly I heard some things today that I haven’t heard since that day. I heard people saying things today I’ve not heard since March 15th, 1960, when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus. This is incredible, shocking to me.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/20/2010; MSNBC, 3/20/2010; Mediaite, 3/20/2010; ABC News, 4/13/2010] Anne Caprara, the chief of staff for Betsy Markey (D-CO), says of the protesters: “I’ve been in politics for 10 years and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. To be amongst that crowd outside and to see some of the people who walked into our office, these people were very unhinged.” [KDVR-TV, 3/25/2010] The New York Times later publishes a correction to a follow-up article that notes it is impossible to prove that actual tea party members were the ones hurling the racial and homophobic epithets, nor is it clear that it was a tea party member who spat upon Cleaver. [New York Times, 7/17/2010]
Tea Party Supporters Claim False Accusations - Conservative bloggers quickly accuse Lewis, Carson, Cleaver, and the “liberal media” of lying about the incidents [Media Research Center, 3/20/2010; John Hinderaker, 7/25/2010] , and are joined by Bachmann (R-MN), who will falsely inform an audience, “No witness saw it, it’s not on camera, it’s not on audio.” [ABC News, 4/13/2010]
Videos Surface - A blogger at the liberal Daily Kos posts a video of the protests. [Daily Kos, 3/20/2010] Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart later posts a video claiming that it proves no such incidents took place; further examination proves that the video was shot over an hour past the time of the incidents. Breitbart will offer a $100,000 contribution to the United Negro College Fund if anyone can prove to his satisfaction that the incidents occurred. After stating flatly that his video proves the incidents “didn’t happen,” Breitbart later partially retracts his denial, saying, “I’m not saying the video was conclusive proof.” Other conservatives will accuse Lewis, Carson, and Cleaver of deliberately walking through the crowd of protesters in order to provoke a reaction. [ABC News, 4/13/2010] Days later, another video surfaces, showing Cleaver walking through a crowd of angry, shouting protesters, then suddenly jerking his head back and wiping his face. [EurWeb, 3/29/2010]

Entity Tags: James Clyburn, Betsy Markey, Congressional Black Caucus, Dana Bash, Barack Obama, Barney Frank, Andrew Breitbart, Anne Caprara, Michele Bachmann, John Lewis, Emanuel Cleaver, Andre Carson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Congressional Democrats are calling on Republicans and tea party leaders to curb the harassment and death threats being directed at Democratic lawmakers and their families. The harassment and threats stem largely from tea party members and others who are virulently opposed to the health care reform proposed by Democrats and the Obama administration. As lawmakers head home for spring recess, the FBI, the Capitol Police, and the House sergeant-at-arms meet with the Democratic Caucus to hear lawmakers express their worry for the safety of themselves and their families. Phil Hare (D-IL) says he knows Democrats who have told their families to leave their home districts while the lawmakers are in Washington. “If this doesn’t get under control in short time, heaven forbid, someone will get hurt,” Hare says. Hare is holding eight town hall meetings in his district over the recess, and has requested that the Capitol Police coordinate with local law enforcement authorities to provide security. Hare’s wife has asked him to cancel the events, but Hare intends to go forward. “My wife is home alone, and I’m worried for her,” Hare says. “I am about to have my first grandchild. I don’t want to have to be worried.” In recent weeks, an unknown perpetrator cut the gas lines at the home of Thomas Perriello (D-VA)‘s brother, prompting an FBI investigation; the gas lines were cut after a tea party activist posted the brother’s address online, believing it to be Perriello’s (see March 19, 2010 and After). Steve Driehaus (D-OH) has had his address posted on tea party Web sites with exhortations for protesters to visit him at his home to protest his support for health care reform; a photo of Driehaus’s family was printed in a recent newspaper ad attacking Driehaus’s support for health care reform. A brick was recently thrown through the window of the Democratic Party’s office in Cincinnati (see March 19, 2010 and After). Bart Stupak (D-MI) says he has received numerous death threats (see March 19, 2010 and After). Hank Johnson (D-GA) says Democrats need to coordinate an internal security plan. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) says he fears that violence may erupt in the districts. Minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) has condemned the threats, but Driehaus has complained that Boehner has implied his own threat towards himself and his family, calling Driehaus a “dead man” for voting for the health care legislation (see March 18, 2010 and After). Boehner blames Democrats for causing the violence: “I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening,” he says in a statement. “But, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable. That’s not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard—but let’s do it the right way.” Hare says Boehner needs to apologize for his own words and restrain fellow House Republicans, whom Hare says often “rile up” protesters from the Capitol balcony. “If he can’t control his members, they have to find someone who can,” Hare says. At least one Democrat has stood up to the threats; when tea party activists paid a visit to the office of Jim Moran (D-VA) earlier this week, aides got between the protesters and the clearly angry Moran. When the activists asked the aides if Moran needed “bodyguards” to protect him, one aide responded: “We’re not protecting him from you. We’re protecting you from him.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says he believes that Democrats and their families are in real danger from protesters. [Politico, 3/25/2010] House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) denounces “this crazy stuff the Republicans are doing here,” and says Boehner and other GOP leaders “ought to be ashamed of themselves for bringing these people here to Washington, DC, and they’re acting like this.” Tim Ryan (D-OH), on the House floor, criticizes “these tea bagger protesters who have been out today” and “call[s] on the Republicans to say shame on the tea party for that type of behavior.” Many Republicans and tea party officials claim that the incidents are fabrications, and have called on Democrats to apologize for making false accusations. Some say the racial epithets and death threats come from Democratic supporters who want to cast a poor light on the tea parties. Memphis tea party organizer Mark Skoda says there is an orchestrated attempt among Democrats and liberals to falsely paint the tea parties as racist. [Politico, 3/22/2010]

Entity Tags: John Boehner, Hank Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Democratic Party, Bart Stupak, James Moran, US Capitol Police, Patrick Murphy, Thomas Perriello, James Clyburn, Obama administration, Mark Skoda, Phil Hare, Steny Hoyer, Steve Driehaus, Tim Ryan

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

Author Amity Shlaes is one of 13 people interviewed by the New York Times about their perceptions of the tea party movement.Author Amity Shlaes is one of 13 people interviewed by the New York Times about their perceptions of the tea party movement. [Source: National Review]The New York Times, in light of a recent poll showing American tea party supporters to be whiter, wealthier, and more conservative than average Americans (see April 14, 2010), interviews a number of prominent historians, journalists, and political analysts about their views on the tea party.
Tea Party Very Similar to Anti-Liberal Organizations of Generations Past - Rick Perlstein, the biographer of former president Richard Nixon and former Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), writes of his “frustration” at “watching the rise of the tea party movement,” calling it “ugly” and in opposition to “so many of the values I hold dear.” He notes the “overwhelming historical myopia” of the news media’s coverage of the tea party, saying that the current movement is comprised of “the same angry, ill-informed, overwhelmingly white, crypto-corporate paranoiacs that accompany every ascendancy of liberalism within US government” (see February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, September 2010, and August 17, 2011). Perlstein quotes conservative activist Brent Bozell asking, “When was the last time you saw such a spontaneous eruption of conservative grass-roots anger, coast to coast?” and responds: “The answer, of course, is: in 1993. And 1977. And 1961. And so on. And so yet much of the commentariat takes Bozell at his word, reading what is happening as striking and new.” Perlstein writes that the parallels between the current tea party movement and the previous movements opposing the Roosevelt, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton administrations “are uncanny.… The only thing that changes is the name of the enemy within.” In 1963, accusations flew that President Kennedy was “in bed” with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to bring socialism to America; today, the accusations are that the “Muslim terrorist” President Obama wants to bring socialism to America, perhaps with the aid of Islamist terror groups. Perlstein says that in years past, the media was far more unflinching at labeling the reactionaries as “fringe” elements. “[B]ack then, they covered the story with much more moral courage and civic wisdom.” Now, Perlstein writes, the media fawns over tea party leaders and the right-wing commentators who promote them (see August 11, 2009).
'Sullen, Defensive Mobilization' of Wealthier Americans who Fear the Poor - Author Michael Lind, the policy director of the centrist New America Foundation, advises Republicans and Democrats both to “ignore this faux populist base of the GOP and focus instead on the genuine swing voters.” Tea partiers, Lind writes, are not “[p]itchfork-wielding populists,” but are closer to “the affluent members of the Liberty League who vilified President Roosevelt in the 1930s (see August 23, 1934 and After)—a sullen, defensive mobilization of the Have-Somes who dread the Have-Nots. The tea partiers put the ‘petty’ in petty bourgeoisie. They are disgruntled conservative Fox Republicans.”
Tea Parties Focusing on Constitutional Issues - Author Steven F. Hayward, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, lauds the tea parties as primarily focused on economic and constitutional issues (see May 2010), and more supportive of gay rights, abortion rights, and limited gun restrictions than the media may admit. Hayward writes that he is surprised that most tea partiers are “more economically secure than the general population” and better-educated than the average American: “[T]he narrative that the tea partiers are a bunch of pitchfork populist rubes becomes harder to maintain.” Racism does not permeate the tea parties, Hayward argues (see February 27, 2009, April 2009, July 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 11, 2009, September 2009, September 14, 2009, October 15, 2009 and After, January 14, 2010, February 2010, March 20, 2010, March 25, 2010, March 26, 2010, May 14, 2010, July 13, 2010, July 14, 2010, July 15, 2010, July 17-18, 2010, August 6, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 24, 2010, September 11, 2010, September 12, 2010, October 10, 2010, October 19, 2010, April 15, 2011, April 16, 2011, May 5, 2011, July 29, 2011 and After, August 22-30, 2011, and December 10, 2011), “though there is some evidence of polarization that is a problem for the tea party as a movement.” Hayward opines that such racism that can be documented in tea party members “is likely an aspect of party politics today.” He also states that tea party supporters do not believe the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is not an American citizen any more than the average American, a statement at odds with many other analyses of tea party ideologies (see October 2008, January 8, 2009, June 4, 2009, February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, September 2010, April 13-15, 2011, and July 1-2, 2011), even though the poll shows that only 41 percent of the tea party supporters believe that Obama is a “natural-born citizen.” The driving factor behind so many Americans with no previous history of political involvement is, he writes, the fact that most tea party members “are moderates who are simply shocked by Obama’s great leap forward in the size of government,” and he compares the tea parties to the third-party backers of presidential candidate H. Ross Perot in 1992. He concludes, “The real promise of the tea party movement is that it may lead to a reinvigoration of the idea of constitutional limits on government—an idea liberals may find quaint if not hopelessly obsolete.”
Long-Discredited 'Radical Right' Views Propelling Tea Parties - Author and university professor Alan Wolfe, a self-described liberal, derides the tea parties as little more than a repackaged version of the “radical right” which has long been a part of America’s body politic. The tea party movement, Wolfe writes, has given “American intellectuals whose views have been out of fashion for some time” a new platform with which to express their ideas. The same ideas that drove the McCarthyite “Red scare” of the 1950s are driving the tea parties today, Wolfe writes, and points to the increasing involvement of organizations such as the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961) in the tea party movement (see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008, October 10, 2008, April 13, 2009, April 19, 2010, and August 24, 2010). Like the people who support the JBS both now and in the 1950s, tea partiers are driven “not so much to their economic circumstances as to their status anxieties.” They fear the changing, increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan society around them, and dislike, or sometimes even hate, the seeming “encroachment” of minorities and lower-class Americans on their lives. Wolfe says that the idea that tea party members do not embrace racist values any more than other Americans is specious; their poll responses can be explained, he writes, by noting that “people who respond to them have learned to hide their true feelings.” He concludes: “At the risk of sounding condescending, these people have lost all perspective. They know how to kvetch. They know nothing about what makes their country great. Instead of watching Glenn Beck, I would urge them to learn more about their country’s history—or to go and see a shrink.”
Using Coded Appeals to Race - Law professor Paul Butler writes that while most tea partiers are “more uber-Republicans than Klansmen,” the organizations are very good at using racist “code words” to appeal to racist whites while maintaining plausible deniability about their inherent appeal to racist politics. “The tea party is smart enough not to frame its agenda around white supremacy, but the code words are there,” he writes “[T]he most virulent anti-Obama force in the country is smart enough not to frame its agenda around white supremacy—at least not explicitly.” While most tea partiers were clever enough not to indicate that they were bluntly racist in the poll results, the fact that a strong majority of them “believe that too much has been made of the problems that African-Americans face, and that the administration favors blacks over whites,” is quite telling, Butler writes. “Overwhelmingly they believe that Barack Obama doesn’t share the needs and problems of people like them, or the values of ‘most Americans.’ These code words have been around long enough, everybody gets them.”
Poll Does Not Support Idea that Tea Partiers Embrace Bigotry - Author and columnist Amity Shlaes writes that the poll numbers do not support the “media stereotype” that tea party supporters “are racist or intolerant. The media depicts tea partiers as bigots who look down on minorities, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.” Similarly, she argues, the poll results do not support the idea that tea party supporters believe Obama is a Muslim any more than average Americans do. As the tea party organizers claim, the movement is largely about economics, Shales writes.
Fear of Loss of Control - History professor and author Alan Brinkley calls the tea party “the party of me,” and compares its members demographically to the Americans who supported the McCarthyite “Red scare” inquisitions and the Clinton-era Whitewater investigations—predominantly white males, significantly wealthier than the average American, far more conservative than the mainstream, and fearful of the prospect that conservative white males might not continue to exert control over American society. “[W]hat seems to motivate them the most is a fear of a reduction in their own status—economically and socially,” Brinkley writes. As for their economic worries, he writes, “[T]heir concern is not the state of the economy as a whole, but their own economic conditions.” Brinkley concludes: “The real issue, I believe, is a sense among white males that they are somehow being displaced, that the country is no longer ‘theirs,’ that minorities and immigrants are becoming more and more powerful within society. And, of course, they are right about that. They just fear it more than many other Americans.”
Unrealistic Belief that Government Can Exist without Taxation - Author and former political science professor Lorenzo Morris writes that the tea party’s position on taxes is extremist: “The tea party supporters seem to think that government can exist without taxes.” The American experiment with the Articles of Confederation, which provided no real tax income at all, proves that idea to be wrong, Morris writes, but “[w]ith enough time and historical romanticism, however, bad ideas come back around.” He writes that the current appearance of the tea parties has become less “vitriolic and menacing” than their image from the summer of 2009, when their vociferous and sometimes-violent protesting of health care reform painted them as frightening and bigoted (see July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 11, 2009). The tea parties have begun to win the approval of right-wing Republican figures, including many of those who intend a presidential run in 2012. But, he concludes, their rigid disapproval of taxes as a concept, and taxation as a reality, means that they will inevitably “repeat the folly of those early Americans who thought there could be government with no taxes.”
Anger without Willingness to Make Real Change - Law professor Susan Estrich notes that the poll indicates a large reservoir of approval for former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the 2008 vice-presidential nominee for the Republican Party, but a strong doubt that she is competent to lead the nation. “Tea party types may be mad,” Estrich writes, “but they aren’t buying President Palin. And if they aren’t, who would?” Estrich goes on to note that tea party supporters, “like most of us… want to have it both ways: they want their Social Security and smaller government, want major cuts but not in Medicare, which is a little like having your cake and eating it, too. If you want to really reduce the size of government, that means cutting defense and entitlements. If you’re not willing to do that, what you get is big talk and no action, which is ultimately a recipe for anger.” She concludes by calling the racial element “lurking in the polls” “troubling.”
Motivated by Racial Concerns - Author and Democratic activist Bob Moser writes of his familiarity with tea parties in Texas, “where the movement has flared up hotter than just about anywhere else,” and his lack of surprise at the demographics: white, conservative, male, and relatively affluent. The concern about the nation’s economic tribulations, and the anger directed at Obama, is understandable, he writes. However, “[w]hat strikes me is how often America’s great and terrible obsession, race, slithers around the poll numbers.” The poll numbers may not directly bear out the racism and bigotry that exists in the ranks of the tea partiers, Moser writes, “[b]ut it’s impossible to shrug off the collective impressions left by the data. Why, exactly, do 73 percent of tea partiers say that the president does not understand ‘the needs and problems of people like yourself’?” The movement works hard to marginalize Americans who disagree with them, particularly Obama, as un-American, not a member of “we the people.” Moser notes that almost three-quarters of the tea party supporters “say that black and white people have an ‘equal’ chance of ‘getting ahead in today’s society.’ If that’s not colorblindness, it’s certainly some kind of blindness.” Moser concludes by writing that the tea party movement is achieving both goals set by “its corporate Republican conjurers,” both “becoming the political expression of a white-resistance movement being spurred by anxieties over the economy, the black ‘socialist’ president, and the coming end of majority-white America… [and] leaning, at least in 2010, strongly Republican in attitude.”
Healthy Expression of Populism - Political analyst David Gergen writes that the perception of the tea parties as angry, bitter, and divisive is untrue. He describes the latest rally he attended as “festive and friendly.” While many protest higher taxes and bigger government, Gergen writes, their claims that opposing Obama does not entail a racist viewpoint are true. “[M]any feel stung by what they see as misrepresentations in the press,” he writes. Gergen compares the 2010 tea partiers to the Ross Perot voters of 1992: “Those who supported Mr. Perot were mostly white, a little better educated than the general population and much more concerned about government deficits than government peeking into bedrooms. They were also more from the West and South but had pockets of support scattered around the country.” He notes that 18 percent of Americans identify themselves as tea party supporters; in 1992, 19 percent of voters cast their votes for Perot. He calls them a healthy expression of American populism and concludes: “Many of these tea partiers are fearful of how the country is changing. Some circles look down upon them; it would be far wiser to listen, understand and find ways to heal.”
Heralding GOP Success for 2010, Problems Farther On - Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center and a political polls expert, says the poll numbers “augur well for the Republicans in November’s midterm elections: the politically energized supra conservatives—the 1 in 5 who are universally disaffected with national conditions, and with Barack Obama and with his policies—are likely to be a strong advantage in the midterms, where typically fewer than 4 of 10 eligible citizens vote.” The Republicans’ biggest challenge is to keep the tea party supporters’ votes while simultaneously attracting independents and moderates. And a move by the GOP to the right, to further embrace the tea partiers, “may not bode well for the party in the longer run, given the new primacy of independent voters, a power that was on full display in 2008.” Moreover, the tea parties may well co-opt the GOP, going from “the tail that wags the dog” to becoming “the dog itself.” Kohut writes: “Looking ahead, our polling suggests that the Republican party needs unifying themes and leadership. A tea party-led GOP may not be the prescription for that.”
Economic Concerns Drive Tea Party Success - Political consultant Douglas Schoen says the fact that almost 1 in 5 Americans support the tea party “extraordinary, given that the movement is not active in half of America and that its name recognition is not universal.” Schoen gives no credence to “what appear to be the class-based or race-based attitudes of the tea party movement,” and writes that the movement is instead propelled by economic concerns. Schoen says that statistics aside, he believes the tea party movement to be far more diverse than the polls indicate (see September 2010). Almost half its supporters identify themselves as non-Republicans, and a quarter of them claim to have voted for Obama in 2008, he says. [New York Times, 4/15/2010]

Entity Tags: Bob Moser, Barack Obama, Amity Shlaes, Alan Wolfe, Alan Brinkley, Susan Estrich, Andrew Kohut, Steven F. Hayward, Paul Butler, Michael Lind, Douglas Schoen, Lorenzo Morris, Brent Bozell, David Gergen, Rick Perlstein, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

In his foreward to the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights’s (IREHR) multi-part report on the “tea party” movement (see August 24, 2010), NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous draws a sharp distinction between the various leaders and orchestrators of the movement, and its rank-and-file members. “We know the majority of tea party supporters are sincere, principled people of good will,” he begins. Unfortunately, he continues, many tea party leaders are unrepentant racists, with strong ties to white supremacist and far-right militia movements. Jealous asks the leaders and members of the various tea party organizations 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.” Jealous notes that the delegates to the latest NAACP convention passed a resolution “condemning outspoken racist elements within the tea party, and called upon tea party leaders to repudiate those in their ranks who use white supremacist language in their signs and speeches, and those tea party leaders who would subvert their own movement by spreading racism” (see July 13, 2010), a resolution triggered by a wave of racist and homophobic attacks on blacks, Democrats, gays, and others by tea party members (see April 15, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 11, 2009, September 2009, September 14, 2009, March 16, 2010, March 20, 2010, March 24-25, 2010, and May 14, 2010). While many tea party leaders defended their organizations’ and members’ actions, or denied them, or called the targets racists themselves (see July 14, 2010), Jealous notes that “tea party leaders began to quietly take steps toward actively policing explicitly racist activity within their ranks” (see March 25, 2010). Perhaps the most visible of these steps, Jealous notes, was the expulsion of Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams for his repeated and inflammatory racist and anti-Muslim statements (see July 17-18, 2010). The Williams expulsion proved three things, Jealous writes: the tea party claims that the movement is too loosely configured to moderate its leaders’ actions were wrong; there exists a demonstrable rift between tea party leaders who espouse racist rhetoric and those who condemn it; and the NAACP resolution had an impact. While the tea party groups were taking some steps to battle racism within their ranks, Jealous notes, various tea party organizations rushed to highlight their relatively few non-white members and proclaim their racial and religious diversity. However, these first steps are not enough, Jealous writes. Many tea party organizations are tied to openly racist groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens, he notes, and concludes that the IREHR report “serves as a cautionary reminder that Mark Williams is not unique within tea party leadesrhip circles and that ties between tea party factions and acknowledged racist groups endure.” [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 8/24/2010]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Jealous, Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, Mark Williams, Council of Conservative Citizens

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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