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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.” (Beutler 3/20/2010; Russert 3/20/2010; Hall 3/20/2010; Washington 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.” (Stokols 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. (Bai 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 (Baker 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.” (Washington 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. (Washington 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)
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). (Walsh 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).
Representative Andre Carson (D-IN) tells an audience at a town hall that “tea party” members of Congress view African-Americans as “second-class citizens” and would like to see them “hanging on a tree,” characterizations that the Washington Post later terms “incendiary.” Carson makes the remarks at a Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Job Tour event in Miami, Florida. Carson tells the audience: “I’m saying right now, under [CBC] Chairman Emanuel Cleaver’s leadership, we have seen change in Congress… but the tea party is stopping that change. And this is beyond symbolic change. This is the effort that we’re seeing, of Jim Crow.… Some of these folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second-class citizens. Some of them in Congress right now with this tea party movement would love to see you and me—I’m sorry, Tamron—hanging on a tree.” “Tamron” is a reference to MSNBC news anchor Tamron Hall, who moderates the event. Carson adds: “Some of them right now in Congress right now are comfortable with where we were 50 or 60 years ago. But it’s a new day with a black president and a Congressional Black Caucus.” His office later confirms that Carson stands by the statements, saying they were “prompted in response to frustration voiced by many in Miami and in his home district in Indianapolis regarding Congress’ inability to bolster the economy.” Carson spokesman Jason Tomcsi adds: “The tea party is protecting its millionaire and oil company friends while gutting critical services that they know protect the livelihood of African-Americans, as well as Latinos and other disadvantaged minorities. We are talking about child nutrition, job creation, job training, housing assistance, and Head Start, and that is just the beginning. A child without basic nutrition, secure housing, and quality education has no real chance at a meaningful and productive life. So, yes, the congressman used strong language because the tea party agenda jeopardizes our most vulnerable and leaves them without the ability to improve their economic standing.” The Blaze, a Web site launched by conservative commentator and former Fox News host Glenn Beck, begins circulating clips of Carson’s statements, interspersed with other statements made by CBC members at other town halls, calling them “dangerous” and “violent.” Carson was one of the CBC members called a “n_gger” by tea party ralliers outside the Capitol in March 2010 (see March 20, 2010). (Sonmez 8/30/2011; Bingham 8/30/2011)
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