White Supremacists Crash Anti-Obama Tea Party

It began with Apr. 15 Tax Day protests as thousands rallied in a number of cities across the country.

It continued on into the summer with raucous town hall meetings and gun-toting anti-Barack Obama demonstrators, and appeared to reach its apex with a Sep. 12 march on Washington, which drew nearly 100,000 participants.

Now, however, some in the so-called Tea Party movement are turning their attention toward becoming a force during the 2010 congressional elections.

Several reports on the Sep. 12 event noted it was a nearly all-white crowd and some demonstrators carried an assortment of “homemade” anti-Obama posters, declaring that “The Anti-Christ Is Living in the White House”, and calling the president an “Oppressive Bloodsucking Arrogant Muslim Alien”.

Despite the fact that it doesn’t have a clear identity, and serious questions about the movement’s character remain to be answered, the Tea Party movement has been one of the most intriguing political developments of the past year.

Is it a grassroots movement, or has it been organised and funded by Washington-based conservative groups? Could it be both? Is it mainly concerned with economic issues (government spending, taxes, deficits) or are the Christian Right’s traditional social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage) of interest to tea partiers?

Are there several – possibly competing – ideological tendencies within the movement?

While tea partiers made a lot of noise this past summer, doing their best to put the kybosh on health care reform, is there a future for the movement?

A recent Rasmussen Poll suggests that there very well might be.

In theoretical three-way congressional races between a Democrat, Republican and Tea Party candidate, the Tea Party candidate outpolled the Republican. Democrats attracted 36 percent of the vote; the Tea Party candidate received 23 percent, and the Republican finished third at 18 percent, with 22 percent undecided.

(According to the Rasmussen Reports website, “survey…respondents were asked to assume that the Tea Party movement organized as a new political party. In practical terms, it is unlikely that a true third-party option would perform as well as the polling data indicates. The rules of the election process – written by Republicans and Democrats – provide substantial advantages for the two established major parties.)

Interestingly enough, in an effort to build the movement, some Tea Party organisers have taken to “studying the grassroots training methods of the late Saul Alinsky, the community organizer known for campus protests in the 1960s and who inspired the structure of Obama’s presidential campaign,” the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported.

Tea Party groups are also using “Tea Party: The Documentary Film” as an organising tool. In a pre-premiere press release, the filmmakers claimed that the film would deal with the “allegations of racism”.

And that indeed appears to be the issue that could stymie the movement’s growth.

While Tea Party events have become a safe haven for people carrying racist anti-Obama signs, people of colour have stayed away in droves. Members of white nationalist organisations openly participate in Tea Party events and view the movement as a fertile recruiting ground.

Questions about the overlap between tea partiers and anti-immigration activists might be answered when an immigration reform bill is taken up next year.

Are the openly-racist elements within the Tea Party movement an aberration scorned by most Tea Party participants as John Hawkins, who runs a website called RightWingNews, insists, or are they more firmly entrenched than tea partiers would care to admit?

“The tea parties themselves are made up of a diverse bloc of different political elements, and white nationalists have chosen to make a stand inside the tea parties,” one expert, Devin Burghart, told IPS.

For the past 17 years, Burghart has researched and written on virtually all facets of contemporary white nationalism. He is currently vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, which monitors and publishes on the activities of white nationalist groups.

“The exact extent of the racist element inside the Tea Parties is difficult to quantify, because they are not a static phenomena, and it depends on who shows up,” he explained. “That said, it’s enough of a factor to attract the attention of a significant portion of the white nationalist movement.”

“It’s not a matter of how many African-American or Latino/a folks show up at these tea parties, it’s about the content and character of the arguments made at them,” Burghart added.

Not only have “tea partiers have turned up with overtly racist signs and slogans” at rallies from coast to coast, he said, but also many participants “cling to the belief that our first African-American president is not only un-American, he was not even born in the country”.

Unfortunately, Burghart noted, “There’s little evidence to indicate that tea party leaders are doing anything to address the racism in their ranks.”

Burghart said that he was not surprised that “tea party activists would deny their racism”. After all, “racists have been denying their racism even before pro-secessionist bigots couched their arguments in bogus claims about states’ rights”.

However, he added, “To anyone with any degree of sensitivity to the issue, the tea parties have clearly shown themselves to be racist, in the lineage of George Wallace – who when he campaigned up North eschewed talk of racial segregation in favour ranting against ‘elites.'”

In an article at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights’ website, Leonard Zeskind, the organisation’s president and author of the recently published “Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream”, pointed out that the anti-Obama “opposition” contains “many different political elements”.

These include “ultra-conservative Republicans of both the Pat Buchanan and free market variety; anti-tax Tea Party libertarians from the Ron Paul camp; Christian right activists intent on re-molding the country into their kind of Kingdom; birth certificate conspiracy theorists, anti-immigrant nativists of the armed Minuteman and the policy wonk variety; third party ‘constitutionalists'; and white nationalists of both the citizens councils and the Stormfront national socialist variety.”

If Tea Party activists can ferret out racists and white nationalists from their ranks – and not become a mouthpiece for Christian Right ideologues – it could become a legitimate force on the U.S. political landscape.

Meanwhile, a host of groups, operating under assorted Tea Party banners, are working to influence the 2010 mid-term elections.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column, "Conservative Watch," documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Danny Ray said on December 29th, 2009 at 3:29pm #

    Bill, as a member of the Florida panhandle Tea Party, please allow me to address a few of your points,

    I was not privileged to attend the 9/12 tea party in Washington. but it was a mostly white crowd, But I do believe the percentage of non-whites is growing, I did see a number of signs demonizing Obama, but very few with racist overtones. Many people still do question his nationality, to quell that all he has to do is show his birth certificate, I know it would not satisfy everyone but the issue could then be put away where it needs to be.

    We did have one white supremacist come to a local meeting, he was not allowed to speak and soon left, and you must understand we want people of all colors and persuasions to join us to stop this runaway spending with its accompanying taxation and borrowing.

    We do want health care reform but not at the expense of bankrupting this country.

    We do not have a problem with immigration. But we believe in the need to know who is in this country.

    Mostly we want the government both, republicans and dems to stop spending money we do not have.

    This goverment is selling our future to buy bread and circuses and it must be stopped.

  2. NH said on December 29th, 2009 at 4:18pm #

    What a weak article.
    I have been to hundreds of protests and rallies and have never seen anything or anyone racist. To you whiners, racism is mere criticism. If this is the case you are CAUSING the racism, because many of us vow we won’t ever even vote for a CONSERVATIVE black if we’re not going to be allowed to criticize him harshly as well!

    Now that said, your article lacks credibility right off the bat when you say only 100,000 showed up on 9/12. Try 1.7 MILLION my friend! :-)

    And growing daily I might add. We have plenty of ethnic groups with us, but unlike progressives who pimp them for a purpose, we don’t take a head count or ask them what color or nationality they are!!! It is of no consequence. All are invited. Likewise, if they are religious, they have the right to be.
    If there is any blatant racism, it’s found in Obama’s terrible books.

    Finally, stop calling Obama an ‘African American’. He is half caucasian American and half Indonesian black…

    He also once told an opponent in a debate that it was OK that he was not born here, because he wasn’t (at the time) running for president. In his birthplace in Kenya, they are erecting a memorial and his grandmother there said she witnessed the birth! Numerous headlines heralded that a Kenyan was elected to the Senate, under the “New Party” banner… (socialist)

    To question his citizenship is not racist. If it can be cleared up, why did he spend over $1M to hide his original birth papers? We have the right to question, but not if you are living under the kind of fascism this man’s handlers would like to see.

    To us, you progressives who want government control over every aspect of our lives are the ‘nazis’. After all they are the socialists aren’t they?

  3. lichen said on December 29th, 2009 at 4:31pm #

    Yes, their “movement” is racist, but alas not a real movement itself as they are just a bunch of confused reactionaries lashing out against global warming, the potential for single-payer healthcare, social justice, and many other things; they know little to nothing (like that Obama is 99% bush), and will be unable to continue when their targets are out of office. They are, further, small and insignificant.

  4. Don Hawkins said on December 29th, 2009 at 4:38pm #

    The tea party’s and freedom Work’s Dick Armey and Steve Forbes Fox New’s should give us a little clue and so far pitting one side against another not working together oh boy strange day’s ahead.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 30th, 2009 at 3:38am #

    Danny, as a ‘panhandler’ does that mean we can toss you a dime, and you’ll disappear? I’m afraid your venal, corrupt and violent empire is crumbling. Do you have any idea how welcome that will be around the world, as your uniformed thugs, the child-murderers, rapists and befoulers who have terrorised the wretched of the earth for decades, slink home.? With luck you can then have a real civil war, amongst ecological collapse. All great civilizations have gone through eras of collapse and internecine war, which has taught them some humility. It’s long overdue that your arrogant, narcissistic, country learns a lesson in suffering akin to those it has sadistically imposed on so many others.

  6. Don Hawkins said on December 30th, 2009 at 3:45am #

    Real strange day’s ahead.

  7. Danny Ray said on December 30th, 2009 at 6:38am #

    God Bless you too Mulga.

  8. Hue Longer said on December 30th, 2009 at 1:33pm #

    Hello Danny,

    Arguing personal cost of healthcare, spending and immigration aside, the Tea Party should make you question some things about them…Why are they covered and directly supported by the corporate media? The high turnout figures are being reported by this media who downplays numbers in other protest events they only cover to downplay. If dissidents, why are you guys encouraged by the state to do what you do? Heads get cracked and groups get infiltrated who amass from grassroots movements….doesn’t this make you wonder if you’re being used?

  9. Danny Ray said on December 30th, 2009 at 2:49pm #

    Not at all Hue, yes we are covered by the corporate media but I have seen no direct support unless you add the support of some of the right leaning commentators. In particular on FOX.

    As far as the high turnout figures, at one local event I worked at the gate, we collected 900 signatures (which were verified) yet the local media only reported a few hundred.
    When the issue was addressed with them we were told that they had guessed at the numbers but never got a retraction.

    I have also heard the national media state that we were a group of Lunatics, Ku Kluxers, Militia members and Nazis. (See article above) this comes from the alphabet networks.

    As far as I can see we have gotten no support from the state, some of the local governments have paid us the courtesy of listening to us. However, the white house hates us with a passion.

    As for heads getting being cracked and being infiltrated. So what? We believe the cause is worth it, I cannot believe a good leftist like you would be afraid to step up to the barricades to make a difference.

    B.T.W., Hue, Have a Happy New Year I sincerely hope the new year brings you happiness.