The NAACP reignited the debate over the extremism of Tea Parties on Wednesday, releasing a report alleging ongoing ties between hate groups and the movement, which the civil rights organization criticizes for giving a platform to anti-Semites, racists and bigots.
"The result of this study contravenes many of the Tea Parties' self-invented myths, particularly their supposedly sole concentration on budget deficits, taxes and the power of the federal government," reads the introduction to "Tea Party Nationalism," a joint project with the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. "Instead, this report found Tea Party ranks to be permeated with concerns about race and national identity and other so-called social issues."
On a call with reporters, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous was quick to point out that his organization has no problem with the Tea Party movement as a whole. "We have no problem with the Tea Party existing," he said. "We have no problem with the Tea Party expressing its views in the great debates in our great democracy. We do, however, have a problem when prominent Tea Party members who have direct ties to organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens, are allowed to use Tea Party events to recruit people for those white supremacist groups. ... And most importantly, we have a problem when the majority of the Tea Parties stand silent and doesn't loudly condemn that sort of behavior."
The NAACP first stepped into the Tea Party debate with a resolution issued by its Kansas City, Mo. branch in July, which stated that members of the movement have "displayed signs and posters intended to degrade people of color generally and President Barack Obama specifically" and added its "racist elements" are a "a threat to progress." The conservative movement forcefully responded, with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin condemning the organization.
In September, the civil rights organization partnered with ThinkProgress, Media Matters and New Left Media to launch Tea Party Tracker, a site set up to monitor "racism and other forms of extremism in the Tea Party movement."
Jealous said that although some initial "good steps" have been taken -- such as the Tea Party Express expelling spokesman Mark Williams for his offensive comments and FreedomWorks making an attempt to highlight more people of color in the movement -- the Tea Parties need to go further and expel all birthers, racists and nativists from their midst.
A release put out by the NAACP specifically lists six individuals it calls "Troubling Tea Partiers." They include Billy Roper, a white nationalist who was an enrolled member of ResistNet and is running a write-in campaign for Arkansas governor, and Wood County Tea Party leader Karen Pack, who was an "official supporter" of the Ku Klux Klan.
Tea Party organizers are less than thrilled with the NAACP's report. "Here we go again," said Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, told the Kansas City Star. "This is typical of this liberal group's smear tactics." Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Tea Party Express, said the NAACP has "abandoned the cause of civil rights for the advancement of liberal Democrat politics."
Interestingly, "Tea Party Nationalism" debunks a frequent claim that there is a link between unemployment levels and Tea Party membership. "This data -- the most comprehensive available on Tea Party online membership -- provides no convincing evidence of a correlation between unemployment and membership," notes the report. "As such, it provides no convincing evidence that unemployment causes Tea Party online membership."
What most troubles the report's authors is the fact that the organizations within the Tea Party movement showing the fastest growth are the Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet, which have the most diffuse, locally based structures. "This would tend to indicate a larger movement less susceptible to central control, and more likely to attract racist and nativist elements at the local level," the report concludes. "Simply put, the Tea Parties are not going away after the mid-term elections, and they can be expected to have a continuing impact on public policy debate into the future."
On Sunday, "Meet the Press" host David Gregory referenced the NAACP report in a question to Colorado Senate candidates Michael Bennet and Ken Buck: "If you're senator, do you think these elements in the Tea Party need to be dealt with and need to be rebuffed?" Buck replied that he hasn't seen that sort of racism in the more than 800 events he's been to in Colorado in the last 20 months. Bennet also said that he hasn't "seen a lot of that either."
"Apparently, living in Colorado and being involved in politics as long as they have, they haven't seen Tom Tancredo, who has made repeated comments, including talking about the need to put the bombing of Mecca and Medina on the table," said Jealous.
UPDATE, 4:26 p.m.: Statement from the Tea Party Express: "This report is ridiculous and an affront to the millions of Americans who are deeply concerned about the growth and intrusiveness of the federal government with the accompaniment of higher taxes, more onerous government regulations, high annual deficits and a skyrocketing national debt. To attack a grassroots movement of this magnitude with sundry isolated incidents only goes to show the NAACP has abandoned the cause of civil rights for the advancement of liberal Democrat politics. They should be ashamed of themselves. The dramatic change in American politics over the last 20 months since the tea party movement started demonstrates that people want their government to stop the fiscal insanity in Washington DC. It has nothing to do with race. The Tea Party Express has publicly and explicitly repudiated racism and stated clearly that those with racist views are not welcome at our events or rallies."
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