Tea Party Racism

Over the last week, I have been having an online debate with an active member of the Tea Party (T.P.) Apparently, he found a previous article I had written offensive because I described certain members of the T.P. movement as “teabaggers.” He claimed that I was denigrating a large number of Americans and that he personally found it insulting. Of course, he never mentioned all the denigrating language the T.P. movement, Fox News, and the rightwing media spin machine use on a daily basis to describe liberals, progressives and socialists. My T.P. friend earnestly believed that I was using “hate speech” when I used the term "teabagger," but that there is nothing wrong in using pejoratives when referring to the left. I once again pointed to the widespread racism found at T.P. gatherings and he dismissed my examples as the work of  “just a few loons,” which he claims can be found in every movement.

While I agree every nationwide movement is bound to have a “few loons,” recent polling data on T.P. members show racism is represented in a solid majority and is proving to be a systemic problem within the movement. Over the last month, I have visited dozens of Tea Party websites, YouTube videos of rallies, read speeches and articles from T.P. supporters, and researched academic reports that have been released on T.P. ideology, racism and their connections to militant extremists. And while the T.P. movement is just over a year old, there is a growing mountain of data which allows us to draw some early conclusions. One conclusion that is becoming increasingly clear is that the Tea Party has a problem with racism.

This week, April 7, 2010, Professor Christopher Parker of the WISER Institute, at the University of Washington, released the results of a political science poll studying racism in American politics. Here is an excerpt from the report: “America is definitely not beyond race. For instance, the Tea Party, the incipient movement that claims to be committed to reining in what they perceive as big government, appears to be motivated by more than partisanship and ideology. Approximately 45% of Whites either strongly or somewhat approve of the movement. Of those, only 35% believe Blacks to be hardworking, only 45 % believe Blacks are intelligent, and only 41% think that Blacks are trustworthy. Perceptions of Latinos aren’t much different. While 54% of White Tea Party supporters believe Latinos to be hardworking, only 44% think them intelligent, and even fewer, 42% of Tea Party supporters believe Latinos to be trustworthy …” The report reveals that Tea Party members are 36 percent more likely to be racially resentful than non-Tea Party supporters. According to Professor Parker, "While it’s clear that the tea party in one sense is about limited government, it’s also clear from the data that people who want limited government don’t want certain services for certain kinds of people. Those services include health care."


I have shown to my Tea Party friends racist signs, videos, and speeches from ordinary T.P. members on up to founding members and prominent speakers. And each example, the T.P. supporters made excuses like it’s “just a few loons.,” or "both sides" do that. For example, when I showed a T.P supporter a sign being held up by a prominent white middle aged T.P. member that read, “Congress = Slave Owner Taxpayer = N Word,” they claimed that this message is just a “figure of speech.” Well, I’m not sure where this “figure of speech" is common, but I would bet most Americans find it offensive and racist.

In addition to all those racist signs, pesky academic reports and polls illustrating T.P. racism, there are several extremist groups that have hooked up and joined forces with the Tea Party Movement. As I have pointed out in the past, these groups include nativists, white supremacists, and Patriot militias. Throughout the last year, many of the these groups have tabled at T.P. rallies and have been openly embraced. While it is also true that there have also been a few T.P. groups have rejected some of the most extreme white supremacists groups. (Especially the overt neo-Nazi and skinheads.) However, one such example of a white supremacists group that has been accepted by many T.P. members -and rejected by a few – is the Council of Conservative Citizens. According to the Anti-Defamation League; The CofCC, "Advances its ideology by inflaming fears and resentments, among Southern whites particularly, with regard to black-on-white crime, non-white immigration,… Although the group claims not to be racist, its leaders traffic with other white supremacist groups and its publications, Web sites and meetings all promote the purportedly innate superiority of whites."


Anyone can go on over the CofCC website and read headlines like, "Florida Tea Party embraces CofCC." Reporters throughout the south have seen CofCC members being warmly received at most Tea Party gatherings. Some have questioned T.P. organizers about their presences reporters have found mixed responses, “"It is clear that the ‘patriots’ who attend these rallies are not united on major ideological issues. Some folks have no problem joining forces with openly white nationalist organizations like CofCC, whereas others shun them in an attempt to salvage the legitimacy of the group. The tea party movement has grown tremendously in the United States over the past 10 months, but growth is not necessarily a sign of success. Continued intrusion by white nationalist groups spells disaster for this movement."


Tea Party members and defenders have claimed racist views are held by just a “few loons.” The empirical data reveals a different story. The data keeps coming in and the signs keep popping up and are obvious to anyone willing to look at them. It is clear the T.P movement will continue to deny and close their eyes to the overwhelming evidence. However, the question is, will the rest of America ignore the racism? Nearly 60 percent of T.P. supporters believe blacks and Latinos are essentially lazy, stupid and can’t be trusted. And that is not just a few loons. That is a systemic problem that reflects a very troubled movement that, I believe, must come to grips with the problem.