A new report untangles the wad of Tea Party threads, and the movement laid bare shows less obsession with government and taxes and more obsession with race, ethnicity and Barack Obama.
“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,” wrote Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind in their introduction to “Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size, Scope, and Focus of Its National Factions.”
“Instead, this report found Tea Party ranks to be permeated with concerns about race and national identity and other so-called social issues,” the authors wrote. “In these ranks, an abiding obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate is often a stand-in for the belief that the first black president of the United States is not a ‘real American.’ Rather than strict adherence to the Constitution, many Tea Partiers are challenging the provision for birthright citizenship found in the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The NAACP has helped release and promote the report, but the organization is not the author of it, as has been reported erroneously by some news outlets. The authors, Burghart and Zeskind, are vice president and president, respectively, of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, a Kansas City, Mo.-based organization that examines how extremist movements interact with social policy.
“This is a sobering report,” said David Emmanuel Goatley, executive secretary-treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention, in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. “It documents distressing trends of racist ideology which are finding space and platform for influencing national policy and politics.”
“There are, no doubt, members of the Tea Party movement who are committed to debate on the issues, are passionate about their positions, and are not ideologically racist,” continued Goatley, who is also a member of the NAACP’s board of directors. “The real challenge for the Tea Party leaders and followers is whether they are willing to promote their political position while accepting the cancer of racism that continuously hinders the full flourishing of the United States. What are they willing to accept to help their cause to win? They have a clear moral decision.”
The bulk of the report is its analysis of the various Tea Party factions: the 1776 Tea Party, ResistNet Tea Party, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks.
The authors examine how these networks differ as well as how they cooperate. For example, the 1776 Tea Party faction is most directly linked to the anti-immigration movement and the Minuteman Project, whereas Tea Party Nation, headquartered in Franklin, Tenn., “has provided a gathering place for so-called birthers and has attracted Christian nationalists and nativists.”
The report concludes that the various factions and networks “have had a devastating impact on thoughtful policy making for the common good, both at the local and state as well as at the federal levels.”
Wendell Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., and a board director for the Baptist Center for Ethics, characterized the white supremacy threads of the Tea Party movement as a cancer that must be fought.
“The question is not whether white supremacy runs through Tea Party nationalism,” said Griffen in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. “It plainly does, no matter how much people may want to deny or ignore it. The real issue is whether white Americans, and especially white people who self-identify as Christians – meaning followers of Jesus, accept the idea that Tea Party nationalism promotes sound public policy, meaning that it is healthy for the nation.”
The authors spent a year analyzing the Tea Party movement: reading literature from the various networks, talking to Tea Partiers themselves, following the movement online, watching Tea Party coverage on television, and, of course, following the money trail in government filings and databases.
Familiar names surface as influencers on, leaders in and targets of the movement: Ron Paul, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Dick Armey, Michele Bachmann.
The report probes everything from the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives (chaired by Republican Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann) to opposition to “birthright citizenship.” And they are related: The report found that 39 caucus members were also co-sponsors of the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009.
“This bill, currently sitting in a House committee, would end birthright citizenship in the United States for the America-born children of parents without papers,” the report stated. The report then includes sample web posts by Tea Party activists about birthright citizenship – posts claiming that “Mexicans” will “overtake us” if measures aren’t taken.
The report’s foreword, by NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, focuses on the racist elements within the Tea Party movement and applauds steps movement leaders have taken to distance the movement, at least formally, from avowed racists.
The NAACP also backs the Tea Party Tracker, which tracks extremist elements within the Tea Party movement. The Tracker’s tagline: “A Watched Teapot Never Boils.”