Political Physics: Is the Tea Party Just Another Organized Hate Group?


a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, nonprofit civil rights organization that monitors hate groups and racial extremists, the number of organized hate groups in the United States is on the rise.  “Currently there are 932 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansman, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others.”  And since 2000, the number of hate groups in this country has increased by 54 percent.

The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the “surge has been fueled by fears of Latino immigration and, more recently, by the election of the country’s first African-American president and the economic crisis.”

As the year-long (truly decades-long) debate on health care drew to a dramatic close, Tea Party protesters rallied outside of the Capitol.  According to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Representative John Lewis, D-Georgia, and Andre Carson, D-Indiana, both members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that Capitol Hill protesters fighting healthcare reform hurled racial slurs and another lawmaker said somebody spit on him.

But do random acts of bigotry by select members of the group point to a larger movement within the Tea Party?  According to party leadership, the answer is no.

Terri Linnell, Director of the San Diego Patriots, said, “the Tea Party believes in three basic things.  Fiscal responsibility, we just simply can’t continue a tax, borrow and spend agenda that’s going on, and we believe in a constitutionally limited government.”  Linnell contends that assertions that their group is racist or a hate group is absurd.

Richard Rider, Chair of the San Diego Tax Fighters, noted, “the Tea Party movement is a political movement. That’s the core issue here. Is this a group that is a threat to people? Are there assassination teams running around? Is this a Symbionese Liberation Army or is this the Black Panthers or the Weather Underground, all of which, of course, were on the other side. Would we say that the civil rights movement was a terrorist org – or was leaning towards violence because there are groups like the Black Panthers and no, of course not.”

And Tea Party members point to the diversity of their own membership as proof positive that they are far from a racist organization.  According to Ed Morrissey’s of Hot Air, “Gallup’s demo[graphics] of the Tea Party look very close to that of the overall American demos on ethnicity … The educational background of Tea Party followers almost exactly matches that of the general population … Low-income earners (less than $30K) make up 19% of the Tea Party, as compared to 25% of the general population, and those making more than $50K are 55% of the Tea Party rather than the 50% of the general population, but that’s not much of a difference.”

So if the Tea Party looks just like you and me, then they cannot be a racist organization right?

Maybe not, but according to the Southern Poverty Law Center there’s still reason for concern.

The Southern Poverty Law Center notes the fine line that the Tea Party walks between political movement and hate group.  Heidi Beirich, Director of Research for the Southern Poverty Law Center says, “Although the tea parties and similar nascent groups are not fairly described as extremist, they are laced with extreme-right ideas, conspiracy theories and racism, in part thanks to certain ostensibly mainstream commentators and politicians. One example: One politician who was invited to the convention and did speak — his talk was the gathering’s first — left little doubt about his own racism. Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman from Colorado and possibly the most rabid anti-immigrant politician in America, told the convention: “People who could not spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House — [his] name is Barack Hussein Obama.”

According to Dennis Bakay from philly2philly.com the events that transpired during the health care debate are (1) irrefutable and (2) not the first time racial slurs or racists actions have been taken by the Tea Party.  According to Dennis Bakay, “It has finally happened.  The Tea Party movement has shown its ugly colors yesterday as members of its movement hurled racial epithets at several black congressman during their so-called health care protest yesterday in Washington D.C.  And, as the House votes on Healthcare Reform today the Tea Party’s message has been thwarted by racism.”

To be fair, Dennis Bakay noted that the majority of Tea Party members are not racist (and I agree).  However, “[although] the Tea Party protests started out as part of the anti-tax Tea Party Movement.  Now, these protests have disintegrated into nothing more than hate mongering and white pride displays for many of their members who direct their hatred toward President Obama because of the color of his skin.  And, despite what the ardent supporters will try and tell you, this isn’t the first time it’s happened.”  Dennis Bakay goes on to share several images and video clips from several Tea Part rallies where members are yelling racial slurs, holding racist signs, etc. (see philly2philly.com to watch the videos for your self).

And Dr. Dipak Gupta, Fred Hansen Professor of World Peace, San Diego State University adds, “All the ideas that the Tea Party movement are promoting are absolutely legitimate.  They are – they should be of concern to everybody.  But what we have to worry about are those people who are using this movement and the frustration and anger and the fear of the people at times of economic distress, whether they’re channeling it against some individuals and groups.”

The actions of a select group of Tea Party members during the final days of the health care debate were not just random acts of a few select members.

But does that mean that the Tea Party Movement is racist, no.

However, there are hate groups and extremist organizations (not to mention several radical members of the Republic Party) that are using the movement to spread a message of hate and extremism, in effect silencing the true anti-tax message of the movement.  And there is leadership within the Tea Party that is well aware of what is happening and they’re turning a blind eye.

As the number of hate groups and extremist organizations in the country continue to rise and as violence erupts in the wake of the health care vote, we need to ask ourselves if we can afford to provide these groups with more public opportunities to spread their hatred or more venues to recruit members.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Let me know what you think in the comments section.