tea parties that recently took place around the country were billed
as a grassroots, bottom-up groundswell against taxes, big government
and bailouts. Fox News, apparently promoting itself as the official
teabag network, hopes to grab ratings by embracing the pseudo-populist
protests as their own.
politicians tried to hitch onto the mean-spirited tea party bandwagon,
replete with anti-Obama and racist protest signs. That the GOP
wants to associate itself with extremist groups tells you the political
party has officially fallen off the deep end. White supremacists,
militias, secessionists, conspiracy theorists and wingnuts—the subjects
of a new Department of Homeland Security report— apparently have
a seat at the table of the Republican Party. With the moderates
and even the reasonable, book learning-oriented conservatives driven
from the GOP, the extremists are now the base, the mainstream conservatives.
They are all that is left of a party in tatters, of what is now
a regional political organization— Southern, Christian and almost
more of this going through the motions about diversity, about the
big tent. And I think that is fine, because there is no love lost.
Many political observers always looked at their overtures to people
of color with a jaundiced eye. But the Republicans are playing
with fire now as they court the angry lynch mob. And we have been
down this road before.
speak of a time, during Jim Crow segregation, when opportunistic
politicians— the White Citizens Council, or the white-collar Klan—
appealed to their unwashed racist brethren by standing against desegregation
and voting against civil rights. The white-collar Klan gave a good
talk. They stood in front of the schoolhouse door to block the
Black students from attending class, but they kept their hands clean.
Meanwhile, the angry mob, Klansmen and other domestic terrorists,
did the dirty work. They acted with a wink and a nod from the respectable
White-collar Klan, and took matters into their own hands by burning
crosses, lynching civil rights workers, and bombing Black churches.
And this is the arrangement that the GOP appears to be establishing
with their base today.
From an organizational point of view, the tea parties
are a prime example of “astroturfing”, top-down machinations operating
under the guise of a faux grassroots movement—like a phony, conservative
version of MoveOn.org,
but operated by a corporate puppetmaster. In this case, as was
reported in The Atlantic and ThinkProgress, they are being led by corporate lobbyist-run, Republican-affiliated
front groups and think-tanks: FreedomWorks, a conservative action group led by former U.S. House Majority Leader
Dick Armey; the free-market group Americans For Prosperity, and the online-oriented, free-market group DontGo Movement, which was born out of last year’s offshore drilling
debate in Congress. These organizations are writing the press releases
and talking points, thinking up the ideas for the signs, setting
up the conference calls, you name it.
Americans For Prosperity operates through the generosity
of philanthropies such as the ultra-conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
(which bankrolled Ward Connerly’s anti-affirmative action
ballot initiatives, and The Bell Curve author Charles Murray),
and the pro-oil drilling Koch Family foundations.
accordance with the interests of Armey’s client base,
FreedomWorks has lobbied for the privatization of Social Security,
and the deregulation of the life insurance industry. It supports
the status quo in America’s use of fossil fuels, and has lobbied
against healthcare reform. Further, FreedomWorks has received funding from telephone giants Verizon and AT&T, and has opposed net neutrality legislation that would keep the Internet democratic
and open. One FreedomWorks funder is the Scaife Foundation, from
Richard Mellon Scaife, key patron of the American Right.
So, these are the White-collar interests behind the
tea parties. But what of the angry, disgruntled masses, the violent
ones that’ll “git ‘er done”? Well, the Department of Homeland Security
just issued a report called
“Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political
Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” According to the report, the current economic downturn
and the election of an African American president have provided
recruitment opportunities for White supremacist and radical right-wing
the report warns, “the consequences of a prolonged economic downturn—including
real estate foreclosures, unemployment, and an inability to obtain
credit—could create a fertile recruiting environment for rightwing
extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups
and government authorities similar to those in the past.”
The current situation is not unlike the 1990s, when
angst over a recession fed
paranoia, and conspiracy theories about the end times, martial
law and the suspension of the U.S. Constitution. The environment
led to the targeting of government buildings and law enforcement,
and resulted in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It was the largest
terrorist attack on U.S. soil before September 11, 2001, in which
a bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building claimed 168 lives
and left over 800 people injured.
to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 2008 there were 926 hate
groups in the U.S.— more than a 4 percent increase from 888 groups
in 2007, and an over 50 percent increase since 2000, when 602 groups
DHS report notes that disgruntled veterans from the current wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan are recruited by white supremacist groups,
exploited for the training and skills they acquire in the military.
Let’s not forget that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a
veteran of Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991.
right-wing groups are united by their hatred of immigration and
a frustration over perceived government inaction on the issue, and
they perpetrate hate crimes against Latinos. And in their hostility
towards gun control legislation—such as assault weapons bans and
proposed universal handgun registration—they stockpile weapons and
ammunition, and engage in paramilitary training.
extremist organizations are also united by their concern over the
election of President Obama, which has translated into new recruits.
Can we forget the blood-lust at the McCain-Palin rallies, in which
crowd participants called Obama a terrorist and a traitor, carried
around Obama monkey dolls and called for his death? During the
2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Obama received more threats
than any other candidate in recent memory, according to the Southern
Poverty Law Center. Moreover, several white supremacists were arrested
for plotting to assassinate him or threatening to do so.
the tea parties represent another venue, another outlet for racist
and extremist sentiment, all funded by right-wing corporate interests.
Consider some of the signs that were held by teabag protestors:
Columbia, S.C., an elderly man held a large sign which read
“Barack Obama supports Abortion, Sodomy, Socialism and The New
under this economic and political climate, some elected officials
try to tap into this extremist and racist anger with calls for secession
and states’ rights, time-tested racist code words for the suppression
of civil rights of African Americans. And the half-baked rejection of the stimulus money by some Republican governors, particularly
in Southern states with considerable poverty and large populations
of color, smacks of traditional conservative opposition to social
programs on the grounds that they’ll help Black and Brown people.
It’s funny until somebody gets hurt, as they always say.
the white-collar Klan and the regular Klan have entered the 21st
century, and what the government intends to do about it this time
around remains to be seen. But it is certain that we can’t sleep
on this one.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a journalist
and human rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor
to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty
International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police
brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional
Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. He
blogs at davidalove.com, Daily
Kos, and Open Salon. Click here to contact Mr. Love.