The NAACP and the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) today fired the second official salvo in the battle between civil rights groups and the Tea Party movement. In a report released this morning, "Tea Party Nationalism," IREHR researchers Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind detail the origins of the Tea Party and its connections to militias, anti-immigrant organizations and white-power groups.
NAACP President Ben Jealous writes in a foreword to the report, "We know the majority of Tea Party supporters are sincere, principled people of good will," but, he adds, "links between certain Tea Party factions and acknowledged racist hate groups in the United States … should give all patriotic Americans pause."
"Tea Party Nationalism" comes several months after the NAACP passed a resolution condemning what it regards as troubling racism within the ranks of the Tea Party movement.
"We take issue with the Tea Party's continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements," Jealous said in a statement released at the NAACP's 101st annual convention in July. "The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no space for racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in their movement."
Citing numerous instances of anti-Semitism, "birtherism" (the belief that President Barack Obama is not American), white nationalism and nativism, "Tea Party Nationalism" paints a portrait of the nascent Tea Party movement as one with significant dangerous undertones. An addendum to the report, "The Racism Within," even goes so far as to name specific Tea Party supporters the IREHR considers especially worrisome.
In Arkansas, Billy Roper, a self-described white nationalist who advocates for an all-white America, was once "an enrolled member of the ResistNet Tea Party." However, since Roper was exposed as a racist by a report in The Kansas City Star, ResistNet and other Tea Party supporters in the Arkansas area have either totally disavowed his ties to their organization or "denied that they even knew him."
In another example, Larry Pratt, a former Republican member of the Virginia Legislature, has for years argued for a "no compromise" gun control stance (that is to say, he opposes any form of gun regulation whatsoever). Pratt is also an active member of the Tea Party Nation and 1776 Tea Party, according to Burghart and Zeskind.
"Tea Party Nationalism" goes on to list dozens of other people of concern, the most famous of whom is Mark Williams, the former chairman of the Tea Party Express, one of the largest Tea Party organizations in America. Williams, who infamously said, "Obamacare is essentially a version of eugenics, even genocide or perhaps an ethnic cleansing — or all three," was forced out of the Tea Party federation in July because of an inappropriate satirical letter he posted in response to the NAACP's resolution. He has since had little to no involvement with major Tea Party organizations.
In his foreword, Jealous makes it a point to say that the NAACP resolution precipitated at least two major pushes for diversity in the Tea Party: a "Uni-Tea" rally and a Web drive, "Diverse Tea," to expose minority members of the Tea Party movement. But he also argues that there's more work to be done. "I hope the leadership and members of the Tea Party movement will read this report and take additional steps to distance themselves from those Tea Party leaders who espouse racist ideas, advocate violence, or are formally affiliated with white supremacist organizations," he says.
For their part, Tea Party movement members have mostly dismissed the IREHR findings. "Here we go again," said Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, in an interview with The Kansas City Star. "This is typical of this liberal group's smear tactics."
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.