(The Root) — The confederacy of dunces that makes up the Republican Party leadership and Fox News want you to believe that liberal operatives at the IRS abused power — for political purposes — by scrutinizing conservative Tea Party affiliates applying for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status. What has been missed in the mainstream debate on the topic is the fact that the Tea Party should have been scrutinized. Race, money, political power and extremist ideology are the smoking guns — and it's time to follow the money trail.
President Obama chose to get ahead of the scandal, saying that targeting of conservative groups was "inexcusable." Heads are already rolling after the official inspector general's report, which forced the acting IRS commissioner to resign. Analysis on the political left and center has proven equally appeasing of GOP critics, with many liberals buying into Republican talking points. But what is being ignored is a critical truth that, from its inception, the Tea Party movement has resembled an activist organization driven by white supremacist ideology — its sole organizing purpose being to oppose the nation's first African-American president.
What is different about the Tea Party (as opposed to more blatant radicals) is that it morphed into a pseudo-policy force whose expressed concerns were excessive government spending and debt. This gave it legitimacy among the Beltway chattering classes and, as such, the Tea Party is a well-oiled, well-funded machine that has now been surreptitiously co-opted by the Republican establishment and used to swift-boat the president on every issue from the debt ceiling to sequestration to judicial and Cabinet appointments and the jobs bill.
What does this have to do with the IRS?
If the majority of Tea Party members had been Muslim — arriving at rallies with concealed weapons and signs depicting the U.S. president as Hitler and reading, "Don't tread on me" or "Take back our country" — House Republicans would readily build a bipartisan coalition requiring the CIA, FBI and IRS to investigate its members and their financial backers. No stone would be left unturned. The Patriot Act would be used as justification, and if questions arose, the official answer would be "no comment" in the name of "national security."
Beginning as early as 2007 and 2008, the FBI, Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security all reported increases in white supremacist activity — in direct response to the ascendency of Barack Obama. A special DHS report in 2009 showed that many extremist and self-proclaimed neo-Nazi organizations were encouraging younger members to join the U.S. military as a way to provide weapons training for subsequent militia activity. There was a backlash to the report — critics claimed soldiers should not be targeted as suspects by the very government they served.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the research, saying in an official statement, "The document on right-wing extremism … is an ongoing series of assessments … on the phenomenon and trends of violent radicalization in the United States." Napolitano was sure to express appreciation to loyal veterans but concluded, "Let me be very clear: We monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States. We do not have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence."
This past January, Mother Jones magazine revealed that James B. Taylor, a prominent conservative leader who once ran a white supremacist group, also had ties with the Tea Party Express — one of the largest and most influential of the Tea Party groups. Prior to his Tea Party affiliations, Taylor was vice president of the innocuously named National Policy Institute — a tax-exempt group whose aim is to lobby for white Americans. It is that kind of exemption that lies at the heart of the supposed IRS scandal.
This begs an uncomfortably obvious question: Should the kind of tax-exempt status given to religious organizations and charities be conferred upon groups with strong antigovernment ideologies and who have ties to white supremacists?
A 2011 article by Eve Conant for the Daily Beast showed that a number of white-nationalist groups were instrumental in fueling the anti-Obama sentiment that helped Republicans win the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterms. More importantly, some of the individuals involved had expressed ties to the Tea Party. Conant spoke with Don Black, the founder of Stormfront, the nation's largest white-supremacist website, who said, "Many of our people are involved in the Tea Party." The strategy was to enter conservative politics at the local and state levels — while tapping into national fundraising resources.
Quoting Black, Conant writes, the aim was to start from the ground up, "where we have a chance of winning." Black admitted the Tea Party's success sparked hope among his ideological soul mates, but he expressed doubt that a vocal white nationalist could capture a seat in the U.S. Senate. Enter Rand Paul. Though not a registered white nationalist, Paul achieved victory in Kentucky while unapologetically expressing opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act — an obvious dog whistle to disgruntled whites. (He has since claimed he always supported the bill.) Paul remains a Tea Party favorite and is touted as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.
In a 2011 piece for Salon, Michael Lind explored data showing that members of the Tea Party Caucus were overwhelmingly white and from former Confederate states. Lind opined that the Tea Party agenda wasn't based on traditional American conservatism but in eccentric Southern conservatism — hell-bent on dismantling programs that promote egalitarian values and aid to the poor, the black and brown.
The IRS, it seems, had reason to question the motives of Tea Party organizations seeking 501(c)(4) status — especially since those groups are allowed to raise unlimited funds and engage in political campaigning. The Federal Elections Commission is normally charged with monitoring the financial limitations and undue political influence of donors, but the rise of (c)4s and unlimited donations has rigged the game such that IRS and FEC roles are muddled. It is particularly troubling that (c)4 rules allow donors to remain conveniently anonymous.
The rise of super PACs was widely debated during the 2012 election, but not on the basis that they were engaged in anti-American activity or had ties to possible terrorist extremists. Yet that debate should have occurred.
Far too many Tea Party groups promote antigovernment, "Patriot Movement" dogma, reliant on conspiracy theories that see the federal government as the primary enemy. (Hence, the myth of a national gun registry surrounding the Fast and Furious program and the debate over universal background checks, and "Obama as Hitler" hysteria.)
Julian Bond, chair emeritus of the NAACP, told MSNBC in an interview that it was "legitimate" for the IRS to target "admittedly racist" Tea Party groups, which he said reflected the "Taliban wing" of American politics. Bond also noted that the NAACP was unfairly targeted by IRS officials in 2004, after Bond gave a speech criticizing then-president George W. Bush. (The NAACP was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.)
It's interesting to note that Douglas Shulman, the IRS commissioner at the time of these Tea Party probes was himself an appointee of George W. Bush.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose tactics as head of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee have proven him to be more crazed pitbull than a reliable watchdog, will certainly find a way to blame even that on President Obama.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.