Contemporary American politics initially appears to have achieved unprecedented diversity in its representation of the present demographics of society: Barack Obama is the first African American U.S. president, while in the 111th Congress (Jan. 3, 2009-Jan. 3, 2011) Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Barney Frank (D-MA) was the first openly gay chair of the House Financial Services Committee. However, Obama’s ascension to the presidency in January 2009 was a moment of extreme contradictions. On the one hand, liberals and the progressives, the so-called “left”, embraced the mainstream, centrist agenda of the Obama administration. Conversely, this was also period when far right hate groups and the armed “patriot” movement dramatically increased. With the rise of the Tea Party “Movement” (TPM) to national prominence, Obama and Pelosi have been made into caricatures representative of a variety of “evil” and conspiratorial elements in society by the right’s mainstream and radical media. However, the radical right’s fear of the loss of the white demographic majority in America that is fueling the TPM is not an actual reality in the 111th Congress, which is made up of 100 Senators and 435 House representatives. There were only 17 women, 1 African American, zero Hispanic Americans, and 3 Asian Americans in the Senate, while the House was made up of 73 women, 42 African Americans, 27 Hispanic Americans and 6 Asian Americans, despite the fact that US population is (approximately) more than 50% female, 15.8% Hispanic American, 12.4% African American, and 4.4% Asian American. The issue of representation is further called into question when addressing the economic disparities between Congress and the average US population. 261 members or half of Congress are millionaires, and 55 members are worth more than $10 million. In 2009, the median wealth of a House member was $765,010, while the median wealth for a senator was nearly $2.38 million.i
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) documented in their yearly study of the radical right that “nativist extremist” groups, organizations that go beyond advocacy of restrictive immigration policy to confront, harass and even kill suspected immigrants, jumped from 173 groups in 2008 to 309 in 2009. Furthermore, the SPLC showed that 363 so-called new “patriot” groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going up from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) – a 244% jump. The number of hate groups in America rose a dramatic 54% between 2000 and 2008, and these hate groups again showed a slight increase from 926 in 2008 to 932 in 2009.ii
This article on the rise of the Tea Party “Movement” from late 2007 to the present does not function as an affirmation of the liberal, progressive, or Democratic Party agendas in counter distinction to Republican and far right politics. Rather, I aim to offer a critique of how the democratic system operates in both elections and civil society, in order to demonstrate how this political system does not lead to total emancipation for all but rather to the propagation of ideological positions that are deterrents to freedom and left-communism. Furthermore, this article highlights how conspiracy theories are twisted into a false form of political analysis that heavily dominate the ideologies of right wing groups, the TPM, as well as the Republican Party. Conspiracy theories pervasive within the TPM and the radical right are based on dualism, scapegoating, demonization, apocalyptic aggression, racism and Anti-Semitism.iii
The Tea Party “Movement” is analyzed through several stages: First, the seeds of tea party development in the campaigns of Libertarian/Republican Ron Paul; Second, the tea party protests; Third, the complicated story of interactions between “grassroots” and corporate, national tea party organizations; Fourth, the demographics and opinion polls of TP supporters; Fifth, a critical discussion of TP/Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections. Then, this article addresses the close ties between the radical right and the TPM by examining: First, the “birther” conspiracies that Obama was not born in America, thus ineligible to serve as president; Second, the controversial Arizona state law 1070 on so-called “illegal” immigration; Third, attempts to repeal birthright citizenship guaranteed with the 14th Amendment; and Fourth, the intersections between gun right advocates in the “open carry” movement and armed militias. The religious right, in all its facets from Christian reconstructionism, to apocalyptic Christians, to white nationalists, to connected organizations like the John Birch Society, are only briefly mentioned here, but are central to the rise of the TPM and has been the subject of extensive research in various must-read articles and books. This article is therefore a critical overview of some of the most disturbing socio-political discourses in the US through the lens of the interactions between the Tea Party Movement and the radical right.
The Tea Parties, gun rights advocates, the birthers, anti-immigrant groups, white supremacists and the neo-Nazis all share a 3-pronged strategyiv through which to agitate transformations of American politics, culture and society:
– Electoral change: The American democratic capitalist political system is based on two political parties, Democratic and Republican. While other parties on the right, such as the Libertarian party headed by Ron Paul (R-Texas) and the Constitution Party, and on the left, the Green Party, do exist, these so called “third parties” gain less that 5% of the national vote in presidential elections and are therefore a marginal force in electoral politics. Today, however, the American radical right is attempting to displace so-called “establishment” Republicans, and elect representatives to congress who are from the TPM. One example of the TPM organizing for electoral change is the successful campaign of Republican Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, for the US Senate seat in Kentucky. However, this potential “change” through the democratic system does not generate any “new” ideological positions as is claimed by the TPM, but rather a historical re-expression of racial, gender, and class resentments within the Republican party. The range of conspiracy theories that are expressed by TPM and Republican elected officials demonstrate an acceptance in the larger American population of those same positions.
– “Grassroots” organization: All the groups under discussion, the tea parties, gun rights advocates, the birthers and neo-Nazis have diverse national organizational strategies that originate in towns across America. The TPM encompasses grassroots organizations mostly operating on a local level with a presence created through the internet.v However, the TPM is largely dominated by various national organizations sponsored by major corporations and political action committees (PAC) with multi-million dollar budgets. The grassroots nature of the TPM can be further called into question with the continuous backing by Fox News owned by Rupert Murdoch, which gives extremely positive publicity 24 hours a day. In 2010, Fox New Network was the number one syndicated primetime cable television network, and was voted most trusted news channel in America.
– Weapons ownership and violent insurgency: the third strategy used by all of these groups to change American society is arming with weapons. Within American contemporary culture, the right to have weapons and use them is a guarantee for all citizens under the second amendment of the American constitution. There are multiple convergences between individual gun ownership, the open carry movement, membership in the National Rifle Association and the more militant, insurrectionary radical right. The insurgent right groups in particular have other agendas primarily spurred forward by conspiracy theories. For example, the Michigan Huratee militia believes that the government is going to enslave the American population into a New World Order, and therefore must be combated through an armed white nationalist revolution. Nine members of the Huratee militia were arrested by the FBI in April 2010 then charged with seditious conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction.
The Tea Party Movement’s inception: Ron Paul and Libertarian Networking
Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann may be the most prominent faces of the Tea Party movement today, but it started with Ron Paul in 2007. He is the long-time Republican House Representative for Texas, and also ran for the presidential nomination in 1988 for the Libertarian Party. During the presidential election campaign season 2007-2008, Paul was attempting to win the Republican Party presidential nomination. In December 2007, on the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Paul’s presidential campaign supporters participated in a tea party “money bomb,” a one-day online fundraising blitz that raked in $6 million from 40,000 people nationwide. To organize at the grassroots level for his 2008 presidential campaign, the non-profit organization Campaign For Liberty (C4L) was created. In late 2008 at the end of the Bush presidency, the Libertarian Party of Illinois promoted its new “Boston Tea Party Chicago” through its yahoo, C4L, and Ron Paul Meetup groups.vi Libertarian supporters also planned an anti-tax rally in which they proposed to fly a blimp to Boston, and then dump tea in the Boston harbor mimicking the 1773 Boston tea party protest. These events by Paul and Libertarian supporters can be considered the start of the tea party movement through its use of historical revisionism and symbolism pointing back to the 1773 tea party protest.vii Paul’s blend of libertarian, Republican, and far-right ideologies and his often idiosyncratic congressional voting record was seen by conservatives, who later became tea partiers, as a way forward from the discredited positions of John McCain and George W. Bush.
Despite the fact that today Ron Paul can be considered the “father” of the TPM, which is overwhelmingly made up of conservatives, he has operated on the fringe of the “mainstream” Republican Party establishment. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Paul was not invited to the Fox News sponsored debate that included all other candidates running for the republican presidential nomination. Further evidence of his exclusion from mainstream Republican Party politics was the fact that Paul did not receive an invitation to participate in the Republican national convention, which nominates the republican candidate for president. After loosing the republican nomination, Paul did not officially run for president, nevertheless he was on the ballot in several states and won 41,905 votes. When one closely examines Paul’s political, social and economic beliefs and the individuals and organizations with whom he actively associates and supports, it is very problematic that Paul remains very popular amongst so-called “fiscally responsible” conservatives, republicans critical of George W. Bush, independents and especially, young, white, male voters.
In discussions of the early history of the tea party movement, Ron Paul’s associations with white nationalists, neo-Confederates, Christian reconstructionists, militia supporters, and neo-Nazis from the start of his career in politics to the present day is almost always ignored.viii At his own presidential convention in St. Paul, MN in 2008, held at the same time as the Republican national convention, speakers who supported Paul included far-right radicals and white supremacists, all of whom have been with Paul for decades.
The most prominent racist right wing group supporting Ron Paul at his convention was the John Birch Society and its president John McManus. McManus invited Paul to be the keynote speaker at the John Birch Society’s 50th anniversary gala. Paul’s ties to the John Birch Society are not simply his friendship with McManus, but he also maintained “a leadership position in the John Birch Society” while simultaneously acting as a Republican congressman, Republican and Libertarian presidential candidate in the 1990s.
Lew Rockwell, head of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, was an important guest at the presidential convention. He was Paul’s congressional chief of staff between 1978 and 1982, and vice president of Ron Paul & Associates from 1985 to 2001. Paul has direct connection to the neo-confederacy movement that seeks to establish white nationalist states through its proponents such as Lew Rockwell.
Another radical right supporter of Ron Paul is Howard Phillips, the well known Christian reconstructionist and head of the theocratic Constitution Party. Paul directly supports the Constitution Party, which is a misleading name because the organization seeks to revoke the division between church and state by establishing “the Bible as the governing text for all areas of life—such as government, education and law”. The Constitution Party’s preamble states: “This great nation (American) was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been and are afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here. The goal of the Constitution Party is to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries”. In late September 2008 Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party’s candidate for president was endorsed by Ron Paul: “Chuck Baldwin has been a friend and was an active supporter in the [Paul] presidential campaign…. I’m supporting Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party candidate.”ix
The other speaker at the Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential convention was Thomas E. Woods, a former member of the League of the South. The League was founded in 1994 and promotes the secession of the South from the US government; argues that slavery was biblically ordained; and, that the Civil War was not about slavery, but about states’ rights. A clear further connection is that Woods was the ghostwriter for Paul’s best selling book, The Revolution: A Manifesto.
Other Ron Paul supporters, who did not attend his presidential convention, include David Duke, former grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Don Black, head of Stormfront, the largest American organization of neo-Nazis, and Alex Jones, the well known 9/11 conspiracist who runs infowars.com and prisonplanet.com.
Ron Paul’s long-term relationships with white nationalists, neo-Confederates, Christian reconstructionists, militia supporters, and neo-Nazis, and his support for their various ideologies directly impact his policy positions and voting record in Congress. He is a states rights advocate who has supported the succession of Texas from the United States. He believes that most federal laws governing daily life from heath care, to minimum wage, to marriage, to gay and civil rights, etc. should be decided by each of the 50 American states. Paul’s supposedly strong commitment to the belief that the government should not regulate citizen’s private lives is clearly nullified by his support for constitutional amendments at the state level to ban abortion. An example of the necessity of federally imposed equality laws is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which along with other measures forced the desegregation of the South against violent opposition from racists. In 2006, Paul voted against the re-adoption of 3 amendments of the Voting Acts Bill (which was a central part of the Civil Rights Act), and is a strong critic of the civil rights act. In international relations Paul seeks to dissolve the United Nations, and America’s position therein. Tea partiers support Paul’s agenda to abolish the Federal Reserve and the IRS, stop raising taxes for any purpose including social welfare, and create a flat tax at a state level in which everyone regardless of income pays the same tax rate. Paul is a free market laissez faire capitalist who believes that the market is self regulating – a profoundly unpopular position in light of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It is clear that BP would not complete comprehensive cleanup of the oil spill unless forced to do so by the federal government. The blatant environmental degradation and worker exploitation by corporations such as BP nullify his advocacy of laissez faire capitalism. Ron Paul’s positions on economic, social and political issues are widely adopted within the tea party movement.
The Tea Party Movement
Many critics attempt to argue that the TPM emerged at a grass roots level primarily in order to express opposition to the financial crisis and the federal government bailout programs signed into law by George W. Bush at the end of 2008 including the Economic Stimulus Act, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, and the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). While deficit spending by the federal government to restart the US economy is certainly an issue that tea partiers held opinions on, this article emphasizes social, cultural and class based changes in American society as primary reasons for the development of the TPM. The early history of the TPM originating with Ron Paul in December 2007 and developing through his 2008 presidential campaign demonstrates the importance of diverse interconnecting networks in the radical right. From late February 2009 onwards, tea partiers created a “movement” of numerous local and regional groups who shared causes with libertarians, gun rights advocates, anti-abortionists, far right Republicans, birthers, truthers, anti-immigrant foes, anti-tax lobbyists, militia members, racists and white supremacists. The TPM became a national phenomenon on Tax Day April 15, 2009 with over 300 protests in all 50 states that were covered heavily by the mainstream media, especially Fox News.x Tea partiers organized hundred of rallies throughout the country in 2009 and 2010 to protest a wide range of issues including Obama’s health care bill, federal taxes and gun rights.xi
The conservative newspaper The Washington Post (TWP) published extensive research on local tea party groups on October 24, 2010. TWP identified 1400 local tea party groups, of which the reporters interviewed and verified 647 groups. Local tea party groups typically do not officially endorse a political candidate, do not recognize a single national tea party leader, have little cash on hand to run their group, and are extremely ambivalent about the American political process. A high majority (86%) of tea party group members are new to political involvement. The formation of tea party groups as previously discussed is a new phenomenon with 62% of groups functioning more than one year, and 24% operating for only 6 months. TWP found that of the 647 tea party groups polled, 51% had less than 50 members, 43% had 50-1000 members, and 6% had more than 1000 members. These local groups on average had 200 people at their protests, and only 20% of the groups got more than 1000 people at their last public event. Only 29% of the polled tea party groups actively campaigned during the election. Top campaign activities included getting out the vote (70%), sending emails and letters (54%), and working phone call lists (45%). On the question of local, grassroots organization, 272 groups interviewed do not work with a national tea party organization. Of the 325 local groups that have direct working relationships with national organizations: 208 work with Tea Party Patriots (TPP), 27 with Americans For Prosperity (A4P), 25 with FreedomWorks (FW), 20 with the Republican Party, 19 with the 9/12 Project, 11 with Tea Party Express (TPE), 9 with Tea Party Nation (TPN), 4 with American Majority, 4 with Campaign For Liberty (C4L), 50 didn’t answer.xii
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) published in October 2010 an extensive research report on the six largest national tea party organizations, as well turning a critical eye towards their racial, class, gender, sex, religious and xenophobic based resentments.xiii The report determined the size of national TP organizations based on their online and social media memberships. TPP has approximately 115,311 online and 74,779 social media members making it the largest organization. ResistNet, now renamed the Patriot Action Network, is the second largest national group with 83,888 members, followed by TPN, FW, 1776 Tea Party and finally the TPE.
The most well funded national tea party is FreedomWorks, a conservative non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. headed by Republican former majority House leader Dick Armey, as well as Jack Kemp, C. Boyden Gray, and Matt Kibbe. Several of FreedomWorks’ campaigns have been described as “astroturfing,” which projects the false impression of grassroots organizing. FreedomWorks and Americans For Prosperity both originated in 2004 from Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was set up and funded by billionaire businessman David Koch, who presently funds FW and AFP. Research has led again and again to the heavy involvement and funding of the TPM by the right-wing Koch brothers, who are worth a combined $32 billion as owners of Koch Industries, the largest private oil company in America.xiv
Many of the TPM protests have been organized and heavily funded by corporations, special interests, PACs and lobbying groups leaving the “grassroots” nature of the movement very much in question.xv For example, the 2009 9/12 Tea Party rally (also known as the Taxpayer march) included Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, FreedomWorks, the National Taxpayers Union, The Heartland Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Tea Party Patriots, and ResistNet. The march may have been the largest conservative protest ever held in Washington, D.C., as well as the largest demonstration against President Obama’s administration to date, with between 60,000 and a hundred thousand participants. The national Tea Party Express (TPE) held a 33 city bus tour from late August and ending in DC for the 9/12 Tea Party rally, as well as a second TPE bus tour stopping in 38 cities between October and November 2009. The TPE is typical of national tea party organizations in that it is explicitly not founded by grassroots activism. The TPE is funded through the Our Country Deserves Better political action committee which is operated by the Republican consulting firm Russo Marsh + Rogers. For Tax Day April 15, 2010, over 2,000 tea party protests were held throughout the country including the FW rally in DC. In February 2010, the countrywide Tea Party Nation (TPN) organized the first tea party national convention, which resulted in heavy infighting amongst the TPM. Sarah Palin received a $100,000 speaking fee to deliver the keynote address, and a ticket into the convention cost $549.
Glen Beck, paid for by Fox News and Koch Industries brothers’ the Americans For Prosperity Foundation (AFPF), held the “restoring honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 2010, the 47 year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.xvi Beck’s rally garnered considerable controversy when numerous eminent civil rights leaders criticized Beck’s hostile takeover and distortions of MLK’s teachings on racism, civil rights, social justice and non-violent protesting.xvii Beck is well known for promoting racist comments and historical revisionism through his radio and tv shows.xviii About 300,000 people listened to Beck promote a Christian reconstructionist agenda to refashion the US government and civil society through an literalist adherence to biblical values and laws. Other speakers at the rally included Sarah Palin, and the niece of MLK, Georgia congresswoman Alveda King, who is an outspoken critic of gay rights and abortion.xix Also held on the same weekend was the FW/AFPF/Koch brother’s sponsored “defending the American dream” convention that featured speeches by Palin and Michele Bachmann, the congressional leader of the Tea Party Caucus.
Soon thereafter on 9/11, Washington DC was again overwhelmed by the radical right coalition Unite in Action commemorative rally, while FW was the main sponsor of the 2010 9/12 Taxpayer march. Neither rally drew anywhere near the number of participants as Beck did. The Faith and Freedom Coalition headed by Ralf Reed also organized a convention on Sept 10-11, which like Beck’s rally brought together tea partiers with the religious right. New York City was besieged at the same time by several large rallies against the planned Islamic community center two blocks from ground zero. These protests were showcases of racist messages and policy positions from local and national leaders, as well as infamous radical right xenophobes like Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders and members of the English Defense League.xx The anniversary of 9/11 was clearly been used by all proponents of the right to spread their messages to nation-wide audiences.
TPM Demographics and Opinion Polls
Several polls and statistical research initiatives have been conducted to determine which types of people in America associate with the TPM, and their wide range of attitudes and beliefs on contemporary political, social and economic issues.
The NYT/CBS poll was published on April 18, 2010 establishing important information on the Tea Party demographics.xxi Tea Party supporters are overwhelmingly white (89%), male (59%), married (70%), Republican/conservative, older than age 45 (75%). They are also wealthier and more educated than the average American, therefore disproving the assumption that the TPM is made up of poor or lower middle class individuals with a lower percentage of university degrees. The tea partiers dissatisfaction with the Obama administration is clear: Over 90% disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, the federal deficit and health care, and 92% feel that President Obama’s policies are moving the US towards “socialism”, compared to 52% for the general public. 82% of tea party supporters said there is a very serious problem with immigration in the US.
A University of Washington survey published on June 2, 2010 polled TPM supporters for beliefs on race, sexuality and social issues. White tea partiers are more racially intolerant compared to the average American: only 35% believe Blacks to be hardworking, 73% agreed that if “Blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites”, only 45 % believe Blacks are intelligent, and only 41% think that Blacks are trustworthy; only 44% think Latinos are intelligent, and only 42% believe Latinos to be trustworthy; only 4% of Tea Party supporters agree with the statement “while equal opportunity for blacks and minorities to succeed is important, it’s not really the government’s job to guarantee it.” Concerning gay rights, white tea partiers hold very negative views: 82% do not believe that gay and lesbian couples should have the legal right to marry, only 36% think gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to adopt children, and 52% said that “compared to the size of their group, lesbians and gays have too much political power”. White tea partiers also expressed anti-immigrant views: 54% believe that the number of immigrants should be decreased, and 56% said that it is likely that immigrants will take jobs away from people already in the US.xxii
“Mainstreaming” the TPM? The 2010 US House and Senate Elections
The Tea Party Movement represents itself as a conservative “revolution” to “take back America” by radically altering the political culture and enacted more strenuous legislation. In order to have a sweeping impact on national politics, the TPM sought to get “their” representatives elected to the US Congress. However, tea partiers do not represent a new constituency or political party, therefore politicians who express positions supported by the TPM run for election as Republican Party members. Therefore, the premise that tea partiers are new or different or insurgents against the Republican Party is absolutely misleading. The TPM express what already exists in the far right Republican base, and they seek to overpower other moderates in the Party thus shifting the politics more to the extreme right. On all the major issues addressed in this article, Tea Party endorsed politicians who ran for Congress in the 2010 midterm elections voiced similar politics to other Republicans. There were no policy positions stated by Tea Party candidates that were not also stated by so-called “establishment” Republicans. The distance that tea partiers attempt to create between themselves and the Republican Party is pure marketing to enhance the movement by getting their TP-branded candidates elected and is not based on substantial differences. The sharp decline in the number of TP protests as well as active participants since November 2010 through early 2011 further suggests that tea partiers operate as nothing more than the far right Republican base, who were energized against Obama administration and sought to gain congressional seats during the 2010 election. Tea Partiers and conservative politicians will no doubt push the Republican Party more right, continuing a recent trend started in the early 90s with Newt Gingrich during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Tea Party endorsed candidates received heavy publicity in the media especially on right wing Fox News and left-leaning MSNBC. It was widely predicted in newspapers, blogs and internet news sites that the TPM and its candidates would perform very well in the November elections. To what extent are TP endorsed candidates viable to win elections?
Despite invigorating the radical Republican base, there were quite a few drawbacks to the large number of TP sponsored candidates running as Republicans. Most of the TP candidates were inexperienced having never served in Congress, and were thus prone to difficult campaigns in toss-up districts and states. TP candidates were also unlikely to receive swing votes from conservative democrats or independents. The Republican Party spent a lot of money in the primaries when they backed Republican candidates against Tea Party sponsored candidates – in previous primary elections it was highly typical for the Republican Party incumbent candidate to easily win without spending lots of campaign finances. In the 2010 primaries the most well known TP candidates beat so-called establishment Republicans endorsed by Republican Minority Leader Mitch McDonnell. These Tea Partier candidates included Rand Paul (Senate Kentucky), Mike Lee (Senate Utah), Marco Rubio (Senate Florida), Joe Miller (Senate Alaska), Christine O’Donnell (Senate Delaware), and Sharron Angle (Senate Nevada).
The 2010 midterm elections were publicized as a major test for the Obama administration, but the results were predictable. Political scientists have demonstrated that in US politics after a new president is elected his party looses substantial power in Congress during the first midterm election thus creating a divided government. The Republican Party, with its energized base of tea partiers and the well-oiled conglomerates of special interests, lobbyist, and PACs gained the majority in the House of Representatives and picked up five seats in the Senate. On the state level, the midterm elections also yielded a majority of Republican state governors and legislatures especially in the Southern US, which now only has a few Democratic representatives left.
The NYT identified 138 Tea Party Republicans running for election endorsed by FW, TPE and/or assessed by the Independence Caucus.xxiii In total, TP candidates won 47 races and lost 91 giving them a 34% success rate. In the House, 42 won and 87 lost giving TP candidates a 32.5% success rate. In the Senate, 5 won and 4 lost giving TP candidates a 55.5% success rate. TWP had slightly different numbers, but also compiled a list of candidates who were endorsed by Sarah Palin, one of the unofficial leaders of the TPM.xxiv Palin endorsed candidates faired better: in the House, 19 won and 13 lost, and in the Senate, 6 won and 5 lost.
One of the most controversial and well-known Tea Party candidates is Rand Paul, son of Libertarian/Republican Texas Congressman Ron Paul. For the Kentucky senate race, Rand Paul beat in the primary the Republican Party pick, Terry Grayson. Then Rand Paul easily beat his Democratic opponent in the general election, thus becoming one of five new TP-Republican senators in the 112th Congress. Paul’s win was hailed as a major victory for the TPM and helped solidify the far right position of the Republican Party. Like many other Republican congressmen, Rand Paul supports a so-called “human life amendment” which would change the US Constitution to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest thereby completely eliminating a woman’s right to choose. Like his father, Rand Paul is an outspoken opponent of the Civil Rights Act. Rand Paul garnered considerable controversy by stating on the Rachel Maddow tv news show that the federal government does not have the constitutional power to impose de-segregation of private businesses, for example, when forcing private owners to serve all people regardless of race. Therefore, Rand Paul supports segregation, discrimination and racism tying him closely to other white nationalist movements. The John Birch Society enthusiastically endorsed Ron and Rand Paul and praised Rand’s Tea Party backed win. This racist conspiratorial group views Paul’s win as the culmination of “their game plan and their principles developed over the last 51 years.” While being interviewed by conspiracist Alex Jones, Rand Paul made several erroneous historical revisionist “parallels” between Hitler and Obama, suggested that the US government will impose martial law thereby leading to the NWO, and expressed sympathies with Jones’ 9/11 truther claims. Jones has for many years supported Ron and Rand Paul. While Rand Paul cannot be labeled a Christian Reconstructionist, he has personal connections through his father with the movement’s main leader Howard Phillips, who also founded the Tax Payer / Constitution Party. Rand Paul was the featured speaker at the Constitution Party of Minnesota’s “event of the year” in April 2009.
The Christian Reconstructionist Constitution Party ran candidates in 12 Congressional races, as well as the turbulent election for Colorado Governor. Initially things appeared to follow the standard TPM self-promoting narrative of “overthrowing the establishment” with the TP backed Daniel Maes defeating the Republican in the primary election. After his illegal business practices and lies concerning working as an undercover officer were exposed, Daniel Maes was abandoned by all of his numerous TP sponsorships including the TP endorsed Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck. Maes also received scorn for a fact-less conspiracy theory that when the Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper was Mayor of Denver he diminished US and state sovereignty by instituting a United Nations treaty through the city’s green-friendly bike program.xxv Then, former Congressional Republican and rabid anti-immigrant pundit Tom Tancredo entered the governor’s race in July as a third party candidate with the Constitution Party. Tancredo believed he could pick up all the tea party support thereby overcoming Maes and Democrat Hickenlooper to win. At the February 2010 National Tea Party Convention in Nashville Tancredo roused his tea party audience to loud applause with openly racist statement: “We do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country… People who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House…his name is Barack Hussein Obama.” This incendiary comment is a clear reference of support for Jim Crow era initiatives to disenfranchise African-Americans through complex voting tests. The statement also rehashes the standard TPM claim that Obama is a “socialist”. Tancredo spread other conspiracies claiming that the newly appointed US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic woman to serve on the court, is a “racist” and a member of the “a latino KKK”. As the founder of the Congressional House Immigration Reform Caucus, Tancredo has for many years pushed extreme right wing immigration laws based on race with the intention of “protecting the interests of white people”. These openly racist incidents against minorities mesh with the political platform of the Constitution Party, which seeks to maintain white nationalist power through evangelical Christian hegemony and a literalist application of biblical law in all 50 states. Despite the far right positions of Tancredo, he won a shocking 651,232 votes (36.4%), one of the best third party showings in any election, but lost to Maes (11.1%) and the winner Hickenlooper (51%). Tancredo got the Constitution Party the status of a “majority party” in Colorado after receiving more than 10% of the vote.
The TPM attempts to fend off claims of racism by pointing to the winning campaigns of two TP sponsored Republican African American candidates, Allen West (Florida 22nd District) and Tim Scott (South Carolina 1st District). In fact, these two representatives have made several important historical marks: both are the first African-American Congressmen in their districts since Reconstruction, the Republican Party has seated “the most” African-American Congressmen in an election since the 1870s, and both men are the first African-American Republicans to be in Congress since J. C. West retired in 2003. In the 2010 election, both candidates were endorsed by Sarah Palin and FreedomWorks. Allen West gained the distinction of raising and spending (almost) the most money of any 2010 candidate with $6,432,860. West has been identified as one of the most right wing freshman congressional representatives.xxvi West received immense support from military personnel and sympathizers, as well as the patriot movement even though he retired from the Army after being convicted of two counts for abusing an Iraqi detainee during interrogation. His 22 years of military service including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan no doubt informed his virulent anti-Muslim anti-Arab beliefs, making him a key player in the debate concerning an Islamic community center in New York near the former World Trade Center. West has also been an outspoken supporter of the “birther” conspiracy theories to de-legitimize the presidency of Barack Obama.
Issues Central to the Tea Party Movement:
The Birther movement gained considerable traction in right wing scenes during the presidential campaign by arguing that Obama was not eligible to act as president based on a variety of different conspiracy theories concerning his birth, religion, race and nationality. Senator Obama’s election campaign team created the FightTheSmears.com website to debunk various falsehoods. In June 2008, the website posted Obama’s certificate of live birth from Hawaii’s health department. However, the certificate sparked further conspiracy theories that the document was forged or falsified, despite debunking actions related to the Hawaii health department,xxvii the White House and even the U.S. Supreme Court. It is not necessary here to reconstitute fact-checks and point-by-point rebuttals of the birther allegations. It is more useful to track how birther advocates spread their claims through lawful democratic participation in two of three branches of American government.
The fanatics who actively proselytize the conspiracy that Obama is not a natural born U.S. citizen use every avenue possible to create a legal framework for their argumentation. Birthers are a minority in state and national legislatures, yet such representatives abusive their powers by sponsoring legislative bills to “prove” birther claims about Obama. Texas State Representative Republican Leo Berman introduced in November 2010 House Bill 295 which would, “require any candidate for president or vice president of the United States to show his or her birth certificate to the Texas secretary of state.” Berman argued that, “This bill is necessary because we have a president whom the American people don’t know whether he was born in Kenya or some other place.”xxviii If the Texas Legislature approved the bill, and Governor Rick Perry signed it into law, the bill would be effective on Sept. 1, 2011 and would therefore effect the 2012 presidential election. Berman’s antipathy for Obama was made clear in his speech at Glen Beck’s “Taking Back America” rally. He stated, “I believe that Barack Obama is God’s punishment on us today, but in 2012, we are going to make Obama a one-term president.” The 111th Congress also dealt with birther legislation in the form of the bill H.R. 1503 proposed by Congressman Bill Posey, Republican of Florida’s 15th district.xxix More Republicans in Congress co-sponsored the bill: Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. John Campbell (R-CA), and Rep. John Carter (R-TX). This bill was written to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the campaign of any presidential candidate to submit the birth certificate and any other “documentation as may be necessary to establish that the candidate meets the qualifications for eligibility to the Office of President under the Constitution.” This congressional bill was never voted on, and therefore cleared from the books, although it could be reintroduced by another congressperson in a new session. Other state legislators in Missouri, Arizona and Oklahoma have also proposed bills seeking to “prove” Obama’s illegitimacy. The major right wing news website WorldNetDaily also claims that Republicans in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona will also introduce birther legislation.
In the November 2010 elections, the New York Times highlighted four congressional candidates who bolstered shinning birther credentials and are officially supported by a Tea Party organization: Morgan Philpot (R-Utah 2-lost-supported by Freedom Works, Tea Party Express, Independence Caucus), Rocky Raczkowski (R-Michigan 9-lost-evaluated by Independence Caucus), Tim Walbergxxx (R-Michigan 7-won-supported by Freedom Works and Independence Caucus), Allen Westxxxi (R-Florida 22-won-sponsored by Freedom Works and Tea Party Nation).xxxii Unfortunately, no statistics or tallies have been found that correlate sympathy or support for birther ideas with list of all Tea Party candidates who ran for congressional election in 2010. However, Tea Party candidates as well as many of the regional and national Tea Party organizations have demonstrated a wide acceptance and promulgation of persistent birther claims. The NAACP report argues that five of the largest national Tea Party organizations, Tea Party Nation, 1776 Tea Party, ResistNet, Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express are headed by leaders who are birthers.xxxiii Tea Party Nation president Judson Phillips wrote a TPN newsletter article circulated to more 31,000 members stating his conspiracy theory as to why Obama might be ineligible for the presidency.xxxiv The NYT/CBS poll published on April 18, 2010 found that 30% of Tea Party supporters polled think President Obama was born outside the United States compared to 20% of the general public.xxxv
While no birther bills have passed into law in either state or national legislatures, the most infamous Birther, Orly Taitz, has chosen to pursue the conspiracy claims through lawsuits in state and federal courts. Taitz has filed at least 6 lawsuits directly claiming that Obama is not eligible to act as President. The case “Lightfoot v Bowen” got so far as to be denied by the California Supreme Court, and then after Taitz’s appeal, was again denied by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case “Rhodes v. MacDonald” ostensibly focused on US army physician Connie Rhodes’ legal attempts to stay her impending deployment. Taitz, as the representing lawyer, argued that deployment could be ignored because Obama was acting illegally as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military. By October 2009, Taitz was fined $20,000 by federal judge Land for lawyer misconduct in the case. Taitz appealed this fine all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, for which she filed an emergency stay claiming to have new evidence of fraud committed by Obama, and further claimed that the fine imposed by judge Land was in fact imposed by Obama as punishment for Taitz questioning his legitimacy.xxxvi First Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas and then Chief Justice Roberts denied her application, thereby upholding the imposed fine.xxxvii
Ironically, Taitz was not born in America, but rather in Moldova, USSR, and eventually became an American citizen in 1992. In 2010, Taitz campaigned to become elected as California’s Secretary of State, which she was eligible to run for as a citizen. Taitz received enough initial votes to qualify for the primary election, and ran as a Republican. Despite hyperbolic claims from left and right oriented media that Taitz was a viable contender in the June primary vote, Taitz lost the race to Republican Damon Dunn, but nevertheless garnered 25.6% or 508,455 votes. In the November election Dunn unlimitedly lost to democrat Debra Bowen. Taitz’s run for the hugely powerful position of California Sec. of State was without a doubt her most successful campaign yet to spread her claims of an “illegal Obama dictatorship”.
The convergence of birthers, Republicans and Tea Partiers show that a direct racist ideology is at the center of the TPM. Birther conspiracy theories are inherently racist because the false argumentation seeks to show that Obama’s race makes him ineligible to be president. Birthers claim that “Obama as a black African man born in Kenya”: was not born in Hawaii, that he is not a natural born American citizen, that he is not African-American but instead African, that he is a foreigner by virtue of his “foreign” sounding full name, etc. Birther claims against a white presidential candidate have had no traction whatsoever (as was the case against John McCain, who was born in US held Panama).
“Illegal” Immigration – Arizona Bill 1070
Racism against legal and so-called “illegal” immigrants, and for that matter all “non-white/non-Caucasian” individuals, is dramatically evident in the law passed on April 23, 210 by the Arizona state legislature via a strict party line vote (Republicans – for, Democrats – against). The “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” (SB 1070) was sponsored and written by Nazi sympathizer and Arizona Republican state senator Russell Pearce (18th District). Pearce’s racist, white national and nazi ties have several sources. First, Pearce made comments in support of Eisenhower’s 1950s INS deportation program “Operation Wetback” to remove one million “illegal” immigrants from the Southwest, a story which was picked up by the Arizona Republic newspaper. In Oct. 2006, Pearce sent the article titled “Who Rules America? The Alien Grip on Our News and Entertainment Media Must Be Broken” from the neo-nazi National Alliance website to dozens of supporters in an email slamming that paper’s coverage of his comments concerning the 1950s deportation program. Second, Pearce has a long-standing relationship with well-known Arizona neo-nazi National Socialist Movement member J.T. Readyxxxviii. Pearce endorsed Ready for Mesa City Council in 2006, and appeared in his election video, but Ready ultimately lost that election. Phoenix New Times writer Stephen Lemon demonstrated the tight working relationship between Pearce and Ready including being together at numerous rallies that are explicitly anti-immigrant.xxxix Furthermore, Pearce and Ready (along with local John Birch Society leader Jim Pinkerman) are pictured at Ready’s baptism into the Church of Later-Day Saints. Pearce also personally ordained Ready as an elder of the Mormon Church.xl The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) first outed Ready as a neo-nazi in March 2007 at a state legislative hearing.xli Pearce supposedly tried to distance himself from Ready during his tightly contested race to win the republican primary for the state senate seat in 2008 after his republican opponent began publicizing their direct relationship. Ready also works with vigilante white nationalist militias to “patrol”, catch or kill immigrants at the US-Mexico boarder.xlii Third, Pearce and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), one of the most important anti-immigrant organizations, and its legal advisement offshoot Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) wrote the SB 1070 law. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) extensively documented that FAIR is a hate group in December 2007.xliii The SPLC’s research has shown that founder and current board member of FAIR, John Tanton, is a white nationalist with extensive ties to other racist, white supremacist organizations.xliv
The legal specificity of SB 1070xlv and the amendment HB 2162xlvi passed on April 30, 2010 are quite complex. In summary, the law makes it a misdemeanor crime for an immigrant in Arizona to not possess all documentation of legal immigration status at all times. The law demands that police must during a stop, detention or arrest determine a person’s immigration status if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that that person is “illegal”. If the individual does not have papers proving legal immigration status to the satisfaction of the office at the time of questioning, they will be arrested and sent to prison for up to 20 days, fined a minimum of $100, and sent to court on the first offense. In order to pressure police to enforce SB 1070, the law allows any Arizona citizen to sue any agency or official in order to compel them to do so. The law also makes it a crime for any individual to hire or be hired from a vehicle that impedes the flow of traffic – a provision which directly impacts the common and regularly seen practice of individuals hiring persons standing on street corners/in parking lots/other locations for menial, low wage and exploitative work. The law also states that a crime is also committed when any individual transports, conceals, helps or induces an “illegal alien” to get in or remain in the U.S.
Despite what supporters claim, SB 1070 makes racial profiling legal and specifically targets “illegal aliens”, which within the racist context of American politics actually signifies any “non-white/non-Caucasian” individual. The anti-immigrant discourse in Arizona, as well as the rest of the U.S., overwhelming equates “immigrants” and “illegal aliens” as Hispanic or of Hispanic descent, despite the fact that historically all individuals living in the U.S. except Native Americans are descendents of “immigrants” or “illegal aliens” themselves. While the language of SB 1070 does not specify particular groups of people to be targeted, the question clearly arises how an officer is suppose to assess the immigration status of a person based on “reasonable suspicion”. Many pro-immigrant rights and Mexican-American organizations raised well-documented concerns that individuals who “look” “Hispanic” will be disproportionally stopped and as well as arrested. The HB 2162 attempts to address these concerns with the amendment language, “law enforcement official or agency cannot consider race, color or national origin when implementing these provisions, except as permitted by the U.S. or Arizona Constitution.” However, both the US Supreme Court and Arizona Supreme Court have ruled that “race” can be considered in assessing “reasonable suspicion” during arrests. Furthermore, the long documented history of racist and discriminatory agendas of law enforcement and the widespread use of racial profiling in traffic stops, at airports and other locations by local, state and federal officials will therefore directly lead to the racist implementation of this law in Arizona.
Prior to and after the implementation of both bills, hundreds of protests took place. Coordinated nation-wide protests occurred on May Day 2010 with the largest demonstration of 50-60,000 people in Los Angeles. Another campaign called “boycott Arizona” has been instituted on local, state and national levels by innumerable individuals and organizations to put economic pressure on Arizona legislators for repeal. Widespread impacts were almost immediately felt, including an estimated 100,000 Hispanics leaving Arizona.
The highest-level legal attack against SB 1070 is the US Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit from July 6, 2010. This was instigated after both Pres. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against the passage of the bill. The DOJ legal argument states that the Arizona law should be invalidated because it impedes enforcement of federal immigration laws, which leads to a major state’s rights battle – a key issue of the TPM. The DOJ lawsuit does not put forth an argument against SB 1070 based on racial profiling or impingement of federally guaranteed individual rights and liberties. US District Judge Susan Bolton issued an injunction against certain provisions of SB 1070 including the requirement to check immigration status, however other provisions of the law went into affect on July 29. State Governor Jan Brewer appealed the decision and the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals indicated in November that it would likely allow officers to demand a person’s papers if there is reasonable suspicion they are “illegal”, but that the person could not be arrested or prosecuted. The Appeals Court has not made an official ruling yet, leaving at present the previous ruling standing. It is very likely the US Supreme Court will ultimately decide the case.
During the Appeals Court deliberations in November, Phoenix was rocked by a protest in support of SB 1070 by neo-nazi National Socialist Movement members, who were protected by riot police against a contingent of anti-fascists. Arizona newspapers have reported a rise in neo-nazi and white supremacist activities, and a rise in the number of biased violent attacks against minority groups.xlvii The ADL, amongst other groups, argue that there is a direct correlation between neo-nazi activities, the rise of racism in Arizona, and the passage of SB 1070. In July 2010, Gov. Brewer established a fund to which individuals can donate money to in order to defray some of Arizona´s legal costs defending the SB 1070 law in the courts. American Third Position and the neo-Nazi Stormfront organization have donated money to this fund, and have enthusiastically called on their followers to do the same.xlviii
The NAACP and IREHR, in their lengthy report found that Tea Party Nation (TPN) and 1776 Tea Party have the most connections to nativist militant groups and the most activities centered on anti-immigration.xlix 1776 TP national leaders were all members of the extreme nativist milita, the Minuteman Project. TPN, 1776 TP, Tea Party Patriots, and other national organizations have all supported SB 1070 through tactics such as rallies, websites, and pressuring their congress members to support similar legislation. The pervasive anti-immigrant views of the TPM on an individual level were confirmed by the University of Washington survey, which found that 88% of Tea Party supporters approve of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.l
Arizona Governor Brewer, US Senator John McCain (former Republican 2008 presidential nominee), and all US House Arizona representatives campaigned in the November 2010 election, during which Arizona newspapers demonstrated that SB 1070 was a defining and contentious electoral issue. According to the New York Times (NYT) researchli, five out of the eight Arizona congressional districts had Republican Tea Party candidates running for election to the House: Paul Gosar (R-1st district-supported by Arizona TP, Freedom Works-won 49.7%), David Schweikert (R-5th district-Arizona TP, Freedom Works, Independence Caucus-won 52%), Janet Contreras (R-4th district-Tea Party Nation, Independence Caucus-lost 27.5%), Ruth McClung (R-7th district-Arizona TP, Freedom Works, signed Contract from America) lost with 44.2% to progressive Democratic incumbent Raul Grijalva, Jesse Kelly (R-8th district-Arizona TP) lost with 48.8% to Gabrielle Giffordslii. According to their official websites, each of these Republican Tea Party candidates supported SB 1070. Progressive Grijalva won handily in his tossup district, and is well known for spearheading the “boycott Arizona” campaign. Moderate Democrat Giffords won narrowly in a contentious tossup election, during which she supported a 114-mile border fence dividing her district from Mexico but opposed SB 1070.
Incumbent John McCain beat the official Tea Party candidate in the Republican Senate Primary race. In the November US Senate race, McCain was criticized loudly by various Tea Party groups for not been right wing enough and for having been initially willing to compromise on so-called comprehensive national immigration reform. Afterwards, McCain moved farther to the right. For example, while previously having stated numerous times he would support the national DREAM Act, the senator reversed his position during the campaign. This proposed legislation that has been widely supported by pro-immigrant rights, progressive, and Hispanic groups would give undocumented immigrants who attended university or served in the military a direct path to legal citizenship. Prior to Congress voting on the act, immigrant students staged a hunger strike at McCain’s Phoenix office, amongst other protests, to pressure for his support. The DREAM Act passed the House in December, but along with McCain’s no vote the act failed in the Senate. All of the Arizona Republican Tea Party House candidates also opposed the Dream Act, despite that fact that many Arizona districts have large Hispanic-American populations, who regardless of registering Democratic, Republican or Independent all overwhelmingly support the passage of the DREAM Act.liii
With Tea Party and white Republicans nationwide overwhelmingly supporting SB 1070, legislatures of South Carolina, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Mississippi have already introduced copy-cat 1070 laws, while at least 20 other states are considering equal to or even stronger bills.liv In Utah, state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom has been exposed as having worked with hate groups FAIR and IRLI, and directly consulting numerous times with Arizona Rep. Pearce to write his proposed a SB-1070 copycat bill.lv
The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution
Sometimes referred to as the “Citizenship Amendment”, the 14th Amendment reads very clearly, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The amendment was only passed in 1868 after the Reconstruction Amendments instituted military governments in all the Southern (civil war) states to force the ratification. The 14th Amendment established US citizenship based on jus soli, and confirmed that blacks and all former slaves in the US were citizens thus reversing the infamous “Dred Scott v. Sandford” Supreme Court decision of 1857. The first line of 14th Amendment is known as the “equal protection clause” and is the backbone of many nationally transformative legal cases that slowly overturned the practice of segregation and the “separate but equal” doctrine in the US. The first segment of the second sentence of 14th Amendment is known as the “privileges or immunities clause” and has been used to legally guarantee the Bill of Rights in all states, so that these federal rights can not be impeded by state laws. The second segment of the amendment’s second sentence is known as the “due process clause” and has been interpreted to establish laws governing wages, contracts, fair employment, benefits, etc. Therefore, the interpretation and application of the 14th Amendment is fundamental to the many rights of individuals in the US, regardless of their legal status, as well as the establishing the principle of birthright citizenship.
Concurrent with the passage of SB 1070 in late July 2010 which ignited a national debate about immigration policies, Arizona State Senator Pearce became directly involved in the radical right’s agenda to repeal the 14th amendment in order to strip an individual born in the US to “illegal” immigrant parents of their right to immediately become US citizens. Pearce also wanted to introduce Arizona legislation that would deny birth certificates to children born to parents who are not legal US citizens. This strategy to deny 14th Amendment rights through state legislation (thus connecting directly to “state’s rights” debates) was picked up by the hate group FAIR and its legislative arm State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI).lvi Made up of more than 70 legislators in 40 states, the SLLI established in Jan. 2011 a nation-wide campaign to win support of US Congress representatives for the repeal of birthright citizenship.lvii Outright repeal of the 14th Amendment is very difficult due to the strict process required in passing a constitutional amendment, thus the SLLI also plans to support the establishment of state and Congressional laws that restrict the implementation of the 14th Amendment.
The new 112th Congressional House Majority Leader John Boehner (Oh-8th District), other Republican heavyweights including Ron Paullviii (House-TX), Lindsey Graham (Senate SC), Mitch McConnell (Senate KY), and at least 128 other congress members were identified as supporting repeal of the 14th Amendment.lix The most well known Tea Party 2010 candidates Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ken Buch, Joe Miller and Sharron Angle also supported repeal. Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips and David DeGerolamo, founder of the North Carolina Freedom that operates as an overarching group for NC Tea Party, Glenn Beck’s 9/12 and “patriot” organizations, have repeatedly made statements in support of the amendment’s repeal and pushed the idea heavily through their TP organizations. DeGerolamo has also called for voting rights (and therefore by implication citizenship) to be based on property ownership,lx which if instituted would disenfranchise the vast majority of US citizens especially with the foreclosures of another 1.1 million homes in 2011. The Tea Party Caucus of the US House headed by Michele Bachmann (R-MN 6th District) has 52 Republican members, 39 of whom co-sponsored the 2009 US House “Birthright Citizenship Act” (HR 1868), which if passed would have dramatically changed the 14th Amendment.lxi Fox News Network has been heavily pushing the repeal or modification by hosting representatives such as Pearce as well as so-called “experts”. The FOX Network virally spreads the false claim that the 14th Amendment does not apply to “aliens, legal or illegal” or “children of aliens”.lxii Fox News commentators and guests, numerous Republican and Tea Party representatives, as well as Tea Party organizations have used the pejorative term “anchor babies” to describe the hyperbolic claims of supposed unmitigated waves of immigrant mothers who cross the border in order give birth to their child in the US, thus establishing a path to citizenship for the parents. However, citizenship granted to parents and relatives is an extremely arduous process that can take decades, and in many cases is not granted because “illegal aliens” who lived for any time in the US are usually banned from the legal immigration process (unless they receive amnesty). Furthermore, the citizen can only apply for family based immigration at 21 years old (as an adult not as a “baby”), and must earn an income 125% above the US poverty line, amongst numerous other requirements.
It is important to note that Republicans have been seeking to repeal the 14th amendment and/or end birthright citizenship through the introduction of 28 separate bills since the mid ‘90s. According to one analysis of past congressional records, 63% of House Republicans, 44% of Senate Republicans, and 59% of all Republicans in Congress have supported reconsidering birthright citizenship.lxiii
Guns: The Open Carry Movement and the Oath Keepers
There are extensive linkages between the TPM and an expansionist view of gun rights guaranteed under the 2nd amendment of the US constitution. The US Supreme Court recent legal ruling reinforced the broad right, much more so than in European countries, for individuals to own weapons, even when the intent is to use the weapon to kill or to operate against potential “tyranny” by the US government. Gun ownership laws vary widely amongst the 50 states, as well as federally imposed gun laws such as the assault weapons ban (which doesn’t include semi-automatic weapons). The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful and well funded lobby organizations in America, which aggressively promotes at all levels (local to national) of government the broadest realization of gun rights. There are 250+ million privately owned firearms in the United States. The number of guns typically rises by about 4.5 million every year. Many individuals in the US own weapons for the reason of so-called “self defense.” With the election of Obama, gun and ammunition sales of all types rose dramatically, and even sold out for long periods, because of totally undocumented and unfounded conspiracy theory that the Obama administration would restrict gun laws. In fact, gun laws have loosened considerably since Obama’s election. For example, it is now legal to take concealed (not visible to the observer) weapons into national parks. The NRA is vehemently opposed to barring people on Homeland Security’s “terrorism watch-list” from purchasing firearms. Many gun advocates are attempting to make it legal to bring concealed weapons onto public university campuses for so-called “self protection”. The Texas state legislature along with several others states are considering such laws in light of the numerous school and university shootings that happen every year. Even more shocking for the sheer idiocy is the fact that in Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia and Arizona state legislators have made it legal to bring concealed weapons into bars, therefore it is possible to get drunk while carrying a (loaded) gun.lxiv
The open carry movement is part of the larger initiative to even further expand the possibility of carrying openly visible (armed) guns to public and private locations including restaurants, bars, airports, state and federal property.lxv The laws regulating what “open carry” means varies widely amongst the states, especially concerning whether guns can be armed and if not, how ammunition must be carried on the person. In California, as well as many other states, there is a phenomenon in which the open carry advocates test the laws of individual businesses and corporations governing guns on the premises. For example, Starbucks Coffee corporate policy does not ban guns in their chain shops. Therefore, even in the San Francisco Bay Area, considered one of the most liberal districts of the US, Starbucks stores were overrun by meetings of open carry advocates. Individuals, groups and even families with children have met together with their guns visibly displayed, ordered iced moca frappacinos, and hung out at the Starbucks shop. Many other businesses all over the country have been challenged by the open carry movement to allow guns inside their premises. In many states, including Minnesota, it is illegal to not allow someone with a gun into the business unless the owner has a sign outside the establishment explicitly prohibiting guns.
As was already mentioned, the SPLC has documented the dramatic rise of patriot, militia, and nativist extremist groups in the US during 2009. One of the more prominent groups is the Oath Keepers, which claims to have at least one chapter in every state made up of current and former law enforcement officers and military personnel. The Oath Keepers publicize themselves as defenders of US citizens and the constitution through armed resistance against a plethora of purported government conspiracies.lxvi The ten “orders we will NOT obey” Oath Keepers pledge include conspiracy theories such as the government setting up (FEMA) concentration camps to hold citizens, the institution of martial law as the first step towards the New World Order, door-to-door confiscation of citizens’ legally held firearms, and orders to use foreign military troops on US soil. Other orders the Oath Keepers won’t obey including conducting warrantless searches, imprisoning citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants”, and putting restrictions on free speech and protests are well-documented cases of current abuses by the US government.
The intermingling of various factions in the radical right is made evident by the development of the Oath Keepers in terms of conspiracy ideas, activities and supporters. In March 2009, the Oath Keepers (OK) organization was founded by Stewart Rhodes, who had previously worked as an intern on Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign. Numerous libertarians claim membership in the OK including James Surga who helped initiate the money bomb fundraisers for Ron Paul’s campaign.lxvii In April 2009, Rhodes and the organization used the outcry over the publication of DHS’ leaked memolxviii naming credible threats of right wing extremism to quickly recruit thousands of members. The memo targeted for suspicion Ron Paul supporters/libertarians, returning military war veterans, the militia movement, and white supremacists. The radical right including the patriot movement had no objections to another leaked DHS memo against so-called “left-wing extremism”, which the DHS viewed to be the most threatening. Oath Keepers representatives have been sent to numerous Tea Party meetings especially in lead ups to the big rallies such as on tax day April 15, July 4, and September 11. Furthermore, the Oath Keepers annual conference in Las Vegas was replete with birthers, 9/11 truthers, and various patriot and nativist members. The Oath Keepers participated in the April 19, 2010 “second amendment” rally in Washington DC on the 235th anniversary of the start of the American revolutionary war, which drew a couple thousand armed participants.lxix The rally date also references the anniversaries of the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City federal building by white supremacists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols and the 1993 FBI’s raid of the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Waco compound, thus further suggesting OK sympathies for radical right causes. The second amendment rally included a speech from Gun Owners of America (GOA) director Larry Pratt, who is a known white supremacist sympathizer and former presidential campaign worker for extremist Pat Buchanan. Several top-tier members of GOA including the lawyer Herb Titus and Larry Pratt use the organization to spread Christian reconstructionist ideas, and therefore maintains extensive ties in the religious right.lxx The GOA also endorsed the major Tea Party 2010 candidates including Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Marco Rubio, and Jim DeMint.
In an interesting turn, the Oath Keepers and TP tried to employ publicity damage control to cover up their connections with Charles Allan Dyer because his activities exposed the real agendas of these groups. He is a member of the Oath Keepers and a supporter of various tea party groups, which was made evident in his various youtube videos and online ramblings. Dyer proved his “do not obey” credentials when he left his position as Marine sergeant after being sentenced in a military trial for threatening insurrection against the ‘tyrannical’ US government and espousing other Oath Keepers conspiracy ideas. Then Stewart Rhodes personally sent Dyer to work as the militia’s spokesman at an Oklahoma Tea Party rally on July 4. Dyer was also deeply involved in setting up other militia groups and giving military training to local civilians. Dyer became a “problem” for these groups when he was arrested on January 12 for rape of a 7 year old, at which time police also found several illegal guns and a Colt M-203 40-millimeter grenade launcher that had been stolen from a California military base several years previously. All evidence of Dyers ties were expunged from the websites of the militia and tea party groups, with Rhodes falsely claiming to all the national news shows that Dyer had never been a member. However, the white armed nationalist American Resistance Movement promoted their ties with Dyer by claiming he is “the first Prisoner of War of the second American Revolution.”
While Senator Obama was campaigning in 2008, white supremacists Paul Schlesselman and Daniel Cowart planned a massive killing spree in Tennessee. They sought to first murder 88 African-American children and behead 14 in an unidentified predominately black town – numbers that signify the nazi salute and the motto “we must secure the existence of our people and future for white children”. They then planned to rob homes and gun stores to fund their ultimate act of assassinating Obama in order to stop him from becoming president. Police received a tip off and arrested both neo-Nazis before any violence occurred. In April 2010, Schlesselman was sentenced to 10 years and in October Cowart was given 14 years in prison. The Secret Service has documented that Obama has received the most assassination threats of any candidate and president in US history. Threats and more detailed plots have been committed based on a wide range of resentments, conspiracy theories, racist and anti-Semitic beliefs.lxxi Fueling the fire are Fox News personalities Glen Beck and Sean Hannity, as well as Alex Jones, who have on numerous occasions suggested and threatened violence against Obama, and at various high level Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and civil rights leaders. Their virulent accusations have inspired numerous far fright advocates to commit crimes against minorities, various government agencies, liberal advocacy groups, amongst others.lxxii
Especially with the 2010 midterm elections, the TPM, birthers, racists, anti-immigration xenophobes, and the religious right have gained further impact with a larger representation in Congress.lxxiii The tea parties and the far right have cemented their role in government through the House Tea Party Caucus and the Constitutional Conservative Caucus run by Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who is rumored to harbor presidential aspirations for the 2012 election. Bachmann epitomizes the tensions at the center of the Tea Party Movement: on the one hand, she aggressively pursues increasing power within the Republican party by creating House caucuses and attempting to get the No. 4 GOP position. On the other hand, she attempts to portray her politics to be different from “establishment” republicanism by acting as the “real” representative of the tea parties. Bachmann will counter the official Republican response by Rep. Paul Ryan to President Obama’s Jan. 25, 2011 state of the union address with her own rebuttal sponsored by the Tea Party Express. With various 2012 campaigns already in motion, the far right with the tea parties are seeking to further their institutionalization through the election of the most radical Republican presidential candidate.
ii http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/spring/rage-on-the-right, SPLC report “The Second Wave: Return of the Militias” pdf d/l: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/splc-report-return-of-the-militias, US hate groups map: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map
iii For more analysis see: Chip Berlet, Toxic to Democracy: Conspiracy Theories, Demonization and Scapegoating, full pdf d/l: http://www.publiceye.org/conspire/toxic2democracy/Toxic-2D-all-rev-04.pdf
iv Read further specifics in Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Publications, 2000).
vi Devin Burghart & Leonard Zeskind, Tea Party Nationalism, pg. 15.
viii One important study is the detailed 16 part series exposing ties between Ron Paul and the radical right starting with: http://politicalchili.com/2010/03/origins-of-the-tea-party-movement-part-1/
xi list of 2009 TP protests: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Tea_Party_protests,_2009, list of 2010 TP protests: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Tea_Party_protests,_2010
xiv http://politicalchili.com/2010/03/origins-of-the-tea-party-movement%E2%80%94part-iiia/, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/30/100830fa_fact_mayer?currentPage=all, http://www.alternet.org/story/148014/, http://www.alternet.org/news/148598/, http://www.alternet.org/story/148649/, http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/149617/
xxi The telephone poll was conducted April 5–12 with 1,580 US adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points for all adults and for Tea Party supporters. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/04/14/us/politics/20100414-tea-party-poll-graphic.html?ref=politics#tab=9; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15poll.html
xxii The survey was conducted February 8-March 15, 2010 with 1006 people in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio, which were battleground states going into the 2008 election. The margin of error is +/- 3.1% for all respondents. http://depts.washington.edu/uwiser/racepolitics.html
xxxiii Burghart & Zeskind, Tea Party Nationalism, pg. 10.
xlix Burghart & Zeskind, Tea Party Nationalism, pg. 70.
lii Giffords was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt by Jared Loughner, who also killed 6 people and wounded 13 others on Jan. 8 2011 during Gifford’s local “Meet your Congressperson” event outside a local Tucson, Arizona grocery store.
lxi Burghart & Zeskind, Tea Party Nationalism, pg. 73-75.
lxxii http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2010/12/01/tally-grows-of-viewers-moved-to-violence-by-becks-rants/, http://mediamatters.org/iphone/research/201001220026, http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/glenn-beck-irresponsible-and-indifferent-to-the-violent-consequences-of-his-dangerous-r