Tea party activism tied to extremists turning violent

The tea party and its Republican Party handlers are on the defensive this week after an Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights report linked several prominent tea party leaders to extremist and openly racist organizations.

To cite some examples, the IREHR report revealed that Karen Pack, a leader of the Wood County Texas tea party in Texas, has been linked to the KKK. According to the report, Pack, who is a self-described “Christian, tea party member, a Constitutionalist and a Patriot,” has been listed as an official supporter by the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and a subscriber to a periodical published by a so-called “white patriot” organization.

Another leader of the tea party movement is Roan Garcia-Quintana of Mauldin, South Carolina, who was identified as “advisor and media spokesperson” for the 2010 Tax Day tea party rally in Greenville, South Carolina. As the IREHR report notes, Garcia-Quintana serves also as a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the “direct descendant of the white Citizens Councils that fought to defend Jim Crow segregation during the 1950s and 1960s.”

Dale Robertson helped found, and serves as the president of, 1776 Tea Party, which has an online membership located in several cities across the Southwest and South, from Mesa, Arizona, to Miami, Florida. According to the report, Robertson’s extremist, anti-immigrant views have been well-publicized. In a media statement, Robertson urged a vigilante response to immigrants: “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. If the Republican Party or the Democrat Party does not turn conservative, and soon, then it will leave the tea party no choice but to take them over and clean house.”

In 2009 “Robertson attended a tea party event in Houston with a sign reading ‘Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = N*ggar.'” He has circulated racist e-mails depicting President Obama as a pimp and has a record of promoting anti-Semitic speakers on his radio program.

Head of design, marketing, and advertising for the Council of Conservative Citizens newsletter in Florida is Peter Gemma, who also belongs to the ResistNet tea party. He is joined in that group by Tucson, Arizona, native Clay Douglas, who uses their website to promote his anti-Semitic blatherings on his Free American website and radio program. Douglas is known to have blamed Jews for the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Another ResistNet tea party activist is Arkansas native Billy Joe Roper, founder of a group called “White Revolution.” Roper’s group favors racial segregation and regularly denounces civil rights laws.

Virginia native and tea party activist, Larry Pratt was a leading figure in the anti-government militia movements in the 1990s, has participated in the KKK, Aryan Nations, and so-called Christian Identity groups, which preach, along with white supremacy, that Jews are Satanic and people of color are “mud people.”

Recent events not discussed in the report reveal how far tea party supporters of Republican candidates are willing to go in this election. For example, the race for Michigan Attorney General turned ugly this week when supporters of the Republican candidate’s campaign lobbed anti-Semitic attacks on David Leyton, the Democratic candidate.

According to a story in the central Michigan Morning Sun, one supporter of the Republican who had been used in campaign commercials posted a string of anti-Semitic comments on a news website, which “distilled down” said “the Jew lawyer Leyton had deprived her of justice, and the Jew who runs the site had connived to keep the suspect’s ethnicity out of the paper.” The newspaper lambasted the Republican campaign, saying it “owns the bigotry unleashed.”

Another incident in Arizona revealed further how vicious and violent tea party activists can get to further their cause. Rep. Raul Grijalva was forced to close a congressional office in Tucson, Arizona, this week after a staffer opened a letter covered with swastikas and containing what seems to have been toxic white power reminiscent of the attacks against leaders of Congress after September 11, 2001. This is the third of a string of attacks, including gun shots and bomb threats, against Grijalva’s offices. Anti-immigrant groups are suspected of the attacks.

“These groups and individuals are out there, and we ignore them at our own peril,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous in a press statement this week. “They are speaking at tea party events, recruiting at rallies and in some cases remain in the tea party leadership itself. The danger is not that the majority of tea party members share their views, but that left unchecked, these extremists might indirectly influence the direction of the tea party and therefore the direction of our country: moving it backward and not forward.”

Image: ‘Signs’ of racism in the tea party cometstarmoon // CC BY 2.0


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of "Mythologies: A Political Economy of U.S. Literature, Settler Colonialism, and Racial Capitalism in the Long Nineteenth Century" (International Publishers) and "The Collectivity of Life" (Lexington Books).