The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Tea Partiers Should Reject Racists Who Recruit from their Ranks

By Alexander Zaitchik on July 27, 2010 - 9:25 am, Posted in White Nationalism

Are the organizations that make up the Tea Party movement fundamentally racist? If not, are they too lackadaisical about addressing hard racist elements among their overwhelmingly white memberships?

Controversy over these questions was recently sparked anew when Ben Jealous of the NAACP accused Tea Party leaders of not sufficiently repudiating bigoted rhetoric and imagery in Tea Party events and online forums. As if to prove Jealous’ point, Mark Williams, the bilious former leader of Tea Party Express, popped up to post an online missive that fit his habit of throwing racially charged insults (he once called Barack Obama an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug”). Williams’ rebuttal to Jealous’ challenge, posted to his personal blog,, took the form of a fictional letter to Abraham Lincoln sent from “the Coloreds,” in which the latter claim to “have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing.”

To its credit, the National Tea Party Federation, the movement’s umbrella group, responded quickly by expelling Williams. But this welcome move does not settle the matter of Tea Party racism. Williams remains active in the Tea Party Express, one of the nation’s largest Tea Party groups, and the diffuse nature of the movement makes it difficult if not impossible to gauge Williams’ support among the grassroots that has over the last year heartily welcomed Williams to dozens of Tea Party events around the country.

Whatever Williams’ official expulsion signifies—a genuine sign that Tea Party leaders will no longer tolerate bigotry from activists who work under the Tea Party banner, or simply a realization that it has an image problem on its hands—the fact remains that the Williams kerfuffle was hardly the first instance of racist rhetoric emanating from Tea Parties. From homemade signage to racist email blasts, there has been plenty to condemn dating back to April of 2009. Much more often than not, this racist behavior has generally been met by Tea Party activists with either silence or denial.

The most notable example of this silence and denial is the complete lack of recognition that white supremacist groups increasingly view Tea Parties as rich recruiting grounds. The average Tea Partier may not be interested in joining a hate group, but hate groups have not been shy about their interest in the average Tea Partier. For over a year, racist groups have lurked on the periphery of the Tea Party scene seeking to exploit the fact that, as MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan recently noted with satisfaction, “For the first time in our lifetimes, outside the South, white racial consciousness has visibly begun to rise.”

Take, for example, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). The descendant of the pro-segregation Citizens Councils of the 1950s, the CCC is a proudly racist organization. Its literature and website on occasion still display its original motto: “States Rights. Racial Integrity.” Its newspaper and website trade loudly in crude racist tropes, inveigh against interracial marriage and immigration, and make common cause with far-right, virulently anti-immigrant political parties around the world.

Because the group is so blatantly racist, it is hard to imagine any movement that claims mainstream credibility—one representing the concerns of “everyday Americans”—having any tolerance for the CCC. One would expect such a respectable movement to chase the CCC out of its events. Its message of hate is, after all, at odds with the Tea Party’s professed inclusive message of deficit reduction and smaller government.

And yet, at a Tea Party attended by this reporter last January in Inverness, Fla., the CCC set up a prominent information booth from which it handed out literature for more than three hours. At no point did a single attendee of the rally, which featured a line-up of state-level GOP candidates and politicians, challenge the presence or ideology of the CCC. The following day, the organization had good reason to be pleased with its reception and deemed the event a success. According to the CCC blog, the organization’s representatives “passed out 2 boxes of THE CITIZENS INFORMER newspaper, and 250 Council business cards.” No arguments ensued.

The Inverness event was not the first time a Florida chapter of the CCC had worked a Tea Party event and later boasted of its easy reception. “[Council] receives warm welcome in Crystal River, Florida,” declared the CCC site following its presence at a Tea Party on Sept. 12, 2009. “Council members distributed 3 boxes of The Citizens Informer and applications,” the site explained without mentioning any conflict or opposition from the gathered.

Tolerating the presence of the Council of Conservative Citizens does not mean that everyone at these events is a racist. But the lack of opposition to the presence of CCC recruiters suggests that the NAACP is correct: the Tea Parties are, at best, far too tolerant of extremist groups in their midst. At worst, there is an unspoken ideological affinity. Whatever the case, the presence of the CCC highlights how explicitly racist hate groups like the CCC seek to exploit the Tea Party movement to expand their own white nationalist movement.

This strategy is no secret. Jamie Kelso of American Third Position (A3P), a white nationalist group that describes itself as “a political party for white Americans,” has even discussed its intricacies with Hatewatch. According to Kelso, groups like A3P and CCC work off the assumption of a symbiotic relationship between Tea Party groups that are “implicitly white” — defined as a group that has almost entirely white memberships but does not openly discuss race — and more marginal groups that openly discuss race and thus are “explicitly white.”

Early on, Kelso developed an upbeat take on the Tea Parties’ susceptibility to the white nationalist message. After a May 16, 2009, rally in Southern California, he wrote in a blog post: “Every time I yelled ‘We want our country back!’, I am sure that 99% of the 99% White crowd that responded so enthusiastically to that chant UNDERSTOOD that the ‘we’ and the ‘our’ in ‘we want our country back!’ was (and is) our White people. … I’m also sure that this army of Minutemen had some very good implicit (and explicit) understanding of WHO stole their country from them and their children.’”

“Everyone accepted our literature and we received enthusiastic responses from most takers,” an A3P organizer wrote of another event, adding, “It is crucial that we network at implicitly white activities such as Tea Parties and Euro festivals.”

The challenge, as Kelso sees it, is to get Tea Partiers to make the leap from attending a Tea Party event to joining a full-fledged hate group. That’s where the conversations and free literature come into play. “The word is bridge,” Kelso told Hatewatch. “I’m a bridger. That’s what I’ve been doing all along.”

The expulsion of Mark Williams was a good start to cleaning the Tea Party house. But it will be up to Tea Party leaders and activists to keep up the work. Unless the Tea Party leadership and grassroots begin to take much stronger—and regular—stands against haters who aim to recruit from, or infiltrate, their ranks, their denials of racism will ring even more hollow than they already do.

  • beholder

    Chad “unlawful presence” is not a crime, it’s a federal civil violation and it’s not handled by criminal court. If it was they would get public defenders.

    Close to 99% of immigration violations are prosecuted under the INA’s unlawful presence law.

    Technically, only crossing the border without authorization or entering a legal port of entry fraudulently would be considered a crime.

    But since an estimated 40% of unauthorized immigrants entered legally and merely overstayed their visa (or changed jobs, lost their job but stayed in the country on their original visa, etc.) , it is not correct to state that unauthorized immigrants are criminals.

    So the reason why people see that point of view as racist is that it gets tangled up with the anti-immigrant rhetoric that IS racist, and those who are not outwardly racist do nothing about supressing those who are. In short, they end up looking like two peas in a pod.

    And on your point about racial profiling, asking everybody who gets pulled over opens the immigration question up to two problems: first, it’s Constitutionally a question of federal, not local jurisdiction. Secondly, the motives for pulling someone over can be banal.

    There is no guarantee in the law that Arizona cops would not turn a blind eye to the white people with a busted tail light while halting any brown skinned people he sees, including citizens.

    The United States already has an embarassing habit of deporting US citizens. Are you so sure that Arizona’s cops are going to abide by the law?

    Are you aware of how many child abuses cases are committed by police? There are an unbelievable amount of such cases. Don’t tell me the cops can be trusted not to be racists too…we have the Constitution to protect us for a reason.

  • Chad

    I don’t understand how enforcing immigration laws is racist if someone enters illegally they have committed a crime and need to be deported that is the law. Its also not racial profiling the law says they are required to check the citizenship status of everyone they pull over.

  • skinnyminny

    Carter, you are correct! California does have a lot of racists. We have alleged racists like Barbara Coe – Nativists out of Huntington Beach, lots of minutemen groups in Orange County, in fact, the city manager from Bell that just resigned for his pay – there’s now allegations that he said he admired Hitler also bought a beach house in Huntington Beach. Believe it or not, most are concentrated in beach communities of Orange County!!!!!

    BTW, it is now being reported by the local news that police officers from Bell went to residents homes with absentee ballots and told them to sign these ballots that were already filled out/telling them how to vote – so, next time people want to pick a fight about the incident that FOX is showing about the black panthers, they need to be reminded that police officers went to residents homes in California.

  • Carter

    Most translations of languages are not literal.In the case of La Raza the elemental translation is “people” not “race” as within the English conceptualization.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    It would be helpful if Tea Partiers were to take a sort of mental inventory of their own ideas, and in particular ask the question- why do so many racists, indeed Neo-Nazis, take an interest in recruiting from the Tea Party movement? You do not see Neo-Nazis trying to recruit at university teach-ins, gay-pride parades, and other diverse events. They have for decades gravitated to gatherings of mostly white people with conservative values.

    The fact is that many neo-Nazis simply carry conservative rhetoric to logical conclusions. In a way, many of them are far more honest than conservatives.

    By the way, just for you Curtis, I actually went on the website of the National Council For La Raza and found this gem:

    Obviously this is far more research than you have ever done on the subject. Looks like your racist post just took one under the stack, and is headed for the bottom of the sea.

  • beholder

    Ruslan, that was an intriguing notion about the supposed “false flag” operation run by leftist subversives infiltrating the Tea Party.

    Applying Occam’s razor, I think most likely thing is that the guy was a simple racist who found the only large political group that wasn’t hostile to his views.

    If one buys the theory that the Tea Party is a populist affair (which I do not, given it was spawned by Fox News and is the political equivalent of Lady Gaga), then it is natural to expect a come one, come all attitude.

    So, the racists came.

    And the Tea Party, being generally disjointed but sharing a common dislike for Obama with the racists, got swept up and carried away and it is was no longer convenient to police the ranks when obstructionism was in full swing and the political process was being angrily sabotaged by the unthinking right wing mob.

    As a leftist I cannot quite see the point of exposing my camp to discredit by posing as a right wing extremist at a Tea Party gathering. After all there is far too much low hanging fruit there that is easy to exploit without so much as lifting a finger off the keyboard.

    Who needs subterfuge to discredit Sarah Palin, for crying out loud? She does a fine job of it by herself.

    All a body nees to do is stand and gape.

  • Carter

    Rhetorical question:
    What’s to be gained by the Tea Party supporting racism? Is their agenda so intertwined that they have to court racists to accomplish their goals?

    It’s obvious that A3P -does- need to maintain their active racism because that IS their agenda. They need to intertwine themselves with the TP so as to gather those who are easily swayed, to reach a larger group, & to appear less radical.

    “The average Tea Partier may not be interested in joining a hate group, but hate groups have not been shy about their interest in the average Tea Partier.”

    This is an extremely important point. The recruitment of the individual is effective when it’s subtle and unobtrusive. I have been saying this for quite some time: the A3P is the real danger; a crafty & significant foe.
    One of THE MOST foolish things I have read was the branding of Republicans as racists.
    I am NOT a Republican, however such a large group cannot be basically composed of racists as the exclusivity of that statement is in itself a prejudicial expression.
    What’s more it marginalizes those who may have conservative leanings but have a commitment to treating people as individuals. It serves to divide and is a device of the agent provocateur.
    I implore those who do not seek divisiveness to examine their priorities.
    If a bowling league in Victor, Idaho was all white would that make them racists? Or does the fact that they are from Idaho bring to mind the Aryan Nations so powerfully that everything else is set to the background?
    I say that because I have recently read several comments about Arizona & some people who believe that since there exists racist elements within that state, that it bespeaks racism within it’s ranks as a standard.
    People had said that about the South (Alabama……) And we know that to be a gross generalization. If one were going to define a group by the level of racist elements within it’s ranks then CALIFORNIA most be the HOME of racists as more racist groups exist there than most any other state in the Union! {See Hate-Map}
    My point is this: ANY group can contain some rotten apples. The larger the group, the more likely it contains some unsavory folks.
    What’s more the exploitation of those groups by radical elements is a common occurrence. To brand everyone who happens to be a Republican or everyone who happens to agree with certain conservative agenda as a racist weakens the struggle for justice. In fact it weakens it to such a degree that such an individual who sports that agenda appears as an agent provocateur.
    To that end it marginalized those who may have NO racist leanings and create a defensiveness that need not exist.

    Those who falsely accuse an innocent person of rape are rapists themselves as they weaken the very fabric of justice & compassion for those so victimized.
    —— Janet Washington

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Wow Curtis, what a totally non-racist thing to say. First of all, groups like La Raza are most likely open to all Hispanics, which would include those called “Hispanics of European descent in the US.” Many Mexicans, Cubans, and Caribbeans fall under this category. It is also worth noting that a non-Latino person would find it far easier working for or with a group like La Raza than a Latino would have joining a group such as American Third Position. By chance, did you ever bother to CHECK what the membership requirements are for groups like the Council of La Raza?

    As for the “infiltrator”; there was no evidence that the one in the Youtube video was a leftist in disguise. He certainly talks like a racialist. If the Tea Partiers want to claim that these people are leftists in disguise, they need to present evidence of this.

  • curtis farber

    There are tea pary infiltrators. Some of them come from a group called crash the tea party. I love how the splc never mentions the all brown membership of la raza or other latino groups. They also never mention that militant communists and mexican racist groups recriut at these rallies. When will we see this story mark potok? Probably when they start voting republican they will become officially racist.

  • Difluoroethane

    Was the guy Ruslan mentioned an infiltrator? Yes; the article indicates that hate groups are trying to infiltrate the tea parties in order to gain more recruits from within.

    An infiltrator from the _left_, though? Certainly not. I don’t think Stormfront, A3P, or COfCC members consider themselves “left-wing” or “left-leaning” in any sense of the term.

  • daemonesslisa

    Personally, I’d like the Tea Party to disband completely! Then again, my guess is IF they were to weed out the racists among them, they’d end up disbanding anyway.

    The tea parties happened because of President Obama being black, not Democratic. Remember, there were no tea parties—although, there were similar extremists—when Clinton was president.

    Those anti-government extremists, while also racist, were more set against Democrats as a whole rather than a specific group of them. The tea parties are the ones that make the racial/national distinction; it’s not liberals in general that they hate like it is with mainstream conservatives, it’s non-white liberals. It’s been proven, not only by intrepid reporters, but even by those tea-hadists themselves.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    In addition to denial and pathetic attempts to highlight the few black and Latino Tea Partiers at various rallies, the Tea Party types have at times alleged, completely without evidence, that some of the blatant racists are actually “Democrat shills”. There is a rather infamous video of this, where a cameraman berates a racist sporting SS runes and a Swastika on his shirt. Some say the whole thing looks staged(some people behind the man had a sign prepared in reference to him), but the key thing is that he was alleged to be some kind of infiltrator from “the left.” I asked the person who posted the video to provide some evidence that the man in question was an “infiltrator.” Needless to say, none was provided whatsoever.