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Hate Groups and Nativist Extremists Crashing 'Tea Parties'

All across the nation on April 15, protesters of various stripes will stage “tea parties” that are supposed to conjure up images of the American colonists’ iconic 1773 protest of British tax policy. Similarities between the events are few, however. While the colonists were objecting to an increase in the tax they had to pay on tea from England that they said amounted to taxation without representation, the modern-day protesters are taking issue with everything from the federal stimulus package to undocumented workers, as well as a federal income system they believe needs to be overhauled or eliminated.

Demonstrators won’t be doing anything so dramatic as dumping loads of tea in a harbor in Boston Harbor. In Livingston, Tex., for example, marchers are asked to bring a teabag to be dropped in a tub of water. Atlanta organizers are asking for canned food to be donated to a food bank.

There already were national tea party events in more than 40 cities on Feb. 27, and additional protests earlier this month. But April 15, the deadline for filing federal income tax returns, is the main event. One of the tea party organizers says that protests are scheduled in more than 2,000 cities. And April 15 may not be the end of them. A “cowboy tea party,” for example, is scheduled for July 4 in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Well-known conservatives are among those supporting the April 15 protests, including a number of Republican congressmen who are scheduled to speak at various venues. Newt Gingrich and his American Solutions are backing the tea parties, and the former House speaker is supposed to talk at a New York City rally. Rock-‘n-roller and hunting enthusiast Ted Nugent has announced he will join Fox News ideologue Glenn Beck and Texas Gov. Rick Perry outside the Alamo, where Nugent says he will “perform a fire-breathing, passionate rendition of the American National Anthem on my American-made guitar.”  He adds, “It is time to protest a federal government out of control. A corrupt, unaccountable, Constitution-defying gang of bureaucrats running amok, turning on their employers, we the people.”

Not surprisingly, “fair and balanced” Fox News is promoting the tax parties. Beck and other hosts have encouraged viewers to join them at tea parties they are attending and covering. Beck went so far as to urge viewers to “celebrate with Fox News” by either attending a tax protest or watching his network’s coverage. Fox has repeatedly framed the protests as responses to President Obama’s fiscal policies, even though organizers portray them as non-partisan.

Some people and organizations with more than a tax reform agenda are hoping to exploit the tax protesters’ anger and win them over to their causes. At the white supremacist website, Stormfront, for example, people have posted comments urging their fellow racists to attend tea parties and try to recruit new members to their cause.

“Don’t go there [Tea Parties] with flags and uniforms, and don’t try to preach the truth,” advised one Stormfront writer. “Go in civil, meet people with whom we might do things later, and try to get into the organising [sic] circles.” Another writer said in response that white supremacists shouldn’t “fail to push to envelope” but cautioned them to “dress inconspicuously.”

Meanwhile, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) is urging its members to attend tea parties. The CCC is the successor to the White Citizens Councils that opposed desegregation in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a white supremacist group that opposes non-white immigration and affirmative action, while supporting the display of the Confederate battle flag.

The nativist movement also has a presence at the tea parties. William Gheen, the founder of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, or ALIPAC, E-mailed “allied leaders” urging them to join a coalition of his and other anti-immigration groups in attending tea parties. “The vast majority of attendees to these events are with us on immigration enforcement,” he wrote. Among the other groups that Gheen identified as being in the coalition are the San Diego Minutemen, the hate group Save Our State, and Voice of the People USA.

All this anti-tax fervor has, predictably, spawned merchandise such as “Party Like It’s 1773” T-shirts and “Where’s My Bailout?” coffee mugs. Yet one more way that it differs from the Boston Tea Party.

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