The national tea party movement is deeply tied to some of the nation’s most extreme, right-wing groups, the vice president of a national group that monitors the right said in Missoula on Saturday.
Devin Burghart of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights made his comments at the annual convention of the Montana Human Rights Network.
“The tea party makes it sounds like they’re all about budget deficits, tax reduction and fiscal responsibility,” said Burghart. “But that’s not true. They’re also about the social elements of the extreme right wing.”
Through a PowerPoint presentation, Burghart then linked – through pictures and words – white supremacists, anti-Semites and militia backers to the various tea party factions.
Burghart identified six main tea party factions, and said five of the six are tied to extremist groups. Only FreedomWorks, founded by former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, and financially backed by billionaire Steve Forbes, has steered clear of the extremist groups, Burghart said.
“They’ve stuck to the economic issues,” he said. “The others have provided a platform for these other groups, and in some cases allowed these messages to become what they stand for.”
The other five groups identified in a new report are the Tea Party Express, Tea Party nation, Tea Party Patriots, ResistNet and the 1776 Tea Party.
Nationwide, tea party groups have about 2 million activists, Burghart said. In Montana, about 1,000 people belong to one of about 20 tea party chapters scattered around the state.
Those figures come from a report that will be issued by Burghart’s group on Oct. 19, titled “Tea Party Nationalism.”
The report directly links the tea party movement to various members of groups that support white supremacy, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia and radically curtailed immigration laws.
Not long after the tea parties surfaced after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, white-supremacy groups started looking to comb their memberships for new members for their own groups.
“They wanted to co-opt the tea parties,” Burghart said. “And that’s why you see the connections we’ve made today.”
Prominent in those connections is Billy Roper, an Arkansas man who has tied himself to the tea party movement. He’s also the founder of a group called White Revolution, a virulent white-supremacy group.
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In South Carolina, a prominent tea party activist is also on the board of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which Burghart said is an outgrowth of the old White Citizens Councils of the south in 1950s and ’60s. Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once referred to the WCC as the “uptown KKK.”
“These are not populists of any stripe,” Burghart said. “These are ultra-nationalists defending their pale-skinned power.”
Burghart also focused particular attention on the so-called “Birthers,” a small group that believes that Obama is not an American citizen.
“Five of six of these groups have people at the top who don’t believe the president is an American,” Burghart said.
Many of those people also believe that Obama is a Muslim, he said.
“Only FreedomWorks is the exception to that rule,” Burghart said.
Burghart identified Pamela Geller, part of ResistNet group, as an Islamophobe and Birther. Geller has said there’s no such thing as a “good” Muslim and that Obama may be the illegitimate son of Malcolm X.
“Most of us would say that’s insane, but she has a national platform and gets on television,” Burghart said.
At rock-bottom, Burghart said, the tea party movement is an overwhelmingly white gathering that talks about taxes and finances but seems inordinately fond of social issues embraced by the extreme right.
“They’re doing their best to spit-shine their image,” he said. “They’re not all about cutting taxes.”
He was careful to say, of course, that many tea party members don’t embrace radical beliefs. He also said the tea parties are here to stay.
“The tea parties aren’t going away after the midterm elections, as much as we hope they will,” Burghart said.
Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.