Setting the Record Straight on Tea Parties, their Electioneering and the IRS “Scandal”

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  • Published in IREHR

On May 17, IREHR published, “The Tea parties and the IRS ‘Scandal:’ The Actual Facts of the Case,” a special report by Devin Burghart.  Four days later, May 21, we followed up with Mr. Burghart’s, “Tea Party Group Protesting IRS Has History of Questionable Political Involvement.” The first story showed that a half-dozen Tea Party organizations with non-profit corporate status engaged in apparently off-limits electioneering activities. Both the special report and the article following became a unique source of hard information about Tea Party activities that might have reasonably led to any number of investigations.

The National Memo republished both pieces and told IREHR that they drew an exceptionally large numbers of readers and comment, including New York Times political reporter Nick Confessore, who subsequently re-tweeted one of the stories.  It was also cited, with significant quotations, by articles on the Daily Kos and Crooks and Liars, among other sites.  Bill Berkowitz from TruthOut did an interview with Devin Burghart about the story, which was circulating and re-circulating.

Ten days after IREHR’s first words on the topic, May 27, The New York Times published a story entitled, “Groups Targeted by I.R.S. Tested Rules on Politics,” by Nick Confessore and Michael Luo.  It substantially paralleled IREHR’s special report (with some interesting additions).  It did not cite IREHR as a source, however.  In any case, IREHR dug up the facts on Tea Party activities, and we remain the principal source for hard data exposing this anti-democratic far right movement.

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Guns and the New Amalgamated Hard Right

The following article appeared first in Searchlight magazine’s May 2013.  It incorporated enough new material to warrant its republication by IREHR, despite including some information that had been previously released on this site.  Searchlight, a London-based anti-fascist anti-racist monthly with an international cast of correspondents, will celebrate 50 years of continuous monthly publication next year.  The following article describes a new amalgamation of hard right politics.

Guns and the New Amalgamated Hard Right

By Leonard Zeskind & Devin Burghart
Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights

On May 3 through 5, the National Rifle Association (NRA) held its annual convention in Houston, Texas.  Over 550 exhibitors packed the hall with displays of guns and ammunition, and hunting and survivalist gear of every type.  One display of jewelry featured, “bracelets, earrings, necklaces, rings made in the style of the elephant hair jewelry made in Africa,” according to the NRA.  A man size target resembling President Barack Obama allowed attendees to shoot at the president and make him bleed—until the last day when media exposure forced its removal. The theme of the convention, as usual, was: we are sticking to our guns and fighting the culture war against everybody that wants meaningful gun control.

Republican politicians—mostly of the Tea Party persuasion—claimed spots on the speakers’ dais.  From Texas came Governor Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz. Sarah Palin did her usual culture war shtick.  From the supposedly more moderate Republican zone, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal paid homage to the gun gods. Glenn Beck, the television conspiracy and bigotry monger and Tea Party promoter, drenched his culture war rhetoric in the bloody rag of the Alamo.  National Rifle Association spokes persons will tell you that the NRA is a non-partisan lobby for the Second Amendment to the Constitution.  In real life, it is an organization that bridges conservative Republicans to the hard right.  At the convention, it was apparent that the organization was gearing up its members for the 2014 elections.

The NRA claimed that 86,000 people attended its convention, a number that is grossly inflated with folks that visit the exhibition hall for curiosity’s sake, but never step inside a workshop or plenary session. Only a couple of thousand attend the convention’s biggest events and vote for various motions on the plenary floor.  Similarly, the NRA claims they currently have over four million members.  A closer analysis by the Violence Policy Center puts the actual number of members at about three million.

After the convention, the NRA board of directors selected Birmingham, Alabama attorney James W. Porter II as its president.  Porter calls Barack Obama a “fake president,” and describes the American Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression,” a term usually signifying one’s identification with the Confederate South.  

Add it up: a neo-Confederate president, Tea Party affiliated speakers, and racist viscous portrayals of the president by a vendor combined with multiple pledges to unseat any politicians who breathe a word about gun control.  Newspaper reporters often refer to it as “the gun lobby.” A more appropriated term might be one of the many armed wings of the hard right.

It is not the only hard right membership with guns, however.  Gun Owners of American executive director Larry Pratt has been for decades a consistent advocate for militias, a center spot for anti-abortion and anti-immigrant politics, and a pressure point on the NRA’s jugular vein, forcing the larger organization to adopt policies ever further to the right. 

In recent months, the Tea Party movement has lent its membership to the gun cause.
On April 17, the United States Senate failed to end a filibuster on bipartisan legislation to expand gun background checks to gun shows and internet sales. The legislation was supposed to be the centerpiece of gun safety efforts after the Newtown, Connecticut murders, when one disgruntled  20-year old, shot and killed his mother before going to Sandy Hook elementary school and fatally shooting twenty students and six adults, before killing himself. It took a concerted effort by the NRA, other gun groups and their Tea Party allies to block universal background check legislation, which currently has the support of roughly 90% of the American public according to recent opinion polls.

The Tea Party movement’s pro-gun activity started ramping up at the turn of the year, starting with Gun Appreciation Day in January, followed by February’s Tea Party “Day of Resistance” rallies, to a variety of local protests in April.

Five of the six national Tea Party factions IREHR identified in Tea Party Nationalism along with a new national group engaged local activists in efforts to kill the bill. The 1776 Tea Party (aka TeaParty.org), Patriot Action Network, Tea Party Express, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, and TheTeaParty.net all worked against the passage of gun safety legislation.

Guns have been at the top of the agenda for the newest group, TheTeaParty.net.  The group capitalized on the gun issue to revitalize the Tea Party street presence. As IREHR first report, TheTeaParty.net organized events for a Day of Resistance on February 23.  IREHR tracked rallies in 118 locations in 38 states on February 23. Rallies ranged in size from the eight people standing in the snows of Fairbanks, Alaska; to 260 in Atlanta, Georgia; to 600 in Dallas, Texas; to 800 at the state capitol in Boise, Idaho; to nearly 2000 in Bakersfield, California.

In the days leading up to the vote, TheTeaParty.net peppered their email list with gunner paranoia, “Do not become complacent. Do not think that your voice does not matter. Do not sit idly by while our freedom is taken away. SIGN and SHARE this petition today to tell Congress to “KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF OUR GUNS! [Emphasis in original]”

In another email, the group made the outrageous claim that, “President Obama did what he does best. He preyed on the emotions of people by having a distraught mother of one of the children killed at Sandy Hook give his weekly address to the nation.That tactic would be used by someone addicted to power who is also hell-bent on destroying this nation by dismantling and attacking the Constitution upon which it was built.

After the bill was defeated, Dustin Stockman, a leader in TheTeaParty.net and the principle organizer of the February “Day of Resistance” gun rallies, declared, “This is a victory for freedom-loving Americans across the country. And your efforts on the Day of Resistance undoubtedly influenced the outcome of this election.”

Now add it up: A mass movement of angry (white) people, mobilized to keep their guns unregulated, Tea Party and gunner groups working side by side, and a feverish culture war conviction infecting the lot of them.  The result is not pretty.

 

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The Tea Party and the IRS “Scandal” The Actual Facts of the Case

An IREHR Special Report

While it is well-known that the so-called IRS scandal has been used by Tea Partiers to bash the IRS, less well known are the actual facts of the case.

Some of the flagged groups did have their tax-exempt status delayed or did face some additional scrutiny, but not a single group has been denied tax-exempt status.

A May 14 draft report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that none of the 296 questionable applicants had been denied, “For the 296 potential political cases we reviewed, as of December 17, 2012, 108 applications had been approved, 28 were withdrawn by the applicant, none had been denied, and 160 cases were open from 206 to 1,138 calendar days (some crossing two election cycles).” (p. 14)

In fact, the only known 501(c)(4) applicant to recently have its status denied happens to be a progressive group: the Maine chapter of Emerge America, which trains Democratic women to run for office. Although the group did no electoral work, and didn’t participate in independent expenditure campaign activity either, its partisan nature disqualified it from being categorized as working for the “common good.”

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5 Things to Watch for in Immigration Debate

On May Day 2013 thousands of people turned out onto the streets in hundreds of cities to march for comprehensive immigration reform. With the process partially underway, IREHR takes a look at five different things human rights supporters should be keeping an eye on as the debate moves forward.

1. Tea Partiers Lead the Counter-Mobilization

In contrast to the seeming “consensus” view that immigration reform is a fait accompli, anti-immigrant forces still think they can kill the bill. Unlike the 2005-2007 battles over comprehensive immigration reform, however, there isn’t a unified opposition lead by a close-knit network of anti-immigrant groups. This time, the situation is much more fluid and complicated.

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Harper's Misses the Mark on Ron Paul "Revolution"

A Letter about a Harper’s Magazine Write-Up on Ron Paul
From Jon Mozzochi

Michael Ames’ letter from Tampa (“The Awakening: Ron Paul’s generational movement,” Harper’s, April 2013) would wander less, and inform more, if it had a framework capable of making sense of what is on the surface a deeply contradictory political movement. 

Ron (and Rand) Paul’s libertarian “revolution” Ames contends, is at once opposed to “modern war making and the evils of the corporate state” and the “forced redistribution of money from the young, healthy, and working to the elderly, sick, and poor...” 

Are they Libertarian anarchists? Is this a new third force showing the way? Are these radicals with whom progressives can break bread? Unfortunately, Ames doesn’t adequately answer any of these three questions. 

But I will. No, no, and hell no.

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CPAC and Bigotry: Who is in and Who is Out

American Conservative Union (ACU) chairman Al Cardenas once said “CPAC is like an ‘All Star’ game for conservatives.” Watching it unfold, however, is less like a ball game and more like surveying the line-up at a Moscow May Day parade during the times of the Soviet Union, if you can push the political ideology out of the picture for a moment.  Or like monitoring a north Georgia Klan Labor Day Klan rally in the 1980s.  You see who is in and who is out.  In that regard, seeing the Tea Party emerge at CPAC 2013 is a little like watching the first time white power skinheads showed up at the Gainesville, Georgia Kluxer event in 1989.

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Tea Party Dominates CPAC 2013 Agenda

For decades, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has been a barometer of the different political tendencies inside the right-wing. In the 1980s, Reagan administration officials and Reaganite New Rightists dominated the podium.  Pres. Reagan spoke at CPAC in both 1984 and 1988.  In the 1990s, culture warriors like Pat Buchanan and the Rev. Pat Robertson joined Republican regulars such as Sens. Bob Dole and Phil Gramm. At this years’ CPAC13, Tea Party leaders and Tea Party-supported politicians will dominate the proceedings.  The result is an agenda filled with bigots, conspiracy mongers, and publicity hounds.

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Day of Resistance Gun Rallies Stoke Tea Party Movement

Day of Resistance Gun Rallies Stoke Tea Party Movement

Racism Remains an Issue

By Devin Burghart

At gun ranges, in park gazebos, at VFW halls, on city sidewalks and parking lots, and on the steps of state capitol buildings, the Tea Party driven gun rallies of February 23 succeeded in mobilizing dormant parts of the Tea Party base and attracting some new faces.

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.223 Ammo and a Day of Tea Party Rallies

.223 Ammo and a Day of Tea Party Rallies

By Leonard Zeskind and Devin Burghart

The diameter of the .223 bullet is about a quarter of an inch. You can find them at gun shows sold in bulk. Hundreds of small pieces of lead stuffed into garbage bag-sized clear plastic containers. These bullets have to be specially weighted for hunting deer.  But they are perfectly lethal when used against humans.

As military weaponry, it was first introduced with United States troops in Vietnam in 1963.  Posse Comitatus farmer Gordon Kahl used .223 bullets to kill two federal marshals in North Dakota in 1983.  And it has been the far-right’s ammunition of choice ever since.

Now Tea Partiers, Birchers and a host of self-described gun enthusiasts are commemorating the bullet with a “Day of Resistance” on 2/23—Saturday, February 23.

 

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About IREHR

The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) is a national organization with an international outlook examining racist, anti-Semitic, white nationalist, and far-right social movements, analyzing their intersection with civil society and social policy, educating the public, and assisting in the protection and extension of human rights through organization and informed mobilization.

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