On July 28, 2012, IREHR's Devin Burghart gave a keynote speech at the Western States Center's annual training and skills conference, AMP, an event that drew over 400 activists and organizers from states across the west. Devin used the occasion to remind the attendees of lessons past and to talk about the tasks everyone faces today. This speech is a most powerful indictment of the Tea Party movement, and a call for people of good will—no matter what their principal issue of concern—to understand that the Tea Party movement must be actively opposed by us all.
The legislative log jam in Congress has been brutal. Since the administration of President George W. Bush, the anti-immigrant establishment has stymied every attempt to enact comprehensive immigration reform. During the same period, nativists have conducted a drive in the states to re-write legislation and make Latino immigrant’s life exceedingly difficult. In the words of the state legislation’s principal author, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, its goal was “attrition through enforcement.” Translated it meant that if you made life miserable for immigrants they would “self-deport.” The archetype of this state legislation was to be Arizona’s SB 1070, written to avoid the constitutional pitfalls that had sunk California’s Proposition 187 and Hazelton, Pennsylvania’s local ordinance before it.
On Tuesday, June 5, in a hotel meeting room two thousand miles away from a recall election that was being watched coast to coast, the Washington State coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, Woody Hertzog, regaled a small group of Tea Partiers assembled in the Puget Sound town of Silverdale with tales of his recent campaigning trip in the Wisconsin trenches. Hertzog told the group that he and other Tea Party activists from across the country poured into the state, becoming a door-to-door army in support of Governor Walker. The election was still taking place half way across the country, yet it was all these Puget Sound Tea Partiers wanted to talk about. Midway through the meeting, the results from the Wisconsin special election came in. When it was announced that Governor Walker and other Tea Party supported candidates were victorious, the room erupted in cheers and applause. One older man in the back of the room commented aloud, “I guess we can put away our guns, for now.”
The resounding victory of Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock over six-term Senator Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary resurrected the Tea Party movement as a potent force in much of the public mind. Yet some regarded Mourdock's victory as a re-affirmation of their belief that "Big Money" determines all outcomes, and that the Tea Parties had little to do with it.
In IREHR's analysis of these recent events, by contrast, three factors were relevant: the Tea Parties' unanimous choice to support Mourdock; a decision by the Tea Party to begin campaigning more than twelve months before the election date; and the movement's choice of a ground game rather than an air war significantly impacted the low-turnout election. In short, a year of coordinated efforts between national and local Tea Party groups organizing around a set of Tea Party ideas led to a primary victory and put them back into the center of the national conversation.
In yet another sign of the converging Tea Party and nativist interests we detailed in Beyond FAIR: The Decline of the Established Anti-Immigrant Organizations and the Rise of Tea Party Nativism, Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips caught up with NumbersUSA head Roy Beck for an interview at the 2012 CPAC Convention. Phillips used the interview to re-introduce NumbersUSA to his Tea Party Nation supporters. The two were familiar with one another from when Beck appeared at the 2010 Tea Party Nation Convention in Nashville.
In this special report the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) delineates the intersection of two trends. One is a measureable drop in the number of local and national anti-immigrant organizations that were established prior to the presidency of Barack Obama. Along the same lines, those organizations which remained experienced a noticeable decrease in the size of their membership and financial support.
This has led to a relative decline in what IREHR describes as the Nativist Establishment. It should be noted that IREHR is not arguing that these organizations have disappeared altogether. Neither does IREHR contend that such organizations have ceased to be a danger to human rights. Rather, the data suggests that their size and power have fallen relative to the strength they had achieved at their height during the period 2007-2008.
The second trend is a rise in anti-immigrant activism by the Tea Parties. As IREHR reported in its 2010 special report, Tea Party Nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment and activism have been part of the Tea Party mix from the beginning. Indeed, we noted then that one of the six national factions, 1776 Tea Party, had imported its staff leadership directly from the Minutemen. In Beyond FAIR, however, we note both an increase in anti-immigrant activism by national and local Tea Party groups, as well as a measurable number of anti-immigrant leaders who have joined the Tea Parties and consequently accelerated the rate of anti-immigrant activism by those Tea Parties.
To a noticeable degree, the transfer of organizational allegiances to the Tea Parties noted in trend two is caused by the drop in strength by established anti-immigrant organizations described in trend one.
This re-articulation of the Nativist Establishment into the Tea Parties changes both the shape and strength of the anti-immigrant impulse in American life. Mixed into the activities of multi-issue organizations (the Tea Parties), it will be harder to delineate and counter by immigrant rights advocates. Further, the Tea Party movement by itself is larger and more significant than the Nativist Establishment ever was, even at its height. As a result, anti-immigrant activism has a bigger immediate constituency and is likely to be stronger.
An Open Injunction Against Bigots & Conspiracy Mongers.
NumbersUSA announced that they will air television ads during the next GOP presidential candidate debate that advocate further restrictions on the level of documented (so called "legal") immigrants. As IREHR recently noted, some national nativist groups appear to be changing course, and preparing to launch a campaign to restrict documented immigration. If this shift in nativist strategy fully materializes, it is likely to alter the terms of discussion by policymakers and the public.