In sign of growing dissention surrounding the upcoming National Tea Party Nation Convention in Nashville, sources confirm that the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has officially pulled out of the convention.
Initially enthusiastic about the event, a source tells IREHR that in the second week of January FAIR abandoned the convention over concern that the for-profit status of the Tea Party Nation could jeopardize FAIR’s 501c3 non-profit status. FAIR staff also reportedly expressed anxiety about the possibility of funds from the convention being funneled to political candidates.
Since mid-December, FAIR, the oldest and arguably most influential anti-immigrant group in the country, had been listed as an official “bronze” sponsor of the convention. The organization was even included in a January 4 press release announcing the conference. The FAIR logo appeared on both the Tea Party Nation and conference websites. And a workshop on “Operation Amnesty Shield” was included in the convention schedule until last week. Then, without a word, all those references were scrubbed from the National Tea Party Convention website.
The pull-out comes on the heels of the announcement that several other big sponsors would be backing out of the convention.
One of the largest sponsors, the American Liberty Alliance (ALA), announced that the group would “pass on being involved with the Nashville event,” and that they would “ask to be removed from the sponsors list.” In a statement released on January 13, ALA executive director Eric Odom, one of the leaders of early Tax Day Tea Party, declared that “the controversy surrounding the event involves conversations about the infrastructure of the Tea Party Nation and the way its finances are channeled through private bank accounts and paypal accounts.”
The New York Times reported that on Sunday the National Precinct Alliance, a group seeking to take over the GOP by filling the local ranks of the party, declared that they would no longer participate. Philip Glass, the national director of the National Precinct Alliance, said in a statement, “We are very concerned about the appearance of T.P.N. profiteering and exploitation of the grass-roots movement.” He also expressed dismay about the role in the convention of groups like Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks. He called them “Republican National Committee-related groups,” and added, “At best, it creates the appearance of an R.N.C. hijacking; at worst, it is one.”
On January 11, Erick Erickson, the editor of the right wing blog RedState.com, sounded the early alarm when he declared, “I think this national tea party convention smells scammy.”
Though FAIR is no longer participating, several of FAIR’s allies will still be addressing the Tea Party Nation crowd. Nashville radio talk-show host Phil Valentine is a scheduled convention speaker. Valentine has featured FAIR on his radio program numerous times. During a 2006 town hall meeting broadcast with FAIR staffer Susan Tully, Valentine advised Border Patrol Agents to “shoot” undocumented immigrants. Two of the other confirmed convention speakers, Congresswomen Michelle Bachmann and Marsha Blackburn, are both members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, headed by FAIR’s former lobbyist Brian Bilbray.
It’s too soon to tell if FAIR’s sudden withdrawal from the Tea Party Nation convention will have repercussions impacting recent moves to turn the Tea Parties towards an even more explicit brand of nativism, but IREHR will be watching developments closely.
Devin Burghart is vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.