Consumed recently by primary politics and internal squabbles, the Tea Party Patriots (TPP) are going back to the beginning. Just when the vicious fight over health care seemed to be in the country’s rear-view mirror, Tea Partiers are hoping to jumpstart their movement by returning to the battle they lost two years ago: the fight over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACT)—or what they’ve derisively labeled “Obamacare.”
As the Supreme Court prepares to take up the issue next week, TPP will kick off a week of anti-health care protests in Washington DC with a rally on March 24. The “Road to Repeal” rally is billed as “the first stop on the road to repeal Obamacare,” and is the first major event since co-founder Mark Meckler publically broke from the Tea Party Patriots.
Scheduled speakers include well-known names like former presidential candidate Herman Cain, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert. But the rest of the speakers list suggests that internal strife may be taking a toll on the organization. Moreover, a closer look at the other Road to Repeal speakers highlights the inroads being made by Christian nationalists and nativists into the Tea Party movement.
Preliminary estimates of turnout for the Road to Repeal rally suggests it will be far cry from the hundreds of thousands of Tea Partiers who poured into Washington for the rally of September 2009, but bigger than last year’s tiny TPP “Continuing Revolution” rally. As of March 20, the Road to Repeal website showed that that forty-two buses from twelve states are chartered for the event.
It’s true that, on the whole, the Tea Party has moved away from the protest politics of street rallies that marked the movement’s first year. But also potentially weighing down turnout this year is the growing discord in the ranks of this Tea Party faction.
Just days before the Tea Party three-year anniversary, the internal conflict came to a boil on February 23, when news of the resignation of Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler began to circulate.
Meckler, who was in the middle of a book tour with co-author and TPP co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, abruptly announced that he’d been driven out of the organization by members of the board of directors. In addition to “discomfort with the way the financial affairs of TPP have been handled,” Meckler cited abandonment of the group’s grassroots core in favor of professional Republican operatives in his resignation letter.
It is also clear that my personal fight to see that TPP remain a bottom-up, grassroots organization has failed. As you know, I am not the only board member with this opinion. However, I understand that we are not in the majority on the Board, and have been outvoted on these issues. I have fought this fight largely in private, hoping to convince the TPP board to remain true to its founding culture. Clearly, it is impossible for me to function with TPP in any official capacity any longer.
Meckler’s letter also noted that another TPP staffer had also been purged from the national staff, California Tea Party activist Dawn Wildman. She was one of the early members of the TPP national coordinating committee, a state coordinator, and a paid staff member. According to Meckler, Wildman was inappropriately terminated “due to her complaints” over the “fiscally irresponsible” handling of TPP finances by Martin and others.
As news of Meckler’s resignation spread, websites, forums and email lists of many local TPP groups erupted in dissatisfaction.
One of the local activists sticking with TPP is Mark Herr from the Mid-South Tea Party in Tennessee. He’s scheduled to speak at the Road to Repeal rally. Herr isn’t afraid of organizational schisms. In fact, he split his local group from Tea Party Nation and the Memphis Tea Party in 2010.
Another local activist scheduled to speak is Tom Whitmore, a local coordinator of the Washington DC Tea Party. In addition to being a TPP local coordinator, he is also a member of the 1776 Tea Party (aka TeaParty.org) faction. In 2010, Whitmore encouraged 1776 Tea Party members to contact their local school boards to demand that all schools provide instruction on the Constitution from the far-right National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS).
The NCCS textbook used for instruction is The Making of America, by the late NCCS founder and John Birch Society leader, W. Cleon Skousen. The textbook includes an essay on slavery that refers to black children as ”pickaninnies,” argues that the ”constant fear of slave rebellion” made life for Southern whites ”a nightmare,” and concludes that ”slave owners were the worst victims of the system.” TPP and NCCS have been working closely together. Longtime NCCS presenter Bill Norton is now on staff with TPP as the National Support Team Constitutional Coordinator.
Also representing local groups at Road to Repeal is Lisa Miller, leader of Tea Party WDC (Washington DC). She’s been busy lately promoting another anti-healthcare event scheduled that weekend called “Justice at the Court.” On March 25, anti-abortion groups, including the Christian Defense Coalition, Faith and Action, Pro-life Nation, and Reabhloid DC plan to “encircle the Supreme Court in prayer” and lay 3,300 flowers around the court, “reminding them of the 3,300 children who die every day from abortion.”
Detour: Culture War Ahead
The “Justice at the Court” action Miller advertised is similar to the anti-Obamacare tactics of another Road to Repeal speaker, James Christophersen and his Judicial Action Group. Founded in Alabama but now headquartered in DC, the obscure Christian nationalist outfit run by Christophersen encourages activists to use “intercessory prayer” for “judicial renewal.” The group targets specific judges and judicial nominees, particularly those who might support gay marriage, abortion, and separation of church and state.
The presence of fringe Christian nationalists like Christophersen on stage at a national Tea Party Patriots event would have been unthinkable in the past. Since their founding in 2009, the national leadership has gone to great pains to claim that “social issues” like abortion and gay marriage had no place on the Tea Party agenda (national leadership has done little to discourage Christian nationalism at the local, grassroots level, however).
If it were just Christophersen invited to speak, it could be dismissed as an anomaly. However, three different Road to Repeal speakers represent Christian nationalist groups, and the event has picked up a prominent Christian nationalist supporting organization. Not since the Tea Party Nation convention in 2010 have Christian nationalists been so prominently featured at a national Tea Party event, and never in DC.
In addition to Christophersen, the rally features Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council, the Christian nationalist stronghold active in promoting anti-choice and anti-LGBT legislation while “defending Christian heritage.”
Also scheduled to speak is Alex Cortes, founder of the new group Let Freedom Ring. The group’s mission statement starts with the Tea Party issues of “Constitutional government” and “economic freedom.” But it also adds “traditional values” including “family as the basic building block of society,” “sanctity of life,” and “religious liberty, not restraint of religious speech” into the mix. Before starting Let Freedom Ring, Cortes ran a hardcore anti-abortion group based in Illinois called Born Alive Truth.
Among the official supporting organizations of the Road to Repeal rally is the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Formed in 2009 during the same period as the Tea Parties, the Faith and Freedom Coalition is the creation of Ralph Reed, the disgraced former Christian Coalition executive director. Reed has been working determinedly to use the Faith and Freedom Coalition to bring the Christian Right and the Tea Party together into a movement of “Teavangelicals.”
Signs of heightened cooperation between Tea Party Patriots and the Faith and Freedom Coalition surfaced in the fall of 2010, when Reed had Martin and Meckler represent TPP on a “future of the Tea Party” panel at the Faith and Freedom Coalition summit. Last February, TPP reciprocated by having Reed speak at the TPP American Policy Summit.
Two months later, Reed’s old Christian Coalition comrade, Pat Robertson, used his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) to take up the teavangelical cause. CBN reporter David Brody did a report which cast Reed as one of “three major power players within the evangelical and Tea Party political movements,” alongside Martin and Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express.
Reed’s teavangelism kicked into overdrive last June at his Faith and Freedom Coalition Summit. Tea Party Patriots leaders were given a prominent speaking slot, and the summit also featured a panel on importance of “Teavangelicals” moderated by Brody.
More Tea Party Nativism
Christian nationalists aren’t the only ones receiving a warm Tea Party Patriots welcome, a longtime anti-immigrant activist with a history of racism is also an invited Road to Repeal speaker.
Phil Kent is listed on event materials as a representative of the American Seniors Association, a six-year- old group that bills itself as the conservative alternative to the AARP. Of course, that designation leaves off Kent’s decades of racially-charged anti-immigrant leadership.
It’s hard to fathom that fellow Atlanta resident Jenny Beth Martin would be unaware of Kent’s nativist activity, given the recent controversy surrounding Kent’s appointment by the governor last September to the new Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board.
Kent’s inclusion at the Road to Repeal rally is further evidence of the growing overlap between the nativist establishment and the Tea Party IREHR explored in the special report Beyond FAIR: The Decline of the Established Anti-Immigrant Organizations and the Rise of Tea Party Nativism.
Kent is a longtime nativist leader with a history of racism and supporting racist organizations. For years, Kent has served as executive director of the American Immigration Control Foundation (AICF) and is a longtime national spokesman for the related Americans for Immigration Control (AIC).
AIC/AICF has argued that immigrants have “sown the seeds of ethnic strife in America,” that racial and ethnic diversity is a threat, and that a society composed of people from diverse cultural backgrounds is like a person with a personality disorder. Kent’s writings for the group, for instance, have repeated the racist Reconquista conspiracy theory.
Financial support for AICF in the past has come from the notorious Pioneer Fund, an unrepentant supporter of the eugenics movement of the early decades of the twentieth century, a funding source of pro-segregation activities during the civil rights era, and a major financial backer of contemporary racist science. Harry Weyher, the Pioneer Fund’s former president, noted the Fund has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to AICF for one simple reason: they have essentially the same goal, stopping non-European immigration to the United States. Between 1984 and 1998, AICF received $193,000 from the Pioneer Fund.
AICF also sells books by a slew of white nationalist authors, and during the period of Kent’s involvement with AICF, it has given leadership positions to prominent white nationalists. AICF board member Brent Nelson is President of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens’ (CCC) non-profit arm, the Conservative Citizens Foundation, and an adviser to the CCC publication, the Citizens Informer. He also served on the editorial advisory board of the racist and anti-Semitic journal, The Occidental Quarterly. AICF President and AIC Vice President, John Vinson, has spoken at conferences of the CCC and American Renaissance, and is a contributor to the CCC’s Citizens Informer. The late Sam Francis was an AICF board member, as well as a leader in the CCC, American Renaissance, and The Occidental Quarterly.
Phil Kent himself attended a 1998 Council of Conservative Citizens national conference in suburban Atlanta in 1998. His defense of the CCC as merely a conservative group “targeted for demonization by the political leadership of the Left and its media allies” ran in the group’s tabloid, the Citizens Informer in early 1999.
Kent is also on the board of directors of the English-only group, ProEnglish. The organization received considerable scrutiny last month at the CPAC conference when IREHR revealed that new ProEnglish executive director, Bob Vandervoort, was also the leader of a white nationalist group. Rather than calling for Vandervoort’s resignation when faced with the facts about one of his staff, Kent helped Vandervoort with damage control after the controversy erupted, even emailing reporters Vandervoort’s statement.
Phil Kent has a long history of racial intolerance in Georgia. In 1994, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution unearthed his racist activities while attending the University of Georgia in the 1970s. Among them,
Kent was a member of a debating club called the Demosthenian Society and was president of the group for one academic quarter. Minutes of Demosthenian meetings from that era, on file in the UGA archives, contain racial epithets and suggestions that conservative students should begin “klanning” together.
At one meeting in 1974, after the Demosthenian members approved a resolution condemning blacks on campus, the evening turned into “a forum for discussion of the Race Problem in general,” according to the minutes. Kent began reading from a book titled “The Rebel Underground,” which predicted integration would “lead to the miscegenation of our race and the destruction of our culture.”
More recently, Kent expressed that inflammatory rhetoric when he called Obama “the dangerous, anti-white multiculturalist.”
After the NAACP and others raised concerns about racism in the Tea Party ranks in 2010, Tea Party Patriots leadership attacked the messengers. In a contemptuous letter to Politico, Martin and Meckler wrote, “The NAACP has a long history of liberalism and racism.” At the same time, they also claimed, “At Tea Party Patriots we will continue to condemn the fringe elements of the movement and any expression of racism or bigotry.” We will have to see if Jenny Beth Martin and the Tea Party Patriots condemn Kent’s multiple “expressions of racism” or if they will continue to provide him a platform at the Road to Repeal rally.
Doctors Against Health Care
Hoping to rekindle the fire from the 2009 health care debate, the Road to Repeal rally features several activists who claim to represent health care professionals against government involvement in health care. In addition to North Carolina Neurosurgeon Dr. John M. Whitley and Dr. Marci Cook of the conservative group Docs4PatientCare, the event will feature Kathryn Serkes of the Doctors and Patients Medical Association.
Serkes is a longtime opponent of government health care and an advisor to Tea Party candidates in Washington state. She currently serves as chairman & CEO of Doctors and Patients Medical Association (DPMA), and represents the group on the Koch Brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council. Before moving to DPMA, she was the director of policy and public affairs at the far-right Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).
Despite the professional sounding name, the AAPS is a fringe group of far-right doctors founded in 1943 to “fight socialized medicine and to fight the government takeover of medicine.” The AAPS statement of principles declares that it is “evil” and “immoral” for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and opposed abortion and over-the-counter access to emergency contraception. The group’s journal is a catalog of outlandish conspiracies, pushing false theories about increasing breast cancer risks, discredited reports linking child vaccinations to autism, and even the nativist line that undocumented immigrants not only bring disease into this country but benefit if their “anchor babies” are born with disabilities.
Other speakers at the event include:
• Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center, who said on Fox News last December that President Obama looks like a “skinny, ghetto crackhead.”
• Ken Hoagland of the National FairTax Victory Campaign.
• Jim Martin of the 60 Plus Association.
• Jim Hoft, blogger with the St. Louis based right-wing blog, The Gateway Pundit.
• Dr. Gina Loudon, a talkshow host and tea party activist credited with creating the Arizona BUYcott, an effort to support the state’s harsh anti-immigrant laws.
• Stephen K. Bannon, the filmmaker who made the Sarah Palin documentary, The Undefeated.
• Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity.
Following the TPP’s “Road to Repeal” rally and the “Justice on the Court” actions, on March 27, Americans for Prosperity will hold a “Hands off My Health Care!” rally in Washington DC. The purpose of the rally is to present the AFP anti- Affordable Care Act petitions to the Supreme Court just as the court takes up the Constitutionality of the law. As of March 20, AFP had arranged 78 buses from seven states to bring activists to the protest.
The AFP rally will include two speakers from the Tea Party Patriots event, Jim Martin and Brent Bozell. But it will also feature much bigger names, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, Sen. Pat Toomey, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Ron Johnson, Rep. Alan West, Concerned Women for America’s Penny Nance, and Tea Party Express’s Amy Kremer.
Sponsors for the March 27 AFP event include Americans for Tax Reform, 60 Plus Association, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, Let Freedom Ring, Eagle Forum, Tea Party Express, Institute for Liberty, Tea Party Patriots, The Mommy Lobby, The Heartland Institute, The Tea Party.net, Hagerstown TEA Party, American Doctors for Truth, Doctor Patient Medical Association, Smart Girl Politics, Tea Party WDC, and the Richmond Patriots.
The Tea Party Patriots are at a crossroads. If Ralph Reed and others are successful in capitalizing on the current instability inside the Tea Party to transform the movement into full-fledged culture-warring teavangelicals, then the current onslaught of attacks on women’s reproductive health—from the attacks on Planned Parenthood and contraceptive funding, to legislation criminalizing doctors and mandating invasive and medically unnecessary procedures—will look like minor skirmishes in another round of the divisive culture wars. At the same time, the nativism rising through the local ranks threatens to pull the organization further into the ongoing struggles over immigration, race, and national identity. All the while, establishment politicians are also trying to bring the group into the fold. As 2012 heats up, IREHR will be closely watching the path taken by the Tea Party Patriots and the other Tea Party factions.