Defeating immigration reform next on the Tea Party agenda.
On April 17, the Senate failed to overcome the 60-vote threshold necessary to end a filibuster on bipartisan legislation to expand gun background checks to gun shows and internet sales. The bill garnered a 54-vote majority versus 46 opposed, but fell short of the 60 needed to overcome the minority’s filibuster.
The legislation, written by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), was the centerpiece of gun safety efforts in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut murders. Failed amendments to the bill including an effort to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and several GOP-sponsored efforts that weaken existing gun laws.
It took a concerted effort by the gun lobby 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.
Efforts by gun lobby groups including the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms were fierce. Their efforts were supplemented by national and local Tea Party groups who rallied outside the local offices of several Senators and flooded Senate phone lines with calls and faxes.
The post-Newtown pressure to pass gun safety legislation helped re-invigorate local Tea Party ranks, returning activists to the streets en masse for the first time since the heated opposition to President Obama’s health care plan. 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.
They took a page from the effort to stop health care when Tea Party activists created the false claim of “death panels” in the Affordable Care Act to scare the public. This time around, the gun lobby and their Tea Party allies ratcheted up the fear with the lie that the Manchin-Toomey bill contained a national gun registry.
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.
Still reeling from in-fighting and scandal, the FreedomWorks Tea Party faction was noticeably absent from the gun debate. The issue percolated through the forums of their FreedomConnector website, but the organization steered clear, choosing instead to focus on promoting their “New Fair Deal” – an effort to decrease taxes on the wealthy, cut social programs, and gut entitlements.
Tea Party Express
Though the gun issue falls outside the newly outlined “6 basic principles” of the Tea Party Express, the political action committee took a victory lap. Entitled, “Constitution – 1, Obama – 0: Anti-Second Amendment bill defeated in Senate,” an email declared, “The Tea Party Express commends those Senators that wisely defended a core principle of our Constitution and voted down the President Obama-backed gun-control bill today.”
1776 Tea Party
The 1776 Tea Party, the smallest Tea Party faction run by leaders of the anti-immigrant vigilante group the Minuteman Project, has been pushing fears of Obama gun confiscation from the early days of the outfit. As early as March 2010, they argued “If we stop the madness and restore America now we can halt the bleeding of our freedom. However, if we don’t, then keep reading and learn what will happen next. Next they will come for our sovereignty and our beloved nation will be flooded with millions of illegal aliens further converting America into a socialist state. Then they will come for our guns, and our gun rights will falls into their hands.”
Leading up to the vote, the group’s rhetoric spiked, “And so it begins. In the coming days, the battle will turn bloody. At any moment the Senate will begin debating gun control legislation set in motion last week. This is the beginning of the end if they go through with background checks and bans.”
After the filibuster defeated the measure, the group sent out a fundraising email claiming “Victory is ours. But when you’re swimming with barracudas it can be short-lived. Keep the momentum going.” The letter also compared the opposition to a “pack of savage dogs.”
Patriot Action Network
Patriot Action Network and its parent company, Grassfire, launched a “Save the 2nd” effort in the weeks leading up to the Senate vote. Referring to the bipartisan bill as “the Left’s gun grab” the group had activists fax and call Senators. PAN Director Darla Dawald kept activists apprised with a blow-by-blow account of the bill and the votes. “This is a ‘four-alarm fire’ that requires a response from every freedom-loving American who wants to stop Obama’s and Reid’s relentless assault against the Second Amendment — the one that guarantees all the rest! Vice President Joe Biden is already on the record saying, "This is just the beginning” declared a PAN email before the vote. Afterwards, the group gloated over the victory and asked for funds to continue the fight.
Guns have been at the top of the agenda for the newest group, TheTeaParty.net. The group began as a list-building money-generating machine, but capitalized on the gun issue to revitalize the Tea Party street presence. As IREHR first exposed, TheTeaParty.net organized the Tea Party “Day of Resistance” gunapalooza. 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 lashed out at the administration, “On Saturday, after flying parents of children killed at Sandy Hook to D.C. on Air Force One and getting them appointments to lean on members of Congress in this attack on gun rights, 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. Propaganda doesn’t even begin to describe that tactic. What kind of a sick person uses a grieving parent to push their anti-Constitutional agenda trying simultaneously to convince us that it’s for our own good? I’ll tell you what kind. 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. [Emphasis in original]”
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. Politicians in Washington know that we will not stand for their gun-grabbing ways! There is something else we can be certain of, though: this battle is not over. Barack Obama said yesterday that this vote is "just round one." He plans to come back, and it will likely be with more far-reaching legislation that would infringe on our Second Amendment rights.”
After the vote, TheTeaParty.net founder Todd Cefaratti announced a pro-gun petition, calling the president “Liar in Chief.” Attacking the president’s post-vote remarks, Cefaratti added, “Yes, we are serious Mr. President we cannot stand by and watch you continue to you [sic] people as your props.”
Tea Party Patriots
The largest Tea Party lobbying effort to defeat the Manchin-Toomey bill came from the Tea Party Patriots. However, unlike the other national Tea Party factions painting cataclysmic scenarios of gun confiscation by a tyrannical administration, Tea Party Patriots made it a dull matter of procedure. “All hands on deck! Tell your Senators to respect constitutional process,” declared the TPP website.
The group’s #DCIntervention campaign fused the attack on the gun safety bill with the attack on the comprehensive immigration reform. “The crux of the problem is simple: Constitutional process is key to a functioning representative democracy, i.e. a Republic. Transparency, open discussions, and other former mainstays of the political process have been largely abandoned in these debates. As a result, the future of our nation is further in turmoil,” noted the group’s website.
Tea Party Patriots organized protests on April 16 at the home offices of several Senators, singling out Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) as the key targets–Toomey over guns, Rubio over immigration. In addition to in-person protests, Tea Party Patriots jammed Senate phones with calls against the bill.
Local activists were also armed with talking points, sample letters to Senators, sample Letter to the editor, sample tweets and Facebook posts, sign slogans, and a checklist of local rallies, in the Tea Party Patriots #DCIntervention Toolkit.
After the protests, Sen. Rubio tried to assuage the concerns of the Tea Party Patriots by taking a step back from the legislation he was instrumental in drafting.
Over the years, the Patriot movement and I have worked together on many causes and I want to respond personally to correct some misinformation regarding my involvement in the work to reform our country’s broken immigration system – misinformation that has prompted visits by some of you to my offices across Florida and in Washington.
First, there is absolutely no truth to the idea that I will support any immigration legislation that is rushed through Congress in typical Washington fashion. Already, I have fought and continue to fight to secure commitments for greater transparency through committee hearings and mark-up sessions that will allow senators on the Judiciary Committee ample opportunities to review and amend any immigration legislation before it is considered by the full Senate for additional debate and scrutiny. As a result, not only has the Judiciary Committee agreed to delay its first hearing on this issue, it has agreed to add an additional one next week.
I will not relent from the ongoing fight to ensure the American people’s voices are heard before any votes are cast on this important government reform, but one fact is true: no bill will be rushed through the Senate as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.
Despite the effort to sanitize the issue, Tea Party Patriots couldn’t resist injecting race into the gun conversation.
After President Obama criticized the NRA for lying about the components of the bill in a post-vote press conference, Tea Party Patriots used the president’s frustration to racialize the discussion. On the TPP website, the organization declared, “Of course, the politics didn’t end with calling you liars. Apparently, you ignored “the murder of 20 innocent schoolchildren and their teachers.” Never mind that FBI data indicates most homicides (the majority of which are committed with guns) don’t occur in white, suburban America. In reality, the majority are linked to drug-related crime and gangs in major metropolises. By skewing these numbers, the President and other anti-gun politicians only look interested in violence that agrees with their narrative.”
Tea Party Nation
Tea Party Patriots wasn’t the only faction to intertwine guns and immigration. The always acerbic Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, was more explicit in making immigration the paramount Tea Party concern.
After the defeat of the gun safety bill, on the Tea Party Nation website Phillips declared, “Conservatives are celebrating the defeat of the Senate gun control bill today. Harry Reid pulled the bill and that should mean the end of it. While conservatives celebrate this victory there is something far more sinister coming. This has split the conservative movement and if the left is successful in this push, it will be the end of the conservative movement in America. What is it? It is Amnesty.”
“This will turn Texas blue. This will turn Florida blue. This will turn Arizona blue and probably one or two more states. If this happens, forget the battles over gun rights, abortion, gay marriage or anything else. We will lose. The Democrats will take permanent majorities in the House and the Senate. Once that happens, we will lose the 2nd Amendment. As soon as the Reagan justices start dying off, we will have a liberal Supreme Court that will restrict liberties, not expand them. We will see every issue we conservatives care about lost,” Phillips added.
On immigration, Tea Party Nation has asserted that “American culture” will soon perish since the “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) population is headed for extinction,” and even defended the now defunct and indefensibly racist National Origins Act of 1924.
Local Tea Party Chapters
Taking the cue from the national groups, particularly Tea Party Patriots, many local Tea Party chapters also took up the gun issue and are gearing up for the immigration fight.
None has been more out front on guns than the Asheville (North Carolina) Tea PAC. This is the group that developed the “Machine Gun Social,” and the “Great Gun Giveaway,” On April 16, they announced the “Great GUN Giveaway 2.0” which is raffling off a PARA TTR Model TR1468 Tactical Target Rifle (the semi-automatic weapon featuring a standard AR-15 30 round magazine is similar to the Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle used in the Newtown, Connecticut shootings and the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 used in the Aurora, Colorado shootings. They are also raffling off a Sig Sauer 1911 Scorpion .45 Semi-Automatic pistol.
Guns and nativism joined the anti-environmental “Agenda 21” conspiracy at the core of local Tea Party activity in 2013. As Dee Park, Chair of the Moore (North Carolina) Tea Party, recently noted in a Tea Party Patriots “Why We Fight” symposium, “Gun control and immigration reform are at the top of our agendas.”