Cliven Bundy, the racist far-right Nevada rancher exposed by in article by Chuck Tanner published on this website, and by several articles in the New York Times, is now a Tea Party symbol of defiance against the federal government. While some politicians supported by Tea Parties–such as Senators Rand Paul, Dean Heller, and Ted Cruz–were quick to call Bundy’s racist comments “unacceptable,” the Tea Party organizations themselves have remained unwavering in Bundy’s support. Indeed, none of the national Tea Party organizations previously issuing supportive comments towards Cliven Bundy have denounced his racist comments, according to a survey conducted by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
There have been three different levels of support for Bundy. 1) Some Tea Party leaders have clung to the outlandish (and disproven) notion that Bundy’s remarks were somehow taken out of context, supposedly by a “left-wing conspiracy” to discredit conservatives. 2) Still others dug in and tried to defend Bundy against charges of racism. 3) the most common Tea Party response appears to be “so what.” Those Tea Partiers still actively supporting Bundy have dug in, much like the militiamen and others. In IREHR’s view, the Tea Parties lack of accountability for racism is part of a pattern that goes back to the earliest days of this movement.
Cliven Bundy: Racist
The evidence of Bundy’s racist beliefs has been repeatedly made evident. The New York Times published an account of an April 19 news conference where Bundy discussed his views on race and slavery.
The comments, while abhorrently racist, were not a surprise. As IREHR noted in the article by Chuck Tanner., “White, Far Right and Armed: Tea Party and Militias Mobilize to Defend Nevada County Supremacy Activist,” much of Bundy’s county supremacy rhetoric echoes that of the racist and anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus, particularly his view of the role of the county sheriff and the federal government.
The April 25 statement by Bundy quickly circulated through Tea Party ranks, as they tried to dismiss the racism charges by comparing himself to Civil Rights heroes Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Bundy wrote:
Such a ham-fisted attempt to co-opt the black freedom struggle displays a tremendous disrespect of the courageous women and men in the Civil Rights movement. Such racist notions, however, continue to have a prominent role inside the Tea Party movement.
1. Tea Party Defending Bundy
Despite the overwhelming evidence, Tea Partiers initially rushed to explain away Bundy’s remarks. Almost immediately, emails began circulating in Tea Party circles declaring that the New York Times took the remarks out of context. The Patriot Action Network, for instance, promoted a blog post entitled, “More on Bundy…. Wait for it… NY Times Edited the Bundy Video To Make Him Look Racist?” Another group, TeaParty.org (aka the 1776 Tea Party) also blamed the media in a piece entitled, “Never trust Media, look at how they Misrepresent Bundy.” It concluded, “My take was that he was not being a racist! He was showing how welfare is destroying the family in the Black population in cities. He chose his words poorly and the liberal media made him look like a racist!”
On May 3, Tea Party Nation emailed to members an article by Las Vegas activist, Darwin Rockantansky which argued, “A lack of eloquence and isolation does not a racist make. I have met Cliven Bundy. And I have met a few of his decedents. And in my estimation there is not a mean bone in the bunch nor is there a racist bone in the bunch.” His rant went on to deride “Plantation Politics – the Slavery of Entitlements” and took a racist shot at contemporary civil rights leaders.
In actual fact, social welfare supports paid for by the government is not slavery. Nor is the issue pure or simple. As Te-Neshi Coates dissects in an essay in The Atlantic, slavery is “is not merely the theft of labor but the total plunder of the human body. Slavery is torture as a system of governance, corporal destruction taken as the mere cost of doing business.” Coates also cites a monograph, Out of the House of Bondage, which documents how one of the central tendencies of the institution of slavery was “the maiming and destruction of black life.” The perpetuation of this form of historical distortion reinforces and legitimizes racism in society.
2. Tea Party: So What?
Among the many national factions who rushed to support Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff with federal employees, none was louder than Tea Party Nation. Prior to Bundy’s racist comments, founder Judson Phillips assailed the response by the federal government, and supported the armed conflict, arguing that “For decades the government has been waging a war against private property in the west….When American citizens take up arms against armed Federal Agents, someone should start paying attention…Washington, are you listening?” When the national conversation turned to Bundy’s racism, Phillips was uninterested.
On April 27, Phillips emailed out to members a piece entitled “Cliven Bundy Racist? So What?” The article written by Jeff Dover, a TPN member from Fountain Hills, Arizona, opined “With regard to Cliven Bundy, what does it matter if he’s a ‘racist’?”
Given the numerous expressions of racism by Tea Party Nation, the dismissal wasn’t a surprise, either. Among the TPN problems with racism, Judson Phillips’ embrace of the “birther” position, the support for restricting voting rights of non-property owners, and the embrace of the white nationalist argument that “American culture” will soon perish since the “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) population is headed for extinction.”
The “so what” position dominated the Tea Party response. Variations of the so what theme popped up on the websites of FreedomWorks, the 1776 Tea Party (TeaParty.org), the Patriot Action Network, and many of the local affiliated Tea Party Patriots groups.
The Tea Party Slavery Problem
The ideas regarding slavery expressed by Cliven Bundy aren’t merely off-the-cuff idiosyncratic remarks by an aging rural resident, as some have dismissed. One of the reasons so many Tea Partiers could care less about the controversy is because Bundy’s views on race and slavery echo that of the Tea Partiers who have rallied to his side.
Tea Partiers have endorsed the idea that slavery was good for black folk, and waved Confederate battle flags at rallies. They have made unremitting calls for secession and nullification, and minimized the horrors of slavery (like when Ben Carson declared that Obamacare was “the worst thing that has happened since slavery”). The Tea Party movement has an honest-to-goodness problem.
Look no further than to one of the largest Tea Party groups in the country, the Tea Party Patriots. The group continues to use far-rightist W. Cleon Skousen’s book, The Making of America, including the problematic segments on slavery, in workshops and trainings across the country. Skousen’s book isn’t the only pro-slavery polemic in the Tea Party library.
Arkansas Tea Party state representative Jon Hubbard wrote a book which argued that “… the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.”
Then there’s a Tea Party-backed candidate in Oregon, whose company sells books that claim slavery wasn’t so bad and that Africans are like retarded children. One book currently printed and sold by the company is With Lee In Virginia by George Alfred Henty, which argues “the negroes on a well-ordered estate, under kind masters, were probably a happier class of people than the laborers upon any estate in Europe.”
Nor are Bundy’s words out of step with Tea Party leaders. Just look at some of the racially-charged and pro-slavery remarks coming from Tea Party leaders: In December, a New Mexico county tea party leader tweeted a meme suggesting the African Americans use slavery for “bitching and moaning about how the world owes them a living.” In October, a Tea Party candidate for Nevada state assembly told a local GOP event that “yeah, I would” vote to bring back slavery if that’s what his constituents wanted. Last May, the governor of South Carolina was forced to remove a co-chair of her statewide grassroots re-election steering committee, Roan Garcia Quintana, after it came to light that this particular Tea Party leader also sat on the board of the largest white nationalist organization in the country.
Before that, another Tea Party-backed Arkansas State Representative, Loy Mauch, has argued “If slavery were so God-awful, why didn’t Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861? The South has always stood by the Constitution and limited government. When one attacks the Confederate Battle Flag, he is certainly denouncing these principles of government as well as Christianity.”
3. Tea Partiers Digging in
While there are those Tea Partiers who want to put the Bundy affair behind them so they can return to railing about Benghazi or the peddling the latest “Common Core” conspiracy, groups like the 1776 Tea Party see the standoff as the first skirmish in a coming conflagration between “patriots” and the Obama administration.
In a May 3 email entitled “Nevada Standoff: Obama’s Martial Law Trial Run” Steve Eichler, the Minuteman turned TeaParty.org CEO sent off yet another paranoid email in search of donations, declaring “Mark my words: the Bundy Ranch was their practice run.” He added,
The next phase of Martial Law is happening just like I said it would. I have an immense feeling of dread washing over me as I write.
Obama is building his secret communist armies more rapidly than anyone expected and unleashing them to confiscate property across the country to set up his internment camps.
This time he’s armed the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, and is turning them loose on hardworking ranchers. First the DHS, then the NSA, the IRS, the US Postal Service and now…the BLM.
Recent conflicts between local residents and Bundy’s militia backers are a reminder that many of Bundy’s supporters remain locked and loaded even after the BLM has backed away. The national spotlight may have faded after Bundy made his racist remarks, but many in the Tea Party continue to back Bundy, his racism, and the danger to democracy his form of sponging off of federal land represents. It should not remain unnoticed.