Two weeks ago I wrote about a possible — yet unlikely — changing of the tide within the Tea Party. Following the NAACP’s call to the Tea Party leaders to expel racists elements in their ranks, Mark Williams, now the former head of the Tea Party Express, was forced to resign in shame after posting an offensive, racially charged letter which suggested that African-Americans enjoyed slavery and wanted to return to it in an effort to avoid paying taxes and enjoying the benefits of welfare. In any other world, these visceral rants would be considered psycho babble — unworthy of any serious consideration. The perpetrators would be silenced and dismissed.
Yet the Tea Party has found legitimacy through a combination of media attention and Republican political connections. In my previous article, I compared this fringe movement of conservative activists and extremists to being stranded like Alice in Wonderland, hastily trying to drag moderate and informed minds down the rabbit hole with them. Following the events of the past two weeks where Shirley Sherrod, the former USDA official who was prematurely forced to resign her position following false accusations of reverse racism, there has been extensive dialogue about the state of race in America. That dialogue has largely centered on the legitimacy of journalistic integrity, definitions of racism and what constitutes the truth in media and reporting.
After the Tea Party Federation expelled Mark Williams for what can only be described as obviously bigoted remarks, a summit was planned by a network of Tea Party participants to address the issue of race and confront accusations of racism among them. The rally, named Uni-Tea, was held this past weekend in Philadelphia and featured minority speakers who reflect the very, very small number of African-Americans and Hispanic Tea Party members. The purpose was to exonerate the Tea Party of past failings and commit to a more unified, less divisive organization. That may have been achievable had they not resorted to the usual suspects.
Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger and author, and the main man responsible for posting the deliberately edited video clip which led to Sherrod’s forced resignation, was a keynote speaker at the Uni-Tea rally. At a news conference for the summit Breitbart began by saying, “It is my belief that President Obama promised, tacitly, to be a post-racial candidate, and it is sad to say that he hasn’t.” During his speech he attacked the “mainstream media” for causing the divisive rhetoric and accusations of racism. Never taking responsibility for his own misguided offenses, Breitbart accused the president of engaging in a “proxy warfare plan” which in his opinion put the media and grassroots organization like the Tea Party at odds with one another.
WATCH ‘COUNTDOWN’ COVERAGE OF RACE AND THE TEA PARTY:
Like most of Obama’s critics on the far-right, Breitbart would have us believe that President Obama is responsible for all the ills presently plaguing American society. It appears that the drug of choice for Andrew Breitbart, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin is denial. Whenever the press cover stories which show them in an honest light, they accuse “the mainstream media” of twisting their words, and creating false impressions. Glenn Beck and his Fox News affiliates may be responsible for this wave of racially charged rhetoric. Beck was the first to openly accuse President Obama of being a racist, when he said he believes Obama has a” deep-seated hatred of white people.” Breitbart has not been quoted with anything so directly offensive, but his actions make his stance quite clear.
On March 20, 2010, following the passage of President Obama’s landmark health care reform bill, hundreds of tea party activists descended on Washington to convey their opposition. Many spewed racist and homophobic rants at Democratic Congressmen and Breitbart defended their behavior. He even went as far as to offer to donate $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund “for any audio/video footage of the n-word being hurled”.
In the same way Mark Wiliams tried to excuse his “Letter to Lincoln” as satire and Rush Limbaugh claimed “Barack the Magic Negro” was comedy and commentary, Breitbart wants to make light of America’s devastating history of racial discrimination and the violence that all too often results from it. It is the very reason he posted the clip of Shirley Sherrod, in order to attack the NAACP for calling on Tea Party organizations to expunge racist elements within their ranks. Breitbart intended to frame Sherrod as an example of black-on-white racism — as if that would justify a century of the horrors of Jim Crow. It was ludicrous of course, and it backfired on him when the truth of Sherrod’s story of racial reconciliation was revealed.
Breitbart himself, may not be a die hard racist like many we have seen in the past, which is perhaps what makes him all the more dangerous. There is a subtlety to his actions and a plausible deniability which can often go unchecked. That in mind, I am reticent to call anyone, including Breitbart, a bigot. Perhaps it is best to state the facts themselves, without drawing a conclusion of intent. But the best indication of future behavior is past behavior, and in this case of whether Breitbart purports racially divisive ideologies, I borrow a quote from former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in the 1964 case Jacobellis v. Ohio involving objective and subjective definitions of obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”
The truth of matter is, the Tea Party, including the Uni-Tea members and attendees, are actively attacking President Obama no matter what he does or doesn’t do. Beyond the obviously racist signs which display him as an African tribesman, or in blackface or dressed and framed as Hitler, there are people like Breitbart who seek to legitimize their arguments by claiming that they speak for “mainstream Americans”. It is curious therefore, how they can remain at odds with the “mainstream media”.
The Republicans have continued their strategy of using the Tea Party as a way to fuel anti-Obama sentiment and solidify their base, while conveniently distancing themselves whenever it is politically expedient. The recent decision by the Republican National Convention to invite Andrew Breitbart to participate in a private GOP fundraiser next month with party chairman Michael Steele, proves that racism, or at least racially divisive attitudes, still have a place in the GOP and a prominent seat at the table.
Though the RNC refused to comment, the Associated Press confirmed Breitbart as a main speaker and that tickets to the fundraiser in Beverly Hills start at $1,000 and go up to more than $60,000 for a couple. The purpose of the event, of course, is to raise funds to assist the RNC efforts in the midterm elections. Politics as usual: the Republican establishment has proven it intends to win at all costs, no matter how bloody the battle or how ugly the path.
It remains to be seen if Shirley Sherrod will sue Breitbart for libel, or whether there will be any repercussions for his actions in that particular debacle, but what is clear is that he has a future and a possibly lucrative career manipulating the truth, creating divisions via his rhetoric and remaining unapologetic. And what is also clear is that many Republicans and far-right conservatives will be buying whatever it is he is selling, in black or white.