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Apr 5th, 2010

Is the Tea Party Brewing a Revolution?

Movement unlikely to affect November elections without GOP alliance


Who comprises the Tea Party? (MSNBC “The Daily Rundown,” April 5, 2010) – Republican Pollster David Winston takes an extensive look at the voters who identify themselves with the Tea Party. (03:31)

Analysis by Ron Fournier

April 5, 2010

WASHINGTON — They heeded a pamphleteer’s call for “manly opposition to the machinations of tyranny” — the 60 American colonists who stormed Griffin’s Wharf and emptied 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. And with that, a revolution brewed.

Now, more than two centuries later, come the angry throngs of the modern-day tea party. They’ve gotten the nation’s attention. Can they foment their own revolution?

Not yet.

The Associated Press reviewed tea party operations in almost every state, interviewing dozens of local organizers as well as Democratic and Republican strategists to produce a portrait of the movement to date — and its prospects for tilting this November’s elections.

The bottom line:

Though amplifying widespread voter anger at the political establishment, the tea party movement is unlikely to dramatically affect the congressional elections — unless their local affiliates forge alliances with Republican candidates. And how likely is that? Republican operatives look at the possibility of GOP-tea party collaborations with some anxiety, and many tea party activists frankly don’t want to see them.

Born of protest and populism, the United States is a nation of movements — people galvanized by causes, summoned with the latest technologies. But none of those causes — not abolition, women’s votes, civil rights or anti-war — was certain to succeed in its first fateful steps, or even to leave a lasting mark.

It’s much too early for any long-term verdict on the tea party. Even defining what short-term success would be for its members can be a challenge.

Let’s begin with what they’re not.

They’re sure not Democrats. But many aren’t thrilled with the Republicans either.

The tea party itself is not a political party — and there are no signs it ever will be.

It has no single issue around which people rally. It has no clear leader who drives the organization’s message, motivates followers and raises money. Indeed, the hundreds of tea party chapters and tens of thousands of its activists cannot agree on the most basic strategic goal: whether to influence the current political system or dismantle it.

The embryonic movement is not as much a force that drives public opinion as a reflection of it. …

America’s tea party is a hodgepodge of barely affiliated groups, a home to the politically homeless, the fast-growing swath of citizens who are frustrated with Washington, their own state capitals and the two major political parties. Most describe themselves as conservatives or libertarians. They don’t like the change wrought by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress.

Last year’s rise of the tea party closely tracked polls showing steep declines in the public’s faith in government, confidence in the nation’s future and approval of Obama and Congress. …

Tea party regulars back candidates who support debt reduction. Or free markets. Or states’ rights. Or civil liberties. Or tort reform. Or term limits. Or abolishing federal agencies. They champion some of these issues — but not always all of them — and sometimes many more. Generalizing the movement is a fool’s errand.

This we know: Tea parties know how to produce crowds. In the footsteps of the pamphleteers of the 1770s, organizers use e-mail, social networking and other electronic tools to draw enormous numbers of disaffected Americans together. Some wear revolutionary-era garb and carry signs bearing the language of 18th century patriots — “Don’t tread on me!” is a popular one.

But rally building is no big trick in the era of Twitter and Facebook, when people with cell phones can summon crowds from thin air for events as frivolous as snowball fights and bursts of song.

Beyond rallies, the movement thins out. …

The organization seems strongest in places where lobbyists and GOP party operatives like former House Majority Leader Dick Armey pull levers. …

Image: Tea Party
Nati Harnik / AP
Participant in a Tea Party rally in Nebraska.

The tea party gained political credibility after Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts’ special Senate election. But activists were not key drivers in his race. The question is whether tea party-affiliated voters would have backed Brown anyway, given that many are conservatives. …

Republican strategists still hope that in the November general election tea party groups will align with the GOP to defeat Democrats. They want the movement to share its e-mail lists, raise money for the party and send its volunteers to the homes of likely Republican voters. That could make a difference in dozens of races. …

But an awful lot of tea partiers don’t give a hoot about the GOP. Their passion is railing against a corrupt system — what some would not blush to call the “machinations of tyranny.”

“We know who we are against,” says Justin Holland, organizer for the North Alabama Patriot Tea Party. “We don’t quite know who we are for yet.”

The same could be said of the tea-dumping colonists who protested British rule without knowing what might replace it — or even if anything should.

George Burton, a Minnesota electrician and history buff who dressed in period garb for a rally he organized in Brainerd, says he has long hoped to witness a Boston Tea Party-style uprising in America.

One, by the way, with no leader.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Burton says. “We don’t take any orders from anybody.”



Congresswoman Giffords, Others Shot in Arizona

Congresswoman among 12 shot at grocery (Image: CNN)
Click on image for coverage at

NBC News and news services via
Jan. 8, 2010

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head and an aide was killed Saturday when an assailant opened fire in an area where the lawmaker was meeting with constituents, officials said.

There were varying accounts on Giffords’ condition, but a hospital spokesman said the Democratic lawmaker was in critical condition. An aide to Giffords was killed. An unknown number of others were injured, officials said, including additional aides to the lawmaker. …

Giffords, 40, was re-elected to her third term last November. She was a member of the Arizona House and Senate before coming to Washington.

Giffords was elected to Congress amid a wave of Democratic victories in the 2006 election. The former state lawmaker won a narrow victory against a tea party favorite in the 2010 election.

The shooting comes amid a highly charged political environment that has seen several dangerous threats against lawmakers but nothing that reached the point of actual violence.

A San Francisco man upset with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s support of health care reform pleaded guilty to threatening the Democratic congresswoman and her family, calling her directly on March 25 and threatening to destroy her Northern California home if she voted for health care reform.

In July, a California man known for his anger over left-leaning politics engaged in a shootout with highway patrol officers after planning an attack on the American Civil Liberties Union and another nonprofit group. The man said he wanted to “start a revolution” by killing people at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation.

Giffords, a moderate Democrat, herself has drawn the ire of the right, especially for her support of the health care bill.

Her Tucson office was vandalized a few hours after the House vote to approve the health care law in March, with someone either kicking or shooting out a glass door and window.


Rep. Giffords target of harassment, threats (MSNBC “The Daily Rundown,” March 25, 2010) — Reports of death threats, vandalism, and harassment by Tea Party activists have Democrats on edge as they’re preparing to head home for their spring recess. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., one of the Democratic leaders targeted, discusses, making reference to Sarah Palin’s target list, which has “the crosshairs of a gunsight” over her district. (04:54)


Topical reports on this site

Extremism Rises in America (June  16, 2010)


Discussing “Rise of the New Right” (MSNBC, June 16, 2010) — Joan Walsh of and Ohio gubernatorial candidate John Kasich discuss the Tea Party, Birthers, and other conservative developments on Hardball. (10:37)

Sovereign Citizen Ultimatum to Governors (April  3, 2010)

Governors threatened (Associated Press, April 2, 2010) — The FBI is warning police across the country that an anti-government group’s effort to remove governors from office could provoke violence. The group, Guardians of the Free Republics has sent menacing letters to some 30 governors. (01:08)

Christian Militia Terror Plot (March 29, 2010)

Analyst: Militias are ideologically diverse (MSNBC, March 29, 2010) — Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates who has written extensively about rightwing populism, militias, and the patriot movement, discusses with Rachel Maddow. (06:52)

Bachmann and Violent Extremism (March 25, 2010)

Battle lines drawn over health care law (NBC Nightly News, March 24, 2010) — Anger over health care reform, erupted into over-the-top rhetoric and threats were made against members of Congress who voted the bill into law. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports. (03:16)

Extremism Explodes in America (March 3, 2010)

The number of extremist groups in the United States exploded in 2009 as militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream, according to a report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Number of hate groups reach record level (The Dylan Ratigan Show, MSNBC, March 2, 2010) — According to a new report, militias and other extremist groups increased 244 percent in 2009. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and radio host Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express discuss. (08:33)

Bachmann Conspiracy Nation (Feb. 20, 2010)

Town Hall Face (Photos: Landov, AP, Getty Images / Newsweek)

Condemning Beck and Bachmann (Nov. 19, 2009)

Michele Bachmann is the modern face of an emerging brand of American protofascism being spawned by the “perfect storm” of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the election of America’s first African-American president.

A year of growing animosity (Anti-Defamation League, Nov. 2009) — Since the election of Barack Obama as president, a current of anti-government hostility has swept across the United States, creating a climate of fervor and activism with manifestations ranging from incivility in public forums to acts of intimidation and violence.

Hate groups including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan have grown since Barack Obama was elected president. (Image: NBC News)

Bachmann Rebuked for Nazi Image (Nov. 12, 2009)

Sign displayed at U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “House Call on Congress” anti-health care reform rally in Washington, D.C., Nov. 5, 2009. The sign reads, “National Socialist Health Care: Dachau, Germany — 1945.” (Photo credit: Lee Fang / ThinkProgress)

Anger in America (Oct. 31, 2009)

Bachmann Heads Teabaggers (Sept. 13, 2009)

Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke at a Tea Party at Lake George in St. Cloud after a town hall meeting, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)
Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks at a Tea Party at Lake George in St. Cloud, Minn., after a town hall meeting, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (Photo credit: Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)

Invitation to Tea Party headlined by Michele Bachmann

Bachmann: “Slit Our Wrists” (Sept. 2, 2009)

Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks to a luncheon crowd at the Denver Athletic Club, Aug. 31, 2009 (Photo credit: Jason Kosena / The Colorado Statesman)

In a speech filled with urgent and violent rhetoric, Bachmann … drew a clear line on health care reform.

“You’re either for us or against us on this issue,” she said. …

At times, Bachmann’s legislative briefing sounded more like the plot of a slasher movie.

“Right now, we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom,” she said. “And we may never be able to restore it if we don’t man up and take this one on.”

While Bachmann didn’t ask this audience to “rise up against President Barack Obama’s tyrannical rule,” they stood anyway and applauded when she announced she was No. 1 on House Speaker Nancy Pelosis list of “top targets.” …

Economy and Obama Volatile Mix (April 16, 2009)

An April 2009 Homeland Security intelligence estimate warns that right-wing extremists could use the bad state of the U.S. economy and the election of the country’s first black president to recruit new members and incite anti-government violence.

Bachmann Call for Armed Revolt? (March 24, 2009)

“I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us ‘having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if were not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States.”
— U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), March 21, 2009

Obama, Economy Fuel Hate Groups (Feb. 28, 2009)

A cross and swastika are burned at an event called Hated and Proud in Nebraska in July 2008.
A cross and swastika are burned at an event called Hated and Proud in Nebraska in July 2008. (Photo credit: Southern Poverty Law Center / CNN)

Obama Racist Backlash (Nov. 16, 2008)

Racial incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama, including schoolchildren chanting “assassinate Obama,” racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars, and Black figures hung from nooses, are shattering the post-election illusion of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America. There have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.


Related link

user-picAn Open Letter to Conservatives

By Russell King
American Dad

March 22, 2010

Dear Conservative Americans,

The years have not been kind to you. I grew up in a profoundly Republican home, so I can remember when you wore a very different face than the one we see now. You’ve lost me and you’ve lost most of America. Because I believe having responsible choices is important to democracy, I’d like to give you some advice and an invitation. … Read the entire letter


4/22/10 Update

The tea party’s exaggerated importance (By Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith, Politico, April 22, 2010) — The right sees the protests as evidence of a popular revolt against President Barack Obama — proof of a changing tide they believe will bring massive victories in 2010 and 2012. The left sees them as evidence of incipient fascism and an opposition to Obama rooted in racism — proof of the beyond-the-pale illegitimacy of large swaths of the conservative moment. … Read more

Note: In my opinion, the authors creative a false dichotomy and underestimate the protofascist elements within the tea party movement.


7/13/10 Update

Billboard linking Obama, Hitler draws complaints

A billboard ordered and paid for by the North Iowa Tea Party shows President Barack Obama, Adolf Hitler, left, and Vladimir Lenin, on South Federal Avenue in Mason City, Iowa, July 12, 2010. (Photo credit: Globe Gazette / Deb Nicklay — AP via The Washington Post)


9/26/10 Update

Three books on the Tea Party, reviewed by Steven Levingston (Washington Post, September 26, 2010) — Tea party anger is shaking up the political landscape. But where did this siege mentality come from, why is it so fervent, how long will it last — and the biggest question of all: Will the movement self-immolate, or will it keep spreading its scorched-earth rebellion? Here are three books that, lacking the benefit of hindsight, are banking on the luck of foresight. … Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — April 5, 2009

North Korea Launches Rocket

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that North Korea had fired a multistage rocket over Japan, defying Washington, Tokyo, and other world leaders who suspect the purpose of the launch was to test its long-range missile technology.

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