By The Rev. Madison Shockley
A debate has raged over the last 18 months as to whether the tea party movement is racist. Never mind that the inauguration of the first black president in January 2009 was followed in February by the first of the tea party “moments”—when CNBC’s Rick Santelli called for a Chicago tea party on national television from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Never mind that April 15 of 2009 saw the first nationally organized protest of the tea partyers in cities across the country. When the summer of 2009 arrived, all tea party guns (some real firearms were openly carried at Obama events) turned on President Barack Obama and his health insurance reform proposals. Obama was demonized with invective that included being called Hitler, Stalin and the Antichrist.
I propose to put this debate to rest. The tea party is racist. Its followers have deployed a brilliant strategy to deflect charges of racism by using a form of the legislative provision known as severability. Whenever a tea party group or person is “caught” with a racist sign, or saying explicitly racist comments, they simply “sever” that person from the movement by saying, “That person does not represent the tea party.” They get away with it because they claim the status of a “movement” with no structure, leadership or cohesive identity except allegiance to the three magic phrases: “Constitutional Republic,” “Founding Fathers” and “I want my country back!”
I submit that their defense, while clever, is inadequate. Racism virtually drips from their lips when they spew out their ridicule of President Obama. It lies just underneath the surface of all the signs imaging him as a native African, a Muslim or an animal. But, one might note, they never called Obama by a racial slur. They have never said they don’t like him because he is black. Well, they don’t have to say it—he is black. And to say, “I don’t like [black] Obama because he is black” would be redundant.
However, I will make my argument for their fundamentally racist opposition to Obama and their racist opposition to any and every government program that they perceive to be taking their hard-earned tax dollars and redistributing them to people of color. This racism is at the core of their opposition to health care reform that would subsidize premiums for people who cannot afford them or educational or tax credits to low-income persons and families or any of the myriad social programs meant to strengthen the general welfare of the nation. In their opinion, these monies are going to noncitizens who do not deserve the benefits and blessings of their dear USA, USA, USA.
I stumbled across my evidence through an e-mail alert I received for tea party “meet-ups” near where I live. When I noticed a tea party meet-up in south Orange County [Calif.] being held at a church, I couldn’t resist taking a closer look. Five clicks later I was enthralled by a document that I found both horrifying and revealing. The document was titled “The Non-Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment” and written by A.H. Ellett, a retired Utah Supreme Court justice. Ironically, the tea party movement generally “supports with worshipful intensity the constitution of the United States,” according to historian Mark Lilla, but when its followers say “Constitution” they don’t mean the same U.S. Constitution that you and I mean. The recent issue for the tea party has been the repeal of the 14th Amendment. But repeal is just one small step compared to the giant leap that Justice Ellett makes in claiming that the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments (the so-called Reconstruction Amendments) were never legally (i.e. constitutionally) ratified in the first place. When the tea party folk say that they want their country back, I’m starting to understand just how far back they want it—back before the Civil War!
The goal of this retrogression is revealed in Ellett’s opening paragraph of his arguments specifically against the fact of the ratification of the 14th Amendment. He writes:
The validity, or should we say invalidity, of the Civil War Amendments is very important to reinstating the inalienable rights of free white Citizens in the United States of America. At every juncture where the government of the United States of America and/or the governments of the several States attempt to usurp inalienable rights, the Civil War Amendments are ultimately claimed to be the authority for such deprivations of rights.
His 200-page treatise is filled with sophist (not sophisticated) argument that hinges on whether the authors of the 14th Amendment used uppercase or lowercase when conferring C/citizenship and P/personhood on the newly freed slaves. He also warns the contemporary reader that his citations may make some uncomfortable but they are necessary to the truth of his argument. He warns and then continues:
Please remember that the following Authorities reflects the understanding of the Founding Fathers at the time the Constitution for the United States was adopted, and although they may not be “politically” correct today, the Authorities represents the law at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was (purportedly) adopted.
This is further clarified in Amy v. Smith: /60
“Free negroes and mulattoes are, almost everywhere, considered and treated as a degraded race of people; insomuch so, that, under the constitution and laws of the United States, they can not become citizens of the United States.”
Amy v. Smith, 1 Litt. Ky. R. 334.
In light of this, no person would be considered as a United States Citizen or a citizen of the United States; as the Constitution was framed to incorporate the common law, in opposition to international law.
· common law—one race governs;
· international law—all races govern.
The capitalization of the words “Person” and “Citizen” could mean only one thing, the denoting of only those of one race in compliance with the common law.
“According to the common law principle (upon which our Constitution was founded), only the race (family) of people forming the sovereignty to adopt the Constitution (We the People) are considered “Citizens.” All others born inside the Country and owing allegiance to “We the People” are natural born “Subjects.” Under principles of International Law, that is, inter-racial law (See definition in Webster’s Dictionary, ), these “Subjects” (who, by special privilege, are licensed to become something or do something normally illegal under the common-law), are said to be “citizens” and “persons.”
… [B]ut only those of the white race could be recognized as national citizens under the Preamble to the Constitution for the United States of America and be treated as “Citizens” in any State they entered.
And finally he reaches the ultimate point of it all for the tea party. While party followers might like to disenfranchise all persons of color, they are really after one in particular, President Barack Obama. To wit, Justice Ellett continues:
Thus, only white State citizens held the privileges and immunities known to Article IV, Section 2, among the several States, and no State could confer that Constitutional protection on any other race. In consequence thereof, the “also” could not authorize a “non-white” to be an “Officer” of the United States government.
Thus, according to Justice Ellett, Obama cannot constitutionally be president of the United States.
So, what does this have to do with the tea party movement? One of the main thrusts of tea party groups across the country is to teach their “patriots” the truth about the Constitution of the United States. At this particular meet-up of the “South Orange County 912 - Tea Party Group” at the church, they were advertising No. 3 of 12 of the “Institute on the Constitution.”
This is the program written by John Eidsmoe, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, author and attorney. I got this far with just one click. The next click took me to a biography of Eidsmoe posted on the website citizensforaconstitutionalrepublic.com. It should be noted that an invitation to Eidsmoe to speak at a tea party rally in Wasau, Wis., was rescinded in April of this year. The invitation was withdrawn when it was revealed that Eidsmoe was known to teach that God ordained slavery and that the author had spoken before a variety of white supremacists groups (other than tea party groups, that is), such as the successor organization to the White Citizens’ Councils (now the Council of Conservative Citizens) and The League of the South.
So the tea party claims to be cleansed of racism because it withdrew the invitation. But it is not that the party didn’t know his views. Party followers invited him to teach and speak at the rally. He was disinvited because Eidsmoe’s proposed appearance exposed the racism at the core of the movement. Interestingly, the other tea party groups didn’t get the word because the curriculum written by Eidsmoe is being taught right now, right up the road in that old hotbed of the John Birch Society, Orange County. So if he was considered racist by tea party groups in April, why isn’t he still racist in October? He is, and they were and are.
My next click was on a button down the side of the page that said, “I Want My Country Back.” Alas, I thought, now I will get some understanding of what they mean when they say that. This is what took me to the link of Justice Ellett’s dissertation on “The Non-Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Or how are we to regard the role played by tea party leaders like Mark Williams, who was a major leader of the Tea Party Express (one of the leading groups in the National Tea Party Federation). It was Williams who called President Obama an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug.” It was Williams who said blacks don’t want taxes cut because “how will … Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?”
After receiving so much leadership, education and inspiration from these leaders and “scholars,” the tea party movement cannot conveniently disavow the racism that is part and parcel of everything that motivates such leaders (and countless others lesser known). The philosophy regarding the Constitution essentially permeates the tea party movement. This element cannot be uninvited, disowned or dismissed. This constitutional philosophy has produced a code language that connects phrases such as “Citizen” (uppercase C), “Founding Fathers,” “Patriot” and “Constitutional Republic.” On their face they are fine, even noble, ideas. But underneath, when one connects the dots from the originally white “We the People” to a never-say-die Confederate mentality to a rabid tea party opposition to the first black president of the United States, there is no doubt that the tea party movement is racist at its core.
Finally, Patricia Williams said it best in a Guardian article in September when she reminded us of the unguarded words of Lee Atwater, former chair of the Republican Party, who explained the strategy of abstraction this way, “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced bussing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. … ‘We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the bussing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘nigger, nigger’.”
Flickr / Fibonacci Blue (CC-BY)
A protester brandishes his poster at a tax day tea party rally in St. Paul, Minn., on April 15, 2010.