COLUMBIA, S.C. — Organizers of a tea party convention scheduled to convene next month in Myrtle Beach are fending off accusations that they called for “armed guards” with concealed weapons permits to staff the event. A senior leader of one tea party group in the Palmetto State raised concern about heat-packing patriots amid a flurry of email backlash after supporters of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann announced their intention to hold a straw poll at the event to promote their candidate.
The resulting back-and-forth has raised tensions in a movement that has made national news for its behind-the-scenes internecine warfare as candidates battle for tea party support in the critical early primary state. No Republican since 1980 has gone on to win the party’s nomination without first prevailing in South Carolina.
The Myrtle Beach Tea Party Convention is set for the Jan. 15–16 weekend, just five days before the critical first-in-the-South Republican presidential primary. The event, which organizers expect to draw hundreds of activists, tea partiers and members of other conservative organizations, is not open to the public.
In an email sent to South Carolina tea partiers on Dec. 19, Carolina Patriots vice chair Daniel Cochran penned a lengthy takedown of the convention’s organizers, the Myrtle Beach Tea Party. In his email Cochran accused Joe Dugan, the group’s chairman, of coordinating a group of armed activists to keep order during the event.
“You do know that Joe put out the call to all folks with Concealed Weapons [permits] to volunteer as armed guards at this convention right? ‘In case of any trouble…’” Cochran wrote. “[T]his document has been pulled from Joe’s [G]oogle documents about the convention. We do know of about four or five folks that replied they would be happy to volunteer and then the document went ‘poof.’”
Addressing Bachmann supporters specifically, Cochran ended his message warning, “You might want to advise your candidate that hand guns will be present at the event as far as we know.”
Bachmann chairs the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. Concern for her safety stemmed from a Dec. 18 email to tea party supporters from her South Carolina spokesman Wesley Donehue, announcing that Bachmann “is the first presidential candidate to commit to speaking at the convention.”
“During the convention, there will be a straw poll and Congresswoman Bachmann will need your support,” Donehue continued in his email. “In order to gain access and vote in the straw poll, you must have your name listed as being with an organized TEA Party group.”
But Dugan, the convention organizer, replied that the idea of a straw poll was a non-starter.
“I have no way of knowing who [Donehue] sent this out to,” he emailed in reply, “but I never mentioned a straw poll for our convention and have no intention of holding one.”
Dugan also warned that the tea party leaders in attendance are responsible for the actions of their groups’ members. Disturbances, he added, will not be tolerated.
“Through the media, the rest of the nation and the world will be watching and we will not leave any ‘trash on the grass’ for them to write about.”