Tea party turns into Klan rally — or so the headline of an opinion piece published by the Baltimore Examiner screamed to readers on Monday after weekend reports that Tea Partiers had hurled racial and homophobic slurs at black and gay congressmen.
Despite the absence of any video footage of the alleged remarks, a number of media outlets have used the reports to accuse the 25,000-plus activists who showed up to the Capitol this weekend of hating not simply President Obama’s health-care bill, but all black people. Unsurprisingly, the Tea Partiers reject this characterization.
“The media ran with these allegations and made that practically the only mention of the event,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a FreedomWorks staffer who organized the weekend’s rallies and said he’s “furious at the coverage.”
“It’s so preposterous that they try to make the whole movement to look like this, even if there was an incident, which there is no proof of,” Steinhauser added. He said there were a number of black people on stage at the Saturday protest, but “do you think people went up there and booed them or yelled racial epithets at them? No.”
On Saturday, a spokesman for Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said that a protestor was detained — and then released — by police after spitting on the congressman. The spokesman also claimed that protesters also hurled racial epithets at Reps. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat, and Andre Carson, Indiana Democrat. A number of reporters claimed to have also heard protesters hurl an anti-gay slur at Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Democrat from Massachusetts.
According to an Associated Press report, Carson told a reporter that as he left the Cannon House Office Building the crowd chanted “the N-word, the N-word, 15 times.” Even though video footage of the incident shows a rowdy crowd, none exists that show activists in a racial tirade.
In the Baltimore Examiner story, Melinda Lancaster wrote, “the behavior displayed at Saturday’s rally included an array of racial slurs and anti-gay chants along with spitting and other outlandish actions. This lends proof to the fact that these rallies are no longer ‘harmless’ but ‘hateful’ and have taken on the same demeanor as a Ku Klux Klan rally.”
In another piece, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein wrote that a reporter questioned black Rep. James Clyburn * on if he “wanted an apology from the group of Republican lawmakers who had addressed the crowd and, in many ways, played on their worst fears of health-care legislation, the Democratic Party and the president.” Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote, “Many African Americans had already suspected some of these people are more opposed to the skin color of the man in the White House than they were to the president’s political ideology.”
The New York Daily News offered this suggestion to the Tea Party: “They might want to think about renaming it the Nastea Party.”
“I’ve never really been convinced of this, but Sunday I think I became convinced,” Steinhauser said. “There are elements of the media who want to tar us as racists, who want to discredit us, because they support the Obama agenda and that’s the only thing they can use when that many people show up to hurt us.”
MSNBC has been a villain of the Tea Partiers, with hosts like Dylan Ratigan and Keith Olbermann, who said Monday night, “if racism is not the whole of the Tea Party, it is in its heart.” But after Olbermann recently criticized activists for their lack of diversity, the Dallas Tea Party group produced a video bringing attention to NBC’s all-white line up.
Steinhauser said the Washington Post “has been atrocious in its coverage, they didn’t even show a picture of the crowd, they barely mentioned we had a protest at all.” But he described a double standard of how anti-war group International Answer, who held a march in Washington on Saturday too, “gets a pass for being organized by a communist front group.”
“Talk about an extremist that organizes an anti-war march where probably a lot of people in the anti-march are not communists, but the organizers of the event are extremists,” he said.
“Not a word from MSNBC, not a word from the Washington Post,” he said.
Stein at Huffington Post declined to comment on the argument that some outlets are only interested in writing stories that make Tea Partiers look racist. Requests for comment by The Post and the Baltimore Examiner were not immediately returned.
The coverage isn’t surprising, other activists say. The linking of the movement to racism, they say, is a ploy they say they’ve seen time and time again by the left to alienate those who may be drawn to the movement.
“It is an effective strategy to marginalize the Tea Party movement,” explained Luke Livingston, who produced a Tea Party documentary film popular among activists and screened at gatherings. “They want to keep the general public out and portray as a bunch of maniacs.”
The filmmaker, who said he’s traveled the country filming numerous Tea Party events, said, “if it was a racist movement it would be very evident. You wouldn’t have to go around trying to find it.”
“I’ve been documenting the Tea Party movement, and I’ve been observing it. And I’ve been more of an observer than participant. And I have not seen it. I have not seen it,” he said.
Race figures prominently into Livingston’s documentary: One character he profiles is a black activist who talks about the difficulty of being a minority in the movement that is no doubt mostly white.
He said activists are “frustrated” with the constant accusations of racism, pointing to one scene in his film where a group of medical doctors opposed to the health-care bill meet with black Democratic Rep. John Conyers.
“I think they’re frustrated,” he said of Tea Party activists. “Just like those doctors frustrated with Conyers … Here are these doctors trying to get on stage and all of sudden Conyers gets frustrated and just says, ‘Ah Republicans aren’t going to vote because they’re all racist and want the first black President to fail.’”
After the hundreds of stories about the weekend allegations, conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart is one activist who finds the allegations to be dubious. “This is the Youtube, Flip Cam, iPhone, Blackberry age where everybody has media — especially the media. This was the place in the United States on Saturday. There was no chance that something of consequence was going to happen that wasn’t recorded for all of mankind to witness,” Breitbart said.
*UPDATE: Stein at Huffington Post emailed to say he didn’t ask Clyburn the apology question, but another reporter did and he merely reported it. A previous version of this story said he personally asked the question.