Richmond’s intimidation of tea party deserves forceful opposition

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It should come as no surprise that some people are biased against the tea party movement. We have seen it in the media, which often portrays tea partiers as anti-government naysayers and rabble-rousers with nothing better to do than complain. At the same time, the so-called “Occupy Wall Street” whiners have largely been given a pass.

Media bias is one thing. Government officials using the power of their official positions to punish tea party organizations, however, is quite another matter, one that ought to concern all Americans who respect the rule of law.

Consider the case of Richmond, Virginia’s tea party group.

In recent months, the Richmond Tea Party has paid thousands of dollars in fees to the municipal government in order to hold rallies, even as it noted that so-called “Occupy” protesters were receiving quite different and preferential treatment from those same government offices. The Richmond Tea Party decided to draw attention to this disparate treatment, and for this, it has been targeted by city tax officials threatening an official audit of the organization’s books and records.

The dispute began when members of the Richmond Tea Party pointed out that “Occupy Richmond” protesters were illegally camping in the city’s Kanawha Plaza. Yet, when the Richmond Tea Party sought to use the park, it was charged some $8,500 in fees, permits and security costs. Not only did the city fail to demand any similar fees from the Occupiers, but Mayor Dwight Jones expressed sympathy with them, going so far as to liken their cause to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Rightfully bothered by this display of blatant, official favoritism, the Richmond tea partiers sent a bill to the city in late October seeking reimbursement of expenses they were assessed for their rallies. As Colleen Owens, an activist with the Richmond Tea Party, explained recently at Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, for this perceived audacity, shortly after sending the bill the tea party was notified by the city’s Department of Finance that it had been “selected for a comprehensive tax audit.”

City leaders, of course, are claiming that the timing of the audit is not in retaliation for the tea party’s demand for a refund, though common sense dictates it clearly is being targeted by the city.

While Richmond tries to intimidate and punish the local tea party group, the Occupy protesters are essentially living in Kanawha Plaza rent-free as taxpayers pick up the tab, which The Washington Post reports to be nearly $18,000.

Perhaps this abuse of official government power will remind organizations from across the ideological divide, from conservative legal organizations to the ACLU, that misuse of government power is a threat to every person and group daring to challenge official power, and that such abuses must be met with unified opposition that lays aside differences over other, political concerns.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.