In case there was any doubt that the tea party movement persists by manipulating white people’s anxieties with racist fear mongering and scapegoating, the leader of one of the largest tea party groups* has called for the ouster of Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison in this years election because he’s a Muslim.
Judson Phillips, the founder of the group Tea Party Nation, which boasted a membership of 31,402 online members as of the beginning of August, posted his argument for opposing Ellison, writing:
There are a lot of liberals who need to be retired this year, but there are few I can think of more deserving than Keith Ellison. Ellison is one of the most radical members of congress. He has a ZERO rating from the American Conservative Union. He is the only Muslim member of congress. He supports the Counsel for American Islamic Relations, HAMAS and has helped congress send millions of tax dollars to terrorists in Gaza.
Besides the factual errors—Ellision is not the only Muslim member of Congress, for one—the post is about the most crassly reprehensible kind of rant Phillips could have spewed. Muslims can’t hold political office, we’re told, and those who do should be made the targets of concerted political attack because of their faith.
It should be no surprise that tea party leadership is citing Ellison’s faith to justify their attack on him. These sorts of attacks are central to the movement’s populist success. Ellison himself said as much when we talked with him last month about Islamophobia, the elections and the uptick in hate crimes and media attacks on Muslims. He had this to say about the tea party:
Rightwing populism has a long history in the United States and it has not always been good. There was a man named “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman who was responsible for whipping up popular sentiment against blacks and ushered in Jim Crow segregation. He did not do it as some fancy businessman. He did it from the bottom up, by saying, “They’re taking our jobs.” So populism is not always a good thing. Particularly when you want to whip up one group against another group. The Tea Party movement needs to be more deliberate about what they are about. I’ll say though that as long as their basic fuel is anger, which it clearly is, it runs the risk of being the point of the spear of a bigoted anti-Islamic, anti-black, anti-gay, anti-everybody who is not like them type movement. I am not going to sit up and broad brush the Tea Party, because I am hoping the Tea Party does some self-improvement. But it does have a certain degree of danger because it is fueled essentially by anger and the people are not thinking through what is really to blame.
Looks like the tea party has broadly failed to improve itself. Indeed, as a recent NAACP-backed report makes clear, racism and white nationalism, including a rancid dose of explicit Muslim bashing, are tied tightly to the movement’s core. According to the report, the tea party movement’s organizations have ties to white supremacists, members of militias, hate groups, the birther movement, anti-semites or Islamophobes. The report sites other examples of tea party groups’ public displays of Islamophobia, such as the
ResistNet Tea Party website that denigrates an entire grouping of people because of their faith. “We are at a point of having to take a stand against all Muslims. There is no good or bad Muslim. There is [sic] only Muslims and they are embedded in our government, military and other offices…What more must we wait for to take back this country of ours…”
Last month Ellison told ColorLines, “I urge people to come together to build some understanding.” It’s a simple proposition that seems very far away from reality when leaders of national political movements can get away with statements like the one Phillips made without any response from members of the political party he’s explicitly supporting.
*An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Tea Party Nation as the largest tea party group.