Is the Tea Party the New Black Panther Party?

By Jamilah King May 21, 2010

That was the question posed to readers earlier this week over at The Root. Writer Cord Jefferson, arguing that while there’s no way to reconcile the groups’ different ideological underpinnings, notes that they still seem to have a lot in common:

They were armed to the teeth. They were mad. They gathered at public buildings, guns tucked into their waistlines, demanding limited governmental authority and the right to self-determination. They believed the Democratic White House to be an untrustworthy, imperialistic power, one that "robbed" them under spurious circumstances.

And as you can probably expect, the comparison’s caused quite the stir. One commentator wrote, "When the first Tea Party office gets firebombed by the government, call me." Critics also sounded off on Twitter, with one writing that the comparison was "so insulting and incorrect, it’s beyond words." The timeline we did last month shows at least one obvious difference: the Tea Party’s relationship to corporate and government power. In its current manifestations, the Tea Party movement began in Chicago when Rick Santelli, a CNBC editor, began fuming about the Obama administration’s plan to lend assistance to families facing foreclosure. Standing on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, Santelli called on the Obama administration to create a website where people could vote "to see if we really wanna subsidize the losers’ mortgages." Not quite a poor people’s manifesto. To be sure, there are plenty of poor, angry white folks among the Tea Party’s ranks. But there’s also a growing number of right-wing politicians running for office using Tea Party rhetoric, Rep. Scott Brown of Massachussetts and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, just to name a couple. Bobby Seale’s 1973 run for mayor of Oakland didn’t exactly turn out so well.