How the Tea Party Movement Is Often About Things Uglier Than Fiscal Restraint, and a Challenge to Public Conservatives Who Claim Otherwise
In this post I am going to attempt to present a brief anecdote that, at least in part, acts as an answer to a question I often hear regarding the Tea Party movement. After that, I will offer something of a challenge to certain conservative politicians, pundits, and bloggers. I do not have realistic hopes that this challenge will be acknowledged by anyone, but I make it anyway on the basis that should anyone take me up on it, that would give me added hope for the future of American conservatism.
Let’s begin with the question, which is one I hear raised by conservatives and libertarians alike, both here and elsewhere on the ‘tubes:
Why can’t liberals and the mainstream media accept that the Tea Party movement is simply a voice for fiscal restraint in government? Why is the movement so maligned as a harbor for bigots, fear mongers and far-right social conservative extremists?
It’s a fair enough question. After all, I cannot deny that the Tea Party seems to have been started with the intention of promoting fiscal restraint in government. When conservative media wishes to interview an “ordinary citizen” about out-of-control spending by legislators, it is the Tea Party they so often turn to for sound bites. The Tea Party’s very name evokes the most famous anti-tax protest in American history. And yet despite all of this, it does seem to have developed a largely negative reputation with mainstream Americans. Why is that?
I might suggest that if you’re looking for an answer to that question you could do worse than starting in the Great State of Tennessee:
Yesterday the American Muslim Advisory Council (AMAC) held a public forum in Manchester, a city located in the county of Coffee, Tennessee. The intent of the forum was to discuss how people of different backgrounds might best find commonalities through which to build a mutually beneficial path toward a pluralistic society. AMAC had chosen Manchester due to a Facebook post made by Coffee County Commissioner Barry West in late April. The post featured a picture, pictured above, of a white cowboy pointing a shotgun into the camera, presumably at eye-level. “HOW TO WINK AT A MUSLIM,” read the caption.
Local Muslims were understandably outraged. West, for his part, refused to apologize and seemed by turns defiant and confused over their criticism. “No I did not Twitter this … no I did not create this picture … yes I shared it … so why am I being singled out?”
The AMAC-sponsored event drew widespread protests from Tennessee Tea Party groups, who urged their members to show up to the forum – and show up they did. The Manchester Convention Center where the forum was held was filled to capacity, and hundreds were turned away at the door due to building fire marshal codes.
Those Tea Party protesters who were not allowed access staged rallies outside, with featured speakers who talked of America’s need to be a “Christian nation” that defended Israel against the forces of darkness. There was no talk of tax reform, no accusations of the government class spending like a drunken sailor, no cries against federal overreach. Rather, there was simply the call for Americans to wake up and see the threat Muslims posed to everything good and wholesome. “The Constitution and Sharia cannot coexist,” declared featured Tea Party speaker Victoria Jackson to cheering crowds. (Yes, that Victoria Jackson.) “Islam is evil.”
By all accounts, the forum itself was a disaster. The Tea Party protesters loudly drowned out the speakers, which included guests from both the FBI and the Justice Department. There is a bit of video of the forum featuring U.S, Attorney Bill Killian speaking at a podium, which I am posting below. Most of what he says cannot be heard, due both to the acoustics and the constant shouts from the Tea Party members. At one point near the end, however, you can definitely hear Killian attempt to remind people that Muslims are protected by the Constitution just like everyone else, a notion which was met with great derision.
One protester interviewed by the newspaper The Tennessean provided what is perhaps the most unintentionally insightful comment I have heard a bigot make: “I feel like (these) men [putting on the forum] are attempting to intimidate people with the freedom of speech and that bothers me.”
It’s not shocking that such events might transpire here. After all, Manchester, Tennessee is but a half hour drive from Murfreesboro. You may recall that in recent years, citizens there attempted to block the building of a neighborhood mosque with the help of national Tea Party champions by attaching it to the so-called “Ground Zero” controversy. At one point during the building unknown arsonists set fire to the site, and since its completion it has been a target for repeated vandalism.
One of the things conservatives often criticize moderate Muslims for is not voicing condemnation when Muslim extremists cross lines. (I do not happen to agree with this criticism, as I have never actually met a Muslim who didn’t condemn those atrocities with the most extreme language. But be that as it may, I accept that others feel differently.) The Venn diagram of conservative bloggers, pundits and pols who argue that the Tea Party is wrongly painted as an attracter of far-right social conservatives and bigots overlaps quite a bit with those who demand moderate Muslims speak out more forcefully against violent extremists. And therein lies my challenge to the NROs, Foxes, Instapundits, PJMedias, Limbaughs, Becks, Hewitts, Malkins, Ericksons, Hannitys and O’Reillys of the world, and even to small and as-of-yet largely undiscovered conservative bloggers on the Internet:
Are you willing to back your claims that the Tea Party movement is one devoted to fiscal restraint and tax reform, and join me in condemning the Tennessee Tea Parties who are using the grassroots tribes you honor so to such extreme and hateful ends? Will you risk the potential RINO demerit and stand up against these Tea Partiers who are so willing to trash the founding document you claim to hold so dear? Are you willing to do what you so often demand of your moderate Muslim brothers and sisters, and shout to the heavens your disgust and dismay regarding these bigots who tarnish the ideals you so proudly defend and uphold?
I suspect not. But I continue to hold out hope.
 If you want a flavor of the types of grassroots organizing that was done by Tennessee Tea Parties, you can do as I did and google Tea Party/Manchester/Muslim and get a pretty good idea. However, on the chance that those tweets, Facebook posts and web pages are being taken down now that this is becoming a national story, I took the liberty of making at least one screenshot of a fairly typical call to arms:
 This challenge to bloggers does not go out to League conservatives, however. Kowal, Saunders, Truman, Likko, et al have well proven their integrity over time. They need no challenge from the likes of me.