Overview of the Tea Party Movement
Since the Tea Party movements is made up of different sectors of the political right, they come into their activism from different places and different agendas. We need to figure out the story of the people being interviewed.
The Tea Party Movement is a Right-Wing Populist movement. It is mobilizing based on three concurrent trends in American society.
Tea Parties and Town Halls
Before the Tea Party movement emerged, libertarian gadfly Ron Paul ran a Presidential campaign based on tax protest themes, including an event held in Boston December 16, 2007 “timed to coincide with the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.” That event raised over $5 million in one 24-hour period, and “smashed the one-day fund-raising record for a Republican presidential candidate. This “surpassed “the record $4.2 million they raised on Nov. 5.,” an event “timed to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day, which commemorates a British mercenary who tried unsuccessfully to kill King James I on Nov. 5, 1605.”
The U.S. Tea Party Movement began as an elite conservative campaign designed as “astroturfing,” which is a propaganda model that creates the false impression of an actual grassroots movement. The idea, however, gained momentum and swept across the country. The Tea Parties became an actual social movement, and by the autumn of 2009 were beginning to build social movement organizations in most states and negotiate with the Republican Party over policy matters.
Like many newly-created social movements, the Tea Party Movement is still in a process of developing its frames, narratives, and issue boundaries. Ideologically it is still in tension, with an awkward amalgam of ideological positions cobbled together from several preexisting formations on the political right:
In addition, several other sectors began to gravitate towards the Tea Party and Town Hall movements:
The original idea of pro-corporate Republican strategists was to harness popular anti-tax energy to Free Market policies as a way to block the Obama administration’s proposed economic reforms. The Tea Party quickly picked up this theme and welded it to pre-existing conspiracy theories about government tyranny popular on the political right.
Town Hall Protests began in early August of 2009. They were built around confronting elected representatives who supported the Obama administration’s plans for healthcare reform. Conspiracy claims were common at the Town Hall confrontations. Two key themes emerged: Obama was a socialist whose policies would usher in fascistic totalitarian rule; and federal healthcare would lead to unplugging grandma and other forms of ruthless cost-effective euthanasia seen as paralleling the policies of Nazi Germany. Both claims emerged as hyperbolic conspiracy theories, but were originally rooted in longstanding arguments favored by the political right.
While it was activist cadre from the neo-fascist Lyndon LaRouche network (based in the U.S. and Germany) who first carried the large graphic images of President Obama morphed with a Hitler cowlick and mustache, the theme became a meme.
When the Town Hall and Tea Party activists warn that Obama’s big government policies will lead to totalitarian rule so that Obama is like both Hitler and Stalin, they’re likely drawing from the writings of free-market economic libertarian Friedrich August von Hayek or those theories as transmogrified by the conspiracist John Birch Society.
When right-wing populists warn that Obama’s health care plan will pull the plug on grandma, they’re likely drawing from the anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia writings of conservative Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer or those theories as refracted through the lens of apocalyptic Christian conspiracy theorists such as Tim LaHaye and Pat Robertson.
Another way to look at it is how Tea Party Populists compare to other major sectors of the political right in the United States.
What about aggression or violence? There have been a few incidents, but it is not typical. See this chart on potentials for violence.
Taking Tea Partiers Seriously by Chip Berlet, The Progressive
June 2010 Gallup Poll – Tea Party supporters overlap Republican base
Michael Levenson, 2007, Ron Paul backers stage Boston Tea Party, raise millions, boston.com (Boston Globe, December 17.
Patrick George, 2009, “Lloyd Doggett faces angry crowd at Randalls,” statesman.com (Austin Statesman), August 2. T
Tea Party Project
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