NAACP vs. Tea Party: Racism Debate Heats Up as Sarah Palin Joins the Fray

NAACP president says tea party leaders need to take responsibility.

July 13, 2010, 1:33 PM

July 13, 2010— -- The NAACP's resolution condemning what it calls racist elements within the Tea Party is drawing fire from top Tea Party supporters, including Sarah Palin, as the civil rights group's president insists the party needs to "expel racists from the ranks."

"For more than a year we've watched as Tea Party members have called congressmen the N-word, have called congressmen the F-word. We see them carry racist signs and whenever it happens, the membership tries to shirk responsibility," NAACP President Ben Jealous said in an interview with ABC News. "If the Tea Party wants to be respected and wants to be part of the mainstream in this country, they have to take responsibility."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People this evening unanimously passed a resolution that calls on Tea Party members to repudiate what Jealous says are "ultra-nationalist and racist factions within the organization."

The resolution said the Tea Party members have used "racial epithets," have verbally abused black members of Congress and threatened them, and protestors have engaged in "explicitly racist behavior" and "displayed signs and posters intended to degrade people of color generally and President Barack Obama specifically."

Jealous specifically pointed to signs at rallies portraying President Obama as a witch doctor, and to claims made by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., that Tea Party protestors opposing health care reform hurled racial slurs at them.

"They need to be unequivocal and they need to be responsible and get the bigots out of their organization. It's that simple," Jealous added.

Tea Party supporters have denied allegations of racism and argue that there is no proof to support the NAACP's claims. Conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart even offered $100,000 to anyone who could produce an audio recording or video footage of the "N-word" being hurled at Rep. Lewis and other members of Congress.

The St. Louis Tea Party coalition on Monday evening passed a resolution of its own condemning the NAACP for "hypocritically engaging in the very conduct it purports to oppose." The resolution calls on the NAACP to withdraw its resolution. It even urges the IRS to reconsider its tax-exempt status of the NAACP because of what the Tea Party coalition dubbed the organization's "habitual partisan political behavior."

Former Alaska Gov. Palin, a vocal advocate of the Tea Party movement, jumped into the heated race debate Monday night, assailing the NAACP resolution as an example of "typical divisive politics that is so absolutely unnecessary."

"The Tea Party movement is a beautiful movement, full of diverse people, diverse backgrounds," Palin said on Fox News' "Hannity." "It's very unfortunate that they are taking this tactic because it's a false accusation that Tea Party Americans are racist. Any good American hates racism. We don't stand for it. It is unacceptable."

Palin in turn called on President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to "repudiate" the resolution and "set the record straight."

The former GOP vice presidential candidate tweeted her support for the Tea Party again today: "I'm busy today so notify me asap when NAACP renders verdict: are liberty-loving, equality-respecting patriots racist? Bated breath,waiting..."

Other Tea Party loyalists charge the NAACP's charges are driven solely by political motivations and are misguided.

"Those ideas that Tea Party people are racist and that we're trying to instigate a racist climate in this country, that's simply a lie. That's out and out falsehood," said Rev. C.L. Bryant, a former president of NAACP's Garland, Texas, chapter who is now a leading Tea Party activist.

"I have not heard one racial slur that came out of that march," said Bryant, referring to the Tea Party protest on Capitol Hill where members of Congress alleged racist comments. "Those were simply Americans who were protesting."

NAACP Vs. Tea Party

Even as Tea Party leaders and supporters fight back against charges of racism, the NAACP is explicitly calling on leaders like Palin, Kentucky GOP Senate hopeful Rand Paul and FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey to take responsibility.

"Sarah Palin needs to have the courage to call out the racists amongst her supporters and let them know that she will not tolerate them," Jealous said. "What's divisive is calling a rally, having a whole bunch of bigots show up and welcoming them. ... The Tea Party needs to clean its own house as all responsible organizations do."

On Monday, in a fiery speech at the convention in Kansas City, Mo., Jealous challenged Paul to a debate on civil rights.

Paul, another high profile supporter of the Tea Party, came under fire in May for criticizing the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"If we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies, then you have to have the discussion about, 'Do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well,'" Paul said on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show. "If you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into the restaurant, even though the owner of the restaurant says, well, no, we don't want to have guns in here."

Paul later said he supports the Act and opposes discrimination, but stood by his belief that the government doesn't have a right to tell private restaurant owners who they can and cannot serve.

The NAACP is demanding more answers.

"If you want to debate civil rights, and the Civil Rights Act, Rand Paul, my message to you is this: show the backbone and answer my challenge, set a date and I and the NAACP will be there," Jealous said Monday.

Support for the Tea Party movement among Americans remains divided. Twenty-seven percent of Americans support the movement, according to a May ABC News/Washington Post poll, but nearly as many Americans oppose it.

The poll also found that 57 percent of people who opposed the Tea Party suspected its members of racial prejudice specifically against Obama. Only 10 percent of Tea Party supporters expressed such a sentiment.

NAACP leaders have taken on the Tea Party individually in the past, but the organization has stepped up its efforts against the movement. In addition to jobs and the economy, much of this year's convention was dedicated to building momentum against the Tea Party.

The NAACP, in coordination with 170 other groups, including labor unions, is planning a protest march in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2 as the next step in building momentum against the Tea Party.

The "One Nation" march is designed as an antithesis to the Tea Party, and it's about "pulling America together and back to work," said NAACP spokeswoman Leila McDowell.

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