BY THE REV. JOSEPH A. DARBY
Three recent letters to the editor took me to task for something I said in my column on the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation — “The Ku Klux Klan is a shadow of what it used to be, but the sights and sounds of early Tea Party rallies were chillingly reminiscent of the Klan in its heyday.”
The writers of those outraged letters claimed that the Tea Party movement is not racist and is focused on federal government intrusion, excessive federal spending and defending the Constitution. They also claimed that they were critical of President Obama’s policies and not his ethnicity. One of those outraged writers said, “I don’t remember the Ku Klux Klan having the same agenda.” Let me see if I can help him out.
Many Ku Klux Klan members in the days of the 20th century civil rights movement denied that they were racists and claimed that they were simply advocating respectful racial separation. One of their old handbooks stated that: “Every true Klansman is loyally patriotic. This means he is devoted to: (1) The government of the United States of America, (2) His state, (3) His flag, (4) The Constitution of the United States, (5) Constitutional laws, (6) Law enforcement.”
The Tea Party movement espouses those same goals, as expressed by a lady in the movement who disrupted her Congressperson’s Town Hall meeting and shouted, “I want my country back!”
As to the public rallies of the respective groups — before the Tea Party movement chose to present a more sanitized, mainstream image — the resemblance is clear. Klan rallies were intentionally ominous, confrontational and designed to create fear and intimidation Early Tea Party rallies were no less ominous and confrontational, with some of those present going out of their way to see that their Second Amendment right to bear arms was displayed in their holsters.
That confrontational spirit was evident in Town Hall meetings and rallies, where members of the Tea Party were loud, offensive and disruptive. In one notable incident outside the United States Capitol, Tea Party members shouted racial slurs at members of the Congressional Black Caucus on their way into the building and spat on Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver.
Klan rallies during the 20th Century civil rights movement also included rude and crude signs carried by Klan members. I remember two of those signs from a Columbia rally that said, “Go Back to Africa Negroes” and “Watch Out Martin Luther Coon.”
A comparison of those signs to some Tea Party rally signs — “Obamanomics: Monkey See, Monkey Spend,” “The Zoo Has an African Lion and the White House has a Lyin’ African,” and “Stand Idly by while some Kenyan tries to destroy America? I don’t think so! Homey don’t play dat.” — is instructive as to intent.
I still find it interesting that the rise of the Tea Party shortly followed the election of President Obama. While all presidents are subject to public scrutiny and public ridicule, the rhetoric in this case has a decidedly racial tinge, and the claim that it’s all about the president’s policy initiatives is laughably hypocritical.
There was no organized outrage against spending when President George W. Bush — who inherited a budget surplus — squandered it, failed to raise taxes to fund his spending initiatives and set what was then a record for the federal deficit.
There’s been no Tea Party acknowledgment of the fact that the deficit fell in the last fiscal year under President Obama.
Do I think that all members of the Tea Party are rabid racists? No.
Do I think that there are rabid racists who have found comfort, shelter and a way to express their bigotry in the Tea Party movement? Yes.
Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke affirmed that in a commentary available on YouTube when he defended the Tea Party and said, “Only when groups are identified as ‘white’ are they called racist.”
My hope is that those letter writers were genuine and sincere in their outrage. If so, then they need to speak against those who have often been the face of the Tea Party movement, for as the old saying goes, “If it walks and talks and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is senior pastor of Morris Brown AME Church and first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.