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NAACP to condemn 'racist elements' in 'tea party' movement

The civil rights group is expected to approve a resolution at its annual convention Tuesday in Kansas City.

July 12, 2010|By Kathleen Hennessey and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The NAACP is expected to approve a resolution at its annual convention condemning the "tea party" movement for harboring "racist elements that are a threat to our democracy," a spokeswoman for the civil rights organization said Monday.

The proposed resolution states that the "movement is not just about higher taxes and limited government but something that could evolve and become more dangerous," NAACP spokeswoman Leila McDowell said. Delegates gathering in Kansas City, Mo., will consider the resolution as early as Tuesday.

The resolution would be the latest and perhaps the most pointed denunciation of the tea party movement, which has pushed back against recurring accusations of racism since its inception a year and a half ago.

Critics have pointed to signs carried by tea party supporters that mock President Obama and his Kenyan ancestry and to repeated questions by protesters about Obama's U.S. citizenship.

The accusations intensified after reports that a tea party protester directed a racial epithet at Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a longtime civil rights leader, during a Washington rally in March.

Then and now, tea party leaders have distanced themselves from what they described as the work of fringe elements. Several also questioned the legitimacy of the Lewis report, asking why it had not been caught on video.

In response to the NAACP resolution, two tea party leaders said Monday that any racism was the responsibility of a few bad actors and not the larger movement.

"There certainly are people who have been involved in tea party events or call themselves tea party leaders who have done these things. And we've said we're not going to put up with it," said Jenny Beth Martin, a founder of the online network Tea Party Patriots.

Mark Meckler, also of Tea Party Patriots, suggested that the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People was biased against whites.

"It's a little ironic that an organization that has lost legitimacy through its own racism is trying to call another racist," Meckler said.

The NAACP and other parts of the Democratic base are seeking to reactivate the voters who mobilized to elect Obama. The group announced an Oct. 2 rally in Washington as an answer of sorts to the tea party protests. The One Nation campaign would also involve a coalition of labor groups.

"We have to get up off the couch. We have to demand the change that we voted for," McDowell said.

Publicizing what it sees as racist and extreme behavior within the tea party is part of that effort.

The proposed resolution asserts that "hardcore white supremacist organizations have participated in and occasionally lead tea party rallies." McDowell said the statement was based on academic research on the tea party movement and referred to a faction within the larger movement.

Meckler said the accusation was untrue and unfounded. "I've never, ever heard of such a thing," he said. "Never had that complaint. Never seen it personally."

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

mmemoli@tribune.com

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