Two weeks before a potentially game-changing midterm election, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has given its endorsement to a report labeling the tea party as a self-preserving movement of racist bigots. It’s no wonder given the fact that NAACP’s political agenda conflicts with the vast majority of the tea party platform of smaller government and reduced spending.
With Wednesday’s release of the report, however, the news media is once again dropping the ball, not only by not pointing out the NAACP’s obvious conflict of interest with the tea party movement, but in failing to do their due diligence in reporting on where the report comes from and why it was written.
The Washington Post reports that the NAACP-endorsed “Tea Party Nationalism” was “put together” by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, but doesn’t report further on who the IREHR is. Politico reports that the NAACP “commissioned Leonard Zeskind and Devin Burghart” to write the study, but makes no mention of who Zeskind or Burghart are other than noting their association with the Institute.
The IREHR is a group with “long-held dreams for social and economic justice,” who condemn the “so-called Christian right, paleo-conservatism, and other far-right movements” for their “symbiotic relationship[s] with nativism and white nationalism.”
Call me crazy, but I think this group may have had a specific agenda in mind before they set out to paint the tea party movement as… uh… nativists and… gee, white nationalists.
But who are Zeskind and Burghart, the two authors the NAACP “commissioned” to write the report? The New York Times reports that Zeskind, a lifetime member of the NAACP, has “written extensively on white nationalism,” a serious understatement. Zeskind’s career has revolved around an obsession of the “abyss of mayhem and murder” America faces at the hands of “white nationalists.” He has worked to establish himself as an “expert on extremist groups” various media outlets routinely rely on for comment, but few have bothered to expose his own extremist past.
Laird Wilcox, a civil rights activists who is known for examining extremists on the right and left ends of the political spectrum, has previously had Zeskind on his radar. Like many notable modern liberals, Zeskind reportedly got his start working with the Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) where his primary role was motivating the working classes “to make a revolution.” The STO’s role model: Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whose “iron discipline” the STO idolized.
In a 1978 article he wrote for the group’s journal, Urgent Tasks, named after V.I. Lenin. Zeskind wrote about “Workplace Struggles in Kansas City” and discussed the value of a grassroots “school of communism” that would “destroy the marketplace, not sell at it.” In a 1980 article for the same publication, Zeskind denounced the American military “as a tool of U.S. Imperialism.”
A 1981 City Magazine profile of Zeskind, author Bruce Rodgers described him as elusive and “near hysterical” and paranoid. Further, the STO was described as a group which surfaced “on occasion to distract and intimidate non-violent groups working for social change.”
According to reports, Zeskind spent the 1980s as a member of one pro-Stalinist group who worked to provoke the Ku Klux Klan and stir up racial tensions between blacks and whites. In 1986, this National Anti-Klan Network changed its name to a more benevolent-sounding Center for Democratic Renewal. In 1989, with Soviet communism on the way out, Zeskind told the Jewish Chronicle that he was “never the kind of Marxist-Leninist that they think of” and claimed his Stalinist ideology was no longer a “defining feature of my politics.”
At the same time, the CDR and other leftist groups were busy re-branding themselves as well. According to Wilcox, rather than present socialism or Marxism-Leninism as their goal at the time, they chose to change tactics and “piggy-back it onto anti-racism which is far more popular.”
At the same time, Zeskind’s co-author, Burghart, expanded his work studying “white nationalism” to include condemning anti-illegal immigration groups like the Minutemen on the country’s southern border, claiming the group was not patrolling the border to enforce American immigration laws, but only to prevent non-whites from entering. According to Burghart, the Minutemen represented “Klan-style” border patrol.
While working for the Center for New Community, Burghart participated in programs of the Center for Democratic Values, the think-tank arm of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Zeskind and Burghart began working cooperatively at the IREHR and have written in the past about “birthers” –but only now insist the label belongs slapped on the tea party.
During the summer, Zeskind and Burghart turned their focus toward the tea party. On July 11, Zeskind delivered a presentation to the NAACP’s National Convention specifically addressing the “dire threat” of the tea party (emphases mine):
The Tea Parties are a little bit like a poison apple–with three layers. At their center is a hard-core group of over 220,000 enrolled members of five national factions, and hundreds of thousands more that we have not yet counted but are signed up only with their local Tea Parties. At the next level is a larger less defined group of a couple of million activists who go to meetings, buy the literature and attend the many local and national protests. And finally there are the Tea Party sympathizers. These are people who say they agree with what they believe are the Tea Parties’ goal. These rank at about 16% to 18% of voters, depending on which organization is doing the polling. That would mean somewhere between 17 million and 19 million adult American voters count themselves as Tea Party supporters.
This is an overwhelmingly white and solidly middle class slice of the population, slightly older and less troubled financially than the rest of us. Please, remember this point when some political pundit or the other tells you these are economically strapped Americans hitting out at scapegoats. These are not populists of any stripe. These are ultra-nationalists (or super patriots) who are defending their special pale-skinned privileges and power. …
Now much of the media attention has been focused on FreedomWorks Tea Party, because it is headquartered in the DC area, and because Dick Armey was a big deal Republican. There are some who mistakenly speculate that this is an “Astroturf” phenomenon, that is a fake grassroots thing conjured up solely by Republican money and party officials.
But it is a real grass roots problem for us, and Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks Tea Party is not one of the larger Tea Party groups. ResistNet and Tea Party Patriots are actually the largest of the six national factions.
The Tea Parties are not just about taxes and budgets. They are against everything we are for, beginning with President Barack Obama. …
The IREHR also convened a July meeting in London during which, as Burghart notes, the growing momentum of the tea party was discussed on an international scale (emphases mine):
From the reaction of the audiences during my recent Searchlight-sponsored speaking tour of the United Kingdom, July 17-21, it appears that there is a high level of interest and concern about the influence of the Tea Parties on the political scene here in the United States. …
The tour began in London at a Labour Friends of Searchlight conference. Early in the day, highly-regarded Labour MP John Cruddas encouraged the crowd to learn from one another, and declared that Labour “must create a party rooted in a culture of organizing.” Continuing the organizing thread, I used my keynote speech to discuss the organizing techniques utilized by the Right in the United States. From the Christian Coalition to the Tea Parties, the Right has adapted new organizing techniques to stymie progressive change. …
At each of these events, the vast majority of the attendees responded that they closely followed American politics and were concerned about the rise of the Tea Parties. In my presentations, I discussed the birth of the Tea Party movement, and the size, scope, and ideology of the national factions.
Back in London for the final event of the tour, we held a public meeting to discuss the Tea Party phenomenon in the council chambers of Unison—Britain’s biggest public sector trade union. At the end of my presentation, there was tremendous interest in hearing about efforts to counter the rapid growth of the Tea Parties. We discussed the resolution passed by the NAACP condemning racism in the Tea Parties, and the NAACP delegates who held up “Hope Not Hate” signs on the convention floor.
An old Stalinist standby for undermining opposition is “ritual defamation,” as Wilcox has noted, “to call people names in the hope of defaming, discrediting, stigmatizing or neutralizing them.” From decrypted Venona files, we now know that the KGB routinely used race to divide people and British author Mark Shields has observed how the Soviets hoped “to weaken internal cohesion of the United States and undermine its international reputation by inciting race hatred.”
Are today’s liberals taking a page out of the old Soviet playbook? It would seem that way, as many on the left have decided the best way to undermine the influence of the tea party is to paint it as racist, nationalist and bigoted.
The NAACP and the report’s authors clearly have a stake in undermining the growing influence of the tea party and it’s hardly coincidental that the report has been unveiled just two weeks from election day.
Given their past experiences working as radical leftists hell-bent on purposefully undermining the tea party movement, is it really so far fetched to assume that the NAACP’s latest “report” isn’t just another coordinated attack on the tea party from the liberal left?