The modern Tea Party movement began in 2009 as a grassroots reaction to excessive spending and unprecedented government growth. The first protest began in Fort Myers, Florida when Mary Rakovich organized a few people to protest Obama's stimulus bill. In the first month alone, Tea Parties sprang up in 40 different cities. And when tea party favorite Scott Brown won a seat held by Democrats for nearly half a century, the major media was forced to recognize the Tea Party as a major political force.
Tea Parties have remade the political landscape. They're established in every state in every county. And when government thought they could plow them over with rash spending, the political primaries have already proved them wrong. But don't let the political pundits fool you, the country is not in an anti-incumbent mood; they are in an anti-spending mood. If you look at the incumbents who have lost in recent primary elections, they were politicians that either supported bank bailouts, the stimulus bill, or Obamacare - all of which required big payouts. Even Republicans who voted for TARP were tossed on the ear by Tea Party activists.
There is a substantial momentum behind the Tea Party movement, but if they get off-message, it could destroy the movement from the inside out. If, for instance, Tea Parties begin to take on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, and teenage pregnancies, it would not only water down their message, it would make them virtually indistinguishable from the Republican Party. The appeal of tea parties isn't real because they mirror the GOP platform, but because fiscal restraint and government accountability cross party lines and ideological barriers.
In April of this year, the Washington Independent ran a story that the Tea Party movement has slowly started to shift its focus toward illegal immigration. A group called "Tea Parties against Amnesty" recently organized over 50 protests across the nation, and they are reaching out to members of tea parties that share their commitment to border security and reinforcing existing immigration laws.
There are two ways of looking at Tea Parties Against Amnesty; they are either a group composed of real tea party protesters that opted to join an anti-immigration movement, or they are an anti-immigration movement seeking to ride the coat-tails of the Tea Party. From all indications, it appears that Tea Parties for Amnesty is doing the latter. Let's take a look at these indications.
First, Tea Parties against Amnesty is spearheaded by an organization called "Americans for Legal Immigration". It's somewhat disappointing, yet not entirely surprising, that the Washington Independent failed to point out that Tea Parties against Amnesty is a splinter group of Americans for Legal Immigration. In fact, William Gheen, the President of Americans for Legal Immigration is also the Director of Tea Parties Against Amnesty. The real question is why Gheen created a splinter group at all. Perhaps there wasn't enough support for his anti-immigration organization. Perhaps it's easier to peel off members of tea parties by creating another organization that bears the tea party name brand.
Second, as alluded to above, it appears that Americans for Legal Immigration are attempting to harvest members from tea parties to promote their cause. They made an announcement that reads,
"Some of our diverse ALIPAC supporters are not fans of the Tea Party movement, however, they understand that 90% of Tea Party supporters oppose illegal immigration and amnesty with us. Most understand that we need broad coalitions to stop amnesty and reverse illegal immigration.
Some, unfortunately, are buying into the massive negative propaganda assault on the Tea Party movement. All we will say about that right now is that the Tea Party folks are not violent and not racist. They are being attacked in the same way our Border Security Movement has been attacked. They are being attacked because the powers that favor elite rule in America want to stop and divert the political revolution that is growing in America today. "
There are two things that jump out at me in these two paragraphs. First, they attempt to merge their immigration movement with tea parties by finding a common enemy. The message they are sending to tea party members is that the enemy of my friend is my enemy as well. And second, after defending tea parties from accusations, they concede the need to build broader coalitions in order to stop amnesty. They might as well tell tea party members they are better off merging in order to defend themselves against the liberal left.
And third, tea parties are premised on the principles of fiscal restraint, smaller government, and reduced taxes for future generations. You will not find any legitimate tea party that doesn't mention these principles on their websites. For example, Americans for Prosperity is a nationwide Tea Party organization with strong roots here in Wisconsin. Their mission statement reads,
"AFP believes reducing the size and scope of government is the best safeguard to ensuring individual productivity and prosperity for all Americans AFP educates and engages citizens in support of restraining state and federal government growth, and returning government to its constitutional limits"
And yet, there is not a single sentence on the Tea Parties against Amnesty's website that refers to fiscal restraint, smaller government, or reduced taxes. Some would argue that immigration is not a part of the tea party platform, and the fact that there is no mention of illegal immigrants, border control, or amnesty on the website of a well-known national tea party organization gives credence to this notion.
The only reports from media outlets that tie the platform of tea parties to immigration reform are those that quote Republican politicians speaking on behalf of tea parties. And although tea parties have been reticent to endorse political candidates for office, Republicans are quick to claim "tea party" status for their own campaigns. But tea parties are starting to understand that the GOP will try to bend the will of their movement to align to their own agenda. If this were to happen, tea parties would lose their collective identity.
"Tea Parties against Amnesty" is not a Tea Party. They are a copycat organization that seeks to amass tea party members into their organization even at the risk of harming the message of the Tea Party movement. And the news media hasn't helped. Headlines like "Tea Party Dabbles in Immigration Politics" and "Tea Party Movement to Rally Against Amnesty" are either un-researched or deliberately disingenuous. Establishing links that don't exist does a disservice to truth-seekers and only bolsters the cause of anti-immigrant groups.
If legitimate Tea Parties wish to keep solidarity and protect their name brand, they ought to call out Tea Parties against Amnesty for what they truly are, an anti-immigrant group masquerading as a Tea Party.