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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Charleston Church Massacre Inspired By White Supremacy

“I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go,” declared the young white gunman as he emptied clip after clip of a .45 caliber handgun into the small group of African-American churchgoers at a Wednesday evening Bible study.

After sitting amid the congregation for nearly an hour, he stood up and started firing the handgun he’d recently received as a birthday present. He kept firing, reloading his gun five times in a rampage that left eight people dead on the floor of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Another, the ninth, died on the way to the hospital. The church had been founded by worshipers fleeing racism; white slaveholders had previously burned it to the ground for its connection with a thwarted slave revolt; and in the civil rights era it became a symbol and headquarters of the movement. Now it was once again in the crosshairs.

The church sits less than a dozen miles from the park where Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was gunned down by a white police officer. The calls of “Black Lives Matter” were still ringing throughout Charleston, when gunshots again cut down black lives.

The victims of this brutal and cowardly attack inside the sanctuary of a house of worship included a South Carolina state senator, a librarian, and a recent college graduate.

The alleged killer, later identified as Dylann Storm Roof of nearby Lexington, fled the scene in his black four-door sedan adorned with an ornamental license plate that read “Confederate States of America” with the image of the Confederate flag. After a 15-hour manhunt, Roof was arrested without incident nearly 250 miles away, during a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina.

Though new details continue to be unearthed, a portrait of 21-year-old Roof as a withdrawn, troubled man with an interest in white supremacy is starting to emerge.

The Daily Beast quoted a classmate from White Knoll High School about his reputation for spouting racism. “Just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs,” said John Mullins. “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.”

“Southern pride” still runs deep in parts of South Carolina. The wounds of slavery and the Civil War are still unhealed, in many ways. Despite many protests, the Confederate flag continues to fly over the state capitol building. In January 2000, at the dawn of the new millennium, 6,000 Confederate flag supporters marched through Columbia, the state capital, according to Leonard Zeskind’s Blood and Politics.

This spring, just 90 miles from the shooting, a statewide Tea Party convention invited a white nationalist leader to speak. The organizers canceled his appearance after the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights exposed his ideology. At that same convention, however, Tea Party officials and potential presidential candidates shared the stage with a Tea Partier who promotes a book that refers to blacks as “pickaninnies,” claims that slaves were treated humanely, and insists that slavery was just as inhumane for the slavemasters.

Beyond the racist jokes and Confederate flags on his car, Roof displayed more of the warning signs of involvement with white nationalism on his Facebook page. His profile photo shows him in the winter woods staring into the camera, clad in a black jacket with two flags affixed above over his chest: an apartheid-era South African flag, and a flag used to represent the unrecognized state of Rhodesia, after the former British colony of South Rhodesia fractured and a white minority attempted to take control of the country. Both patches are worn by white nationalists in the United States to express support for white minority rule.

Roof’s recent arrests also indicate that he may have had additional targets in mind for his killing spree. Last February he attracted attention at the Columbiana Centre, a shopping mall, when he asked store employees “out-of-the-ordinary questions” such as how many people were working and what time they would be leaving, according to a police report. A police officer questioning Roof at the scene discovered that he was illegally in possession of a controlled substance; he was arrested and charged with felony drug possession. In April, Roof was charged with trespassing on the roof of the same mall.

In a sad commentary about the dominance of local gun culture, the same morning that The Charleston Post and Courier ran a front-page story about the shooting with the headline “Church attack kills 9,” some readers found the headline obscured by a sticker advertising “Ladies’ Night” at the ATP Gun Shop & Range in Summerville, South Carolina.

Devin Burghart is vice president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.

 

Tea Party Nativists Seething Over Obama’s Immigration Reform Action

Even before President Obama entered the East Room of the White House to give his speech outlining a series of executive actions on immigration reform, some, though not all, national Tea Party factions were whipping up their followers into a nativist frenzy.

“This is by far the most serious communication I have ever sent,” wrote Steve Eichler, executive director of the 1776 Tea Party (aka TeaParty.org), in an email to supporters.  “Everything is at stake. Illegals will bankrupt our social, economic and financial systems. Terrorists will just blow it all to pieces. They’ll all be in our backyards in a matter of weeks, even days, if we don’t step up and demand action,” he warned.

That type of feverish nativism is no surprise coming from Eichler, who is also the executive director of the anti-immigrant vigilante group, the Minuteman Project. His email went on to predict “open rebellion” and “chaos” if Republicans don’t withhold funding for Obama’s executive order.

Echoing Eichler’s terror hysteria was one of the activists who helped shape the early Tea Party movement. Eric Odom, who now works for the Patriot Action Network, a Tea Party faction, also put forward the notion that executive action on immigration would somehow lead to terrorists destroying America.

What makes it so dangerous is that Obama’s announcement says to all of our enemies that now is the time to invade our nation’s borders. We’re no longer talking about innocent women and children riding trains to our borders then crossing with the hopes of gaining access to our welfare system. We’re talking about ISIS and other evil groups who want to embed individuals here with the plan of doing harm.Essentially, our President just made a proclamation that puts American lives, and the security of our nation, directly at risk. Obama said to the world that if they can get across our borders, we will not send them home. We will not enforce our immigration laws.

Grassfire, parent outfit of the Patriot Action Network, added “With his amnesty announcement in just a few hours, Obama will unilaterally defy the will of the people and Congress –becoming a threat to liberty.”

Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation went even further in denouncing President Obama, arguing that the immigration actions were part of a diabolical plot. In a prebuttal to Obama’s speech, Phillips told Tea Party Nation members, “Today, Barack Obama is going to announce his long-cherished goal of destroying America.”

Phillips, a birther racist and advocate of limiting voting to property owners, isn’t new to nativist extremism. In 2011, his group mourned the falling birth rate of native-born Americans, and warned that “American culture” will soon perish since the “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) population is headed for extinction.”

Eichler, Odom, and Phillips weren’t the only Tea Partiers to adopt an inflammatory pose. Echoing their sentiments was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a favorite among Tea Party nativists, who warned portentously that President Obama’s executive actions and general “lawlessness” on immigration could lead to “ethnic cleansing.”

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) also joined the fray, contending that President Obama’s immigration executive order is “declaring war on the American people and our democracy.”

“This is truly an emergency. There’s not a moment to lose,” wrote Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin to her group’s members last Wednesday. While other Tea Party groups are busy inflaming nativism sentiment, the Tea Party Patriots are crafting a plan to scuttle any immigration reforms.

Having already primed their members with the October release of the gruesome anti-immigrant video, The Border States of America, Tea Party Patriots are focused now on organizing opposition.

As a first step, they plan to “melt the phones to stop amnesty” by having their members contact Congress en masse to register opposition. The next step is to flood congressional offices with protesters. According to Martin, the group “must deploy our thousands of local affiliates to congressional offices all across the country, demanding that they cut off all funding from this order immediately.” But the Tea Party Patriots do not have the “thousands of local affiliates” as Martin claims; instead they have around 300 remaining active local groups.

They plan to deploy those remaining local groups, however, to pressure the new Congress to defund anything relating to immigration reform. Kevin Broughton, a spokesperson for Tea Party Patriots, noted, “We expect [the new GOP majority] to use the power of the purse to defund amnesty, especially those—and there were many—who ran against it.”

The group is also canvassing its membership base to gauge possible attendance for a noon rally on December 3 in Washington D.C. called by the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, retiring congresswoman Michele Bachmann. The decision to possibly join Rep. Bachmann’s rally came after she declared on Wednesday that executive action on immigration will lead to a flood of “illiterate” voters.

Previous Tea Party Patriots anti-immigration rallies in Washington D.C., such as the muddled Immigration/IRS rally on June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill have not been well attended, so larger attendance at a December rally would be an indicator of some success for efforts to promote nativism without one of the largest Tea Party factions.

Not all national Tea Party factions are in agreement with the Tea Party Patriots’ plan. Obama’s move on immigration has uncovered a growing fissure within the Tea Party movement over the centrality of nativism. Curiously, while Tea Party Patriots, Patriot Action Network, and the 1776 Tea Party were rushing to sound more and more xenophobic  (and fundraising off the issue), some Tea Party factions tried to dance around the immigration issue, while others stayed conspicuously silent.

Indeed, although many members of the FreedomWorks social network were outraged by the president’s announcement last week, the organization’s leadership chose to duck the issue. FreedomWorks completely sidestepped the topic of immigration, choosing instead to concentrate the organization’s message on tried-and-true Obama bashing.  In a pre-speech press release, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe took a page from the GOP establishment playbook, sticking to the line about the president being an “emperor” and railing against the “expansion of executive power.”

Said Kibbe, “The president’s announcements tonight have nothing to do with immigration. This fight has to do with whether or not we are a country with laws and a separation of powers designed to protect the will of the American people from the arbitrary actions of Washington insiders.”

As other Tea Party groups have dug in for a massive fight around immigration, FreedomWorks appears fixated on getting Congress to let the Export-Import Bank expire. In fact, many in the Tea Party movement have been suspicious of FreedomWorks because of their unwillingness to wholeheartedly embrace nativism.

Unlike all the other factions, Tea Party Express hasn’t uttered a peep about the issue. That could be because the group is hoping not to call attention to the pro-immigration reform stance that Sal Russo, a Tea Party Express co-founder, expressed in an article for Roll Call last spring.

Russo’s commentary, titled “Conservatives Need to Fix the Broken U.S. Immigration System,” called for an approach remarkably similar to that proposed by the president. “We need to make the 11 million people who are here illegally obey the law, pay taxes and come out of the shadows. We have to get them right by the law in exchange for legal status, but not unbridled amnesty,” he wrote.

In the past, these disagreements have caused strains between various organizations in the network that comprises the Tea Party movement. Obama’s executive order is the first major test of these policy differences in years, and Tea Party organizations may well be held to account for their positions.

Expect the caution initially evident among Republican leadership to vanish if the Tea Party successfully mobilizes anti-immigrant sentiment. Given the vitriolic nativist tone already circulating in Tea Party circles, and the fusion of nativism with hatred of the first African-American president, the coming mobilization could make the ugly rancor and racism that erupted during the passage of Obamacare look polite. At the same time, if supporters of human rights stand strong for immigration reform and actively combat nativism, it could protect immigration reform gains for the long term and even split the Tea Party.

For more on the origins of Tea Party nativism, see the 2012 IREHR special report, Beyond FAIR: The Decline of the Anti-Immigrant Establishment and the Rise of Tea Party Nativism.

Screenshot: C-SPAN (via IREHR)

How Ugly Racial Ideology Mars CPAC — Year After Year After Year

Efforts at “rebranding” the American right have plunged into still another highly embarrassing pothole at the most anticipated conservative event of the year. Almost as soon as the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicked off just outside Washington, D.C., the event became mired in a controversy over white nationalism.

ProEnglish, the white nationalist-led English-only outfit that created serious headaches for the conference back in 2012, has been quietly allowed to return as an official exhibitor at CPAC 2014, which opened on Thursday.

According to the CPAC 2014 website, the ProEnglish booth is number 538, sandwiched between the booth for a movie about the IRS “scandal” and one occupied by Tradition, Family, Property, a right-wing Catholic organization.

The site lists the ProEnglish contact for CPAC as Robert Vandervoort.

Prior to becoming executive director of ProEnglish, Vandervoort was the organizer of the white nationalist group Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance, while he lived in Illinois. During that period Vandervoort was at the center of much of the white nationalist activity in the region.

While Vandervoort was in charge, Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance often held joint meetings with the local chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens. He also made appearances at white nationalist events outside Illinois, for instance participating in the 2009 Preserving Western Civilization Conference.

Vandervoort was hired by the Tanton-founded English-Only group ProEnglish during the autumn of 2011, after the organization lost three other executive directors in less than a year. Shortly after Vandervoort took the job, ProEnglish hired Phil Tignino as the group’s webmaster and social media coordinator. Tignino was the former head of the Washington State University chapter of the white nationalist college group Youth for Western Civilization.

The Vandervoort problem shouldn’t be new to CPAC staff. After the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights raised concerns over Vandervoort’s white nationalist attachments during CPAC 2012, a significant discussion ensued. The Kansas City Star, the Wichita Eagle and Mother Jones were among the publications to take note of these events. American Spectator, a decidedly conservative periodical, weighed in with the comment that “if Vandervoort indeed organized events for an American Renaissance affiliate … he should explicitly and publicly renounce his old associates; that is a crowd that no one should touch with a 10-foot pole.”

Instead of taking that advice, Vandervoort tried to bamboozle the public by claiming, “I have never been a member of any group that has advocated hate or violence.” No one has accused Vandervoort of advocating violence. But the record clearly shows that he not only acted on behalf of American Renaissance, but that he shared its white nationalist views. Which, as American Spectator aptly noted, should not be touched with a 10-foot pole by CPAC, or anyone else.

White nationalism has become a recurring problem for CPAC. On the eve of last year’s conference, the group responsible for organizing CPAC chose to feature the work of a controversial white nationalist professor on its website. The American Conservative Union (ACU) website featured an article by Dr. Robert Weissberg, a retired University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign political science professor with a second career as a white nationalist. Like Vandervoort, Weissberg has been active with the white nationalist group American Renaissance. Inside the hall last year, CPAC’s problem with white nationalism flared at a Tea Party Patriots workshop entitled, “Trump the Race Card.” White nationalists turned the workshop into a pro-segregation apologia for slavery. There was a speaker who had previously advocated the execution of gays and lesbians. There were birther bigots and Islamophobes.

In 2012, white nationalists had officially broken down the gates to CPAC. That year, the conference featured Vandervoort on stage — twice. He was on a panel with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and he also moderated a panel entitled “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Weakening the American Identity.” The other speakers on that panel included Peter Brimelow, editor of the white nationalist website VDARE; Serge Trifkovic, an Islamophobic Serbian expatriate who before becoming the foreign affairs editor at the paleo-conservative magazine Chronicles was a spokesman for the convicted war criminal Biljana Plavsic; ProEnglish board chair Rosalie Porter; and John Derbyshire, once a contributing editor at National Review (until his racism got him fired), who now works with Brimelow at VDARE.

The organizers of CPAC don’t seem to have trouble changing their minds regarding to whom they sell exhibit space. On February 25, after an uproar, CPAC organizers reversed their decision and decided to not allow American Atheists to have an exhibition booth at this year’s event. Will CPAC do the same for a group run by a white nationalist?

Devin Burghart is vice president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. He will be live-tweeting throughout CPAC 2014. You can follow him on Twitter @dburghart

 

IRS Hearings: House Committee Ignores Tea Party’s Non-Exempt Political Shenanigans

When a gaggle of local Tea Party leaders came before the House Ways and Means Committee, complaining that their organizations had been unfairly and unconstitutionally “targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for their personal beliefs,” the reception by the Republicans who control the committee was predictably credulous. Once more the June 4 hearings provided Tea Party groups an opportunity to play the victim and listen to politicians praise their courage and patriotism.

But a closer examination of these particular Tea Party outfits by the  Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights found copious evidence of political activity that might well have disqualified their requests for 501(c)(4) non-profit status – notably the San Fernando Valley Patriots, the Wetumpka Tea Party, and the Laurens County Tea Party.

In weepy tones, Karen Kenney, the founder of the San Fernando Valley Patriots (SFVP), told the committee of her concern “about the jackboot of tyranny upon the field of our Founding documents. To whisper the letters I-R-S strikes a shrill note on Main St., USA, but when this behemoth tramples upon America’s grassroots, few hear the snapping sounds.”

Kenney’s emotional testimony was long on the language of patriotism, but short on the facts of the case. Her testimony, like the entire hearing, ignored the dubious political conduct engaged in by her group, which appeared to have trampled all over IRS non-profit regulations.

Consider the group’s Meetup site, run by Kenney, which bluntly states: “Our aim is to promote — by political action or events — the core Constitutional and conservative values that built America [emphasis added].”

Indeed, Kenney and the San Fernando Valley Patriots actively engaged in partisan political campaigning. This year, they organized rallies for the only Republican in the Los Angeles mayoral race.  Listed as the organizer and event host, Kenney wrote, “We have a total of 15 campaign or city issues posters, plus some U.S. flags to draw attention to Kevin James’ campaign for Mayor of Los Angeles. Our silent ‘rally’ with smiling patriots is a fun way to get boots on the ground for a true fiscal-conservative and our friend, Kevin.”

The San Fernando group also appears to have openly endorsed other candidates. Its website published a list of endorsed candidates and ballot measures for the Los Angeles County election. The post clearly states that the list names the candidates that “we are recommending.” In another post, the group tried to pass the endorsement list off as a “Voter Guide,” but it only contains a list of candidates the group had approved. On another page, Kenney posts her own “SFVP Selected Personal Choices (Karen Kenney, coordinator, SFV Patriots)” for the election, listing the candidates she endorsed for mayor, city attorney, and board of trustees.

Still another SFVP webpage features a declaration by Lydia Gutierrez: “I have looked over the list of candidates and I am making the following recommendations. Seat 2: John C. Burke. Seat 4: Jozef Essavi. Seat 6: Tom Oliver.  After you have marked these three candidates on your ballot, please forward these recommendations email with 10 voters you know who care about our young people’s future.”

Nor did the SFVP neglect national and statewide political contests. In October, 2012, the group organized a get-out-the-vote flash mob in front of the local headquarters for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and GOP state senate candidate Todd Zink. The group also hosted a brainstorming session in October, 2011 “on local and state politics with a GOP insider!”

SFVP is an affiliate of the national faction known as the Tea Party Patriots, an outfit with its own history of questionable political involvement.

Such activities clearly represent the “indications of significant political campaign intervention” highlighted by the May 14 report of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration  – namely, indications that would tend to disqualify a group from obtaining IRS non-profit status. Yet none of these activities were discussed during the hearing supposedly investigating the tax-exemption controversy.

Becky Gerritson of the Alabama-based Wetumpka Tea Party did her best to heighten the melodrama of the hearings. Gerritson emphasized her Tea Party entitlement, making a federal tax exemption sound like a birthright for her and her group. “I am not here today as a serf or a vassal. I am not begging my lords for mercy,” she told the committee. “I am a born-free American woman – wife, mother and citizen – and I’m telling my government that you have forgotten your place.”

But the Wetumpka Tea Party’s political activism was well-documented prior to the hearing, notably in a New York Times article by Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo.  Confessore and Luo reported that the Wetumpka Tea Party “organized a day of training for its members and other Tea Party activists across the region in the run-up to the 2012 election. The training was held under the auspices of the Adopt-a-State program, a nationwide effort that encouraged Tea Party groups in safely red or blue states to support Tea Party groups in battleground states working to get out the vote for Republicans.” Yet nobody on the House committee asked  Gerritson about the political activities of her group.

Dianne Belsom, president of the South Carolina-based Laurens County Tea Party, testified about some of the questions posed to her group by the IRS concerning their request for tax exempt status. Of the nine questions she mentioned, all indicated that the agency’s officials were trying to determine how deeply her group had engaged in significant political interventions. She was asked to describe “how much time/resources are devoted to vetting candidates,” and to specify “amounts expended in support of any candidate for federal, state, or local public office.” Other supposedly “invasive” items requested by the IRS included asking for the group’s articles of incorporation.

Even a cursory examination of the Laurens County group’s website shows plenty of reason for the IRS to have become concerned.  The website notes proudly that in July, 2012, Belsom “spoke and outlined our strategy for the remainder of the year, with a large focus on how to defeat Obamacare and get the more conservative candidates elected. At a September, 2012, meeting the Tea Party group also voted on candidate endorsements.

In December, 2011, Belsom told The State newspaper that the Tea Party was working politically against President Obama, and that, despite disagreements over candidates, “There’s agreement that we need to replace Obama and get our country going back in the right direction.” The Laurens County Tea Party also served as a co-sponsor, with the Tea Party Express and CNN, of a September, 2011 Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida.

Aside from the Tea Party groups, representatives of several other conservative organizations testified about problems regarding the status of their tax-exemption applications, though none of those groups were apparently part of the keyword targeting by the IRS. John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposing marriage equality for gays and lesbians, testified about an alleged IRS leak of their donor list.  Sue Martinek of the Coalition for Life of Iowa testified about questions the organization had to answer regarding its application for 501(c)(3) status back in 2008. (The Inspector General’s report did not examine 501(c)(3) applications, however, only those for would-be 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations.)

Kevin Kookogey, founder and president of Linchpins of Liberty, which applied for 501(c)(3) status and conducts conservative training for young people, testified that his group had been waiting 29 months to gain non-profit status. He failed to mention that despite this two-year-plus period, his group’s board of directors still had not been fully constituted and remains “under construction.” Having a fully constituted board of directors is an important requirement for any prospective non-profit organization, as the board is legally and financially responsible for the conduct of the organization.

In the end, the Republican leadership demonstrated no interest in ascertaining the actual facts of Tea Party involvement in prohibited political activity. Instead, Republican committee members simply used the Tea Party witnesses as props to score political points against the Obama administration.

While apologizing to the witnesses and calling the IRS handling of the matter “inept,” “stupid” and “a whole lot of other things,” Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) nevertheless insisted on raising the central issue. “I’d like to remind everyone what we’re talking about here. None of your organizations were kept from organizing or silenced. We’re talking about whether or not the American taxpayers will subsidize your work. We’re talking about a tax break. If you didn’t come in and ask for this tax break, you would’ve never had a question asked of you. You can go out there and say anything you want in the world.”

Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI) noted early in the hearing that while 298 organizations were set aside for review, only 96, or a third, contained “Tea Party,” “9/12,” or “Patriot” in their names, while 202 did not. In fact, according to the draft report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, none of the 296 questionable applicants had been denied a tax exemption by the IRS The unaddressed scandal is that the IRS let so many of these groups get away with what appear to be severe violations of the law. Toward the hearing’s conclusion, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) indicated that the IRS’ flagging of groups by name had been wrong but noted, “No one has a God-given right to a tax-exempt status.” Tell that to the Tea Party.

Devin Burghart is vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (www.irehr.org) and co-author of Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Size, Scope and Focus of the Tea Party Movement and Its National Factions.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Tea Party Group Protesting IRS Has History of Questionable Political Involvement

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Tea Party Patriots, originally formed as a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation in 2009, has a history of questionable electoral activity.  Nevertheless, as one of the largest of the movement’s national factions, it is taking advantage of the so-called IRS scandal to re-ignite the anger of Tea Partiers, encourage their (false) sense of victimhood, and increase their ranks.

Dubbed “Rein in the IRS,” nationwide rallies were organized to protest IRS scrutiny of Tea Party non-profit applications. The announcement, posted on the group’s website Monday, called for “anyone and everyone to protest the IRS’ complete abuse of power” at noon local time on Tuesday. Dozens of local Tea Party Patriots chapters around the country emailed their members about the protests.

The Tea Partiers claim that “the IRS has waged a three-year war against the Tea Party, harassing our groups and even auditing our individual members. This abuse of power is unacceptable and un-Constitutional, and it must stop.” No mention was made of the Inspector General’s findings that that not a single Tea Party group has been denied 501(c)(4) non-profit status, and that more than two thirds of the scrutinized Tea Party-like groups had engaged in political activity that would usually disqualify them.

The effort is also being used to fuse anger over several different political issues, from the Affordable Care Act to immigrants. For instance, in sample Letters to the Editor they distributed, the group links the IRS controversy with their attack on comprehensive immigration reform. “The IRS’s abuse of power highlights why the Senate needs to slow down with its amnesty bill. We simply cannot trust bureaucrats to make the right decisions. Immigration policy is too complex and too important for us to delegate to a group of bureaucrats who may be pursuing an agenda that doesn’t match Americans’ best interest.”

It should be noted that until late Monday, the Tea Party Patriots were using the official group website listed on their IRS form 990, and the resources of their 501(c)(4), plus their network of local groups—many of which have filed for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) status)—to organize the protests against the IRS. Suddenly Monday evening, after a day of soliciting volunteers to organize anti-IRS protests, all traffic to the group’s domain name teapartypatriots.org was directed to the group’s political action committee, The Tea Party Patriots Citizen Fund (http://teapartypatriotscitizensfund.com), which features a “protest the IRS” page alongside a photo of Tea Party Patriots co-founder, Jenny Beth Martin.

The new PAC was formed in January 2013. Despite the current enmeshing of the 501(c)(4) and the PAC on the IRS protests, forms filed with the Federal Elections Commission curiously state that the PAC has no connected organization.

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The sudden crossover to the group’s political action committee may be at least a tacit omission of questionable activity for a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization. It also begs the question as to why any Tea Party groups so focused on politics would want to be a non-profit rather than a PAC.

Such concern about crossing the line and engaging in political activity was absent from the Tea Party Patriots, Inc. a year ago when the group threw its support behind Wisconsin governor Scott Walker in his recall election.

As IREHR noted last year, Tea Party Patriots, Inc., which registered with the IRS as a 501(C)(4) non-profit organization, may have run afoul of its tax exempt status with this electoral activity.  Federally registered non-profit organizations with a 501c4 status are prohibited from devoting a majority of their energy and resources to support electoral campaigns.

On April 29, 2012, local Tea Party Patriots groups across the country voted 98 percent to 2 percent to throw all their energy and resources into Wisconsin for the recall elections. “We are deploying hundreds of volunteers into each of the targeted recall districts,” noted Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin in an email to supporters. “That’s 4,000 patriots going door to door and making phone calls” she added.

Tea Party Patriots brought activists to Wisconsin and did door-to-door canvassing, and had others make calls from their homes and spread the word on social media. Some of those activists were sponsored, with their costs covered by Tea Party Patriots.

At times, Martin and other Tea Party Patriots leaders have tried to suggest that the group was just engaged in GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts or some form of civic engagement, other times they’ve told their supporters that they’re directly intervening politically: “Tea Party Patriots—in conjunction with other local and national Tea Party groups—will spearhead efforts to help Walker and other candidates.”

There is also a question as to whether the funds of the group are going to “social welfare” as required. In 2010, the organization raised $12 million in fiscal 2010. But only about $3 million of that went to its “social welfare” mission, according to an IRS 990 form filed in May 2012. For fiscal year ending May 31, 2012, Tea Party Patriots raised over $20 million, but spent just $5.9 million on program service. Millions of dollars went to pay professional telemarketing firms, extensive travel costs, and legal fees from suing other Tea Party groups over control of the “Tea Party” brand.

Tea Party Patriots leader Martin has had her fair share of troubles with the IRS before. As noted in Tea Party Nationalism, according to court documents, Martin and her husband, Lee Martin (who served at the group’s “assistant secretary” and was intimately involved in the group’s financial matters), owed over $680,000 in tax debt, including over half a million dollars to the Internal Revenue Service, when the pair filed for bankruptcy in August of 2008.

Whether or not Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest national factions, can turn this scandal into a chance to regain lost ground will, in some measure, depend on the reception their protests receive by an informed public.

This is adapted from a special report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. To request a printed version of the report, complete with exhibits, please email the Institute at info@irehr.org.

The Tea Party, The IRS ‘Scandal’ — And The Actual Facts Of The Case

While it is well known that the so-called IRS scandal has been used by Tea Partiers to bash the IRS, less well known are the actual facts of the case.

Specifically, while the IRS delayed confirming the tax-exempt status of some groups, and some also faced additional scrutiny, not a single Tea Party organization was denied tax-exempt status.

A May 14 draft report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that none of the 296 questionable applicants had been denied: “For the 296 potential political cases we reviewed, as of December 17, 2012, 108 applications had been approved, 28 were withdrawn by the applicant, none had been denied, and 160 cases were open from 206 to 1,138 calendar days (some crossing two election cycles).”

In fact, the only known 501(c)(4) applicant whose request for tax-exempt status was recently denied happens to be a progressive group: the Maine chapter of Emerge America, which trains Democratic women to run for office. Although the group did no electoral work, and didn’t participate in independent expenditure campaign activity either, its partisan nature disqualified it from being categorized as working for the “common good.”

The Inspector General’s report found that in the “majority of cases, we agreed that the applications submitted included indications of significant political campaign intervention.” In fact, only 91 of the 296, or roughly 31 percent of the applications reviewed for the report, did not have “indications of significant political campaign intervention.” In other words, more than two-thirds of groups flagged for processing by a team of specialists had those indications.

That sort of political campaign intervention would normally disqualify a group from 501(c)(4) status, but the deluge of Tea Party applications combined with the politicization of the process has allowed them to slip through. A closer look at the activities of some of the Tea Party groups that are currently under review or have received non-profit status from the IRS reveals a difficult and potentially dangerous situation.

The First Coast Tea Party Inc. of Jacksonville, Florida, for example, which applied for 501(c)(4) status in 2009 — and received it in 2011. Commenting about the recent IRS controversy on Facebook, the group declared “We file a tax return, account for every penny. We do not endorse candidates, that is a no no.” Yet the First Coast group has boasted about directly helping Republican campaigns. In an August 30, 2012 Facebook post, for instance, the group advertised a Jacksonville rally for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, adding, “bring your chairs and your signs, make sure they know that the First Coast Tea Party is and has been helping their campaign.”

Three weeks later, the same group declared a “state of emergency” on Facebook, pleading with supporters to campaign for Romney: “FLORIDA FRIENDS, IF YOU LIVE IN ANY OF THESE 3 COUNTIES GET OFF THE COUCH NOW, GET YOUR FRIENDS OFF THE COUCH. GET TO THE REPUBLICAN HEADQUARTERS AND OFFER AND THEN DO SOME WORK. PHONES, (YOU CAN EVEN DO THESE CALLS FROM HOME) AND WALK AND KNOCK. NOW. WE CANNOT LOSE FLORIDA TO OBAMA.. NOW. THIS IS MOST CRITICAL [emphasis in original].” These weren’t posts from some random supporter on the group’s Facebook page; they were posts from the official account of the organization.

Similarly, the IRS granted 501 (c)(4) tax-exempt status to the Louisville Tea Party in 2009.  The same group published a list of “officially tea party endorsed candidates for the 2011 Kentucky primary.” They also published an article headined “The Rationale for Romney-Ryan,” arguing that Tea Partiers should vote for the Republican candidate.

Then there is the Katy Tea Party Patriots, which filed for 501(c)(4) status in 2009. This group actually ran an “Oust Obama 2012” campaign, organizing block-watching with the Fort Bend GOP and phone-banking against Obama at GOP headquarters in Sugarland and Houston, Texas. Still featured on the front page of the group’s website is an October 4, 2012 article titled “Our Country’s Future,” by Katy Tea Party Patriots president Darcy Kahrhoff, who urged members to vote for Romney. “Please take time to talk with friends and family you may have living out of state, and try to convince them to vote for Governor Romney, especially if you have friends and family in Florida, Colorado, or Ohio. Also, find a Senatorial candidate to support in these states, and go to FreedomWorks to phone bank for these patriots.  Everything you can do to help will matter.  We can, and we must, win this!

Not to be outdone was the Central Valley Tea Party Inc., a regional California Tea Party group that won the much more politically restrictive IRS 501(c)(3) tax status in 2009.  It should be noted that 501 (c)(3) status explicitly prohibits any partisan political activity.  “Under the Internal Revenue Code,” as the IRS explains, “all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns including campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

Despite its 501 (c)(3) designation, the Central Valley Tea Party group appears to have been involved in partisan political activity. Currently, the front page of the group’s website features “upcoming events” instructing members to “Volunteer for Measure G,” and “Volunteer for Vidak for Senate.” In the latter case, the website simply instructs members: “Please volunteer to do phone banking or precinct walking to help win the election.”

Further stretching IRS regulations, the same group’s newsletter endorsed and advertised conservative candidates. In an article in the October, 2012 issue of the Central Valley Tea Party Times — headlined “Why You Should Be Excited to Vote for Mitt Romney” — Paul Szopa told fellow Tea Partiers to get out and campaign for the Republican presidential candidate. “So it’s time to get excited to vote for the better candidate. It’s time to talk him up to friends and family. It’s time to join with groups like Operation Swing State (www.operationswingstate.org) and make calls in support of his candidacy.” Published on the front page of the newsletter was a “Voter Guide” that seemed even less ambiguous, listing all the candidates that the group recommended as well as their positions on all of the ballot measures.

The newsletter also featured advertisements for conservative candidates. The April-June, 2012 edition of the Central Valley Tea Party Times carried an ad for Whelan for Congress on page 27, another for Frank Bigelow for the 5th District California Assembly seat on page 38, and an ad “Elect Richard J. (Rick) Farinelli, Madera County Supervisor District III” on page 39.  The newsletter’s August-September, 2010 edition featured an ad for Diane Lenning, a write-in candidate for California Superintendent of Public Instruction; so did the October-November, 2010 edition.

Another Tea Party group granted the 501(c)(3) non-profit status by the IRS, is the Tifton, Georgia-based Tiftarea Tea Party Patriots, Inc., which received the designation in 2010. This group too appears to have engaged in openly political activity, including publicly endorsing candidates. On October 9, 2012, in a post on its website — “Are you ready to vote?” — the Tiftarea group strongly endorsed Romney: “The choice is simple. Obama has stated, He will transform America and acted to do such. Everything this Administration stands for, is Government and control of every aspect of life.  This is the pipe dream of a Socialist’s mentality, for in their eyes, you the individual, do not know and cannot do, what is right, so someone else has to make decisions for you, to ensure, you do not make the wrong choices or actions. Or you chose Romney, who does not want to transform America, the greatest nation in history of human kind.  He wants to allow, the individual, to have the right, to succeed and fail on his own regard, while ensuring those freedoms, given by our Creator and to assure those inalienable rights, written about in the Declaration of Independence are retained by their proper owners, ‘We the People.’”

These are but a few of the many examples of political intervention by Tea Party non-profits catalogued by IREHR. There are many, many more and they’re not difficult to find. Rather than the so-called IRS scandal cooked up by Tea Party groups and their partisan supporters, the real criticism of the IRS may be that it has permitted so many of these groups to obtain tax-exempt status despite apparently egregious violations.

After the firing of several high-level IRS employees over this incident, how likely is it that Tea Party groups will be sanctioned for these kinds of violations in the future?

This is adapted from a special report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. To request a printed version of the report, complete with exhibits, please email the Institute at info@irehr.org.