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Chip Berlet

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The Tea Party Movement

A Resurgence of Right-Wing Populism

Since the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States there has been a resurgence of the mostly white middle class populist movements that have appeared sporadically in the last two decades in the U.S. and Europe. The largest such movement, the Tea Parties, are primarily a collection of small activist groups basing their name on a famous pre-revolution colonial period protest that included dumping cases of tea into Boston harbor to protest the tax policies of the British government.

In 2009, the Tea Partiers and Town Hall protestors, spawned as astroturf, morphed into a constellation of actual grassroots right-wing populist movements.

It helps to recognize that much of what steams the tea bag contingent is legitimate. They see their jobs vanish in front of their eyes as Wall Street gets trillions. They see their wages stagnate. They worry that their children will be even less well off than they are. They sense that Washington doesn’t really care about them. On top of that, many are distraught about seeing their sons and daughters coming home in wheelchairs or body bags.

With no one appearing to champion their cause, they line up with the anti-Obama crowd, and they stir in some of their social worries about gay marriage and abortion, dark-skinned immigrants, and a black man in the White House.

Adapted from "Taking Tea Partiers Seriously".
Cover story in February 2010 Progressive magazine by Chip Berlet.

Reading the Tea Leaves:

How Did the Tea Party Movement Emerge?

According to author and veteran anti-racist activist Leonard Zeskind:

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. (Read More)

Leonard Zeskind is the director of the
Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights

Tea Parties, Right-Wing Populism, & Scapegoating:

Tea Parties, Town Hall Protests, Glenn Beck posing as the Rev. Martin Luther
King, Jr.? What's going on here?

Robert Reich explains:

Make no mistake: Angry right-wing populism lurks just below the surface of the terrible American economy, ready to be launched not only at Obama but also at liberals, intellectuals, gays, blacks, Jews, the mainstream media, coastal elites, crypto-socialists, and any other potential target of paranoid opportunity.

White Nationalism, Economic Fears, & Gender Anxiety:

Progressives need to understand the complex dynamics on the Political Right, from Palin Republicans, to Tea Parties and other right-wing populists, to armed citizens militias, to ultra-rightists and neonazis. It is up to progressive forces to engage in counter-recruitment that recognizes the real anger and fear of many middle-class and working-class White people, but redirects it toward constructive societal outcomes. This is not about attempting to recruit active leaders and activists already firmly involved in the Tea Party movement, but about challenging the Tea Partiers for the allegiance of millions of Americans angry at the status quo and justifiably fearful about their future.


Chip Berlet's Blogger Series on the Tea Party Movement & Right-Wing Populism

Video & Audio Resources

From Political Research Associates (PRA)

Election 2010 Editorial from PRA

Election 2010 Analysis from PRA

Take Action: Handouts





Democracy is a process,
not a specific set of institutions

Democracy is a process that assumes
the majority of people, over time,
given enough accurate information,
the ability to participate
in a free and open public debate,
and can vote without intimidation,
reach constructive decisions
that benefit the whole of society, and
preserve liberty,
protect our freedoms,
extend equality, and
defend democracy.

-Chip Berlet





This site is curated by Chip Berlet