Tea Baggers, Ku Kluxers, and Red Shirts

The Tea Baggers keep on whooping and hollering.

They’re not fooling anybody. They’re scared stiff.

Away from the TV cameras and the “liberal media” newshounds, they’re licking their wounds from the health care reform fight. But it was only the latest battle angry white folks have lost in the country’s current culture war, the one that started more than 40 years ago.

The Tea Baggers remind this union-card-carrying Hubert Humphrey Democrat of the “white backlash” voters of the 1960s — more on that in a minute.

“A lot of us have been saying for a long time that much of this is not about health care at all,” the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein quoted Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., after Tea Baggers yelled racial and homophobic epithets at a pair of Democratic congressman and spat on another one.

The three lawmakers were on the way to the Capitol to vote for the health care bill everybody knew was going to pass. The bigoted barbs and the great expectorations were parting shots from an enemy resigned to defeat, yet determined to go down Götterdämmerung style.

Indeed, the Tea Baggers are steamed over more than what they continue to trash as “Obamacare.” Most of all they fear – and hate — what the president represents: a new America that’s not their, well, cup of tea.

The Tea Bagger movement’s spiritual forebears – the White Citizens’ Councils and the George-Wallace-for-president-in-‘68 crowd come to mind – went apoplectic when Congress passed historic civil rights bills in the 1960s.

These same white people who ranted against “race mixing” were no more welcoming to women’s rights and gay rights, which came later. Both were boosted by more government action on the equality front.

But it was Barack Obama’s election that tore it for the Tea Baggers.

Oh, the uber-right-wingers detested Bill Clinton, too. Even so, not nearly as many of them hit the streets screaming on his watch. He was, after all, a white guy (but one some Tea Bagger yahoos doubtless would call a “n—-r lover”).

It must kill Tea Bagger souls that so many other white people voted for Obama. He couldn’t have gotten elected otherwise.

So Tea Party rallies are also group hug sessions. They’re therapeutic and cathartic. They are the best of times and the worst of times for those who want to “Impeach the Muslim Marxist,” according to their protest signs.

Rallygoers get to congratulate each other for casting ballots against a man who, other Tea Bagger signs say, is a fan of “WHITE SLAVERY.”

At the same time, they get to commiserate collectively – oh, misery does love company – over us, the “MORANS” who elected Obama “Lier in Chief,” according to other Tea Bagger signs apparently produced in dictionary-free zones.

So the Tea Baggers soldier on, still bragging that Obama will be a one-termer. Down deep inside, they fear he’ll be a two-termer.

Passage of health care reform was an especially hard knock. The Tea Baggers and their Republican puppeteers really thought they had killed the bill.

Then came the resurrection, dashed hopes, and “the bullying, threats, and acts of violence,” Charles M. Blow wrote in the New York Times. “But they’re only the most recent manifestations of an increasing sense of desperation,” he added.

Blow said the Tea Bagger tantrums outside the Capitol are “an extension of a now-familiar theme: some version of ‘take our country back.’ The problem is that the country romanticized by the far right hasn’t existed for some time, and its ability to deny that fact grows more dim every day. President Obama and what he represents has jolted extremists into the present and forced them to confront the future. And it scares them.”

Blow said “even the optics must be irritating” to the Tea Baggers. After all, “a woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bill’s most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. It’s enough to make a good old boy go crazy.”

Crazy they went. As the pro-health-care reform lawmakers neared the Capitol, they had to run a Tea Bagger gauntlet.

Some of the Tea Baggers called Georgia Rep. John Lewis a “n—-r.” Tea Baggers spat upon Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri , who is also African American. “Faggot!” they yelled at Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, who is gay.

“It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis, and Cleaver – none of them major Democratic players in the health care push – received a major share of…abuse,” Frank Rich wrote in the Times. “When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan ‘Take our country back!,’ these are the people they want to take the country back from.”

Rich echoed Clyburn on what’s really blowing Tea Bagger gaskets: “The health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.”

Other “existential reordering” has roiled the republic. Health care reform is to the Tea Baggers what evolution was to folks like them in the 1920s: a powerful symbol of another lost battle in another culture war.

White Protestant fundamentalist Christians led the crusade against “evil-lution,” which culminated in the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925.

Christians of the same Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can’t-stand-you persuasion are a big part of the Tea Party movement.

No group in the 1920s was more anti-evolution than a resurgent Ku Klux Klan. African Americans still topped the Klan’s hate list. But the revived Klan was against everything it saw as making America less of a white man’s country.

Klansmen didn’t just rail against “uppity” blacks, whom they addressed in the same fashion as the Tea Baggers addressed Reps. Lewis and Cleaver. Ku Kluxers also zeroed in on Jews, Catholics, immigrants, “wets,” “flappers,” “modern” women, Freudians, labor unions and, of course, ”socialists” — all in the name of the Prince of Peace and “100 Percent Americanism.”

But “Jelperman,” a Daily Kos blogger, thinks pistol-packing Tea Bagger patriots are more like the Red Shirts, the 19th century Klan’s white supremacist sidekicks in terrorism.

Klan members disguise themselves under robes that look like bed sheets and pointy hoods that look, appropriately, like dunce caps. But the Red Shirts “made no attempt to hide their identities behind hoods or masks,” according to “Jelperman.” “They were open about who they were and what they were doing and were proud of themselves.”

“Jelperman” added that “watching Glenn Beck and the other mountebanks who incite and egg on the cowardly racist thugs known as the Teabaggers is like watching a ‘re-imagining’ of” the Red Shirts, whom he described as “another group of charlatans who fomented a similar mob of cowardly racist thugs back in the late 1800s.”

Like the Klan, the Red Shirts were active in Clyburn’s home state, where he led civil rights demonstrations, according to Stein. Clyburn, who is African American, said the racial epithets that flew from Tea Baggers’ maws stunned him.

“I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus,” Stein also quoted him.

If it were up to the likes of the slur-and-spit Tea Baggers, Clyburn would still be at the back of the bus. But the Tea Baggers know he’s not going back.

And they fret that sooner or later, they’ll end up on the trash heap of history alongside the Ku Kluxers, the Red Shirts, the White Citizens’ Councils, Wallace’s American Independent Party, and the other losers in our various culture wars.

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on April 5, 2010
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.

Comments

  1. Linda Collins says:

    Another obot posting all opinion and no facts to back it up. Where is the tape of the so called “N” word being said?

  2. I have yet to see a video of all of this happening as described. In fact there is a 100,000 reward for anyone that can furnish a video showing & hearing that. Also, man are you really a nasty little liberal or progressive calling the Tea Party People White KKK’s you are so wrong. Talk about exploiting made up lies & spreading rumors you can pass go & not collect 200 because no one has 200 & just go to the top of the list of lies. Just like that Fuller, I think that is his last name, that said her heard N words over & over & other things that is just a bald face lie. I am sure neither he nor you are religious but do you not have any self respect for yourself? Without corporations, small businesses, the middle class is never going to get any more jobs & we are going to be stuck with this tax for health care & now they are thinking about adding a National tax to that, now this is not the Fair Tax, that we are going to have to pay. Small business cannot afford to hire because of the extra taxes & the health care bill & all corporations that are going to be charged more taxes are going to have to be passed down to the middle class to pay. I heard 585 corporations have moved to Ireland to try & survive. Yeah, Obama, the indoctrination of those young children in Asheville, North Carolina is on video, are they doing that to your children too?

  3. Lawrence Baker says:

    Supreme Court – Multinational Corporations do “Victory” Dance.

    The Robert’s U.S. Supreme Court decision changing the interpretation of the Bill of Rights from meaning “We the people” to mean “We the multinational corporations” on January 19, 2010 will live as a day of infamy in the history of our (what was our) Constitution. In one day, the Supreme Court has set themselves up as the “Fathers of a New U.S Constitution” and moved Americans from a “Representative Democracy” of individuals to a “Corporate Plutocracy” representing the rich and powerful.

    Congress is in the bag, of course, and will not move to overrule Robert’s Supreme Court. The time for Justice and action passed by when impeaching Bush for War Crimes and nullifying his appointed (planted) neoconservative Supreme Court Justice appointees was possible. What George W. Bush and the Trilateral Commission blew-away of our American Democracy and Independents “Free (sic) Trade” in 10 years; it will take at least 200 years of struggle (probably 500 years) and millions of American lives to regain.

    Today, the seemingly driver-less steam roller of Bush right-wing “your either with us or you are the enemy” unethical opportunist (no one can be identified as the driver) are on an itinerary. Follow the money, mass media propaganda, slander attacks, bullying threats, CASH-root organizations (most Tea Baggers) and their Totalitarian agenda become apparent. 2010 is going to be one ugly year. The Dupes August assault on the Capital and our Constitution will be spectacular; followed by “drill baby drill” and mass “exportation” of Natural Resources to pay National debt.

    The 2012 doomsday propaganda is right-wing Totalitarian Trilateral Commission (New World Order) propaganda, designed on fear and destiny resignation to render you hopeless with no willpower to resist as multinational corporation bankers take away your (our) American Freedom, Independence and Democracy.

  4. Thelma T. Reyna says:

    I agree with Marshall that our right to free speech is one of the most inalienable rights in our nation, and we must always protect this. What distresses me is when this right is twisted into an excuse to slander innocent people, to spread vicious lies far and wide very publicly (to the detriment of our American society, such as the lies about “death panels”), and–most especially–when the vitriolic exercise of this right of speech foments potentially deadly dangers to our rightfully elected President of the United States.

    Facts clearly show that death threats to President Obama are hugely greater than those toward any other president in our nation’s history. They are tremendously greater in number and frequency than toward President GW Bush, for example, despite the latter’s unpopularity. Death threats toward our president are so great, in fact, that our protective services are reportedly concerned that they cannot keep up with tracking and investigating them…for the first time in our history. This is frightening but not surprising in the ambience created by extremist folks exercising their “right of free speech.”

    When Sarah Palin tells her fans to “reload,” when she uses rifle scopes to depict pictorially her political enemies, when her rhetoric in Tea Bag rallies is filled with gun/violence imagery, one needn’t wonder for too long if this might have an effect in encouraging an extremist or two to shoot the man the majority of us voted into office. You don’t have to have a psychology degree to know the power of mob “groupthink” and how it can easily spur people to violence. History and research prove the deadly effectiveness of such “mob psychology.”

    So, yes, free speech is vital to our democracy. Terrorist threats, racism, and slander are not protected by our nation’s laws or the implicit codes of human civility and decorum.

  5. Marshall says:

    Why do we not have a tape of these “N” words being used, there were several recorders going at the time? Lewis has not said on any TV show I have seen that you are speaking the truth. You are speaking what is known as unfounded claims. There is a $100,000 reward offer for the first tape to prove your lack of facts. If the tape was out there, it would have been sold by now.

    A second point, look up who voted for the 1965/1965 civil rights and voting bills so that you can see that dem in the government voted at 60% for them and the repubs voted at 80%. If not for the rebubs, the two laws would not have passed as too many dems voted against them. The kind of bile you put out is not doing any justice to the country. EVERYONE has a right to speak out against our government and give their opinion, but we must remember facts and opinions are not always the same, like in your case.

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