If it wasn't already obvious that the right-wingers who organized the Tax Day Tea Parties vastly overstated their actual significance -- except as a harbinger of the slide towards right-wing populism -- then this past weekend should lay any doubts to rest.
Even before the holiday weekend, it was clear that the planned 2nd edition of the Tea
Tantrums Parties was going to be somewhat less than energetic. David Weigel at the Washington Independent observed that a lot of this had to do with mainstream support peeling away:
But the collaboration between the official Republican establishment and the Tea Parties has not lasted into June. The RNC has no plans to get involved with any Tea Parties. A spokesman for Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who jaunted around northern California to attend several Tea Parties, said that his holiday plans were private but would probably not include Tea Parties. Gingrich will not attend any of the Tea Parties, although he recorded video messages for events in Birmingham and Nashville “at the request of the respective organizers,” according to spokesman Dan Kotman.
Media coverage has also gotten a little bit more scarce. Coverage on Fox News has largely been limited to interviews with Tea Party organizers on the network’s morning shows. While sources at Fox would not discuss their plans for covering the weekend events, they confirmed that no anchors would be attending and that the attendance and news value of the events looked to be lower than that of the April rallies. Tea Party organizers are counting, instead, on local news coverage and on distributed reporting such as the conservative news site PajamasTV, which hosts an “American Tea Party” show and has asked readers to submit their own videos from their rallies.
Part of the dynamic of right-wing populism is that, as whatever mainstream backing it gathers initially peels away, its more radical elements rise to the fore. And indeed, the Anti-Defamation League warned beforehand that extremists were likely to be making their presence felt at these gatherings:
White supremacists and neo-Nazi hate groups plan to take advantage of the anti-tax "Tea Parties" set to occur in more than 1,000 cities and localities over the July 4 holiday weekend to disseminate racist fliers and other materials and attempt to recruit others to their cause, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
ADL's Center on Extremism, which monitors extremist groups and provides information to law enforcement and the public, has released information on its Web site describing the attempt by white supremacists to co-opt the anti-tax message of the events as a means to spread racism and anti-Semitism.
On Stormfront, the most popular white supremacist Internet forum, members have discussed becoming local organizers of the "Tea Parties" and finding ways to involve themselves in the events. Many racists have voiced their intent to attend these rallies for the purpose of cultivating an "organized grassroots White mass movement," with some suggesting that they would do so without openly identifying themselves as racists.
If you watch the above video -- featuring clips culled from various Tea Parties around the nation, including (in order of appearance) Norwich, Conn.; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; Cape Coral, Florida; Raleigh, North Carolina; and La Canada/Flintridge, California -- you can see it all: the lackluster crowds, combined with a toxic dose of truly wingnutty rhetoric.
The conspiracists were obviously out in force. In Oklahoma, a man calling himself "July4Patriot" talked about his organization, the "Oath Keepers" -- a collection of freshly returned war veterans who are organizing to resist the impending New World Order. As you can hear, among the things they fear is that the government intends to conduct house-to-house searches of private homes and begin rounding up citizens and putting them in concentration camps. The only thing missing was the black helicopters (though give him enough time, and that probably will turn up too).
Then there was the "Birther" speaker in Florida who assured everyone that the Constitution is based on Biblical law, and added that President Obama isn't a constitutionally legal president because he won't show his birth certificate. Or the woman in California who warned that illegal immigrants were the real problem.
The conspiracist element was everywhere -- and so was the fizzling of energy. There was no party in Seattle this time -- though a gathering in Olympia was reported to have gathered 1,500. As you can see from the tea parties' organizing site for Washington, the sponsor of that "party" was an outfit calling itself "PatriotMarch"
-- and if you go there, you can quickly ascertain that this is an essentially Bircherite group of conspiracists too. (Quick shower recommended afterward.)
It happened elsewhere as well. In Duval County, Florida, there were signs comparing Obama to Hitler.
The next step in the devolution process of right-wing populists -- just as we saw with the Minutemen -- involves acting out by renegade violent and unstable actors. That's the really ugly part. And as you can see, the Tea Parties are getting there, bit by bit.