Monday, March 1, 2010

Tar & Feathers of the Tea Party

For some time, the discourse emanating out of the local tea party crowd has teetered on the edge of rationality. The more vocal members of the Pocatello Tea Party have written screeds in the local paper, the Idaho State Journal, and many of those columns have subsequently been posted on the ISJ "blogs" that serve as the online home to op-eds previously submitted and printed. Over the last year, those columns have come from members of the Pocatello Tea Party, the local Campaign for Liberty, Tea Party Patriots and a newly formed organization called Sovereign Idaho (that claims to be a coalition of Campaign for Liberty, Pocatello Tea Party, Tea Party Boise, Tears of the Patriots, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and several other groups from all parts of the state).

The Pocatello Tea Party has ties to various conservative, right-wing and fringe organizations. In a macro sense, the Pocatello Tea Party associates itself with 5000 In Pocatello, a group that claims it "facilitates Constitution study groups in every neighborhood" and takes its name from Glenn Beck's favorite book, The 5000 Year Leap by Cleon Skousen; Idaho's Campaign for Liberty, an off-shoot of Ron Paul's national organization; Tea Party Patriots, the official national tea party movement; a network called ReTeaParty that connects tea party groups across the country; the John Birch Society; and Glenn Beck's 9-12 Project. In addition to their official affiliations, the Pocatello Tea Party supports various organizations that have sprouted up all over the country in opposition to Obama, the Democrats, pork, deficit spending, and any number of other issues.

Now, all of the previously mentioned official affiliations aren't particularly surprising for a tea party group, but on a micro level, there are additional affiliations that paint a picture of the entire group's influence on this community. One prominent member of the Pocatello Tea Party is a former county chairman of the Idaho GOP. Two members recently ran for seats in the Idaho Legislature--one for the House, the other for the Senate. The Pocatello Tea Party, in conjunction with Sovereign Idaho, is supporting a candidate for state controller. The 9-12 event in Pocatello was a who's who of the Bannock County Republican Party. It is too soon to tell if Pocatello's new mayor sympathizes with the Pocatello Tea Party.

The Pocatello Tea Party website links to Intermountain Christian News and there is a subtle message of Christianity (as they see it) in all of their material. Several members of the Pocatello Tea Party are members of the LDS Church and at the 9-12 event a former stake president was mingling in the crowd. That faith is an underlying component of the local tea party is understandable given the demographics of southern Idaho and the faith-based beliefs of many tea baggers.

In its recent condemnation of Idaho Representative Ken Andrus (R-Lava) for his vote in committee against Rep. Hart's (R-Athol) illegal immigration bill, all the aspects of this very bizarre southern Idaho political alliance came to the forefront.

First, for being "good Christians," Christians who surely have in their midst Mormon members with an understanding of their own violent history (a violent history that included members being "tarred & feathered" and ultimately resulted in Brigham Young leading the church West), they apparently lack sensitivity to the language they choose when condemning public officials. Rep. Andrus took issue with the fact that the Pocatello Tea Party called him out for his vote, he explained at length why he voted as he did, making very clear what his intolerant views of minorities are. What Rep. Andrus should have taken issue with was the language the Pocatello Tea Party chose to use, both on their website and in the anonymous letter they sent to Andrus, expressing their anger.

While Ken Andrus was furiously typing his retort, it never occurred to him that the Pocatello Tea Party should be strongly admonished for promoting a website feature called "tar & feather"? It never occurred to Mr. Andrus that he and his colleagues should be respected and not threatened when their votes didn't align precisely with the principles of the tea party movement? It never occurred to Mr. Andrus, someone who has appeared at tea party events in the past, that he should remind his "friends" that public debate can happen without violence?

Mr. Andrus surely wasn't the first person the Pocatello Tea Party openly called for to be tarred & feathered. Since the "tar & feather" party took Mr. Andrus to task, they have targeted Rep. Elaine Smith (D-Pocatello) and suggested the same punishment for her vote on midwifery licenses. They scrutinized Idaho Senator Edgar Malepeai (D-Pocatello) for his recent DUI, praised Rep. Harwood (R-St. Maries) for wanting "a gun fight with the feds," posted a list titled "Ten Reasons Why We Need A State Militia Now," and are looking to make the "tar & feather" call a regular feature. These people are one spark away from acting out a Revolutionary War battle and the elected officials they respect, mostly white men like Rep. Andrus, are doing nothing to soften the tone.

In a town where tea party voices are given the majority of the column space in the local paper, the tea party is whispering rather openly to all of our Republican elected officials, and they have a tea party whenever it suits current events, the tone is certainly getting louder. The tone is getting louder, the fuse nearly lit, and guys like Ken Andrus would rather argue the specifics of discriminating against minorities in this state, hardly veiled by the illegal immigration meme, than weaken the mob as they gather their tar and feathers.

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