Think the tea party is going to tone down its violent rhetoric in the wake of the horrific shooting that left six innocent people dead in Arizona last weekend?
Think the religious right is willing to let lawmakers focus on critical fiscal issues in these tough economic times?
Think the far right has recognized the need for compromise to govern in a sharply divided nation?
Not in Texas.
“Do they [politicians] have the willingness to die to overturn the tyranny we see not only in this nation but in this state? That’s what it’s going to take. Do you hear me? That’s what it’s gonna take!”
That’s Apostle Clāver T. Kamau-Imani of a group called “Raging Elephant,” speaking at a rally of several hundred tea party activists at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday. Kamau-Imani and other speakers left little doubt about what their extremist vision for politics in Texas entails.
First and foremost, there is little real distinction between the tea party and the religious right in Texas. They are essentially one and the same. Listen to the roar of approval from the crowd when Kamau-Imani defines his standard for lawmakers:
“If they [politicians] don’t have the spirit of Christ, they may be eligible, but they are not qualified.”
These are the same folks who have worked for the more than a decade to make the state GOP platform less a political tract than a fundamentalist religious manifesto. The religious right has controlled the Texas Republican Party for a generation, and changing the name on a rally banner to “Tea Party” can’t hide the fact that social conservatives are still calling the shots at the conservative grassroots level in Texas. And they are hell-bent on ensuring those in elected office continue to bow and kiss the ring.
Second, conservative leaders in Texas have no intention of dialing back the violent rhetoric. Listen to this clip of Kamau-Imani explaining what he believes the Bible teaches about dealing with politicians who compromise:
It is more than a little chilling to hear these words mere days after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who often drew the ire of tea-party supporters in her own state, was shot at a public event:
“When you identify those folks who have self-identified themselves as [sic] compromisers and surrender-ers, then it is our obligation — it is or duty to purify ourselves of them, to rid ourselves of them. The fight is not over.”
And cloaking such eliminationist language in religious terminology doesn’t excuse it. In fact, it makes it even more despicable.
And finally, the tea party/religious right in Texas will remain as unforgiving and rigidly orthodox as ever — for them, compromise is surrender. Ironically, after weeks of nasty wrangling over the race for Texas House speaker, the actual discussion in the Legislature on Tuesday featured calls for cooperation and comity. Contrast that with this clip from the rally outside the Capitol, in which Kamau-Imani shouts that liberals and progressives are “unclean” and “contaminate the spirit of liberty.”
“The Bible also says ‘touch no unclean thing.’ I believe that progressivism, liberalism, socialism, all those evil ‘isms’ are unclean. We should not be touching them. In touching them we contaminate the spirit of liberty. We contaminate our movement. We contaminate our social foundation. We contaminate our families. We contaminate our schools. We contaminate the sovereignty of our state and our nation when we touch these things. When we compromise. When we surrender.”
TFN has often pointed out that the religious right is not a religious movement. It is a political movement that cloaks itself in the language of faith. The scene at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday makes clear that this distinction also applies to the tea party movement in Texas. The same exclusionary, domineering impulse that sees faith primarily as a handy political weapon also animates the tea party movement.
And the religious right era in Texas isn’t retreating. In the words of far-right activists in recent months, it’s reloading.