“After I spent the weekend at the Tea Party National Convention in Nashville, Tenn., it has become clear to me that the movement is dominated by people whose vision of the government is conspiratorial and dangerously detached from reality. It’s more John Birch than John Adams. . . . Within a few hours in Nashville, I could tell that what I was hearing wasn’t just random rhetorical mortar fire being launched at Obama and his political allies: the salvos followed the established script of New World Order conspiracy theories, which have suffused the dubious right-wing fringes of American politics since the days of the John Birch Society.”
So writes Jonathan Kay, the conservative managing editor for comment at the National Post in Canada and author of an upcoming book, Among the Truthers: 9/11 Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them. Writing for Newsweek, Kay reports that last week’s Tea Party convention in Nashville also included a heavy strain of religious-right nuttiness interwoven with political paranoia:
“And then, of course, there is the double-whopper of all anti-Obama conspiracy theories, the ‘birther’ claim that America’s president might actually be an illegal alien who’s constitutionally ineligible to occupy the White House. This point was made by birther extraordinaire and Christian warrior Joseph Farah, who told the crowd the circumstances of Obama’s birth were more mysterious than those of Jesus Christ. (Apparently comparing Obama to a messiah is only blasphemous if you’re doing so in a complimentary vein.)”
The Nashville event also had a Texas flavor. One of the keynote speakers was Rick Scarborough, pastor and head of the Texas-based, Christian-right Vision America. Scarborough led the Tea Partiers in prayer, which included the typical anti-gay attacks we have come to expect from him, and made it clear to reporters that one of the many threats he sees to America is immigration:
“America is a country of legal immigrants but the Left has turned it into a country of invaders,” he offered bluntly. “Look at Europe and the rampant invasion of England. They are practising Sharia law and I think this crew is going to fight that.” Mr Scarborough also outlines how the US is a “special country” – more than any other in the world – and that is how God intended it. He adds: “If we are to become 30 per cent Hispanic we will no longer be America.” (And therefore no longer special.) “That would be a bad thing.”
It would be comforting to believe that the Tea Party movement is entirely made up of people orbiting the fringe of American politics. But that’s what most folks thought about the religious right in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the religious right has been alarmingly successful in using misleading, extremist rhetoric and even faith as weapons to divide Americans for political gain. By feeding the genuine fears and anxieties of everyday Americans in difficult economic times, the Tea Party movement is doing much the same today. Moreover, the the religious right is seeking ways to build ties with the Tea Party movement, as writer Michele Goldberg explained in the American Prospect last month.
In fact, we have seen the growing links between the religious right and the Tea Party movement already in Texas, particularly in the debate over new social studies curriculum standards for the state’s public schools. (One example here.) Whether those ties will become stronger is hard to know. But TFN will be watching closely.