The AP has an article up today quoting black members of the tea party movement who “rejected charges of racism by the group's activists.” Most of what they actually quote the tea partiers saying is standard fare about the evils of Barack Obama and the Democrats, but there's one line in the article that stood out to me: “The black members said the racism that has been attributed to the tea party movement came from outsiders who infiltrated the groups to discredit their work and it should be rejected.”
This right-wing fascination with tea party “infiltrators” is intriguing because it's a crystallization of two major elements of the far-right, tea party ethos: a persistent denial of reality, and an unwavering sense of victimization.
As noted by the AP, the tea party's members and defenders angrily denounce accusations of racism and insist that there exists absolutely no racism in the tea party. Some even go as far as to say that the real racism comes from black people and the left (see: Andrew Breitbart). This, of course, is absurd -- the tea party is an overwhelmingly white conservative movement that is fueled by anger and resentment toward the first black president. It was inevitable that it would attract some neo-Confederate kooks or persons of a more casually racist stripe, and it was inevitable that some tea partier somewhere would make a racist ass of himself (see: Mark Williams).
As such, the “there is no tea party racism” argument doesn't get you very far when there are multitudes of photos and videos of tea party protesters holding up signs with racist slogans ( “The zoo has an African lion, and the White House has a lyin' African” ). So how does one reconcile that undeniable racism with claims that no tea partiers are racist? Simple -- infiltrators. Liberal saboteurs who pretend to be tea partiers and act racist in front of the media so as to discredit the tea party movement. It's a comforting explanation for the tea party crowd -- it absolves them of wrongdoing and of any responsibility to try and clean house, and it lets them feel persecuted at the hands of their old nemeses, the liberals. And, of course, being oppressed by liberals is what the tea parties are all about.
Infiltrator-mania has been around almost as long as the tea party movement itself. Back in April 2009, Michelle Malkin was warning her followers about “Tea Party crashers,” and Rush Limbaugh passed along word to his audience that ACORN (of course) was planning to sabotage the “Tax Day tea parties” by causing violence in front of television cameras.
And, as the AP article makes clear, the infiltrator menace is no less prevalent today. Breitbart's BigJournalism claimed that death threats being made against Democrats who voted for health care reform were the work of “agents provocateurs.” Glenn Beck alleged that the government is “infiltrating” the tea parties to keep tabs on them. And while I'm on the topic of Glenn Beck and infiltrators, I should point out that tea party saboteurs play a key role in Beck's novel The Overton Window.
Now, it's possible that some small portion of the untoward behavior observed at tea party protests is due to some puckish and unprincipled lefties purposefully looking to cause trouble for the tea partiers. But it's nuts to claim that all the racism documented at tea party protests is the work of dastardly infiltrators.