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Tea Party Movement Fights Perception of Welcoming Right-Wing Fringe

Members of the Tea Party movement protest in San Francisco in May; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The North Iowa Tea Party recently purchased a billboard in downtown Mason City, Iowa, that tied together the images of President Obama, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. Each were labeled with the words “change” and “socialism.”

A day after The Associated Press reported on the billboard’s existence, it was covered on Wednesday.

Iowa Tea Party movement chairman Ryan Rhodes told Radio Iowa that the billboard was counterproductive.

The short-lived billboard comparing the president to the architect of the Holocaust came at the same time that NAACP delegates unanimously passed a resolution at their annual meeting asking for the fractious tea party movement to expel racists from its ranks.

In a statement on its website, the NAACP said the resolution was in response to images from tea party rallies over the past year showing “vial, antagonistic racial slurs and images.” The group posted images of signs from the rallies, one pictured a young white boy holding a sign that read “Obamanomics: Monkey See, Monkey Spend!”

That resolution brought a swift response from 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate and tea party favorite Sarah Palin, who posted a note to Facebook repudiating the resolution”

“I am saddened by the NAACP’s claim that patriotic Americans who stand up for the United States of America’s Constitutional rights are somehow ‘racists.’ The charge that Tea Party Americans judge people by the color of their skin is false, appalling, and is a regressive and diversionary tactic to change the subject at hand.”

The incidents highlight a potential problem from the small government conservative movement that sprang to life during the government rescue of the financial sector and gained momentum with the inauguration of President Obama and his $787 billion economic stimulus program: the perception fueled by images from tea party rallies that the movement harbors people with extreme points of view.

Shelby Blakely, a spokeswoman for the National Tea Party Patriots — one of the most popular national hubs where people can network with local tea party groups — said the organization has a history of excising racism from its ranks but that it can’t control everyone.

“I found out about the billboard from the AP, which is a weird place to be in,” Blakely said. Tea Party Patriots condemned the Iowa billboard publicly.

“We had a problem with the (Iowa billboard). We want to use reason logic and rational thought to educate the American public,” Blakely said. “Comparing Obama to dictators doesn’t do anything — it’s just using tired clichés as propaganda.”

The nature of the decentralized movement, which is made up of independent groups that meet locally to organize against what they see as a federal government that is jeopardizing the future of the country by spending and taxing too much, means anyone can participate.

Blakely said the Tea Party Patriots will remove from their website the listing of any tea party group that harbors racism or members who compare President Obama to Hitler. Blakely said they have removed the North Iowa Tea Party from their website.

“There are over 2,200 tea party groups and I can count on less than two hands the number of times we’ve had to intervene when there was a problem. There’s going to be friction wherever you go, but if you focus on those three core values of fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets, the problems take care of themselves,” Blakely said.

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