Tea Party Fights All-White Image

Movement leader charges that black, Hispanic supporters face liberal harassment.


The Tea Party movement has an image problem that it is urgently trying to change: It's viewed as a whites-only group.

"We do need to reach out," says Matt Kibbie, president of FreedomWorks, one of the leading Tea Party organizing groups. To bring in more African-Americans and Hispanics, he said that FreedomWorks has started a new Web site, called "Diverse Tea," where minorities can share their stories of backing Tea Party candidates.

"The goal is to build a platform for a diverse group of Tea Party leaders from across the country, African-Americans, Jews, Hispanics, others that have come to this movement, because there is this nagging perception that we are not diverse. I disagree with that," he said.

FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, has another solution: liberals should stop making minorities who back the movement feel like traitors.

"Now this is a story you don't want to write, but it's a true-fact story," he says. "I've heard it from every black conservative I have ever known, the vicious, nasty things that they are subjected to. So it's not easy to stand up and say, 'I believe in individual liberty and conservatism, and Lord help me, the Republican Party' and be a minority as you all in the establishment sort people out and stick people in their boxes."

Armey says the attacks come from minority community leaders to family members. "The difficulties of harassment, the intolerance, the abuse that they suffer comes from, for example, if you are a black American at our rally, your own community, your own relatives, your own family. So it is extremely difficult for a black American to stand up and say, 'I am a conservative,' because they get beset in the most vicious ways," adds Armey. What's more, he said, "Hispanics are now subjected to the same kind of mean harassment."

And instead of focusing on the lack of diversity in Tea Party rally crowds, he says that people should applaud the minorities who dare to be seen. "The first thing you ought to do is marvel that anybody of color as it were dares to have the courage to show up in the company of this grassroots movement...for breaking the mold," says Armey.

What's more, he said that diversity is broader than color. "Intellectually, there is greater diversity there than you will find in either of the two political parties. There's evangelicals, there's independents, there's liberals, there's Democrats, there's Republicans. It depends on your definition of diversity," he said.

And it's that diversity of thought he says Democrats can't stand. "You're talking about Democratic theology here," he says. "I really get a little tired of the diversity talk from liberals."

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