Tea Party Still Can't Shake Image as a Radical-Fringe Movement
Tea Party-Backed Candidate Steps Into a Political Quagmire Over Remarks on Civil Rights Act Just 24 Hours After Winning Kentucky GOP Senate Primary, While Tea Party Express Leader Mark Williams Ignites a Furor of His Own When He Blasts Proposed Mosque Near New York's Ground Zero and Says Muslims Worship '9/11 Terrorists' Monkey-God'
By SKEETER SANDERS
What should have been a time of triumph for the Tea Party movement, with Rand Paul's stunning rout of Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson in last Tuesday's Republican U.S. Senate primary, has turned within 72 hours into a massive public-relations disaster, further solidifying the Tea Party's negative public image as a radical fringe movement.
Just 24 hours after triumphantly proclaiming in his victory speech last Tuesday night that "I have a message from the Tea Party. A message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We have come to take our government back," Paul, the 47-year-old son of Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas), ignited a firestorm of outrage when, appearing on MSNBC's "Rachael Maddow Show," he said that he opposed the anti-discrimination provisions of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act being imposed on private businesses.
And 48 hours after that, a prominent national Tea Party leader touched off a furor of his own by blasting a proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center to be built in New York near Ground Zero, the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed more than 3,000 people.
The New York Daily News, citing a blog posting on his Web site, reported Thursday that Mark Williams, the chairman of the Tea Party Express, branded the proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center a "monument" to the 9/11 terrorists and said that Muslims worship "the terrorists' monkey-god."
PAUL DUCKS OUT OF 'MEET THE PRESS' AMID FIRESTORM
Paul canceled a series of media interviews -- including a scheduled appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, becoming only the third guest ever to back out from appearing on the venerable public-affairs program in its 63-year history. The cancellations followed a cascade of criticism over remarks he made on the Maddow show that he opposes Title II of the Civil Rights Act with respect to "public accommodations."
Title II outlaws discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce. It exempts private clubs, although it does not define the term "private." Many states have since adopted similar laws of their own.
As the interview with Maddow continued, Paul became increasingly uncomfortable as Maddow pressed him to clarify remarks he made in a previous interview on National Public Radio's evening news program "All Things Considered" broadcast earlier on Wednesday.
Asked by NPR's Robert Siegel that, based on his previously-reported remarks that the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act "was an overreach by the federal government" when it came to banning discrimination by private businesses, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was similarly an "overreach," Paul replied, "I think a lot of things could be handled locally. . . I think when you get to the solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having the federal government make those decisions."
Asked point-blank by Maddow if he believed "that a private business has a right to say, 'We don't serve black people,'" Paul responded that he opposed discrimination in any form and that the government is right to bar discrimination by public institutions, but that it is wrong to impose that non-discriminatory standard on private businesses.
Paul told Maddow the he opposes Title II of the Civil Rights Act, which bans businesses from discriminating on the basis of race. "If we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies," he said, "then you have to have the discussion about: do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well. Do you want to say that because people say abhorrent things -- you know, we still have this. We're having all this debate over hate speech and this and that. Can you have a newspaper and say abhorrent things?"
PAUL ALSO OPPOSED FAIR HOUSING ACT
In a blog posting on Thursday, conservative Washington Post blogger David Wiegel noted that Title II of the Civil Rights Act wasn't the only piece of federal civil rights law the newly-minted Kentucky GOP U.S. Senate nominee opposed.
Wiegel disclosed that Paul, in a 2002 letter to the editor of his hometown newspaper, blasted the paper's editors for endorsing the Fair Housing Act, which outlaws housing discrimination.
In his letter, published in May 30, 2002 edition of the Bowling Green Daily News (available from the newspaper's online archives only through a paywall), Paul wrote that "a free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination, even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin."
He accused the newspaper's editors -- as well as the law itself -- of ignoring "the distinction between private and public property. Should it be prohibited for public, taxpayer-financed institutions such as schools to reject someone based on an individual's beliefs or attributes? Most certainly. Should it be prohibited for private entities such as a church, bed and breakfast or retirement neighborhood that doesn't want noisy children? Absolutely not."
Jesse Benton, a spokesman for the Paul campaign, said that the candidate's views on federal anti-discrimination laws should not be interpreted as meaning that he favors repealing them -- a point that Paul himself made clear in a statement issued on Friday. "I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964," he said.
GOP CHAIRMAN: PAUL'S VIEWS 'GOT IN THE WAY OF REALITY'
GOP National Chairman Michael Steele -- no stranger to controversy himself -- said Sunday that Paul's libertarian views on the role of government and civil rights were "misplaced in these times" and that they were out of step with the rest of the country.
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Steele, the Republican National Committee's first African-American chairman, noted that "The country litigated the issue of 'separate but equal,' the country litigated the rights of minority people in this country to access the free-enterprise system in accommodations and all of that. That was crystallized in the Civil Rights Act [of 1964] and the Voting Rights Act [of 1965]."
Steele said that Rand Paul's philosophy "got in the way of reality, and the reality of it is that was important legislation at the time, put in place important benchmarks for the progress of free people."
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON? RON PAUL'S OWN CONTROVERSY OVER RACE
Meanwhile, Rand Paul's father, who ran unsuccessfully for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, called the criticism of his son's remarks on civil rights "unfair" and branded the controversy as "contrived" and an attempt by liberals to discredit him.
"I think it’s contrived because he’s done so well and the left has to knock him down," Ron Paul said Thursday in an interview with the Congressional Quarterly. "It’s not fair."
Ron Paul said that as a father, it was difficult for him to see his son "pilloried on the national stage" and to see his libertarian views characterized as racist. "Politics can sometimes be nasty and I think there is a lot of resentment because he all of a sudden became a star," he told the Quarterly.
But Ron Paul has himself been embroiled in a major racially-charged controversy during the 2008 campaign. In January 2008, the elder Paul came under fire after old newsletters bearing his name and containing anonymously-written racist rants were revealed by CNN and The New Republic magazine.
Ron Paul adamantly insisted in s subsequent interview with CNN that he wasn't the author of the screeds, but within days, The 'Skeeter Bites Report revealed that the elder Paul, in an interview with a Dallas newspaper in 1996, acknowledged having written them and insisted that his writings were being taken out of context.
In his interview with The Dallas Morning News, published on May 22, 1996, the elder Paul -- who at the time was running to regain his House seat that he had given up more than a decade earlier -- acknowledged writing in a 1992 issue of his newsletter, The Ron Paul Political Report, that "95 percent of the black men in Washington, D.C., are semi-criminal or entirely criminal."
He defended his writings by insisting that they were being taken out of context by his critics. "It's typical political demagoguery," he told the Morning News. "If people are interested in my character ... come and talk to my neighbors."
The elder Paul made his admission after copies of The Ron Paul Political Report were being circulated among Texas Democrats in the heat of the 1996 election campaign, according to the newspaper.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report and other bloggers also revealed that several prominent white supremacists and other far-right extremists -- including former Ku Klux Klan leaders David Duke and Don Black -- were openly backing Ron Paul's run for the White House.
The elder Paul, who adamantly insists that he opposes racism, nonetheless has, to this day, refused to either distance himself from the white supremacists who backed his presidential candidacy or to return their financial contributions to his campaign.
ANOTHER MAJOR HEADACHE FOR THE TEA PARTY MOVEMENT: MARK WILLIAMS
For the Tea Party movement, the Rand Paul controversy is a major public-relations disaster. Long accused by liberal critics of doing little to stem overtly racist expressions against President Obama at its rallies in the past year, the movement must decide how to deal with the fallout over Paul's remarks.
But Rand Paul isn't the Tea Party movement's only headache. It also has to deal with an increasingly bellicose, foul-mouthed figure who's emerged as one of the public faces of the movement -- and who ignited a firestorm of his own in New York.
Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, in a blog post on his Web site, MarkTalk.com, denounced as "a monument to the 9/11 terrorists" a proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center to be built near the World Trade Center site.
"The monument would consist of a mosque for the worship of the terrorists' monkey-god," Williams wrote, according to the Daily News.
The 13-story glass-and-steel building, which includes a 500-seat theater and athletic center, would be built just two blocks from the where twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed on September 11, 2001, when two hijacked California-bound jetliners crashed into them and exploded in massive fireballs of jet fuel, killing more than 3,000 people.
Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, who helped found the Cordoba Initiative following the 9/11 attacks and whose organization is spearheading the project, said the proposed Islamic center is intended to foster better relations between the West and Muslims and that it would be open to the general public.
WILLIAMS' ANTI-MUSLIM REMARKS SPARK OUTRAGE
Williams's anti-Muslim postings sparked outrage from Muslims across the country and a sharp rebuke from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"It would be shocking if such ignorant comments failed to elicit a strong response not only from Tea Party leaders, but from other parties throughout the political spectrum," Corey Saylor, national legislative director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Daily News.
Ibrahim Hooper, a New York-based spokesman for the Muslim civil-rights group, also told the newspaper that this was the only the latest in an ongoing series of highly inflammatory anti-Muslim comments Williams has written on his Web site. Among them: A remark in which he calls Islam "a seventh-century death cult" and the Prophet Mohammed "a psychotic pedophile."
Daniel Squadron, a New York state senator whose district includes lower Manhattan, also denounced Williams. "To be clear, religious intolerance, demagoguery, and fearmongering have no place in the discussion about development on and around the World Trade Center site," Squadron said in a statement to The New York Times on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg called Williams' screed "appalling" and noted that the proposed mosque is perfectly legal. The land that the mosque would be built on is private and is zoned by the city for various uses, including a house of worship.
Plans call for the mosque to be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2011. When completed, the mosque could house as many as 2,000 people for Friday prayers.
WILLIAMS A FLAME-THROWER WHEN IT COMES TO RACE AND RELIGION
The virulence of Williams' anti-Muslim attacks have gotten him into trouble before. He's also come under fire for making racially-charged remarks against President Obama.
And through it all, Williams -- who hosts a conservative talk-radio show in California -- has steadfastly refused to apologize for them.
He has referred to the president as an "enemy of America," lumping him with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- despite the Obama administration's increasingly get-tough policy toward Iran's nuclear program -- the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and even former President Jimmy Carter, whose recent book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has come under sharp criticism by supporters of Israel as being biased in favor of the Palestinians.
Williams has also referred to Obama as "an Indonesian Muslim-turned-welfare thug and a racist-in-chief . . . Two things you can always count on: I will defend my record on race to no one, under any circumstances and I will call out any racist, any time without regard to who they are . . . and that includes our half-white, racist president."
If the Tea Party movement is to be taken seriously as a legitimate mainstream political movement, then it has to do something about off-the-wall people in its midst like Rand Paul and Mark Williams, for the more negative attention they draw to themselves, the more Americans are likely to dismiss the Tea Party movement as being way out on the radical fringe.
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Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.