Are Tea Partiers Hate Groups?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you are listening to These Days on KPBS. A Field Poll taken earlier this year, found that a full 12% of California voters identify with the protests of the Tea Party movement. But it's hard to know which protests they mean. The Tea Party movement has been used to identify a broad range of grass-roots dissatisfaction from anger against Wall Street bailouts to people who question where President Obama was born. A report from the Department of Homeland Security last spring warned that the recession and the nation's first black president might give rise to new groups of anti-government extremists. But people within the Tea Party movement argue that they are the real patriots, defending the constitution and defying a government that no longer represents the people. This morning, we'll be speaking with local Tea Party supporters and those who disagree with the movement. I’d like to welcome my guests. Terri Linnell is director of the San Diego Patriots based in Poway. And, Terri, welcome to These Days.
TERRI LINNELL (Director, San Diego Patriots): Thank you very much.
CAVANAUGH: Richard Rider is Chair of the San Diego Tax Fighters. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARD RIDER (Chair, San Diego Tax Fighters): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Dr. Dipak Gupta is Fred Hansen Professor of World Peace at SDSU. Dr. Gupta, welcome.
DR. DIPAK GUPTA (Fred Hansen Professor of World Peace, San Diego State University): Thank you. Glad to be here.
CAVANAUGH: And Heidi Beirich is Director of Research for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Good morning, Heidi.
HEIDI BEIRICH (Research Director, Southern Poverty Law Center): Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: And we’d like to invite our audience to join the conversation. Do you agree with some of the ideas expressed by the Tea Party movement, especially if you’re a local member of the Tea Party or you really like what you’ve heard from them, give us a call, or if you think the movement is perhaps a danger to the country. Give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Terri, first of all, I really have to thank you for stepping in at the last minute. One of the members of the Tea Party, one of the local leaders, had to pull out because of a family emergency and we called you and we know it’s last minute. Thanks so much for joining us.
LINNELL: Well, thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you know, Terri, while most everyone in the audience has heard by now of the Tea Party movement, I think there’s some confusion about what it is and what it isn’t. So could you tell us what the Tea Partiers believe in and what they’re trying to do?
LINNELL: Well, the Tea Party believes in three basic things. Fiscal responsibility, we just simply can’t continue a tax, borrow and spend agenda that’s going on, and we believe in a constitutionally limited government. There’s just so many big, giant agencies controlling us. And then also with free markets, our small businesses and our people have a very hard time now building anything and expanding anything. It seems to me that, you know, it seems to all of us, really, that the – that we have to be a big corporation to build a building because the fines and the fees are so heavy.
CAVANAUGH: Now I wonder, Terri, is – have you been involved in politics for years or is this the first time you’ve really gotten involved?
LINNELL: This is really the first time I’ve been involved. I’ve never really done anything besides like I was a member of a Neighborhood Watch, you know, years – 20 years ago.
LINNELL: I got involved because the economy is just so far down and our government is out of balance. It’s making it so that way regular people just can’t do anything. I mean, you buy a piece of land and, you know, say, 20 acres and, you know, you can only use two acres and – but you can use more if you donate some of the land to the city, and that’s just out of balance. We shouldn’t have to donate land to use land that we buy.
CAVANAUGH: And I’m wondering, Terri, as you see the Tea Party, as people are attracted to the Tea Party movement, where do you see this movement going? What would be the ideal outcome for this new movement as far as you’re concerned?
LINNELL: The ideal outcome for this movement, I guess, would be to return to our limited government and to put everything back in balance and it would be grassroots, it’s not political, it’s not Republican, it’s not Democrat. It’s just regular people trying to restore it.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Richard Rider, I want to bring in you to the conversation. I know that you are not a member of the Tea Party movement per se but am I correct in saying that the beliefs of the – that people who want tax limitation and Libertarians are similar in areas to the Tea Party?
RIDER: The three points that were brought up there, I thought, were all very good, the idea that you want fiscal responsibility, constitutional limitations and free markets. That’s something I think we all agree on. There are other areas where we wander off highways and byways where people get involved in issues that detract from the movement and, of course, are jumped on by the press to try to marginalize the effort. But what I see is these are the driving forces. My goal—I’ve been involved, obviously, for a long time in taxpayer issues, since 1978 with the Prop 13—and my goal is to make sure we focus on the important issues and try not to wander off into the fever swamp, and so far it’s been remarkably successful. I’ve been surprised, frankly, how this – the staying power of this movement. I remember last April when we had these big Taxpayer Day rallies, I used to do these things when we were happy 30 people showed up. I went to speak this past April in Oceanside, 4,000 people showed up, and that was only one of several protests the same day. I thought it would kind of die off after that. I thought it would be a kind of a little growth of a protest and then it would disappear. But what has surprised me is the sustainability of this effort, the fact that it continues to grow, we – it’a decentralized movement.
RIDER: There’s different taxpayer groups, different organizations, but as long as they stick to these core issues, which I think is very important, I think we’re going to be an effective force. We don’t want to become a third party. That’s not a good idea. That’s occasionally been discussed. But we hope to have an influence, not only on the Democrats but particularly on the Republicans who, in many cases, are a major part of the problem. What we don’t want to do—and this is important, I think, all Tea Party people agree to this—is that we do not want to be taken over by the GOP, and they’re trying. They want to use this as an arm for their party and we’re not going to let it happen, the way I see it.
CAVANAUGH: In an effort to get a handle on this movement and, Richard, again, I know that you’re not necessarily a part of the Tea Party movement but you’re a great observer of people who are – want to get out and protest taxes. What is it that’s motivating, as you say, 4,000 people to show up at a tax limitation Tea Party kind of a get-together. Did we automatically sort of get more taxes? I mean, what is the motivation now for so many people to become politically active?
RIDER: I think the recession’s the key. And in California, there’s an issue that’s not often talked about. I’m not too familiar with the national Tea Party movement but what I see in California, having gone to these rallies and spoken at these rallies is there’s a very real concern about people staying in California. We have one of the worst economies among the states. We’re the fourth highest taxed state in the nation. We have the fifth highest unemployment. I could run down a list of problems that we have. But the key is, look at our migration. In the last eight years, through mid-2008, if you’d look at the domestic migration, forget the illegal aliens, the legal immigration, people moving between states in the last eight years, we have lost a net 1.4 million people from – who have left California. Net, not gross, net, who’ve moved to other states where economic opportunities or the taxes are better, or the taxes are lower. Texas is a real draw, so is Florida. You can ask Tiger Woods or the Williams sisters, the tennis greats. This is a real problem we’re starting – and the people I see at these rallies, from my perspective, I think the driving force for them is they don’t want to leave. I mean, California is a great place to live. I think we all agree to that. And they’re afraid that this continuing downward spiral, and particularly – We’re kind of eating our seed corn now because if we continue to raise taxes, we’re going to drive more people out, which lowers our tax base and so forth. They’re concerned. They want to stay and I think that’s a major factor, at least in California.
CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls about the Tea Party movement, especially right here in California, right here in San Diego County. There are a number of guests on our panel and I will eventually get them all in. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take call right now, though, from George in Chula Vista. Good morning, George. Welcome to These Days.
GEORGE (Caller, Chula Vista): Hi. I just have two comments. The first comment is I would like to – I hear a lot of people saying fiscal responsibility and everything and that’s all – that’s all good but I would like to know where were they the past eight years when Bush took the economy down the toilet and along with America’s credibility down the toilet. And then my second point is that all these people that seem to be protesting the government and everybody and our first African-American president seem to be affluent white people in the upper middle class. You know, I mean, this guy’s just trying to help out the people that need a hand up. That’s it.
CAVANAUGH: Got it.
GEORGE: And that’s all I just wanted to say. That’s all I want to say.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, George. I appreciate it. Richard, you want to respond.
RIDER: Yeah. Obviously, the guy’s never been to a Tea Party rally. This is not the affluent people, this is not upper middle class even. It’s very much blue collar, it’s very much…
CAVANAUGH: But it’s very much white.
RIDER: It’s very much white, very true, and that is a problem. And I wish we would expand this. We have a smattering of minorities but not enough, and that’s a problem. It’s not that we’re – that the effort, I think, is in any way excluding them, it’s just we haven’t been able to do the proper outreach…
RIDER: …in that regard. As far as Bush, my history with Bush is colorful. And those of us who’ve been in the taxpayer movement for years view the Bush administration as an absolute disaster. And, of course, what happened was he raised the bar for irresponsibility and fiscal prudence and that’s become the floor for the Obama administration, a terrible example that he set and, of course, started us down this road. I know people love to blame the Democrats but, my God, the Republicans ran an absolutely insane operation in the first part of this decade.
CAVANAUGH: And, Terri, let me ask you a question. As the Iraq war developed and the deficits grew under George W. Bush, were you aware of that? Did that make you aware of having the government having the kind of fiscal responsibility you would like to see it have now?
LINNELL: Yes and – Yes, I was aware, personally.
LINNELL: But I think where the people really rose up and started this movement, before the Tea Party was even founded, was – it was before then, it was that first stimulus bill. When that first stimulus bill that Bush signed, it was 80% of the people saying no and calling up all of our congressmen and everything else, that’s where we were saying enough. No, we don’t want a bank bailout.
CAVANAUGH: You mean the TARP program before George Bush left office, that provided money for the Wall Street investment banks.
LINNELL: …exactly. That – there was 80% of the people calling in saying no, and it still got passed and it still got signed. And what’s more is, it got signed with a – they had taken a genetics bill and reworked it as an amendment and then handed it back to the House. The House had passed a genetics bill with the 50% – I mean, the 60% but they only had to pass that amendment with a 51%, so the vote was, you know, kind of contaminated in the first place. And everybody was saying no bailout, no bailout, and nothing happened, it got pushed through anyways.
CAVANAUGH: Let me reintroduce all of my guests while I’m at it. Terri Linnell is director of the San Diego Patriots. Richard Rider is Chair of the San Diego Tax Fighters. And I’d like to reintroduce Dr. Dipak Gupta, he’s Fred Hansen Professor of World Peace over at SDSU. And Heidi Beirich is Director of Research at the Southern Poverty Law Center. And, Dr. Gupta, when we talk about the Tea Party movement, let me get your initial reaction to what you’ve heard so far.
DR. GUPTA: Well, you know, I study political movements. I study how ideas spread. And one of the things is that as Richard and everybody else said, that at times of strain, economic strain, people look for answers and at – in those times, if you make – if people are convinced that they are under threat in any kind of situation, then they will band together. So in that sense, the rise of the Tea Party movement is not an entirely surprising thing but, at the same time, we should never underestimate the non-spontaneity of these groups. For instance, at the beginning of the movement there was a concerted effort by folks like Dick Armey and the Republican Party to promote these anti-Obama administration ideas and also they were greatly helped by folks like Glenn Beck, who focus their issues and frame their issues in a certain way. So I, as a student of political movement, when I see this is developing, I’m not surprised.
CAVANAUGH: And, Heidi, let me get your take. You’re – It’s the job of the Southern Poverty Law Center to keep track of extremist groups. Does the Tea Party movement qualify as an extremist group?
BEIRICH: No, we don’t list the Tea Party movement on any of our various things that we track. However, members of our – the hate groups that we track and members of what we call patriot or extreme anti-government groups have been shot through in various Tea Party rallies, have sometimes appeared as speakers at those events, and we’re very concerned about that. In fact, over the course of the last year, we have seen an absolutely explosion in the number of extreme anti-government groups. These are groups who believe conspiracy theories like FEMA setting up concentration camps around the country to, you know, imprison Americans and – or is up to other nefarious doings with the New World Order. I mean, we counted 149 of those groups in 2008 and in 2009 that number rose to 512. And what’s concerning about this—and this is obviously something further to the extremes than the Tea Party movement, although they’re trying to glom on to the Tea Party movement—is that that movement in the 1990s ended up with the violence at Oklahoma City and Timothy McVeigh. So when we see that kind of a jump in those extreme organizations, we become very concerned and I think they’re motivated by some of the same things like the bad economy that your other guests have been talking about that is causing a lot of frustration and driving people into these kinds of groups.
CAVANAUGH: Terri, I wonder, when you see, either on television or at rallies, people attend Tea Party rallies and they have signs where President Obama is pictured as a witch doctor or there are people who are – seem to be advocating, in one way or another, armed struggle, does that disturb you?
LINNELL: I – When I blog online and stuff, I do say, hey, let’s – it’s not about Obama. He really hasn’t done much since he’s been in, you know. He’s only an enforcer. The laws were already set up there to dwindle away our rights, and all of this has been going on a long time. I – If you had gone to the Star of India birthday party, what, February 27th, you would see that there’s been a huge decrease in the anti-Obama signs and that. They’ve really been reaching out and saying, hey, this is a people movement, this has nothing to do with either political party, it doesn’t want to. It wants to, you know, fix our government and it wants to go in and say, hey, let’s put regular people back in office and let’s put common sense back in office and let’s rebalance the government and so it’s not so powerful that we can’t do anything, that our freedoms are being infringed.
CAVANAUGH: And Richard.
RIDER: One of the things I’ve always discovered is that—I’m a longtime Libertarian, not very active with the party currently but have been for many years, and we used to have a state convention and one guy would show up wearing interesting outfits and the last – well, the one that worked the best was a butterfly outfit. He dressed as a butterfly. I mean, I’m talking about big wings, the whole thing. Guess whose picture appeared to show the typical Libertarian? So what happens, when you see these signs, they are the exception and it is natural for the trend – for the press to look for something interesting, inflammatory, anti-Tea Party perhaps, and so that is the natural way these things work out. But the key here is—and it is a problem—we have to keep the Tea Party movement focused on core issues and we have to find productive ways to move forward. The protesting is very important. It really is a galvanizing force. In California, we have an avenue which the Tea Party’s movement is starting to move towards, which is the proposition avenue where you try to put a measure on the ballot. It’s a huge problem, almost never done with volunteers. And our first effort I don’t think is going to be successful. We’re working on one now. But the point is, well, Prop 13 was not successful the first time or the second time. I think we’ll see that type of movement starting to channel more in that area, looking at propositions that, as I describe it, provide the adult supervision that our state legislature—and, of course, we can’t do it on the federal level but we can on the state level, and also to start to effect the outcome of elections. RINO Republicans don’t deserve support. I – We need to put a stop to that. We need to find true fiscal conservatives, and I hope the movement will move more in that regard, looking at—and I hope not just blindly supporting Republicans but rather asking for people who more closely adhere to the Constitution.
CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Gupta, we’re right up against a break but you wanted to make a comment.
DR. GUPTA: Well, yes. I was going to say that a movement, a mass movement such as this, where there is no overarching philosophy that everybody agrees to or a recognized leader, there is always a possibility that some of these ideas can be taken to extreme, and that’s a real possibility and we cannot minimize that. For instance, you know, to me, a mass movement is like a train. People get on at various points, they think they’re going to get off at different places, and sometimes they get off because – get on because they think it’s going someplace that it’s not going.
CAVANAUGH: I understand. We do have to take a short break. When we return, we will continue to talk about the Tea Party movement in California and nationwide, and take your calls and comments online at KPBS.org/thesedays. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And we’re talking about the protests of the Tea Party movement, what the movement stands for and whether or not it is, as some people are expressing, a dangerous movement for America. I’d like to reintroduce my guests. Terri Linnell is director of the San Diego Patriots, based in Poway. Richard Rider is Chair of the San Diego Tax Fighters. Dr. Dipak Gupta, is Fred Hansen Professor of World Peace at SDSU. And Heidi Beirich is Director of Research for the Southern Poverty Law Center. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 or you can post your comment online, KPBS.org/thesedays. I’d like to start with a phone call. Stacey is calling us from San Marcos. Good morning, Stacey. Welcome to These Days.
STACEY (Caller, San Marcos): Yes, good morning. I just wanted to make a couple of comments. I agree with Dr. Gupta from the university that there’s really no boundaries set as far as where the goals are for this tax party and I’m speaking from experience because my neighbor came over and told me about them gathering down in San Diego, that, you know, everyone gets to voice their opinions against the government and the taxing and stuff, so I made my signs about the bailout. But when you get down there, there’s another – there’s a different air. And, to me, it reflected more of like racial stuff towards Obama and I’m not really sure like where that was coming from or why it was even there because people need to remember that the stuff that we’re complaining about now was set before Obama even came into the administration. And I think when you start having those levels of…
CAVANAUGH: So, Stacey, you’re saying that you went down to protest the bailout, the Wall Street bailout, and when you got down there the rally was not what you thought it was going to be.
STACEY: No, not at all. I thought it was actually really embarrassing and kind of disgusting to see a president’s face painted white, you know? So that kind of just did not settle very well with me at all when you have the other intentions of going down there and it’s totally not what you expected at all. And it is predominantly white, and I’m white, and my neighbor is of Asian (sic) but predominantly everybody that was down there was white, so it was kind of a little bit scary so I kind of just sat back in the background and just watched everybody. But that was the comment that I wanted to make.
CAVANAUGH: Stacey, thank you for your call. I’m wondering, Richard, when you deal with a movement that is aimed towards making government smaller and isn’t it easy for that movement to transform into an anti-government movement, a movement of distrust of government?
RIDER: That’s not necessarily a problem. The important thing is whether or not it’s a political movement or a terrorist movement, and pretty clearly the Tea Party movement is a political movement. That’s the core issue here. Is this a group that is a threat to people? Are there assassination teams running around? Is this a Symbionese Liberation Army or is this the Black Panthers or the Weather Underground, all of which, of course, were on the other side. Would we say that the civil rights movement was a terrorist org – or was leaning towards violence because there’s groups like the Black Panthers and no, of course not. I think most people were sensible – Oh, by the way, let me say this in all fairness, I’m sure that the right made some of the same connections concerning left wing movements that the left is now trying to make with this limited government movement. It’s a common ploy and I think you – it’s not surprising but I don’t think it has legs. Again, because I’ve spoken at a number of these organizations and, yes, you will find always the offensive sign there. They will have no way of limiting signs. And if you’re a wacko who’s concerned about the birthering (sic) of Obama, you show up with your sign. But that’s not what the movement is about and fortunately the speakers, by and large, limit themselves. Let me give you one area that I’m a little concerned about. The one thing in California that really is a – has a disproportionate driving force is our anti-illegal immigrant aspect and this is where I somewhat separate from the rest of the Tea Party movement. It is a problem. Some are getting benefits they shouldn’t be getting and so forth. But it’s not ‘the’ problem, it’s not even close to being ‘the’ problem. And we start to focus on this evil immigrant as the problems of California. If we do that, we have two problems. One, we’re missing the boat on what the real – what I perceive and what we discussed here, as the goals, are the real problems, and, two, we alienate minorities in California, which is the last thing you want to do, particularly since the state is – whites aren’t even a majority in this state; they’re only a pleurality.
CAVANAUGH: Right, right. Let’s take another call. Steve is calling from La Jolla. Good morning, Steve. Welcome to These Days.
STEVE (Caller, La Jolla): Yes, it seems like you guys have a slight slant when you’re judging groups like this. I mean, it seems that if you look at, let’s say, the protest against the World Bank, those guys, you know, they have disguises on, they’re burning – they set fires and there are riots. No one talks about the fact that these are like anarchy groups and extremists and they’re a danger and there are topics or shows on that because they tend to be on the left because – But when it’s on the right, a group on the right, then there are shows on saying, oh, it’s an extremist group and they’re going to get out of control and, I mean, it just doesn’t seem like a fair shake on how you guys are judging these different groups.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Steve, let me ask that question then. Let me ask that to you first, Heidi.
CAVANAUGH: The radicals on the American left, how do they compare with what we’re seeing at least in the offshoots of some of the Tea Party movement?
BEIRICH: Sure. I mean, the fact of the matter is that the left does not have an organized terrorist movement of any import compared to the right today. The groups that Richard mentioned earlier from the 1960s were serious groups, like the Weathermen and so on, they were terrorist outfits. We have some eco-terror. No one’s ever been killed by people who are involved in the radical animal rights or eco-terror movements. That is not to make light of them. We’ve written about them repeatedly because one of our concerns is terrorism, domestic, whether left or right. But today the place where the most activity is going on that has a potential to turn into domestic terrorism—and we’ve had a bunch of domestic terrorism incidents in the last year—has been from the right. We had the Holocaust Museum shooter, that was from the right. We had a guy kill three cops in the front yard of his home in Pittsburgh. He was anti-Obama, he was a white supremacist. We had a militia member shoot state troopers in Florida. And I could go on quite a bit. Two plots by white supremacists against the president during the election, a neo-Nazi who went on a rape and killing spree the night of the inauguration. All of that domestic terrorism, including the guy who tried to fly his plane into the IRS building, that domestic terrorism has been from the right, and there’s just nothing right now that compares on the left of that at all. It’s a fact.
LINNELL: I would like to respond.
CAVANAUGH: Terri, what would you like to say?
LINNELL: Yeah, regarding domestic terrorism, this movement is, yes, they are trying to label and say that we’re extremists and say that we’re terrorists and do all of that and that’s part – just part of the political machine to keep us divided as a country and really just has no teeth. And I know that 21 people died in the last two big fires because the environmentalists said that the dead chaparral out in our back countries are protected and that we couldn’t do any kind of clearing of our lands. And so, yes, there are people that have died from these laws – and by letting the chap – the kindling get that high. And then another big issue is, say, the LRAD being used in Pittsburgh in the G-20 Summits. The people were not given permits. The only ones that managed to get permits to do peaceful protests were the ones that managed to get to court and I think only one group was able to do that.
CAVANAUGH: And you’re talking about the G-20 Summit protests.
LINNELL: Yes, they…
LINNELL: They brought in police from all over the country. They didn’t issue permits. They asked the city workers, not just city workers but they asked all the workers in the city not to go to work during then. So they infringed upon a lot of rights right there.
CAVANAUGH: I’m getting your point here. Dr. Gupta would like to respond.
DR. GUPTA: Yes. I believe that very few people are going to say that the Tea Party movement is a terrorist organization. That’s not what we are saying or I am saying. What I’m saying is that some of the rhetoric, because it’s a very amorphous movement, despite the fact that Terri chopped out three overall goals, they’re very broad. But within that, there are many people who come in with very extremist ideas and that doesn’t necessarily taint the Tea Party movement. But what I’m saying is that if people who are in position of authority, who have very loud, loud voices, if they move where they not only talk about what the problem is but also point out who the culprits are, who the enemies are, that’s a recipe for disaster.
CAVANAUGH: I understand your point. Let’s take another call. Javier is calling from Vista. Good morning, Javier. Welcome to These Days.
JAVIER (Caller, Vista): Good morning. Great show. I’m in Vista but I’m on the freeway.
JAVIER: I want to say that the movement – I’ve got two points. The movement’s really about fear. It’s fear of fear and it’s building on people’s distrust. And you know the old maxim, the revolution ate her children, remember that, Tea Party activists. The point that I wanted to make though was that the lady who talks about limited government, wasn’t it limited government that got us in the mess that we’re in? Wasn’t it the regulators that weren’t doing their job? And are the Tea Party activists really saying that they don’t want the government to back their savings deposits when the bankers take them away? They don’t want the government to look after them when Toyota or these problems happen with cars? And the last thing is, to the gentleman who said that the Tea Party movement isn’t about one particular political party, but yet the very next statement out of his mouth was we want to exercise influence over the Republican Party. If it’s really a movement, it should be a grassroots movement that should exercise over all parties. And that’s all I want to say. You guys are having a great show, though.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Javier.
RIDER: A good point about the fact that we’ll probably have more influence over the Republicans. I think it’s fair to say that from our perspective there’s not much hope with most California Democrats. Now, that’s not true in all states. In some states you find the old Scoop Jackson Democrats, the Reagan Democrats and so forth but right now the people that run for office, particularly because of the gerrymandered nature of our state legislature and federal offices, come from a position so far removed from the Tea Party position that I don’t think we can have much influence. I’m sorry that’s the case—we’d love to—but I think that’s not something we can hope for. A lot of the Republicans, I don’t think we can influence. And, again, I come back to what’s really most important for the movement in California, and that’s to look more closely at propositions. I’m very – I’ve been involved in this area for many years. The key point here is means and ends. The ends that we seek may be viewed with fear by the other side but the means we want to use are political…
RIDER: …and that’s pretty clear. That’s a very important distinction we have to understand. There’s no move to say that we need to go out and start trashing government buildings or attacking people’s property as the anarchists do at the trade meetings and so forth. There’s none of that. And the incidents that are cited are all individuals. Yes, there are wackos out there, no question about it, but – and the Tea Party does not advocate that, does not encourage that. We are a political movement. We are actively trying to change the political direction of this country. It’s not a radical idea. New Zealand changed from a socialist state to a very limited government state in a very short period of time through the ballot box, and I – we hope to do the same.
CAVANAUGH: Terri, let me ask you something, I’ve noticed that in watching Glenn Beck, who is a real prime mover when it comes to the Tea Party, there’s a great deal of the idea of conspiracy in what he talks about. Do you believe that there are conspiracies inside the United States government that are controlling things?
LINNELL: No. I think the government has gotten too big and too powerful. Is it a conspiracy? No. It’s just a fact. They’re too big. They’re regulating all the way down to the air we breathe. They’re taxing us even in death. You know, that’s not anything, I mean…
CAVANAUGH: Right. And, Richard, maybe if you could address that conspiracy…
RIDER: Yeah, and that – that is an annoying aspect for me. There’ll be, for me, people who are allies on certain issues and they get involved in this conspiracy idea. I always tell them that incompetency trumps conspiracy every time, that’s our primary problem. And people I fear most are perhaps the people with the best of intentions who think they know what’s best for me and my children and for the economy and so forth and want to use the force of government. It’s the nature of things to try to pick an evil person or to try to pick, as we do in California, the illegal immigrants and make them the boogeymen, and so we got some – It’s easier.
RIDER: It’s easier to understand a bad person than it is to deal with institutional problems that need to be changed, and that’s what I think we need to concentrate on.
CAVANAUGH: And, Heidi, just one last word on the conspiracy element. That is a large part of a lot of what – the organizations that you track, is that correct?
BEIRICH: There’s no question, and Glenn Beck is a good person to point out as a major conspiracy-monger. And, yes, they believe crazy things about Obama’s birth certificate, about the 9/11 attacks, about a New World Order coming, and these conspiracy theories can really drive people crazy at times. It certainly did with von Brunn, the Holocaust shooter, who believed in a lot of this stuff. So we’re really worried when we see these things popping up anywhere.
CAVANAUGH: Dr. Gupta.
DR. GUPTA: Well, in 1960s, imminent historian Richard Hofstadter wrote a seminal piece called “The Paranoid Style of American Politics (sic).” In this country, there has always been a strain of political thought that was absolutely paranoid or whatever term you want to use, worried about losing something big. And this is the primal fear. In many people, this is the prime mover for their aggressive acts. And we have – and this – these things come to the fore during the times of economic problems, economic recessions. And, again, in the 1950s and ‘60s, data clearly showed that in the American south when the cotton prices dipped, the number of lynchings went up. What it really meant was that people looked for the boogeyman, they looked for the evil person and they transferred their own frustration and anger onto certain groups of people who identify – were identified as enemies. All the ideas that the Tea Party movement are promoting are absolutely legitimate. They are – they should be of concern to everybody. But what we have to worry about are those people who are using this movement and the frustration and anger and the fear of the people at times of economic distress, whether they’re channeling against some individuals and groups.
CAVANAUGH: Let me take another phone call. Sara is calling us from the North County. Good morning, Sara. Welcome to These Days.
SARA (Caller, North County): Good morning. I am one of the original Tea Party organizers here in San Diego and…
SARA: …you know, just wanted to clarify, you know, our goals a little bit…
SARA: …for those who wonder what we’re really trying to get done here. And, you know, to go back to the original intent, you know, Terri said it well when, you know, we were very frustrated as taxpayers with the lack of representation we were getting, particularly from the Republican Party, and I am a Republican, with the TARP bailout. That was kind of the tipping point. Like she said, all of the phone calls, and by the time stimulus came around, it was – we were – you know, people had had it. We realized that the party was not going to be able to, you know, stop this, you know, we had defectors for TARP and so the people felt like we had to put – take this into our own hands to be heard. And so this is really, you know, for the gentleman who called who was – who thought that, you know, this was about Obama, this is about giving the taxpayers a platform, you know, to tell our lawmakers what we want them to be doing. This isn’t about the president specifically or Pelosi politically – specifically, you know, this is for all of our lawmakers and for all of the political parties to understand that the majority of the taxpayers want responsible government, we want, you know, reasonable tax rates, you know, we want a hierarchy of, you know, of services that don’t get excessive, you know, starting with public safety, you know, and not going to this sort of socialist structure where we’re taking care of people from cradle to grave.
CAVANAUGH: Sara, let me ask you a question. As I’ve heard, the rise of the Tea Party and how it has affected the Republican Party, is there any concern that you have that the Tea Party may make the Republican Party move so far to the right that the people in the Republican Party are no longer electable?
SARA: Oh, not at all. You know, you see it time and again that both Democrats and Republicans run their campaigns as fiscal conservatives and then it’s once they’re in office that they tend to move more towards the left fiscally. You see it time and time again. Even the president, he ran very moderate, he talked about tax cuts, you know, and those are the things we want. The Tea Party is not about the social issues that divide this country like abortion and gay marriage and some of these other things, and we very, very specifically avoid those issues. The Tea Party is about the issues that unite us, a smaller, more responsible government, balanced budgets, constitutional freedoms for the individual.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you so much, Sara, for calling in. I really appreciate that. Let me take another call. Gail is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Gail. Welcome to These Days.
GAIL (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thank you so much for having this program. I think it’s so important to enable everyone to come to the table and really talk from their perspective. I would like to say I definitely agree with Professor Gupta’s concern about how there are groups, not just the Tea Party group but other groups that want to take advantage of the anger that’s generated by some concerns that the Tea Partiers have. But I have some questions for the Tea Partiers.
CAVANAUGH: We only have time for one. I’m sorry.
GAIL: Okay, I have one question which is that, you know, it seems to me that they look at government as a terrible thing but I would like to ask – We need fire protection. You know, government is the fire department. It’s our public schools. It’s the police. And also the fact that they’re concerned about how the govern – the economy was so, you know, it tanked in 2008, a lot of that was because a lot of these crazy securities and derivatives were totally beneath the radar and unregulated. So, I mean, what role did they see government playing?
CAVANAUGH: Right, thank you. Terri, let me go to you for that first. What do you like about government? What role does it have?
LINNELL: Government has some very important roles. We couldn’t even have electricity, you know, there’s only a few stations, you know, across the country. You can lose electricity on the whole east coast. So they must, you know, regulate things that provide multiple states, and that’s just needed or we wouldn’t – we wouldn’t have electricity.
LINNELL: So there’s very important things. The fire stations and things like that, that’s on a community level, that’s very important. The police, the police up here in Ramona, they’re all local. They live here locally.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Let me ask Richard. Richard, what function does the government have? Do you like about government?
RIDER: The original concept of government under the American system was to reverse the idea of the purpose of government to help the elite but rather the government was there to protect the individual. We were very strong on the concept of individual rights, limiting the government just to what it should and that’s what the Constitution is, it’s an employment contract. So this is what you can’t do. This is what you can do and the rest of it’s not – not any of your business. And so, to me, that’s the role that it plays. Of course, we want fire stations, of course we want police. I don’t think – Well, surely there’s some anarchists in our movement, too, but a very few people think there should be zero government. There are questions about how the government should best deliver the service, whether it should be public employees or private contractors. That’s a different issue and it certainly is worth discussing at another time. But obviously what we’re doing now is out of control. Our expenses are running wild. Our unfunded liabilities are absolutely off the chart with no idea how we’re going to pay it. We got a $20 billion plus deficit here in California. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing.
CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there. I am so sorry. We couldn’t get to all our callers but, please, post your comments online, KPBS.org/thesedays. My guests were Terri Linnell and Richard Rider, Dr. Dipak Gupta and Heidi Beirich. Thank you all so much for speaking with us today.
DR. GUPTA: You’re welcome.
BEIRICH: You’re welcome.
CAVANAUGH: And stay with us for hour two of These Days. It’s coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.