by Peter C. Coker
When people perceive that forces are at work to subvert their own liberties and freedoms or take advantage of them for someone else’s benefit, they naturally want to stop those forces. When those forces are governmental, resistance to them becomes a concern and what to do about it, paramount. It is in such instances that resistance groups and movements are born. Naturally, these kinds of movements become much maligned by those who oppose them and often persecuted in some sense by their opponents or their government. Such has been the case with the recent rise of the Tea Party Movement in the American political arena.
The Tea Party was born out of the frustrations of citizens who believed that government was taking advantage of its citizenry and granting extravagant favors to a chosen few. Not only was big government ever-increasing, it was also bailing-out the biggest banks and the biggest corporations, with tax revenues that included the common citizen’s tax money. For many people, this blatant – in your face – corporate welfare scheme smelled a little too much like the old English system that American colonists sought independence from; or, to the extreme, like Mussolini’s brand of fascism, melding big government and big corporate power.
So, whatever happened to government serving the people; and not the people serving government officials and their chosen cronies? The following, briefly notes examples of resistance movements that succeeded and that failed. The first is the American Boston Tea Party and the other is the Tea Circles of the Nazi Germany era. It will conclude by presenting the current Tea Party movement as a very normative grass roots resistance group in American culture and not the extremist, racist fringe group portrayed by its detractors.
Boston Tea Party
America’s Boston Tea Party was a reaction to England’s Tea Act of 1772. The Tea Act gave tea sellers a drawback or tax refund on tea sent to America. There was, at the time, an overabundance of tea and sellers greatly reduced the price of the tea that would be sold to America. Although they were selling the tea at bargain basement prices, they had also increased the normal taxes on the tea. The sellers figured that colonists would not notice the increased taxes because the overall price was much lower than normal. But, they did notice, and along with the other grievances that had been building up, some of the colonists decided they had had enough. In 1773, a group of Bostonian’s who opposed the tax increase on tea, disguised themselves as Indians, boarded the ships carrying tea and tossed the tea overboard into the harbor. Their leader, Samuel Adams thought that disguising themselves as Indians would have great dramatic effect – which it did. The Boston Tea Party incident aroused the imaginations of colonists throughout the colonies and the act was immediately repeated in several seaport towns.
The British public was indignant over the Tea Party incident and the King of England was furious. They felt that they had appeased the American colonists as much as they possibly could and that the colonists deserved to be punished in return. The American radicals on the other hand, hoped this would be just the kind of reaction they would receive from England.
In an attempt to punish the town of Boston and the colony of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, England responded with the Intolerable Acts (or Coercive Acts) and the Quebec Act, in 1774. The Intolerable Acts and the Quebec Act, instead of putting the American’s in their place, psychologically united all thirteen colonies against England.
The result, in 1775, was that the colonies united in calling for a Continental Congress which would unite and begin to prepare American colonists for war against England’s heavy-handedness. England’s responses to the Tea Party had pushed the situation well beyond the problem of increased taxes, as colonists already possessed a host of grievances they wanted settled.
The British, who already had soldiers in the American colonies, then began to exercise raids in local townships. The Americans quickly put together rather disorganized individual citizen-soldiers to fight-off the British soldier regiments. Thus began the American colonist’s armed resistance against the British Crown. The colonial resistance originally began as a means to settle a list of grievances colonists had against England’s policies. The colonists, for their part, wanted a say in the laws being imposed on them.
About a year later, in 1776, the Americans made their intentions for complete independence from England known in writing with the Declaration of Independence. This officially began a new phase of the war, the war for American independence — The Revolutionary War — no longer a resistance war to fight for grievances, but a war to fight for complete independence from England.
During Adolph Hitler’s reign in Germany, informal small group gatherings of independent resistance groups formed, called Tea Circles. The Tea Circles of Nazi Germany were also known by other individual names such as: the Solf Circle, Solf Tea Party or the Tea Party, etc. Many members were German dissidents or resistors to the Nazi regime.
Johanna or “Hannah” Solf was the widow of Dr. Wilhelm Solf, ambassador to Japan under the Weimar Republic (former German Republic). After her husband’s death in 1936 she and her daughter, the Countess So’oa’emalelagi Lagi von Ballestrem-Solf, presided over a circle (small group) of like-minded anti-Nazi individuals, in her salon in Berlin. The Solf Tea Circle or Solf-Kreis was formed and worked closely with other like-minded tea circle resistance groups, such as; the Kreisau Circle, also known by the Gestapo as, Kreisauer Kreis.
Members of the Solf Tea Circle included; career officers from the Foreign Office, industrialists, writers, Jesuit priests, Lutheran pastors, trade-union leaders, landowners, and others. Most members were conservatives, although Johanna Solf was herself a moderate. Some of the other members were monarchists and some liberals. The principal members were Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg and Adam von Trott zu Solz, each of whom were well known luminaries.
The Tea Circle’s main focus was to develop and propose a peacetime government for a new Germany after the war. The group decided to plan a society based on Christian values. Most members desired to see the regeneration of Germany, based on Christian principles, with the restoration of basic freedoms. To avoid the manipulation of the whole society, as with Hitlerism, they envisioned a federal state consisting of a weak central government based on small self-governing communities. The Tea Circles maintained contact with other resistance groups and informed European allies (mostly Britain) of the political conditions within the Nazi regime, including any perceived weaknesses. Some members harbored other resistors in their homes who were wanted for investigation by the Nazi regime.
A few members of the Solf-Circle group decided to work towards actively pursuing a political coup and the assassination of Adolph Hitler. They put together a unit of key individuals to carry out their mission. Their mission was secretly connected to Hitler’s own Operation Walkure (Operation Valkyrie) which was to become a double-cross designed to kill Hitler and take over the military. After failing the coup and assassination attempt, several members of the Circle were found-out and executed, including some who had nothing to do with the conspiracy. The group fell apart after the arrest of Helmuth James Graf von Moltke on January 19, 1944. Unfortunately, the spirit of the Tea Circles and Tea Parties in Germany was put to rest by the Nazi regime.
The Tea Party Movement
The American Tea Party movement is a grass roots public policy resistance movement operating outside the bounds of official political party affiliation. The movement is composed of a loose affiliation of national and local groups that determine their own platforms and agendas without a central leadership. The Tea Party leans towards a Republican/ Libertarian ideology, but is not a national political party.
The movement consists of independent groups whose members are; mostly conservative, partly libertarian, and partly populist. The majority are Republicans, although some are Independents, Libertarians, and moderate Democrats. The origins are somewhat diverse as a few different tea party style groups began to form around the same time. Writer and commentator, Juan Williams believes the movement grew out of the ashes of (Libertarian) Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential primary campaign. Others say it rose out of the Bush and Obama, stimulus and bail-out policies.
In August of 2008 the website ChicagoTeaParty.com was registered and launched by Zack Christianson after a commentary by CNBC news editor Rick Santelli. The commentary was about the government plan to refinance defaulted home mortgages. Shortly after, TeaParty.com was launched to bring together and coordinate Tea Parties under the collective banner of Tea Party. Then, in January 2009, Trevor Leach, president of Young American’s for Liberty organized a “Tea Party” to protest the new obesity taxes in New York.
Journalist Kate Zemike of the New York Times says Tea Party leaders credit Seattle blogger and conservative activist Keli Carender with organizing the first Tea-Party style event, called a Porkulus Protest, in February 2009. Carender organized the event in just four days making calls, sending e-mails, and drawing about 120 people. Her second event drew twice as many people. The formation of individual Tea Party groups quickly became national news and soon Tea Party groups began springing-up all over the country.
The Tea Party movement generally focuses on government reform and attempts to inform and influence politicians of their positions. Tea Party groups publicly endorse like-minded political candidates. As a movement it seeks to bring common sense approaches in adopting and crafting government legislation. For the most part, the movement has avoided targeting legislation on social issues. According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, the bailouts of banks by the Bush and Obama administrations triggered the Tea Party’s rise. Rasmussen also said, “They think federal spending, deficits and taxes are too high, and they think no one in Washington is listening to them, and that latter point is really, really important.”
Although the Tea Party label alludes to the Tea Party tax revolt that helped launch the American Revolution, the Tea Party movement is not a single issue, tax revolt organization. Among its goals are: limiting the size and scope of the federal government, curbing government spending, opposing continued tax increases, repealing many taxes, and lowering the national debt to more manageable levels. The Tea Party basically calls for more economic fiscal responsibility in some of the federal government’s most extravagant expenditures. In short, it proposes that the federal government operate according to its legally constituted boundaries and keeps within, what they believe to be, the true spirit or the original intent of the principles as written in America’s founding documents.
As America’s overly centralized federal government has accumulated increasing powers, and consolidated more power to itself, it often operates in violation its original constitutionally mandated character by seeking to manipulate all aspects of life. This political atmosphere has grown out of the FDR era and continues to advance progressively. In response to America’s current trends in this regard, the Tea Party seeks to point out proposed legislation that they believe contradicts the original principles and true intent of the nation’s legal founding documents (Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights); and that such legislation should be rejected or reformed to comply correctly with the true intent of America’s stated principles.
In attempts to reform some federal government policies, Tea Party groups have protested recent legislation such as: the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), stimulus programs such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, commonly referred to as the Stimulus or The Recovery Act), cap and trade, health care reform such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, also known simply as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare). The Tea Party movement sees each of these legislative acts as incompatible with the powers legally granted to the federal government by the people of the United States. In particular, the Affordable Care Act yields unprecedented political and monetary power to the federal government which is not equipped to competently manage health care on a national level as efficiently as America’s private sector engine.
Regarding foreign affairs and the military, the Tea Party prefers an approach that seeks to avoid continuous military involvements. Although it seeks to avoid unnecessary foreign conflicts, it does on the other hand favor maintaining a strong military readiness. They oppose the liberal notions of constantly fighting limited wars for limited goals, and its anti-liberty quest of imposing liberal values and a liberal world order on other nations. The Tea Party takes a somewhat combined Republican-Libertarian approach to foreign policy in opposing unnecessary military intervention and showing a willingness to cut back on foreign aid. It prefers that America promote the idea of American Exceptionalism wherever it can and encourage other nations to move towards their own exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism is described as follows:
“…It is not that we are better people. It is not that we are superior people. It is not that we are smarter people. It is not that God loves us and hates everybody else. It is not that God prefers us. It is not that God doesn’t prefer anybody else. American exceptionalism has nothing to do with anything but freedom and liberty.
The vast majority of the people of this world since the beginning of time had never known the kind of liberty and freedom that’s taken for granted every day in this country. Most people have lived in abject fear of their leaders. Most people have lived in abject fear of whoever held power over them. Most people in the world had not had plentiful access to food and clean water. It was a major daily undertaking for most people to come up with those two basic things. Just surviving was the primary occupation of most people in the world. The history of the world is dictatorship, tyranny, subjugation, whatever you want to call it — of populations — and then, along came the United States of America. For the first time in human history, a government and country was founded on the belief that leaders serve the population. This country was the first in history, the EXCEPTION. The exception to the rule is what American Exceptionalism is.
It is because of this liberty and freedom that our country exists, because the founders recognized it (first) comes from God. It is part of the natural yearning of the human spirit. It is not granted by a government, it is given by God. We are created with the natural yearning to be free, and it is other men and leaders throughout human history who have suppressed that and imprisoned people for seeking it. The [American founding] was the first time in the history of the world where a government was organized with a (written) Constitution laying out the rules, that the individual was supreme and dominant, and that is what led to the U.S. becoming the greatest country ever because it unleashed people to be the best they could be. That is American Exceptionalism.”*
Former Vice-President Al Gore has claimed that the connections between so-called market fundamentalists, the tobacco industry and the Tea Party could be traced to a 1971 memo from tobacco lawyer Lewis F. Powell, Jr., who advocated more political power for corporations. Gore said that the Tea Party is an extension of this political strategy “to promote corporate profit at the expense of the public good.” This is stupid, even for Al Gore. Spoken like a good Darwinian neo-Marxist, Al Gore’s carnival barking rhetoric is either delusional or simply providing cover for his own political masquerade, since “political power for corporations” is completely against the Tea Party’s own political philosophy. It is in fact the very thing that initially triggered Tea Party resistance. Al Gore’s rhetoric is actually, the model for his (and liberal democrats) own political schemes that are borrowed from the likes of Mussolini, the Fabian’s and Keynesian’s. Al Gore’s own environmental “global warming/climate change” scam is a blatant example of manipulating political and corporate powers for profiteering at the expense of the public. Al Gore’s schemes of developing new avenues of revenue from new taxes and tax increases to benefit chosen crony corporations as part of a larger “public” scam are the very kinds of things American colonists fought against England for. When the federal government becomes the common enemy of law-abiding people, those people will naturally want to get rid of those unjust policies that are in opposition to them. Eventually, they will want to see what they can do to change and turn back perceived unjust public policies. This is what Tea Party groups seek to do by influencing public policy reforms. Nothing is more American than wanting a say in what government does and being able to express it.
According to statistics from an NBC blog, overall Tea Party influence in certain recent elections has included; 32% of the political candidates that were backed by the Tea Party or identified themselves as a Tea Party member, won election. Tea Party supported candidates have won 5 of 10 Senate races (50%) contested, and 40 of 130 House races (31%) contested. Not-too-shabby for a grass roots organization that liberal media cronies and Democrat Party operatives relentlessly malign as extremist, out of the mainstream, or irrelevant. But, the Tea Party can only be maligned and labeled extremist if one chooses position them self as a communist, socialist, or some variation of either. Otherwise, there is nothing extremist about them in the true American sense. Generally speaking, the spirit of today’s Tea Party is much closer to the radical founding spirit of America’s first Tea Party than their anti-liberty critics have yet to understand. May the exceptional American spirit of groups like the Tea Party — of resisting oppressive and poor government policies — always thrive and survive in American political culture.
*Describing American Exceptionalism is borrowed from Rush Limbaugh.com.