On Monday night, ThinkProgess hosted a film screening of Astroturf Wars followed by a panel discussion featuring the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, (Astro)Turf Wars filmmaker Taki Oldham, Americans for Prosperity’s Phil Kerpen, the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson, moderator and ThinkProgress editor Faiz Shakir, and myself. Responding to the vitriolic racism openly aired at tea parties and captured in Oldham’s film, an audience member asked Kerpen why he refused to acknowledge the possibility that dangerous propaganda could spur life-threatening violence. Kerpen said he opposed racism and hate in the Tea Parties, but admitted that racists “might find a more receptive audience [at Tea Party rallies] because of all the paranoia and concern out there about government.”
In addition to the problem that Tea Parties are often open forums for neo-Nazis and white supremacists holding racist signs, I pointed out that Americans for Prosperity itself organizes events with proud bigots like Tom Tancredo and Jerome Corsi. Kerpen interjected, calling me a “full time conspiracy theorist,” and claimed that Americans for Prosperity had never held an event with Corsi and has no presence in South Carolina:
KERPEN: There is no problem we have a problem with extremism in this country. We have a problem with racism in our country, it goes back to our founding. Unfortunately, some of these people look at these Tea Party gatherings with all this concern about big government and think, this is where I ought to go to recruit. And perhaps they might find a slightly more receptive audience there because of all the paranoia and concern out there about government. That said, the overwhelming majority of Tea Party folks condemn racism. [...]
FANG: I applaud Kerpen for denouncing racism now, but it’s a problem when Americans for Prosperity funds, organizes rallies and their primary speakers are people like Jerome Corsi, who has written an entire book and has made a career out of accusing Obama of being a Kenyan, or — [Kerpen interrupts] Yes, you did in South Carolina.
KERPEN: We don’t have a chapter in South Carolina.
FANG: We can send this around to anyone who would like to see.
KERPEN: Full time conspiracy theorist here.
FANG: I think it was like April 19th of this year, you had an event with him. But also you’ve invited Tom Tancredo, had him as an official speaker. He says he wants to deport Obama, says he’s an illegal immigrant. A lot of these folks. [...]
According to the Americans for Prosperity website, there is a South Carolina chapter of the group, and it indeed helped sponsor a rally with both Tancredo and Corsi in Greenville, South Carolina on April 17th of this year (view a screenshot here). At this particular Americans for Prosperity rally, Tancredo called Obama a lying, taxing, foreign-born, anti-American socialist, who should be sent back to his “homeland” of Kenya. At the Americans for Prosperity rally, Corsi declared, “we have an undocumented president in the White House.” In fact, Americans for Prosperity has sponsored multiple events with racist figures like Tancredo and Glenn Beck. For example, earlier this year Americans for Prosperity leader Tim Phillips hosted another Tea Party rally with Tancredo in Arizona to support “Americans for Prosperity Hero of the Taxpayer” State Sen. Russell Pearce (R-AZ), the sponsor of the racial profiling law SB1070.