'Tea party' vs. opponents: 'Low-grade civil war' on tax day?
Tensions are rising between tea party supporters and liberal activists as tax-day protests get under way. More likely than violence, though, is debate about what the phrase ‘real American’ means.
The only real incident of note at last year's 'tea party' rallies on tax day, April 15, came when a passionate protester tossed a box of tea bags over the White House fence.Skip to next paragraph
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This year, things are looking a little dicier.
In towns large and small on Thursday, which is tax day, tea partyers are planning to march against big government – and the rhetoric is getting heated as counterdemonstrators mobilize. Some agents provocateurs say they’ll crash the tea parties, and the threat of fisticuffs and worse is hanging in the air.
Both sides have been fueled by the Internet's churning of partisan, even extreme, politics. One commenter, a tea-party supporter, recently warned of a looming "low-grade civil war.”
But evidence, political scientists say, shows that political conflict rarely erupts in the United States once protesters and counterprotesters are actually toe-to-toe. In fact, partisans meeting on the street – away from their keyboards, TVs, and radios – may have a moderating effect.
"Mainstream politics is sort of like listening to two lawyers arguing, while [political outsiders] sound more like two guys getting ready for a bar fight," says political scientist Charles Franklin at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. "If opposition rallies start showing up or infiltrating the tea party, you do run the risk of fisticuffs. But you might have the opposite effect: If we're face to face, I might not actually punch you in the nose."
Yet the tension is palpable.
Crashing the tea party
A group called Crash the Tea Party is recruiting activists from New Hampshire to California to infiltrate hundreds of planned tea-party events. It’s urging activists to hold up racist signs in order to paint the movement in a negative light.
Tea partyers say they'll bring video cameras to root out any imposters.
In North Carolina, a new state regulation bans flags and signs from being carried on poles. This means that tax protesters can wave objects only as big as the flags handed out at a Fourth of July parade. According to state officials, the rule was put into place last September to prevent ralliers from inadvertently injuring one another.
But others suspect that the measure is aimed at suppressing intentional violence. Raleigh’s News & Observer writes, "The ban comes as, elsewhere in the nation, demonstrations have become heated and raucous."
"It's sad our country has come to this," Laura Long, who applied for a permit for a tea-party rally on Thursday, told the N&O.
Reports from New Orleans that a couple attending the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in the city was beaten up for wearing Sarah Palin pins were wrong. But that didn't stop Internet commenters from sensing a looming battle.