Scholarly article on topic 'Individual Responsibility, Culture, or State Organized Enslavement? How Tea Party Activists Frame Racial Inequality'

Individual Responsibility, Culture, or State Organized Enslavement? How Tea Party Activists Frame Racial Inequality Academic research paper on "Sociology"

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Academic research paper on topic "Individual Responsibility, Culture, or State Organized Enslavement? How Tea Party Activists Frame Racial Inequality"

Individual Responsibility, Culture, or State Organized Enslavement? How Tea Party Activists Frame Racial Inequality

Kristin Haltinner1


This article explores how Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party activists produce and circulate stories about racial inequality, presenting four distinct frames that reflect nonconformity in the Tea Party's racial narrative. Activists engage with four racial frames: racism denial, individual responsibility, cultural responsibility, and structural responsibility. The Tea Party unites using frame amplification to emphasize the master frame of color blindness that allows activists, regardless of the frame with which they engage, to unite under the broader notion that they are all idyllically color blind.


Tea Party, social movements, racial frames, right-wing ideology

In 2011, Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party activist and Orange County Republican National Committee representative Marilyn Davenport distributed an e-mail containing a photo with Obama's face on an infant monkey with the caption: "Now you know why—No birth certificate!" (Associated Press 2011). This image and message reflect a long history of white Americans associating black people with animals and implying that they are less than human. References likening Obama to a monkey are periodically seen at Tea Party events in rhetoric such as "Obamanomics: Monkey See, Monkey Spend" or images of the President's face on a monkey's head with the text "primate in chief."

A year after Davenport circulated her e-mail, Ozark Tea Party activist Inge Marler told a joke, that received widespread laughter at an Arkansas rally, about a black child asking his mother about democracy:

"Well, son, that be when white folks work every day so us po' folks can get all our benefits." "But mama, don't the white folk get mad about that?" "They sho do, son. They sho do. And that's called racism." (S. Parker 2012)

This joke reflects a widespread belief among whites that black people remain in poverty because they lack a strong work ethic and prefer to rely on the welfare system (Bonilla-Silva

'University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA Corresponding Author:

Kristin Haltinner, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Idaho, 875 Perimeter Rd., MS '''0, Moscow, ID 83844-1110, USA. Email:

Sociological Perspectives 2016, Vol. 59(2) 395-418 © The Author(s) 201 5 © I Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/0731121415593275

2009). It further illustrates a persistent idea that racism is a baseless charge invented by people of color to excuse their shortcomings or to reap unearned benefits (Steele 1998).

Despite these examples, Tea Party activists claim—in articles, conversations, on signs, and by voting for black candidates such as Herman Cain (a 2012 Republican presidential candidate) and Allen West (R-FL)—that they are not racist. Furthermore, they attempt to expunge blatantly racist members from the movement. Marler was asked to leave the Tea Party following her delivery of the aforementioned joke. Although Davenport retained her position, many activists and Republican National Committee members sought her resignation. Furthermore, Tea Party scholar Theda Skocpol argued at a 2011 presentation at the University of Minnesota that Tea Party members are not typically racist (Black 2011).

Given the juxtaposition between employing racist humor and claiming to be race neutral, how do racial stories operate within the Tea Party and how do activists explain contemporary racial inequality? This article engages with theories on populism, race, and social movements to explore how activists frame racial inequality. The tradition of right-wing populism influences activist perspectives on racial inequality and shapes distinct frames, or ways of making sense of social phenomena (D. A. Snow and Benford 1992), that are employed by Tea Party activists to understand race. Activists engage with four specific racial frames: denial, individual responsibility, cultural responsibility, and structural responsibility.

These different understandings of race have the potential to threaten movement unity. This research shows how the Tea Party unites along the issue of race using what is called by social movement scholars a frame alignment strategy, or method of connecting the passions and frames of activists (Gamson, Fireman, and Rytina 1982; McAdam 1982; Piven and Cloward 1977; D. A. Snow et al. 1986). The Tea Party uses one of several types of frame alignment strategies: frame amplification. Frame amplification is the tactic of highlighting particular events and issues and magnifying a frame to increase its resonance (Noakes and Johnston 2005; Tarrow 1998). Frame amplification in the Tea Party involves activist engagement with a master frame, a broad and flexible frame that operates beyond the level of the movement organization (D. A. Snow and Benford 1992). The master frame of color blindness is used to argue that activists are not racist and to unite them regardless of their expressed racial stories.

Right-wing Populism and the Tea Party Movement

The Tea Party emerged from a broader history of right-wing populism (Berlet 2012a; Kimmel 2013). Although populist movements are difficult to define and feature a variety of demands and actors, they generally mobilize a working class and emphasize the importance of private property, the fear of unions and big government, and characterize the past as "the good old days" (Canovan 1981:292). Right-wing populism reacts to progressive social change and seeks to sustain or increase social power for its adherents while scapegoating particular groups cast as elites (Berlet and Lyons 2000). Populism typically attracts two groups:

middle- and working-class Whites, who have a stake in traditional social privilege but resent the power of upper-class elites over them, and "Outsider" factions of the elite itself, who sometimes use distorted forms of antielitism as part of their own bid for greater power. (Berlet and Lyons 2000:2)

These are the very people who have been drawn to Tea Party activism (Skocpol and Williamson 2012).

The Tea Party appropriates narratives from traditional right-wing populism, such as the producerist narrative, which argues that the hardworking middle class is choked by the "parasitic elites above and the subversive parasites below" (Berlet 2012a:568; Kazin 1995). Some Tea Party members blame a secret group of "globalists," whom they see acting as

puppeteers and controlling the U.S. government, for their struggles. Concurrently, these activists channel their anger toward low-income or unemployed Americans whom they view as undeserving parasites.

The Tea Party as a populist movement arose after the 2009 "rant" of CNBC reporter Rick Santelli. Santelli called for the formation of a "Chicago Tea Party" to resist the housing bailout proposed by Obama (CNBC 2009). Santelli demanded Obama allow citizens to vote on how they want tax dollars spent: whether they wanted to subsidize "the losers' mortgages" or "buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure" for people who "might have a chance to actually prosper" and, thus, "reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?" In this construction of poor people, Santelli embraces elements of the producerist narrative by suggesting that people in foreclosure caused the crisis and do not deserve assistance. This message resonated with preexistent right-wing populist organizations, including ResistNet, and the Our Country Deserves Better Political Action Committee (PAC), which helped form the basis of the Tea Party, along with massive financial contributions from billionaires Charles and David Koch through their Americans for Prosperity Foundation and conservative political group, FreedomWorks, run by Matt Kibbe (Burghart 2012; Disch 2012). There continues to be crossover in membership and funds between the Tea Party and these organizations, but they remain separate entities.

The Tea Party's (2011) goals include promoting government fiscal responsibility, limiting government control, and bolstering free market capitalism. Fiscal responsibility demands that the government "honors and respects the freedom of the individual to spend the money that is the fruit of their own labor" (Meckler and Martin 2012:22). Activists believe the government must not restrict freedom by overtaxing citizens or place national sovereignty at risk by racking up high levels of debt. Constitutionally limited government demands that the operation of the federal government conforms to the founding documents, and that states, localities, or individuals fulfill remaining obligations. Finally, free market capitalism seeks to limit government regulation of business (Meckler and Martin 2012).

The Tea Party Patriots, specifically, was started by Mark Meckler, an attorney and café owner, and Jenny Beth Martin, a small business owner and mother, in 2009 when the two met on a conference call to plan the April 15th Tax Day Tea Party event (Meckler and Martin 2012). It has become the Tea Party group with the largest membership base (they estimate it at 20 million members). The Tea Party Patriots operates as a central organizing space for a number of locally based Tea Party Patriot groups (Tea Party Patriots 2014). It provides a number of services for local chapters: webinars, resources, trainings, and informational materials. The national Tea Party Patriots does not provide support for political candidates, but local chapters bearing its moniker do (Tea Party Patriots 2014).

The Tea Party movement grew dramatically over its first two years and by 2011 boasted chapters in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. (Tea Party 2011). Currently, the Web site lists 333 active chapters throughout the country (Tea Party 2013). The movement's influence is evident in its election of 45 federal representatives in the 2010 election and shaping of the Republican Party (Babington 2010; Perrin, Roos, and Gauchat. 2014; Pickler 2010; Woodward 2010). This increasing support and influence has led many to argue that the Tea Party has become the mainstream right (Jonsson 2010; Saad 2010; Williams 2010).

The Tea Party's Racial Stories

Race in the Tea Party is a nascent field. Christopher Parker and Matt Barreto (2013) argue that racism within the movement grew out of a broader tradition of racism in American society. They suggest that the Tea Party has flourished in response to the election of Obama and his embodiment of social change and shifting ideas regarding what it means to be American (C. Parker and Barreto 2013). Although race is a part of this story, the scholars argue, it is not the only factor.

Leonard Zeskind's (2012) work further examines how race informs Tea Party activists' perception of American identity. Zeskind shows how, despite overtly racist signs at rallies, and other "incidents"—such as harassment of the Congressional Black Caucus and condemnation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)—members emphatically insist that they are not racist. Rather, activists center their understanding of race on a "supposed white 'victimhood,' during a period when demographic shifts might begin to imperil the unquestioned majority status of white people" (Zeskind 2012:496). This victimhood is reflected in the growth in the "birther" movement among 30 percent (n = 881) of Tea Party activists (Condon 2010). Birthers argue that Obama is not a native-born American and thus cannot legally serve as President.

Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson (2012) find that, from signs at rallies to polling data, Tea Party activists tend to have more extreme views on race than do other American conservatives. Citing Christopher Parker's (2010) survey, Skocpol and Williamson (2012:69) argue that Tea Party activists are more likely than other conservatives to agree that black people and Latinos are "less hard working, less intelligent, and less trustworthy" and that "racial minorities are held back by their own personal failings." Tea Party activists rate white people negatively on these values as well, suggesting that they hold "negative views about all of their fellow citizens; it is just that they make extra-jaundiced assessments of the work ethic of racial and ethnic minorities" (Skocpol and Williamson 2012:69).

Finally, Angie Maxwell and T. Wayne Parent (2013) find a direct connection between racial animosity and the Tea Party. Although Tea Party members and their supporters are not likely to express overt stereotypes against black people (likely because members and their supporters are aware that blatant racism is not socially acceptable; Maxwell and Parent 2013), they reflect what Donald Kinder and David Sears (1981) term "symbolic racism." Symbolic racism are racial attitudes that combine "anti-black affect and the kind of traditional American moral values embodied in the Protestant Ethic" (Kinder and Sears 1981:416). Maxwell and Parent conclude that symbolic racism is a predictive factor for people to associate with or support the Tea Party (in addition to other factors related to political and economic ideology and religion).

This article extends the work of these scholars by examining the racial frames used by Tea Party activists. Frames are built to both reflect the worldview of their utterers and package information to shape the assessments of their audience (Noakes and Johnston 2005). Frames are not the same as ideologies but often reflect or package aspects or elements of ideologies for use by movement organizations or individuals. An ideology is a system of ideas that explains how the world operates and constructs the moral principles that direct action (Oliver and Johnston 2000). Conflating ideology and framing limits inquiry and masks the intricacy of movement ideologies (Oliver and Johnston 2000). For example, some ideologies can be used to construct multiple frames, while certain frames can be connected to contrasting ideologies (Oliver and Johnston 2000). Given this relationship between frames and ideologies, an analysis of the racial frames employed by the Tea Party exposes how activists see and understand racial inequity in U.S. society and provide insight into the way in which broader social ideologies are filtered and packaged by the movement organization.

Tea Party Patriots activists, influenced by the populist narrative of producerism, use four distinct racial frames to explain the danger posed by either the parasitic welfare class or untrustworthy elites:

1. Racism denial frame: Users of this frame argue that racism does not exist. Rather, they posit that racial tension is due to continued discussion about race in the United States and is fostered by people of color and elite society members. Users believe that continued discussion of race undermines national unity and sovereignty.

2. Individual responsibility frame: Activists using this frame argue that racial inequality results from the individual shortcomings of people of color. They see people of color as taking advantage of the system and programs or services designed to eliminate inequality as divisive and an assault to hardworking white Americans.

3. Cultural responsibility frame: The frame promotes ideas embedded in the culture of poverty and underclass discourses, arguing that racial inequality is the result of pathological weaknesses in the culture of people of color. The populist narrative again positions hardworking Americans against groups with less social power.

4. Structural responsibility frame: Activists using this frame extend those that blame individuals and the culture of people of color. They conclude that the liberal state is responsible for contemporary racial inequality through programs such as the War on Poverty and teachers unions, which intentionally make people of color dependent on the system. This frame also embraces the producerist narrative, but focuses on the actions of the elites.

These four frames draw on a master frame of color blindness.

Color-blind racism, the ideology from which this master frame emerges, argues that racism is no longer a factor in contemporary racial inequality. Rather, it sees inequity today as caused by "nonracial dynamics" such as economic processes, individual shortcomings, cultural differences, or personal preferences (Bonilla-Silva 2009:2). This ideology allows white privilege to persist as the maintenance of the status quo, as opposed to overt racist practices.

The ideology of color blindness influences the broader racial frames of society. Joe Feagin (2010) demonstrates the evolution of what he calls "the white racial frame" and its use as a master frame—one that exists beyond any specific movement organization, is broad in scope, and flexible enough to be used by multiple groups (D. A. Snow and Benford 1992)—throughout U.S. history. He argues that the contemporary version of this frame is color-blind racism. The frame, like the ideology, allows people to claim to "not see race" yet continue to discriminate against people of color (Feagin 2010:98).

In the case of the Tea Party, color blindness is a master frame to which all members can accommodate their individual racial frame. Color blindness is amplified to emphasize a shared value that the four subframes can embrace. This process allows activists to unify despite their different racial frames.

The frames used by Tea Party activists reflect and extend those explored by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2009) in his book Racism without Racists. Through the use of survey data targeting college students and Detroit residents, Bonilla-Silva develops an analysis of four racial frames. These include abstract liberalism, the foundational frame, which applies the ideology of liberalism to race; naturalization, which suggests that "racial phenomena" are "natural occurrences"; cultural racism, which employs "culturally based arguments" to explain racial phenomena; and the minimization of racism, used by whites to discount the persistence of racism in society (Bonilla-Silva 2009:28). Whereas Bonilla-Silva's work on racial frames explores their use by two traditionally progressive groups, this work places racial frames in the context of historical and contemporary right-wing ideology. As a result, I have labeled the frames based on how they assign responsibility for racial inequality and the persistence of racism in society to emphasize their connection to broader populist and historical right-wing social proscriptions. Notably, Tea Party activists, with the exception of a few isolated cases, do not express a pattern of employing the naturalization frame as articulated by Bonilla-Silva. In addition, the new frame of structural responsibility is produced.


Data were collected over three years (from 2010 to 2012) and include 45 in-depth interviews (conducted in 2011 and 2012), ranging from 45 to 90 minutes in length, with active members of

the Tea Party Patriots. The Tea Party Patriots was chosen due to its size (self-estimating more than 1,000 groups), self-proclamation as the "umbrella organization" (Skocpol and Williamson 2012), and accessibility. Interview data are supplemented with participant observation at movement meetings and special events, as well as content analysis of movement e-mails, Web site information, and online forums. The sampling frame consists of a convenience sample of state directors and rank-and-file members from 13 states nationwide: California (n = 1), Illinois (n = 8), Iowa (n = 1), Massachusetts (n = 1), New Hampshire (n = 1), New York (n = 2), North Carolina (n = 2), Ohio (n = 1), Tennessee (n = 1), Texas (n = 1), Virginia (n = 4), and Washington (n = 1), but primarily Minnesota (n = 21). I did not find regional variation regarding racial frames in my sample (however, Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin 2011 did find that people in the Tea Party in Boston "may" be more vigilant about resisting racism than are other groups).

To recruit participants, I was given the opportunity to speak at the beginning of meetings. This led to approximately 40 percent of my interviews. Contacting activists from different Facebook Tea Party Patriots groups led to an additional 30 percent, most of whom were interviewed via Skype. Finally, the remaining third were contacted through e-mail addresses obtained from the national Tea Party Patriots Web site. These interviews were conducted in person and via Skype. Names were changed to protect the identity of participants.

Participant observation was conducted at the regional meetings of two chapters in Minnesota as well as locally run workshops and events. One chapter routinely hosted 60 participants at weekly meetings in a community center while the other hosted 300 attendees for monthly meetings at a bar. These chapters were selected to capture perspectives from rural, suburban, and urban membership.

The ages of participants roughly form a bell curve with a median age of approximately 55: 0.5 percent in their 20s, 22.5 percent in their 30s, 12.5 percent in their 40s, 30 percent in their 50s, 22.5 percent in their 60s, and 7.5 percent in their 70s. This mirrors George Lundskow's (2012) finding that activists tend to be either retired or younger business owners.

In my sample, members work in a variety of careers including as lawyers, realtors, administrative assistants, business executives, and civil servants, among others. Four are unemployed and blame Obama for this condition. The median income for an individual in my sample is $40,000, near the individual median income for the nation as a whole at $42,693 (U.S. Department of Commerce 2013). Previous work suggests that Tea Party activists are primarily older, white, and middle class and, thus, weathered the recession better than many Americans (C. Parker and Barreto 2013; Skocpol and Williamson 2012; Zeskind 2012). However, Tea Party members tend to be in a financial situation whereby they lack significant wealth yet are unable to receive social welfare services (Skocpol and Williamson 2012). As a result, they feel attacked from both people below them in the social hierarchy benefiting from such programs, and perceived elitists who make the policy decisions that fund social welfare programs (Berlet 2012b).

Most participants are white (96 percent). The exceptions include Wayne, who is black, and Aaron, whose father is Japanese and mother is white. The sample is reflective of broader Tea Party demographics in the state of Minnesota and nationwide, where it is estimated that 91.4 percent of Tea Party members are white (C. Parker and Barreto 2013; Skocpol and Williamson 2012; Zeskind 2012).

Interviews were semistructured: They followed an interview guide but were conversational. Interviews began by asking participants to tell the story of how they came to join the Tea Party, probing into the factors that contributed to their membership. To examine ideas about race, gender, and class, participants were asked what they saw as the biggest problems facing the United States today. The conversation was then directed toward issues of immigration, Affirmative Action, abortion, the recession, and other relevant topics.1 All interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Internet publications, discussion forums, listservs, and radio broadcasts serve as the primary method of dissemination for right-wing ideology and the recruitment of first time activists (Shafer 2002). To examine movement frames, I subscribed to movement listservs, downloaded and coded e-mails, Web page information, and forum content on official Web sites during the time of my research.

After reading through the data multiple times searching for emergent themes, I then developed a codebook and analytic frame using standard inductive analysis (Silverman 1985). Once the coding framework was developed, I coded all of the data for patterns and negative cases using ATLAS.ti. To analyze these patterns, I then analyzed members' talk in both a local practice and broader social context (Francis and Hester 2004; Garfinkel 1967; Hall 1997; Holstein and Gubrium 2005; Kendall and Wickham 2003; S. Mills 2003; Silverman 2004).

Limits to this study include the use of state directors as primary interview brokers. Although this may have filtered some interviewees, in some states, interview participants self-selected into the study after receiving an e-mail sent to a statewide listserv, reducing concern of censorship. Self-selection could lead to people with stronger views dominating the sample. Second, the general distrust of academics among right-wing groups presumably shaped the information members provided (Pitcavage 2001). However, the range of responses suggests that participants generally felt comfortable, and other scholars (Aho 1990; Blee 1991; Ezekiel 1995) similarly found that right-wing activists are happy to share their stories with a wide audience. My position as a young, white woman certainly helped as activists typically treated me as if I were their child or grandchild, and they were tasked with educating me on politics. An additional shortcoming comes from the use of Skype, rather than meeting activists in person, as this may limit rapport and disclosure. Finally, given that my sample were only members of the Tea Party Patriots, I am unable to examine the degree to which these racial frames mirror or extend those employed by other conservative and/or mainstream Americans.

Frames Employed by Tea Party Members

Racism Denial

The populist tradition influences how activists frame racial inequality. The racism denial frame is an extension of Bonilla-Silva's (2009) minimization of racism frame. Adherents, which make up approximately 33 percent of my sample (n = 15), argue that racism only exists because people like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton discuss it. This frame denies systemic racial inequality and sees racism as comprising individual acts and as exceptions to a generally equal society. Thus, they conclude that societal conversations regarding racial inequality at best hurt white people by restricting their rights, and at worst will lead to a breakup of the United States.

This frame extends a common right-wing ideology that social problems are manufactured by elitist puppet masters to undermine the sovereignty of the nation (Diamond 1995; Toplin 2006). For example, when asked whether or not they thought racial inequality existed in today's society, activists answered by saying "no," "we removed it," or "it's a straw man." They further argue that one's race is "not relevant" or "shouldn't and doesn't matter" and thus refuse to state their race for "B.S. polls." Activists believe that societal discussions of race cause inequality. For instance, Jaimee, a nurse in Massachusetts, suggests that racial classification is the reason inequality exists today: "I agree with Ron Paul in the idea that the only reason racial anything exists is because people are still categorized in different races. People are people, ethnicity should never be a question, handicap, privilege or anything else."

Polling data on racial attitudes in the Tea Party also reflect this frame. A 2010 ABC News/ Washington Post poll (n = 1,001) finds that fewer Tea Party supporters (58 percent) see racism as a problem than do average Americans (75 percent). These results suggest that 42 percent of

supporters do not see racism as a major problem and provide some context for the presence of racial denial in the movement.

Through denying the existence of racism, activists construct a complicated story for its persistence. They argue that Democrats perpetuate the myth of racial inequality. According to Evan, a college professor from Illinois: "It exists because people on the left are constantly playing the race card and demanding special consideration for people of color." This is particularly true of left-wing people of color. For example, when asked if she believed racial inequality still existed, Becky, a software developer from Illinois, stated, "Some—not as much as there was 50 years ago. It also varies with location. It is propagated by race baiters, e.g., Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson . . ."

Blaming Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the left suggests that talk of racial inequality is invented to benefit certain sectors of the population. Activists, such as Mary, an unemployed woman from Illinois, argue that racial inequality only exists "in the eyes of those making money from preaching it." The perception of certain people of color "playing the infamous race card" is common among white citizens and serves to undermine the experiences of people of color (Bonilla-Silva 2009:29).

Tea Party activists using this frame employ populist rhetoric to claim that discussion of racial inequality hurts hardworking white Americans while serving the interests of people of color. Harold, a Texan working in legal services, engages with the producerist narrative suggesting that programs such as Affirmative Action: "discriminate against the productive people who are now actively discriminated against by the less productive classes who get an artificial advantage." By arguing that racial inequality does not exist, this frame presents white Americans as victims of the left and people of color, subverting stories of racial inequality; as Joel, an activist from Illinois, argues: "white Americans are not treated fairly anymore." If racism and racial inequality were the result of people "playing the race card" or discussing racial issues, then efforts to resolve racial inequality would be perceived as perpetuating the problem. This may be why the 2010 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 18 percent of Tea Party supporters (n = 445 Tea Party supporters; n = 1,001 participants) think that President Obama "is doing 'too much'" for African Americans.

The racism denial frame also engages marginalized religious groups as racial categories. Western media and broader discourse constructs Middle Easterners as racial others who are terrorists, naive and lustful, nomadic and uncivilized, or providers of oil, any of which make them acceptable military targets (Said 1978; Shaheen 2006). Through this process, Islam and Judaism have been racialized, and white racial fears have increasingly been filtered through the language of religion (Joshi 2006; Rana 2007; Said 1978; Shaheen 2006). As a result, members of these religions are targeted in a similar manner to people of color: via interpersonal hate crimes, institutional discrimination, racial profiling, and fear regarding cultures associated with Islam and Judaism (Rana 2007).

Although the racialization of Jewish people came to an international head in Nazi Germany (Steinweis 2006), right-wing groups in the United States from the far-right Christian Identity Movement (Dobratz and Shanks-Meile 2000) to the more moderate John Birch Society (Berlet and Lyons 2000) continue to construct Jews as a feared racial other. This draws on a broader right-wing fear that the federal government is controlled by subversive entities (e.g., the UN, "Jewish bankers," wealthy elites, socialists, and/or liberals), which they call the New World Order (NWO; Abanes 1996; Barkun 2013; Mulloy 2008; Pitcavage 2001). It is unclear how many Tea Party activists believe in the NWO, but conspiracy theories are frequently found in Tea Party literature. According to Christopher Parker and Christopher Towler (2010), approximately 23 percent of the content on Tea Party Web sites (n = 31) was related to conspiracies, socialism, and the dangerous state.

Supporters believe that Jews secretly control the United States through the puppet government ZOG (Zionist Occupied Government; R. Snow 1999) or domination in the world's financial and

media industries (Berlet and Lyons 2000). A narrative openly shared in media outlets of the 1800s placed culpability for economic problems on Jews and was revitalized in the 1980s in the financially struggling farm belt (Berlet 2012a; Berlet and Lyons 2000). A subsection of the Tea Party adheres to these conspiracies, which is not surprising given the association between populism, antielitism, and conspiracy involving a select group with social power secretly acting against the majority (Canovan 1981). For example, Aaron, from Minnesota, targets Jews with his racial fears:

Let me just be real blunt about this, [Glen Beck] doesn't really talk about how the Jews have a lot to do with, you know, the money aspect . . . they pretty much own all of the media, they own all of Hollywood, they own all of smut, they own all of the radio, print media. They own all of the banks and all the brokerage firms. They own everything . . . They control all of the money.

While not all Tea Party activists ascribe to this sentiment, signs at events with such messages as "Obama takes his orders from the Rothschilds" (a wealthy Jewish family in the banking industry), the participation of openly anti-Semitic activists on Tea Party radio shows (Burghart and Zeskind 2010), and the condemnation of the movement's anti-Semitism by activist Elie Weisel (Smith 2009) suggest its enduring nature.

Activists using this frame construct non-Christians as dangerous elitists, in the case of Jews, or parasites, in the case of Muslims, intent on hurting Christians. Conflating religion with race, activists suggest that Muslims receive special legal treatment. For example, during a meeting, one member interrupted a talk on the relationship between church and state, suggesting: "in Minneapolis [a city with a large Somali immigrant population], you have the Muslim cab drivers who wouldn't pick up people that had wine." These activists also fear Islamic dominance in schools, displacing Christianity, which is viewed as unjustly banned from the classroom. Luke, an activist from the Twin Cities metro area, expresses this concern:

In the Minnesota Constitution, it specifically prohibits spending state funds on schools for any Christian religion and I'm curious why we spend money on Muslim schools . . . ? Is it just Christian religions that are being suppressed in Minnesota?

Notably, both of these issues received significant media coverage in the Twin Cities area when some Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport argued that, under the freedom of religion, they should not be required to drive people with alcohol (Oppenheim 2007) and when it was alleged that a Minneapolis charter school promoted the practice of Islam within its curriculum (Kersten 2008). All of the activists who employ the racial denial frame, except for one, reported a fear that Christianity is victimized and scapegoat both Jews and Muslims in their explanations of this perceived phenomenon. Skocpol and Williamson (2012) also find a racial-ized hatred toward Islam in their research.

Adherents to this frame believe that as rumors of racial inequality persist, an inevitable race war will erupt, resulting in a breakup of the United States. According to Joel, an Information Technology systems administrator from Illinois,

The southwest part of the U.S. will become majority Hispanic. They will take over the states and local governments. Eventually, they will appeal to the UN to be carved out to make their own country led by its own indigenous Spanish speaking population, as happened with the breakup ofYugoslavia.

Activists present people of color as a potential pawn in the NWO's goal of dominating the United States. This is also a common fear among members of white separatist groups and militias who believe that a race war will erupt and that the United States will be divided into racial regions (Dobratz and Shanks-Meile 2000).

The use of the racism denial frame allows activists to minimize the importance of race. Through arguing that race is no longer relevant and that efforts to discuss racial inequality are divisive, activists claim to be color blind and embrace the master frame of the organization. For example, despite his aforementioned views regarding Jewish people, Aaron argues several times that he is not anti-Semitic. In doing so, he employs what Bonilla-Silva (2009:57) calls a "semantic move"—a rhetorical strategy used by whites to appear nonracist—and argues, "I wouldn't consider myself an anti-Semite today cause I have lots of friends who are Jewish and I don't think that they are this way." By appealing to his Jewish friendships, Aaron is able to make racist claims while preserving his self-perception of being color blind. The broader adherence to the color-blind frame is echoed in Evan's argument, as an outgrowth of his use of the racial denial frame, that "people on the right are mostly color blind. They do not evaluate a person based on the color of their skin. Yes, there are people of all political ideologies that are bigoted, but that's not the general situation." In this statement, Evan emphasizes the movement's shared value of color blindness and provides an excuse for blatantly racist comments made by activists.

In constructing a narrative of global elitists taking advantage of hardworking Americans, activists who embrace the denial of racism frame posit racism as an invented concept used to hurt white Christians. These activists argue that foreign groups—the UN, Jewish bankers, or European elitists—are seeking to control the United States. To do this, activists believe, these groups maintain their power through race-based social programs and rhetoric using pawns such as Jesse Jackson.

Individual Responsibility

Although some Tea Party members deny the persistence of racism, others blame inequity on individuals of color. This is akin to what Bonilla-Silva (2009) calls abstract liberalism, which applies the ideology of liberalism to race. Notions of equal opportunity, self-reliance, choice, and individualism are stressed to explain inequality. This allows white people to seem "reasonable" and "moral" in their opposition toward efforts to end racial inequality (Bonilla-Silva 2009). It further allows them to construct white Americans as victims, carrying the burden of lazy black and brown residents.

Activists employing this frame (approximately 24 percent of participants, n = 11) embrace populist rhetoric arguing that programs established to ameliorate racial inequality, such as Affirmative Action, contradict American values of hardwork and self-reliance. For instance Gus, a purchasing manager from Virginia, "do[es] not believe in quotas. [He] believe[s] in being qualified." Gus posits that black people are "less productive" or unqualified and, as a result, gain immoral advantages through Affirmative Action.

Gus is not alone in this belief. According to a 2010 Washington University poll of 1,006 individuals (C. Parker 2010), 46 percent of Tea Party supporters believe that "if blacks would only try harder, they would be just as well off as whites" (vs. 27 percent of non-Tea Party supporters). In total, 88 percent of Tea Party supporters believe that black people should be able to overcome prejudice and achieve equality just as Irish, Italians, and Jewish people have before them (vs. 67 percent of non-Tea Party supporters). These numbers reflect the individual responsibility frame, suggesting racial inequality can be overcome with hardwork. Zeskind (2012) finds that activists point to the shortcomings of others to explain their individual failings but do not turn the mirror on themselves. Thus, the relative loss of power that activists perceive is scapegoated on people of color and elites. Importantly, most members of the Tea Party are working- and middle-class white Americans who see themselves as having worked hard to achieve their own successes and to contribute to society in meaningful ways (Skocpol and Williamson 2012).

These beliefs are reflected in broader libertarian ideology that values individual liberties such as free speech, privacy, and the freedom of thought and believes that a substantial state infringes

on these rights as well as economic freedoms (Diamond 1995; Hardisty 1999; Nozick 1974). Key components of libertarian policy include free market capitalism and the reduction of taxes, particularly for the rich. They believe that a free market economy and political system will necessarily lead to rights and liberties for individuals and that government programs limit personal freedoms by bolstering the weak or making people dependent on the state (Hardisty 1999). The Cato Institute claims that about 30 percent (n = 12,000) of Tea Party supporters are libertarians (Kirby and Ekins 2012).

Activists who employ this frame also engage with libertarian ideas regarding natural law. According to Robert Nozick (1974), everyone is born with certain rights that others, including the state, may not infringe upon. This ideology shapes how Tea Party activists understand equality: They argue for equal opportunity rather than equal outcomes. According to Samantha, a business consultant from Minnesota,

Jefferson explained it very well. That, what they mean that all men are created equal is that we have equal worth in the eyes of God and that, under law, written law . . . you are treated equally. So you have to be very careful when you start talking about that we are all created equal because the progressives say we should have equal outcomes, and that's not what it is about.

God, not the state, grants the rights associated with natural law. According to Samantha, these rights include the right to "life, to self-governance, to own private property, and to enjoy the fruits of our own labor." Using welfare, which activists such as Samantha consider "stealing," is in violation of these rights because it shifts resources from the wealthy to the undeserving poor. Welfare violates natural law and causes people to "lose freedoms" (Samantha).

Activists using this frame argue that blame for contemporary inequality inheres in people of color themselves (Bonilla-Silva 2009). For example, Wayne, an activist who grew up in an impoverished black neighborhood in a Midwestern city before moving to Minnesota, contends that contemporary inequality is "an accident of providence," and thus no one is to blame. Because these "are just accidents of nature," "it's nobody else's fault." Wayne maintains that nobody "has a responsibility to any other human being, aside from his or her own children." Fixing racial inequality is not a "collective responsibility . . . it is an individual judgment." To Wayne, the state's involvement in ameliorating historical wrongs bolsters people who are unwilling to work toward self-empowerment. He suggests that these programs fail to work because "people don't do anything [if] they are told to do it."

Bonilla-Silva posits that the belief that racial inequality is the result of individual actions is the central frame of color blindness. This frame allows those who use it, such as the Tea Party activists, to employ the principles of liberalism to justify the status quo. Thus, activists make claims that explain contemporary racial inequality as "accidents of nature" that deny responsibility for change. Activists view inequality as the result of individual choices as opposed to structural barriers and thus claim to be race neutral in their analysis. Viewing themselves in this manner allows these activists to connect their understanding of racial inequality to the master frame and unite with the broader organization. For example, Wayne uses his framework as "an individualist" to claim that he does not "analyze people as groups." Furthermore, he argues that Tea Party conservatives are the only Americans who truly own the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and judge people by the "content of their character" as opposed to the "color of their skin."

Wayne and others who engage with the individual responsibility frame use populist rhetoric to posit policies such as Affirmative Action as harmful to hardworking white Americans and people of color as undeserving beneficiaries of these elitist policies. They frame racial inequality as the result of a lack of work ethic and subsequent state dependence by people of color. These activists believe that the state should not play a role in fixing racial inequity.

Cultural Responsibility

Religion is a powerful force in the Tea Party with activists seeking to elect religious officials and to involve religious leaders in politics (Campbell and Putnam 2011). Activists who use this frame reflect what Sara Diamond (1995) refers to as the Moral Order ideology along with populist rhetoric involving antielitism: positing Christian Americans as the victims of social change at the hands of feminists and others. Adherents seek a return to conservative social values: the nuclear family, patriarchy, and a celebration of white middle-class values (Durham 2000; George and Wilcox 1996; Kintz 1997; Rosenthal and Trost 2012). According to a 2010 Pew Charitable Poll, approximately 42 percent (n = 887) of Tea Party activists stated that they "agree with the conservative Christian Movement" (Clement and Green 2011).

Approximately 22 percent of participants (n = 10) in this study employ the cultural responsibility frame (an extension of what Bonilla-Silva 2009 calls the cultural racism frame) and argue that racial inequality is the result of minority culture. Someone using this frame may suggest, as people have insinuated Newt Gingrich did during the 2012 presidential primaries, that black culture is imbued with laziness (Blow 2012).

This frame allows racial stereotypes historically explained by biology to be expounded as culture, preventing the speaker from appearing overtly racist. One activist, Stephen, from New Hampshire, believes that the reason racial inequality exists is because "minorities" have, in his words, a "culture of victimhood" that poses a danger to American society. Skocpol and Williamson (2012) also witness this frame in their work on the Tea Party.

The cultural racism frame is used to explain the danger of immigration. Activists believe that there is a unique threat facing the United States because of the character of modern immigrants. For example, Samuel's ancestors came from Iceland and assimilated into U.S. culture: "they spoke English. Because [that] language was the language of the country they were living in." Those engaging with this frame believe that contemporary immigrants want to bring cultures to the United States, rather than adopt U.S. values. Keith, an activist from Minnesota, suggests that, if immigration rates are not reduced, "Our culture will dissolve into something unrecognizable." Activists see contemporary immigrants as lacking morals and presenting danger to upstanding Americans. Samuel, from Minnesota, argues that the United States will become like Mexico "because that's what they are comfortable with" and lead to the United States "becom[ing] a nation of lawbreakers" with increasing social problems including "welfare fraud" causing the country to "go broke." Talk about immigration by people using the cultural racism frame reflects broader national rhetoric which requires that migrants assimilate to the dominant culture's norms, yet prohibits people of color from so doing (Lowe 1996).

Poll data reveal the presence of this frame within the Tea Party. According to the 2010 Washington University poll (n = 1,006; C. Parker 2010), 54 percent of people who support the Tea Party (and approximately 22 percent of my sample volunteered this perspective without prompting) believe that "immigration is changing the culture in the U.S. for the worse," compared with 30 percent of non-Tea Party supporters. Similarly, while 61 percent of non-Tea Party supporters believe that "welcoming immigrants to U.S. society, even immigrants who entered illegally, makes America better off in the long run," only 23 percent of people who support the Tea Party agree. While this is not necessarily a racist position, these results could reflect the cultural racism frame and the fear that immigration threatens white American culture. C. Parker and Barreto (2013) also find that Tea Party supporters are more likely to believe that immigration increases crime (58-49 percent), a finding that was statistically significant in their research.

By blaming the culture of people of color for racial inequality, activists using this frame are able to deny that they "see" race. Sarah, an activist from Minnesota, argues, "As a conservative, I do not view people via group identities and treat people as individuals, not by their race, sexual

orientation, creed, or color." Thus, in addition to her investment in the cultural responsibility frame, Sarah is able to connect to other activists under the movement's master frame of color blindness. By claiming to "not view" race, she and other users of this frame amplify and connect to this central movement frame.

Activists who engage with this frame understand and produce racial inequality as the result of cultural defects on the part of people of color and fear a loss of U.S. traditions, values, and national identity if immigration is allowed to continue unabated. Like other frames, the cultural responsibility frame engages with the rhetoric of right-wing populism, positing parasitic people of color against hardworking white Americans.

Structural Responsibility

The fourth frame, the structural responsibility frame, is distinct from previous frames in important ways: Rather than blaming people of color for the plight of the urban poor, these struggles are framed as the result of an abusive state that uses welfare-like programs to hurt poor people by intentionally continuing a cycle of poverty (Katz 1989). Activists who employ this frame (20 percent of participants, n = 9) push their analysis further than those using the frames of individual or cultural explanations for racial inequality and implicate the state. This is likely due in part to the conversion of some of these activists from a more progressive political leaning, which, according to Gail S. Zucker and Bernard Weiner (1993) and James Robinson (2009), often examines the impact of social structure on individuals. It is also potentially a reflection of the fact that all of the users of this frame in my sample had a college education (whereas the other frames were used by people from a variety of education levels) and thus may have had exposure to structural arguments (Lopez, Gurin, and Nagda 1998).

People employing this frame are conscious of the state's role in institutionalizing past racism. For example, Jane, a gas station attendant from Iowa, implicates the state in historical racist practices: "The Supreme Court has screwed up a number of times . . . Look back into 1855. We have the Dred Scott decision and that was where the Supreme Court declared that black people aren't people." Rather than contextualizing the decision in the racial ideology of the time, Jane suggests that it was "an absolutely reprehensible decision" and to fix this policy and others like it, "we had the Civil War and that's why we passed . . . the Civil War Amendments."

Activists engaging in this frame demonstrate awareness of the role that historical injustices have on the present and the influence the state can have on racial equality. For example, Leonard points to the state's role in constructing or perpetuating racial inequality in his analysis of the Holocaust. Leonard, a Jewish man from New York, suggests the state is untrustworthy and targets racial minorities as scapegoats: "the Jews were singled out by governments . . . unless the state decided that you were good enough, or useful, then they would keep you. But you were only good as long as you were useful." He also applies his analysis to the United States. Leonard first recognizes the oppression black people faced historically: "they had so many disadvantages coming out of being slaves, fucking slaves, right?" and then argues that a strong family unit, rooted in religion, was key in overcoming some of this disadvantage.

Activists find support for their recognition of the state's role in fostering inequality from social scientists, a group often met with disdain among right-wing activists. Nevertheless, Jason, a political consultant from North Carolina, draws on these data, suggesting,

It's scientifically proven that the number of black and Hispanic people that are incarcerated for crimes is vastly disproportionate when compared to other races. The fact that the Obama administration rubber stamps this type of policy, instead of railing against it, is proof in the pudding that Obama's administration is not at all concerned with racial equality.

This frame, though related, is distinct from abstract liberalism, placing culpability with the state rather than people of color.

People engaging with this frame ultimately place blame for contemporary racial inequality on two specific sectors: social services and teachers unions. Activists argue that it is not discrimination in the welfare system that causes inequality specifically; it is the state's use of welfare and entitlement programs to foster dependency. Leonard suggests that the state intentionally manipulates black people: "You look at a black family in the 1950s, they are already struggling through segregation. Segregation made it impossible for them to really be as successful as they can be." Furthermore, he argues, these challenges forced people to rely on family. According to Leonard, before welfare, black women were forced to tolerate abusive husbands but, after having access to welfare, women could succeed on their own. As a result: "He goes back to his friends and he has idle hands now, no job, no family to care about, and sons that are growing up without fathers and seeing this is their only option." Thus, Leonard argues, welfare is to blame for urban poverty: "welfare guaranteed that they'd stay in the 'hood forever and they wouldn't be integrated. The public housing would then go up in the same bad neighborhoods."

Leonard drew this conclusion while reading the Moynihan report, which he sees as "very damning." He argues that "it exposes the government for literally breaking and destroying the black family unit." Leonard accuses the state of using black people as "a pawn in a game that they are not even aware of," and concludes, "it's really the welfare and these phony attempts at making everything fair and equal that are actually harming minorities in general. The black people specifically." Leonard's interpretation (that the government is intentionally destroying black families via welfare) of the Moynihan Report is unique. In his 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan concludes that high levels of urban poverty are the result of a culture wherein overly strong black women threaten the masculinity of black men and thus weaken nuclear families, causing an increase in children born out of wedlock. Moynihan (1967) argues that, without intervention from white society, these problems will continue to flourish and suggests that the state provide a variety of employment and educational programs for black people living in urban areas. Scholars have challenged Moynihan's theory, arguing that he shifts the blame from the racist state to black culture (Ryan 1971) and reifies patriarchal or misogynistic norms (Quadagno 1996). Leonard develops a distinct interpretation of Moynihan suggesting that the author places the blame for contemporary inequality on the state.

According to activists like Leonard, the primary actors in this narrative of state abuse are Democrats who deceive and enslave poor people of color with social services. Leonard suggests that Democrats "always had a sullied name with black people" and that, as a way of fixing this relationship, they established the welfare system. According to Leonard: "They thought: 'here is a way to win them back, give them free taxpayer money.'" Holly makes a similar argument with regard to Medicaid and ObamaCare. According to Holly, "Medicaid is destroying Illinois and now we've signed on to implementing ObamaCare two years early in Illinois . . . whether legal or not they don't care . . . [Democrats] have to have these people dependent on government."

Activists using this frame focus on the danger of elites as opposed to positing people of color as parasites on society. Importantly, people of color are not viewed as willful participants in this deception. Activists believe that when the imposed blinders are shattered, people of color will support Republicans. For example, Holly argues, "if they lose all their pensions and realize that they've been lied to for decades, and maybe they would actually change who they vote for."

People engaging with this frame suggest a moral or religious case for ending state support. Alison, a stay-at-home mom from Virginia, sees the dependency resulting from an untrustworthy state as an issue of respect. She tells a story of a speaker discussing microlending programs at her church. According to Alison, one of the congregation members asked why the program offers

loans instead of gifts. The speaker replied, "when you give something to somebody you automatically put a gap between you and that person and you establish yourself as a higher," but if one offers a loan, he or she conveys that "we are equal and we will enter into a business agreement together because I believe you are my equal and you can handle this." This analysis made sense to Alison who began to see "entitlement programs not as helping people as much as hurting them."

Although blaming the state for these problems, such activists see a potential solution in empowering people through education. To this end, Alison and her Tea Party chapter in Virginia started a Minority Outreach program to embolden children of color. She and a colleague, "an African American gentlemen," lead the program, which works with kids in Section 8 housing projects. They provide tutoring services, arts and crafts, and basic history lessons to teach "correct history."

Activists see the education system as an additional sector for the left's trickery, which they believe causes the mental enslavement of people of color. In explaining why her program is needed, Alison suggests that schools are "failing miserably, especially for minority children." She argues that the schools teach kids that they "have to live a certain way" and "keeps them down." As a result, her group shows impoverished children of color that "free markets and capitalism and conservatism actually work for everybody, not just rich, fat, white people."

When asked who was responsible for the failures of the American school system, Alison does not fault the federal government or programs such as No Child Left Behind. She blames teachers unions, which she sees as self-interested and dismissive of the students' needs. She argues that we "spend more and more money on kids" and that, in turn, "they do worse and worse" and suggests that this pattern began in the 1970s when unions encouraged teachers to "have kids pass the test, not really learn something." She sees today's union members as inflexible and self-interested. Thus, Alison believes that charter schools, where teachers are not unionized, can help students more: "They might . . . need a different way to learn and that's what I think is so wonderful about charter schools is that there is that competition there . . ."

Poll data collected by C. Parker and Barreto (2013; n = 1,006) can be used to measure the popularity of the structural responsibility frame. They found that 78 percent of Tea Party supporters disagree with the statement: "over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve." This suggests that most Tea Party activists do not support this frame. However, the 22 percent of people who agree may reflect the existence of a structural responsibility frame. In addition, 74 percent of Tea Party supporters believe that "while equal opportunity for blacks and minorities to succeed is important, it's not really the government's job to guarantee it" (only 57 percent of non-Tea Party supporters make the same claim). Although one cannot definitively conclude that these activists blame the state for inequality, these results reflect awareness of racial inequality and skepticism of the state.

This structural focus factors into activists' ideas regarding immigration, placing the onus on the state rather than individual immigrants or cultures. According to Henry, a self-employed activist from New York,

Immigration isn't a problem, in fact we need it. What we really need is to bring back incentive for U.S. companies to bring back U.S. jobs. The so-called "illegal" immigration is a symptom of the entitlement system. We need to bring that to an end.

Similarly, Jason suggests,

The problem with immigration is that too many incentives are offered for people to come here (such as in-state tuition) to people who are not paying into the system . . . It is the system that is to blame for the immigration problems in America, not the immigrants.

This frame differs from abstract liberalism and cultural racism in that it places blame for inequality not on the culture of people of color or a lack of work ethic, but on the state or—when acting as agents of the state—Democrats. Notably, activists primarily use this structure-based critique against programs that they disapprove of: welfare and federally funded education. Teachers are blamed, rather than programs identified by academics such as the No Child Left Behind program (Darling-Hammond 2007), the Federal Housing Administration (Lui et al. 2006), slavery (Feagin 2004, 2006), or the Jim Crow system (Feagin 2004, 2006).

By placing blame on certain agents of the state, people using this frame appear to be race neutral. Bonilla-Silva (2009) and Feagin (2010) both argue that color-blind racism empowers its adherents to resist structural changes that would invert the status quo. Although activists employing the structural responsibility frame recognize structural inequality, the specific enemies they construct (e.g., unions) allow them to resist policies that would ameliorate racial inequity. For example, Alison's program focuses on individual-level changes, teaching children of color to embrace the American dream. Similarly, Holly, believing that social service programs make people dependent on the state, seeks the dismantling of social welfare programs designed to help poor Americans.

In addition to limiting their critique of the state, adherents to this frame also amplify their connection to color blindness by touting the ways in which they are not racist. For example, Alison worked with black conservative author and radio host Kevin Jackson and white conservative activist Samuel Wurzelbacher (a.k.a. "Joe the Plummer") to promote their Minority Outreach program to show that "the Tea Party Patriots is not racist and they are doing these things . . ." Jane, another user of the structural responsibility frame, also appeals to the color-blind frame saying,

people assume that because I'm a Tea Party activist . . . that must mean I'm ignorant, racist . . . or something. When, in fact, I'm very cultured, have friends of many races . . . my husband is an immigrant.

Here, Jane again uses a "semantic move"—by claiming friends of color and an immigrant husband—explored by Bonilla-Silva (2009) to prove her lack of racism.

This example further emphasizes a broader phenomenon among Tea Party activists who may truly believe that individual people of color are good, hardworking, and deserving of the organization's outreach. Yet, at the same time, activists clearly create what Jacques Lacanian ([1949] 2000) called a racial "imaginary," whether it be secret jihadists, the Jewish elite, migrants who steal jobs and use resources, or lazy black people. This imaginary serves to divide the world into the good (hardworking Americans) and evil (people of color who threaten or exploit the hard-work of others) that justifies the activism of the organization.

Activists using the structural responsibility frame combine aspects of right-wing ideas regarding morality (Diamond 1995; Toplin 2006), libertarianism, and progressive logic to examine how the actions of the state influence people of color. Users of this frame, though unlikely to have read Charles Murray (1984) and William J. Wilson (1996), nonetheless draw on the ideas of state articulated by these authors: that poor people of color living in urban areas are trapped by programs developed by the state to help them. However, this analysis fails to engage with the degree to which all structures in the United States are founded upon racism (Feagin 2006) and the persistence of the wealth gap (Oliver and Shapiro 2006). Charles Mills (1997) provides a clear analysis of how these frames continue to perpetuate racial inequality by failing to recognize what he calls "the Racial Contract," an agreement between white Americans that equality and justice in the nation's social contract is for whites only. As a result, social structures and institutions continue to oppress people of color. Although programs such as welfare or Affirmative Action provide an image of progress, they make no structural changes. Similarly, David T. Goldberg

(2001) demonstrates that racism and racial exclusion have been and continue to be foundational in the construction of modern nation states. My research reflects the ways the Tea Party is an outgrowth of the United States's history of institutional and discursive racial oppression and concurrently shapes its development through efforts to change social policy.

Celebrating Color Blindness: Frame Amplification

In the case of the Tea Party, activists employ distinct frames, reflecting member adherence to right-wing ideologies and the populist tradition to explain contemporary racial inequality. The presence of multiple frames has led scholars, such as Zeskind (2012:506), to conclude: "Tea Partiers have not yet expressed a coherent racial or ethnic ideology." Despite these different racial frames, Tea Party activists unite under a master frame of color blindness through frame alignment—the process of highlighting particular events and issues of the broader movement (Noakes and Johnston 2005)—to make mobilization possible (Gamson et al. 1982; McAdam 1982; Piven and Cloward 1977; D. A. Snow et al. 1986).

Previous research demonstrates that frame alignment is important for movement mobilization (Gamson et al. 1982; McAdam 1982; Piven and Cloward 1977; D. A. Snow et al. 1986). Commitment to a movement is tied to one's ability to identify with its central narrative and to share a collective identity with other members (McAdam 1986). The Tea Party unites the distinct activists under the master frame by using frame amplification to draw attention to the shared value of color blindness rather than the division brought by individual racial frames. Examples of this amplification are seen in the aforementioned claims made by activists that Tea Party members are not racist, a phenomenon also documented by Skocpol and Williamson (2012), C. Parker and Barreto (2013), and Zeskind (2012).

In addition to activists affirming that they and their peers are color blind, the amplification of color-blind racial frames occurs at the groups' monthly meetings through references to civil rights leaders or black politicians. For example, Robert, a pastor from Minnesota, lauds Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., using his words to promote conservative beliefs:

Did you know that [Martin Luther King Jr.] was a Baptist pastor? And a Republican at that . . . He

was a Baptist pastor who got behind his pulpit and said, "We're not going to stand for this anymore.

We are all given freedom by God, natural law, doesn't matter what color we are."

Robert, then, establishes Tea Party activists are not racist by asking members to be like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Skocpol and Williamson (2012) also document the fact that Tea Party activists promote black conservatives to prove they are color blind. Similar references to other civil rights leaders (Rosa Parks), abolitionists (William Wilberforce), and people who activists claim are reformed racists (George Wallace) are made at each weekly meeting.

A second example of the movement's amplification of color blindness occurs at Tea Party meetings wherein a different community group or person of color is invited to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or speak to the group. For example, at one meeting, two Somali immigrants who had recently become American citizens were recruited to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Following their recitation, Zach, a chapter leader, commented on how special it was to have two patriotic immigrants in attendance. At a different meeting, Tea Party leaders invited a Hmong business association to address the group. The visitors discussed their journey to the United States and their gratitude to Americans for rescuing them from the communist government in Laos. After their talk, Zach glowingly invited them to attend future meetings, as he had with the Somali immigrants. None of the guests returned to a meeting while I was doing fieldwork. Zeskind (2012:500) similarly finds that black activists were "prominently featured at rallies, conventions and other gatherings."

By inviting people of color to perform symbolic gestures at Tea Party meetings, activists amplify the frame of color blindness. Through tokenizing people of color, Tea Party leaders perform semantic moves (Bonilla-Silva 2009). Rather than verbally saying, "some of my best friends are black . . . ," they do so through actively constructing an image of having friends or allies of color. Semantic moves allow white Americans to "mend racial fissures, to restore a color-blind image when whiteness seeps through discursive cracks" (Bonilla-Silva 2009:70). Through creating an image of having allies of color, activists claim color blindness and move beyond their different racial ideologies.

Alison makes a similar semantic move when discussing her project in the Virginia housing projects. She says that "that lady that we work with on this project," whom she describes as African American, was unaware of the Tea Party before meeting them. According to Alison, "this lady" was talking to a friend and "mentioned that she was going to work with the Tea Party." That friend reacted negatively, to which the first woman responded:

I told her—and where are you when these kids need help? . . . what I know about the Tea Party is that they show up, that they have somebody at my place every other Thursday just like they said they would and they are out there busting their tails to help these kids.

According to Alison, "that lady" then said, "you can say anything you want, but the Tea Party's alright with me." This story emphasizes color-blind values by promoting the idea that people of color approve of the Tea Party's activities and mission.

By promoting the frame of color blindness, the Tea Party unites activists and increases solidarity and commitment. In doing so, the movement also responds to the broader social ideology of color blindness as examined by Bonilla-Silva (2009) and others. In this way, they are able to engage with a master frame of color blindness, potentially attracting new members.


Tea Party activists employ four distinct frames to explain contemporary racial inequality: Some deny that racial inequality exists, others place blame on individual people of color who fail to achieve the American dream, a third group inculpates culture, and a fourth subset blames the state. To function as a single movement and to rally activists around a central goal, the Tea Party uses frame amplification to unite activists under a master frame of color blindness.

Frames are only successful if they can build upon common social discourses and be packaged for larger audiences (McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001; Snow and Benford 2000). Such knowledge is important in movement mobilization as people view the world based on their cultural traditions and not any sort of tangible "truth" (Jasper 1997). In the construction of its racial frames, the Tea Party is reacting to societal change via the influence of right-wing populism and the "white racial frame" of color blindness (Bonilla-Silva 2009; Feagin 2010).

This analysis of the Tea Party's racial frames extends Bonilla-Silva's work on color blindness. Bonilla-Silva (2009) uses the 1997 Survey of Social Attitudes of College Students and the 1998 Detroit Area Study to examine the racial frames and styles of color blindness. Both of these surveys are more than 15 years old. Moreover, they reflect two traditionally liberal populations: college students and urban residents. The case of the Tea Party reflects the presence of three of Bonilla-Silva's frames (abstract liberalism, minimization of racism, and cultural racism) by right-wing activists. It also shows less structured use of the naturalization frame described by Bonilla-Silva, despite its use by half of his sample. Finally, it establishes the existence of an additional frame, systemic responsibility, demonstrating that color blindness can act in concert with an understanding of the impact of social structure on peoples' lived experiences. Additional research on the different ways color blindness is used across the political spectrum is needed.

It is important to recognize that these frames are akin to Weberian ideal types. While approximately 87 percent (n = 39) of my sample fit squarely within one category, other activists' ideologies fit less rigidly. The remaining 13 percent (n = 6) fit into one frame and also identified a concern of another frame once or twice in the interview. For example, an activist employing the individual responsibility frame may have been concerned about religion, but, unlike those using the cultural responsibility frame, did not invoke the stories of cultural threat and loss. There was not a clear pattern regarding frame overlap. A greater sample size and additional research is needed in this area.

Although the number of Tea Party groups has decreased (from 1,000 to 600), the movement has not lost its power. Skocpol suggests that the movement has "a very good survival rate" (Skocpol in Arrillaga 2012). C. Parker and Barreto (2013) also document its influence on the Republican Party and American politics in general. One possible factor contributing to their lasting influence could be in the framing strategies of the movement. Perhaps, the frame alignment process enhances activist commitment and collective identity. Frame amplification emphasizes the ideology of color blindness under which activists unite. In turn, activists can maintain their distinct frames and, in the words of Victoria (a Tea Party member from the Midwest), "agree to disagree" . The Tea Party's strategy provides an opportunity for further exploration of activist commitment and collective identity as they relate to movement cycles.

As a strong and nascent movement, the Tea Party shapes the master frames of the right. This influence can be seen in the shifting political climate since the movement's formation in 2010 (C. Parker and Barreto 2013). Some argue that the Tea Party has become the Republican base (Foley in Arrillaga 2012) or that it has pulled the party to the right (Bischoff and Malloy 2012). The Tea Party strongly influenced Romney's presidential 2012 campaign leading him to lobby for "some Tea party-friendly positions" and pepper his speeches "with lines that play to the Tea party crowd" (Arrillaga 2012). Finally, evidence of Tea Party influence can be seen in the success of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and conservative legislatures elsewhere in curbing union strength in their respective states (Greenhouse 2011).

As research on the Tea Party continues, it is important to examine how movement frames shift, how the master frame is modified, and the impact it has on broader social discourse. Andrew Perrin, J. Micah Roos, and Gordon W. Gauchat (2014:189) have begun this analysis with what they call the "performative cultural model" of conservatism. They argue that by participating in a conservative organization such as the Tea Party, activists "learn conservative modes of thought by common participation in conservative identity" (Perrin et al. 2014:189). It appears that this model may occur across organizational boundaries as the Tea Party has already changed the Republican Party and popular opinion on a variety of issues (DiMaggio 2011). Although the lasting impact of the Tea Party on popular discourse and public policy—particularly with regard to race—is not yet clear, it is evident that Tea Party frames regarding racial inequality will influence the political right.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. Note

1. An overview of participant demographic information and the interview guide is available by request from the author.


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Author Biography

Kristin Haltinner is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Idaho. Her research is on right-wing ideology and social movement organizations; racial formation and discourse; and social inequality (race, gender, class, and sexuality). Her recent projects focus on the Taxed Enough Already (Tea) Party Patriots, libertarian ideology, and militia activism. She also won several teaching awards at the University of Minnesota where she earned her PhD in 2013.