Leaders of the country's largest civil rights organization accused tea party activists on Tuesday of tolerating bigotry and approved a resolution condemning racism within the political movement.
The resolution was adopted during the annual convention in Kansas City of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spokesman Chris Fleming said. Local tea party organizers disputed claims of racism and called on the NAACP to withdraw the resolution.
It was not immediately clear how the resolution was amended during the debate, which was mostly closed to the public.
The original called for the NAACP to "educate its membership and the community that this movement is not just about higher taxes and limited government." It suggested that something could evolve "and become more dangerous for that small percentage of people that really think our country has been taken away from them."
"We felt the time had come to stand up and say, 'It's time for the tea party to be responsible members of this democracy and make sure they don't tolerate bigots or bigotry among their members,'" NAACP President Ben Jealous said ahead of the debate. "We don't have a problem with the tea party's existence. We have an issue with their acceptance and welcoming of white supremacists into their organizations."
Tea party activist Alex Poulter, who co-founded a Kansas City-area group called Political Chips, disputed the allegations. He said the movement is made up of a "diverse group of folks who are upset with what is going on with this country."
Poulter said he has seen no evidence of racism within the movement.
"It's unfounded but people are running with these accusations like they are true," he said.
A group called the St. Louis Tea Party issued its own resolution Tuesday calling on the NAACP to withdraw the proposal, which won't become official until the NAACP's national board of directors approves it during its meeting in October in Baltimore. Jealous also urged people to attend an Oct. 2 rally in Washington to remind Congress and President Barack Obama about the challenges facing minority neighborhoods.
Though not affiliated with either major political party, tea party activists espouse a political philosophy of less government, a free market, lower taxes, individual rights and political activism.
The group has faced occasional claims of racism, most notably in March near the end of the bitter health care debate. U.S. Reps. John Lewis, Andre Carson and Emanuel Cleaver said some demonstrators, many of them tea party activists, yelled a racial epithet as the black congressmen walked from House office buildings to the Capitol.
Cleaver, D-Mo., also said he was spit on.
A white lawmaker said he also heard the epithets, but conservative activists said the lawmakers were lying.
"They are pulling people together and focusing on the negative, and then it's hard to make anything positive out of that," said Anita L. Russell, president of the Kansas City, Mo., branch of the NAACP, which introduced the resolution. "And then these groups, these extremist groups, are looking for something, and they are latching on to this. The thing is going to grow and grow out of control."
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