Right-wing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has received permission to form an official Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. It's official. The Tea Party matters.
So: is it racist? Certainly a sizeable minority of Tea Partiers' "take America back" rhetoric is motivated by thinly disguised resentment that a black guy is president. As for the remainder, their tacit tolerance of the intolerant speaks for itself. "Take America back" from whom? You know whom. It ain't white CEOs.
Yes. The Tea Party is racist. Obviously.
But racism is only one facet of a far more sinister political strain. It's more accurate to categorize the Tea Party as something the United States has never seen before, certainly not in such large numbers or as widespread.
The Tea Party is a protofascist movement.
Robert O. Paxton defined fascism as "a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
Typical Tea Party rants fit the classic fascist mold in several respects. America, Tea Partiers complain, is falling behind. Like Hitler, they blame leftists and liberals for a "stab in the back," treason on the homefront. The trappings of hypernationalism--flags, bunting, etc.--are notably pervasive at Tea Party rallies, even by American standards. We see "collaboration with traditional elites"--Rush Limbaugh, Congressmen, Republican Party bigwigs (including the most recent vice presidential nominee)--to an extent that is unprecedented in recent history.
Tea Partiers haven't called for extralegal solutions to the problems they cite--but neither did the National Socialists prior to 1933. Then again, they're not in power yet. Wait.