News Release

Angry Populism, Prejudice, and Superficial Punditry


Berlet is senior analyst at Political Research Associates. He recently wrote the piece “Tea Party Loyalists Biased Against Blacks, Latinos, Immigrants and Gays.”

Berlet also recently delivered the talk “Reframing Resentments in the Tea Party Movement,” which states: “The signs, slogans, stories, and tropes of the Tea Party troops are often incomprehensible to many observers. A frequent response is to rely on outdated social science models to describe the Tea Party Movement participants as stupid, ignorant, or crazy. What else could explain the ‘extremist’ idea that Obama is both Hitler and Stalin? Who but a ‘wing-nut’ on the ‘lunatic fringe’ would claim that government reform of healthcare could result in a bureaucrat unplugging grandma?

“The underlying frames and narratives which produce these seemingly absurd claims popular in the Tea Party Movement are common in conservative, economic libertarian or Christian evangelical households; and they have been for decades. The signs and statements at demonstrations might reflect garbled prose, but the ideas have a clear textual pedigree.

“The Tea Party Movement is the latest extension of a campaign by the political right launched in the 1930s to roll back the social welfare policies of the Roosevelt administration. This campaign has always been a loose-knit coalition of large corporate interests, small business owners, economic libertarians, anti-union activists, conservative Christians and moral traditionalists. They all share an antipathy to collectivism in general. Their opposition to taxes, however, is selective. For example, they tend to support funds for the military and law enforcement, but tend to oppose government programs that weave a social safety net. …

“The Tea Party Movement largely has been mobilized using fear-based frames and narratives in which liberal and left ideological opponents are demonized and scapegoated as consciously or unconsciously destroying the America of liberty and freedom. Ask Tea Party activists where they get their news and political information and they mention Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Fox News, AM talk radio, and internet sites such as Free Republic and World Net Daily. …

“Too often major liberal media pundits frame the Tea Party movement as populated by a lunatic fringe of irrational, uneducated, and ignorant rubes. Liberals then dismiss the grievances of Tea Party supporters without engaging them in a discussion that could illuminate issues the nation needs to address.”

Berlet is co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167