(MintPress) – At the height of Gary Stein’s criticisms of President Barack Obama on a Facebook page he created called “Armed Forces Tea Party,” Stein superimposed images of Obama and his cabinet on a movie poster for “The Incredibles,” but altered the text to say “The Horribles.” He also edited Obama’s face on the movie poster for “Jackass.” As a result, Stein, a serving member of the United States Marine Corps., was ruled to be dismissed for misconduct by a military administrative board. The actions raise first amendment rights issues as well as the tone set by the tea party, with multiple comparisons of the populist organization to hate groups because of racism claims.
Since the Civil War, laws have been in place that restricts military personnel from criticizing the commander in chief or sponsoring a political club while actively serving. Pentagon directives also prevent military personnel from using “contemptuous” words when speaking about senior officials. Stein’s lawyer, Marine Capt. James Baehr, said the rules are archaic and blur the line between the rights of a US citizen and the restrictions of an active military member.
“There is no basis in this case,” Baehr told the Chicago Tribune. “Sgt. Stein has broken no law.”
Baehr said the ruling sets a precedent that allows the government to order repercussions for those who speak out against it.
“Think about how dangerous this could be if the US government can prosecute you for something you say on your private Facebook page,” Baehr said.
On Stein’s Facebook page, he wrote a disclaimer saying, “We do not represent, and are in no way affiliated with the military, or United States Armed Forces.” His attorneys believe that disclaimer should prevent him from being prosecuted because it shows the viewpoints expressed on the page are not in line with those of the military as a whole. They contend that current policy on military speech is too vague and needs to be reworked.
US Code offers only one paragraph on military members and their right to criticisms of senior officials. It is found under Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 888, and reads:
“Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has come to the defense of Stein, saying that a member of the military simply cannot have the first amendment wiped away from their rights as a person of the US.
“The military may be different from the civilian world, but it’s not exempt from the First Amendment. Sergeant Stein didn’t say anything for which the Marine Corps has any right to punish him. He did not threaten order or discipline or take positions that anyone would attribute to the Corps,” said David Loy, a legal director for ACLU.
Tea party association
As a self-proclaimed member of the tea party movement, Stein associates himself with a group that has come under fire for its approach to political criticisms and racial undertones. But answering the question of “is the tea party racist?” is difficult as a simple ‘yes” or “no” answer could be seen as absolutist.
But a University of Washington study by the Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality conducted a multi-state survey in 2010. The study looked at the attitudes of tea party members toward race, public policy, national politics and President Obama in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.
When asked to answer the question of “Do you think that the authorities should profile someone on account of their race or religion?” the predicted probability of the study showed that nearly 30 percent of those who called themselves “Conservative” would say “yes” while around 25 percent of tea party supporters would respond “yes”.
Other findings of the study showed:
- 73 percent of tea party supporters believed blacks would be better off if they only tried harder.
- 72 percent disagreed that “generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”
- 88 percent believed that “Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors.”
- 45 percent of whites strongly or somewhat supported the tea party movement, while 24 percent of non-whites fell into the same categories.
Director of the study, Christopher Parker, said while the tea party facilitates many of its events around public policy and size of government, there are other undertones discovered by the study.
“The data suggests that people who are tea party supporters have a higher probability of being racially resentful than those who are not tea party supporters,” Parker said. “The Tea Party is not just about politics and size of government. The data suggests it may also be about race.”
Actions of the tea party at their rallies have not helped the claims of racism lobbied against them. In a 2009 rally, a sign depicting Obama as a witch doctor was used during the demonstration. Protesters acknowledged that the sign could be racist, but argued that it reflected the resentment of Obama’s policies.
“That [witch doctor] image is not representative at all of what this movement is about,” said Tea Party Express coordinator Joe Wierzbicki. He continued by saying the sign showed “a lot of people in this country are angry about the direction that the administration and Congress are taking us.”
Another photo that made the rounds was claimed to have been taken at a tea party rally in Madison, Wisconsin. It depicted a white man carrying a sign that said “Obama Plan White Slavery.” The sign forced tea party organizers to respond to the signs that many were interpreting as racist. Rally leaders told MSNBC that many of the racist signs seen at the demonstrations are coming from fringe groups, extremists or outside infiltrators to the events.
Another sign captured at a Houston tea party rally likened Congress to a slave owner and the taxpayer to a n——r.
“We don’t want to be misrepresented, whether it’s by someone who is not part of the group and has their own agenda, or whether it’s by some fringe extremist who may actually be a racist,” said tea party activist Jim Hoft.
The rise of hate groups
A recent study by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) showed the rise of hate groups in the US is at a rapid rate. SPLC showed that in 2000 there were 602 identifiable hate groups in the US; by 2011 that number had nearly doubled to 1,018.
Also continues to growing at astounding rates are “Patriot” and militia groups. The SPLC identifies these groups as “radical right” organizations that are “fueled by superheated fears generated by economic dislocation, a proliferation of demonizing conspiracy theories, the changing racial makeup of America, and the prospect of four more years under a black president who many on the far right view as an enemy to their country.”
The group increased in number by 250 percent over the span of three years, from 512 in 2009 to 1,274 in 2011. Mark Potok, author of the report, told ABC News that numbers had fluctuated since the turn of the millennium, but that they spiked when Obama claimed the presidency.
“Around 2000, we saw very dramatically neo-Nazi groups, Klan groups and similar kinds of groups simply drop their propaganda about the alleged evils of black people, of gay people, of Jewish people in order to concentrate pretty much 100 percent on illegal immigrants,” Potok said. ”In 2008, we have two more factors come into play. We have Obama and the economy.”
In 2011, a study published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science discovered that many white Americans thought that progress seen in race relations since the 1950s came at their expense, and that bias against whites since 2000 has become more of a social problem than bias against blacks.
“I think it has the potential to get worse before it gets better,” Potok said. “As it becomes more likely that Obama will ultimately win (in 2012), these groups are getting angrier and angrier. They’re looking at four years under a black guy who they hate.”