Take a Ride on the Tea Party Express

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"We tolerate people having completely different views all the time," Russo said. There are "people that inject God and social issues into their speeches, and we ask them not to do that." Russo cites a state chairman who opposes the Iraq war.

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Mark Williams, chairman, Tea Party Express

As far as Russo is concerned, what Mark Williams--or anyone else--says on his own time is his business. When the people associated with TPE are appearing at bus tour rallies and talking about the group's core principles--limited government, limited spending, an agenda held by most of the Tea Party movement--then they're speaking for the group. "If you say anything else, you're not speaking for the Tea Party Express," Russo says. He's responsible for the people he employs, he says, but for someone like Williams--the face of the group, who, regardless, is not a salaried employee--Tea Party Express doesn't agree with everything they say. "We just agree on what we're talking about."

Russo knows there are birthers at his rallies, which he finds "kind of silly," but it's not his place to take a stand on issues unrelated to the Tea Party Express platform; as for everything else besides those principles, Russo says, "I'm willing to let the marketplace of ideas sort things out."

I ask Russo if a line should be drawn at derogatory statements about Muslims. 

He could get Rush Limbaugh, he says, but then he'd spend all his time answering for Limbaugh's opinions. He could get "Walter Cronkite back from the dead," but someone would complain about the legendary newsman. "It never stops," Russo says. "There's no place to draw a line."

And Williams was most likely talking about jihadists, Russo says--not Muslims writ large.

I e-mailed Williams and asked if that was the case--if he had aimed those blog posts at all of Islam, whether he had just been talking about jihadists or perhaps those planning the mosque near Ground Zero, and whether he sees his anti-Muslim pontificating as a threat to Tea Party Express, since so many others don't agree with him.

Here was Williams' response (excerpted with ellipses), which came in a reply to my e-mail:

Does Islam allow for a Muslim to NOT be a Jihadist?  Maybe you shoot a email [sic] to one of the Imams who speaks for the faith in Mecca and inquire?They would be the expert on that question.  All I can do is provide you with questions that I ask and answer in "Taking Back America One Tea Party at a Time" in my chapter on Islam (there are individual chapters devoted to some of the most serious threats faced by those who love Liberty)...

Show me how a temple to terrorism at Ground Zero advances "understanding" and maybe while you are at it explain why up until now this mosque has been proceeding in all but secret.  Tell me why the 100-million dollars burning a hole in the Imam's pocket for "understanding" is not being used by Islam to track down and kill the terrorists in their midst or compensate its victims.  Tell me why Islam is not standing to stop idiotic efforts to create martyrs with "peace" flotillas and bombs strapped to retarded kids and sending them sauntering up to IDF.

Find me the throngs of Imams marching for Civil Rights for all in the face of angry, organized mobs fighting against those Rights as we saw ministers do in Selma and Birmingham.  Show me the public outrage when yet another act of unspeakable horror in the name of their god is committed... or will you simply find yet another mass demonstration of semi-evolved simian rage directed at Jews, Americans and all non-Muslims in support of the act of horror sparked by the scent of blood?

Ever see the broken and burned bodies of Muslims hanging from freeway bridges here or dragged through the streets before cheering throngs like they were Marti Gras floats?...

What was your question about Tea Parties again?  They take up around 9 weeks of my year, I'm a little busy the other 43 to poll Tea Partiers for their opinions but I would suggest to you that since the Tea Party Movement is a Human Rights Movement (by virtue of being based on the greatest expression of Human Rights ever devised by our mortal hand - the United States Constitution) that you may surmise that the average Tea Partier is not likely to embrace savage acts against anybody as a standard to be held or respected.

It does not surprise me that standing for Human Rights "harms" the Tea Party Movement.  Standing for limited government, lower taxation, for Constitutional process and our Republic and for less government intrusion all "harm" the Tea Parties too.  This is what the bottom of a slippery slope looks like, when you've run out of slope and are looking in the maw of the abyss.  The evil that brought us here is fighting to finish the job.

So he really doesn't like Muslims, and the case was solved. Those are his reasons.

(Williams and I have something in common, I discovered. He mentioned in his e-mail that he is also a former cub scout and that he is "ordained in the Universal Life Church." I was never into cub scouts, but I was ordained as a minister of the Universal Life Church when I was in 9th grade. It was fairly easy to do online. It made for reasonably good conversation starters. I haven't looked back into what the ULC stands for since then, but I believe I can technically marry people.)

Tea Party Express remains one of the more effective groups in the Tea Party movement, given the reluctance of every other national Tea Party Organization to endorse candidates and raise money. To critics of the fees his firm receives, Sal Russo says he "never did this for the money." Some reports of Tea Party Express's payments to his firm have exaggerated the sums, and Russo says the majority of the money his firm makes is from commission on media buys. 15%-20% is the standard commission rate for media purchasing; Russo's firm is on the low end.

Some, Russo included, see other groups' refusal to endorse as malaise, or weakness, or futility, or something in between. ("They're the only ones that are actually doing something," Stublen, the Florida tea party organizer, said.)

Other national groups, like Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Nation, don't think it's their role-- that endorsements should happen at the local level only.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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