JUNEAU, Alaska – An official with the Tea Party Express on Monday blasted its expulsion from a national coalition over its refusal to oust a former chairman who satirized the NAACP in a controversial blog posting.
The political action committee that raises money for Republican candidates was booted from the National Tea Party Federation for refusing to rebuke spokesman Mark Williams, whose posting referred to NAACP president Benjamin Jealous as “Tom’s nephew and NAACP head colored person.”
Tea Party Express coordinator Joe Wierzbicki said it was “arrogant and preposterous” for the federation to expel his group.
“Circular firing squads of groups within the tea party movement attacking one another accomplish nothing, and on this issue the Tea Party Federation is wrong,” he said in a statement.
The friction highlights fault lines within the loosely jointed tea party movement, which has no formal organization or bylaws. Internal squabbling could weaken its political clout, and it comes at a time when the NAACP and other have sought to discredit the movement.
The tea party — thousands of community groups that promote limited government, free markets and other conservative and Libertarian principles — has resisted any notion of centralized control.
Other Tea Party Express officials tried to distance the group from Williams but stopped short of expelling him.
Williams “may speak on behalf of us in some circumstances, in some situations, and we may agree on some things,” Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer said during an appearance in Anchorage to help U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Miller. “This is not one of the things that we agree upon.”
Williams stepped down as chairman of the Tea Party Express about a month ago and remains listed on the group’s website as a spokesman. The voicemail on his cell phone was full Monday and not taking any more messages.
In a blog posting Sunday, Williams said he was refusing media interviews because he did not want to further inflame the situation. He noted he had pulled his “inflammatory (and arguably over the top — just ask my wife) criticism of the NAACP.”
Kremer didn’t say whether Williams would continue as a spokesman. She said Tea Party Express does not condone racism.
In Idaho, the lone Democrat to win favor with the Tea Party Express rejected its endorsement, citing the blog about the NAACP.
U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick told the group in a letter he had no choice but to decline after it refused to oust Williams.
Minnick, who represents Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, called the blog post “reprehensible.”
Christina Botteri, a founding member of the National Tea Party Federation, said the organization was “interested in moving the whole Mark Williams thing behind us,” to focus on fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets.
Earlier, Tea Party Express coordinator Wierzbicki claimed the federation had “enabled and empowered the NAACP’s racist attacks on the tea party movement, and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
The NAACP approved a resolution last week calling on activists and others to “repudiate the racist element and activities” within the tea party movement.
Tea Party Express expects to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Miller take on U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in next month’s GOP primary in Alaska.
The group also helped Sharron Angle overcome her long-shot status to win Nevada’s GOP primary. Angle is set to face Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in November.
Miller, a Fairbanks attorney making his first statewide run for public office, reported having about $125,000 in campaign funding on hand as of June 30, compared to Murkowski’s nearly $2.4 million. Miller also has the endorsement of Sarah Palin, whose political action committee has reportedly given Miller $5,000.
The Tea Party Express and the federation have each faced criticism within the grass-roots movement.
Some local activists depict the Tea Party Express as little more than a front for a Republican-linked group to make money because its chief strategist is former Reagan White House aide and longtime GOP consultant Sal Russo. Others say the federation is trying to gain influence in a movement that has resisted formal leadership.
Mark Meckler, a California attorney who is a national co-founder of the 2,300-chapter Tea Party Patriots, said he warned the federation about Williams’ reputation for incendiary commentary.
The federation is “a bunch of self-important folks who decided they need to speak for the tea party,” Meckler said. “We wanted nothing to do with them.”