Hundreds of conservatives from around the state have flocked to a Myrtle Beach resort for South Carolina’s first tea party convention. Despite the event being held in mid-January, the beautiful weather (not to mention rock-bottom hotel prices) truly make it “a great day for a tea party,” as Gov. Nikki Haley often repeated on the campaign trail.
In sharp contrast to the convention’s picturesque setting, however, the atmosphere inside the convention grew increasingly ugly over the weekend as speakers spouted inflammatory and racially-charged rhetoric which was eaten up by the tea partiers in attendance. While this would normally merit little attention given the tea party’s history of controversy, that much of the state’s congressional delegation and statewide elected officials are taking part in the convention is raising some eyebrows.
On Sunday, Palmetto Public Record told you about a speaker who accused the Democratic Party and its leaders of being racist, and encouraged the all-white crowd to “be intolerant” of people with different religious and political beliefs. The speech immediately followed an address by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, no stranger to the occasional controversial statement himself.
The rhetoric grew even more heated on Monday. Mere minutes after Gov. Haley addressed the convention, a speaker named Colin Heaton called illegal immigrants “terrorists” and recommended that the military employ drone strikes on U.S. and Mexican soil. Heaton also called for a border fence with land mines and tear gas, and said the military should “force these Mexicans” to build it:
From there, Heaton’s barely-cohesive speech pivoted to another tea party trope. “The only difference between Adolf Hitler and Barack Obama is that Obama isn’t as overtly ethically challenged,” commented Heaton, who failed to explain his outrageous comparison.
Heaton wasn’t the only tea partier making the Obama-Hitler accusation this weekend. In the media room on Sunday, a documentarian wearing a “don’t tread on me” T-shirt and his interview subject were overheard discussing “similarities” between the president and Hitler. The young interviewer went even further, telling the woman how “disgusted” he is “that fags are allowed to openly serve in the military.”
“No elected official or candidate should be at this event,” state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis said after learning of the event’s inflammatory rhetoric. But in addition to Wilson and Haley, other speakers at the tea party convention include Sen. Jim DeMint, U.S. Reps. Jeff Duncan, Mick Mulvaney and Tim Scott, state Treasurer Curtis Loftis and Attorney General Alan Wilson, as well as presidential candidates Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
Of course, it would be just as outrageous to suggest that everyone on that list shares the controversial views of many of the convention’s speakers and attendees. But by taking part in the event, South Carolina’s tea party officials give tacit endorsement to rhetoric which only serves to further divide Americans and cheapen the political process and ideals which the tea party claims to hold so dear.