Fact Sheet

Tea Party 'racism': Truth or fiction?

Over the weekend, the media reported that Tea Party protestors were hurling racist epithets at Democratic lawmakers. But some on the right think it's a smear campaign

In the hours leading up to the final vote on health care reform last weekend, Tea Party demonstrations on Capitol Hill turned ugly, with protestors reportedly directing "racist" and homophobic slurs — and, in one case, a spit globule — at Democratic lawmakers. But some Tea Partiers are questioning the reports and suggesting that the conservative grassroots movement is the victim of a smear campaign. Did the media get it wrong, or are Tea Partiers just doing damage control? Here, a quick guide to the facts about the situation:

What happened?There were at least three reported instances of "ugly" behavior by Tea Party protestors over the weekend :

1. Andre Carson (D-IN) told the Associated Press that some Tea Partiers began chanting the "N-word" when he and Rep John Lewis (D-GA) — a former civil rights leader — left the Cannon House Office Building. Both Carson and Lewis are black. Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones confirmed Carson's claim.

2. According to Talking Points Memo reporter Brian Beutler, a Tea Party protester at the Longworth House Office Building addressed Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) as a "faggot," causing the "surrounding crowd of protestors [to erupt] in laughter." A reporter for Politico also overheard the slur.

3. Late Saturday, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), who is African-American, issued a statement saying he was spit upon while walking to the Capitol. The Capitol Police reportedly detained a protester, but Cleaver declined to press charges.

Who denies the claims?Some conservative commentators have sounded a skeptical note, pointing to the fact that video footage shows protesters chanting "Kill the bill!" — not the "N-word" — to Carson and Lewis. They argue that reports of the slurs have been either fabricated or overblown by left-leaning media organizations in order to discredit the Tea Party. "Is it a coincidence that after a year of millions marching against this ugly leftist power grab, that on the day before the vote both racist and homophobic slurs were allegedly hurled? Hmmm," says Pamela Geller in Atlas Shrugs, "It sure sounds like a set-up."

Have Republicans responded to the incidents?Yes. A number of prominent Republicans have condemned the alleged slurs, including House Minority Leader John Boehner and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. "It's certainly not a reflection of the movement or the Republican Party when you have idiots out there saying stupid things," said Steele on "Meet the Press."

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