Reporting from Washington — A group of conservative black activists on Wednesday defended the "tea party" movement against accusations of racism and said critics were using race to shore up support for President Obama and his policies.
The news conference, organized by the group Tea Party Express, was a response to the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, which three weeks ago condemned signs and slurs at tea party rallies as racist.
The NAACP's resolution revived infighting within the conservative tea party movement and led to the departure of a Tea Party Express leader who had written a blog post describing "coloreds" as lazy. Mark Williams, a longtime Tea Party Express spokesman known for incendiary comments, said the post was satirical.
"No matter his intent, Mark's response to the NAACP's claims were unwise and proved to be counterproductive," said William Owens, a spokesman for the Sacramento-based Tea Party Express.
The group said they did not believe reports that tea party protesters had shouted racial epithets at a rally in March. They said many protest signs often described as racist were misunderstood or taken out of context.
At the news conference, speakers described the NAACP as irrelevant and silent on the issues most important to African Americans. The civil rights group is trying to scare blacks into supporting Democrats, said Niger Innis, spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality. He said the NAACP "racial terror" tactic was borrowed from the Ku Klux Klan.
"The same terror that was employed by whites in hoods is now being employed by blacks and whites in suits," Innis said.
AlfonZo Rachel, a commentator for the conservative PJTV website, said the NAACP was made up of the "same kind of people who would rat out a runaway slave."
Hilary Shelton, NAACP vice president for advocacy, said, "That's outrageous."
"This stand is not driven by trying to get people to the polls," he said. "It came up through our membership in response to problems they were seeing."
Shelton said the NAACP issue agenda included advocacy in education, predatory lending, aid to small businesses and foreclosures. The resolution on the tea party was one of 85 resolutions passed at the national convention, including one calling for greater civility in political discourse.
By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau
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