Mar 052010

Tea Party attempts to draft Dan Halloran for Congress
I didn’t want to return to this topic quite so early, but after I read the post on The Wild Hunt “Quick Note: Halloran for Congress?” I changed my mind. Halloran has been impressing local Tea Party groups at gatherings meant to screen and interview politicians and candidates. So much so they were calling on him to run for Congress.

Allow me to pause for a moment just to revel in how far we have come in such a short time. Two years ago I would never thought an openly Pagan candidate could still win his seat after his opponent used his religion against him. Especially after photos of him in ceremonial dress were published with the headline of “Pagan Lord” and captioned  “First Muggle of Hogwarts” hit the Press. What about you? In your wildest dreams did you guess that earlier this week non-Pagans would be talking about the possibility of supporting a Pagan for Congress?

Even though Halloran decided not to run for Congress, that he was asked is another milestone we have passed in our journey for civil rights. Another step forward.  Part of that step forward is the response within the Tea Party to Halloran.

People within the Tea Party, in a Letter to the Editor, in Twitter, and in Tea Party forums, were saying Halloran would make a good Congressional candidate and he had their support if he decided to run for Congress. When his religion is mentioned, it is usually from people asking what the heck it is or people commenting that it would be great to have a non-Christian candidate to combat the view that the Tea Party is a fundamentalist Christian group.

“I could give a shit less what his religion is, we need more like Halloran running for Congress!” – Wayne, Tea Party Patriot forum

“WTF is Theodism?” – Angela, Tea Party chat
“It’s some old Viking stuff. You know, honor and family and Odin and shit like that.” - Dreeson, Tea Party chat
“Hmh. Vikings? Sounds like my husband’s family. What’s the big deal?.” – Angela, Tea Party chat

I’ve been pleased at how positive the comments have been about Halloran. They really, really like him.

Reading the Tea Leaves
The story of Tea Party support for an openly Pagan politician is at odds with the popular portrayal of the Tea Party. There is no shortage of articles that describe the Tea Party movement as a racist, right-wing, Christian fundamentalist response to having a black man in the White House and describe persons who are part of this movement as paranoids with a distorted sense of reality.

There is confusion and conflicting information about almost every aspect of the Tea Party movement. Not even the origins of the movement are entirely clear. What is interesting is that the Tea Party Patriots, an information dissemination, planning, and networking hub, has created an origin mythos for the movement.

Keli Carender has a pierced nose, performs improv on weekends and lives here in a neighborhood with more Mexican grocers than coffeehouses. You might mistake her for the kind of young person whose vote powered  President Obama to the White House. You probably would not think of her as a Tea Party type.

But leaders of the Tea Party movement credit her with being the first.

As for who Tea Partiers are, the Sam Adams Alliance has released a 28 page report entitled Activist Insights Report: Market Research on the Tea Party Movement, its Leaders and their Motivations.

The conclusion of this report is that the Tea Party activists are not the “other,” and they cannot be defined through a single statement, document, or definition. They are the early adopters of a new empowerment.

Some of the findings? About half of Tea Partiers are new to political involvement, almost 2/3rds have a college degree or higher, and they are very adept at social media. If you received tweets linking to new Tea Party iPhone apps you probably aren’t surprised by any of this. The report is worth looking at in detail to learn more about Tea Partiers in general.

The Interviews
So what is it like for Pagans who are involved with the movement? I interviewed three Pagans who volunteered to relate their experiences and I have a list of 27 more who are planning to be involved shortly and agree to be interviewed later. If you would like to interviewed now or at a later date, feel free to contact me through this blog.

Ellen is living in the Los Angeles, California area. Her and her husband are loosely associated with the Ventura Country Tea Party group.

Oak lives in a suburb of Chicago and is a facilitator in his local Tea Party Patriot group.

Allison lives in Georgia and is part of Kick Them All Out, a group that works with Tea Party and Tea Party affiliated groups.

How does religion – yours or others – interact with the movement? Do they know your religion? Are you worried about them finding out? Is it very “Christian” in tone?

Ellen – I’m not worried about anyone finding out, but I don’t advertise, and I find it easier to blend in (in like manner I don’t go out of my way to tell other pagans that I’m conservative). Most Tea Parties are wonderfully open and accepting of all stripes and go out of their way to speak of God in general terms. Sometimes it’s more Christian than that, which doesn’t bother me in small doses.

Oak – Most people there know I’m a Pagan and it’s never been a problem. Like everywhere I go, Christians out number the non-Christians, and they sometimes forget that not everyone is of the same religion.

Allison – Our group, and when we get together with other groups for a Tea Party rally, is very open to all or no religions. We sometimes take turns saying a few words before a rally to pray for success. I pray to my gods, others pray to their god and the atheists lead us in a cheer of “Go humans!” We had one person who was extremely pushy about religion and she was asked to not come back.

Do you feel that you can impact the group, or do you feel that you can only follow what leaders set forth?

Oak – I’m a bit of a loudmouth, I guess, so I was pegged right away to be a facilitator. I’ve also had experience in helping with Pagan groups and if you can get a group of Pagans headed all in one direction, you can get any group moving. That experience has helped and has earned me the respect of others in the movement. Yes, I would say I’m having an impact on the group.

Allison – I don’t really want to be a leader. I enjoy helping out, and if there was something going on that I disagreed with I would say something.

What do you like about the Tea Party?

Ellen – It is wonderfully grass roots — it sprang organically into life last April 15 all over the nation as Americans peacefully and cheerfully (and even a little sheepishly) came together to say “Hell no!” to Washington. I can count on one hand the number of individuals I have run into who could be described as “angry.” We’re firm and determined, telling our elected employees that they are not doing what we sent them there to do. But we laugh and joke and have a good time toting our posters and flags on street corners. It does get noisy tho, with all the cars honking in solidarity. We’re out there to say to our fellow Americans, “you are not alone in your dissatisfaction.” People seem to appreciate that.

Oak – I like that people can take a leadership role without there being leaders. This is what I’m used to in my spirituality so it’s familiar to me. Most people are excited and willing to pitch in. Self-policing is difficult but we are getting it down. I used to be the one who would say “Leave your Party at the door” or “Take your social issues shit somewhere else” when people would go off on things not related to our mission. Now everyone else pipes up before I can. Imagine! Political discussions and never once is abortion mentioned! That I like.

Allison – I like they at least will work with us on challenging incumbents and believe that there are no free rides in elections. It’s fun to meet up with other small groups that share that view. The Tea Partiers are the ones that bring us all together for rallies. Together we are stronger.

What do you not like about the Tea Party?

Ellen – I don’t think there is anything I don’t like per se. Any movement has its lunatic fringe, and I guess I don’t like how the main stream media persists in finding the crazies to put on the news, when they pay any attention to us at all. They are drawn like flies to the one or two persons with extreme views. I have never seen a swastica in the crowd. And the only “Nazi” was actually a La Raza heckler who was trying to be disruptive. I know because we engaged him and his pals in debate for half an hour at the last Tea Party we attended (incidentally keeping them from getting loud and disruptive again).

Oak – I wish there was more of a unified message. It’s starting to happen, just not soon enough for me. I don’t like that there aren’t as many speakers from the Democrat Party there. We keep inviting them, but they won’t answer us. If we just keep having Republicans speak then the group will turn off Conservative Democrats and Independents.

In your opinion, is the Tea Party “grassroots” or is it controlled or created?

Ellen – Definitely grassroots.

Oak – grassroots, but the Republicans would love to control us. That ain’t gonna happen. No way it was created. If it was created it wouldn’t have been such a chaotic mess in the beginning.

Allison – I don’t know.

When someone tells you that the reason the Tea Party exists is because there is a black man in the White House or says the Tea Party is a racist group, what is your reaction?

Ellen – Hogwash. Obama was elected by a majority of the people because they believed he would be bipartisan. It quickly became apparent that he is hyperpartisan. When people said they wanted “change” they meant change from business as usual in Washington, not a complete make-over of our American way of life. We are not Europe and we don’t want to go there.

Oak – My reaction? I would tell them they are full of shit right to their face. I would also tell them if they had any honor, they would attend a rally with me and they could see what it’s like for themselves. That shit is said by people who have never attended a rally or been to a meeting.

Have you seen or experienced racism in the Tea Party?

Ellen – No. Well, yes — by the La Raza hecklers toward Americans in general and whites in particular.

Oak – Sometimes there are people who show up and think this is their kind of racist place because of what they have read about the Tea Party. At first, when we weren’t as organized, we just ignored them. I said that was the wrong thing to do, we should have kicked their asses right out of the rally. Others said it was only a few and ignoring them would take their power away. Guess what was on the news? The couple of idiots trying to start trouble. That’s what we got identified with, two racist asshole. Not the hundreds of other people there. Now – we kick their ass out if we see them.

Allison – Yes, but they don’t stay. They aren’t welcome.

What is the response by other Tea Party members when people present racist views?

Ellen – As these were hecklers, the Tea Party folks just told people to ignore them. But my husband and I decided to engage them in a spirited debate (never heated). We figured they were there to cause trouble and we kept them distracted. At the end of the Tea Party they unfurled a Mexican flag and managed to get a rise out of a couple people. They video taped it and put it on the internet that night, to “show” the “angry” people at the Tea Party.

Oak – Like I said, we kick their ass out.

Allison – we ignore them. If that doesn’t work then we tell them to go away.

Is there anything that you would like to tell Pagans not affiliated with Tea Party about the Tea Party?

Ellen – I don’t have to say anything to Conservative Pagans (yes, we are out here), because they get it. To all the other Pagans, I say just because we don’t agree with your methods doesn’t mean we disagree with your goals. We all want the same thing — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We just think people should be the architects of their own lives. Big Government is impersonal and soulless. It will suck the life out of this nation.

Oak – Join us if you’re for fiscal responsibility and a limited federal government. It is a conservative group, but not right-wing Christian fundie group with a social agenda. The Tea Party is a good fit for pagans. It’s really trying hard to allow people to take leadership roles without forcing a hierarchy on you, much like how most pagan groups act. Pagans have so much more experience in that type of environment that we are quickly singled out for how effective we are. That means we can influence the hell out of this movement, but only if we get involved. I read your article about how the Tea Party may offer pagans the chance to influence politics in a way that belonging to the Republican or Democrat Parties just can’t. I agree with that!

Allison – Not really. Just that people should attend before they decide that the Tea Party or other groups that work with them are a hate group. The people involved aren’t horrible racist Christians. I’ve heard some pretty awful things said about the Tea Party and I don’t think that’s right. The stuff said about Tea Partiers is more hateful and personal than anything I have heard from Tea Partiers. I get that the most from pagans. I don’t even tell them I’m going to a rally anymore because I can’t stand the lecture about what a bad thing I’m supporting an how they hope someone bombs the rally. OK. I guess I did have something to say after all!


For examples of the type of comments from fellow Pagans that all three Pagans I interviewed talked about, you need only read the comments section of The Wild Hunt following the article about Halloran’s possible candidacy for Congress.

It’s sad that one of the first openly Pagan candidates is gleefully wedded to a dangerous fringe movement that prides itself on its inability to reason. But who knows, maybe there’s a bright side: he might drag the tea baggers down with him. – Gene

I fully understand the “idea” of the tea party being disgusted with politicians in general, from BOTH parties, but when this “groundswell” of anger manifests itself in a collective of ignorant, intolerant, conspiracy-theory nutjobs who wouldn’t know a critical thinking skill if it smacked them upside their heads, I cannot bring myself to symphasise with their “movement” at all, especially when it is so transparently in the pockets of the worst that right-wing, self-absorbed and totally un-empathetic conservative “values” have to offer. – Alex Pendragon

The irony of comments like the ones quoted above directed at a group that is embracing and supporting a politician they know to be Pagan and urging him to run for higher office is interesting for what it says about us (Pagans) and how we treat those with views other than our own. When the Tea Party and other non-liberal political groups, Christianity and other monotheistic religions, or other groups viewed as outside the mainstream of Paganism are talked about in our community the language directed at those people and groups is often times reflexively pejorative and hostile.

So let me close with a quote from the most recent journal entry from dionysusdevotee titled A Call For Intellectual Honesty and Mutual Understanding. If you don’t already read his journal, I recommend it greatly.

… at the same time the very groups we condemn; those evil right wingers, those nasty Christians, and the rest of the collection of people we simply FEAR are peopled with those who seek common ground and understanding. And yet; with the same hand we so recently wagged a finger with at them, admonishing them to open their minds, we then turn and bitch slap the lot of them and paint them with the same broad brush of “evil” that we so recently were the victims of ourselves.

No understanding, no wisdom, and no common ground will come from this “us versus them, good vs evil, right vs wrong” mentality. Regardless of which side is doing the judging. It will always be impossible to reach out to and understand an individual as long as we insist on treating people as generalistic ideologies. How can we claim to support diversity and deny its existence every step of the way?

Ironically I find myself in the position of having to admit that the people that live up and down my street, the right wing christian, gun totin’ hicks; by and large are more tolerant and accepting of people who REALLY think differently than many in my peer group. The fact that they give so called “progressives” a run for their money in the tolerance department, well, its just sad.