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The Tea Party Movement, Racism and the Lesson of the NPR Scandal

At a time when it seems most rational people have moved on from false allegations that the tea party movement is steeped in racism, the accusation once again reared its ugly head.

This time, thankfully, it came with repercussions — and necessary ones, considering the source.

Conservative activist James O’Keefe, who previously exposed how employees of the taxpayer-funded left-wing ACORN were all-too-willing to help a pimp establish a prostitution racket, videotaped a National Public Radio executive making reckless and unsubstantiated claims of tea party racism.

In the recording, Ron Schiller, then president of the NPR Foundation and senior vice president of development, told actors posing as potential donors:

The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian. I wouldn't even call it Christian; it's this weird evangelical kind of move.

The current Republican Party is not really the Republican Party, it’s been hijacked by this group; that is, not just Islamaphobic but really xenophobic. I mean, basically, they are, they believe in sort of white, middle American, gun toting — I mean, it's scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.

Besides bashing the Tea Party movement, Schiller also advanced the bigoted stereotype that the media is Jewish-owned and/or has a pro-Israel bias. He and Betsy Liley, another NPR executive at the lunch, both reveled over the joke that NPR stands for “National Palestinian Radio.”

Based on the exchange, it’s clear real bias and prejudice existed at NPR.

Schiller, already planning to leave NPR, immediately resigned after the video was made public. It also led him to withdraw from his intended new job with the Aspen Institute and appears to have led the NPR board to oust CEO Vivian Schiller.

This shake-up at the taxpayer-funded broadcaster should not be soon forgotten. It shows the degree to which off-base and twisted Tea Party opposition can be, and how high the fanaticism reaches.

Schiller’s beliefs are wrong on so many levels. His comments sound like a progressive echo chamber of every claim ever made about tea parties being racist, extremist, redneck and anti-intellectual.

As a keynote speaker at Tea Party events across the nation, I’ve had the privilege to meet activists from all walks of life. I can testify these people are freedom-loving Americans who oppose President Obama’s progressive policies -- not his skin color.

Tea party activists simply fear the direction Obama is taking our nation, and they are exercising their right to freely and peacefully express and mobilize a counterbalance to things such as the government’s takeover of health care and war on fossil fuels.

My speeches, for example, frequently focus on the consequences of Obama’s effort to make energy prices “skyrocket” through his attack on the oil and coal industries through EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a challenge to Obama’s policies that will cause higher energy prices and lower standards of living. It goes beyond race — indeed, it is colorblind.

Ironically, after critics spent the last two years portraying the tea party movement as acrimonious and anti-social, Schiller’s tirade has become perhaps the highest-profile example of the torrent of incivility.

Noteworthy, too, is the hostile radicalism of pro-union protests in Madison, Columbus and elsewhere in response to collective bargaining reform — replete with signs suggesting violence and comparisons of Governor Scott Walker to Hitler. 

Protestors verbally and physically assaulted Tabitha Hale of FreedomWorks, a group which organizes tea parties, and called one of her co-workers a “bad Jew.” 

A black conservative in Denver was derisively called “son” by union activists and asked how he could vote against “his own best interest.”

While it’s bad to see this animosity coming from a top media executive, it’s sad to think that it might be coming from the top. In his new book "Family of Freedom," Kenneth T. Walsh wrote that Obama himself agreed with a 2010 White House dinner guest that Tea Party activists had a “subterranean agenda” against his presidency that is rooted in race.

It raises the question: Who’s really taking the debate into the gutter? Who really wants a debate, and who wants to engage in name-calling? Who is engaged in a win-at-all-costs strategy?

While the fallout from Schiller’s hidden camera, edited rant may lead to a federal defunding of NPR in the short-term, its long-term effect should be to help bring an end to the divisive, empty rhetoric and the beginning of a real debate about the future course of our nation.

Deneen Borelli is a Project21.org fellow and Fox News contributor.