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Tea Party Tension Flares as 'Federation' Gives Firebrand Activist the Boot

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In this March 30 file photo, Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams addresses the crowd during a stop at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo) (2010 Trent Nelson)

Tea Party activist Mark Williams ridiculed a national "federation" of Tea Party groups after he was kicked out over the weekend for controversial statements he made about slavery and the NAACP. 

In a flare-up that highlights longstanding fractures in the Tea Party movement, the National Tea Party Federation on Saturday demanded that the Tea Party Express -- a separate group -- oust Williams from its ranks. When it did not, the federation expelled both Williams and his conservative outfit. 

"That is what we do -- self-policing is the right and the responsibility of any movement or organization," federation spokesman David Webb said on CBS' "Face the Nation," where he announced the expulsion. 

But while the internal dispute served as fodder for Tea Party foes, the split might not have been a tough call for the federation and its affiliates. Tea Party Express, which organizes semi-regular cross-country bus tours of conservative activists and endorses conservative candidates, is shunned by certain sectors of the Tea Party movement in the first place. Funded by a PAC started by GOP consultants, the Tea Party Express is seen by some in the movement as too closely tied to the party and not authentic. 

Tea Party Express, though, was listed as a founding member when the federation was formed in April. 

Williams referred to this friction in a lengthy rebuttal on his personal website and dismissed Webb's declaration as meaningless. 

"Mind you, there is no Tea Party leadership; every Tea Partier is a Tea Party leader," he wrote. "But something happens when the stronger egos and personalities in a movement begin to feel a sense of ownership. ... And it is a crying shame." 

Williams claimed that he and civil rights leaders, including from the NAACP, had just reached a fragile truce and agreed to "dial down" the language when he heard about the federation's actions. 

"That careless individual Tea Partier who assumed the mantel of 'leadership' did so long enough to turn a critical and serious movement and delicate peace with skeptical groups, into a World Wrestling-style personality conflict with me at the center," he wrote. "There are internal political dramas amongst the various self-anointed Tea Party 'leaders' and some of the minor players on the fringes see the Tea Party Express and Mark Williams as tickets to a booking on 'Face the Nation.' " 

Other groups described the split as a positive step and used it to pressure other Republicans. The NAACP, which last week approved a resolution condemning "racist" elements in the Tea Party, applauded the federation and pressed other prominent conservatives to do the same. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's campaign slammed GOP opponent Sharron Angle for her ties to the apparently ostracized Williams. 

Williams, who once said Muslims worship a "monkey god," added to his already-colorful rhetorical history last week when he slammed the NAACP for its Tea Party resolution. On NPR, he said the NAACP makes "more money off of race than any slave trader." 

What put him over the top with civil rights leaders was a satirical letter to President Lincoln posted on his website, written from the perspective of NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous. 

"We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing," he wrote. In the letter, Williams ridiculed the fiscal responsibility platforms of the Tea Party. 

"Perhaps the most racist point of all in the Tea Parties is their demand that government 'stop raising our taxes.' That is outrageous! How will we coloreds ever get a wide-screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?" he wrote. "Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong." 

Williams later removed the letter from his website, acknowledging that the wording "was indeed objectionable." 

The public rift comes as the Tea Party movement tries to organize ahead of the midterm elections. The movement has proved influential in Republican primary races, but its general election impact is yet to be measured. A Politico.com poll released Monday found that Washington, D.C. "elites" mostly see the movement as a fad, while outside-the-Beltway Americans see it as a potential third party. A second Tea Party convention -- a follow to the national convention held February in Nashville -- has been scheduled for October.