Is the Tea Party ‘like the Klu Klux Klan?’ public university asks alumni in email

Campus Reform Reporter

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Graphic credit/ Caleb Bonham

The University of Washington's (UW) Political Science Department on Monday asked its alumni if the modern Tea Party is “like the Ku Klux Klan?” in a widely distributed email newsletter.

The question, which was posed four times throughout the email, was part of a promotional blurb for a new book by UW Associate Professor Christopher Parker entitled Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in Contemporary America.

“Tea Partiers are motivated by both conservative principles and racism.”   

“Is the Tea Party like the Ku Klux Klan?” asked the newsletter. “Professor Christopher Parker... argues that recent research shows racism is a strong indicator of Tea Party support, stronger even than a preference for small government.”

The email, sent to Campus Reform by an alumnus who asked to remain anonymous, also included a lengthy commentary in which Parker argued that the Tea Party is in fact very similar to the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) of the 1920s.

“Consider the Tea Party,” wrote Parker. “Similar to the Klan, white, middle- class, middle-aged, Protestant men dominate the Tea Party’s ranks.”

“Tea Partiers are motivated by both conservative principles and racism,” wrote Parker, earlier in the piece.

Parker went on to clarify both in the piece, and in an email to Campus Reform that there are “differences between the two right-wing movements” and that his comparison was specifically with the KKK of the 1920s, which lessened its focus on violence in favor of gaining influence in the political system. 

“My comparison to the KKK is very specific: the KKK of the 1920s," he wrote. "This Klan departed from the Klan of the 19th Century and the mid-20th Century in several ways. The Klan of the 1920s was a national movement, not confined to the South. As a result, it was less violent than the other two versions."

"The Tea Party need not be a similarly violent or bigoted movement in order for it to be compared to the KKK, especially given the different historical context," he added.

Read Parker’s  full email to Campus Reform here

UW apparently received more than one complaint about the email from their alumni network.

Peter Kelley of the school's Office of News & Information sent Campus Reform a statement on Tuesday, which he said UW's Political Science Department Chairman Peter May had “sent to anyone who expressed a concern about the piece in the newsletter.”

“I respect your comments and certainly encourage feedback,” wrote May in the statement. “I recognize this is a controversial subject as are other subjects that our faculty address in their research. The point of including this item in our eNewsletter was to show the types of work that faculty undertake.

“This commentary is a synopsis of a much larger research project published as the Princeton University Press book that is noted in the commentary,” he continued. “[I] encourage anyone who has concerns about this commentary to take the time to read the book.”

Parker’s book, Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in Contemporary America, is on sale for $24.13 on Amazon.com and is ranked by the online bookseller at #130,272 in books.

In an email to Campus Reform, Parker also clarified that the school had in no way requested he draw the comparison with the KKK, but that it had arisen from independent research.

“Neither the University nor the Department of Political Science requested I write on a comparison between the Tea Party and the Klan,” he wrote. “I did so of my own volition.”

Parker’s comparison was not his first brush with controversy. 

In April 2010, Parker argued that Tea Party opposition to President Obama was based, in part, on racism. A conservative group based in Washington D.C., however, quickly dismissed the study saying the sample size was too small, with just 117 participants, and argued that Parker had shown a previous bias against conservatives.

Parker enjoys a mostly positive rating on the independent rating site, RateMyProffesor.com. He is described by one student as “informed, charismatic and passionate” and someone who “creates an environment that cultivates a fearless desire to learn and reflect on your personal perspectives.”

The University of Washington is a non-partisan, tax exempt educational institution which is supported with taxpayer dollars, donations, and an estimated annual tuition of $31,240 for in state students and $50,814 for out of state students, according to the school's official website.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @JosiahRyan