WASHINGTON • A group of black political activists on Wednesday defended the Tea Party movement against accusations of racism and claimed its critics were using race to shore up support for President Barack Obama and his policies.
The news conference, organ-ized by the group Tea Party Express, was a response to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which three weeks ago condemned as racist signs and slurs at Tea Party rallies. The move revived infighting within the Tea Party movement and led to the departure of Mark Williams, a Tea Party Express leader who had written a blog post describing "coloreds" as lazy. 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 Tea Party Express, based in Sacramento, Calif.
The group's slow response to Williams' post "by no means should be interpreted as racist ... but was borne out of loyalty to a friend but not in defense of his words."
The concession was a rare one in a series of attacks on the civil rights institution, the president and his policies.
Speakers described the NAACP as irrelevant and silent on the issues most important to African-Americans. The group is trying to scare blacks into supporting Democrats, charged Niger Innis, spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, saying 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."
Representatives for the NAACP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"The injection of race into the nation's dialogue has come from those who wish to destroy the Tea Party movement, and who think that we can or will be silenced by the smear of being called racist," said Selena Owens, a member of Tea Party Express. "Today, we in the Tea Party movement stand in unity to say emphatically, 'No. We are not racist.' We will not allow those in the media or political left to censor us with false and derogatory smears."
Obama to campaign in Illinois • President Barack Obama has kept a discreet distance from Alexi Giannoulias, an old basketball buddy running for the seat the president once held. For months, Obama let White House advisers stump for Giannoulias, who was trailing Republican Congressman Mark Kirk.
Now that polls show Giannoulias has drawn even with Kirk, the terrain is safer for the president, who today will make his first fundraising appearance for Giannoulias, in Chicago.
Giannoulias, whose campaign was damaged by revelations about his family's failed bank, has rebounded amid questions about Kirk's truthfulness, creating better conditions for a personal visit from the president.
The White House had waded into the 'shallow end of the pool here," said a Democratic Senate strategist. "Now they're bringing out the boss. That's a level of engagement we haven't seen thus far. And you'll find them believing more in Alexi because of Kirk's" decline.
No interest in Colorado • Action 22, a civic group that advocates for 22 southern Colorado counties, planned to host a debate on Wednesday among Senate candidates, getting commitments to appear from Democrat Andrew Romanoff and Republican Senate rivals Ken Buck and Jane Norton.
But the group canceled the debate because of what Action 22 President Cathy Garcia called a lack of interest.