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In the small Blue Ridge Mountain town of Floyd, Virginia, the local Tea Party meets once a month in the community room of the public library.
Like too many other tea party “chapters” across America, the group is small but vocal and composed primarily of local racists, rabid right-wingers and community malcontents.
They show up at meetings of the county board of supervisors, disrupt the proceedings by talking among themselves or shouting out misinformation from the audience during the meeting. They used to pack public hearings to unleash tirades against encroaching government and the dangers of United Nations Agenda 21.
But times have changed for the tea party, even here in rural America.
Earlier this year, attended a meeting of the tea party at the request of sergeant-at-arms Jim Connor. He didn’t invite me as the publisher of Capitol Hill Blue but as a writer for the local newspaper who also publishes a hyperlocal news site called Blue Ridge Muse.
“What don’t you drop by a meeting,” Connor said. “You might find it entertaining.”
Jim Connor has an incredible gift for understatement. A tea party meeting is not only entertaining but also educational, if you choose to define education as the dissemination of misinformation for use as political propaganda.
I’m not sure what rules govern the meetings of the tea party but Roberts Rules of Order are not among them. Vice Chairman Al Pearce ran the meeting, reading emails, offering opinions and often wandering off topic into rants about President Barack Obama, the Virginia Republican Party, United Nations Agenda 21 and other topics. Audience members jumped in whenever they wanted without asking or waiting to be recognized.
At another point, he launched into a tirade about political correctness, telling the meeting that he didn’t believe in using the term “gays.”
“They’re homosexuals or queers, which is what they are,” he said.
Virginia’s Republican Party, Pearce declared, is engaged in a “conspiracy “to assure former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney the GOP nomination for President. Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling head up this conspiracy, he says, and its all part of a grand plot by the national GOP to grease the skids for Romney.
Pearce told the meeting that the Republican Party, not state law, kept Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry off the primary ballot this year. He also said it Republican party rules, not state law, prohibits write-in ballots “in Republican primaries.”
Both statements are wrong. Virginia election law sets the rules that require a specified number of signatures from each Congressional district. It also prohibits write-ins in primary elections. The law applies to both Democratic and Republican primaries. The Virginia Republican party simply enforced state law in denying both Gingrich and Perry spots on the GOP primary ballot because they failed to collect enough signatures in each of the existing districts.
Pearce passed on other misinformation, including the claim that the county will put meters on private wells to limit the amount of water that can be pumped for residential use. No such plan exists nor has one even been discussed.
It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed Pearce pass on misinformation as fact. At a board of supervisors meeting last year, Supervisor Fred Gerald of Indian Valley asked for a moment of silent prayer in honor the the “National Day of Prayer” and Pearce blurted out from the audience that “you can’t do that because the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.”
Not true. An atheist group did file a federal class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the “National Day of Prayer.” A federal appeals court dismissed the challenge in April 2011. The Supreme Court has never considered nor ruled on the constitutionality of the law. The National Day of Prayer has been around since the days of George Washington, who first called for one. President Harry S. Truman issued a proclamation and asked Congress to make it the law of the land, which the House and Senate did in 1952.
When I asked Pearce during a break in the supervisors meeting where he heard the Supreme Court had declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, he shrugged his shoulders and said “oh, on the radio today” but he couldn’t remember what show.
Connor has left the tea party. He’s a conservative but says the group is “too far out there on the fringe.” Pearce was ousted as vice chairman and the group has shrunk in size.
At the final public hearing last month on the county’s updated comprehensive plan — which contains language that the local tea party claimed was part of the grand conspiracy of UN Agenda 21 — no one from the tea party showed up to speak.
The all-Republican county board passed the plan unanimously at their next board meeting.
Even lunacy has its limits.