Politics & Policy

Tea with Breitbart

The conservative media maven talks race in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia — The media hive swarms Andrew Breitbart as he hustles through the visitors’ center. Lefty bloggers, local print journalists, and a documentary film crew all crowd around him. Tourists, picking up Liberty Bell pamphlets, turn their heads in curiosity. The buzz is understandable: Breitbart, the entrepreneur who once edited the Drudge Report and now runs a group of right-leaning news and opinion websites, has the look of a star — blue-mirrored shades, open-necked shirt, acid-washed jeans. Among the fanny packs and Phillies shirts, he stands out.

But the blogger from West Hollywood finds the glare a bit much. As Breitbart makes his way toward a landing where tea-party organizers have set up shop, he turns to the hive and says, “I’m going to need some privacy.” With the reporters and tea-party fans at bay, he shuffles onto a balcony overlooking Independence Hall, yellow legal pad in hand. There he drags his finger across his speech, which he has scribbled in jagged black strokes.

In 15 minutes, Breitbart will address “Uni-Tea,” the nickname for a fledging group that describes itself as a “united tea party for all communities.” Below Breitbart’s gaze, a diverse crowd of about 300 has gathered — blacks, whites, Latinos, and Log Cabin Republicans. Some are toting signs, others the Gadsden flag. White hip-hop artists and black conservative bloggers rev up the assembled throngs. The roster of speakers — which includes Niger Innis and Charles Payne — may be impressive, but Breitbart is the one they are waiting for, the one who gets the autograph requests. The question on everyone’s lips: What will he say?

Last month, Breitbart posted a video of Shirley Sherrod, an African-American employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on BigGovernment.com, one of his websites. The clips shows her addressing a Georgia NAACP group and describing her past experience with a white farmer. It appears to catch Sherrod admitting that race influenced her decisions. In response to the video’s initial release, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promptly asked for her resignation. However, once the full text and video from the event emerged, it became clear that Sherrod had mentioned the white farmer in the course of explaining how she rose above racial differences. Breitbart’s celebrated work as a whistleblower — he published investigative videos that led to the demise of ACORN — suddenly came under fire.

In recent weeks, pundits have roundly criticized Breitbart for publishing the provocative, edited video. To make matters worse, Sherrod is reportedly considering a defamation suit against him. Such knocks have taken their toll: Breitbart recently told Newsweek that the experience has been “difficult for me as well,” and added that he would be “more than happy to meet with [Sherrod] in private to settle the matter.”

Even though he traveled to the City of Brotherly Love on his own dime, to speak to a tea-party group that vocally embraces all backgrounds, Breitbart has little interest in commenting on the Sherrod affair. Leaning back on a railing, he stresses that his “Uni-Tea” visit was arranged months ago, long before the Sherrod controversy erupted. “I flew here at my own expense,” he says, “to show my solidarity with a group of people who have the right to gather in the United States of America and express their belief in what I believe is the most important concept in this country that has been lost in the last generation, and that is e pluribus unum.”

Though Breitbart refuses to speak directly about Sherrod — perhaps at his lawyers’ instruction — he is more than willing to chat about race. He complains that the tea-party movement is being unfairly cast as racist by liberal politicos and the mainstream media. “There has been a concerted effort to portray the tea party as a toxic body of water,” he tells the press horde. What interests him, more than any “national discussion” about race, is highlighting how race is used as a tool by the Left to smear conservative activists. “I’m not a politician,” he says. “I don’t talk about politics.”

“I come to this, obviously, not as a member of a minority — though I am adopted,” Breitbart says, grinning slightly. “Attorney General Holder says that we are a nation of cowards, that we are not willing to have a conversation about race. Well, that is the conversation we are having here today. . . .  When I see good people who are Hispanic or gay or black who are in these groups, and the mainstream media abides by a concerted attack to call those people traitors to their cause, I’m going to stand up to those bullies. That is my motivation. It has been my motivation since I switched from the Left to the Right when I watched the Clarence Thomas hearings.”

Breitbart has been stewing about race and the tea parties for months. In mid-July, the NAACP passed a resolution condemning the tea-party movement as a “threat to the pursuit of human rights, justice, and equality for all,” owing to its “racist elements.” Their evidence? Allegations made by Rep. Andre Carson (D., Ind.) and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) that tea-party protesters yelled racial slurs at them as they made their way to the U.S. Capitol to vote on Obamacare.

Breitbart has challenged Carson and his fellow accusers to produce video evidence to back up their claims. Meanwhile, he himself has collected four videos from the rally, none of which reveals audible slurs. Breitbart has also offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who can prove the CBC allegations. So far, no one has collected the money. “This is cynicism — this is not hope, this is not change,” Breitbart says of the charges made against the tea-party movement. “This is pure divisive politics.”

“It is my belief that President Obama promised, tacitly, to be a post-racial candidate, and it is sad to say that he has not,” Breitbart adds. He accuses Obama of using a “proxy-warfare plan” involving the media, Hollywood, and Democratic lawmakers to stir up anxiety about the tea-party movement. “There is a strong desire to create false information,” Breitbart says. “That’s how desperate this strategy is.”

With that, Breitbart made his way to the podium. Innis, a national spokesman for the Congress on Racial Equality, called Breitbart his “brother” as he welcomed him onstage. The pair embraced amid hearty cheers. “I do not like to see our country ripped apart at its fabric,” Breitbart began. “That is what is happening right now,” thanks to the “media cabal.”

The tea party’s goals, Breitbart continued, cannot be drawn along “racial lines.” Instead, he says, a “unified front” of citizens is necessary. “The future of this country is not going to happen if the tea party is a uniform group of caucasian Americans. African Americans and Hispanics and, dare I say it, gay people, lesbians, everyone in this country has to understand that American principles have to be [rediscovered].”

After his spirited 20-minute speech concluded, Breitbart returned to the landing overlooking Independence Park. He stuck around for the after-party, laughing and chatting with 50 or so tea partiers, who snacked on crackers and cheese. After many grabbed a drink from the open bar, they traveled to the table in the corner, where Breitbart regaled them with stories about the media and Hollywood. He posed for pictures and signed autographs. He hugged friends and new fans, and sipped light beer with activists of all colors.

Did he talk about Sherrod? Again, he did not. But his broader message about race had come through loud and clear.

– Robert Costa is the William F. Buckley Jr. fellow at the National Review Institute.


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