Current Affairs Politics

No Room For The Irish At The American Tea Party

I recently wrote about the new forms of anti-Irish propaganda circulating amongst right wing circles in the United States which have begun to filter from the fringe into mainstream American politics and journalism. Though the cutting edge of this campaign of misinformation has centred on Ireland’s alleged role as the chief ‘anti-Israeli’ state of the Western world, it has also dragged in wider accusations about the claimed ‘anti-Semitism’ of the Irish people.

As I demonstratively proved these accusations are the fantasies of an ill-informed, ignorant and prejudicial extreme in American society – albeit one with growing influence. While dating back to the early 1980s and the zenith of Reganite America it is the relatively recent and somewhat incongruous coalition of extreme right wing Christian and conservative  organisations in the United States with the powerful pro-Israeli lobby gathered around Capitol Hill and elsewhere that has given these groups real reach.

In fact, I should probably write ‘Protestant fundamentalist organisations’, since the vast majority of these organisations belong to various Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist groups with a myriad of local churches and congregations in the US. Predominantly of European-origin (a.k.a. White), they most readily identify with the born-again 18th century Anglo-Saxon Americanism of the ‘Founding Fathers’, with its strong dissenter roots. They have manifest themselves in demagogic media pundits like Glenn Beck or Laura Ingraham and populist politicians like Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann. And their political muscle is to be found in the various Tea Party movements, some of which have become increasingly radicalised to the point of militancy: at times the border between religious right and racist right has blurred, as reported recently by The Daily Beast.

‘Former (and current) Neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Confederates, and other representatives of the many wings of the “white nationalist” movement are starting to file paperwork and print campaign literature for offices large and small, pointing to rising unemployment, four years with an African-American president, and rampant illegal immigration as part of a growing mound of evidence that white people need to take a stand.’

One of the key components in this complex mix is a casual disdain or hatred of all things Irish. It is found in the propaganda of many on the extreme right of American politics, from demagogues to political groupings, but it has found an increasing voice amongst the mainstream too. Former disgraced Washington Times journalist and blogger Eliana Benador has, in the words of a report by the IREHR, gone on the record to:

‘…bemoan the racial diversity of the nation.

“As America celebrates her 235th Independence Day, she finds herself under siege from all kinds of enemies: The known and the unknown; the external and the internal enemy.”

…in a mix of racism, nativism, Islamophobia, and even old-school anti-Irish bigotry, her columns argues: abolishing the “National Origins Formula” unleashed an “invasion of America” by immigrants that are causing a reduction in “original American voters” and “bringing in a whole new texture of culture, 100% foreign to what America’s origins were as its wonderful adventure began back in 1776.”

The “original American voters” that Benador raises concern for are white men–the only people allowed to vote at the time of the founding of the country.’

It gets worse:

‘In Benador’s view, the Irish are to blame for ridding the country of the National Origins Act, with the Kennedy brothers acting as the agents of doom. According to Benador, “In a flagrant display of nepotism in America, when the three Kennedy brothers took the reins of American politics, immigration reform was a critical issue for the family community of origin: the Irish.”

… Benador quotes from President Lyndon Johnson’s October 3, 1965 signing ceremony speech for the Immigration and Naturalization Act. President Johnson declared that the National Origins system “violates the basic principle of American democracy, the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man. It has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country.”

None of Johnson’s criticisms were refuted, instead Benador simply argued that replacing the National Origins Act “ended up altering the immigration pattern and opening doors to non-European nations, thus changing forever the intrinsic tissue of American society.”’

Presumably in the view of Eliana Benador Ireland falls into the category of non-European nations and thus the Irish are not eligible to be true Americans (Benador, incidentally, was born in Peru and raised in France – so she should know). Currently she works with the Tea Party Nation, the fourth largest Tea Party movement in the US, and one with a very controversial history.

Of course anti-Irish bigotry is nothing new in the United States of America. It lies in the English-origins of the new Republic itself, a patchwork of colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America, with a thoroughly Anglicised language, culture and religiosity. Despite the struggle with the British for independence, the US retained its fundamentalist (and frequently anti-Catholic) Protestantism, its undercurrent of ‘Englishness’, and the most obvious manifestation of both those things, a dislike or hatred of all things Irish. Though not all Americans shared this world view, and though the Irish at times were the saviours of American independence, the rise of the Know Nothing movement in the mid-1800s reflected a strong current of prejudice in the American national psyche. A current that has re-emerged in the last decade and seems set to grow.

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