POLITICS

Phil Russo, Original Tea Party Member: The Movement Is Dead, Killed By Right's 'Racism, Hypocrisy'

04/09/2013 03:50 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2013

Phil Russo, a libertarian-leaning, self-described "Goldwater Republican," was one of the earliest supporters of the tea party. But now, in an op-ed published in the Grio on Tuesday, he proclaims that the conservative movement is dead, killed off by members of the "political and religious right" who have poisoned it with toxic strands of hypocrisy and racism.

Russo, who was active in the tea party for some time as a radio host and campaign consultant in Florida, writes that he joined the movement in hopes of broadening the GOP's reach. He believed the tea party would call out hypocritical areas of the party's platform on social issues, and draw in independent voters "genuinely angry about the bank bailouts" in the wake of the financial crisis.

It was working, Russo writes, until moneyed interests "hijacked" the tea party, allowing it to turn into the "religious right in tri-corner hats" sometime after the Republican wave elections in 2010. Since then, it's gotten worse, Russo says.

Russo blames "hypocrisy and racism" for scaring away independents from the tea party between the 2010 and 2012 elections. He calls out the movement for vocally opposing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's soda ban while remaining largely silent on what he believes should be a state's right to determine its own marijuana laws. Russo also blasts tea partiers for supporting the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that he claims violates the constitutional clause declaring that marriages from one state must be recognized by other states.

There's also the issue of what Russo sees as racism and prejudice among the tea party's ranks. In fact, Russo says the movement as a whole has "deteriorated to racist name calling, fear of anyone with brown skin, and an irrational focus on Sharia law."

Russo's skewering of the movement he once championed comes months after a poll showed the movement hitting record levels of unpopularity. The tea party fought charges of racism long before Russo soured on it, and Russo says he initially defended his fellow conservatives.

Last year, a tea party leader in Arkansas stepped down after causing a stir with a racist joke suggesting that African Americans were welfare recipients who accused others of racism.

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