As we reported Friday, a photograph of Dale Robertson, the self-proclaimed founder of the Tea Party movement, belies his claim in the Washington Times that he’s “never seen any racial slurs” at Tea Party events. The photo shows Robertson holding a sign with the n-word on it.
I spoke to Dale Robertson, who says that the photo is a fake. Since Robertson’s quote was linked to the photo on Friday, many conservatives have asserted that Robertson is a fake. Let’s try to get to the bottom of both charges.
The photograph in question, available in hi-res here, depicts Robertson holding a sign that says “Congress=Slaveowner, Taxpayer=N***ar.” The misspelled n-word appears to have been duct-taped over the original sign, which Robertson claims read “Congress=Slaveowner, Taxpayer=Slave.” He says he never taped anything over the original sign, nor did anyone else. He says the photo must be a fake.
The Washington Independent‘s Dave Weigel reported on the sign in January, including the fact that the Houston Tea Party said they had thrown Robertson out of the Feb. 27, 2009 event because of the epithet, and disavowed any connection to Robertson. Weigel tried to get a comment from TeaParty.org, Robertson’s group, but as of this writing, Weigel says they never got back to him.
Since Weigel’s story, Robertson has been depicted as a “faker” and an “impostor” who “is not the leader of a Tea Party organization,” and “has never organized anything.” The basic idea is to paint Robertson as a fame-whoring nobody, with no connection to the movement.
However, Robertson has been credited as a Tea Party founder and used as a source by media outlets as diverse as agnostic C-SPAN, the liberal Thom Hartman Program, and the conservative Washington Times. In fact, it was the Washington Times’ quote of Robertson that resurrected the n-word story.
Furthermore, according to Robertson’s website, he staged a one-man Tea Party in Washington, DC, on February 5th, 2009, weeks before Rick Santelli‘s “loser homeowners” rant that first put Tea Parties on the radar. All this despite the fact that,he knew that “parking would be difficult, staying alive even harder,” as Robertson claims on his website.
Finally, he says he has organized events with the groups in his network:
“I’ve done a number of Tea Party events. I’ve done the Liberty Concerts, which are in Houston, and I spent a lot of money out of my pocket. Again, out of my personal pocket. I’ve put over a hundred thousand dollars into this movement to support and defend this movement against people like the Republican Party. So, I’ve put a lot of money into this. including.”
In what Freedom Works founder Dick Armey even calls a “leaderless movement,” it is unclear what bona fides would satisfy Robertson’s critics. While he may not have the influence of a Freedom Works, I’m sure Robertson would say that his claim of grassroots purity trumps the better-funded groups that have usurped him. The fact that Robertson tried, unsuccessfully, to sell his site could be interpreted either way.
Now, about that photo. There are several facts that cut against Robertson’s claim that the picture is a fake. Following Weigel’s report, TPM noted that another version of the photo, an obvious fake that said “I work 4 U,” was posted on Robertson’s site. I asked Robertson about that photo:
TC: there was a story in January on TPM that shows a photo of a website where you’re holding that sign. It’s the same photo but the sign’s been altered to say, “I work for you”. Do you remember posting that?
DR: One of my web guys put that on there.
TC: Can you explain that because people would say that it seems like you’re covering up for the original sign?
DR: Well, you see, anybody can make those signs the way they want to make those signs and I just felt it was stupid and I took it off. ‘Cause I said, “Look, that’s just dumb.” And so I had it taken off.
TC: Why did he put it up there like that?
DR: I don’t know.
Robertson promised, yesterday, to send a picture of the original sign, but has yet to do so.
“There’s no evidence that the photo was altered in any way. For it to have been altered convincingly requires a level of sophistication that doesn’t seem to be worth the pay-off in this case.”
Robertson, though, believes that the Republicans are behind an attempt to portray him as a racist in order to hijack his movement.
“I know who they are.” he says. ” They’re Republicans, uh, basically the precinct chairs who tried to seize the Tea Party movement. Who’ve taken donations illegally and they know that but I don’t have the resources to go after them ‘cause I don’t have millions of dollars in my pocket to sue the Republican Party. It’s just a game they’re playing but, y’know, you’re living in the world of politics. They don’t care about the truth. All they care about is stealing dollars and so they are.”
Whether you believe Robertson about the photo or not, the point isn’t that he speaks for all Tea Partiers. Nobody does. But to question his authenticity as a Tea Party leader on the basis that he lacks the resources to organize on a grand scale sort of proves his point. He was at least a very early adopter of the Tea Party, and the fact that better-funded organizations stepped in later to harness the energy that people like Dale created is exactly what he is railing against.
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