Civil Rights Vet Who Defended Bundy Tapped As Tea Party Group’s Leader

July 9, 2014 12:47 p.m.

Niger Innis, the son of a civil rights activist with a long and contentious career, has been tapped as executive director of an organization that purports to be the largest tea party group in the United States., which boasts of having 2.5 million members, announced on Tuesday Innis’s selection as executive director. He failed last month in his bid to secure the GOP nomination in a congressional race in Nevada. Innis, who also serves as the Congress of Racial Equality’s national spokesman, previously worked as a chief strategist for the tea party group.

“Liberals and GOP political elites alike have simultaneously assailed the tea party movement as racist, radical, and now irrelevant,” Innis said in a statement. “We owe it to every American who identifies as a tea party supporter … to bring the voice of the grassroots to Washington and stand up against crony capitalism and self-serving insiders of all stripes.”

Innis, 46, like his father, Roy, 80, chairman of CORE, has a flair for provocative rhetoric. He once accused the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of “racial terror.” He also defended Nevada rancher and one-time conservative hero Cliven Bundy this spring after the rancher’s racially charged remarks were publicized.

“They will try to distract, with the firestorm that Cliven started by using the r-word, the racism word,” Innis said in May. “I can only tell you my experience with the Bundys. Having eaten with them and broken bread with them and I don’t consider Cliven or his wonderful family racist at all. Period, end of story.”

With comments like that, Niger Innis has been following in the footsteps of his father, the long-time chairman of CORE, whose tenure there attracted significant controversy.

Roy Innis took over CORE in 1968, according to the Associated Press, after it played an influential role in the civil rights movement. The group had previously been a leader in non-violent civil disobedience since its founding in 1941 and had stood alongside the NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Within a decade, Roy Innis’s critics had lambasted him for setting himself as “a permanently installed dictator,” according to the AP, and allying with Ugandan President Idi Amin. In 1981, after Innis was charged for assault, some former CORE leaders criticized his leadership, as the AP noted, for “pursuing a course of violence, corruption and compromise.”

Roy Innis gained national attention for a scuffle with the Rev. Al Sharpton during a TV broadcast in 1988, the New York Times reported, and a similar televised tussle with white supremacist John Metzger, per the Los Angeles Times. The elder Innis ran for Congress in 1986 and New York mayor in 1993, but failed both times.

But, those highly publicized instances aside, it was Roy Innis’s financial stewardship at CORE that attracted some of the harshest scrutiny. The state of New York accused the group in 1981 of misusing a half million dollars that it had raised and misrepresenting itself in its fundraising, according to the New York Times. Innis confessed to no wrongdoing, but agreed to contribute some money to the group.

The Village Voice reported in 2003 on the fundraising techniques of CORE, chronicling the experiences of a person who was hired to make calls on behalf of the group. The person characterized the technique as “a professional hustle.” In reporting on Innis’s role in a conservative documentary conceived as their response to “An Inconvenient Truth,” Mother Jones described CORE as “better known among real civil rights groups for renting out its historic name to any corporation in need of a black front person.” The liberal magazine also reported that CORE had accepted funding from Monsanto and ExxonMobil.

These questions of propriety also accompanied a rightward turn in CORE’s politics. Roy Innis became a member of the National Rifle Association. CORE also hosted George W. Bush during his 2000 presidential campaign, according to Salon. Additionally, Roy Innis defended Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) after the latter’s racially charged remarks praising Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrat days, which forced him to step down as Senate majority leader in 2002.

Roy Innis described his politics this way to the New York Times: “My brand of conservatism is the traditional, most decent and rational expression of the American personality. I believe that the success of America has been the application of pragmatism in society.”

Niger Innis, now taking over the self-proclaimed largest tea party group in the United States, has largely followed a similar path. In its 2003 article, the Village Voice reported that Roy had been “allowing his son and apparent successor, Niger, to take the spotlight.”

Niger Innis has been an occasional guest on Fox News in recent years and spoke in 2010 at a Tea Party Express rally covering race relations in which he accused the NAACP of “racial terror” by portraying some elements of the tea party as racist, according to a transcript accessed on LexisNexis.

“Keep in mind that when you say that the first president that happens to be African-American is beyond reproach and that if you critique him, if you criticize him, you’re a racist, what you’re really saying is that he can’t handle the job,” he said.

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