The New York Times recently took a stab at explaining the tea party movement to those of us not bleeding out the ears with rage over the past year of Democratic leadership. It's an interesting read, if not entirely satisfying: the writer, David Barstow, concedes: "The ebbs and flows of the Tea Party ferment are hardly uniform. It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure."

Barstow makes much of the individuals — many of them new to political activism — who are providing the foot soliders and, in some cases, leadership for these factions. Understandably, he only scratches the surface of the tea party ideology and its origins: "[T]he Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve."

But real understanding of the tea-partiers must begin with the much older and even more fractious Patriot movement, and perhaps no one better exemplifies the connection between past and present than the Arizona man making several appearances in Ohio next month, Sherriff Richard Mack. From the NYT article:

By inviting Richard Mack to speak at their first event, leaders of Friends for Liberty were trying to attract militia support. They knew Mr. Mack had many militia fans, and not simply because he had helped Randy Weaver write a book about Ruby Ridge. As a sheriff in Arizona, Mr. Mack had sued the Clinton administration over the Brady gun control law, which resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that the law violated state sovereignty by requiring local officials to conduct background checks on gun buyers.

Mr. Mack was selling Cadillacs in Arizona, his political career seemingly over, when Mr. Obama was elected. Disheartened by the results, he wrote a 50-page booklet branding the federal government “the greatest threat we face.” The booklet argued that only local sheriffs supported by citizen militias could save the nation from “utter despotism.” He titled his booklet “The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope,” offered it for sale on his Web site and returned to selling cars.

But then some prominent online radio hosts interviewed him, leading to so many tea party speaking requests that he is once again a full-time agitator. His "No Sheriff Left Behind" Tour swings through Ohio (including Akron) in March, courtesy of the Ohio Freedom Alliance, whose site touts the appearances by asking, "What is the role of the sheriff in preserving that liberty from an encroaching federal government? What do YOU need to know to support your local sheriff?"

Theses questions are not academic, though even the tea party neo-Patriots may not fully understand their significance.

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.