Breitbart joins tea partyers at Philadelphia rally

Wayne Laraway of Long Valley, N.J., and others wave flagsduring a performance by hip-hop artist Jericho Saliz.The event was planned to show tea-party diversity.
Wayne Laraway of Long Valley, N.J., and others wave flagsduring a performance by hip-hop artist Jericho Saliz.The event was planned to show tea-party diversity.
Posted: August 01, 2010

Andrew Breitbart, the Hollywood Internet celebrity with a flair for controversial video, fired up about 300 tea-party devotees rallying on Independence Mall on Saturday afternoon, denouncing a "media cabal," the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, liberals, and everyone else who has "ripped apart" America.

But the one thing on many minds, the one thing that gave this latest tea-party rally more buzz and juice than others held here in the recent past, was the one thing Breitbart would not talk about: the crudely edited video of Shirley Sherrod, a formerly obscure African American employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, posted on one of Breitbart's websites last month.

The video clip of Sherrod addressing a Georgia NAACP group was characterized on Breitbart's www.biggovernment.com as a "racist tale" showing Sherrod describing how she refused help to a white farmer in danger of losing his farm. It was released after the NAACP alleged racist elements in the tea-party movement.

After the video appeared, the national NAACP and others criticized Sherrod, and she was fired from her federal post.

Trouble was, there was more to the story than met the eye.

The full text and video of Sherrod's remarks show her describing struggles with racial feelings and coming to the realization that poverty, not race, was the enemy. The farmer needed help, and she gave it to him, becoming a fast friend.

The NAACP apologized. Obama officials apologized. But no manner of questioning Saturday afternoon would draw out the so-far unapologetic Breitbart, never known to be shy with a microphone. Possibly the Web maestro has accoutred himself with lawyers, since Sherrod has said she plans to sue.

Asked directly several times, Breitbart said he would not discuss the incident.

"This is a preplanned event that predates anything that's in the news," he said of the rally, organized to show the diverse appeal of the political right.

"I flew here at my own expense to show my solidarity with a group of people who have the right to gather in the United States of America and express their belief in what I believe is the most important concept in this country that has been lost in the last generation, and that is e pluribus unum."

The media, Breitbart told reporters, in cahoots with black politicians and the Democratic Party, are dividing the country with false allegations of racism aimed at the tea-party groups.

"It's cynical politics," he said. "I'm more than happy to talk about this very noxious form of trying to stifle political speech in the United States. It's un-American."

Many tea-party leaders appeared uncomfortable in the aftermath of Breitbart's dustup with the NAACP and Sherrod.

Jeffrey Weingarten, organizer of the "Uni-Tea Party" event, said Breitbart had been invited to speak many months ago, "well before any of the recent radical pronouncements of either side" in the Sherrod and NAACP controversies.

"In fact," Weingarten said, "officially, organizationally, I'll tell you we view radical statements from anyone as extremist and not as partisan, and they should be roundly condemned by all people."


Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com.

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