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Several prominent black Republicans defended the "Tea Party" against charges of racism Wednesday as a long-simmering debate over the small-government movement's motivations burst into the open.
Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele said the NAACP was guilty of "name calling" when the civil rights group passed a resolution at its national convention this week calling on the Tea Party to denounce "the racist element" among its ranks.
Tim Scott, who is vying to become the first black Republican in Congress since 2003, accused the NAACP of "stereotyping a diverse group of Americans." He won a South Carolina GOP primary last month with Tea Party support.
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said his organization does not believe that the Tea Party movement is racist, but that its leaders have allowed "racist factions" to persist.
"What we take issue with is the Tea Party's continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements," Jealous said in a statement. "The time has come for them to...make clear there is no place for racism and anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in their movement."
The Tea Party is "allowing those racist elements to have a sense of legitimacy," said Arturo Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "That is dangerous."
Fueling the accusations: The hostility by some Tea Partiers toward President Obama, the nation's first black president. The NAACP blog posted photographs of signs at Tea Party rallies that featured crude caricatures of Obama and racial epithets.
Not all Tea Party members approve. According to The Des Moines Register, Iowa Tea Party activists were at odds this week over a billboard that linked Obama with Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler.
Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a Washington-based think tank that has helped Tea Party groups, said his organization has "always worked to keep any racism or racists out of the public debate."
The National Tea Party Federation, a coalition of local groups, rejected the NAACP's charges. David Webb, a co-founder of New York's TeaParty365, said the NAACP resolution demonstrates the civil rights group's "irrelevancy" and "far-left ideology."