Ethan Miller/Getty Images
The Tea Party Express gathered in Searchlight, Nev. — hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — for the first stop on a three-week tour that will end in Washington, D.C.
The Tea Party Express gathered in Searchlight, Nev. — hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — for the first stop on a three-week tour that will end in Washington, D.C. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Keynote speaker Sarah Palin told the crowd that "something's not quite right when Fidel Castro comes out and says he likes Obamacare."
Keynote speaker Sarah Palin told the crowd that "something's not quite right when Fidel Castro comes out and says he likes Obamacare." Ethan Miller/Getty Images
The Tea Party Express, a cross-country caravan targeting Democrats who voted in favor of the health care overhaul, has pulled out of the station. Its first stop: Searchlight, Nev. — hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
About 8,000 people gathered outside the tiny town over the weekend to protest the new law that he helped push through the Senate. Republicans hope to ride that sense of opposition to victory in the fall midterm elections, possibly unseating Reid and other Democrats facing tough campaigns.
Distrust of the Obama administration and big government in general was a common sentiment in Searchlight, where the Tea Party Express kicked off a three-week tour that culminates in the nation's capital on Tax Day, April 15.
One man called the health care law the beginning of a totalitarian America.
"They're trying to control everything we have, from health care, whether you can have a baby or not — they want to take away our guns, our freedom of speech, they want to control it," said Joe Weisson, who rode his motorcycle down from Las Vegas.
Greta Rasmussen of St. George, Utah, called the overhaul "totally un-American." That point was echoed by the event's keynote speaker, Sarah Palin.
"Something's not quite right when Fidel Castro comes out and says he likes Obamacare, but we don't like Obamacare," the former GOP vice presidential nominee said.
The idea that Castro and President Obama would be on the same side of an issue was a common sentiment at the rally.
"If I was a socialist, I'd probably be for him," said Red Blanchette of Lake Havasu, Ariz. "But I'm not a socialist. I believe in the Constitution and the free enterprise and so on."
Carl Hoelscher's point of view was obvious from one of the items for sale in his booth: a black skull-and-crossbones flag — with Obama's face in place of the skull. "He's a pirate," Hoelscher said. "There's no other way to say it. They're all pirates in Washington."
It wasn't just the content of the health care law that bothered Hoelscher, it's his suspicions about the way it was passed.
"Add it up," he said. "How many of them voted for it because they got a backroom deal, a bribe, some other sweetheart deal, a payoff. ... This thing would not have passed without that."
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Tea Party supporter Jody Black of Las Vegas arrives for the Searchlight rally, where distrust of big government was a common sentiment.
Tea Party supporter Jody Black of Las Vegas arrives for the Searchlight rally, where distrust of big government was a common sentiment. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Hoelscher also said he is getting tired of the media treating Tea Party activists like a bunch of crazy extremists. That view got a big boost last week when black congressmen said they were the targets of racial epithets from protesters outside the Capitol. Tea Partiers say that had nothing to do with them.
Then there were the telephone threats against members of Congress who voted for the health care bill. Or were there?
"I want to address all those rumors," said Mark Williams, a Tea Party Express organizer. "Those stories about racist epithets, about violence — that's a crock. It's a crock."
The Tea Partiers said they're the ones who have been threatened — by those who accuse them of menacing backers of the health care law, by the seemingly mysterious process by which it was passed, and by what's in the law ... or what they think might be in it.
Over the course of the day, some people said the new law would control what Americans are allowed to eat, and that it had already cut their Social Security payments.
"It's going to put my business out of business ... because I have to pay for these people for their insurance," said Janna Weisson, who owns an asphalt company with about 150 employees. "Why force it on me?"
Reminded that the law provides subsidies and tax credits for small businesses, Janna Weisson scoffed.
"Oh, right," she said. "Nobody's read the whole bill. It could say that I can't wear brown on Tuesdays. Nobody knows what's in there."
But most of the people at the rally were pretty sure that what's in there could destroy the health care system and put an end to freedom in America.