NPR logo Tea Party Express Comes To A Head On Tax Day

Tea Party Express Comes To A Head On Tax Day

Henry Massery, of Elgin, Ill., attended a Tea Party protest in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Jacquelyn Martin/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Henry Massery, of Elgin, Ill., attended a Tea Party protest in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

After a cross-country tour lasting nearly three weeks, the Tea Party Express came to a head Thursday with activists gathering in the nation's capital and at thousands of regional rallies to mark the April 15 income tax filing deadline.

In Washington, demonstrators waved signs that read "Don't Tread on Me" and "Follow the Constitution" as they gathered at Freedom Plaza near the White House to kick off an afternoon of events that included Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

The Washington rally in brilliant sunshine was spirited but modest in size, lacking the star power of tea party favorite Sarah

Palin, who roused the masses at earlier stops of the Tea Party Express in its cross-country bus tour. Bachmann won roars of affirmation as she accused President Obama and congressional Democrats of trying to take over health care, energy, financial services and other broad swaths of the economy.

"We're on to this gangster government," she said. "I say it's time for these little piggies to go home."

Obama, speaking Thursday night at a Democratic fundraiser in Miami, told supporters he is amused by the protesters' complaints about taxes because, contrary to their claims, he's cut taxes.

"You would think they'd be saying thank you," Obama said.

The National Tea Party Federation, a newly formed coalition of regional Tea Party groups, said that between 1,700 and 2,000 tax-day rallies were held nationwide — including in Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Hawaii and Georgia.

In Madison, Wis., some Tea Party activists boycotted the event because of a planned appearance by former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. Tim Dake, organizer of the Milwaukee-based Tea Party group the GrandSons of Liberty, said he didn't want the grass-roots organization to be co-opted by the Republican Party.

"Tommy is representative of the old-boy network way of doing things," Dake said.

However, Republicans rallied Tea Partyers in other states.

On Wednesday, former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin pumped up a crowd of about 5,000 in Boston. Rallying near the site of the historic Boston Tea Party, Palin said the April 15 tax deadline should serve as a reminder that the government works for the people, not the other way around.

"Americans now spend 100 days out of the year working for government before we even start working for ourselves," she was quoted as saying by the Boston Globe. "It is time to remind [elected officials] that government should be working for us, we should not have to work for the government. That's why there are more and more patriots every day standing up and speaking out."

The Boston rally included tributes to the military and digs at prominent Democrats, including President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

It's been a year since hundreds of thousands of protesters first turned out for an April 15 rally to show their displeasure at high taxes and government spending. This year's Tea Party tour began in Reid's hometown of Searchlight, Nev., and officially ends Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Tim Hagle, an associate political science professor at the University of Iowa, said Tea Partyers want to signal Washington power brokers that they're fed up. "What's at stake is showing various government officials of both parties that people are concerned," he said.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry — a frequent Washington basher — warned Tea Party organizers to watch out for liberals who would try to make the movement look bad. "You can bet that every dirty trick is going to get played on Tea Parties, trying to marginalize them, trying to make them into something that they're not," he told organizers during an invitation-only conference call.

Three black Democratic congressmen recently said they were targeted with racial slurs as they walked amid health care protesters — including many Tea Party activists — outside the U.S. Capitol on March 20. Some conservatives and Tea Party leaders insist it never happened.

Trying to focus attention on the core message of limited government, some organizers uninvited controversial speakers and beefed up security in an effort to send a message that the movement is made up of average Americans upset with the federal government.

"That's why it's important that you don't have distractions from people who are interlopers of one sort or another," Hagle said.