'Tea Party Express' Picks Up Steam On Way To D.C. About 8,000 people gathered near Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's hometown over the weekend to protest the health care overhaul that Reid helped push through Congress. The rally in Searchlight, Nev., kicked off the Tea Party Express, a cross-country caravan targeting Democrats who voted in favor of the new law.
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'Tea Party Express' Picks Up Steam On Way To D.C.

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'Tea Party Express' Picks Up Steam On Way To D.C.

'Tea Party Express' Picks Up Steam On Way To D.C.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Renee Montagne.

MARY LOUISE Kelly, host:

And Im Mary Louise Kelly.

About 8,000 people gathered, over the weekend, on a rocky patch of desert in southern Nevada, near the tiny town of Searchlight. Thats Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's hometown. The crowd was there to protest the health care reform law he helped push through the Senate. The rally was organized by the Tea Party Express, as the first event of a cross-country caravan targeting Democrats who voted in favor of the new law.

NPR's Ina Jaffe went to the rally and sent this report.

INA JAFFE: Greta Rasmussen came here, all the way from St. George, Utah, and she had this to say about the new health care law.

Ms. GRETA RASMUSSEN: I think it's totally un-American, really.

JAFFE: The same point would be made moments later by Rasmussen's idol and the event's keynote speaker, Sarah Palin, though she used different words.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Republican, Former Alaska Governor): Something's not quite right when Fidel Castro comes out and says he likes Obamacare, but we dont like Obamacare?

(Soundbite of a crowd cheering)

JAFFE: The idea that Fidel Castro and Barack Obama would be on the same side of an issue was pretty common at the rally. Red Planchette(ph) who came here from Lake Havasu, Arizona, was wearing a T-shirt that said Obama and mistake, and we can't say the rest on the air.

Mr. RED PLANCHETTE: If I was a socialist I'd probably be for him, but Im not a socialist. I believe in the Constitution and the free enterprise, and so on. Yeah.

JAFFE: The health care law is the beginning of America's totalitarian end, according to Joe Wiesen(ph) who rode down from Las Vegas on his motorcycle.

Mr. JOE WIESEN: They're trying to control everything we have, from health care to whether you can have a baby or not. Or, you know, they want to take away our guns, our freedom of speech. They want to control it.

JAFFE: You could get a good idea of Carl Holshur's(ph) point of view by looking at one of the items he was selling at his booth. It was a black skull and crossbones flag with President Obama's face where the skull would be.

Mr. CARL HOLSHUR (Vendor): Well, he's a pirate. I mean - I - there's no other way to say it. There are real pirates in Washington.

JAFFE: It's not just the content of the health care law that bothers Holshur, it's his suspicions about the way it was passed.

Mr. HOLSHUR: Add it up. How many of them voted for it because they got a backroom deal, a bribe, some other sweetheart deal, a payoff, this and that? That thing would not have passed without that.

JAFFE: Holshur is also getting tired of the media treating the Tea Party people like they're a bunch of crazy extremists. That view got a big boost, last week, when African-American congressmen said they were the targets of racial epithets from protesters outside of the Capitol. Tea Party folks 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?

Mark Williams is an organizer of the Tea Party Express.

Mr. MARK WILLIAMS (Organizer, Tea Party Express): Now I want to address all those rumors, those stories about racist epithets, about violence. Thats a crock. It's a crock.

JAFFE: The Tea Partyers feel they're the ones who are threatened, threatened by those who accuse them of menacing backers of the health care law and threatened by the seemingly mysterious process by which it was passed. And last but not least, by whats in it - or what they think might be in it.

Over the course of the day, people told me that the health care law would control what Americans are allowed to eat and that it had already cut their Social Security payments.

And there's Jenna Wisen(ph) who owns an asphalt company with about 150 employees.

Ms. JENNA WISEN: Going to put my business out of business.

JAFFE: And why is it going to put you out of business?

Ms. WISEN: Cause I have to pay for these people, for their insurance. Why force it on me?

JAFFE: Reminded that the law provides subsidies and tax credits for small businesses, Wisen scoffed.

Ms. WISEN: Oh, right. Nobody's read the whole bill - could say that I can't wear brown on Tuesday. Nobody knows whats in there.

JAFFE: But most of the people at the rally were pretty sure that whats in there could destroy the health care system and put an end to freedom in America.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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