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Tens of thousands rally at tax day 'tea parties'

Thursday, April 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

ATLANTA — Whipped up by conservative commentators and bloggers, tens of thousands of protesters staged "tea parties" around the country Wednesday to tap into the collective angst stirred up by a bad economy, government spending and bailouts.

The rallies were directed at President Barack Obama's new administration on a symbolic day: the deadline to file income taxes. Protesters even threw what appeared to be a box of tea bags toward the White House, causing a brief lockdown at the compound.

Shouts rang out from Kentucky, which just passed tax increases on cigarettes and alcohol, to Salt Lake City, where many in the crowd booed Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman for accepting about $1.5 billion in stimulus money. Even in Alaska, where there is no statewide income tax or sales tax, hundreds of people held signs and chanted "No more spending."

"Frankly, I'm mad as hell," said businessman Doug Burnett at a rally at the Iowa Capitol, where many of the about 1,000 people wore red shirts declaring "revolution is brewing." Burnett added: "This country has been on a spending spree for decades, a spending spree we can't afford."

In Boston, a few hundred protesters gathered on the Boston Common — a short distance from the original Tea Party — some dressed in Revolutionary garb and carrying signs that said "Barney Frank, Bernie Madoff: And the Difference Is?" and "D.C.: District of Communism."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up a tea party at Austin City Hall with his stance against the federal government, as some in his U.S. flag-waving audience shouted, "Secede!"

In Atlanta, thousands of people gathered outside the Capitol, where Fox News Channel conservative pundit Sean Hannity was set to broadcast his show Wednesday night. One protester's sign read: "Hey Obama you can keep the change."

Julie Reeves, of Covington, Ga., brought her Chihuahua Arnie, who wore a tiny anti-IRS T-shirt. "I want the government to get its hand the hell out of my wallet," Reeves said.

The tea parties were promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington and led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who is now a lobbyist.

Organizers said the movement developed organically through online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and through exposure on Fox News.

While FreedomWorks insisted the rallies were nonpartisan, they have been seized on by many prominent Republicans who view them as a promising way for the party to reclaim its momentum.

"All you have to be is a mildly awake Republican candidate for office to get in front of that parade," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Donald A. Gross, a University of Kentucky political scientist, said Republicans and conservatives could be looking at the rallies as a way to begin rebuilding after losses in Congress and the White House. The rallies, Gross said, serve as a way for conservatives to oppose tax increases and deficits and remind people they're still out there.

"I think this was a feeling that, 'OK, we can use this to start momentum on a comeback,'" Gross said. "I think the ultimate difficulty they still have is other than 'I don't like taxes' and 'I don't like spending,' where's the positive message? I mean, what is the alternative?"

The movement attracted some Republicans considering 2012 presidential bids.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich planned to address a tea party in a New York City park Wednesday night. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal sent an e-mail to his supporters, letting them know about tea parties throughout the state. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford planned to attend two tea parties.

"There is no such thing as so-called free money and that includes stimulus," Sanford told several thousand people outside the statehouse in Columbia, S.C. "Paying down debt is an old American theme and never a bad thing."

There were several small counter-protests, including one that drew about a dozen people at Fountain Square in Cincinnati, Ohio. A counter-protester held a sign that read, "Where were you when Bush was spending billions a month 'liberating' Iraq?" The anti-tax demonstration there, meanwhile, drew about 4,000 people.

In Lansing, Mich., outside the state Capitol, another 4,000 people waved signs exclaiming "Stop the Fiscal Madness," ''Read My Lipstick! No More Bailouts" and "The Pirates Are in D.C." Children held makeshift signs complaining about the rising debt.

More than 1,000 protesters gathered outside a downtown federal building in Salt Lake City despite the rain and snow. Kate Maloney held a cardboard sign that read "Pin the tail on the jacka$" with a picture of Obama on a Democratic donkey.

Other protesters also took direct aim at Obama. One sign in the crowd in Madison, Wis., compared him to the anti-Christ. At a rally in Montgomery, Ala., where Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" blared from loudspeakers, Jim Adams of Selma, Ala., carried a sign that showed the president with Hitler-style hair and mustache and said, "Sieg Heil Herr Obama."

Still others talked of their children's futures. In Washington, D.C., Joe Hollinger said he took the day off to attend the protest with his 11-year-old daughter.

"I'm concerned about the incredible amount of debt Congress is going to put on our children," Hollinger said, pointing to his daughter's sign, which read, "Congress get your hand off my piggy bank."


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