Even gray clouds had a silver lining for the thousand or so Tea Partiers at Wednesday’s the Audit the IRS rally. “No sun means no heat,” Andrew Langer, president of the Institute for Liberty, told the crowd sitting on lawn chairs and standing on the grass on the west front of the Capitol.
The Tea Party emerged as a dominant political force in the 2010 midterm election. Its activist zeal, fueled by fear of growing debt and loathing for Barack Obama and health-care reform—and amplified by low Democratic turnout in November—helped Republicans gain 63 new seats in the House and retake the majority, as well as six seats in the Senate. Many activists at the rally Wednesday waxed nostalgic for that golden year, and expressed their disappointment with the course of subsequent events.
Kevin Kookogey, the president of the group Linchpins of Liberty, said that his organization was one of those flagged by the IRS for additional scrutiny because of its conservative name and beliefs. The government, said Kookogey, who is white, was returning to a time when Americans would be “enslaved” by “being forced to sit on the back of the bus.”
But while the rally was aimed at the IRS, few others responded to jibes from speakers aimed at Elijah Cummings, the Democrat on the panel who has poured cold water on GOP claims of a Washington-controlled conspiracy to target conservative groups.
The Tea Partiers were plenty willing to go at GOP. Lou Martorelli — an upstate New Yorker in a tie-dyed shirt holding a sign that read “I’m not a serf I am a born free American”— said that he’d volunteered in 2010 for congressional candidate Nan Hayworth, but complained that after winning office she became “an establishment Republican.” He didn’t vote for her in 2012, when she became one of 10 freshman Republicans to lose reelection bids.
Hayworth was hardly the only Republican who’d disappointed attendees. John Boehner was the subject of scorn from countless signs, including one displaying the pair of testicles that “Odumbo” had taken from him. Mark and Cheryl Griffin traveled from Fort Pierce, Florida to register their discontent with Marco Rubio, who they’d ardently supported just three years ago when he was an insurgent Tea Party conservative facing an uphill battle in a U.S. Senate primary. But now that Rubio has joined the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” working on immigration reform, the Griffins say they feel betrayed by the man they simply call “Marco.” Mark said Marco disappointed him first by embracing what he called “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, and again when the first-term senator credited Democratic colleagues Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin with having “the best interests of the country at heart.”
But for all the disappointment with Republicans, the real villains on Wednesday were Barack Obama and the Democrats. On stage, Rep Steve King (R-IA) declared that, in the Obama administration, “Big Brother is a lot creepier than George Orwell thought it would ever get” to a crowd filled with signs and shirts bearing slogans and images comparing the president to villains from the Gestapo to Darth Vader.
One woman, Linda Krone of Cumberland, Maryland held a sign proclaiming: “Next time . . . elect an American.” The sign, she explained, was about Obama “acting un-American,” and replacing “We the People” with “I The Government.”
While most of the nearly 50 speakers at the event were allotted just a few minutes, before being played off by loud recordings of upbeat country music, former Fox talker Glenn Beck was treated like a rock star, greeted with applause and a chant of “Beck, Beck, Beck” when he was glimpsed walking through the early arrivals and entering the staging area before the rally began. Later, he spoke for about 45 minutes, citing Martin Luther King Jr., while explaining the urgent need to stop the immigration reform bill making its way through the senate and to close the Mexican border to prevent the continued smuggling of “sex slaves” into the states.
The Tea Party is coming back, Beck declared, but the rally had a nostalgic feel. Many attendees were wearing shirts from past rallies, as if the 9/12 rally in 2009 was the political equivalent of the Tunnel of Love Express. But in the aftermath of the 2012 election, it seemed harder to keep the music going. “Well, I guess we can’t get Obama out” said Craig Daniel of Polly’s Island, South Carolina, who said he was there to express his outrage about “government corruption.”
But there was still some hope in the crowd. Eventually the sun broke through clouds and, as countless speakers reminded attendees, 2014 is coming.