“WE DO NOT SUPPORT SECESSION!” proclaimed the Web site advertising Saturday’s Stand Up for Texas rally at the state Capitol. To emphasize the point, the three-hour tea party — a warm-up for next week’s Washington march — kicked off with 2,000 people singing “God Bless the USA,” chanting “USA! USA! USA!” reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (“Under God!”) and screaming the Star-Spangled Banner. No anti-American extremism here!
But some of the biggest cheers from the predominantly white crowd came when speakers veered from the official Tea Party Patriot message and rang out echoes of last week’s smaller-but-rowdier “Sovereignty or Secession” rally at the Capitol. “Thank God we live in such a great state, huh?” said speaker Daniel Blackford of Baytown, introduced to big cheers as, among other things, a concealed-handgun instructor. “I don’t know if you can tell from here, but our Capitol’s taller than theirs is. The Texas flag hangs at the same level as the US flag. Same level!”
“Texas, right now, if we were an independent country, we’d be the 15th largest economy in the world,” proclaimed the first speaker of the day, Brad Lewis of the Southeast Texas Tea Party group. “Our dome is bigger than Washington’s dome. So there you have it, Obama!”
Oh, and also: “They’re gonna euthanize our old folks.”
Not surprisingly, the dark peril of health-care reform was a main theme of the three-hour rally, which drew tea-partiers from several Texas metros. “The government doesn’t care about your health,” proclaimed Dallas Tea Party organizer Phillip Dennis. “They care about two things: money and power.”
When his anti-reform rhetoric was greeted with shouts from a handful of pro-reform counter-demonstrators, Dennis cracked: “OK, all right. I see that the people from under the Congress Street bridge are here. You can pick up your checks back under the bridge.” The crowd cheered lustily at that. There were a lot of loud cheers punctuating the attacks on “Austin liberals”—another theme of the day.
While a fair amount of anger flared throughout the rally, the mood was more celebratory than furious, all the way to the climatic oration by Joe the Plumber. And why not? These were Texas members of the small minority that’s succeeded in pushing President Obama and Congress around since the spring, changing the national conversation—especially on health-care reform—from “Yes We Can” to, as one of the hundreds of protest signs read, “No You Can’t.”
But there was also an unmistakable defensiveness in the air, as speaker after speaker made a point of reassuring the tea partiers that they were not the reactionary racists “the media” has made them out to be.
The most boisterous cheers of the day, accordingly, were reserved for the penultimate speaker, African-American right-winger and author Kevin Jackson of St. Louis. “Greetings all you Astroturf, disruptive, fishy, radical, un-American extremist terrorist Nazi neanderthal monsters!” he began. “You are my kind of people,” Jackson assured them as he promoted his new book, The Big Black Lie, which argues that Democrats are the ones who really hate and hold down black people.
“I did leave out an adjective that the left likes to use to describe you all,” Jackson went on. “They like to call you racists. It’s funny because I speak at a lot of these types of events, and I have yet to find any racists at these events.” You better believe that got a sustained and enthusiastic reaction.
So did host Steven Crowder, a YouTube comedian and tea-party circuit-rider who entertained the crowd between speeches with the kind of ethnic humor that went out of style with Vaudeville. Crowder imitated the accents and made fun of Zambians, Koreans, Germans and, of course, Muslims. “You ever noticed when they talk about the racist homophobic hate-mongers that Islam always get a pass?” he asked. “It’s like, ‘Islam is a religion of peace; it’s the Christians you have to worry about.’ They’re not gong to disagree with them,” he said, sliding into mock-dialect: ” ‘Yes, we’re a religion of peace, OK. If you don’t agree, I’ll keeeeel you!’ “
“We’ve been called an angry mob, we’ve been called Nazis, we’ve been called un-American, we’ve been called Astroturf,” Blackford agreed. “From where I stand right here today, I see Americans. I see Texans. And I see American people doing the most American thing that they can do: They’re standing up for their rights. They’re questioning their leaders.”
One leader above all, of course. For all its various bugaboos — stimulus, bailouts, “government-run health care,” taxation, socialism, welfare, safety-belt regulations, MSNBC — the main target of the tea-party movement, from its ugly debut on Tax Day in April, has been President Obama all along.
“We’ve got a guy in Washington who’s got a God complex,” Lewis said. “He wants to have access to your checking account, he wants to know what you’re doing, he wants to tell you what a family is…”
Not only that, but He is actively plotting a permanent takeover. “Most of you people say, ‘We’re gonna change that back when the next election comes.’ But you’re thinking normal,” Lewis said. “You’re thinking there is gonna be another election. The way this thing is moving, and it’s moving fast, this guy doesn’t plan on there being another election.”
As the speakers went on and on in that vein, I couldn’t help noticing a young woman in the crowd, merrily waving a sign that read: “Obama Loves America Like OJ loved Nicole.”
No sir, no ma’am: No racism here. Just fine upstanding patriotic Americans taking a stand against our first black president and the Hitleresque threat that he represents. Or Stalinesque threat, perhaps. Another all-American sign: “Russia called … They Want Stalin Back.”