Tea Party reaches boiling point

Local conservative activists vent their anger and frustrations at annual Tax Day event

A woman who identified herself simply as Judy displays her not-so-subtle disapproval of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

A woman who identified herself simply as Judy displays her not-so-subtle disapproval of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

Tea time:
Learn more about the Chico Tea Party Patriots at www.chicoteaparty.ning.com.

They are angry; they are silver-haired; they are festooned in patriotic garb; and they are united in thought. As one man’s sign read, in bold, capital letters: “Not racist, not violent, no longer silent.”

Specifically, they are members of the Chico Tea Party Patriots, a collection of like-minded folks fed up with being taxed by federal, state and local governments that spend their money like drunken sailors on a month-long shore leave.

This week on Tax Day (April 18), they gathered at City Plaza just as they had the year before to listen to speakers reinforce their sense of anger while they waved signs articulating their frustrations.

Like the hand-made message offered by a woman named Judy that mixed politics with current-day media hype: “Hearing Obama talk about the economy is like hearing Charlie Sheen talk about sobriety!”

Talking over the sudden din of a passing fire-engine siren, Judy said she was tired of government “spending, spending, spending; you know, with their thinking if they’re gonna raise the taxes, they’re gonna pay for it and there’s no way in you-know-where that they’re gonna be able to do that.”

Or this one: “I’ve never seen Pres. Obama’s birth certificate but I know he’s a Keynesian! Stop spending madness!”

That sign, of course, is a play on the notion that the president was actually born in Kenya intertwined with the liberal economic theory created in the early part of the last century by English economist John Maynard Keynes. The theory basically suggests that a free-market system can’t stand alone; that government intervention is required to keep a financial system afloat.

And the sign referring to the party’s penchant for nonviolence was quite possibly in reaction to a poster slapped around town the previous week announcing the anti-tax rally, but including the words: “Help us take our country back from the Kenyan” above a photo of a Ku Klux Klansman standing in front of a burning cross, his arm stretched out in a Nazi salute.

This altered sign caused an understandable stir among Tea Party members and supporters, including Steve Thompson, the senior field representative for North State Assemblyman Dan Logue. Thompson’s name and contact number were on that hateful poster.

A few days before the rally, Thompson, a former soldier speaking by phone from an ROTC training in the Bay Area, said he was both angry and disgusted by the incident, but not necessarily surprised.

“Chico’s a great place,” he said, “and we’re able to have political debate. A lot of us who disagree with each other can do it without resorting to this type of activity. This is probably just an individual who is maybe even disturbed. I just hope we can keep our discourse at a high level.”

Thompson was one of the first speakers at the rally. He said, basically, that the Tea Party and the day’s gathering were not about the Republican Party; they were more about Americans taking back their country.

And that sort of set the tone for what followed.

B.K. Brooks, local conservative activist, served as master of ceremonies. Brooks, a hefty guy with an edgy sense of humor, kept the Tea Partiers entertained between speakers. For instance, he read a recent speech by former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Saying he wanted to do a true imitation of the California congresswoman, Brooks tilted his head, twisted his face and slurred his words as he read the message that was basically a call to the Republican Party to turn away from the vitriol espoused by the Tea Party and instead work with the Democrats to fix the nation’s problems.

His impersonation was greeted with hisses and boos and scornful laughter, which could easily be translated to “Well done, sir!”

After Thompson spoke, Sam Paredes, the executive director of Folsom-based Gun Owners of California, took the stage. He was in town last August to give the Tea Partiers a lesson in confrontational politics. At the time he said his priorities were: “God, family, guns and the Tea Party.”

It was hard to tell what his message was this time around. Paredes spoke sans microphone, because, as someone in the audience explained, he didn’t like the echo created by the plaza’s band shell.

His audience strained and concentrated, cupped their ears or, in some cases, turned up their hearing aids, but mostly in vain. Still, when the folks standing closest to the stage began to applaud something that was said, the folks farther back took the cue and joined in the signal of appreciation.

Included among the speakers who did employ a microphone was Chico City Councilman Bob Evans. As he introduced Evans, Brooks enlightened the faithful with some local numbers, such as the city’s plans to use redevelopment agency money to finance $180,000 to $212,000 in art projects over the next decade, ringing up a total bill of $500,000—“that instead of police officers.” (However, that ear-marked money can’t be used to hire police officers.)

Brooks also lamented plans to spend up to $150,000 on bike racks over the next 10 years. “Bike racks!” he intoned with no lack of sarcasm. And he pointed out council members are eligible for medical coverage. “They need medical insurance, I guess,” he said with an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders.

Evans then recounted the seven meetings he’s attended since getting appointed to the council early this year.

“At four of those meetings we spent millions of dollars,” Evans said. “[At] one of those meetings we raised taxes, fees. At only one of those seven meetings we did nothing. That’s what your city government is doing, so your work is not done here, folks.”

Evans was referring to the council’s decisions to grab RDA money to build low-income housing before the state takes that source of funding away, the costs associated with the state-mandated effort to update the general plan, and the recent increase in sewer fees (taxes) to help cover operations at the city’s water treatment plant.

And so the rally went, with more speakers, including a conservative college student as well as a young woman sporting an ankle tattoo while offering up a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

Still, the energy and sense of purpose that seemed to swirl through last year’s rally was somehow missing this time around. Apparently even the hard edge of anger and frustration erodes over time.