'Tea party' movement takes protest to Washington

Tea Party Patriots are storming the Potomac.

The conservative activists who staged taxpayer tea parties last spring and packed town-hall-style meetings to rail against "Obama care" this summer plan to march here Saturday to protest what they call out-of-control government spending.

Encouraged by conservative commentators such as Fox's Glenn Beck and organized virtually on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites, the march will constitute "the largest gathering of fiscal conservatives ever," says Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks. The advocacy group led by former House majority leader Dick Armey is planning the event, although other organizers say theirs is an unprompted movement.

"There is no leader. This is so incredibly organic and grass-roots," says Mark Williams, a conservative talk show host who spoke from El Paso during a stop on the Tea Party Express, a 34-city, 7,000-mile bus tour that began in Sacramento Aug. 28 and ends here Saturday.

FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe says "tens of thousands" will march. "They are opposed to President Obama's multitrillion-dollar government takeover of health care, opposed to his massive tax on energy ... and opposed to spending money we don't have to bailing out homeowners and auto companies," he says. "Our motto is 'Government goes to those who show up.' "

Kibbe says it is "quite possible" most marchers didn't show up to vote on Election Day because they were "disgusted" by the choice between Obama and Republican John McCain.

Now, many have heeded the call first put out in February by CNBC's Rick Santelli for "tea party" protests of the federal mortgage bailout that has grown into a movement that offers adherents talking points to take to congressional town hall meetings.

Saturday's march grew from Beck's idea for a 9/12 Project to bring back the unity of the day after the 2001 terrorist attacks. That's when, according to its mission statement, "we were not obsessed with Red States, Blue States or political parties."

More than two dozen conservative organizations, including the National Taxpayers Union, have signed on. They say their cause crosses party lines — Beck's website calls it "a non-political movement" — but those marching from near the White House to Capitol Hill appear united in one thing: their disdain for the Democrats who control Washington.

When asked for Democrats who are taking part Saturday, Kibbe cited Bruce Webster, a registered Democrat for 37 years who had never voted for his party's candidate for president.

"I'm profoundly upset with the direction of both Congress and this administration," says Webster, 56, a Parker, Colo., consultant who has testified about information technology on Capitol Hill. He switched party registration after being "appalled" by Democratic criticism of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Eric Burns of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters says the marchers are in lockstep with radio host Rush Limbaugh, who said shortly after Obama was elected that he hoped he "fails." The march, Burns says, is part of a "partisan, ongoing campaign to destroy this presidency and any hope of a progressive policy agenda ... which is what the voters wanted."

The ever more noisy opposition to his health care objectives has had one result: It prompted Obama's decision to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday in an effort to regain momentum on the issue.

Kibbe says he isn't worried. "It makes the timing of our event," he says, "even more relevant."

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