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US conservatives gather for tea party

By Sarah Smith

Updated on 06 February 2010

They say TEA stands for Taxed Enough Already and the movement had its first big event on the day last year when federal income taxes were due to be paid, despite the fact that taxes had not actually gone up since President Obama took office. Sarah Smith reports.

Sarah Palin, Nashville tea party guest (Credit: Reuters)

Of course the name is also alluding to the Boston Tea Party of the 18th century which was a revolt against taxes imposed by the British and was one of the early events leading to the American Revolution.

So there are few people around this convention dressed in nineteenth century costume, there is at least one Ben Franklin who looks freakishly like Karl Rove, and a few people have banners that are made to look those from the American Revolution.

If you have seen the HBO mini series John Adams about the second president of the United States you will be very familiar with the flags adorned by snakes and bearing the legend Don’t Tread On Me.

There are a few of those here today, as many of these people believe they are starting a genuinely revolutionary movement.

They are all eager to point out that they are not a branch of the Republican party and they claim not all of them even vote Republican.

Although I challenge anyone to find a Democratic voter in here. There are a wide range of views from the mainstream fiscal conservatives who believe in low taxation and keeping the government out of their lives, to people with far more radical ideas.

There was huge applause last night for a speaker who suggested that President Obama was born in Kenya not America and therefore is not legally the president.

And there has been something of an outcry over comments from former Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, who said that the only reason Obama was elected president is because the civic and literacy tests are not still in place before they can vote.

Everyone here knows he was referring to the tests that used to exist in southern states before the civil rights movement and stopped blacks from being able to vote.

The organisers would prefer to try and keep that kind of bigotry on the sidelines.

They do not want to be defined by it but if there is any kind of ideology or ethos underpinning the tea party movement it is all about individual freedom, so they cannot really muzzle others even when they sound racist.

And this is the first time most of these people have met each other anyway. Until now this movement has existed largely on the internet, with people swapping YouTube video clips of town hall protests over healthcare reform or contributing to each other's right-wing blogs.

So now they are all under the same roof it is like one huge internet blind date. After a year of chatting each other up online they are finally meeting face to face.

There has been a huge fuss about the cost of attending this event - $550 per person just to get into the sessions and tonight’s banquet with Sarah Palin.

Travel and accommodation costs are on top of that. And Palin is being paid $10,000 for her appearance tonight.

The whole point of the tea party movement is that they are a loose collection of individuals, not representatives of well-funded state party machines.

But that means there is no organisation behind them who can pay those sorts of fees, so there have been many complaints and quite a few people, including two high-profile congress women, who are boycotting the event as a result.

Plenty of people are selling t-shirts and other merchandise to earn a bit more money. One alludes to Obama’s election slogans about change saying “You can keep your 'Change' and I’ll keep my Freedom, keep my Guns and keep my Money".

And another quotes Margaret Thatcher, who may yet emerge as a tea party heroine. It says “The problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

And if you are very serious about your tea you can spend $90 on a solid silver necklace in the shape of a teabag.

One little irony at this tea party - like so many other places in America it is impossible to actually get a decent cup of tea!

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