The organizers hailed it as movement of ordinary Americans taking to the streets to take back their country.
Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., they flocked to the Wisconsin state Capitol, as part of a national eruption of Tax Day Tea Parties. They blared working-class anthems including Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and Lee Greenwood's "Proud To Be An American." And the array of conservative speakers tried their best to work the crowd into a frenzy of anti-tax, anti-Democratic anger on tax day. Most of what they said drew applause and cheers.
But the rally's political rants may have been upstaged by the conspiracy-minded crazies, who carried signs that equated President Obama to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, lamented the rise of socialism, and warned of Obama's plan for "white slavery."
"I do think he's the anti-Christ," one man told me of Obama. He carried a sign proclaiming just that, but didn't want to be identified. "I'm in slavery for the welfare of other people who don't want to work."
The man also spoke of the Obama's administration's deleterious effect on his health. "Our government is sickening," he said. "It makes me want to throw up." He said his tax returns were in his car, waiting to be mailed; he owed money this year.
The tea parties, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, were marketed as modern day take-offs on the Boston Tea Party. The rhetoric pitted hard-working Americans against East Coast liberals. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was mentioned several times from the podium for having pegged these tea parties as "AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects."
There were plenty of ordinary Americans at the event. And they were genuinely angry -- angry about their tax bills, upset with the economy and the recent federal bailouts of the banks and auto manufacturers.
"I'm worried about my child's future and my future," Joel Artin, from West Allis, Wisconsin, told me. He said he'd hoped to retire at 65 but feared he'd now have to work until 85. "They're putting a huge burden on people who pay taxes, which happen to be myself and soon my daughter."
Artin -- who filed his taxes in January, and got a refund -- said he's not against paying any taxes. He agrees that roads need to be fixed and national defense costs money. But "I'm worried that a lot of this is going to people looking for a handout." Like the banks?
Susan Wielenbeck, from a Milwaukee suburb, stood next to an Obama cutout dressed in a red king's gown with tea bags pinned all over. She filed for an extension this year on her taxes.
Wielenbeck said she feared taxes could only go up as the deficit climbs higher. "I feel that we're heading more towards socialism," she said. "I live paycheck to paycheck. I can't afford to pay more taxes."
The event's organizers bragged that the event drew 5,000 people. Police made a conservative estimate of 2,500 to 3,500.
Perhaps the most amusing part of the event was the signs: "Look at Us Obama U.R.A Gret Community Organizer," "I'll keep my money, you keep the change," "Government wants you poor and dependent," "No pirates died when Bush was president," "Obamanomics: Chains we can believe in," "Be heard, not herded," "You're taxing the shirt off my back," "We can handle a depression, not socialism," "Don't use my money to kill babies," "Where is my earmark? I want a pony," and "We're plucking chickens and heating tar."