Whipped up by conservative commentators and bloggers, tens of thousands of protesters staged "tea parties" across the nation Wednesday to tap into the collective angst fueled by a bad economy, while President Barack Obama vowed "a simpler tax code that rewards work and the pursuit of the American dream."
The rallies came on a symbolic day: the deadline to file income taxes. Protesters even threw what appeared to be a box of tea bags over the fence onto the White House grounds, causing a brief lockdown at the compound before the package was declared not dangerous.
Obama acknowledged the protests. "For too long, we've seen taxes used as a wedge to scare people into supporting policies that increased the burden on working people instead of helping them live their dreams," he said. "That has to change, and that's the work that we've begun."
His words were hardly met with universal applause. From California to New York, protesters met at statehouses and town squares to oppose Obama's federal spending since he took office.
'I'm mad as hell'
Shouts rang out from Kentucky, which just passed tax increases on cigarettes and alcohol, to Salt Lake City, where many in the crowd booed Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman for accepting about $1.5 billion in stimulus money.
"Frankly, I'm mad as hell," said businessman Doug Burnett at a rally at the Iowa Capitol, where many of the about 1,000 people wore red shirts declaring "revolution is brewing." Burnett added: "This country has been on a spending spree for decades, a spending spree we can't afford."
In Boston, a few hundred protesters gathered on the Boston Common — a short distance from the original Tea Party — some dressed in Revolutionary garb and carrying signs that said "Barney Frank, Bernie Madoff: And the Difference Is?" and "D.C.: District of Communism."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up a tea party at Austin City Hall with his stance against the federal government, as some in his U.S. flag-waving audience shouted, "Secede!"
But unlike many events around the country, politicians were not allowed to speak at a separate rally in San Antonio.
"They are welcome to come and listen to us, for a change," organizers said in a statement.
In Atlanta, thousands of people gathered outside the Capitol, where Fox News Channel conservative pundit Sean Hannity broadcast his show Wednesday night. One protester's sign read: "Hey Obama you can keep the change."
One of his guests was Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, who made news during the presidential campaign when he asked Barack Obama about taxes. The crowd cheered many of Hannity's stances against higher taxes and moves by the Obama administration so far.
Julie Reeves, of Covington, brought her Chihuahua Arnie, who wore a tiny anti-IRS T-shirt. "I want the government to get its hand the hell out of my wallet," Reeves said.
The tea parties were promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington and led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who is now a lobbyist.
Movement developed organically
Organizers said the movement developed organically through online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and through exposure on Fox News.
While FreedomWorks insisted the rallies were nonpartisan, they have been seized on by many prominent Republicans who view them as a promising way for the party to reclaim its momentum.
"All you have to be is a mildly awake Republican candidate for office to get in front of that parade," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
The movement attracted some Republicans considering 2012 presidential bids.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich planned to address a tea party in a New York City park Wednesday night. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal sent an e-mail to his supporters, letting them know about tea parties throughout the state. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford attended two tea parties.
In Missouri, Karla Waite, 28, brought her four young children to a rally in Kansas City because she said "it was time to stand up."
"The way we've been going, with the bailouts and the entitlements, we're heading toward socialism," Waite said. "That's not the kind of world I want my children to live in."
'Save and conserve'
There were several small counter-protests, including one that drew about a dozen people at Fountain Square in Cincinnati. A counter-protester held a sign that read, "Where were you when Bush was spending billions a month 'liberating' Iraq?" The anti-tax demonstration there, meanwhile, drew about 4,000 people.
In Lansing, Mich., outside the state Capitol, another 4,000 people waved signs exclaiming "Stop the Fiscal Madness," "Read My Lipstick! No More Bailouts" and "The Pirates Are in D.C." Children held makeshift signs complaining about the rising debt.
"I'm really opposed to spending the way out of our problem," said Deborah Mourray, 56, a business administrator from the Detroit suburb of Troy. "How I run my home is: I don't spend more money so my situation improves. Save and conserve."
More than 1,000 protesters gathered outside a downtown federal building in Salt Lake City despite the rain and snow. Kate Maloney held a cardboard sign that read "Pin the tail on the jacka$$" with a picture of Obama on a Democratic donkey.
"I want to get back my way of life again," said Maloney, who runs a small costume business and said she's recently had to lay off 10 of 33 workers. "Right now things change too much."
'My piggy bank'
Other protesters also took direct aim at Obama. One sign in the crowd in Madison, Wis., compared him to the anti-Christ. At a rally in Montgomery, Ala., where Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" blared from loudspeakers, Jim Adams of Selma carried a sign that showed the president with Hitler-style hair and mustache and said, "Sieg Heil Herr Obama."
Still others talked of their children's futures. In Washington, D.C., Joe Hollinger said he took the day off to attend the protest with his 11-year-old daughter.
"I'm concerned about the incredible amount of debt Congress is going to put on our children," Hollinger said, pointing to his daughter's sign, which read, "Congress get your hand off my piggy bank."