WASHINGTON – Tens of thousands of conservative protesters, many complaining that the nation is racing toward socialism, massed outside the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, angrily denouncing President Barack Obama’s health care plan and other initiatives as threats to the Constitution.
The crowd – loud, animated and sprawling – gathered at the West Front of the Capitol after a march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Invocations of God and former President Ronald Reagan by an array of speakers drew loud cheers that echoed across the Mall. On a windy, overcast afternoon, hundreds of yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags flapped in the breeze.
“Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored,” declared Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, urging protesters to call their representatives. The demonstrators roared their approval.
“We own the dome!” they chanted, pointing at the Capitol.
The demonstrators are part of a loose-knit movement that is galvanizing anti-Obama sentiment across the country, stoking a populist dimension to the Republican Party, which has struggled to find its voice since the 2008 elections.
With Democrats in control of Congress, battling the president legislatively has been difficult. But after a spring of anti-tax rallies and summer health-care protests proved to be effective, a growing number of GOP leaders are dropping their wariness and seeing the political possibilities of latching onto this freewheeling coalition.
“You will not spend the money of our children and our grandchildren to feed an overstuffed government,” Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., said of the Obama administration, drawing raucous applause.
“Our history is decorated by those who endured the burden of defending freedom,” Price said. “Now a new generation of patriots has emerged. You are those patriots.”
Other Republican officeholders are cautious about embracing views that can be seen as extremist.
The group’s sponsors included FreedomWorks, a Washington-based group headed by former House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Texas, and the groups Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet. They and others involved in the rally comprise a loose coalition of conservative groups that helped organize the health care and anti-tax demonstrations in the spring and summer.
The White House declined to comment on the demonstration, but Democrats said the rally and other protests in recent months represent a small minority of voters and will not slow Obama’s proposals.
Saturday’s demonstrators spanned the spectrum of conservative anger at Obama, including opponents of his tax, spending and health-care plans and protesters who question his U.S. citizenship and compare his administration to the Nazi regime.