The Citizens for Liberty rally in Memorial Park on Thursday produced a familiar call for more God and less government in the lives of Americans -- but did so without the blunt-edged style of the group's national tax day rally.
Tea party participants in Washington, D.C., spoke out against "gangster government," chanted "There's a communist in the White House" and flashed slogans that included "Save a seal, club a liberal" and "Waterboard Bernanke," a reference to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
But the tea party message of limited government and taxes was delivered with less rancor at the Rapid City tax day rally, which organizers estimated attracted 600 people. And Citizens for Liberty President Barb Lindberg cautioned participants to be respectful and polite as they marched with signs from Memorial Park to line Omaha Street between Fifth and Seventh streets and back to Memorial Park.
"These are the rules of engagement. This is your mother speaking," Lindberg said into a microphone before the march. "We're mad at the taxes. We're not mad at the people."
Even some of the stronger messages on protest signs -- "Socialism = Slavery" and "Your health care plan will kill me" -- fell well short of the kind of angry rhetoric that has popped up in some tea party rallies in other states. Lindberg said the group was prepared to respond to "infiltrators" who might show up with inappropriate signs designed to make the tea party rally look bad.
"Assistants" at the rally were armed with other signs showing an arrow situated to point at the offending sign, with a message that read: "This is not the tea party." But the rally went off with few incidents.
There was a slight disturbance when Stephen Stenson of Rapid City walked through the crowd with a sign questioning the legitimacy of the tea party message. As rally participants surrounded Stenson, Lindberg urged them to let him come forward to the stage. There, she talked about his sign and his concerns and welcomed him to stay.
Stenson, who said he was a Democrat, said he had been "grabbed" by people at the rally when he first came forward with his sign, but he was left alone after Lindberg intervened. Stenson grumbled aloud about comments by rally speakers and said later that the tea party seemed like a "stepchild to the Republican Party" pushing the "same old rhetoric."
Citizens for Liberty official Ed Randazzo told Stenson that the rally was about returning government to more core conservative values, a move that went beyond political parties.
"You really should do some homework before you come to participate," Randazzo said.
Featured rally speaker Shad Olson, a news anchor for KOTA TV, spoke of misconceptions about the makeup of tea party participants.
"Did you all forget your militias?" Olson said, referring to allegations of militia influence in tea party gatherings. "We must have forgotten to notify the militia."
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Olson also noted the absence of insulting, profane signs or misspelled slogans. He said most Americans agree with the tea party mission, once they understand its consistent place in American history.
"The point is, most people agree with us; they just haven't been taught enough history to know they agree with us," he said.
Olson said the group is "not radical."
About 10 counterdemonstrators gathered nearby for the first part of the tea party rally, some with signs supporting President Barack Obama and health care reform. Organizer Kim Wright of Rapid City, an independent voter organizer, said the nation needs constructive efforts to improve government, rather than angry rallies.
"I think too often the tea party promotes rage rather than solutions," she said.
Wright said her small group of about 10 counterdemonstrators saw that rage in a passing rally participant.
"Most disturbing were the comments from one highly agitated man who not only referred to our president as a Muslim but used the derogatory "N" word," Wright said. "When one of our group confronted him, saying ‘Did I hear that right? Because I can't believe you just said that,' he was rather emphatic that it was what he said, and he meant it."
Wright said, however, that was the only such comment she heard and that most rally goers were respectful.
Chuck Wendt of Rapid City said the perception that tea party rallies concentrate angry people are wrong.
"Have you seen mad people here?" he said. "I'm like a lot of people here. I have concerns about the growth of the federal government. When is too much too much? This is fun to have like-minded people banded together."
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or firstname.lastname@example.org