VICTORVILLE, CA—It was a clear bright day, but the desert wind was roaring, chilling the air to what felt like the freezing point, when I got to the Victorville, California, Tea Party protest. I arrived late for the noontime protest, with the goal of finding out if this thing had really grown legs after the comedy I witnessed at the Santa Monica Tea Party in February.
A crowd of roughly 150 people formed a compact semi-circle in the small yard between Victorville’s brand new court house and the city’s administration building. Battling the gusts of wind that blew dirt and dust from an unpaved lot across the street, I made my way towards the crowd. I was wearing a flimsy jacket, totally unprepared for this kind of weather on a bright sunny day in the middle of April out here in the California desert.
But the locals knew the weather score. Some had winter coats on, others wore beanies and warm scarves. The crowd was almost 100% white, and skewed towards the pensioner on the age spectrum. There was a heavy ex-military vibe, too. Men wore caps with military decals. Just off to the side of the protest, a pickup truck was flying flags of some veterans’ organization. As I approached, a wiry man in his late 50s came up to speak. “As a Marine, I took the same oath that that bozo at the White House did when he was inaugurated. But unlike him, I actually meant it!” he said to loud cheer and applause.
A middle-aged white woman wearing an oversized sweatshirt with an American flag design took up the loudspeaker next. Her name was Barb Stanton, the organizer of the event. The wind made it impossible to hear anything very clearly. Listening to my voice recorder now, all I hear is whooshing. What was interesting was how this woman’s speech focused on a local issue: attempts to impeach a district attorney, I think. She then moved on to complaining about the local administration’s refusal to build a skate park for Victorville’s youth, while wasting millions on a lavish golf course they built for “their cronies.” She also criticized their attempt to sell Victorville’s power plant to Hugo Chavez’s America-hating Venezuelans.
I wasn’t sure if I was hearing her right. But she quickly moved into familiar territory. Picking up a sheet of paper, she listed all the billions and billions that the Obama administration was spending. It was money he was just giving to the banks. YOUR money.
The protest had 15 more minutes to go, but I was already getting impatient for it to end. It was so cold my hands turned blue and locked in a claw-like position, making it impossible to operate my camera or voice recorder, let alone take notes.
But amazingly, people were in no rush to go, staying on for at least another 10 minutes past the scheduled time. They weren’t here for show. There were no TV crews, and the only reporter I could see was a woman from the local daily, walking around with a notepad. They were staying out of a genuine desire. This protest had a very different feel from the Tea Party I attended in Santa Monica six weeks ago. It was for real—or at least a lot more real than the last one.
Before getting in their cars and heading over to an intersection on the other side of town (where they planned to rally for another six hours, until sundown), about 30 people walked over to the City Hall’s main entrance to shout about the misdeeds of local politicians. Again, their grievances were a strange mix of local issues, general anti-spending/anti-tax demands, Obama-hate and a good dose of xenophobia thrown in for good measure.
Some of their gripes, like the high wages local politicians awarded themselves, seemed logical and earnest. “What do you make over here? $200, 300 thousand? Well, most people in Victorville make do with $40,000 a year. It is called public service for a reason. You are supposed to take pleasure serving your community, not line your pockets.” Clearly, there was some bad blood between the old timers of Victorville and the new city-slicker bureaucrats that came in during the recent subprime-fueled housing boom, a boom that doubled the city’s population to just 100,000 in the past 10 years.
But then the power plant and race came out again. “Do we want our power plant to be sold of to the commie Chinese?” asked the crowd leader. “No!” shouted the crowd.
Most of the people in attendance were obviously Victorville old timers, Republicans for life. Not all of their concerns could be brushed aside as whacko or fringe. There were no Twitter Republicans around running the show pretending to be non-partisan. This was the type of thing that had the potential to grow, attracting Independents and more centrist Republicans. Or so it seemed.
But once I got home and started researching the organizers of the event, I found that they were not the grassroots newbies that they appeared to be, even to my skeptical eyes.
For instance, Barb Stanton, the organizer of the main rally, turned out to be a local talk radio host, Victorville’s own version of Michael Savage, a celebrity of sorts. She got into trouble with her employer for making belligerent racist commentary. Two years ago, she opposed the acquisition of a local bank by East West Bank, which was a publicly traded company with Chinese roots. After one of the bank executives came on the show to explain the merger, she called on Victorville’s patriots to rush the bank and “suck your money out” of it, adding that her guest (who’s last name was Ng) was an evil foreigner out to rob decent desert folk. The bank merger is “going to be a big time for all, except us, the true Americans,” she ranted. Clear Channel quickly yanked her contract and kicked her off the air. But she did get a lot of freeper sympathy.
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