Amid American flags, political literature, candidates and petition gatherers, thousands of Tea Partiers lined the south bank of the Spokane River this afternoon. Their signs, held aloft, captured the mood:
High taxes are just the fruit, liberalism is the root.
Armed & Dangerous with my vote.
What would Jefferson do?
They lied and disrespected us. Let's go Braveheart on their asses.
Fox News for the truth.
The conservative crowd gathered in resistance to the federal government, picking the day Americans pay taxes to symbolize what they see as an intrusion in their lives, and a way to safeguard liberty.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter headlined the rally, declaring he was from the "land of balanced budgets."
"Movements like [the Tea Party] can make the difference," he told the crowd from the stage floating in the river. "We're going to save this country one state at a time."
Eliciting the loudest applause from the crowd, Otter struck a reverent tone.
"The created can never be greater than the creator," he said, "in any sense of the word."
He finished his speech by quoting the Constitution's Tenth Amendment and Thomas Paine. "These are times that try men's souls," he said. "We are prepared to pay the price."
The welcome wasn't so warm for John Waite, a self-declared independent who ran for Spokane City Council last year.
"Support real politicians," he declared, "like Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich."
"Dennis Kucinich," a woman in the audience blurted in disbelief. The crowd boo-ed. Waite moved on.
"Look to support third party candidates," Waite said. The crowd responded with a No! and a few began to yell, "Time's up!" He thanked them for their time and took a seat.
In the crowd, candidates for office milled around and shook hands. Among them: John Ahern, Michael Baumgartner, Jeff Holy and Steve Salvatori. Initiative signature-gatherers also made the best of the large crowd. Volunteers for I-1068, which would legalize marijuana, said they had collected about 100 signatures and were happy to play to the attendants' libertarian leanings.
More than a few men carried firearms on their belts. "It's my right," said Jeff Hayes. "No, I don't feel I'm in imminent danger. Then again, you have a fire extinguisher in your house and you aren't always expecting a fire."
Nearby, Spencer Lowell practiced "solar pyrography," or burning an image into wood with a magnifying glass. He had a finished piece near him that had images of Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao and President Obama. It read: "Socialists: Spreading the wealth since 1917."
"Some artist had to come out and represent," Lowell said. "Not all artists are liberal."
As rush hour traffic heated up on the other side of the convention center, and horns began to sporadically blare, the crowd thinned. But few in attendance would soon forget the numbers of their compatriots.
"Remember in November," a sign read.