Tea Partiers: We're Not Racist or Against All Taxes

CBS/ Stephanie Condon

tea party
CBS/ Stephanie Condon

WASHINGTON -- There are some myths about the Tea Party that deserve to be dispelled, said protesters at Thursday night's anti-tax rally on the National Mall. For one thing, they say, they don't mind paying taxes when it's worth it. Secondly -- they're not racist or itching for a fight.

A recent CBS News/ New York Times poll revealed that most people -- including most Tea Party supporters -- think they pair a fair amount in taxes.

"If I didn't pay taxes, I'd probably think I paid a fair share, too," retorted Michele, a small business owner who traveled from Athens, Georgia for the April 15 "Tax Day" protest, which attracted around 1,000 people. Michele declined to give her last name.

Other protesters at the Thursday night event echoed Michele's comment, citing the fact that nearly half of Americans who file federal income tax returns do not pay any federal income taxes.

That figure doesn't give the whole story -- a significant share of those people still pay other federal taxes, like payroll taxes. Michele said the confusion over such statistics only drives home the Tea Party's message of fiscal conservatism.

"It's important for people to understand," she said. "I tell people who think they don't pay taxes -- you do still pay taxes. We're all taxed."

Like many other Tea Party supporters, Michele said she supports a fair tax, in part for its simplicity and transparency.

Rachel and Randy Lentz agreed that taxes should be simpler and more limited.

"I don't mind paying taxes for roads and schools, but it's just going overboard," Randy said.

The expansion of government has made Tea Partiers acutely aware of the growing federal debt, and people like the Lentz's are concerned about how it will impact their children. The Maryland couple decked out their three-year-old daughter Madeline with a sandwich board sign that read, "I'm already $41,471 in debt, and I only own a dollhouse." Numerous other people held signs referencing the figure, representing each individual's share of the national debt.

"We're here to protect their future," Rachel said.

While the Tea Partiers are certainly concerned for their future, and many are angry, they're not hostile, they say.

"The Tea Party gave me a voice," said Peggy Gatti of Jacksonville, Florida, who wore a knitted vest adorned with elephants to prove her loyalty to the Republican Party. "I wasn't looking for a fight or anything. I don't want a third party. It's some place for the silent majority to say they disagree."

tea party
CBS/ Stephanie Condon

The activists at Thursday's rally were sensitive to the fact that they have been portrayed as "racists, homophobes and morons" -- particularly by the "Crash the Tea Party" group that aims to infiltrate Tea Party events and sabotage them.

Matt Kibbe, the president of the advocacy group FreedomWorks, warned the crowd not to tolerate any inappropriate behavior from anyone.

"If they won't stop, I want you to take their picture and put it online because we believe in holding people accountable, and we're going to hold them accountable," he said.

Michele, the activist from Georgia, said she has repeatedly been referred to as a racist. She carried a sign with the infamous image of President Obama as "the Joker" with the word "socialism" underneath. On the other side of the sign was a similar image of President George W. Bush that read "fascist." Either image should be acceptable in a free society, but only the picture of the current president would draw criticism, she said.

"I'm not racist," she said. "If Hillary Clinton came in and did the exact same thing that's going on right now, I'd be out here."

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