Tea Party road trip: What the movement wants -- and why
"I got some Dramamine that's supposed to knock me out," says the elderly woman sitting nearby. "And I've got some headphones, too."
Her husband, nose in a book about the minor prophets of the Old Testament, does not look up, and the bus rolls on, past Springfield, then past smaller communities on Ohio's green prairie: Limecrest, Brighton, Gillivan. Darkness falls, and the passengers begin chatting and passing little crinkly bags of Cheez-Its and miniature Oreos back and forth across the aisle. Now and again, laughter jingles over the steady blast of the air conditioner.
They met, all 51 of them, at dusk outside of Dayton, in the vast parking lot of the Washington Heights Baptist Church. Most are from Dayton's suburbs, but they started as strangers united by a common mission. Tomorrow, after their nine-hour journey, they will gather in the bright light of morning near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Precisely 47 years after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech at that vaunted monument, Glenn Beck, the populist Fox TV superstar, will join former Alaska governor Sarah Palin to address his Tea Party faithful at a rally of his own fervent making.
"Restoring Honor," it's called. Beck wants his fans to look past President Obama and what Beck calls the "most corrupt" administration ever, and to focus, instead, on the heroism of the nation's God-fearing founding fathers, who established an exceptional republic, "a shining city on the hill," by crafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The people on the bus all seem to share Beck's ardor for those hallowed sheets of parchment.
At the start of the trip, the tour leader gave each rider a souvenir copy of the Constitution and promised to show a film called "Fighting for Freedom: Revolution and Civil War" on the overhead video screens. But I wasn't quite clear why, exactly, these folks were traveling to Washington, or what they stood for. Until recently, I'd never met a Tea Party supporter. I live in Portland, Ore., amid acupuncture clinics and co-op groceries, in what may be the nation's most un-Tea Party neighborhood, and I knew only that these patriots composed a political force poised to change the outcome of November races nationwide.
On the bus, I would be embraced and welcomed as a shaggy dog cousin from the Left Coast. I would meet solicitous folks who would invite me into their homes back in Ohio. I'd ask hard questions about health care and taxes and race, and I would hear earnest declarations of religious faith.
Most of the bus riders I meet readily volunteer that they are, like Glenn Beck, devout Christians. The man sitting beside me right now is even built like Glenn Beck. Dale Unroe, a 41-year-old IT consultant for a Cincinnati telecom firm, is big and beefy, but he is also quite soul-searching as he describes his recent decision to spend $500 on a pistol, a .40-caliber Glock. "I'm not a gun person," he says. "I mean, I went out and shot in the woods in Cub Scouts or whatever, but I'd never taken that deep of an interest in owning a gun until I got involved last year in this whole thing about people being upset with the country. Then, I began thinking, 'Hey, we need be able to exercise our rights.' I just felt that, as a citizen, I needed to honor the vision of the founders and, you know, buy a gun. So I purchased the Glock, and I've used it once, at a firing range."
"So, how's your shot?" I ask.
Unroe laughs. "You know, that'll take time." Years, perhaps. Unroe doesn't like firing ranges. "They're kind of a little scary," he says. "Sometimes people misfire. Where we went, they've got all these holes in the ceiling, and that's because people just fired, accidentally, when they were getting their weapon ready." Unroe casts me an ominous, wigged-out look.
"So what are you going to do with this gun?" I ask.
"Right now," Unroe says, "I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to make it an effective tool in my life."
Soon we come to a rest area and pile out into the cool Ohio night. Nearby, there's another silver bus, thrumming and idling, and beside it, a young man who hails us: "Where ya guys from?"