For D.C.'s few tea party residents, home can at times feel like enemy territory

Ben Tessler, co-founder of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots, says his activism has cost him two friendships.
Ben Tessler, co-founder of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots, says his activism has cost him two friendships. (Nikki Kahn)
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By Steve Hendrix
Sunday, February 13, 2011

Barbara Schauer fits right in with the other coffee-sipping urbanites at the Kramerbooks cafe in Dupont Circle. She lives in a Logan Circle condo, dines out regularly with gay friends and walks her two dogs along the sidewalks of a city she loves. Like most of her neighbors, she supports abortion rights. And she's an environmentalist.

But one thing sets her apart.

"I'm a member of the Washington D.C. Tea Party," Schauer replied with a smile when a man at the next table asked what she was discussing with such enthusiasm.

His own smile froze. "Oh," he said, finally.

And what did he think of the tea party?

"Not very much," he said, gathering his things and walking away. "Sorry."

"That's what I always get," Schauer said. "Very dismissive."

To be a tea party enthusiast in the District means being treated as an oddity, both by other Washingtonians and by other tea party members. At several rallies Schauer has attended on the Mall, the surprise worked the other way. "You live here?" the out-of-town activists asked her.

"They look at me suspiciously, like I'm an infiltrator," she said. "I tell them D.C. is a great place to live. I feel like the D.C. welcome wagon."

To many of the thousands of tea party activists in Washington this weekend for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the District is the root of the problem, home to an out-of-control federal government and the bloated ranks of civil servants who staff it. But it is also home to a few of their fellow faithful. A very few.

Ben Tessler, a Wesley Heights real estate agent who co-founded the National Capital Tea Party Patriots, said he knows of maybe 30 District residents who are active with tea party causes, not counting professional organizers and congressional staffers. His group, which has been around for more than a year, used to meet at a Georgetown hotel but now gathers each month at a swim club in Bethesda, just outside the Capital Beltway. "It's cheaper," Tessler said.

The chapter Schauer signed up with last year, the Washington D.C. Tea Party, has more than 200 members, but only a handful of them live in the District. Many hail from Virginia or Maryland, but most are group leaders from other parts of the country. The chapter was founded by Tom Whitmore, a retired cabinet builder from Manassas, mainly to support other tea partyers when they travel to the nation's capital. They meet the buses, put up volunteers, help nervous outsiders navigate the city.

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