The opening-night speaker at first ever National Tea Party Convention ripped into President Obama, Sen. John McCain and "the cult of multiculturalism," asserting that Obama was elected because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country."
The speaker, former Rep. Tom Tancredo,
R-Colo., told about 600 delegates in a Nashville, Tenn., ballroom that
in the 2008 election, America "put a committed socialist ideologue in
the White House ... Barack Hussein Obama."
Tancredo did not stop at the Democratic president -- ripping McCain,
R-Ariz., the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, for shaping up to be
a repeat of "Bush 1 and Bush 2."
"Thank God John McCain lost the election," he said, voicing his
belief that McCain would have presided over big budgets and lacked a
tough stand against immigration.
Tancredo served 10 years in the House of Representatives and
made a name for himself with his ardent opposition to immigration. He
believes the 2008 election served to galvanize the right.
"This is our country," he told the crowd. "Let's take it back."
Tancredo's speech received enthusiastic applause at times, but
the crowd did not fill the large ballroom at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel
and Convention Center.
Rancor Among Tea Party Factions?
As opponents of big government converged on what has been billed
as the first national tea party convention, organizers hoped the event
would further "galvanize" the populist movement and help it gather
momentum after a string of recent conservative electoral victories.
But some wondered what gave organizers the right to hold the
event in the first place, never mind to charge hundreds of dollars for
"Nobody really is entitled to stand up and say, 'This is the National Tea Party
anything,'" conservative blogger Dan Riehl said of the three-day
convention being put on by a Nashville-based defense attorney, Judson
Phillips, and his wife.
Phillips told ABC News that he put the convention together to
try to harness the political power of the tea party movement, which
helped fuel rallies and marches last summer, and helped mobilize
support for Scott Brown last month in Massachusetts.
Organizers said some 600 attendees have paid $549 for access to
two full days of events that culminate Saturday evening in a keynote
speech by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at a banquet that reportedly will feature a lobster-and-steak dinner.
While the convention itself is sold out, tickets to the banquet only
were still on sale late Wednesday for $349. So far, organizers said,
more than 500 banquet-only tickets have been sold.
The high price of entry to an event that celebrates grass roots, open-air activism has offended many in the Tea Party tent.
In fact, some tea party factions are furious.
"When somebody steps up and says their purpose in putting on a
convention like this is to make a profit, that's really the antithesis
of a grass roots movement," said Mark Meckler, of the Tea Party
In a mid-January post on his blog, "Riehl World View," Riehl questioned whether Phillips "wants to be a tea party millionaire."
"[Tea party activists]
generally are not the type of people who would gravitate to some very
expensive hotel to dine on lobster and steak and listen to someone
speak," Riehl said in an interview Wednesday.
Convention spokesman Mark Skoda acknowledged Wednesday that
Phillips and his wife, Sherry Phillips, founders of the for-profit Tea
Party Nation Inc., will "make a few bucks" on the event. But Skoda
questioned why that should be anyone's concern.
"Have we gone so far in the Obama-socialist view of the nation
that 'profit' is a bad word -- in particular, if we're using it to
advance the conservative cause?" Skoda asked.
The convention plans to feature a lecture called, "Correlations
Between the Current Administration and Marxist dictators in Latin
Who Owns This Weekend's The Tea Party Convention?
The spokesman said the proceeds would be used to fund upcoming Tea Party nation events.
Politico reported last month that the former Alaska governor would receive as much as $100,000 to address the convention.
But Palin wrote in a USA Today op-ed article Wednesday that she
would "not benefit financially" from the event, pledging to throw any
compensation she would receive "right back to the cause."
As she no longer serves in office, Palin is free to accept the
speaking fee without encountering any legal issues. But two sitting
members of congress, Rep. Michelle Bachman R-Minn., and Rep. Marsha
Blackburn R-Tenn., pulled out of the event late last month citing
concern over House ethics rules.
While initially restricting access to the convention to a
select number of news organizations, like Fox News, the Wall Street
Journal and World Net Daily, organizers announced this week that
Palin's speech would be aired on cable and the Internet, allowing a
broader audience to hear the former governor's address.
"We will have transparency that, frankly, is surprising to many people," Skoda said.
Palin addressed the controversy surrounding the convention in her USA Today piece.
"As with all grass roots efforts, the nature of this movement
means that sometimes the debates are loud and the organization is
messier than that of a polished, controlled machine," she wrote, saying
she "thought long and hard about my participation," before deciding to
honor her commitment to attend.
Ahead of Palin's speech, several breakout sessions are planned
for Friday, under titles such as "Technology in the Tea Party
Movement," "Defeating Liberalism Via the Primary Process" and "Why
Christians Must Engage."
"This convention is a way to galvanize the conservative
movement in a way that the general rallies do not," Skoda said. "We
have seen a maturing of the movement to the point of moving protests
into activism. And that activism is starting to drive results in
On Saturday morning, Skoda will take part in a panel discussion entitled, "Where the Tea Party Movement Goes From Here."
That title poses a good question. Despite the fact that the
Phillipses are hosting an event that nominally claims to be "the"
national Tea Party convention, there is still no national organization,
nor any head of the movement. It claims to have several founders.
Dale Robertson, for instance, said he's been leading the Tea
Party effort "longer than anybody else," having created the Web site
teaparty.org a year before the first anti-stimulus Tea Parties began in
Still, he doesn't begrudge the Phillipses for claiming that his Nashville event is a national affair.
"I mean, a name is just a name. It's just a marketing thing," Robertson said Wednesday from his home in East Texas.
The out-of-work engineer won't be attending the convention this
weekend. He said he simply can't make the trip, but he will be there in
Robertson does, however, have a major problem with the keynote speaker.
"She hasn't been a part of this movement at all and she doesn't
seem to be suffering at all," he said, "as [have] many of these
patriots who've been donating their time, their money and their
To Palin's claim that she'll be returning any money she
receives "to the cause," the founder of teaparty.org, who eschews the
political establishment, scoffed.
"But she's giving money back to the machine, right?" he asked. "Republicans."
Delegate: 'We're Sick of Everyone'
While the political make-up of the convention is nearly universally conservative, there was some ire for both parties.
Delegate William Temple from Georgia, who was dressed in a kilt,
said he wanted to work against "Republicans, Democrats and Independents
who have been in Congress too many terms."
"We're sick of everyone," he said.
However, when pressed, Temple said he could not ever remember voting for a Democrat.
Jim and Julie Dam drove five hours from Indianapolis to be at
the convention. They said their biggest fear is the spending that comes
out of Washington. But they said they wanted to work within the
Republican Party to reach their aims.
"I'm not interested in a third party," Julie Dam said. "My husband isn't either."
"We want conservative Republicans," Jim Dam said.
ABC News' Andy Fies contributed to this report.