WASHINGTON — God bless the IRS.
That was the unlikely slogan coming from thousands of cheering tea party supporters who came to the Capitol to highlight the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative political groups.
This was the tea party’s moment to regain the spotlight, they said. They had been singled out for extra scrutiny by the IRS. And now, with the IRS as the villain, they would rise again. Or, at the very least, gather a crowd that filled the Capitol’s west lawn for an afternoon of speeches registering disdain for the federal government.
The rally included tea party favorites such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., along with a visit by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., who pledged to the cheering crowds that he would “find answers” about what took place at the IRS.
Meanwhile, the rally’s participants were enjoying their afternoon in and under the Washington sun.
“The tea party is alive and well,” said Bob Mason, 72, a preacher with the Church of Christ who was dressed in a blue-and-white George Washington-inspired Colonial outfit with a lace shirt and a white wig. “We are more organized, we are more resolved, and America needs us more than ever before.”
He boarded a bus at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday with dozens of others from Pinehurst, N.C., so they could let Washington know this: “Maybe you should take us more seriously this time.”
The Audit the IRS Rally, which tea party organizers called their biggest gathering since 2010, drew folks such as Kansas residents Evelyn Hughes, 67, a homemaker, and her husband, Jim Hughes, 67, a retired refinery worker. They happened to be in Washington on vacation. They heard about the rally, and they despise high taxes and the Obama presidency, so they bought some American flags and planted themselves on the lawn right outside the Botanic Garden.
“Only an idiot would vote for Obama,” Jim Hughes started saying.
“Oh, now be nice,” his wife interrupted. “We actually have America’s ear right now. We don’t have to resort to slurs,” she said, rolling her eyes at a placard that depicted a Hitler mustache on President Barack Obama’s face.
Many in the crowd saw the IRS scandal as a new opportunity for the tea party to recapture the public’s attention.
“You know, I have felt prejudice against my conservative ideas my entire life,” said Andrew Counts, 62, a retired higher-education administrator who lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. “Now is a good time for us to be heard. “
He held up a sign that read “Audit Liberal Goons” and “Stop the Abuse of IRS Power.”
A man from Bethesda, Md. who called himself Cheap Charlie — he refused to give his name, “because we now know for sure that they are spying on us” — was doing swift business charging a not-so-cheap $10 for historic Reagan-for-president buttons.
“I don’t even take a left turn in my car,” he said. “Maybe people are seeing our point now.”
He and others in the crowd said the IRS should be abolished, as should big-government programs run by the Labor Department and the Agriculture Department.
It was a sentiment many of the speakers echoed.
“Anyone want to fire some IRS agents?” Paul called out to the cheering crowd.
Few at the event spoke longer — a full 15 minutes — and more passionately than conservative radio host Glenn Beck, who used the occasion to highlight a laundry list of concerns, including the recent National Security Agency surveillance controversy, what he called “Benghazi-gate,” and the need for more religion in American life.
“Vengeance belongs to God,” he said. He then compared Washington to Las Vegas, but adding, “At least Las Vegas admits to having crooks and prostitutes.”
One man in the crowd just shook his head.
“No God stuff. Just focus on the crimes of the IRS,” he called out. “That’s why we are here.”