Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007 | 8:03 a.m.
On the day that Ron Paul, the feisty Republican presidential candidate, reportedly exceeded his audacious quarterly fundraising goal of $12 million by more than $6 million, his supporters marched through downtown Las Vegas, hurled tea bags at the IRS and denounced money. They demanded a return to the gold standard and sneered at the unsupported dollar, calling it "fiat currency."
It took a minute to realize they were talking about legal tender and not a small, unreliable bill manufactured in Italy.
It started Sunday afternoon when roughly 100 Paul supporters gathered at the Neonopolis end of Fremont Street. It was the Las Vegas version of an event staged nationwide as Paul supporters celebrated the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party with marches and donation pledges of more than $6 million, most of them online.
In front of the crowd, a man stands and introduces himself through a bullhorn as Samuel Adams. He's in costume - black tights, rolled up pant legs, a black frock coat with silver filigree and a wig like an electrocuted cat.
A tourist stops and asks one of the Paul supporters, "That isn't Ron Paul, is it?"
No, but the man with the kitty on his head does provide an introduction of sorts to the congressman from Texas.
"Ron Paul is the father of the second revolution," the man says. "We are all Ron Paul."
One of Fremont Street's down-and-out residents stumbles and lopes through the rally, shouting, "Ron Paul, Ron Paul! Hehehehe, yeah, Ron Paul!"
Undeterred, or perhaps inspired, Samuel Adams pours on the bullhorn eloquence.
"What is slavery but apathy?" he asks. "What is slavery but hopelessness?"
From the crowd, another bullhorn answers, "The Fed equals slavery."
The Fed, as in the Federal Reserve, which to this crowd is a name like Simon Legree. The Fed is one of the cruel whips that turn Americans into tax slaves, Samuel Adams says. The country went wrong when it abandoned the gold standard of currency backing. And then, of course, there are the income tax and the IRS. Does anyone out there like the IRS?
And with that, the Paul supporters are off to march on the IRS. They are led by more people in costumes, some of whom look pretty Revolutionary War-ish, while others have come from the plastic pistol land of Pirates of the Renaissance Faire Caribbean. An aged drummer boy sets the pace.
The crowd marches to the intersection and waits for the light. Then, overcome with the spirit of dissent, the crowd crosses against it.
The marchers start a chant about Paul and restoration of the Constitution, but after a few yards they've settled into a Ron Paul call and response. They hold their signs high - one man has to tie his Shih Tzu's leash to his belt so he can use both hands for his sign. They hand out fliers to the homeless and tourists alike.
Deep in the Fremont Street Experience, people stop what they're doing, shrug and take pictures of the Paul march. Some tourists flash peace signs with one hand and slap the other hand over their giggling mouths. One guy in a leather jacket trimmed with fleece bolts out of the Four Queens, beer in hand, and shouts, "Ron Paul! Whooo!" Outside Mermaids, the bead sellers in Mardi Gras costumes happily chant, "Ron Paul! Ron Paul!" and then, once the march has passed, whisper to each other, "Who is Ron Paul?" and giggle.
The march heads north on Main Street and then west onto the under-construction Grand Central Parkway. Outside the unmarked IRS office building there is more outrage on behalf of the gold standard, this time by Las Vegas attorney and sometime third-party candidate for office Joel Hansen, who also rails against socialism.
During the speech, Paul supporters are unsure where to position themselves on the ripped-up, rerouted road without blocking traffic. And the drivers are equally unclear. One woman in a sedan drives up onto the gravel and is surrounded by Paul supporters. "Oh my God, you've gotta stay for the revolution!" a member of the crowd tells her, as she attempts to execute an eight-point escape turn, nods politely and drives off.
Hansen's speech is interrupted when one of the organizers takes the bullhorn to announce that a security guard has asked the crowd to stay off the property, which is privately owned.
Much of the crowd boos.
In back, one guy turns to his friend and curses. "No, come on. Don't boo private property. We're here for private property."
Speakers also mention Paul's opposition to the Iraq war, foreign aid, Guantanamo-style detentions and the Patriot Act, though not nearly so much as they mention the gold standard, which they say will protect Americans from inflation.
The last speaker of the day reads the Declaration of Independence in full, which one doesn't hear often. The stirring Thomas Jefferson bits are familiar-sounding, but all the specific complaints about abolishing legislatures, creating tyranny in Canada and trying colonists oversees are a flashback to high school civics class - it's easy to forget the thing was rewritten by an angry committee.
Deprived of any helpful signs announcing the presence of the IRS, Paul supporters stack cardboard boxes labeled "IRS Tea Co." and "The Fed." A sheet is taped to the ground in front of the boxes.
The organizer tells the marchers to get their tea ready. The aged drummer boy strikes up.
"We're dumping their fascism!" shouts a member of the crowd.
"Anyone got a dollar I can burn?" asks a lank-haired teenager.
People begin hurling tea at the boxes.
Children of Paul supporters run up and begin unpacking Twinings Tea boxes to get at the individual packets, which they hurl, saying, "It's English tea, too!" Then the kids begin kicking the boxes and whaling on them with sticks.
"It's good to get the youngsters involved," one adult says to another.
Another person in the crowd, this one carrying a sign that says, "Ron Paul Champion of the Constitution Evil Bankers Beware," launches into an impromptu speech about fiat money. Finally, there's no more tea to be thrown. The organizers instruct everyone to follow the drummer back to Hennessy's Tavern.
While the crowd peels off, the organizers pull up a truck and proceed to clean up after their civil disobedience. The boxes and traffic cones are loaded up, and a large man in a tan hat gathers up the sheetful of tea.
"I'm gonna take all this home and drink it," he says. "This is one tea party that didn't cost me anything."