Joining a colorful nationwide campaign patterned on the Boston Tea Party, thousands of protesters gathered in Valley cities Wednesday to denounce government spending and tax policies.
The crowd at the biggest Valley event appeared to exceed expectations, drawing more than 1,000 people shortly after the 1 p.m. start at the Save Mart Center parking lot in Fresno.
By 6 p.m., organizers of the Fresno event estimated the crowd had reached 7,500, although independent confirmation was not available.
Smaller "tea parties" -- on the same day federal and state taxes were due -- took place in Modesto, Merced, Madera and other nearby cities. Organizers in some of those cities said crowds were bigger than predicted.
Speakers in Fresno compared the federal government's economic stimulus package to socialism and told the Homeland Security chief to "go straight to hell," among other things, ringing a chord with the crowd.
"I am p-----d off," veterans' advocate Charlie Waters said at the end of his speech, bringing the audience to their feet.
Waters and others at the event were critical of a recent Homeland Security report about "right-wing extremists." That report, issued to law enforcement last week, said the nation's sour economy and the country's first black president could help right-wing extremists recruit members.
Ann Casado of Clovis wore a sandwich board that said "Right-Wing Extremist? Thanks for the compliment."
"I would say I'm a right-wing nut job," she said. "I want lower taxes. I want less government."
The anti-government sentiment was embodied by Patrick Henry -- or, at least, a talk-radio station employee dressed up like the legendary figure from the American Revolution.
When Frank Insinga, who works for radio station KMJ (AM 580), said "Give me liberty or give me death," the crowd applauded.
Some in the crowd wore costumes and many carried flags, including yellow banners reading "Don't Tread on Me."
Laurel Harvey of Clovis was carrying a sign that says "Taxes for bloated government = Enslavement for me and my children." Her three children were wearing "shackles" made out of black paper.
Nationally, the tea parties were promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington and led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who is now a lobbyist.
Organizers said the movement developed through online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and through exposure on conservative talk radio and cable television's Fox News.
While FreedomWorks said the rallies were nonpartisan, many prominent Republicans view them as a promising way for the party to reclaim its momentum after losing the White House last fall.
"All you have to be is a mildly awake Republican candidate for office to get in front of that parade," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Fresno coordinators included Jared Gordon, a member of the Fresno County Republican Central Committee.
But Gordon said the "tea party" wasn't a Republican event -- rather, he said, it was an attempt to send a message to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., that people are fed up with government spending, taxation and corruption.
Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian. Former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim spoke at the event.
"Everywhere you look, there are more and more taxes, growing up to our necks," Vagim said.