Anybody who's passed the corner of Federal Highway and Oakland Park Boulevard on a Saturday has seen the local tea partiers and their weekly demonstration. They started sometime right before the 2008 election and just never stopped.
One Fort Lauderdale man named Robb (he asked that his last name not be published for fear of retaliation) wanted to do a little experiment. A self-described skeptic, atheist, and scientist, Robb, 36, wanted to see what would happen if he went out there with some signs of his own.
"They say they're all about freedom and liberty, so I wanted to do a little science experiment," Robb says. "Let's see how they react to some honest, peaceful people displaying some signs of their own. We weren't looking for a confrontation or a fight, just to express a different opinion."
Robb, his fiancée, and a good friend decided to make some signs of their own.
One read: "Honk if you like vague signs."
Another read: "Don't believe what signs say, educate yourself."
The one Robb carried read: "These people don't understand the nature of the legislation they support."
He showed up at the street corner about 1:05 p.m. He says, "In a maximum of two minutes, shit hit the fan."
Immediately the handful of tea partiers out there setting up for the weekly demonstration approached the group. They shouted. Robb and his friends shouted back. "They came and started poking us with flags," he says, still slightly amused by the situation. "One guy was wearing a Revolutionary War hat."
He says they nudged him closer and closer to the road. "I'll admit, I'm a plump guy," Robb says, "and pretty soon some woman said, 'Careful not to get too close to the road. You might get your fat ass hit.'"
He says he has a bruise on his stomach from where people pushed against him. They tried to cover his sign theirs. "A woman kept hitting my arm with her sign," he says. "I finally moved her arm, and some guy threw his sign down and started acting like he was going to fight me."
This is not freedom of speech, Robb says. "They run off anyone with a different sign. They try to bully you to make sure you never want to go there again. That's their game."
He says he was able to refrain from laughing at the things the tea partiers said to him, "until they started blaming Obama for the oil spill."
Eventually police showed up. They asked Robb to stay on the other side of the street. "That's a public sidewalk. I'm not sure why they think they have a monopoly on that space."
As Robb got in his car, one of the tea partiers came over to write down his license plate number. "I just got out my concealed weapon permit and said, 'It'll be easier if you get the info off this.'"
Robb says he plans to go back next week. He'll bring more friends. He'll have a video camera and a microphone. "We plan on going back every week until the resistance grows," he says. "I'm going to mic myself up next time so that I can get audio of the kind of freedom-loving demonstrators they really are."
The point, he says, isn't to antagonize. "I have no problem with them trying to spread their wacky little message, but you can't insult, assault, or bully people. That's against the law."
UPDATE: Robb says he commented on a discussion thread on Craigslist, asking for volunteers for his counter demonstration. He received this disgruntled, somewhat threatening email from a local tea partier (with spelling and grammatical errors in tact), who wants Robb to stay clear of his group:
IT'S YOUR RIGHT TO OPPOSE US, THAT IS FINE, BUT DO NOT LET YOUR PEOPLE COME INTO OUR GROUP!!. YOU WILL BE ASKING FOR TROUBLE!!...WE DO NOT HATE YOU! WE HATE WHAT YOU STAND FOR! SOCIALISM,COMMUNISM,HOMOSEXUALITY,ANTI-CHRISTIAN,ANTI-AMERICAN VALUES,YOUR GREAT GOD AND LORD ~~OBAMA....MY GIRLFRIEND IS BLACK! I APPRECIATE THE KINDNESS AND HIGH INTELLIGENCE OF MOST HOMOSEXUALS! I DO NOT HATE OBAMA BECAUSE HE IS BLACK! I HATE ALL WHAT YOU PEOPLE STAND FOR! I WILL RECTO YOUR RIGHT TO DISAGREE WITH US!~~ BUT,I DO WARN YOU! DO NOT NOT NOT COME AND MIX WITH US! YOU WILL BE VIDEO-TAPED! ANY PHYSICAL VIOLENCE WILL BE REPORTED TO THE POLICE. I WILL MAKE SURE THAT I GET GOOD FILM OF YOU PEOPLE COMING OVER TO US! RESPECT OUR BOUNDARIES! WE WILL RESPECT YOURS! TEA-PARTY MEMBER!