By ERIK SCHELZIG
Associated Press Writer
GATLINBURG, Tenn. — One of the first speakers at a convention of Tennessee tea party groups on Saturday asked attendees how they feel about being portrayed as “the bad guy” of American politics.
The shouted response from several audience members: “It feels good!”
More than 200 people crowded into a meeting room at the Gatlinburg Convention Center on Saturday to hear from Pamela Geller, who heads a group called Stop Islamization of America.
In her speech, Geller called President Barack Obama “the culmination of the Islamic-leftist alliance” and decried the planned construction of a 13-story mosque near the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
“It is the ultimate flag of conquest,” she said. “Can you imagine the Muslim call to prayer on 9/11? The symbolism cannot be understated.”
Geller said people who challenge the political establishment are being targeted for speaking their mind.
“You are the bad guy now, how does it feel?” she said.
Jerry Burman, who traveled to the event from Orlando, Fla., said he agrees that Americans should “recognize that we’re at war with Islam.”
Burman, 69, acknowledged that the topic of Geller’s speech didn’t directly address the core tea party goals of lower taxes and smaller government but added that everybody’s was interested in a lot of things.
The two-day event featured a series of panels on topics ranging from “The Unconstitutionality of the Income Tax” to “State Nullification of Federal Laws.”
Among the speakers Saturday was Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, whose district includes Gatlinburg.
“You’re seeing people that feel like they’re ignored on the budget, on health care on cap and trade and the direction of the country,” Roe said. “And they’re concerned.”
The event also featured several candidates, including pitchfork-wielding Van Irion who is running for the Republican nomination in the 3rd Congressional District in East Tennessee and gathering plaintiffs for a class-action lawsuit against the federal health care overhaul.
“We wouldn’t here today if it wasn’t for Obamacare,” Irion said, adding that he considers Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper an “idiot” for refusing to join other states in challenging the federal health care law.
“I don’t mind saying that,” Irion said. “He is a moron.”
Cooper’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Donn Janes, an independent running a tea party platform in the 8th District in northwest Tennessee, said he was heartened by tea party favorite Rand Paul’s victory in a Kentucky Republican U.S. Senate primary.
But Janes took issue with Paul’s later comments about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, when he suggested the federal government shouldn’t have the power to force restaurants to serve minorities if the business owners don’t want to.
“Clearly the federal government did what was right with civil rights by stepping when the states weren’t upholding the rights of people,” Janes said.
But Janes stressed that federal government should also have to recognize and enforce state laws like the tough new immigration measure in Arizona.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, was scheduled to give the keynote address Saturday night, and a debate between Tennessee gubernatorial candidates was slated for Sunday.
Retired electrical engineer Bill Massey and a friend dressed in three-cornered hats and period clothing for the event.
“We refer to these as our ridiculous clothes,” said Massey, 66, who lives near Shelbyville. “We don’t take ourselves that seriously.”