The voice of Mark West and the sound of static at once entered an uneasy room Thursday night. The voice came from the nation's capital, through a cellphone in the front of the room and into a bullhorn.
"This is an American issue, as each of you I'm sure can see," West, the Chattanooga Tea Party president, told a group of about 60 people in the Century Club Banquet Hall.
"This is a bully tactic. This is not a few rogue employees that have gone awry. I would venture to say this is an entire rogue agency that has gone awry. Let's just see how far this goes. ... I believe the investigators will see that the trail leads much higher up than is being led on right now."
The local tea party held its monthly meeting a week after the IRS admitted it targeted similar conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status across the country. The Chattanooga group, an inspector general found, had to answer unnecessary questions from the IRS and was subjected to "significant processing delays."
Area residents with tea party ties were there to vent about the targeted discrimination and to get updates on what the group would do next.
From Washington, D.C., West informed them about the group's 31/2-year ordeal. He said he applied in 2009 and tax-exempt status was granted by the IRS last month.
He told the group about his week in D.C, taking part in a news conference denouncing the federal government's actions, appearing on Fox News and attending meetings to discuss suing the IRS.
Before West's phone call, those in attendance were greeted by a projection on the wall.
"Welcome to the SECRET Meeting of the CHATTANOOGA TEA PARTY," the message read in black letters against a white background. "shhhhh."
Gregg Juster, who ran the meeting with West out of town, opened with a joke.
"Anybody possibly heard about what's going on with the IRS?" he asked. "Just checking the room."
Some present wondered what else the federal government may have done to stifle their power. Some wondered what the government will do next. One woman asked who will get arrested for the IRS's actions.
Juster made a comparison popular this week among pundits.
"There's a lot of old folk in here like myself," he said. "And most of us remember the Nixon years. ... I remember the Nixon Watergate. 'Nobody got hurt. Somebody just broke in.' And then, 'OK. It's a big deal. It's a big scandal.' Doesn't what's going on sound exactly like that from what you're hearing on the left?"
Contact Tyler Jett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476.