WASHINGTON -- Flags displaying the message "Don't tread on me" mingled with flags from virtually every state in the union -- Georgia and Tennessee included -- as tens of thousands marched Saturday to the Capitol building to protest federal spending.
"I've never done anything like this before," said Tom Wilk, of Soddy-Daisy, on of several dozen Chattanooga-area residents who rode to the nation's capital on a bus to take part in the protest. "It's just amazing to be around so many people that agree with me on a lot of important subjects."
Protesters marched midmorning down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, chanting slogans such as "kill the bill" in reference to the health care reform bills in Congress.
Another chant, "You lie!" repeated what U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said during President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night. Rep. Wilson has apologized for that interruption, but many signs Saturday contended that "Joe was right."
At a rally before the march, Paul and Sally McCoy, of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., stood underneath a large Tennessee flag.
"It's about time something happened," Mr. McCoy said. "Throw those bums out."
As protesters marched, some jeered a group of counter-protesters standing along the sidewalk calling themselves Billionaires for Wealthcare. The group, dressed in tuxedoes and evening gowns, sarcastically cheered for "less health, more wealth."
A member of the group, Andrew Boyd, who also called himself Phil T. Rich, said it was more interesting to do a satirical style of protest rather than a straightforward one. Mr. Boyd said the characters he and others were portraying were meant to be members of the boards of major insurance companies.
"We're here to thank the teabaggers that are here that are helping us save those profits," he said, in-character. "We love denying claims."
Estimates varied as to just how many protesters attended Saturday's event, which ended with several hours of speeches, songs and recorded messages on the lawn outside the Capitol building. A spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department said officials don't give out crowd estimates, but speakers at the protest said the number was more than 1 million.
Sherre Bales, of Chattanooga, a member of the Chattanooga Tea Party protest group, said she hoped the turnout sends a message about health care and deficit spending.
"I hope that Congress will see there are a lot of grass-roots people out here," she said. "I just want to be heard."
The group from the Chattanooga area will return by bus this evening. The group has been in Washington since Friday, and Saturday night held a counterprotest of its own at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Bill Alford, a resident of Polk County but a member of the McMinn County Tea Party group, said he was "truly amazed" at the number of people who came to the Capitol. He also said he was glad the protest was, for the most part, orderly.
"We feel our country is moving toward socialism," he said. "We care about our country. We're not terrorists."
Some slogans seen on signs at Saturday's rally at the U.S. Capitol:
* "I'll pay taxes again when you show your birth certificate"
* "No you can't!"
* "Where is McCarthy when you need him?"
* "Don't make me come back here with my militia"
* "If you think health care is expensive now, wait until it's free"
* "Come and take it" (underneath a picture of an assault rifle)