With clipboard in hand and “don’t tread on me” rattlesnake earrings dangling, Jenny Beth Martin, the woman sometimes described as the tea party’s den mother, stood guard over the microphone at a Capitol Hill protest of the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups.
Lawmakers sweltered in a long line waiting to take the stage earlier this summer before a crowd of roughly 10,000 and a live Web audience. It was up to Mrs. Martin to decide who would get a turn.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a tea-party favorite, got two minutes. Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, after shedding his dark suit jacket and waiting half an hour, told Mrs. Martin he needed to vote on the House floor soon. “I’m doing the best I can,” she replied. Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas showed up without an invitation—and didn’t make the cut.
After a tough 2012 election season, the tea-party movement is on the rebound. Mrs. Martin, head of the Tea Party Patriots, is riding a revival of interest sparked by controversy over the IRS’s much-publicized targeting of conservative groups. She says the Patriots, the tea party’s largest umbrella group, suffered because of the IRS’s refusal to grant it tax-exempt status but now is benefiting from the backlash. Her group’s monthly donations, she says, have tripled recently, and its staff has doubled.
The uproar has revived media attention and renewed the intensity of many tea-party supporters. Just last week, Mrs. Martin says, the Patriots received a new letter from the IRS asking for additional information about the group’s activities, including copies of all direct-mail solicitations and telemarketing scripts before the 2012 election and any advertising materials in 2013. “This is beyond anger and frustration,” she says.
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