Illustration by Dave Neeson

DEMOCRATS MAY currently hold a majority in Salem and across the country—but any Oregonian prone to liberal complacency would snap out of it after five minutes at the Defending the American Dream Summit held in the state capital late last week.

"I'm suffering under a very severe handicap," conservative radio host Lars Larson told the crowd of 400 mostly retired right-wingers during opening remarks at the Salem Convention Center on Friday, May 29. "I'm a white male.

"If only my father had had the smarts to marry a Latino woman," Larson continued over thunderous applause, referring to recent Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. "[As it stands] I know I could never be a Supreme Court judge."

Larson broadcast his show on KXL from the lobby of the conference all day, and his speech followed appearances by Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher and even Grover Norquist, the principle architect of former President George W. Bush's tax cuts who once famously called for government to be made so small he could "drown it in a bathtub."

Norquist attacked liberals for pushing "toilets too small to flush completely" and "cars too small for us to get our families into," before describing Republicans who raise taxes as "rat heads in a Coke bottle," because "they do long-term damage to the brand."

The Oregon chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which ran the infamous anti-tax teabagging parties in April, organized the conference. Oregon AFP has been around since September 2007 and now has 13,000 members in 24 chapters across the state. It advertised the conference with an image of former President Ronald Reagan standing in front of some rippling stars and stripes. A video played in between the introductory speakers, juxtaposing images of former Vice President Al Gore, a polar bear, and the phrases "S.O.S" and "Global Warming Alarmist" in bright red letters.

Attendees, including the Mercury, paid $35 a ticket for educational seminars on a variety of "grassroots organizing" topics. These included: online activism ("people in their pajamas sitting at home eating Cheetos can have as much power as a reporter from a newspaper," said Rachel Alexander from blog intellectualconservative.com); earned media ("write the title on your media alert how you hope it's going to be presented in the newspaper," said Shelley Tidmore from the Leadership Institute in Virginia); persuasive debate ("the odds are, they're going to lose their cool, and as soon as they do, you've won," said Oregon AFP Director of Grassroots Development Richard Burke); and lastly for would-be Bill Sizemores, "using the initiative system in your town" ("100 years after it was created by progressives as the only way to change conservative government, it's the progressives who are trying to shut down the initiative process in Oregon because they're threatened by it," said attorney Eric Winters).

The Mercury observed two seniors napping in the back of two separate classes, but for the most part, attendees were switched on and hungry to acquire new rabble-rousing skills. Adella Robison, who writes for Resistnet.com, was thrilled to have both Larson and Wurzelbacher sign the back of her "TEA—Taxed Enough Already" T-shirt in the same morning.

"I'm a cranberry farmer from the Oregon coast," Robison told the Mercury. "I have a lot of liberal friends and I want them to realize I'm against the socialist agenda. They're Democrats but they don't realize what's going on. It's been hijacked."

Robison's primary concern was "high taxes" in Oregon, because she had to borrow to pay hers in April. "I've never been political until six months ago," she said. "But then I said I've got to do something. They take our money and they give it to these druggies, and I think, that's my money."

AFP Oregon Director Jeff Kropf distributed awards as attendees digested a low-cholesterol lunch of grilled chicken and angel hair with pesto. Awards included "Best New Chapter," which went to Baker City chapter organizer Kyle Knight, 17. Knight acknowledged, dressed in a suit and tie with his hair neatly parted, that "we need to do more" to attract people of his demographic to the conservative movement in Oregon. Knight was nevertheless proud of drawing 35 attendees to his chapter's first meeting recently.

"I've been working since I was 14," he said, when asked what drew him to the organization. "I've been contributing to Social Security, but I realized I won't be able to retire as soon as my parents can."

At 3 pm, the attendees boarded buses for a rally on the steps of the capitol building. They may have looked a little old to be "the inheritors of the sons of liberty," as FreedomWorks Director Russ Walker described them earlier, but they sure as hell weren't going to give up a scrap of anyone else's inheritance without a fight.

Three days later, on June 1, Lindsey Roeder, the wife of a man suspected of fatally shooting an abortion doctor in Kansas over the weekend, told the Associated Press that his family life began unraveling when he got involved with anti-government groups.

"The anti-tax stuff came first," she reportedly said. "And then it grew and grew."