Several hundred tea party protesters crowded Towson's Patriot Plaza on Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the nationwide movement against taxes and big government.
In a scene that was repeated in Washington and across the country, demonstrators waved bright yellow "Don't Tread On Me" flags, held up posters calling for the ouster of incumbents and inveighed against the national debt, health care reform and various Democratic legislators.
"This turnout is to let government know how we feel and hopefully promote change," said Valerie Burns of Parkville.
The crowd displayed homemade signs quoting Ronald Reagan — "Government is not the answer. It is the problem" — or bearing similar anti-establishment messages: "Vote Them All Out" and "We Support More Unemployed Government." Several held up black signs that said "November is coming."
Demonstrators were careful to move one man with an obscene sign away from TV cameras, while he protested his right to free speech.
In Washington on Thursday, thousands of demonstrators crowded the National Mall for the largest of many such rallies held across the country. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota drew roars of approval when she accused President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats of trying to take over health care, energy, financial services and other areas of the economy.
"We're on to this gangster government," she said. "I say it's time for these little piggies to go home."
In Washington, the tax code was the villain of the day. "We have got to take the country back by taking back the money they take from us," Jim Tomasik of FairTax Nation told the crowd.
Lost in the rhetoric was the fact that taxes have gone down under Obama. Congress has cut individuals' federal taxes for this year by about $173 billion, leaving Americans with a lighter load despite nearly $29 billion in increases by states. Obama plans to increase taxes on the wealthy to help pay for his health care overhaul and other programs.
Polls have estimated support for the tea party movement from a low of 18 percent to a high of 31 percent.
Steve Bailey, who co-chairs the Baltimore County chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which co-sponsored the Towson rally, said "people identify with the tea party movement because it is a microcosm of America at large."
Andrew Emerick arrived with his 7-month-old son in a stroller. Like several others in the crowd, the Perry Hall man waved the yellow flag with its Revolutionary War logo "to advocate for a peaceful revolution at the ballot box in November," he said.
"Basically, we are at the point now where we are spending my son's money and he is being taxed without representation," Emerick said. "We need to clean house, even in the local primaries."
Avery Harden of Towson seemed to offer the lone dissenting message. His sign promoted what he sees as the progress the country is making during a recession.
Many who passed by Harden shouted that he was wrong. The prevailing sentiment was anti-government and mostly anti-Democrat.
"These people are not following the Constitution and not listening to their constituents," said Paul Jennings of Timonium. "I love my country, and I hate to see it heading rapidly toward socialism."
Former Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich stumped for her husband, gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The large turnout displayed "the spirit of the times," she said.
"This gathering shows that a lot of people who were not involved are getting active," she said. "This group's concerns for fiscal responsibility and no more taxes are near and dear to Bob Ehrlich's heart."
In her address, Ehrlich said, "You don't look like an angry mob but more like concerned citizens."
In parting words that drew loud cheers, she said, "Bob Ehrlich is the only thing that stands between you and a massive tax increase next year."
Some noted that the tax protest was held outside the building where Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith had just delivered a balanced budget with no property or income tax increases, no layoffs and a 4 percent drop in spending.
"This is not just a Baltimore County protest," said Art O'Neil of Mays Chapel. "It is more broad-based. I think the county is trying to control costs, but the state, not so much. The higher up you go in government, the worse it gets."
Brian Myers, a construction worker from Havre de Grace, gave a brief, impassioned speech, urging everyone to get involved in the tea party movement.
"My pay is stolen from me every week by high taxes," Myers said. "This movement is not about Republicans or Democrats. It's about the people. We have to all get up and get involved."
Three county workers watched from the fringes of the crowd.
"These people say they want less government," said one, who declined to give her name. "But they call our office all day long wanting help."
Several challengers for office this fall attended the rally in hopes of picking up support. Chris Luciano, a Republican from Parkton who is running for the House of Delegates, said he owns a business and works two other jobs and knows how hard it is to stay afloat in what he described as a tax-and-spend climate.
Republican former state Del. Ken Holt, who is running for county executive, praised the protesters.
"Agitation is a good thing," he said. "Agitation is how this country was founded and how it operates today."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.