Tea Party salute to troops rallies crowd for "American exceptionalism"

Published Aug. 29, 2012

TAMPA — The revival took place in a huge white tent in the still of the hot summer with themes of salvation, good and evil. They sang songs of faith and testified Tuesday at the Tea Party Patriots' "Defending Our Defenders" rally at Liberty Plaza.

Former Navy SEALs, congressmen, state legislators and even actor Jon Voight turned out to preach "American Exceptionalism" to the partisan crowd.

They also came spreading what they said was the gospel truth that President Barack Obama was leaking sensitive wartime information, "spiking the football" and taking undue credit for killing Osama bin Laden; handcuffing American soldiers with shoddy equipment; and — literally — bowing down to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Japan.

"I'm American made, I've got American parts, I've got American faith in America's heart," sang guitar strumming Jon David Kahn. "Go on raise the flag, I've got stars in my eyes. I'm in love with her, and I won't apologize."

About 100 attendees watched a video clip with the words "Heroes don't seek credit" coinciding with Obama saying "I did" over and over in regards to the famous SEAL Team 6 operation. They heard from former Navy SEALs and parents of slain SEALs who believe Obama was responsible for their children's death.

"This administration put a target on my son's back," said Karen Vaughn of Stuart, whose son Aaron Carson Vaughn was among 38 killed when a transport helicopter was shot down on Aug. 6, 2011. "Our warriors deserve to be defended."

Before the rally, Nina Higdon, 60, a Navy mother from Clearwater, had texted her son that she was attending "a salute to our troops and since you are my favorite troop, I salute you and dedicate this event to you."

After listening to Vaughn, Higdon's eyes filled with tears. A Republican since she came to the United States as a Cuban political refugee, she said she was even more convinced that "Liberty's at stake" in this election.

In every way, the rally, like a revival, was as much about affirming attendees' already ingrained beliefs as it was about spreading a message.

"You come to keep you inspired," said Tom Scancarelli, 49, of Redington Shores, "to keep you in the fight."

Justin George can be reached at or (813) 226-3368.