It was Tax Day in the Buckeye State, America's most consistent political barometer. A crowd of around 4000 protesters packed the Ohio Statehouse lawn. Is the self-proclaimed Tea Party movement a mere Republican Party-manufactured astro-turf organization or an authentic and autonomous grassroots populist crusade?

Well, they appear to be neither and both. The people are angry in the heartland and the thunder is almost all on the right.

There were the traditional April 15th anti-taxers and Libertarians and the usual rhetoric from the podium that we're being taxed to death. The "death tax" is emerging as a key issue in Ohio elections this year. Steve Stivers, Republican candidate for Congress in the 15th district has been hammering the issue hard in his race against Democratic Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy. Speakers at the podium solicited signatures for a petition drive to outlaw Ohio's "death tax" or, as the state calls it, estate tax.

But hatred of taxes was not the dominant theme. An obsession with "Socialism" and Obama's role in promoting it was even more prominent. As one speaker shouted, "If you can't understand our Constitution, then maybe you just might be a Socialist."

T-shirts and handwritten signs proclaimed "Stop Socialism" and "Socialism is Tyranny." Although when a few real Socialists showed up with signs, one saying "Obama's not s Socialist, I Am," the tea-baggers seemed perplexed. It's a bit odd that Obama's policies, essentially a continuation of Bush policies of taxing working people and giving their money to rich bankers, is mistaken for socialism. Historically, socialism meant taking money from the rich and giving it to working people.

One sign noted that "Bailouts for capitalists is NOT Socialism." The other side countered with a sign picturing Castro, claiming that "Obamacare" is "Endorsed by Communist Dictator." A doctor on the podium warned of the coming apocalypse in health care as all the doctors quit because they can't make a living under Obama's health plan.

The virtually all-white crowd claimed in many signs that they weren't racist. The only Latino I saw in the audience held a sign that said "Media Look at Me I am Hispanic!" A counter-demonstrator joked that it was probably one of Jeb Bush's kids. The only black woman I saw there proved to be a dynamic speaker from the stage. Her message was clear: Tea Party people need to become Republican precinct captains.

So while the crowd was indeed angry, militant, and eclectic in its demands, most of the people on stage seemed to be Republican Party operatives. While no major Republican candidates spoke a this Tea Party event, their campaign workers were everywhere – promoting Pat Tiberi for Congress in the12th, Stivers in the 15th, Kasich for Governor, and numerous other offices at the state and local level.

Two protesters held a sign begging for the U.S. to default on Chinese loans. Other issues were sprinkled throughout the crowd, including a pitch that America should be the "dominant military superpower," attacks on "cap and trade" and rejection of global warming, mixed in with an assortment of pro-God, pro-guns, and anti-abortion sentiments.

The vigilante Oathkeepers were there, claiming that those who don't share their view of the Constitution must be socialist or traitors. It appeared there were a few neo-Nazi and white supremacist infiltrators. But the latter group was not flying its own flag or showing its colors.

A small group of counter-protesting Mad Hatters openly mocked the Tea Party people with their own Alice in Wonderland tea party, complete with rabbit-eared children. However, once they tumbled through the looking glass into the Tea Party, the Mad Hatters were hard to distinguish from other costumed groups of tea baggers, some wearing "Don't Tread on Me" flags as capes.

That same night, Chip Berlet, one of the nation's leading experts on right-wing movements, spoke at a Democratic Socialists event in the OSU campus area. He admitted that he was "scared" by what was happening not only in the Tea Party movement, but with the recent rise of the right-wing religious militias as well.

Chip Berlet at OSU

He argued that the narratives put forward by the Tea Party are rooted in both right-wing theology and the free enterprise Austrian school of economics, which includes von Hayek and von Mises. In Berlet's analysis, the Democratic Party is not taking seriously enough the anger displayed by the Tea Party movement. While he argued that it started out as a Republican Party astro-turf project, but has grown into an uncontrollable "tornado," and we don't know what direction it's headed.

He explained to his audience that the tornado might move right, it might move left, it might suddenly disappear, but the Democrats appear unable to plan for the contingency if it moves directly against them.

Berlet advised those present to take seriously the anger of the people in the Tea Party movement instead of denouncing them as crazy or "extremist" elements. Many people have legitimate grievances that need to be dealt with through policies that provide relief from the Great Recession.

If I was a betting man, I would bet that the tornado will head to the right and sweep the cautious pro-war corporate Democrats from their path. The Tea Party on Tax Day was the main event, the only real game in town.

Bob Fitrakis is the Editor of