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Ron Paul and his supporters: Lots of energy, but where is it taking them?

Rep. Ron Paul
Rep. Ron Paul

Never mind that it was portrayed by news reports as the coda to a failed presidential bid, Ron Paul's Rally for the Republic this week in Minneapolis was conceived as the kickoff of a political grassroots movement that would harness the energy that made the Texas Republican's dark horse candidacy a viral success.

Let the GOP have the White House, Paul's radical right followers explained at the Rally's main, day-long Target Center event, which concluded last night. Paul's Campaign for Liberty would win power by taking chat rooms and county boards by storm.

Yet even after 10 hours of cheering and speechifying, Paul's followers seemed divided as to the new movement's ultimate goal: Take back the GOP, as placards lofted at the rally vowed, or launch a viable, conservative, third national party.

"Very simply, it's a continuation of something that was started in the primary race for president," the 10-term congressman explained as the rally got underway. "There was so much momentum and energy."

Tucker Carlson, emcee
Pushing partisanship in cable news to a new level, MSNBC Senior Campaign Correspondent Tucker Carlson emceed the event. Carlson became a supporter after touring Nevada with Paul for a magazine article. "I told him I didn't agree with everything in his platform," Carlson recalled. "And he had a remarkable reaction: He didn't care."

Nor does Paul's political machine seem terribly concerned with courting the mainstream media. Although journalists were in attendance from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, the Orange County Register, NBC, the New Yorker, and the Economist, Paul's small staff appeared most responsive to dozens of citizen journalists covering the event for alternative publications ranging from Breakingthematrix.com to Liberty Watch.

Fox News received frequent drubbing in the video montages broadcast from the stage between speakers. A Fox News crew in the audience seemed oblivious to passersby who stopped to glower.

Unlike political confabs of years past, it was nearly impossible to tell reporters from old-school news outlets from the citizen journalists using cutting-edge technology to stream the event to countless niche audiences. One member of the ersatz press corps wore knee-length black leather moccasins, a matching vest and a mesh pouch containing two Jack Russell terriers.

Indeed, to judge by the kaleidoscope of costumes on display, some of those audiences are very, very select. At one point, a man in a flannel shirt and a fuzzy Santa hat edged past a woman wearing a T-shirt proclaiming, "smoking is healthier than fascism." Nearby was a man dressed as Daniel Boone.

Gold standard T-shirts
Before Jesse Ventura brought down the house, speaker after speaker garnered the most thunderous applause by decrying the illegitimacy of the Federal Reserve Bank. "It's not federal and there is no reserve," bellowed Conservative Caucus Chairman Howard Phillips. Many people wore T-shirts blasting the United States for abandoning the gold standard.

Ventura may have set the crowd afire, but the most amusing speaker of the day was probably presidential historian Doug Wead, who told a funny story about trying to steal some paper napkins from a party at the Reagan residence in case Ron ever made it big, and then confessed that he didn't think he'd be able to find his car in the parking ramp even though a remote on his keychain could make it honk. "My plan tonight is just to stay here as late as possible," he quipped.

With the arena darkened, will Paul's pockets of dedicated support that flourished largely online coalesce into an effective movement? That was up to the grass roots, Paul said: "I don't foresee giving any marching orders. It's not in my nature to do so."

Beth Hawkins, a former reporter and editor for City Pages, writes about criminal justice, schools and other topics.

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