An animated Perry told the crowd at Austin City Hall -- one of three tea parties he was attending across the state -- that officials in Washington have abandoned the country's founding principles of limited government. He said the federal government is strangling Americans with taxation, spending and debt.
Perry repeated his running theme that Texas' economy is in relatively good shape compared with other states and with the "federal budget mess." Many in the crowd held signs deriding President Barack Obama and the $786 billion federal economic stimulus package.
Later, answering news reporters' questions, Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that.
"There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."
Perry is running for re-election against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a fellow Republican. His anti-Washington remarks have become more strident the past few weeks as that 2010 race gets going and since Perry rejected $550 million in federal economic stimulus money slated to help Texas' unemployment trust fund.
Perry said the stimulus money would come with strings attached that would leave Texas paying the bill once the federal money ran out.
He said he believes he could be at the center of a national movement that is coordinated and focused in its opposition to the actions of the federal government.
"It's a very organic thing," he said. "It is a very powerful moment, I think, in American history."
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, also Republicans, have been outspoken against the federal economic stimulus spending and were supportive of tea parties in their states.
The protests, organized throughout the country by conservative groups and talk show hosts, were held on the federal income tax deadline day to imitate the original Boston Tea Party of American revolutionary times.
FOX News' Glenn Beck broadcast live in San Antonio from outside the Alamo, a legendary symbol of Texas independence. Park police estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people packed into the small plaza, many waving signs or carrying little yellow flags that read, "Don't tread on me." A local barbecue chain gave away free cups of iced tea.
Rocker Ted Nugent performed a shredder guitar version of the national anthem, but unlike some rallies elsewhere, San Antonio organizers forbade politicians from speaking.
"They are welcome to come and listen to us, for a change," they said in their statement.
Mike Smart, a 51-year-old oil field worker from West Texas, held up a white handwritten sign that said, "I'll keep my freedom, my $ and my guns. You keep the change."
"I just want the government to stay out of my way. I won't get in their way if they don't get in mine," said Smart, who described himself as conservative but not a Republican.
Government spending, going back multiple administrations, has reached a boiling point with the latest rounds of stimulus spending, he said. While the Bush administration spent heavily before he left office, the Obama administration has fast-tracked big spending, he said.
"Ol' George was going to the same destination. He just didn't want to tell anyone," said Smart.
Another protester, 38-year-old Melva Fried, said the forced ouster of General Motors Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner was the last straw for her -- a symbol the federal government was moving toward socialism.
"When a president can fire the head of a company, that's too much," she said, holding a sign that read "Stop Rewarding Failure."
The sales associate, who considers herself a disaffected Republican, said she doesn't believe the government should bail anyone out, including banks and individual homeowners.
The crowd at the Austin tea party appeared decidedly anti-Democrat. Many of the speakers were Republicans and Libertarians.
One placard said, "Stop Obama's Socialism." Another read, "Some Pirates Are in America," and it showed photographs of Obama, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wearing pirate hats.
Rebecca Knowlton, 45, of Smithville, said she took the day off of home-schooling her three children and brought them to the rally to teach them about civic duty. She felt camaraderie at the demonstration.
"The movement is growing stronger," she said. "You're not alone."