Faces of the Tea Party: Meet the Activists Behind the Conservative Surge

From conservative talk show hosts and small business owners to an ex-Reagan aide and former Delta flight attendant, the members of the Tea Party coalition are a mixed group of activists who share the same political battle cry: smaller government and less spending. But each has a unique story. FoxNews.com spent time with the activists aboard the Tea Party Express, a cross-country bus tour that's on its third run, to profile some of the faces behind the movement. 

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    Debbie Lee

    Debbie Lee, of Phoenix, was celebrating her birthday with friends when she learned that her son, Marc, was the first Navy SEAL to be killed in Iraq in 2006.  Now, four years later, Lee is a familiar face at Tea Party rallies, speaking before crowds about the sacrifices of military families.  Lee said her son's death inspired her to join the movement, which she described as a galvanizing force in giving voice to Americans "who have never before attended political rallies." 
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    Gary Dunn

    Gary Dunn, also known as "Doctor Zoo," is an artist from northern California and longtime conservative activist. He now works as an advance coordinator and driver for the Tea Party Express, shuttling guest speakers to and from the airport.  Dunn joined the Move America Forward PAC in 2005, a conservative political action group based in California that stemmed from the campaign to recall ex-California Gov. Gray Davis.  Dunn has been an outspoken critic of Cindy Sheehan, the high-profile anti-war activist whose son, Specialist Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq in 2004.
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    Tiffiny Ruegner

    Tiffiny Ruegner, a 34-year-old massage therapist from Sacramento, Calif., was in dire financial straits in the summer of 2009 when she lost 90 percent of her clientele because of a weakened economy, she said.  So she decided to try something new. Ruegner, a single mother frustrated with the nation's unemployment rate and "bigger government," first joined the Tea Party movement as a driver, shuttling members to and from rallies.  "I'm tired of government intruding in Americans' personal lives," she said. "Sixty percent of our paychecks actually go to taxes -- hidden taxes -- like your water bill." But Ruegner said she has no problem with a government hand when it comes to social issues, like abortion. "I'm a pro-lifer," she said, "and the government shouldn't take away personal responsibility."
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    Kevin Jackson

    Kevin Jackson, a former management consultant and author of "The Big Black Lie," started with the Tea Party movement as the emcee for the St. Louis Tea Party rally last April on Tax Day.  "I ... just got energized by that many people who were willing to stand up for everything that was going on in government. Since then, I've been in about 80," he said.  Jackson said he's troubled by the gap between the lifestyles of lawmakers and those of the constituents they serve. "These are people who are flying around in jets, riding around in limos," Jackson said of Washington's lawmakers. "Their standard of living has gone up substantially and the people they serve are still out of jobs." As for the future of the Tea Party,  he said he hopes it has a good run.  "Is it gonna fizzle at some point? Perhaps," Jackson said. "But I don't see that happening any time soon."
    Courtesy of Kevin Jackson
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    Sal Russo

    Sal Russo, chief strategist of the Tea Party Express, first dipped his toe into politics at age 18 when he dropped out of college to work as a personal aide for Ronald Reagan, who was California's governor at the time.  Russo, 63, is the co-founder of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, which is funding the 42-city bus tour, and has worked as a Republican consultant for over 40 years.  "When I started working for Ronald Reagan, we had one police guy and me," he said. "It's mind-boggling to think that I was providing security to him." He says the Tea Party rallies remind him of the "Reagan crowds," but added: "This is a movement, not a party."
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    Amy Kremer

    A former Delta Airlines flight attendant, Amy Kremer was one of the first organizers of the national Tea Party movement.  The day after CNBC's Rick Santelli famously called for a new Tea Party on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange last February, Kremer, along with 22 others, used Twitter to organize the first round of Tea Parties. They drew dozens of people for the winter rallies, and it grew from there.  "I was just a mom tired of seeing what was going on with our government and out-of-control spending," said Kremer, 39, of Atlanta, Ga. "I decided to get off my couch and get engaged."
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    Lloyd Marcus

    A career jazz singer and songwriter, Lloyd Marcus is known for entertaining Tea Party crowds with his anti-President Obama lyrics set to the tune of "New York, New York."  Marcus, who grew up in the Baltimore projects, proudly says he's been a conservative since he was a kid.  "I saw what liberalism and cradle-to-grave government does to people. That shaped my conservative values," he said, recalling his childhood.  Marcus has been in the music industry since 1992, but his Tea Party involvement has given him more of a platform than his records ever did.  "I never thought that my political songs would be the songs to launch me worldwide," he said.
    Courtesy of Lloyd Marcus
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    Joe Wierzbicki

    Joe Wierzbicki, one of the founding members of Tea Party Express, said he became a conservative at a very young age.  Wierzbicki, of Brighton, Mich., has had a hand in a number of conservative and Republican campaigns over the past 15 years. He said he, too, became inspired to join the Tea Party movement by Santelli's call to action last February. Santelli was the first person to crystallize what everyone was feeling, but not saying, Wierzbicki said. 
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