A conglomeration of many small groups have joined forces in the USA to oppose President Obama. The Tea Party movement considers him a socialist who wants to steal the national wealth. Their patron saint is Sarah Palin. But the party isn’t immune to criticism from Republicans.

They are the law-abiding conspirators dedicated to saving America. They believe in their God-given freedom, low taxes, a weak central government, a strong military and their right to bear arms. The corrupt are those in Washington who have divorced themselves from the will of the people, Republicans as well as Democrats are the enemy. Barack Obama is a socialist, out to steal the American wealth, and is a national disgrace. Sarah Palin is the guardian angel of their movement.

1,100 members of the “Tea Party Nation” will pay to attend a gathering Saturday evening in a Nashville hotel in order to honor the former Alaskan governor and onetime Republican candidate for vice president and hear her speak. One may be reasonably certain that those uninvited members of the political establishment across the USA will be respectfully listening to see what these conspirators are up to.

According to Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation and organizer of the conference, the three-day meeting is to be a forum for the exchange of ideas for networking. “We hope activists will meet here to learn the proven techniques of mobilization,” Phillips explained to Fox News, the cable network with strong sympathies for the movement ever since its start about a year ago.

Asked about anger over Sarah Palin’s $100,000 honorarium and the entrance fee for “delegates” ($549 plus travel and hotel costs), Phillips countered that he didn’t want to create any losses. Anything in excess of outlays will be plowed back into the movement, he said.

As far as Palin’s honorarium was concerned, he said he could not openly discuss that issue under conditions of her contract. The star of the meeting herself, having recently earned millions from the sale of her autobiography, assured everyone she would not profit from her appearance and that all proceeds would “directly benefit the cause.”

Not everyone is eager to believe that. Controversy has been going on for weeks with threats of lawsuits, threats to boycott the meeting and rifts among members. The volunteer activists have no official legitimacy and no one appointed Judson Phillips leader over the dozens of splinter groups that make up the Tea Party movement. “If you ask a thousand Tea Party members what the movement is all about, you’ll get a thousand different answers,” says Mark Williams, radio talk show host and head of the “Tea Party Express” movement. He added that waving the Stars and Stripes and protesting against the “galloping socialist agenda” were the only things unifying them.

Two groups, the American Liberty Alliance and the National Precinct Alliance, both announced they would not attend because the conference was too much like a Republican fundraiser and would be just a waste of effort and money. Michelle Bachmann and Marsha Blackburn, two Republican members of Congress both very popular with Tea Partiers, cancelled at the last minute, saying congressional ethics rules prevented them from appearing at fundraising events.

The acronym Tea stands for “taxed enough already” and fits in well with the iconic 1773 Boston Tea Party protest where colonists dumped a load of tea taxed by British authorities into Boston Harbor; it was the beginning of the end of British rule over the American colonies.

The modern Tea Party movement wants to recapture that heady freedom of the Declaration of Independence days. It is made up of honestly disappointed and angry Republicans and a few Democrats who see their country being run into the ground and they want to protest. They’re almost all white and most are old. They aren’t super-rich, or else a billionaire would have long since become its leader as Ross Perot did with a similar protest movement in 1992.

That may still happen if Tea Party activists are successful in what they have planned for election year 2010: exerting right-wing anger and pressure on politicians, especially Republicans. This year, not even John McCain is assured reelection to his Senate seat; the Tea Party sees McCain as part of America’s problem, not as a solution.

Whether the Tea Party is able to concentrate its power and frighten the Washington establishment is still an open question. At the convention’s opening, observers in Nashville were shocked that the proceedings began without singing the national anthem or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, as all American school students do every morning. And there wasn’t a single American flag visible in the entire hotel. The organizers were quick to say that they were still learning and that those were amateur’s mistakes. Palin consoled them by remarking, “It’s in the nature of popular movements to be loud and chaotic.” But this movement has more in mind than just a perfectly planned party.