Grassroots activists across the country are packing up their banners and megaphones for the National Tea Party Convention, which began in Tennessee on Thursday evening. Though the event has provoked tremendous hype and speculation, its essential details have been little discussed. Here, a succinct factual guide to the first National Tea Party Convention.
Is it actually happening?
Yes. In spite of a last-minute exodus of three sponsors and two speakers, and at least one boycott by another tea party group, the convention will begin on the evening of February 4 and wrap up the morning of February 7.
Where is it?
The Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center — which features an indoor river with its own Delta flatboat — in Nashville, TN.
Who's behind it?
The convention has been organised by the for-profit Tea Party Nation group, run by Tennessee-based lawyer Judson Phillips.
How much does it cost?
An all-access pass to the convention costs $549; an à la carte ticket to hear Sarah Palin deliver her keynote speech at Saturday's dinner banquet is $349. Prices do not include lodging.
The roster of speakers includes: Angela McGlowan, a Fox News contributor; Joseph Farah, founder of the right-wing news site World Net Daily; and Dr. Rick Scarborough, author of "Judicial Tyranny: The New Kings of America?," a book warning of the dangers of "activist" judges.
Any elected officials. Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, considered one of the Tea Party's most fervent supporters, cancelled her appearance last week, saying that participation in a for-profit event could violate House ethics rules. Fellow congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee pulled out for the same reason.
Some prominent tea partiers have also decided not to attend. Keli Carender, a blogger also known as "Liberty Belle" and one of the original Tea Party organisers, was to have spoken but decided against it owing to the "controversy."
What about Sarah Palin?
Against the advice of some, the former Alaska governor — considered by many to be the reigning queen of the movement — has confirmed she will give the keynote speech at Saturday evening's banquet, for a rumored $100,000 fee.
Who are the tea partiers?
Tea Party Nation describe themselves as united by a belief in "limited government, free speech, the 2nd Amendment, our military, secure borders and our country."
How do others describe them?
The Harvard Crimson's Raul A. Carillo described them as an "eclectic mix of Ron Paul libertarians" and "George W. Bush social conservatives" who are "predominantly white and above age 50," and have a common "dislike of President Obama, the debt, future tax increases, and the bank bailout."
What will the tea partiers be talking about?
Topics to be discussed during the two-day conference include: "Correlations between the current Administration and Marxist Dictators of Latin America;" "5 Easy Fixes to the High Cost of Mass Immigration;" "Defeating Liberalism via the Primary Process;" and "Why Christians Must Engage."
What will they do in their down time?
Delegates will be entertained by musicians Lisa Mei and Ray Stevens, will be able to buy "bejeweled tea bags costing $89" from co-sponsor Tea Party Emporium, and will feast on lobster and steak during the keynote dinner.
Can Tea Partiers wear their jeans?
"Business attire is required for the banquet on Saturday evening. Casual attire is appropriate for the rest of the convention," according to the event's website.
What is the point of all this?
According to the official website, the convention is "aimed at bringing the Tea Party Movement leaders together from around the nation for the purpose of networking and supporting" shared goals. Or, in the words of one conservative blogger, it is a "scammy" attempt by the organizers to profit from the "hard work" of genuine activists.
If it is a "scam", who profits?
Good question. Judson Phillips has apparently boasted he would "make a million" from the Tea Partiers, but has since insisted that all profits from this event would go to a political fund to support conservative candidates. Keynote speaker Palin has said her speaking fee will "go right back to the cause" rather than into her pocket.
Where can I keep up with what's going on?
Despite early reports of a media blackout, conference organisers have credentialed Fox News, CNN, Reuters and Pajamas Media to cover "select parts" of the convention. Palin's address will be broadcast live at 9pm on Fox News.
Can I still go?
Unfortunately, all of the $549 all access tickets are sold out. If you have $349 to spare, you can still attend Saturday night's banquet and hear Sarah Palin's keynote speech in person.