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Amid a cluster of nearly 50 local Tea Partyers holding handwritten signs emblazoned with anti-income tax and Libertarian slogans Tuesday, Barry Barsoumian held a sheet of white posterboard bearing a simple question in black marker: "Is this still America?"
Barsoumian, 54, came to the United States in 1977. His family was fleeing Armenia, at the time part of the Soviet Union.
"My father brought me to this country, because he was very anti-communist," Barsoumian said Tuesday at a local Tea Party rally in front of the Chattanooga branch of the Internal Revenue Service on Uptain Road.
The local group was raising its voice against the federal agency's targeting of right-leaning groups seeking a particular kind of nonprofit status.
Barsoumian said he attended Tuesday because he is concerned about the IRS scrutiny and the general direction of the country.
"I want to continue this reputation for being the greatest nation in the world ... people should not fear the government," he said.
According to an inspector general's report, the IRS delayed the local group's tax-exempt status request by 3 1/2 years, and asked inappropriate questions in the process.
Gregg Juster, vice president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, said members rallied to keep the issue in the public eye.
"This isn't a Tea Party issue. This is an American citizen issue," Juster said. "It's about the federal government using a three-letter agency against political opponents."
Tea Party members generally support reforming the income tax code, and some favor abolishing the IRS.
"Maybe this is the way the tax code gets changed," Juster said.
President Barack Obama announced the retirement of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller last week, and so far no evidence has directly connected the Obama administration to the IRS targeting of conservative groups.
Juster said Tuesday that members were not there rallying against local IRS employees, or even Obama.
"It's not about Obama. It's about an abuse of power in the federal government," Juster said. "We will work to keep this going."
Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...
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