POLITICS

Tea Bag Terror: Protests Causing Scares, Evacuations At Congressional Offices

05/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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A recent email to hundreds of thousands of conservatives exhorted them to "Send a Tea Bag to Washington, D.C. for $1." Other activists have organized local efforts to mail tea bags to the offices of their members of Congress.

It's all part of the anti-Obama, anti-tax "tea party" movement, backed aggressively by corporate-funded "astroturf" organizations like FreedomWorks. But now one of their symbolic protests is drawing attention for the wrong reasons.

Local reports indicate that the practice of mailing actual tea bags to legislators has repeatedly raised security concerns, and sometimes forced the evacuation of congressional offices in anthrax-like scares.

Brian Sperry, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, told the Salt Lake (Utah) Tribune that tea bags in the mail "cause us some concern. ... They could pose a problem if the tea bag is mailed in a regular envelope instead of a padded bag."

The Chicago Tribune reports:

In Boulder, Colo., the district office of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis recently called for help after a lumpy white envelope with no return address arrived in the mail. The Boulder County Hazardous Materials Response Team found a tea bag and a note reading "We the People, 1773."

Earlier this month in Manchester, N.H., a hazmat team descended on the office of U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter after employees opened an envelope marked "tax protest" and found a bunch of tea leaves.

And two days later, the office of Rep. George Radanovich in Modesto, Calif., was evacuated "after an intern in the mailroom came upon a suspicious package that was later found to contain tea." A haz-mat team and the FBI were were called in.

About 20 people from the building, including those in the congressman's office and two mortgage firms, were evacuated as a precaution.

Modesto Fire Battalion Chief Rich Sasser said the envelope held a granular substance. It did not have a return address.

About 3 p.m., the Stanislaus County Hazardous Materials Response Team went into the office. Sasser said their monitors showed there was nothing dangerous, so the hazmat team double-bagged the sealed envelope and turned it over to the FBI.

"We can't control who mails what to wherever," Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a Capitol Police spokeswoman, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "At all times, [United States Capitol Police] will investigate and take the appropriate police action in response to any calls to us for any suspicious items that congressional staff might be concerned about."

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