Early estimates for the Charleston Tea Party at the Old Customs House downtown are between 2,000 and 2,500 and I have to say – what an encouraging event. The crowd was exactly what you might expect: defined overall by anti-Obama sentiment, featuring plenty of Fair Tax supporters, Glenn Beck’s “9/12 Project” members, Ron Paul folks, Christians, veterans, rich, poor, middle class and then some.

While there was plenty of applause for “the troops,” the event wasn’t militaristic, and was miles away from the war rally we saw at last year’s Republican National Convention. The crowd was a hodge-podge of the grassroots “Right” the Republican/talk radio echo chamber has created — complete with all their predictable catchphrases (whatever happened to “drill, baby, drill?”) – and independent-minded citizens who just genuinely seemed ticked off about massive spending. During a conversation with one of the local Campaign for Liberty volunteers, random attendees kept interrupting our conversation to sign C4L’s “Audit the Fed” petition. These weren’t Ron Paul people, per se – they just thought auditing the Fed sounded like a damn good idea.

Senator Jim DeMint and Gov. Mark Sanford gave brief speeches, followed by numerous very short speeches from various individuals and organization representatives. While there was an emphasis on Obama-bashing, there was no praise for Republicans either, something I believed would be integral to the credibility of the event.

Yes, FOX News jumped on board to provide massive coverage of the tea parties – after earlier tea parties showed promise – and Sean Hannity, The Heritage Foundation and others have tried to make this populist Right event fit nicely into their own neoconservative narratives.

But judging by Charleston’s example, today’s tea parties were no Republican National Convention — they were a grassroots, national convention of conservative-minded folks who might happen to be Republican. Conservatism Inc. did not control this event — conservatives did. Not to mention plenty of libertarians, who unlike a prior convention, were welcomed, embraced and even set the tone, not summarily shown the door.