Holding a burned and tattered American flag, former-U.S. Rep. Ron Marlenee spoke softly into a microphone before large tea party crowd gathered at the Gallatin County Courthouse, telling them he had saved the flag from Marxist protesters.

"There are people willing to burn the flag and the Constitution," Marlenee, 74, told the crowd basking under a noontime sun. "We've got to stop them."

At Bozeman's second Tax Day Tea Party protest, a diverse swath of American political thought was on display. While some charged that the income tax was illegal or that the military was erecting concentration camps across the country, others made more modest calls for smaller government and lower taxes.

But everyone seemed to agree that one way or another, the United States government had run afoul of the Constitution meant to control it, with the recently passed health-care overhaul serving as a fitting example.

"It's not about health care at all," Bozeman Tea Party Chairman Ken Champion told the crowd about the bill. "This bill is really about manipulation and control. They want to control you, your spouse, your parents, what kind of health care you can buy, what kind of benefits you have. Define who lives and who dies."

The rally - held the same day federal taxes had to be filed - began at 11 a.m. at the Bozeman Public Library. About 400 people were counted marching from the library, although organizers said many more joined the crowd as it made its way down Main Street.

The procession was led by Ernie ter Telgte, dressed in Revolution-era garb and toting an antique gun over his shoulder. People carried signs both grave and playful, typical of the tea party marches that are becoming a mainstay in American politics.

"Why can't Johnny and Max do the math?" asked one sign, referring to Montana's Democratic U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus. "Our budget is -0."

"Dumb and dumber," read another sign, accompanied with a picture of President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Since tea party rallies were first held here and elsewhere last April 15, they have drawn strong reactions from critics and supporters.

The critics argue the protesters are misguided by conservative cable-news pundits or complain that the rallies only began after President Barack Obama took office. But many participants say the rallies give them a unified voice for their worries and frustrations about the current course of the nation.

Many of the rally's speakers called for cuts to state and federal budgets.

Taking a crack at current efforts to trim the government budgets, Townsend's Tim Ravndal took a small chisel to a log meant to represent the budget. He then fired up a chain saw and showed the crowd what he wanted done. The group cheered in approval.

Organizer Henry Kriegel, who estimated the crowd topped out at between 500 and 600 people, said that while many different viewpoints were shared at the rally, everyone agreed that government spending and regulations were out of control.

"They've belittled us, called us names. Homeland Security defined us all as ‘right-wing extremists,'" Kriegel said to the crowd. "What we are is a voluntary army of peaceful revolutionaries."

Daniel Person can be reached at dperson@dailychronicle.com or 582-2665.