In 1969, Chris Cassone was a self-professed "anti-war hippie" who joined 600,000 fellow anti-war protesters marching on Washington.
In 2010, Cassone once again found himself in the nation's capital among throngs of protesters. But this time he was on stage with a guitar, singing to a crowd of more than a million Tea Party activists and urging them to "take our country back."
That's the title of Cassone's recently-released book, which follows his early involvement in the nascent Tea Party and the formative experiences that led to his switch in political philosophy.
Of course, rarely do such changes happen instantly, and Cassone describes liberal friends who were "aghast" at his changing views.
"I realized I was a different person than I was in 1969 when I was a liberal marching on Washington and getting tear gassed," Cassone said. Among old friends, he said, "I was almost like a spy behind enemy lines."
Cassone chalks his left-leaning early years up to immaturity and ignorance, but points to moments in time he'd later remember as he reconsidered his world view. Driving a cab in New York City in 1970, listening to conservative radio host Bob Grant almost two decades before Rush Limbaugh would popularize the format. Walking through Port Chester as a child, asking his father about war hero William James, who was disfigured after severe wounds suffered in the Battle of the Bulge.
"I said, 'Dad, what's the matter with him?'" Cassone recalled. "And my father told me to always respect Mr. James...he's a war hero."
Long-time Port Chester residents will be familiar with James from the memorial park dedicated in his name. James was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on Dec. 16, 1944, when he was among 18 infantrymen to hold back three waves of German attackers for 18 hours until they ran out of ammunition.
Port Chester figures prominently in Cassone's book.
"Port Chester was special in a lot of different ways," Cassone said. "The time I grew up, it was special because of the way the government was being run. That's what I believe now. It was post-war, we had a booming free market society, Eisenhower was president...I want to get back to that, I want my children to have that, and I'm sure my friends in Port Chester would want the same."
Since Cassone's early Tea Party activism, his travels have taken him across the country. He's sung duets with Saturday Night Live alum Victoria Jackson, and appeared at campaign events for current Republican front-runner Rick Santorum.
Cassone admits his book contains "backstage stuff, inside baseball" from the early Tea Party movement, but said he hopes others can identify with the message and his journey.
"It's definitely not for the MSNBC crowd. I am preaching to the choir. It's a narrative for the people who were there, who were part of it," he said. "But it's also for the independents who might identify with my baby boomer background."
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