Crashing the Tea Party

As the Tea Party gears up for tax-day protests in Rhode Island and elsewhere, in a reprise of the upheaval that put the movement on the map a year ago, a mischievous bit of meddling is afoot. A "Crash the Tea Party!" web site is urging liberals to pose as tea partiers in a bid to undermine the group.

HOW WE WILL SUCCEED: By infiltrating the Tea Party itself! In an effort to propagate their pre-existing propensity for paranoia and suspicion...We have already sat quietly in their meetings, and observed their rallies.

Whenever possible, we will act on behalf of the Tea Party in ways which exaggerate their least appealing qualities (misspelled protest signs, wild claims in TV interviews, etc.) to further distance them from mainstream America and damage the public's opinion of them. We will also use the inside information that we have gained in order to disrupt and derial their plans.

Whether the anonymous folk behind the site will actually follow through with their plans - or inspire others to do so - is unclear and, perhaps, beside the point. If the site is meant to irritate and spook the tea partiers, it seems to be succeeding, if the posted responses are any indication.

But it raises some interesting questions about authenticity, protest culture, and the paranoid strain the "Crash the Tea Party!" site refers to.

Tea Party folk have long accused the mainstream media of underreporting the number of people at their protests - part of a deliberate attempt to undermine the movement, they suggest.

And now, a debate is raging over Democratic congressmen's claims that Tea Party types hurled racial epithets at them during highly publicized protests over health care reform in Washington. Conservative activiists are now claiming, variously, that congressmen like John Lewis, the respected veteran of the civil rights movement, is lying or that liberal plants in the crowd may have shouted the epithets.

They have also pointed to a 48-second, epithet-free video of the congressmen walking amid protesters. Only one problem - the footage is from about an hour after the insults were allegedly hurled.

It all speaks to the paranoid strain of a movement that, as even President Obama has suggested, has some legitimate concerns about spending and deficits. A strain that, in the long run, will only undermine its effectiveness. 

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