In it, but not of it. TPM DC
"Our goal is that whenever a tea partier says 'Barack Obama was not born in America,' we're going be right right there next to them saying, 'yeah, in fact he wasn't born on Earth! He's an alien!" Levin explained. He said that by making the tea parties sound like a gathering of crazy people -- his group's goal -- the movement will lose its power.
Levin said he got the idea from a counter-protest to the infamous Westboro Baptist Church group held outside Twitter headquarters in January. Levin said the Westboro group broke up after counter-protesters showed up holding signs "even crazier" than the ones held by the Westboro group. "They realized they couldn't get their message out, so they just left" Levin said.
On the Crash The Tea Party website, managed by Levin, he explains how the plan will work. "Whenever possible, we will act on behalf of the Tea Party to exaggerate their least appealing qualities (misspelled protest signs, wild claims in TV interviews, etc.)"
"The lower the public opinion of them goes, the less coverage they're going to get in the mainstream media," Levin said when I asked him about the plan. "Then the GOP stops listening to them and they disperse and they go back to their militias and cabins in the woods."
He emphasized that his group is non-violent, and not interested in "perpetuating racism, homophobia or misogyny." Levin said that "members are free to do as they wish," but if violence breaks out at a tea party rally on Thursday, or more epithets like the ones thrown around during the health care debate are heard, it won't be because of his group.
He explained the distinction to me this way: If you see someone wearing a Nazi uniform at a tea party, it could be one of his members. If you see some one wearing a Nazi uniform throwing a rock, it's definitely not one of his members.
I asked him if he was worried publicly proclaiming that the most extreme people at the tea party rallies could be plans plants might help the movement he's trying to destroy. The tea party movement is struggling with its own identity, and some in the movement have already claimed that some of the darker chapters in its history (such as the death threats that came after the health care vote) were fantasies created by liberal infiltrators. Levin said no matter what the tea parties say about his plans, it's a "win-win" for his group.
"What can they say?" he said. "Either we've infiltrated their group so pervasively that they might as well hang it up, or we haven't infiltrated them that much they really are just racists."
Levin said he has 66 member groups (and growing) across the country planning to fan out at tea party gatherings on Thursday.
And while it's not clear how big the group actually is, or how serious the effort will be, the idea has already set off a small panic among tea partiers and their supporters. Upset tea partiers have posted Levin's address and phone number on the FreeRepublic.com message boards, leading, he said, to "silly threats" against him and his family. On Friday, Sean Hannity attacked the group in a segment on his radio show. And tea party groups across the country are warning their members to be on the lookout for the infiltrators. In Oregon, a tea party group has said it plans to get the police involved if they catch any of Levin's organizers.
Levin said all the attention just serves to make his plan more successful.
"How do you spot a fake tea partier? Do they have a tea bag tattooed on their forehead?" he said. "Thanks to us, the next time you're at a tea party and you see a guy with a misspelled sign you'll have to say 'is this guy an idiot? Or is he just an infiltrator?"
Late Update: Dave Weigel reports on FreedomWorks' plan to expose infiltrators like Levin and capture them on video at the Tax Day rallies on Thursday. The group is taking Levin's plan -- and the possibility of other infiltrators -- pretty seriously, and is planning to point out and confront anyone with a "racist or offensive" sign at a rally on Thursday.
Later Update KATU-TV's Anita KissÃ©e caught up with Levin at home in Oregon. Check out the video here.
Late late update: Levin, who teaches media technology to middle schoolers, is being investigated by his school district after the district received a deluge of calls, many from tea partiers.