To understand the story, you need to understand who the Patriots are. The grassrootsiest of the tea party movement's central players, the group is often a chaotic free-for-all of competing messaging and goals among its hundreds of affiliate groups. This, the Patriots will tell you, is a good thing. After all, the vision of a movement at its most idealistic is one where millions come together out of a unifying terror at the socialist government President Obama and his buddies have wrought.
The Patriots are also the most disturbed at how far from that idealistic vision the tea party reality is. National coordinators Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler often stand as sort of purity police in the movement, calling out establishment forces they see trying to cash in on the tea party name.
And, essentially, that's what happened Friday.
With great fanfare following the Republican takeover of the House in the Nov. 2 elections, the Patriots announced their plans to hold a freshman orientation for incoming tea party Republican members. The goal, essentially, was to let the new Republicans know they didn't have to be scared of the lobbyists and establishment hacks that might come to tempt them once they got to DC.
"If they're getting pressured from the House leadership or lobbyists, they can let us know and we'll give them the political support they need," Martin told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Unfortunately for Martin, Friday's debacle may have had the opposite effect: in one fell swoop, the Patriots came off as crazy, and the establishment as well, not.
Here's what went down: just days before the Patriots' orientation was set to kick off here in DC -- to the tune of $100,000 in spending on speakers, space and other costs, according to the Wall Street Journal -- the Patriots got wind of another conservative freshman orientation scheduled for the same days.
The competing orientation is sponsored by the Claremont Institute, the conservative think tank best known for not educating Christine O'Donnell. Like the Tea Party Patriots event, the Claremont gathering is a chance for all the freshman conservatives to get together.
The similarities between the two events are striking, actually. Both have aging Reagan administration speakers, for example: the Patriots booked former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese and Claremont has former Reagan education secretary Bill Bennett.
But to the Tea Party Patriots, the Claremont event was nothing short of sabotage. "DC insiders, the RNC, and lobbyists are already trying to push the Tea Party aside and co-opt the incoming Congressmen," the group wrote in an email to supporters.
(The RNC and Claremont both told reporters the event was Claremont's, not the GOP's).
The Patriots then laid out their conspiracy theory in the email, following the money at the Claremont all the way up to former Mike Huckabee campaign manager and failed RNC chair candidate Chip Saltsman. Huckabee, of course is one of the potential 2012 presidential candidates tea partiers tend to like, but hey -- Claremont was stealing the Patriots' mojo and there had to be a reason for it.
"[I]t's a lobbyist / political consultant event for the Freshmen," the Patriot email reads, disdainfully.
So the Patriots provided their membership with a list of contact information for Republican freshman and told them to start calling Reps-elect to keep them from going to Claremont. Trouble is, in many cases the contact info they shipped out included the personal cell phone numbers of the very incoming members they were trying to keep close.
The members seemed miffed as their cellphones blew up with calls from angry Tea Party Patriots.
"I guess I'm going to have to get used to this," Rep.-elect David McKinley (R-WV) told Roll Call.
As Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer put it, the affair was a great example of "how not to win friends in Washington."
What's more: some of the cell phone numbers the tea partiers shipped out went to candidates who weren't actually elected.
"Please stop calling and emailing," Martin wrote her followers. "You Have Been Heard!"
We also need to apologize to some people. In our haste to compile the list and get it out to you, some people who didn't win their races were incorrectly included as having won. People who dedicate a year or more of their lives to running for office, and who don't succeed, are as deserving of our respect and support as those who ultimately prevailed. In many cases, they have sacrificed their time, money, and families to the cause of restoring the nation to its Constitutional foundation.