Crashing the Crashers: Tea Party Infiltrators Outmaneuvered in S.F.
Much ado has been made recently of planned attempts by left-wing activists to infiltrate the April 15 Tea Parties by posing as extremist conservatives with embarrassing signs in order to discredit the movement.
Oregon teacher Jason Levin, who got in hot water after publicizing his underhanded plans on the (already overwhelmed) Crash the Tea Party site, was the one getting most of the press coverage -- but Jason's initiative apparently inspired several freelance Tea Party Crashers around the country to infiltrate and undermine the April 15 events in their areas. (See the end of this report for bonus links to coverage of these Party-crashing attempts from coast to coast.)
This essay documents the attempts of the infiltrators to disrupt or discredit the Tea Party in San Francisco on April 15.
I first got wind that something sneaky was afoot when I noticed this listing (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/04/14/18644740.php?show_comments=1), which read:
Since the Tea Party itself started at 4pm several blocks away in Union Square, I decided to swing by Civic Center ahead of time and check out what the opposition was up to.
Turns out at first that the only volunteers for disruption duty were members of the satirical group Billionaires for Bush, who recently have renamed themselves Billionaires for Wealthcare.
(In case you're curious: Behind them is San Francisco's omnipresent resident protester-lunatic Frank Chu, who makes a lifestyle out of disrupting every protest.)
The media dutifully swarmed around and filmed the faux-billionaires.
However, no one seemed to remember out that the whole point of "Crashing the Tea Party" is that the infiltrators were supposed to look like actual Tea Partiers with actual racist/violent/extremist signs, so that when they were photographed by the media, the conservatives would be discredited. Dressing up in satirical costumes and reciting unfunny scripted jokes pre-emptively undermines the whole scheme.
But then things took a strange turn. Two more "crashers" showed up, and they really did look pretty much like honest-to-goodness Tea Partiers. Yet their signs were not particularly extreme (unless you think calling for impeachment is extreme, in which case the countless "Impeach Bush" signs and stickers displayed for the last eight years were equally extreme). I was left a little mystified, because it was becoming impossible to tell what was an act and what was real. (A comment left after the event on the listing claims that the two arrivals were actual conservatives who were crashing the crashers. Could be....)
Then a passerby (left side of the picture) saw the "protesters" and flew into a rage, yelling "Get out of here, you teabaggers!" One of the Billionaires for Wealthcare reassured him by saying that it was all an act, that there were no actual teabaggers present. So -- were the two new arrivals actual crashers, or crasher-crashers, or left-wingers posing as right-wingers posing as left-wingers planning to pose as right-wingers?
And that was basically it for the organized pre-infiltration strategy meeting. So I headed over to the real Tea Party in Union Square. As things turned out, the real crashers sidestepped this publicly announced mini-rally and acted independently.
Once at the Union Square Tea Party, I discovered that the "are-they-infiltrators-or-are-they-real?" duo were already there. I kept an eye on them for a while, but never saw them unveil any extremist signs, so if they were crashers, they weren't doing a very good job.
A hippie-ish videographer seemed to have a verbal altercation with them, but I couldn't catch the gist of the argument. I imagine it went something like, "Hey, I came here to film some racist signs, but you guys are letting me down. Are you crashers or what? Let's work together on this."
Then things started getting interesting.
The first indication of trouble was this black-clad girl who arrived and stood all alone in the rally. One side of her sign read "Oh Wait, You're Serious Aren't You?", while the other side read...
At last -- an indisputable Tea Party Crasher!
The first person (besides me) to notice something was awry was this senior gentleman who pointed her out to the police. The cop shrugged and said it was not his business to care what was on people's signs.
But the rally organizers had come prepared. Here, Tea Party headmistress Sally Zelikovsky consults with cops ahead of time about the Partiers' plans to identify crashers with pink "INFILTRATOR →" signs. The cops must have given the go-ahead, because soon enough...
...Tea Party security volunteers were on her like glue, pointing the "INFILTRATOR →" signs at her (and her cohorts) so that no media members could feign innocence and photograph the sign as an example of...something or other.
(Photo courtesy of John at The City Square.)
Which brings up a key point. Although she had a rotating selection of signs which she displayed every few minutes, the very fact that she was dressed in standard-issue anarchist-black, and the fact that the tone of her signs shifted from pure moby-isms (like "Enough of this Communaziolism Stuff Already") to giveaway mockery (like "Oh Wait, You're Serious Aren't You?"), meant that she too, just like the faux-billionaires, didn't quite get it: None of the crashers were able to stay in character long enough to pass as an actual Tea Partier.
Some of her messages, frankly, didn't make any sense, either as faux-extremism or as sarcasm. [Update: Turns out "What is this I don't even" is a reference to some Internet in-joke slang not very well-known outside of certain cliques on the Web; Whargarbl is also Internet slang, which the counter-protester must have mistakenly assumed was widely enough known to serve as effective signage.]
I scanned the periphery of the growing Tea Party rally, looking for possible agents provocateurs. By chance I caught two in the same image -- keep an eye on these guys.
The first guy's gimmick was to hold upside-down a sign with the words "This Is a Sign." This was a more authentic crashing attempt, because media photos of people unwittingly holding signs upside-down is exactly the kind of "Aren't they stupid?" derision that the Tea Party detractors are looking for.