The power of strange people in a large group

THE POWER OF STRANGE PEOPLE IN A LARGE GROUP…. After a series of bizarre, and often offensive, rallies in D.C., the Teabaggers are apparently going to get together in about a month for a convention.

The Tea Party Nation is gearing up for its first ever convention, to be held at the famed Opryland Hotel in Nashville next month. It’s a confab designed to help the tea parties from across the country organize, with an agenda that sounds a lot like an attempt to form an official third party.

Organizers ask for local groups to “select their best to meet with their peers from across the nation” and who “have the most desire to move this process of organizing to the next level.”

They’ll have a workshop about “the importance of becoming Precinct Committee Chairs.”

“Please join us, make and form strong bonds, network, and make plans for action. We are doing what we could not do alone, to preserve that which we value,” organizers write.

The three-day event scheduled for the first weekend in February is already rubbing some conservative activists the wrong way — the Tea Party Nation gathering is charging $549 per person. That’s significantly more expensive than tickets to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — traditionally the biggest right-wing event of the year — which will be held two weeks later just outside D.C.

Of course, one explanation for the steep costs is Sarah Palin — the former half-term governor will reportedly receive as much as $100,000 to speak to Tea Party Nation, while CPAC does not pay any of its speakers. (Palin was invited to appear at CPAC, but declined, perhaps because there was no money in it.)

And speaking of Palin, the guest list for Tea Party Nation is what drives home just how radical a group we’re talking about here.

In addition to Palin, attendees will hear from, among others:

* World Net Daily’s Joseph Farah

* Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

* Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore

* Religious right leader Rick Scarborough

This is not a group of mainstream Americans. Farah’s conspiracy-driven website has taken the lead in peddling Birther nonsense; Bachmann is mad as a hatter; Moore is a theocrat who doesn’t believe the Bill of Rights applies to the states and was removed from office for ignoring federal court orders he didn’t like; and Scarborough is a radical preacher best known for being a Jerry Falwell acolyte, writing a book called Liberalism Kills Kids, and trying to establish his own mini-theocracy in Texas several years ago.

With that in mind, the speakers’ list offers some hints about the direction of this “movement.” There have been fissures between the libertarian-minded factions and religious-right-style theocrats whose agenda expands well beyond taxes and “socialized medicine.”

Indeed, the tension between the factions matters a great deal — the former wants smaller government in all instances; the latter wants bigger government to prevent abortions and discriminate against minority groups right-wing activists don’t like.

It appears Tea Party Nation and its high-profile participants are signaling the success of the religious-right contingent in taking the lead. But that’s likely to make the fissures more pronounced in the coming months.