TEA PARTY TAKEOVER…. The inmates are eyeing new ways to seize control of the asylum.

The Tea Party movement ignited a year ago, fueled by anti-establishment anger. Now, Tea Party activists are trying to take over the establishment, ground up.

Across the country, they are signing up to be Republican precinct leaders, a position so low-level that it often remains vacant, but which comes with the ability to vote for the party executives who endorse candidates, approve platforms and decide where the party spends money.

A new group called the National Precinct Alliance says it has a coordinator in nearly every state to recruit Tea Party activists to fill the positions and has already swelled the number of like-minded members in Republican Party committees in Arizona and Nevada. Its mantra is this: take the precinct, take the state, take the party — and force it to nominate conservatives rather than people they see as liberals in Republican clothing.

It’s who these folks consider “liberals in Republican clothing” that’s perhaps most striking. Today’s Republican establishment is, as far as this crowd is concerned, a bunch of sellouts. Just as the Republican Party has become as far-right and stridently ideological as it’s ever been, this still-fringe “movement” insists even conservatives aren’t conservative enough.

We’re talking about a well-intentioned, passionate, and deeply confused group of people — the folks who believe Democrats are “fascists,” the president is Hitler, and programs like Social Security and Medicare are socialist, unconstitutional boondoggles that need to be abolished — who are now intent on dragging an already far-right party over the cliff.

There’s nothing wrong with passionate citizens getting involved in the political process. But the American mainstream may not appreciate the fact that uninformed crazies — who think death panels are real, but global warming isn’t — intend to take over the Republican infrastructure, more than they already have.

Under normal circumstances, the American mainstream would see this and be repelled in the other direction. A Republican brand that was already in tatters after the extraordinary and spectacular failures of Bush, Cheney, DeLay, et al, would suffer in the eyes of the public as the right-wing fringe gained more influence.

But that’s what makes 2010 dangerous — the mainstream doesn’t realize the radical nature of the Tea Party “movement”; Democratic voters feel underwhelmed by the pace of progress; and the electorate may very well reward radicalization.

The consequences of the rise of nihilists are hard to predict, but the possibilities are chilling.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.