LINE BLURRED BETWEEN RIGHT-WING ACTIVISTS, LAWMAKERS…. The reputation earned by the House Republican caucus is obviously well deserved.

A protester sitting in the House gallery just disrupted the early business going on in the chamber by screaming out: “The people have said no!” and “You took an oath.” Leadership tried to gavel the members back into session and ordered the Sargent in Arms to remove the unruly man. Before he was escorted out, however, he did receive a fair amount of applause from the Republican side of the aisle.

It’s not terribly unusual for some nut to start shouting from the visitors’ gallery in the House, interrupting proceedings, and they’re always quickly escorted from the room. But I’ve never heard of an instance in which House members actually applaud the nut. This sort of thing simply doesn’t happen in the United States Congress.

And we’re not just talking about a GOP member or two. Jonathan Cohn, who was literally a few feet away, said “at least a dozen” Republican lawmakers cheered on the protestor.

“Did you guys see the Republicans encouraging the disruption?” Frank told reporters. “These clowns are out there encouraging violation of the law and making the job of the guys up there harder. It’s really disgraceful…. That’s why you get this kind of virulent hatred outside.”

Around the same time, three unidentified House Republican appeared on Congress’ South Balcony waving a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, to the delight of right-wing activists assembled below. They also held up a sign reading: “Kill” “The” “Bill.”

This not only speaks to a pervasive, almost dangerous extremism in the House GOP caucus, but also a blurring of a line between Republican lawmakers and their unhinged activist allies — the only difference appears to be the suit and the ability to vote on federal policy.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.