DUELING ORIENTATIONS…. If Tea Party groups want to appear less hysterical in the eyes of lawmakers they hope to influence, they’re off to a comically bad start.

Apparently, incoming freshmen to the U.S. House will begin their official orientation programs today. But before this initial round of meetings, there are competing “alternative” orientation programs, with some conservatives seeking to tell the incoming lawmakers what and how to think before they’re “corrupted” by the establishment.

The Tea Party Patriots … had announced just after the election that it was holding an orientation event for new members of Congress. But the Claremont Institute, a small conservative think tank in California, was hosting one at the same time. On Thursday, the group sent an e-mail to supporters, warning that the institute was trying to co-opt the freshmen.

“They are apparently trying to make sure that instead of sitting with grass-roots tea party leaders from around the country, the lobbyists and consultants can sink their claws into the freshmen, and begin to ‘teach them’ the ways of D.C.,” said the letter, which was signed by organizers Jenny Beth Martin, Dawn Wilder, Mark Meckler and Debbie Dooley. Also included in the e-mail were the personal e-mails and cell phone numbers of many candidates who had won election to Congress — and even a few who didn’t.

The subject line of the email read, “Don’t Let Them Steal OUR New Members of Congress.”

Right on schedule, hundreds of enraged zealots began calling the representatives-elect, demanding they attend a conservative orientation program, instead of the other conservative orientation program.

It’s worth emphasizing that the Claremont Institute isn’t exactly composed of moderates. It’s a fairly prominent far-right think tank, cozy with the most conservative elements of the Republican Party, which has even hosted lectures attended by fringe extremists like Christine O’Donnell.

And just for added fun, also note that Claremont said “it was actually just hosting a meeting the freshmen had organized themselves.” It wasn’t a nefarious plot to corrupt anyone.

How silly was all of this? RedState’s Erick Erickson explained, “For the record, the Claremont Institute is on the opposite coast of the United States from Washington and composed of some of the wingiest wingers in the entire wing-o-sphere. This handwringing about ‘Washington Insiders’ is verging on paranoid…. Certainly there are legitimate concerns and there must be caution, but Good Lord people, by the time all the cards are on the table we’re going to have all the tea party groups labeling their competitors as Washington Insiders. This is nuts.”

I knew Erickson would eventually write something I could agree with.

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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.