Don’t bring your pitchforks. This is to be our "last stand" to stop health care reform, it’s Alamo time. Don’t let your congressmen call it a "rally" or "protest"–make sure they say "press event" or "press conference." The point is to see "the whites of their eyes," because there’s nothing a congressman fears more than a "freedom-loving American." Oh, and don’t dress "too nicely." We don’t want the press to start calling this another "Brooks Brothers riot" like they did when Bush aides stormed Miami hallways to stop the 2000 recount.

You can feel the tension between the urge to bully and the need to seem "normal" in every hectic contradiction sent out over the past couple days by Rep. Michelle Bachmann and the Republican Study Committee to the thousands of Tea Partiers who gathered to protest at the Capitol on Thursday. And you have to sympathize. Truly, it isn’t easy to be inoffensively radical, or respectably revolutionary, or even pleasantly insane.

Brought in on buses chartered by the corporate astroturf group Americans For Prosperity, they were the now de rigeur crew of white folks of a certain age, carrying signs emblazoned with Holocaust corpse pits and Obama as the Joker. Most wound up snarled before the metal detectors at the entrances to House and Senate office buildings across the street from the Capitol, trying to get inside to "scare" their congresspeople but instead spilling into the traffic outside. A handful of anti-abortion protesters were arrested at Nancy Pelosi’s office in the Canon House Office Building (Pelosi wasn’t there; she spent most of her day in the Capitol itself, where access is strictly limited).

Bachmann had called this a "desperate act" in hopes of countering the House vote on the reform bill, scheduled for this Saturday, though you’ve got to wonder whether another reason was to drown out coverage of its endorsement by both the American Association of Retired People and the American Medical Association (the latter a real Et tu? moment for the GOP).

In the end it didn’t matter–the shooting of 43 people at Ft. Hood in Texas by an Army major with an Arabic name drowned out the Tea Partiers and just about everything else.

The mass murder reminded us that, while Bachmann’s flock were arguing hysterically about "death panels" and taxes to pay for "other peoples’ health care" (as one Tea Partier complained to NBC), George Bush’s two unfinished–and unfinishable–wars are taking an unimaginable toll on American soldiers and their families. Not to mention that those hopeless quagmires are siphoning off more money than this mild bill could ever cost, while destroying the morale of the last national institution, the military, with anywhere near the resources it needs to function.

All this is far worse than merely pleasantly insane. How can a country facing the multiple, monumental crises left behind by the Bush/Cheney team ever hope to come together and solve them with Republican leadership like that of Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO)? It was Akin who, just two hours before the shootings began at Ft. Hood, recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the Tea Partiers at the Capitol, saying, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this and it drives the liberals crazy!"

Notice how Akin snarkily raises the volume on "under God" while dropping the too-bipartisan word "indivisible"? Even when they are specifically told not to bring their pitchforks, that they must stop frightening little children and horses, these people cannot help themselves. Less than two months ago John Boehner and Eric Cantor were fretting about the need to moderate bomb-throwers like Bachmann. Yet there they were Thursday, sharing a stage not only with the mindless Minnesotan but with hyperbolic posters comparing health care to Maoism and Obama to Hitler.

The massacre at Ft. Hood does put the threat posed by the cost of a poor person’s colonoscopy to an insurance company’s bottom line in a raking light. But the people who gave us the wars that just came home to Texas can’t see the connection: Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), for instance, warned us last week that, "we have more to fear from the potential of that [health care reform] bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country."

Now, that’s a respectable revolution.