Tea Partiers Dress Up in Union Gear

An update on Tea Party fashion: it has evidently become vogue for Tea Partiers to wear Service Employees International Union t-shirts, donning the garb of the movement's biggest villain next to President Obama. The reasons for doing so, as of yet, are unknown.

Two blog posts at St. Louis Activist Hub, a progressive website in St. Louis, purport to show local Tea Party leaders Adam Sharp, Bill Hennessy (who runs the St. Louis Tea Party), and Jim Durbin (who runs the conservative blog 24th state) wearing SEIU gear. [UPDATE: Hennessy says he's never worn an SEIU t-shirt.]

Sharp harangues what appears to be Charles Jaco of local Fox 2 about the latter's use of the term "tea baggers"--a fair complaint--while wearing an SEIU t-shirt:

Another photo, taken from a post by St. Louis-based conservative blogger Gateway Pundit, shows some Tea Partiers (including the blogger, Durbin) posing in SEIU t-shirts at an anti-Obama protest rally in March:

TP Rally SEIU shirts.jpg
(This appears to be a localized, quasi-inside joke: when health-care-related town-hall events got really contentious last summer, one of the worst altercations happened outside St. Louis at an event held by Democratic Congressman Russ Carnahan, between a Tea Partier and an SEIU member and another man, Kenneth Gladney. Already seeing union members as thugs, the event reinforced Tea Partiers' idea that SEIU members were out to bash heads.)

The trend of wearing SEIU t-shirts maybe should't come as a surprise: in Playboy's recently-published Tea Party confessional, penned allegedly by an anonymous K-Street consultant working behind the scenes for the Tea Party movement, the author mentions the St. Louis rally in noting that the movement has "quietly acquired" some SEIU shirts:

Causing mayhem is not limited to dealing with the press. We've quietly acquired Service Employees International Union shirts to wear at Tea Party rallies. For big labor, that's like handing out TSA uniforms in Kabul. And at a rally in St. Louis this March, fake SEIU protesters joined the Tea Party protest.

For the record, SEIU t-shirts can be purchased online.

It's also somewhat fitting: Tea Partiers have regularly speculated that the racist and otherwise offensive signs seen at Tea Party rallies have, in most cases, been liberal plants to make the movement look bad.

SEIU, since the disbanding of ACORN, is now the number-one boogeyman for the right, as it turns out members in noticeable purple and yellow to Democratic rallies and funds campaign activity for Democratic candidates.

The reasons for dressing up in SEIU garb are unclear. Yes, handing out SEIU shirts is like handing out TSA uniforms in Kabul, and the anonymous consultant said the purpose was to cause mayhem. In the above photos, it doesn't appear much legitimate impersonation is going on. It seems more ironic--like the peace sign on Pvt. Joker's helmet in "Full Metal Jacket"--or, maybe in Sharp's case, just meant to confuse. Then again, it's hard to glean from these snippets.

There's another upshot of this seed of doubt: it's that if you see someone in an SEIU t-shirt causing trouble, they may actually be a Tea Partier. As Tea Partiers and liberals clash in public, one can no longer believe one's eyes.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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