I know a few people who are complete racists, yet emphatically deny it even as they use racial slurs in casual conversation. Being good authoritarian followers, they repeat the mantra of those they trust (e.g. Rush) that accusing them of being racist is itself racists, and anyway all the blacks and "liberals" themselves are racist. The thing is they're not fooling anyone, and so the goal of their denial is as ridiculous as its logic.
And so it is with the wingnut response towards calls to tone down the rhetoric in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords. Although Jared Loughner was not a TP member (and may be schizophrenic IMHO) there is no denying that violent rhetoric and images have been a staple of the so-called Tea Party movement from the get go, and bringing guns to rallies and angry confrontations at rallies are one of their hallmarks. Furthermore, Loughner's ramblings do take pages from various paranoid right-wing beliefs. Some conservatives claim his flag-burning "proves" he's a left-winger. I hate to break it to them but some of their allies believe that the Stars and Stripes is actually not the "true" American flag, so hostility towards the flag is not confined to left wingers.
There have been calls on the conservative side for a more civil conversation. Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer relased a statement that reads in part, "Spirited debate is desirable in our country, but it only should be the clash of ideas." However, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips declared "The left is coming and will hit us hard on this. We need to push back harder with the simple truth. The shooter was a liberal lunatic. Emphasis on both words."
Similar claims are echoing throughout the blogosphere, many comments echoing these sentiments on Yahoo are peppered with violent language and even threats towards "liberals" and "leftists"!
Update: Just seen this on the Wikipedia page on the group: After a Tea Party Nation member posted a reply to Phillip's post criticizing him, Phillip's responded: Did you bother to read what the left said yesterday? The wounded were not even to the hospital when the started the attacks. What would you prefer we do? Stick our heads in the sand? Perhaps we should just let the libs shut us up? Maybe you would prefer that. The left is going to use this to blame the Tea Party for the murder. I am not going to let them get away with it and I suggest you wake up and help with the fight.
FYI, it is a war. the left wants to take over our country and destroy the freedoms that we have.
Just like the racists I described, they're fooling no one, especially moderates and independents. Even if Loughner is not one of their own, they have trouble accepting this turn of events as a moment to pause and reflect on their vitriol. Even though the media is failing to note this, this is the narrative that is taking firm root in the public's mind. The wingnut denials and attempts to spin it elsewhere appear as desperate moves to "shift blame." Ironically this will reinforce the meme that their rhetoric is indeed at fault in the public's mind.
The truth is they can't tone it down and drop the hate and ridiculous claims of persecution anymore than they can stop breathing, it is an intrinsic part of their being. The Tea Party Express that issued the "tone it down" is of course a main-stream conservative republican group co-opting of the TP movement. Ironically they are probably more about the TP's stated goal of lower taxes than the actual movement, which showed its true stripes by its focus on guns, gays, mosques and immigrants rather than fiscal conservatism. By not abandoning their hate at this moment (and instead doubling down on it), they will come to be seen as a liability rather than an asset to the GOP.