There's a book Mark Meckler likes to recommend to reporters and others seeking insight into the tea party juggernaut. Called The Starfish and the Spider, it explores the "unstoppable power" of decentralized and leaderless organizations. "We're like the starfish," Meckler, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, said earlier this year. "There is no head, there is no leader of the organization. There are thousands of starfish out there and they are self-replicating in that way."
It's certainly an inspiring metaphor. If one tentacle is chopped off, the starfish grows a new one, making it a model of resilience. Yet there's another type of organization that's resilient, decentralized, and reminiscent of the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella organization that claims to represent 15 million activists and 2800 local affiliates. You can find it in companies like Amway, Herbalife, and others that rely on what's known as multilevel marketing (MLM), a business model some consider to be nothing but a pyramid scheme.