ADL Special Reports: Rage Grows in America: Anti‑Government Conspiracies
- Index / Summary
- Part One: Anger in the Mainstream
- Part Two: Anger on the Fringes
- Download a PDF of this report (.97MB)
- Press Release: Report: Rage Grows In America Conspiracy Theories Fuel Anti-Government Fervor (11/16/2009)
Rage Grows in America: Anti‑Government Conspiracies
A Building Anger
The anger and uncivil expressions at town hall meetings in the summer of 2009 gave rise to even more virulent sentiments at subsequent public events. By the time of the large Tea Party rally held in Washington, D.C., on September 12, 2009, anti-Obama feeling ran high among conservatives, particularly in light of an episode during a presidential speech to Congress on health-care reform three days earlier. Echoing what had happened at town hall meetings, Representative Joe Wilson from South Carolina breached Congressional decorum by shouting “You lie!” at Obama during the speech.
September 12 Tea Party Events
The September 12, 2009, rally in Washington, D.C., attracted the largest attendance of any of the protests held against the government and President Obama—most estimates ranged from the tens to hundreds of thousands. Conservative organizations and individuals, particularly FOX News media personality Glenn Beck, heavily promoted the event. The anger and rage that had been expressed at town hall meetings a few weeks earlier and at Tea Parties across the country became even uglier.
In addition to signs questioning Obama’s birth certificate and comparisons of President Obama to Hitler, there were also racist signs and even some signs that promoted implicit or explicit violence against the government. One sign called the president “parasite in chief,” suggesting that the he was feeding off the country for his own benefit. Many attendees shouted “liar, liar, liar,” echoing Representative Joe Wilson’s outburst during the joint session of Congress.
Examples of the extreme levels of anti-government anger were present in abundance at the D.C. rally, including:
- Nazi imagery: One woman held a sign that depicted President Obama giving a Nazi salute in front a swastika banner, along with the words, “Hey America, You Want Change. Hitler Did Too!” An attendee placed a sign on a dog, which read, “I am a member of Obama’s National Socialist Party. I am cute, young…limited intelligence.” This was an example of another common theme displayed by protesters, implying that Obama brainwashed the country’s youth to worship him, as Hitler did in Germany. One sign depicting the president as the evil “Joker” character from the Batman movie read, “Stop Him Now Before It’s To [sic] late. It’s Not About Obama Care. It’s About Power! When we smell the burning flesh from the ovens it will be to [sic] late for us all.” The sign ended with the word, “Socialism.” One sign read, “Oh S#!t It’s 1939 Germany all over again. Obama’s HR 3200 = Hitler’s T4,” making a comparison between Obama’s health-care plan and Hitler’s euthanasia plan.
- Racist imagery: A number of people carried signs depicting President Obama as an African witch doctor. One woman held a sign that read, “The Zoo Has An African And The White House Has a Lyin’ African.” Another person held a sign that read, “Somewhere in Kenya a Village is Missing an Idiot.” One individual’s sign, alluding to a time when blacks were slaves in America, depicted a hand with the middle finger held up, which read, “My New Presidential Salute! Kumbaya My A--! Obama—Your Massa On His New Plantation!”
- Violent imagery: Another more disturbing aspect of the September 12 rally were the signs implicitly or explicitly promoting violence against the government. One man held a sign that said, “We came unarmed [this time.]” Another sign alluded to Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” but with an ominous message that said, “The Tree Of Liberty Must Be Refreshed From Time To Time…Pennsylvanians Are Armed And Ready.” A man held a banner with a huge picture of an assault rifle and the words, “Come and Take It.” Yet another man wore a T-shirt that said, “Civil Liberty or Civil War.”
Even some ostensibly mainstream political figures expressed views that the President was defying the Constitution or creating a fascist state. At the September 12 rally, Dick Armey, a former House Republican leader whose group, FreedomWorks, helped organize the rally, said to the crowd, “He [Obama] promised a commitment of fidelity to the United States Constitution.” Echoing Representative Joe Wilson’s words, the crowd shouted back,” Liar, liar, liar.”
At another, similar rally held in Little Rock, Arkansas, the same day, Deborah Johns, a leader with the conservative organization Our Country Deserves Better, told a crowd that “Our men and women took an oath when they put on the uniform to defend and protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic. I think we’ve got some domestic enemies in the White House.” A few minutes later, she called President Obama a Communist.
The “How to Take Back America” Conference
Just two weeks after the September 12, 2009 D.C. rally, a number of conservatives held a “How to Take Back America” conference in St. Louis, Missouri on September 25-26. One of the speakers, Kitty Werthmann, the South Dakota representative of the Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, reportedly made various statements comparing President Obama to Hitler. According to one account of the event, when an attendee asked her what she suggested people do if asked to give up their guns, Werthmann allegedly replied, “Don’t you dare give up your guns! Never, never, never!” Another attendee reportedly said, “Give them back one bullet at a time!”
The conference also included Joseph Farah, the publisher of the right-wing on-line publication World Net Daily, which has led the charge that Obama is not a citizen of the United States. [See The “Birther” Movement]
Rally at the Capitol Against Health-Care Reform
On November 5, 2009, a number of conservatives, including Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina (who accused President Obama of lying at a joint session of Congress two months earlier), held a rally near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to protest the health-care reform bill. An estimated ten thousand people attended the rally, where various speakers charged that America’s freedoms were under attack. Some of the speakers even encouraged the crowd to “storm” the office buildings of their representatives to protest the health-care reform bill.
Many people in the audience were more extreme than the speakers. A number of people in the crowd held signs with Nazi imagery; others promoted anti-Obama conspiracy theories or equated health care reform with the imposition of tyranny or socialism on the United States. One attendee held an anti-Semitic sign that said, “Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds [sic; the Rothschilds are a prominent Jewish family with ties to government and banking in several countries],” an allusion to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews control the government. One sign at the rally depicted murdered victims of the Holocaust and declared, “National Socialist Health Care/Dachau Germany - 1945.” Another sign that depicted murdered Holocaust victims included the phrase, “Progressivism = Tears and Tyranny Not Utopia.” Still another sign pronounced that “Obama = Gov’t Take Over” and ended with “Just like Nazi Germany!”
Other angry attendees brought signs that made references to the “birther” conspiracy theory that claims that the president was born in Kenya and not the United States and is therefore an illegitimate president. One person held a sign that said, “Ken-Ya Trust Obama.” Another individual’s sign asked, “If Obama’s Birth Certificate is Legal, Why is He Spending $100,000 to Conceal It?” Others signs depicted health-care reform as the destruction of America. One person’s sign proclaimed that “A Vote for Health Care Is A Vote to Destroy America.” A number of people held signs asserting that the Obama administration is creating a tyrannical government. One typical sign claimed that “Obama and his Marxist Buddies Are After Your Freedom.” Another sign declared, “Gov Health Destroys ‘Liberty.’”
In response to criticism chiding conservative leaders for not speaking out against the Nazi imagery at the rally, Representative Bachmann wrote a letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas in which she said that Holocaust imagery and labels “have no purpose in a policy debate about health care.”