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
The Tea Parties
The Tea Party movement is made up of individuals and groups, at the grass-roots level and from established conservative organizations, who plan and attend rallies around the country to express their anger at the government. Some conservative media outlets, such as the FOX News Network, have also played a role in promoting Tea Parties.
The Tea Parties take their name from the historic “Boston Tea Party,” staged by American colonists in Boston in 1773 to protest taxes levied by the British government. Anti-government protesters often memorialize that event to protest what they believe are abuses of the federal government. Although a few events similar to the Tea Parties occurred late in the Bush administration, they took on a new tone and tenor after the election of President Obama.
While most people attending Tea Party events claim they harbor no extreme views, many of the ideas they promote fall outside the mainstream, especially the more conspiratorial ones. Angry protesters have frequently made claims ranging from proclaiming Obama’s “socialist” intentions to making explicit Nazi comparisons to suggesting that the President is defying or even subverting the Constitution.
April 15 and July 4 Tea Parties
Rick Santelli, a market commentator at CNBC who covers the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, helped promote the first major Tea Parties held to protest the Obama administration. The idea of the Tea Parties took off after he railed on television in February 2009 about the government’s plan to help bail out homeowners who had defaulted on their mortgages. Santelli suggested there should be a “Chicago Tea Party” in July at Lake Michigan, where people could dump “derivative securities” into the water.
Building on this suggestion, people and groups upset with Obama and his policies organized Tea Parties across the country. Conservative and grass-roots groups began promoting a bigger, more organized set of Tea Parties on April 15 (the income tax filing deadline). The idea caught on and a number of conservative pundits and bloggers, as well as media personalities on FOX News, heavily promoted the event. At Tea Parties held in locales across the country, attendees expressed frustration and anger at the government bailout plan, with President Obama as the focal point of their rage. A number of conservative organizations and elected officials participated in the Tea Parties. Some local protests reportedly attracted as many as a few thousand people.
During the April 15 protests, signs depicting President Obama as Hitler began to appear as some protesters equated his bailout plan with socialism or Nazism. Some speakers claimed that Obama was intent on taking away civil liberties by destroying the Constitution or the American way of life. According to one report on a rally in Beacon, South Carolina, various speakers talked about “taking back the nation.” A local Republican Party chairwoman at the event described participants as “people standing up for their Constitution…They’re ready to fight for their country. Socialism is being pushed and we don’t want any part of it.” At a rally in Madison, Wisconsin, one woman reportedly even had a sign comparing President Obama to the anti-Christ.
At later events, demonization of President Obama became more common and began to morph into more anti-government conspiratorial thinking. On July 4, numerous rallies once more were staged across the country. At one rally in Ventura, California, a common theme again emerged. A man who later posted his video to YouTube said, “We want our America back which is being stolen by Barack Obama.” He later talked about Obama bringing socialism to the country. People also held up signs at the rally asking for Obama’s birth certificate. Obama’s alleged lack of a U.S. birth certificate [See The ‘Birther’ Movement] became another piece of the “proof” that he was a usurper intent on destroying America’s freedom.
The July Tea Parties appeared to attract fewer attendees and less media attention but they did gain the attention of white supremacists, a number of whom joined protests in different places around the country. White supremacists saw the Tea Parties as an opportunity to express their own opposition to Obama and to see how receptive other protesters might be to their message. Many later posted photographs of their participation to social networking sites. However, such extremists were a tiny minority of Tea Party protesters.