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 Town Hall Meeting Disruptions
During the summer of 2009, President Obama stepped up his call for national health-care reform. Senators and representatives held town hall meetings around the country to discuss questions about the issue. These meetings became a fertile ground for anti-Obama protests and stunts. Various conservative and far-right organizations encouraged people to attend the town hall meetings. Protesters expressed rage at elected officials and many of the meetings erupted into chaos. In some cases, police were called to eject people who were disrupting the events.
Confronting Officeholders with Angry Rhetoric
Anti-Obama anger was the focus of many town hall meetings, with themes similar to those of the Tea Parties: that Obama is creating a socialist or Nazi state, and that he is destroying the country or trying to destroy the “real” America. At several meetings, attendees even asked government officials why they or the President were trying to destroy the Constitution by instituting “socialistic” health-care reform policies.
In July 2009, when members of the Obama administration, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, came to a town hall meeting in Reserve, Louisiana, to discuss health care, one man shouted at them to tell President Obama that “it will be will be a cold day in hell before he socializes my county.”
In August 2009, the reaction at a number of town hall meetings intensified:
- At a town hall meeting in Washington State, a member of the audience informed Representative Brian Beard that he was a Marine Corps veteran who had taken an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. He angrily accused Beard of trying to “indoctrinate” his children and shouted, “Stay away from my kids.” He then stated that the Nazis took over finance, the car industry and health care, in an apparent comparison to the actions of the Obama administration. The man then demanded of Beard, “I’ve kept my oath. Do you ever intend to keep yours?”
- At a town hall meeting held by Representative Tim Bishop in Setauket, New York, a woman outside yelled “We want our country back.” Inside the meeting, rage boiled over as one woman railed about the president allegedly shoving “government-run socialistic health care…down our throats.”
- A similar scene took place at a town hall meeting held by Senator Arlen Specter in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. One man demanded that Specter “tell Obama to represent us as an American and if not, there’s other countries.” Another person in the audience told the Senator, “You are trampling on our Constitution.” Still another attendee yelled, “This is the Soviet Union, this is Maoist China. The people in this room want their country back.”
- Reaction was even more extreme at a town hall meeting held by Senator Ben Cardin in Hagerstown, Maryland. A man, later turned over to the Secret Service, held up a sign that read “Death to Obama”and “Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids.”
- Outside a town hall meeting given by President Obama in New Hampshire, a man with a pistol strapped to his thigh (he was legally allowed to carry and display the gun) stood near where the meeting was held with a banner that said, “It’s time to water the tree of liberty,” an allusion to Thomas Jefferson’s quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” This quote is popular among anti-government extremists.
- In Phoenix, a number of people wearing guns (it is legal to openly display firearms in Arizona) showed up at a demonstration at a site where Obama had given a speech to veterans.
Much of the language used by angry protesters at town hall meetings compared Obama or the government to Hitler or Nazi Germany.
- In August 2009, at a town hall meeting held by Representative Barney Frank in Massachusetts, one woman held up a picture depicting President Obama as Adolf Hitler and asked Frank, “Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy?” This question was echoed at other meetings.
- At a town hall meeting attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that same month on a visit to Denver, Colorado, a young man wore a T-shirt depicting President Obama and the words, “Hitler gave great speeches, too.” A young child in a stroller was given a sign to hold that read, “No to fascism,” and contained a swastika image in a circle with a line through it.
Others at town hall events made claims about the government’s health-care plan allegedly involving rationing care or setting up so-called “death panels” to dispose of the elderly and disabled, sometimes implicitly or explicitly drawing comparisons to Nazi eugenics programs.
- According to an article in the Florida Baptist Witness in September 2009, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Richard Land said, “What they are attempting to do in healthcare, particularly in not treating the elderly, is…precisely what the Nazis did…Let us remember, the first 10,000 victims of the Holocaust were not Jews, they were mentally handicapped German children who were gassed and burned in ovens because they were considered to have…lives unworthy of life.” In October 2009, Land retracted his statement and apologized for his remarks.
- Other Nazi references to Obama’s health-care plan came from followers of conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, leader of a fringe political cult that defies categorization. His followers have produced and disseminated materials that compare President Obama and other government officials to Hitler, Nazis and fascists, and have attended town hall meetings and other events around the country.
The widespread use of Holocaust and Nazi analogies and comparisons, which still continues, goes well beyond legitimate or even exaggerated criticism of the Obama administration and its policies. By comparing Obama to Hitler, a man widely perceived as the epitome of evil in the modern world, people who use such comparisons demonize Obama and make even the most extreme conspiracy theories about his ultimate intentions more plausible.
In these Nazi analogies, Obama and his supporters are being cast as opponents to be destroyed rather than fellow citizens with whom dialogue, debate, and compromise are possible. The ready use of such propaganda is symptomatic of the radicalization of some segments of the American populace, and contributes to a self-perpetuating cycle of radicalization, in which ever more extreme ideas seem plausible or acceptable.