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Rage Grows in America: Anti‑Government Conspiracies

The Influence of the Mainstream Media

Although much of the recent anti-government anger has been generated by a combination of partisan politics, grass-roots activists, and extreme groups and movements, the mainstream media has also played a role in promoting anti-government anger and pandering to people who believe that the Obama administration is illegitimate or even fascistic.

The most important mainstream media figure who has repeatedly helped to stoke the fires of anti-government anger is right-wing media host Glenn Beck, who has a TV show on FOX News and a popular syndicated radio show. While other conservative media hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, routinely attack Obama and his administration, typically on partisan grounds, they have usually dismissed or refused to give a platform to the conspiracy theorists and anti-government extremists. This has not been the case with Glenn Beck. Beck and his guests have made a habit of demonizing President Obama and promoting conspiracy theories about his administration.

On a number of his TV and radio programs, Beck has even gone so far as to make comparisons between Hitler and Obama and to promote the idea that the president is dangerous.

  • On an August 2009 radio program, after claiming that President Obama was lying about his health-care plan, Beck told his audience to read Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Beck said that Hitler told Germans what he was going to do but no one listened. Beck then urged his audience not to make the same mistake with Obama: “Please America…take this man for what he says.”
  • That same month, David Bellavia, a former army staff sergeant who wrote a book about his experiences as a soldier in Iraq, appeared as a guest on Beck’s TV show. Bellavia discussed the claim that President Obama was trying to create a “civilian national security force” and compared this to the efforts of Hitler and Saddam Hussein to create sinister military forces composed of political loyalists that answered only to them.
  • On a July 2009 TV show, Beck said that President Obama is a “dangerous” man.
  • In March 2009, as a guest on another FOX News show, Beck also promoted an anti-government conspiracy theory popular among right-wing extremists—that FEMA is building concentration camps to house “dissidents.” Beck declared that he could not debunk the theory. Before introducing the topic of FEMA camps on that show, Beck claimed that the United States was “headed towards socialism, totalitarianism beyond your wildest imagination.” Later, he also promoted the FEMA camps conspiracy theory on his own show. After much controversy, Beck later backed away from the FEMA camps theory. The FEMA episode, however, is a good example of Beck’s key role as a “fearmonger-in-chief,” using constant laments such as “I fear for my country” to create a sense of anxiety about and hostility towards the government in his audience.

These kinds of claims from Beck create an intersection between the mainstream and the extreme. They play an important role in drawing people further out of the mainstream, making them more receptive to the more extreme notions and conspiracy theories.

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