New York, NY, November 16, 2009 … Rumors about gun confiscations. Angry protests about the government's tax policies, replete with Nazi comparisons. A resurgent militia movement. Rage at the election of a president deemed to be illegitimate and threatening. Distrust and anger toward the government fueled by paranoia and conspiracy theories.
They are among the crosscurrents of anger and hostility that have swept certain sectors of the country since President Barack Obama took office nearly a year ago. And they are contributing to "a toxic atmosphere of rage in America," according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which today issued a report looking at the various sources that have given rise to a climate of anti-government fervor in the United States.
Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies examines the groups and individuals behind this upsurge in anti-government anxiety, from the "birthers" who claim the president is not an actual citizen of the U.S., to militia groups fearful that the government plans to forcibly disarm American citizens, to those who suggest that the health-care reform movement is akin to the Nazi policies that led to the Holocaust.
"In the year since we marked the historic election of the nation's first African-American president we have seen a tremendous amount of anger and hostility," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "There is a toxic atmosphere of rage in America being witnessed at many levels, and it raises fundamental questions for our society.
"While not all of America has bought into these conspiracies, they seem to be seeping more and more into the mainstream," added Mr. Foxman. "And since many of these expressions are interconnected in some significant ways, we wanted to try and connect the dots and ask the basic questions of why the anger, why now, and where might it lead."
From the anti-government "Tea Parties," where protestors have made explicit Nazi comparisons or suggested that the president is subverting the Constitution, to anger-filled town hall meeting disruptions over health care, the wave of anti-government animus has manifested itself in many forms, according to ADL. It has played out across a spectrum of groups, from mainstream groups and politicians to more extreme organizations and individuals.
"The fact that these anti-government sentiments are coming from such a broad spectrum makes it more likely that some individuals will become so inflamed with anger that they will move farther toward the fringes," said Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair. "This could result not only in the swelling of the ranks of anti-government extremist groups and movements, but might give rise to more individuals who are willing to act on their anger."
The ADL report looks at various sources of anti-government anger, including:
- Conspiracy Theories: One of the most disturbing trends in the rise of anti-government sentiment has been the resurrection and proliferation of conspiracy theories alleging dark, violent designs on the part of the federal government to "declare martial law" and end democratic government, to confiscate firearms from American citizens and to build hundreds of concentration camps to house "dissidents." These theories have spread far and wide on social-networking sites.
- The Resurgence of the Militia Movement: The rise of anti-government sentiment has paralleled a resurgence of the militia movement, an anti-government extremist movement that has a long history of criminal activity and violence. Within the past two years, the movement has almost quadrupled in size, growing to more than 200 groups in the United States. It is the most receptive audience for the extreme anti-government conspiracy theories and their radicalizing potential.
- Town Hall Meeting Disruptions: In the summer of 2009 a variety of anti-government protests and disruptions occurred at town hall meetings organized by senators and representatives across the country to discuss health-care reform. These events became a fertile ground for anti-Obama protests and stunts, with some individuals angrily launching verbal attacks against the president and other office holders. Some protestors compared the administration and its proposed health care reform policies to those of Nazi Germany.
- Government Resisters: Since Obama's election, an increasing number of people have urged that he and his administration must "be resisted." Some groups have implicitly or explicitly urged armed resistance. Many of these groups have appropriated an idealized version of Revolutionary War history for their own purposes. ADL's report looks at the activities of several resistor groups, including The Oath Keepers and The Three Percenters.
- The Tea Parties: At these events and later sequels organized by conservative groups and grassroots activists, anti-government sentiments and conspiracy theories proliferated, with a common theme being that Obama had "stolen" the country from Americans.
- Media Influence: Some segments of the mainstream media have played a surprisingly active role in generating anti-government sentiment. Though a number of media figures and commentators have taken part, the media personality who has played the most active role has been radio and television host Glenn Beck, who along with many of his guests have made a habit of demonizing the Obama administration and promoting conspiracy theories about it.