Generally speaking, any time someone raises Nazism in a political debate he has essentially terminated the conversation. When liberals wielded posters of President Bush sporting a Hitler mustache at anti-war protests, just as Tea Party activists do the same to President Obama at anti-health care reform rallies, it’s hard to take their message seriously.
Nevertheless, Noam Chomsky’s charge in 2009 that conservative propaganda is tending towards Nazism is not as absurd as it may seem. After reading David Neiwart’s chilling exposé for The Investigative Fund, “The Tea Party’s Armed Extremists,” the mere analogy between white supremacists and the Tea Party has actually transformed into a plain connection between the two movements.
(The mainstreaming effect of white supremacist-based anti-government conspiracy theories through the Tea Party is palpable. Previously normal people have been transformed into zombies. I can vouch for this in my own social circles. Relatives of mine were once Democrats turned neo-conservatives after 9/11 and finally Tea Partiers in reaction to Obama’s taking office. They are buying guns out of genuine fear that Obama will create concentration camps, and they believe we should do away with most of the federal government. Amazingly, they are Orthodox Jews who see no irony in the notion that their movement is a tremendous recruitment tool and legitimizing force for neo-Nazis. Never mind, Tea Partiers are pro-Israel and can therefore do no harm.)
Neiwart’s article cleverly revolves around a Hamilton, Montana gathering by a Tea Party group called Celebrating Conservatism that he attended. In a gripping opening paragraph he describes “gun-making kits that are being raffled off as door prizes” and a “copy of Mein Kampf sitting there on the book table, with its black-and-white swastika, sandwiched between a survivalist book on food storage and a copy of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.”
The body of the piece details the connection between the rise of the Tea Party and the reemergence of the violent, right wing, anti-government, conspiracy-minded Patriot movement in response to Obama’s taking office. The latter consists of branches such as Celebrating Conservatism, The Oath Keepers—which “recruits military and police to refuse any orders to disarm American citizens or put them in concentration camps, threats they view as imminent”—and the Fully Informed Jury Association, which seeks “to nullify federal tax and civil rights laws” and has strong ties to the Montana Freemen, “which engaged in an armed standoff with the FBI in the mid-1990’s.”
The Patriots were widespread during the 90s, boasting as many as 800 groups by 1996, which sprung up largely in reaction to federal shootouts in Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Originated by white supremacists, its adherents seek to assert individual sovereignty over a tyrannous government bent on creating a “New World Order.” Timothy McVeigh had ties to the movement, and Terry Nichols, who was convicted of conspiracy in the Oklahoma City Bombing, was a Patriot. Apparently, apocalyptic fantasies revolving around Y2K disintegrated much of the movement during the late 90s, and by 2007 only 131 groups were left according to a report conducted by the civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). But in 2009 the count shot up to 512.
The Montana Tea Party/Celebrating Conservatism gathering Neiwart attended featured speakers who are notorious hardcore anti-Semites such as Red Beckman, who wrote a book arguing that the Holocaust was “a judgment upon the Jews for worshipping Satan,” and violent anarchists like Larry Pratt, “a godfather of the militia movement, a network of conspiracy-minded armed paramilitary groups that exploded in the 1990’s,” and speaker at “a pivotal three-day meeting of neo-Nazis and Christian Identity adherents in Estes Park, Colorado, in October, 1992,” which “is widely credited with birthing the movement’s strategy of organizing citizen militias as a form of ‘leaderless resistance’ to a ‘looming New World Order.’”
Neiwart explains that many Patriot groups have resurfaced by associating themselves with the Tea Party, which itself is an offshoot of the John Birch Society and McCarthyism. This should come as no surprise, considering how much they have in common. Both fetishize the need to “take our country back” from a federal government that seeks to uproot religion’s supposed influence on the Founding Fathers, confiscate firearms from all citizens, socialize America, obliterate the constitution and impose a New World Order by establishing a One World Government. This of course will lead to concentration camps and the end of America.
The Tea Party legitimizes the Patriots and other paranoid, hateful and anarchic movements. Although many Tea Baggers are unaware of the presence of such groups in their midst and resist the charge that they are racists by occasionally highlighting blacks speaking at various rallies and emphasizing their purported fiscal concerns above all else, white supremacists perceive an opportunity to recruit a new generation of like-minded radicals by blending their organizations. According to a report released by NAACP, a discussion thread on stormfront.org, “the largest and most widely accessed of the many white nationalist websites,” contained the following comment: “take these Tea Party Americans by the hand and help them go from crawling to standing independently and then walking towards racialism.” (According to interviews conducted by John Avlon, author of Wingnuts, the Obama-as-Hitler posters carried by some Tea Partiers repulses white supremacists, who take offense at the suggestion that a black man bears any resemblance to Hitler.)
Neiwart concludes his exposé by sharing his confrontation with the man selling Mein Kampf at the Tea Party/Celebrating Conservatism gathering in Montana. Neiwart whips out a video camera and challenges the man to explain why he’s selling the book since it’s “nothing but an extended screed about how the Jews are plotting to destroy the white race.” The bookseller denies his allegiance to Hitler’s agenda, and remarks, “You’ll notice we have other books out we don’t believe in.” A few weeks later Neiwart calls the same, unsuspecting guy and engages him in a conversation about fascism. After agreeing that fascism is a left-wing phenomenon that influences the Obama administration, he assures Neiwart that only one person out of the hundreds who attended the Tea Party gathering objected to selling Mein Kampf.
Considering all this, Chomsky’s comment about the connection between Nazism and right-wing propaganda is not unwarranted. Although the conservative commentators he singles out, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, have been pushing the same agenda for well over a decade, their conspiratorial claims—that rich liberals have subverted the government, destroyed the economy, and implemented health care reform laws that include death panels and mandate reparations to steal your money and allocate it to blacks and gays and illegal immigrants—currently carry more clout in today’s climate of financial crisis by providing an “answer” for many Americans to the question of why our country is in decline.
In asserting that Chomsky’s analogy is apt, it should be understood that I consider almost all Nazi comparisons offensive and counterproductive, as with liberals who demonize Bush (whom I consider the worst president in American history) in that fashion and progressives who call Obama Hitler for not reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, which is my biggest gripe with the President. But in the case of the Tea Party, neo-Nazism is increasingly becoming intertwined with the movement, and right wing propaganda, from Limbaugh to Savage to Glenn Beck, is ratcheting up the fervor. And this has real-world consequences, as the midterm elections demonstrated.