One reason the resurgent antigovernment "Patriot" movement is taking off so quickly is the support for many of its central ideas that comes from ostensibly mainstream figures in politics and the media.
These men and women have helped to put key Patriot themes — the idea that President Obama is a Marxist, that he and other elites in the government are pushing a socialist takeover, that the United States plans secret concentration camps and so on — before millions of Americans, many of whom actually believe these completely false allegations. Whether these people tell such tall tales because they believe them or simply because they are willing to shamelessly pander for votes or ratings, is anyone's guess; but the noxious effect on the body politic is the same. Here are profiles of four such characters:
Michele Bachmann, 54
When it comes to spreading fear of a menacing federal government infested with anti-American elements, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann can give even the most paranoid militiaman a run for his money.
The two-term representative for Minnesota's 6th Congressional District has used her office as a megaphone for outrageous claims and conspiracy theories that in the past wouldn't spread far beyond the firing ranges and obstacle courses where militiamen and other antigovernment "Patriots" gather.
While some people might complain about answering Census questions, Bachmann sees a sinister plot hearkening back to World War II. "They used the U.S. Census information to round up the Japanese and put them in the internment camps," she said during an interview with Fox News' Glenn Beck last year. "Americans were told that they wouldn't have their information used against them. They did."
The AmeriCorps community service program? There's much more to it. "The real concern is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward," Bachmann warned. Never mind that her son joined an AmeriCorps program.
Bachmann has even issued a call to arms, of sorts, against the president's proposal to "cap and trade" greenhouse gas emissions. "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back," she was reported as saying on a radio show. Her office later said she was speaking metaphorically.
And then there's Bachmann's take on her colleagues in Congress. She found the Capitol teeming with so much anti-Americanism that she called on the media to ferret out the unpatriotic politicians. "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?" she said during an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews in 2008.
Somewhere, Joseph McCarthy must be smiling.
Glenn Beck, 46
With his weepy, chalkboard-scrawling appeals to Americans fearful that their government is leading them down the path to ruin, Glenn Beck has rocketed up the ladder of conservative icons and is using his popularity to directly shape a far-right resurgence.
The Fox News Channel host, who draws 2 to 3 million viewers a night, also has become a lightning rod for controversy. He famously called President Obama a racist with a "deep-seated hatred for white people" and compared him to Adolf Hitler. He legitimized the right-wing conspiracy theory that FEMA was building concentration camps. After milking the theme for nearly a week, he then "proved" the theory false.
In response to his comments about Obama, in August 2009, the online organizing group ColorofChange.org launched a campaign to persuade corporations to pull their commercials from the former radio shock jock's show. They did – in droves. At least 80 advertisers have abandoned Beck, leaving the host to personally hawk less-than-mainstream products like investments in gold.
But that has done little, apparently, to slow Beck's steamrolling popularity. As the Tea Party movement began to take shape last year, he gave it a jumpstart by urging viewers to attended the gatherings and broadcasting from rallies. In February, he delivered the keynote address to 10,000 right-wing activists who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference.
In an open letter on his website last November, he wrote that in the coming months he would unveil "a 100 year plan" developed in conjunction with "some of the best minds in the country that believe in limited government, maximum freedom and the values of our Founders." He also announced a series of conventions that would immerse participants in "topics ranging from self-reliance, community organizing, the economy and how to be a political force in your own neighborhood and country."
Beck's own group, the 9.12 Project, states that it caters to "like-minded Americans looking for direction in taking back the control of our country." In the same statement, Beck writes that "this is a nonpolitical movement." But his 9.12 Project has spawned dozens of loosely affiliated chapters preoccupied with the direction of Washington, D.C.
Beck has downplayed his political influence, calling himself a "rodeo clown." Few clowns, however, earn more than $20 million a year from radio, television and print products. Sounds more like a ringmaster.
Doctor of Demonization
Paul Broun, 64
A medical doctor who makes house calls only to avoid "bureaucratic encumbrances," far-right U.S. Rep. Paul Broun took over Georgia's 10th Congressional District after the death of Charlie Norwood in 2007. Since then, Broun has become a pal of the antigovernment Patriot movement, warning in apocalyptic terms of a coming socialist takeover by Barack Obama and his allies.
This April 19, 15 years to the day after the Oklahoma City bombing, Broun is scheduled to join several Patriot leaders at the Second Amendment March in Washington, D.C. On the agenda that day with Broun are Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers, a group that suspects the government has plans to round up Americans and put them in concentration camps, and Gun Owners of America's Larry Pratt, a fan of militias who has been criticized for ties to white supremacists.
Broun says gun rights are necessary to "prevent treason in America."
Saying Broun is a fierce critic of the president would be an understatement. Broun has alleged that a civilian reserve corps that Obama proposed, and the Bush administration endorsed, might be used to establish a dictatorship. "We can't be lulled into complacency. You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany," Broun said in 2008.
A "birther," Broun has openly questioned Barack Obama's citizenship. When asked by a radio host whether Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen or a Christian, both established facts, Broun responded, "I don't know." Broun also calls Cuba's former dictator Fidel Castro Obama's "good buddy."
Last year, Broun told his constituents that the health care bill was the work of a "socialistic elite" — referring to Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — who might use a pandemic disease or natural disaster as an excuse to declare martial law. "They're trying to develop an environment where they can take over," he said. "We've seen that historically." At a 2009 town hall, he called Pelosi "a domestic enemy of the Constitution."
So far, Broun's legislative work has been scant. In 2009, Broun voted against a climate-change bill, calling the concept of manmade global warming a "hoax" perpetrated by the scientific community. In 2009, he proposed legislation proclaiming 2010 "The Year of the Bible." Earlier, he introduced the "Military Honor and Decency Act" that would ban sales of pornography on military installations. The bill has gone nowhere.
Andrew Napolitano, 59
In a recent Washington Post article, a media analyst contended that Fox News was at a crossroads. He said the network was in danger of losing its credibility as a newsgathering operation because of far-right conspiracy-mongers like host Glenn Beck.
But Beck is not the only one weakening Fox's credibility. Another hot contender in the far right-wing advocacy department is Fox's "senior judicial analyst" — Judge Andrew Napolitano.
Napolitano, a former state judge in New Jersey, appears on several Fox shows and is broadcast on any given day over the television, radio and the Internet. He was scheduled to be the keynote speaker this past February at the first annual Tenth Amendment Summit in Atlanta, but was snowed in and never made it. He missed out on rubbing elbows with neo-Confederates, conspiracy theorists and antigovernment Patriot activists.
It seems the TV judge is vying to become a fixture on the far-right lecture circuit. He was also scheduled to address the 2010 New Hampshire Liberty Forum, a gathering of self-described "pro-liberty activists" who are striving to "cut the size and scope of government by about two-thirds or more."
Napolitano has joined other conspiracy theorists in falsely claiming that efforts to expand affordable housing through the Community Reinvestment Act were responsible for the crash of the economy in 2008. He called Sarah Palin's baseless accusation that Obama was trying to set up "death panels" a "legitimate concern." He falsely suggested that Obama bribed a congressman to change his vote on health care by appointing his brother to an appeals court.
Napolitano joined Fox in 1998. He appears daily on "The Big Story with John Gibson," co-hosts "Fox & Friends" once a week and is a regular on "The O'Reilly Factor." Napolitano taught constitutional law and jurisprudence at Seton Hall Law School for 11 years. He was the youngest life-tenured Superior Court judge in the history of New Jersey and served on the bench from 1987 to 1995. He returned to private practice in 1995 and began his career in broadcasting that same year.
Ron Paul, 74
The "Ron Paul Revolution" failed to put the radical libertarian and outspoken Texas congressman into the White House, but Paul's long-shot campaign gave voice to discontented conservatives and created a prototype of sorts for the Tea Party insurgency that followed.
Whether he's advocating pulling out of the United Nations, trashing the Fed, or returning to the gold standard, Paul's views have scored him plenty of points among the Patriot crowd. One Patriot activist minting his own currency in the late 2000s even created the "Ron Paul Dollar."
With his straight-shooting style and unwavering ideology, Paul represents an accessible brand of Patriot politics that helps validate and stoke fears of an overreaching government on the far right. Paul told Fox Business News earlier this year, for example, that the health care reform legislation "is immoral because it's based on government theft." On his congressional website, he warns that Census information has been used to intern Japanese Americans and find alleged tax evaders and draft dodgers. "It is not hard to imagine that information compiled by the Census could be used against people in the future, despite claims to the contrary."
Paul has encountered controversy over racially charged comments that surfaced during his 1996 congressional campaign. A March 15, 1993, issue of his newsletter, The Ron Paul Survival Report, included this nugget: "If there is one thing we don't need in this country, its [sic] more Haitians [sic] immigrants with AIDS. Congratulations to the Senate for stopping, at least temporarily, Clinton's plan to have the AIDSians move here to die at $100,000 a pop, courtesy of the taxpayers."
A May 15, 1995, newsletter delved into traditional Patriot paranoia, including an article about foreign troops training on American soil and President George H.W. Bush's "New World Order." An article about a botched raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is presented under the headline, "Jack-Booted Thugs."
Paul claimed in 2001 that ghostwriters had penned the newsletters that bear his name but acknowledged he bore "some moral responsibility." Paul, a physician who is often called "Dr. No" for his routine opposition to government programs, not only survived the controversy and won the election, he continues to build his popularity. He easily won the Conservative Political Action Committee's presidential straw poll this year.