Even before Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, the Internet was seething with lurid conspiracy theories exposing his alleged subversion and treachery.
Among the many false claims: Obama was a secret Muslim; he was not a native U.S. citizen and his election as president should be overturned; he was a tool of the New World Order in a plot to merge the government of the United States into a North American union with Mexico and Canada.
Within hours of Obama's inauguration, claims circulated that Obama was not really president because Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts scrambled the words as he administered the oath of office. A few days after the inauguration came a warning that Obama planned to impose martial law and collect all guns.
Many of these false claims recall those floated by right-wing conspiracy theorists in the armed citizens' militia movement during the Clinton administration -- allegations that percolated up through the media and were utilized by Republican political operatives to hobble the legislative agenda of the Democratic Party.
The conspiracy theory attacks on Clinton bogged down the entire government. Legislation became stuck in congressional committees, appointments to federal posts dwindled and positions remained unfilled, almost paralyzing some agencies and seriously hampering the federal courts.
A similar scenario is already hobbling the work of the Obama administration. The histrionics at congressional town hall meetings and conservative rallies is not simply craziness -- it is part of an effective right-wing campaign based on scare tactics that have resonated throughout U.S. history among a white middle class fearful of alien ideas, people of color and immigrants.
Unable to block the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, the right-wing media demagogues, corporate political operatives, Christian right theocrats, and economic libertarians have targeted health care reform and succeeded in sidetracking the public option and single-payer proposals.
A talented environmental adviser to the Obama administration, Van Jones, was hounded into resigning Sept. 5 by a McCarthyite campaign of red-baiting and hyperbole. Support for major labor law reform has been eroding.
With a wink and a nod, right-wing apparatchiks are networking with the apocalyptic Christian right and resurgent armed militias -- a volatile mix of movements awash in conspiracy theories. Scratch the surface and you find people peddling bogus conspiracy theories about liberal secular humanists, collectivist labor bosses, Muslim terrorists, Jewish cabals, homosexual child molesters and murderous abortionists.
This right-wing campaign is about scapegoating bogus targets by using conspiracy theories to distract attention from insurance companies who are the real culprits behind escalating health care costs...
Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates, is the author of the recent study
Toxic to Democracy: Conspiracy Theories, Demonization, and Scapegoating., and is co-author with Matthew N. Lyons of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.
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