Standing outside a health care town hall Tuesday in Springfield, VA, demonstrators seemed to subscribe to the belief that the tree of liberty must be refreshed not with the blood of patriots and tyrants, as Thomas Jefferson once said, but with the opinions and megaphones of the elderly.
"They've forgotten the seniors," said James McLaughlin, 62, who served in the military for 25 years and expressed his distaste for the change embodied in President Barack Obama's proposed health care reforms.
"We made this [country] what is it now and by them doing what they're trying to do it's just like socialism," McLaughlin said.
"All I'm asking is let's think about it a little bit, before we make all these changes."
The town hall, hosted by Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), took place in Springfield's Greenspring Retirement Community. Former Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly, Bill Kallio, AARP's director for Virginia, and Charles Delaplane of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, spoke before Connolly took questions from the crowd.
While most of the nearly 400 silver-haired attendees live in the vast complex, the aging dissidents outside did not. According to Connolly, 14 percent of Virginia's population is 65 or older, and the numbers are growing.
Barred from getting anywhere near the event, the protesters aired their grievances in front of the long driveway leading into the complex on Franconia Boulevard. Even though the demonstrations weren't as electric as those that took place a few hours later in a raucous town hall in Reston, VA, a different kind of din developed.
Five lanes of traffic in each direction, the many groans of tractor trailers, the blaring horns of motorists in support or in disapproval, and the endless whooshes of passing cars often drowned out the shouted slogans. One motorcyclist revved his engine loudly and gave a thumbs-up in support of the protesters perched on the side of the road.
Signs ranged from the simple ("Read The Bill Gerry," "Obamacare is bad medicine") to the sinister, with one man waving a yellow flag featuring a recoiled rattlesnake and the words "Don't Tread On Me" below the reptile.
Some of the gatherers passed out anti-health reform literature on behalf of Lyndon LaRouche, an 86-year-old who has in his long career served jail time for conspiracy and gone on multiple runs for the presidency. LaRouche now runs a political advocacy organization out of Leesburg, VA.
One self-styled "organizer," 58-year-old Leslie Vaughan, was getting the LaRouche message out.
"[LaRouche] is warning that right now the whole financial system is disintegrating. That's what's driving the financial system to try to save money for the bailout by cutting healthcare," Vaughan explained.
"Which is exactly how Hitler got started."
Vaughan held a brochure whose cover features a Photoshopped Obama standing next to a laughing Hitler. Pretty blonde frauleins of the Third Reich titter by their sides.
LaRouche has in recent years reinvented himself as a provocateur from the far right whose political history and personal opinions seem almost as confusing as his Web site.
Larouchpac.com looks like a deliberate imitation of barackobama.com, down to the layout, design and color scheme. Similarities abruptly end there. Spread throughout the site are videos satirizing well-known Democratic Party leaders including Obama. One image at first glance looks like the iconic poster of the 1939 Academy-Award winning film Gone With the Wind. But instead of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, it depicts Obama passionately embracing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
A puzzling animation entitled "What Don Quixote Did Right" shows a cartoon Quixote and his ubiquitous partner Sancho Panza attacking modern white wind energy installations with their swords. The allusion is to the first adventures on which the heroes embark, when Quixote charges windmills he believes are giants. The 17th century episodic work by Miguel De Cervantes is supposed to be one of the first modern novels in all of western literature.
Larouche's literary interpretation makes it a metaphor for the fascist leanings of the climate change movement.
Not all spread the gospel of Nazism's allegedly uncanny resemblance to Obamacare.
Mike McLaughlin (no relation to James), a retired Foreign Service officer of 28 years, saw first-hand the rationing in communist Poland during his career and fears the same system for Americans. McLaughlin, 66, got his message out with a megaphone and fliers.
Though a vocal critic of almost every facet of the Obama administration, from immigration to health care reform, McLaughlin didn't subscribe to comparisons between the president and one of the biggest genocidal maniacs in the history of the world.
"I don't know where those came from," he said, referring to the Obama-Hitler likenesses.
"Those kinds of things to me don't make any sense and should be discouraged and ignored."