“RISE OF THE NEW RIGHT: A HARDBALL DOCUMENTARY”
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST (voice-over): The new right, an emerging fact of life in 21st century America: tea parties, birthers, patriot groups, militias.
Their common cause? A raging hostility toward the elected government of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we are in deep tyranny—deep, deep, deep.
MATTHEWS: Their common fear: that their personal rights and freedoms stand in imminent jeopardy.
MICHAEL LACKOMAR, SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN VOLUNTEER MILITIA: Tyranny is something that we‘ve been warned from the very beginning by the Founding Father that we have to be on guard against.
MATTHEWS: Their common enemy: the president of the United States, Barack Obama.
ALAN KEYES, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL ACTIVIST: We‘re either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist.
MATTHEWS: From right of center to the farthest fringe—they resent what they see America becoming, tens of millions are ready to vote no to everything the new president proposes.
But for others, the fight is bigger than bills in Congress or election candidates. In their own words, they want to take their country back.
Tonight, a hard look at the rise of the new right, who are its people and what do they want, and how do they intend to get it.
MATTHEWS: “Don‘t Tread on Me.” The Revolutionary War flag has become the symbol of the new right, flown at tea parties, anti-health care rallies, militia group training camps and by members of Congress at the Capitol. In the American Revolution, the flag flew as a warning to the British oppressor, but this time, the enemy is not a foreign king but the government chosen in an honest election by the American people.
The new right is angry about the economy, the Obama health care bill, government spending and the towering national debt. More than that, there‘s an element of class and racial resentment that is loud, visible, unmistakable.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The last couple of years have been tough for America.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the worst days ever for the American financial system.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dire straits, Bear Stearns—
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The markets has taken another big tumble.
WILLIAMS: An SOS on Wall Street.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear—
MATTHEWS: President Obama came to office facing two wars and the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. He kept up the Bush rescue effort toward the collapsing banks and the auto industry. He pumped up government spending to compensate for the frightening drop in consumer spending and the scary cutback in business investment. On top of that, he proposed and led to enactment a historic plan to reform national health care and expand coverage to 30 million Americans previously uninsured.
For too many on the new right, Obama‘s actions violated something deep inside them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe Obama is running our country into the ground.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama is a radical communist. And I think it‘s becoming clear.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama is completely illegitimate.
MATTHEWS: In February 2009, the rising anger found a catalyst in an unusual place, a CNBC commentator on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
RICK SANTELLI, CNBC: How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor‘s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can‘t pay their bills? Raise their hand.
SANTELLI: President Obama, are you listening?
MATTHEWS: Call it the rant heard around the world. And one line in particular hit home with people who felt they weren‘t being heard in Washington.
SANTELLI: We‘re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July.
MATTHEWS: In 1773, angry colonists in Boston Harbor tossed barrels of tea overboard to protest taxes levied by the British crown. The Boston Tea Party was one of the key events leading to the American Revolution. Those angry about government spending today took this symbol of rebellion and claim it as their own. Promoted by FOX News, they arranged Tax Day tea parties across the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think government‘s getting out of hand, and I—you know, I‘d never seen these demonstrations since the Vietnam War.
MATTHEWS: From there, the protests spread, angry citizens disrupted town hall meetings on health care.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want the government out of our business now.
MATTHEWS: On September 12th, 2009 is, tea party protesters blanketed the streets of Washington, D.C. And through the winter, the movement grew.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: It was Thomas Jefferson who said, a revolution every now and then is a good thing. What do you think?
MATTHEWS: In early February of 2010, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin traveled to Nashville to headline what was dubbed the first National Tea Party Convention.
SARAH PALIN ®, FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: America is ready for another revolution and you are a part of this.
MATTHEWS: What started as a low growl over political differences was now a roar of fury.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are losing our country. We think the Muslims are moving in and taking over. We do not believe our president is a Christian. And he led us to believe that. Our president is a liar. God bless Joe Wilson.
MATTHEWS: Joe Wilson, the South Carolina congressman knew he had people behind him when he challenged the president‘s credibility right there in primetime.
OBAMA: The reforms I‘m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally—
REP. JOE WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie!
MATTHEWS: He was not the only elected politician to run with the pack. During the final vote on the health care bill in March, protesters massed outside the Capitol while Republican members of Congress stood on the balcony and riled up the crowd, waving the yellow flag with the coiled rattlesnake.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: It sounded like it was very much orchestrated, and then I looked up and I see about nine or 10 of my colleagues and literally, you would have thought that they were at some football game or something.
MATTHEWS: The scene turned ugly when African-American congressmen, including civil rights veteran John Lewis, were taunted by the protesters.
In the days that followed the signing of the health care bill, some protesters became violent. At least 10 Democratic members of Congress reported incidents of harassment, vandalism, even death threats.
Radio host Rush Limbaugh raged from his broadcast booth.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: We need to defeat these bastards. We need to wipe them out.
MATTHEWS: Sarah Palin posted a map on Facebook putting the districts of Democrats who voted for the health care bill in the crosshairs.
The need to bear arms to protect against government power is an abiding unifying theme of the new right and, of course, protected under the Second Amendment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any idea what it takes to get someone from Montana to come to D.C.? You‘ve got to be pissed.
MATTHEWS: Protesters have openly carried weapons to the president‘s rallies. And since President Obama‘s election, membership in many militia groups has nearly tripled.
LACKOMAR: We do a lot of marksmanship and drill with the guns because outs of everything I carry on me, all of my equipment, the guns are the most dangerous item I have.
MATTHEWS: Michael Lackomar is a team leader for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia.
LACKOMAR: Hydrate. You‘re losing moisture just by breathing.
MATTHEWS: He and fellow militia members spend weekends camp out in the snow honing survival skills.
LACKOMAR: There‘s one known linear danger area. There‘s five areas that we focus on: crime, disaster, invasion, tyranny, terrorism. All five of those cover threats that would interrupt our ways of life. And tyranny is one of them. Tyranny is something that we‘ve been warned from the very beginning by the Founding Fathers that we have to be on guard against.
MATTHEWS: The Michigan Militia flies that familiar yellow flag as a symbolic warning to potential oppressors.
LACKOMAR: The “Don‘t Tread on Me” basically tells leave me alone. Let me do my thing. I don‘t need the government‘s help. I don‘t need the government‘s supervision. I don‘t want somebody telling me what and how to do things.
MATTHEWS: When you talk to members of the Michigan militia, it‘s soon clear that the flag is not all they will share with the tea partiers.
LEE MIRACLE, MICHIGAN VOLUNTEER MILITIA: I think the government‘s too big. I think what you need to do is look at the Constitution and you see what‘s authorized and what‘s not. What‘s not authorized, you get rid of it.
LACKOMAR: If you speak to a lot of the tea parties, they‘re kind of dismissive of what we do with the feeling that maybe we are too extreme for what they‘re trying to do. We‘re just like they are. They‘re just like us. The difference is where we focus our attention.
MATTHEWS: The Michigan militia is open to anyone and is media savvy. Law enforcement officials don‘t see them as a threat, but there are other more ominous far-right groups.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, could this rage on the right lead to violence?
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MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: I think there was a huge amount of anger out there. What we‘re really lacking at this moment is a kind of spark.
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MATTHEWS (voice-over): This March, members of a Midwestern militia were arrested and charged with conspiring to kill police officers. A video posted on the group‘s Web site shows them training for armed combat. Prosecutors said they were planning an attack for the purpose of setting off what they hoped would be an anti-government uprising.
POTOK: In the last year in particular, we have seen militias which were really a big deal back in the 1990s, simply come roaring back.
MATTHEWS: Mark Potok is the director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center where he tracks extreme right wing groups.
POTOK: We‘ve gone from numbers like, you know, 170 militias, to well over 500.
There is a huge amount of anger out there. What we‘re really lacking at this moment is a kind of spark.
MATTHEWS: In the 1990s, during the last Democratic presidency, the patriot movement was ignited by the government assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.
POTOK: The Waco siege was seen as—this is what the government will do to people who dissent. If we were to have a similar kind of event now, I think it is entirely possible that we could see this movement grow even more rapidly than it‘s been growing over the last 12 or 18 months.
MATTHEWS: In April 2009, the Department of Homeland Security warned that homegrown terrorism could be fueled by the severe recession and the election of the first African-American president.
CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: The office of president of the United States.
OBAMA: The office of the president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: A common theme in the anger is across the spectrum of the new right is the deep dislike for Barack Obama. The demonization of the president decorates many of the posters at the grassroots rallies. They call him a socialist, a communist, a Nazi—a historic threat to the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Obama is pushing a socialist legislative agenda.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Traitor!
KEYES: He‘s going to destroy this country. We‘re either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist.
MATTHEWS: Alan Keyes who ran against Barack Obama in his 2004 Senate race was an early leader in what‘s known as the birther movement. In November 2008, he filed a lawsuit claiming the president-elect should not be awarded California‘s electoral college votes because, according to Keyes, Obama is not a natural born citizen.
KEYES: He has refused to provide proof that he is, in fact, a natural born citizen.
MATTHEWS: The president was born in Hawaii and has released the legal paperwork from the state documenting his birth. Also available is the birth announcement that ran in the newspapers at the time of his birth. But it‘s not enough for the legions of people determined to prove he is ineligible for the office.
ORLY TAITZ, LAWYER: Barack Obama Hussein Obama is completely illegitimate for U.S. presidency specifically because his father was never U.S. citizen. He came to this country on a student visa from Kenya which at the time was a British colony. And due to British Nationality Act of 1948, Obama was a British citizen at birth. And then when Kenya became an independent country, Barack Hussein Obama became a citizen of Kenya.
MATTHEWS: Orly Taitz, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who grew up in the Soviet Union represented Alan Keyes in his lawsuit against Obama and has filed numerous other cases denying the president‘s eligibility.
TAITZ: We can have him out of office within 30 days.
MATTHEWS: The cases continue to be dismissed, and one judge fined her $20,000 noting unlike in “Alice in Wonderland,” simply saying something does not make it so.
TAITZ: When I see judges coming with such decisions, it‘s an embarrassment to the judicial system of this nation that instead of seeing actual document—actual birth certificate for baby Barack Hussein Obama from Hawaii—we are just offhand dismissing these cases as frivolous? There‘s nothing frivolous about it.
MATTHEWS: Part of the birthers M.O. is repeat Obama‘s middle name, Hussein, to make a less than subtle connection to America‘s old enemy, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. There‘s also visible evidence at rally after rally of a deep antipathy toward the person of Barack Obama. It‘s a fact that our first African-American president is facing unprecedented questions about his very Americanness.
OBAMA: There are some folks who just weren‘t sure whether I was born in the United States, whether I was a socialist, right? So there‘s that segment of it, which I think is just dug in ideologically and that strain has existed in American politics for a long time.
MATTHEWS: While not embracing the birthers, many conservative leaders refuse to separate from them.
(on camera): Do you think that the people who have raised the issue of Barack Obama‘s citizenship have a real case or not?
DICK ARMEY, FREEDOMWORKS CHAIRMAN: There‘s a venue for that. It‘s probably in the courts.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Former Republican congressman and House majority leader, Dick Armey, has become one of the more well-known passes of the Tea Party Movement. No longer in office, Armey is now the chairman of FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group that trains and organizes tea party activists across the country.
(on camera): Well, let me read something you said. “Nearly every important office in Washington, D.C. today is occupied by someone with an aggressive dislike of our heritage, our freedom, our history, and our Constitution.
ARMEY: I believe that‘s true. It is not just that unawareness of, the genius of the Constitution. It‘s a dislike of this Constitution.
MATTHEWS: Are you talking about members of Congress.
ARMEY: I‘m talking about members of Congress. I‘m talking about people in the White House throughout the White House beginning with the president. I don‘t believe the president of the United States knows and respects and appreciates the Constitution of the United States.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): A strong statement given that Obama dedicated himself to constitutional law at the University of Chicago. But it‘s a consistent drum beat on the new right: politicians, this president especially, don‘t respect our Constitution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think members of Congress ought to have to read major bills. But I‘d be just as happy if some of them read this, a little more often, the Constitution of the United States of America.
MATTHEWS: But can all this anger on the right translate into a real political force?
MATTHEWS: Coming up: the tea party fights to be a political contender.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to send a loud and clear message that they need to put up candidates that actually represent conservatism.
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MATTHEWS (voice-over): Still in its infancy is, the tea party is a leaderless resistance without a cohesive message. Most of them say they are worried about the size of government. Some just don‘t like the president, plain and simple. Still, others go much further, they see government tyranny at work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don‘t like living in fear. Fear of our government instead of the government fearing us.
MATTHEWS: The range runs from casual talk of secession and nullification to just understandable anger during hard times—even President Obama has taken note.
OBAMA: I think that there‘s a broader circle who are legitimately concerned about the deficit. And last year, a bunch of the emergency measures we had to take in terms of dealing with the bank crisis, you know, bailing out the auto industry, fed that sense that thing are out of control. And I think those are folks who have legitimate concerns.
ANA PUIG, KITCHEN TABLE PATRIOTS: (INAUDIBLE) orange juice?
MATTHEWS: Mother of four, Ana Puig, has a typical tea party story.
PUIG: I have never been politically active before. A little over a year ago, I was raising my family. I was driving my minivan. I was having conversations with the neighbors about changing diapers and what to make for dinner.
Love you. Have a good day. Call me later.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will. Bye-bye. Bye, kids.
MATTHEWS: Like many in the movement, Anna is a political novice. She was motivated by what‘s happening with the economy and the government‘s response.
PUIG: Morning. How are you? Give me kisses.
MATTHEWS: Her call to action came when she saw footage of then-candidate Obama talking to Samuel Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the plumber, about Obama‘s reason for raising taxes on the wealthy.
OBAMA: Right now, everybody is so pinched that business is bad for everybody. And I think when you spread the wealth around, it‘s good for everybody.
PUIG: When Barack Obama said to Joe the plumber that it was OK to “spread the wealth around,” quote-unquote, that really bothered me. Like I said, it just brought back memories of something that I have seen before in a different country, in a different time of my life.
MATTHEWS: Ana was born and raised in Brazil. She now lives in Pennsylvania. She didn‘t think the Republican Party had the answers she was looking for. So, she joined forces with another local woman, Anastasia Przybylski, who had formed a group called the Kitchen Table Patriots.
ANASTASIA PRZYBYLSKI, KITCHEN TABLE PATRIOTS: Really, it was just a protest about the stimulus, at first. So, it wasn‘t really a group. It was we were planning a tea party in April. After we did that, it was kind of like where do you go from here. You know, they‘re having the town halls. We were organizing that. It just never stopped.
PUIG: I was told not to make copies.
MATTHEWS: In the last year, the two women‘s lives have changed dramatically. They now spend hours on the phone and e-mail, organizing protests and running workshops, educating their neighbors. This one with Dick Armey‘s FreedomWorks.
PUIG: In order to win in many 2010, which is so crucial to this fight, we need to try to find candidates that are true conservatives.
What we‘re looking at is, the Democratic Party, they don‘t represent us. We need to find a home for ourselves. The Republican Party, unfortunately, has been going crazy on spending. And they, quite honestly, don‘t really represent us for the most part either.
But starting the third party is not the answer. We don‘t have the time for that. So I think our closest home is the Republican Party. And we need to send a loud and clear message to them right now that they need to put up candidates that actually represent conservatism.
MATTHEWS: It‘s sometimes noted that the right wasn‘t so angry when the previous administration doubled the national debt, when Republicans generally controlled the congressional spending.
PUIG: I definitely started feeling that things were moving in the wrong direction under the Bush administration. Sure, I would prefer to have President Bush over President Barack Obama, but I definitely don‘t think he represents me either. You know, it‘s the lesser of two evils type of thing, and that‘s what the Tea Party Movement is all about. We are tired of the lesser of the two evils. We want representation.
MATTHEWS: The tea party took its first step into electoral politics in November 2009, in a special congressional election in New York‘s 23rd district. Many on the right, including Sarah Palin and Dick Armey, decided that the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava was insufficiently conservative. They advocated for a third party candidate, Doug Hoffman, causing Scozzafava to withdraw and throw her support behind the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens. Owens won, but this was just the tea party‘s opening salvo.
In January 2010, the tea party grassroots rallied behind Scott Brown, the come-from-behind Republican candidate for the late Edward Kennedy‘s Massachusetts Senate seat. With his pickup truck and neighborly appeal, Brown rode the populist wave against the establishment, even though by right-wing standards, he‘s a somewhat independent Republican.
SEN. SCOTT BROWN ®, MASSACHUSETTS: We shouldn‘t have to go to Washington every time to have a cup to get handouts from Washington.
MATTHEWS: This time, the tea party‘s efforts paid off. They delivered a stunning blow to the Democrats‘ supermajority in the Senate, winning a seat the Republicans hadn‘t held in almost 60 years. In his victory speech, Brown warned Washington that his election was just the first of many upsets.
BROWN: Throughout this race, we had the machines scared and scrambling, and for them, it‘s just the beginning of an election year filled with many, many surprises—I can tell you that.
MATTHEWS: Coming up—
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we are.
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MATTHEWS: The tea party—just who‘s in charge here?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: We‘re not going to sit down and shut up. Thank you for standing up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The Tea Party so far is more aligned with republicans, but they have some major ideological differences. Many on the new right no longer trust the institution of government at all, embracing libertarian positions like ending the Federal Reserve and perhaps even abolishing programs like Social Security and Medicare—positions far to the right of the regular GOP.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the movement of people the Tea Party movement and other activism on the right will pull the republican party to the right?
DICK ARMEY, CHAIRMAN, FREEDOMWORKS: The republican party, of course, as a political party, their first objective is to elect ourselves. If they look back, when have we been successful in the business of getting folks elected, it‘s when we have been the party of Reagan, or when we have been the small government conservatives that represent the core values of America.
RAND PAUL: We‘ve come to take our government back from the special interests, from the politician who think that the federal government is the their own personal ATM.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The Tea Partier of the moment is the republican Senate nominee in Kentucky, Rand Paul. We caught up with him on the campaign trail back in February before he was on the national political radar.
RAND PAUL: There‘s a disconnect between Washington politicians and those out here in the grassroots and that‘s why I‘m having such great success. It doesn‘t matter how many people oppose me. You can have presidents, ex-presidents, they can all come to Kentucky and oppose me but it won‘t work.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Paul is a political neophyte, but he‘s the son of republican Texas congressman and 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul, a hero on the libertarian right, well-known for his campaign against the Federal Reserve.
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX): I do take the position that we should just end the Fed. .
RAND PAUL: I think we both believe in very limited constitutional government, that government should be much smaller. You know if we obeyed the constitution and we only worked under enumerated powers we‘d have a much, much smaller government.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Rand Paul‘s Tea Party politics resonated with republican voters. In may, he soundly defeated his GOP primary opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the candidate backed by the republican establishment.
RAND PAUL: I have a message—a message from the Tea Party. A message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We‘ve come to take our government back.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): But is Paul ready for primetime? His philosophical commitment to keeping the government out of private business proved difficult to defend when faced with Rachel Maddow‘s questions about the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Do you think that a private business has a right to say we don‘t serve black people?
RAND PAUL: Yes. I‘m not in favor of any discrimination in any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But I think what‘s important about this debate is not getting into any specific gotcha on this, but asking the question, what about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent?
MATTHEWS (voice-over): His words generated a media storm as Paul backpedaled on his libertarian hard line and then lowered his profile.
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC HOST: By week‘s end, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, son of former presidential candidate, Ron Paul, found the spotlight a little too hot, canceling his appearance on this program and raising doubts about his prospects for the fall.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): But the fracas only seemed to raise his standing with the Tea Party stalwarts. One of Paul‘s key backers before and since his primary victory is Sarah Palin.
SARAH PALIN: Whoo.
RAND PAUL: I would say that at this point, she is one of the defacto leaders of the Tea Party movement. I think the other thing about Sarah Palin is she‘s like me or like you. We‘re imperfect and not always going to get everything right.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Palin has harnessed the energy of the Tea Party movement to rise to position of prominence far beyond that of a failed republican vice presidential candidate. She‘s written a best-selling memoir, resigned as governor of Alaska, and become a high profile you personality on Fox News.
PALIN: Welcome to “Real American Stories.”
MATTHEWS (voice-over): She is by far the most important endorsement for republicans hoping to capture the new right‘s vote.
PALIN: He has the wisdom. He has the courage to lead the way. That‘s why I‘m here asking for your vote. Arizona, what do you say, will you send the maverick back to the United States Senate?
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Enlisting both to Palin and others on the new right, their words and language are not necessarily all that will new.
PALIN: Let‘s get it together, Tea Party, America. Let‘s take back our country.
PAT BUCHANAN: We are ready to take our country back.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Coming up, the new right‘s loudest voice.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST: Progressivism is the cancer in America, and it is eating our Constitution.
GOV. STROM THURMOND: Now I tell you the American people from one side to the other had better wake up and uphold such a program and if they don‘t, the next thing will be a totalitarian state in these United States.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The language of the American right has not changed much over the past century.
RONALD REAGAN: We‘ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth or we‘ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): They present an idealized sense of America in great jeopardy, one that needs to be defended, not just from outsiders, but from traitors in our midst.
MICHELE BACHMANN: 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.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Congresswoman Bachmann echoes the wild charges that were flung in the early 1950s by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
SEN. JOSEPH MCCARTHY: Even if there is only one Communist in the state department, that would still be one Communist too many. Our job as Americans and as republicans is to dislodge the traitors from every place where they have been sent to do their treacherous work.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The roots of the new right lie in the anti-Communist conservative groups of the 1950s. Fundamentalist preacher Billy James Hargis‘s conspiracy-minded Christian crusade was broadcast on hundreds of radio and TV stations.
BILLY JAMES HARGIS: I have just signed a contract with one of the biggest record companies in America. I‘m producing three anti-Communist albums for them in the next 12 months for national distribution.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): And in the late 1950s, a group of citizens banded together to weed out communists from American society. The John Birch Society, named after an American missionary killed by Chinese Communists also opposed civil rights and other liberal initiatives. In a 1961 appearance on “Meet The Press,” the society‘s founder, former candy magnate Robert Welch made an argument that sounds very familiar today.
ROBERT WELCH: But what we‘re trying to do is to restore what‘s been lost of a constitutional American republic as our founding fathers gave it to us.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Welch was staunchly anti-Communist and went further than Joe McCarthy fingering President Eisenhower and his brother Milton.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well you said for example, “In my opinion the chances are very strong that Milton Eisenhower is actually Dwight Eisenhower‘s superior and boss within the Communist Party.”
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Just as today‘s Tea Partiers are working to get their own candidates elected, the John Birch Society became active in mainstream politics. In the 1964 presidential campaign, they rallied behind Barry Goldwater, the arch conservative republican candidate for president.
BARRY GOLDWATER: I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): It was clear that gold watered was taunting critics had had been attacking him for being an extremist. But his battle cry was used just this year by vandals who put a brick through the glass door of a New York County democratic party headquarters after the health bill passed. At a time when Goldwater was to extreme for most of the country. He was trounced by President Lyndon Johnson.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The voice of the people was heard in the land. An overwhelming mandate is handed to Lyndon Baines Johnson who becomes 36th president of the United States.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): A victory that gave Johnson a liberal mandate for his great society programs like Medicare, the war on poverty—which continued to be the bane of far right groups today. It would be 16 years before another full-fledged conservative would gain the republican nomination and this time win the presidency.
REAGAN: In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Unlike Goldwater, the far less threatening Ronald Reagan had help from the bad economy in 1980 and from a well-organized network on the right that started in the 1970s including the intellectual heft of The Heritage Foundation, the conservative women‘s groups campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment.
PHYLLIS SCHAFLY: We‘ve got a right to be treated by ladies and just because there‘s a noisy bunch that has great access to the media that‘s been promoting this idea that men and women have to be treated the same, we‘re not going to acquiesce in that.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): And powerful religious right groups like Jerry Falwell‘s moral majority. But in 1992, the hard right‘s Pat Buchanan ran and lost in the republican primaries against the incumbent president, George H. W. Bush. To placate the right, Bush‘s team gave Buchanan a speaking slot at the republican convention. He used it to lay out his vision for America.
BUCHANAN: Block by block, my friends, we must take back our cities and take back our culture and take back our country.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Some blamed Buchanan‘s rhetoric for hurting the Bush re-election effort, pushing moderates to voted for the democratic candidate, Bill Clinton. But Buchanan‘s call to arms resonates loudly in the new right rallies of today. And were he to give the same speech in 2010, it would echo for days, even weeks thanks to 24-hour news and the Internet.
Coming up, how the new right fans the flames.
ALEX JONES: Will he stage a terror attack or a crisis like other presidents have done? Will he launch a new war? This is what politicians and tyrants do.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The new right has one big advantage over right wing movements of the past—the Internet. The Tea Party movement could never have caught on as quickly as it did without protesters all over the country logging on and sharing ideas.
Militia groups are active on the Internet, too, with their training videos easy to download. Rumors, true and false, spread virally through popular conservative web sites and often find their way into the new right‘s other big asset, cable television‘s Fox News, whose primetime hosts preach a daily message of right wing protest.
BECK: Why would a government continue to poke you and poke you and poke and poke you and poke you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some kind of panel telling me I cannot have health care because I‘m 73 years old and I‘m not worth anything anymore. And I resent that!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s a death sentence—
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The overwrought claim that the health care bill that would require seniors to stand before death panels, ruling on whether they would or would not receive life-saving care went viral from Sarah Palin‘s Facebook page. It soon reached talk radio and Fox News.
PALIN: It‘s a commission, it‘s a bureaucracy, it‘s bureaucrats who will ration care if the bill goes through as Obama wants it to go through.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Then some mainstream politicians began using it as a talking point as to why they would vote against the health care bill.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: We should not have a government program that determines if you‘re going to pull the plug on grandma.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The death panels were a Palin caricature. The initial provision merely offered counseling upon request for such matters as the writing of a living will. Yet the rumor gained so much currency that Congress removed all end-of-life counseling from the health care bill.
ERIC BURNS, PRESIDENT, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA: That really is how powerful this misinformation can be. It actually affects legislation.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Eric burns is the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal group that promises the national media for what it cites as conservative misinformation. Burns says that rightest media, particularly Fox News host, Glenn Beck, plays an active role the motivating and riling up the angry right. Beck, who has called President Obama a racist is a hero to the right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He can get down to the level of people. He‘s not using big words. He‘s using everyday words. He‘s making valid comparisons with things that happen in our everyday lives.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He seems to be the only one in the media right now that‘s saying the things that we‘ve been saying in our meetings but we haven‘t been hearing from our leaders.
BURNS: He uses extremely aggressive, revolutionary, antagonistic, sometimes even violent language to define his political enemies. That‘s all very intentional.
BECK: That‘s like somebody sticking a screwdriver in your eye and saying stop, stop, and somebody else pulls it out and then puts a pin in your eye. I don‘t want stuff in my eyes! Stop stabbing in the eyes.
BURNS: It‘s done to trigger an emotional response in the audience he‘s talking to and generally that emotional response that they‘re trying to trigger is fear and anger.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Beck isn‘t the first broadcaster to capture the imagination of conservatives. Long before him or Rush Limbaugh, there was the charismatic and hugely popular 1930s radio priest called Father Coughlin.
FATHER COUGHLIN: What will become of the old party? How often have I told you? Is there nothing more than Mr. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb?
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Father Coughlin struck a chord with many Americans suffering through The Depression when he resorted to age-old scapegoating.
ALLAN LICHTMAN, PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Father Coughlin had two main messages. One was an economic message, that we needed a more populist approach to economics, but his other message was highly anti-Semitic and highly authoritarian that a conspiracy of international bankers to great extent led by Jews were responsible for the Great Depression, were responsible for the continuation of hard times and that may be Adolf Hitler and Germany had some right ideas.
COUGHLIN: It is my opinion that Nazism, the effect of Communism can not be liquidated in its prosecution calmly. Until the religious Jews in high places, in synagogue and finance, radio and press, attack the cause. Attack it forthright and the arrows and the spread of Communism together with all our co-nationals who support it.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Recently on the show “Fox and Friends,” Glenn Beck voiced one of the most extreme claims of the radical right—that the federal emergency management agency, FEMA, is building secret concentration camps for American citizens.
BECK: I wanted to debunk these FEMA camps. I‘m tired of hearing—you know about them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.
BECK: I‘m tired of hearing—I wanted to debunk them. Well, we‘ve now for several days done research on them. I can‘t debunk them.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Rumors like this one, which Beck later distanced himself from stoked the new right‘s fear of federal tyranny. They give a nervous rationale to far right groups including a new patriot organization called the Oath Keepers. Its members are military and police officers, both active duty and retired, who swear an oath to defend their view of the Constitution, promising not to obey a list of hypothetical orders from the government.
These include, in position of martial law, the basing of foreign troops on U.S. soil, the herding of American citizens into concentration camps. Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers, and a U.S. Army paratrooper was a guest on “Hardball” in 2009.
MATTHEWS: When you put your head on the pillow at night, are you afraid that at some point in your lifetime the black helicopters from the U.N. will arrive in the United States and deny Americans sovereignty. Do you think that‘s probable or possible?
STEWART RHODES: I think it‘s possible.
MATTHEWS: Or plausible?
RHODES: We‘re concerned about—look at Germany. An advanced civilization and they fell into a despotism in a dictatorship, a murderous dictatorship in a span of ten years after an economic collapse. It can happen here. You think it can‘t happen here?
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Before these rumors about government tyranny reach the mainstream, they often start with an extremely popular Internet radio host, Alex Jones.
JONES: We‘re going to look at the type of tyrants in the Obama Administration, and it‘s—
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Jones claims he has 2 million listeners for his Internet broadcast and that millions more watch his YouTube broadcast and his dozens of documentaries. He also has several websites full of articles supporting his fears of government oppression and a tyrannical new world order.
JONES: We are just about done. We are fried. I mean we are in deep tyranny. Deep, deep, deep. We have a psychopathic elite who have formed a global guild of psychopaths. They have their symbols. They have their language. They have their whole communication system. They‘re in control of the planet, and they‘re setting up a planetary police state to carry out an orderly extermination of at least 80 percent—some say 99. They debate the numbers of us they want to kill.
MARK POTOK: These tales that come out of Alex Jones‘s websites are stories that identify real enemies—the government, law enforcement, there are a whole set of evil agents out there. And though I don‘t expect to see Alex Jones taking a shot at them anytime soon, there are people out there who are perfectly willing to do exactly that.
JONES: The system, from all their preparations and all their statements, actually wants it to become violent and wants to use that as the excuse to clamp down and have a real police state in America. And that‘s when the revolution starts. That‘s when people are just going to go, okay, you stopped me at a checkpoint, the government‘s being abusive. Lock and load.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Jones is also one of the leading figures in the 9/11 truther movement, claiming the U.S. government, not Al Qaeda, was behind the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He maintains that he‘s neither far right nor far left—equally contemptuous of both sides of the political spectrum. But his appeal to the anti-government new right is palpable.
JONES: Big government kills. Big government enslaves. Big government destroys and big government annihilates the individual.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): It‘s extreme talk, but is it that different from the Tea Parties and the politicians now railing against big government?
ARMEY: The solution is not more government control. The solution is less government control.
RAND PAUL: Big government‘s not your friend because big government causes recessions. Big government spends your money and takes it away from you and you have less to save from your family.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Will this rage on the right help win elections or will it scare off voters? We will all know more in the fall with the voter reaction to this new range of voices from center right to far right, the Tea Parties, the birthers, the patriot groups, and the militias.
(on camera): But the new right, as we have seen, may not be satisfied with the election of officeholders a few notches to the right. Increasingly, the anger on the right is stirred not just by a particular political party—the democrats—but by the federal government itself, and anyone whose part of it.
To some on the right—and not only those who wear military garb on weekend training exercises—Washington itself is viewed as a remote, even foreign capital. The elected government housed there is a tyrannical menace.
Those who work in it are agents of a hostile force visibly preying on their freedoms.
(voice-over): Throughout our history, we have disagreed passionately over the role of the federal government and of our country‘s role in the world, but we are generally a pragmatic people, not given to ideological extremes.
(on camera): What‘s scary today is the language being thrown about. Words have consequences. You can not call a president‘s policies un-American as Sarah Palin has done, or refer to the elected government as a regime as Rush Limbaugh persists in doing, or the president as a foreign usurper as the birthers do, without giving license on some day to real trouble.
This April was the 15th anniversary of Oklahoma City. It is well to consider what happens when people act on what they hear, when the hatred of our own elected government becomes explosive. I‘m Chris Matthews. Thank you for watching.
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