Conservative media have long alleged that progressives are waging a "war on Christianity" in the United States. Now many of these same media figures are waging their own war on the man who leads the world's largest Christian denomination, the Catholic Church's Pope Francis, for addressing the urgent issue of climate change.
Conservative media haven't had the best luck in recent years when choosing which fringe protests or figures to elevate into the national conversation, often mistakenly tying themselves to extremism and bizarre conspiracy theories. In 2013, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Drudge, and other conservatives helped promote a rally of truckers planning to clog the Beltway to protest the government. The protest -- which eventually fizzled -- turned out to have been organized in part by someone who thinks President Obama and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person.
This year, conservatives threw their weight behind a Nevada rancher fighting against the federal government over grazing fees, only to be burned when he was videotaped giving his thoughts on "the Negro." 2014 also featured an unhinged conspiracy about President Obama trying (and apparently failing) to spark a domestic Ebola outbreak and a staggering amount of outlandish comments from Fox News contributor Allen West.
Media Matters looks back at the year on the fringe.
Last week, Michael Savage leveled his latest in a long string of attacks on Americans with mental illness and the medical community that works to help them. After a veteran caller with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) expressed support for the city of San Francisco naming a bridge after the late Robin Williams, the right-wing radio host announced that he is "so sick and tired of everyone with their complaints about PTSD, depression," asserting that it's a sign of a "weak, sick, broken nation."
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), approximately 5.2 million adults have PTSD within a given year. As of 2012, mental illness was the leading reason for active-duty hospitalizations in the military, and the VA estimates that up to 20 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001 suffer from PTSD. For veterans who left the military between October 2002 and July 2011, nearly 200,000 had a provisional diagnosis for PTSD, not including those who went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. And the Institute of Medicine reported in June that "PTSD is the third most common major service-connected disability after hearing loss and ringing of the ears."
PTSD isn't just a combat-related injury. It can result from various traumatic incidents, ranging from child abuse to car accidents to muggings to sexual assault. A fight-or-flight response can be triggered by things that remind the survivor of her trauma, or things that catch the person off-guard, like bright lights or loud noises. Often those with PTSD experience flashbacks, where memories and feelings associated with past trauma come rushing back as if the trauma was happening all over again.
Conservative radio host Michael Savage accused those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, including military veterans, of being "weak," "narcissistic," "losers." Savage added that "we're being laughed at around the world. No wonder ISIS can defeat our military."
As Right Wing Watch's Brian Tashman documented, Savage began an October 14 segment by complaining about a plan to rename a San Francisco tunnel after the late comedian Robin Williams. Savage called Williams "a depressed clown who was so selfish he choked himself to death with a belt." He added: "What is this sick, backwards area I live in?"
After getting into a heated argument with a caller who said he suffered from PTSD while in the military, Savage went on an unhinged rant in which he explained why he is "so sick and tired of everyone with their complaints about PTSD, depression":
Right-wing media figures are accusing President Obama of purposely wanting "to infect the nation with Ebola" because he wants a "redistribution" of wealth, and a new "civil war."
Conservatives have previously claimed Obama "deliberately" "planned" the humanitarian border crisis; deliberately abandoned Americans to die in Benghazi; was "purposefully creating drama" like the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash; and tried to intentionally destroy the economy as payback.
The Ebola conspiracy theory is also making its way into politics. As Right Wing Watch noted, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) wondered if Obama is intentionally delaying a Ebola response "to create a greater crisis to use it as a blunt force to say, well in order to solve this crisis we're going to have to take control of the economy and individuals and so forth."
Here's a look at media figures who have suggested President Obama is purposely trying to infect Americans with Ebola.
Laura Ingraham: Obama Willing To Expose Military To "The Ebola Virus To Carry Out This Redistribution Of The Privileged's Wealth." Ingraham, a contributor to ABC News and Fox News, suggested on her September 26 radio program that Obama is willing to expose American soldiers to Ebola to atone for colonialism:
INGRAHAM: [T]he military is just another tool in his arsenal to level the playing field, right? I mean, in other words, Africa really deserves more of America's money because we're people of privilege. We're people of great privilege, so we should do what we can, we the American taxpayers, to transfer wealth over to Africa. It's his father's rage against colonialism, as Dinesh D'Souza wrote about, and maybe this is a way to continue to atone for that.
INGRAHAM: If a few American military personnel have to be exposed to the Ebola virus to carry out this redistribution of the privileged's wealth, then so be it.
Alex Jones: Obama Is "Letting Ebola In" As Part Of Plan To "Bankrupt Us" And "Start A Civil War With Obama As Its Head As The New Lincoln." Jones, a prominent conspiracy theorist, alleged on his October 8 radio program that "the military knows Obama and others are funding radical Islam. They know the borders are open, they know they're letting Ebola in ... this is to bankrupt us under Cloward and Piven. But it's beyond that and now they want to start a civil war with Obama at its head as the new Lincoln."
Jones's YouTube channel includes videos with headlines such as "Ebola Threat Is Just The Crisis Obama Needs To Stay in Office," "Obama Using Military as Ebola Guinea Pigs," "The Federal Government Wants Ebola To Spread" and "Why Obama Brought Ebola To U.S. Exposed: Special Report."
Right-wing media are falsely blaming the recent surge of undocumented children from Central America for spreading a deadly strain of the enterovirus. Conservatives are claiming the children are a form of "biological warfare" and President Obama and the government are "bringing in infected children and putting them in our public schools" because he's "so obsessed with winning Latino votes." However, the disease has been detected in the country for decades and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told Media Matters that there is "no evidence" of a link.
Fearmongering about undocumented children spreading enterovirus D68 is the latest chapter in the conservative media's book of xenophobic smears. The right-wing media, in their efforts to oppose immigration reform, have previously blamed undocumented immigrants for diseases such as Hansen's disease (leprosy) and tuberculosis.
This year, a surge of unaccompanied children fled violence-stricken Central America and crossed the border into the United States. Many of the children were relocated to various cities and are starting school.
The CDC has confirmed over 600 cases of EV-D68 since mid-August. The agency notes that "Almost all the confirmed cases this year of EV-D68 infection have been among children. Many of the children had asthma or a history of wheezing." While investigations are ongoing, the virus has been "detected in specimens from five patients who died and had samples submitted for testing."
Public health experts have debunked the alleged connection between the influx of undocumented children into the United States and the spread of EV-D68. CDC spokesperson Jeanette St. Pierre told Media Matters: "Currently, there is no evidence from testing at CDC that EV-D68 infections in the U.S. are a result of unaccompanied minors moving into the country."
MLive reported that conservatives "have implied a link between undocumented children from Central America and the spread of enterovirus, but public health experts say that's simply not the case." The Michigan-based site, which publishes The Grand Rapids Press and others, wrote:
Fox News contributor Allen West agreed with radio host Michael Savage's assertion that "Khmer Rouge feminists" are attempting a "coup" against the military by proposing to change the military chain of command in sexual assault cases. West also used the sexual assault issue to criticize liberals for wanting to "put women into combat arms units" "so that they can meet some socially engineering goal or egalitarian goal."
Savage, who hosts Cumulus Media Networks' Savage Nation, began the June 4 segment by playing audio of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) talking about changing the military chain of command in sexual assault cases. After saying Gillibrand "sounds like a college chick at a dorm," Savage told guest West: "When I watch these Khmer Rouge feminists try to take over the military, this looked like an attempted coup to me, Colonel West."
West replied: "Nah, you're absolutely right and that's a big concern that I have because when you start to get -- you know, I understand civilian oversight of the military. We all understand that as all officers who served in uniform. But when you start to have this interjection of, you know, political, you know, will against, you know, the military, good order and discipline, where you start to try to usurp the commanders' authority and I guess replace it with some type of political, legal officers, and things of that nature. Then the next thing you know, it goes from just dealing with this, you know, sexual assault thing to, you know, making decisions on the battlefield."
Savage and West went on to discuss whether sexual assaults in the military are actually a problem. When West said that "there may be a problem, without a doubt, with sexual assault," Savage interrupted by claiming that sexual assault claims can include men asking women out for "a beer." He then asked West, "how many of them are fraudulent claims? We don't know, do we?"
"No we don't," West answered. "And furthermore, Dr. Savage, we don't know how many of them are female against male, you know, sexual assaults, or same-sex sexual assaults. So we don't have those numbers either."
The Department of Defense recently released its "Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military" and found that up to 26,000 service members may have been the victim of some form of sexual assault. The Army Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Program has stated that "[s]exual assault is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent."
Savage proceeded to launch into a screed about how military sexual assaults are "such trivial nonsense" and wondered why the U.S. Senate is having a hearing on "this rubbish."
West responded by claiming that it's because Democrats control the U.S. Senate, while Republicans control the "House Armed Services Committee, where you would have more poignant questions. You know, you have the hearings about Benghazi."
Zeb Colter, an anti-immigrant character from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, would be right at home in the conservative media. Many of Colter's bigoted and flawed arguments have been the right's stock-in-trade for years.
Beck targeted the Colter character on his radio show, arguing that Colter is "demonizing the Tea Party." Beck also accused the WWE of "mocking me for standing up for the Constitution." Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere complained: "It seems that the villain, the guy you're supposed to hate, is this stereotype of a conservative that I've never met."
Colter currently appears on WWE programming alongside wrestler Jack Swagger, spouting a lot of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the middle of a scripted feud with Mexican-born wrestler Alberto Del Rio. According to WWE, Colter's rhetoric is intended to "to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base."
WWE explains that in order "to create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines."
On Wednesday, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center released a study showing that guests and topics discussed during "The Rush Limbaugh Show," "The Sean Hannity Show," "The Glenn Beck Program," The Savage Nation" and "The John and Ken Show" overwhelmingly marginalized minority groups.
As the study explains:
The findings reveal that the hosts promoted an insular discourse that focused on, for example, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, and pro-Tea Party positions and that this discourse found repetition and amplification through social media.
These viewpoints have far reaching consequences. NHMC President and CEO Alex Nogales told Fox News Latino that the social network surrounding conservative talk radio and Fox News has spread to social media websites resulting in "an echo-chamber of voices, both online and off, that promotes hatred against ethnic, racial and religious groups and the LGBT community on social media web sites."
Using hateful rhetoric, these hosts have cast immigrants as disease ridden, equated pro-immigrant organizations with neo-Nazis, called Islam an "evil religion," claimed the Obama administration is promoting "race riots" and made fun of the ethnicity of Asian-American politicians.
In response to the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of health care reform, the Drudge Report is smearing Chief Justice John Roberts over the possibility that he might use epilepsy medication and suggesting that it affected his judgment.
Drudge linked to a Real Clear Politics post that contains a clip of right-wing radio host Michael Savage claiming that "if you look at Roberts' writings you can see the cognitive disassociation in what he is saying."
Drudge also linked to a 2007 New York Times report that discussed Roberts' medical options. The article described the side effects of epilepsy drugs, but it has never been reported that Roberts actually takes such medication.
Right-wing media are demonizing the National Council of La Raza in order to object to President Obama's recent appointment of Cecilia Muñoz as director of the Domestic Policy Council, accusing the organization of being an "amnesty" group with "racist" ties. These attacks are not new: Conservatives have long described the civil rights group as "the Ku Klux Klan Of The Hispanic People."
The federal government has alleged that four Georgia militia members who are accused of plotting to kill federal employees modeled their plan on right-wing blogger Mike Vanderboegh's online novel Absolved, which depicts underground militia fighters who declare war on the federal government over gun control laws and same-sex marriage, leading to a second American revolution. Vanderboegh is not alone in promoting such insurrectionism: several right-wing media figures, including other gun rights bloggers, have suggested the possibility of political violence or revolution as a means of responding to progressive policies.
On his radio program on Monday, Michael Savage let it be known that he was not impressed with the supposed "Great American Novels." He "couldn't get through the first thirty pages" of Moby Dick. Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is "way overrated." The Great Gatsby was "never one of [his] favorites." He never read Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! because he "couldn't stand looking at it." Invisible Man is a "PC book."
In place of these pretenders, Savage suggested his own list of classics: Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer... and his own recently-released debut novel, Abuse of Power.
Savage explained that Abuse of Power is a "Great American Novel" because it "is about the saga of a single man fictionialized, and it tells the story of what's going on in the world today -- what happens when a man stands up and speaks the truth. He gets crushed by the power."
He scoffed at critics who would suggest "you're supposed to be dignified and sit back and let an English literature professor at perhaps Berkeley or Harvard declare long after you're dead whether or not it was even a piece of literary work."
Savage apparently didn't think he was writing a trashy supermarket thriller when he penned his book, instead thinking he was following in the tradition of books that "typify America at that time, through the journey, the odyssey of a single man." (I don't remember Dean and Sal beating terrorists to death while spitting out catchphrases like "enjoy the virgins, asshole" during On the Road, but, to be fair, it's been a while since I've read it.)
And it's true - his character does go on an impressive, terrorist-punching journey. For example, early in the book protagonist Jack Hatfield is reminisces about bedding "a beautiful blue-eyed Czech woman," while near the end of the book, he is having sex with a Muslim woman on top of a radiator without getting burned, just "like the Indian fakirs who can be on a bed of nails without later showing puncture marks." This is what we call a character arc.
According to Michael Savage, Michael Savage has quite the impressive catalogue. Last year, while promoting his book Trickle Up Poverty, Savage predicted it could "change the course of human events" like other historic sociopolitical tracts, including Plato's The Republic.
Warning: This review contains plot spoilers and graphic content.
If you are completely unfamiliar with radio host Michael Savage, his debut novel, Abuse of Power, will likely read like an ordinary cheap supermarket thriller, with gaping plot holes, serial clichés, and leaps of logic. The villains deliver long monologues about their evil plans instead of acting on them, and women are powerless against the charms of the hero, a James Bond/Jason Bourne knockoff.
But if you know Savage and his personal history, the book becomes something else entirely: a bizarre and hilarious fantasy fulfillment in which caricatures of Savage's real-life enemies (George Soros, elements of the British Government, Media Matters, Muslim terrorists, and the PC police) are all working in coordination to destroy the book's protagonist -- seemingly a fantasy version of Savage himself -- who fights terrorists and British thugs, has sex (narrated in graphic detail) with beautiful women, and saves San Francisco from being destroyed by a nuclear weapon.