While Fox News cameras covering the so-called 9.12 Project on the National Mall lurched away from signs morphing President Barack Obama's face into Adolph Hitler's, I zoomed in. Histrionics and manufactured paranoia were hard to avoid at the massive September 12 anti-Obama rally orchestrated by Fox News host Glenn Beck and former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey's corporate lobbying front group, Freedom Works.
When I dove into the angry mob with a camera, I captured scenes of self-proclaimed "real Americans" declaring that the community organizing group Acorn was Obama's version of Hitler's SS; that the President planned to establish concentration camps for right-wing dissidents; and that Obama was raising a private army in the guise of a civilian volunteer force. The death panel rumor is just one of a rapidly growing array of conspiracy theories reverberating through the Republican base. Each one is more hysterical than the last.
Conspiracism has proven a useful tool for distracting many of the 9.12 Project participants I met from their own economic interests. Having been convinced through endless hours of right-wing media that government involvement in their healthcare would lead to totalitarian slavery, some demonstrators told me they were content to not have healthcare at all. Others said they would stop collecting their Social Security as soon as "the government gets out of my life."
My video tour of the 9.12 Project is yet another exhibit of how the Republican Party's big tent became a one-ring circus that operates according to the rules of P.T. Barnum: "There's a sucker born every minute."
(For the inside story of how the radical right took over the GOP and drove it to the margins, check out my new book, "Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party.")