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The Manchurian Tea Party

February 21, 2010

tea party NY / CC BY 2.0

As this New York Times article shows, a lot of the Tea Party movement’s rhetoric is about mind control. Obama, they think, is secretly totalitarian: he wants to control your thoughts without you even realizing it! Electronic surveillance, Acorn, the Federal Reserve—it’s all part of the plan:

It is a sprawling rebellion, but running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny. This narrative permeates Tea Party Web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos. It is a prominent theme of their favored media outlets and commentators, and it connects the disparate issues that preoccupy many Tea Party supporters — from the concern that the community organization Acorn is stealing elections to the belief that Mr. Obama is trying to control the Internet and restrict gun ownership. trumpets “exclusives” reporting that the Army is seeking “Internment/Resettlement” specialists. On, bloggers warn that Mr. Obama is trying to convert Interpol, the international police organization, into his personal police force. They call on “fellow Patriots” to “grab their guns.”

Mr. Beck frequently echoes Patriot rhetoric, discussing the possible arrival of a “New World Order” and arguing that Mr. Obama is using a strategy of manufactured crisis to destroy the economy and pave the way for dictatorship.

At recent Tea Party events around the country, these concerns surfaced repeatedly.

In New Mexico, Mary Johnson, recording secretary of the Las Cruces Tea Party steering committee, described why she fears the government. She pointed out how much easier it is since Sept. 11 for the government to tap telephones and scour e-mail, bank accounts and library records. “Twenty years ago that would have been a paranoid statement,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s not anymore.”

One of the movement’s favorite websites,, has the motto “Because there is a war on for your mind.” In sections with names like “Big Brother” and “Police State”, it purports to collect evidence that totalitarianism is on the march.

In itself, this sort of thing is nothing new. The John Birch Society, it’s often pointed out, is a forerunner. Think also of Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove freaking out about fluoridated water. There’s a new irony, though. The Tea Party movement is fueled by media like Fox News, talk radio, blogs, and twitter that exercise their own kind of mind control. Obviously, it’s nothing like The Manchurian Candidate, where the far left secretly controls the far right. And it’s nothing as deliberate, ambitious, or nefarious as what people accuse the government of, but it’s far more real. There’s the oft-mentioned echo chamber effect where people surround themselves with nothing but fellow travelers. There’s also the bumper-sticker effect, where people are bombarded by images stripped of all but the most superficial meaning. Boston tea party! Socialism! Czars! Patriotism! Tyranny vs. Liberty! Any chance of re-investing them with their real significance suffocates instantly under the sheer volume.

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