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.
Obama's Failed Efforts To Infect The Nation With Ebola And Bury Us All In FEMA Coffins
This fall, media outlets were swept up in panic about a widespread domestic Ebola outbreak that never materialized, devoting significant column space and TV segments to fearmongering about the issue.
But according to certain conservative and fringe media figures, not only was a domestic Ebola outbreak imminent, it was also an intentional plot by President Obama inspired by his desire to destroy America.
Radio host Michael Savage, who has largely flown under the mainstream radar in recent years but still commands an audience of millions of listeners, suggested in October that Obama was guilty of treason over Ebola. According to Savage, Obama wanted to “infect the nation with Ebola” to help “make things fair and equitable” in the world.
Savage's conspiracy (as many conspiracies often do) found a receptive audience with prominent radio host Alex Jones. Previewing an interview with Savage, Jones told his listeners that Obama was “letting Ebola in” as part of an elaborate conspiracy to bankrupt the country and potentially “start a civil war with Obama at its head as the new Lincoln.”
Morgan Brittany, a WND columnist and conservative activist, wrote a column on Ebola in early October wondering “If The Conspiracy Theories Are True.” Brittany detailed a dinner party she had attended, during which the conversation “veered into conspiracy territory,” including concerns over the government owning "$1 billion worth of disposable FEMA coffins." (The government is not stockpiling $1 billion worth of disposable FEMA coffins.) Brittany wondered whether Ebola and other crises were all “orchestrated” by the government to declare martial law and seize people's guns.
Also at WND, Alan Keyes quoted extensively from Machiavelli's The Prince before launching into a barely comprehensible diatribe about how the president was intentionally importing individuals infected with Ebola as human “biological weapon[s] of mass destruction” in order to help fight off challenges to the Affordable Care Act, or something:
The Obama faction's plan to import Ebola-infected persons into the United States maintains the outward appearance of and unarmed invasion while in fact introducing into the country what amounts to specialized “armies of one,” each of them carrying a biological weapon of mass destruction. If and when the resulting infections get out of hand (which seems to be happening despite repeated, apparently erroneous, possibly deceitful, assurances of effective containment) what will be made of the resulting health crisis? When, by way of this sly biological warfare, “Obamacare” morphs into “Ebolacare” what will become of the (always suspect) commitment of Obama's ostensible opponents in the GOP's elitist faction leadership to roll back the government takeover of the health sector?
Conspiracies about Obama's handling of Ebola weren't limited to fringe radio and websites. Fox News contributor Keith Ablow -- no stranger to saying absurd things on any number of subjects -- gave these claims a national platform when he wrote in a column that the president was not doing enough to combat the disease and ease public fears because he “may literally believe we should suffer along with less fortunate nations.” He returned to the theory again the next week, saying the president was failing to fight Ebola properly because his “affinities” are with Africa.
On her radio show, Fox News and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham claimed that Obama sending American troops to West Africa to help combat the outbreak was possibly an attempt for the president to “continue to atone” for the “rage against colonialism” that he inherited from his father. According to 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.”
If Obama was hoping to infect the nation with Ebola, he failed miserably -- there hasn't been a domestic case of the virus diagnosed in over a month.
“Barack Hussein Obama Is An Islamist” : Allen West Hits His Stride As A Member Of Conservative Media
Former Florida congressman Allen West was hired by Fox News in 2013, and has spent the intervening year and a half unleashing a torrent of commentary that is equal parts conspiratorial, nonsensical, and offensive. While West's commentary would fit nicely on a fringe message board like Free Republic, he's been given a prominent megaphone as a Fox News employee.
Even among Fox News' often-extreme stable of voices, West -- through his on-air comments, radio appearances, and posts to his website and Facebook page -- stands out.
In 2014 alone, West:
- extensively plagiarized a viral Internet story, lifting at least six paragraphs (including typos) from a story that had previously appeared on Yahoo! Answers
- said of decorated military veteran Rep. Tammy Duckworth after she agreed to serve on the Benghazi select committee, “I just don't know where her loyalties lie”
- suggested that President Obama was somehow “purposefully creating drama” like crashed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17
- accused the Obama administration of feigning concern over the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in order to distract from “all the scandals facing the Obama administration, especially Benghazi and the Select Committee”
- suggested that the military should refuse to follow an order from President Obama
- claimed that ISIS was emulating Media Matters' and progressive website Daily Kos' online tactics by using “trolls” to harass members of the military
- managed to invoke Benghazi when discussing former Clippers owner Donald Sterling's racist comments
- argued that a Coca-Cola ad that aired during the Super Bowl, during which members of different cultures sang “America the Beautiful” in various languages, was “truly disturbing” and evidence that the country is “on the road to perdition”
- labeled President Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder “the most vile and disgusting racists”
- wrote on his website that “Barack Hussein Obama is an Islamist”
- responded to an audience member at one of his speeches calling Obama a Muslim by saying he was “not going to get into that,” but added that Obama, “has an Eastern orientation, I'll put it that way”
In addition to serving as a Fox News contributor, West was recently named the CEO of a think tank.
“I Want To Tell You One More Thing I Know About The Negro”
Conservative media outlets are constantly on the hunt for honest, Regular Americans trapped under the oppressive boot of Big Government. This spring, conservatives thought they had struck gold and found someone that fit the bill perfectly: Cliven Bundy, a cattle rancher that the government had allegedly been bullying and harassing for two decades.
After taking up his cause, conservative media figures compared Bundy to Rosa Parks and Paul Revere, championing him as a poster boy for people suffering at the whims of an out-of-control government. It wouldn't end well.
Bundy's dispute with the government hinged on his refusal to pay fees (dating back to 1993) required to let his cattle graze on publicly-owned Nevada land. After the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) starting seizing Bundy's cattle in April to help recuperate the more than $1 million in fines and fees he owed the government, the conflict boiled over into the national media, thanks to help from Fox News and other conservatives.
Fox News -- and Sean Hannity specifically -- repeatedly promoted Bundy. Hannity was so instrumental in elevating Cliven Bundy that Bundy told Alex Jones, "[Hannity] is my hero and he supported me and this movement and I appreciate and love him for it."
After conservative media helped make Bundy's standoff national news, tensions reached a boiling point. Armed militia flocked to Bundy's support, nearly setting off a violent confrontation with federal officers.
But Bundy's time in the spotlight as a conservative hero came to a screeching halt when the New York Times reported on one of his daily press conferences with the media, during which Bundy pontificated on his views about “the Negro” and wondered whether African-Americans were better off as slaves: