Behind the Obama-Hitler Slur

That outrageous comparison that Limbaugh and town-hall screamers have been making? Max Blumenthal tracks its origins to cult leader Lyndon LaRouche, whose followers pushed the attacks.

Jae C. Hong / AP Photo

The June 10, 2009 public “listening session” of the newly created Federal Council Coordinating Comparative Effectiveness Research would have been an uneventful gathering had not Anton Chaitkin seated himself before the 15-member panel and began to read breathlessly from notes he had prepared for the hearing. After describing himself simply as “a historian,” the nondescript Chaitkin quickly launched into a diatribe against President Barack Obama and panelist Ezekiel Emanuel, the head of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health and the brother of presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

According to one movement leader, top LaRouche advisers decided during the congressional debate over the stimulus package to liken Obama’s policies to those of Hitler.

"President Obama has put in place a reform apparatus reviving the euthanasia of Hitler Germany in 1939, that began the genocide there,” Chaitkin alleged. “Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel and other avowed cost-cutters on this panel also lead a propaganda movement for euthanasia... They shape public opinion and the medical profession to accept a death culture… to let physicians help kill patients whose medical care is now rapidly being withdrawn in the universal health-care disaster.”

When Chaitkin was done, Emanuel calmly responded, “I think I do have a very long record of writing against the legalization of euthanasia, so the association of me and that seemed a little strange.” Emanuel then stood and excused himself from the hearing room, apparently unaware that Chaitkin had launched the opening volley of an orchestrated propaganda campaign designed to link him and the White House’s health-care reform proposals to the T-4 mass euthanasia program of Adolph Hitler.

Emanuel and his fellow panelists may have been similarly uninformed about Chaitkin’s senior role in the political empire of Lyndon LaRouche, the eccentric movement leader whose activities have confounded and outraged observers from across the spectrum. LaRouche has been accused of everything from Holocaust denial to gay bashing (his outfit introduced a ballot measure in California to quarantine AIDS patients). In 1988, LaRouche was convicted and jailed for mail fraud.

Leonard Zeskind, who studies extremist and cult groups, has called LaRouche a “crank fascist,” while Dennis King, the author of Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism, went further, describing the former Marxist ideologue as a “pure Nazi” and totalitarian who tells his followers that they are members of an elite race called the “Golden Souls” who will one day rule the ignorant masses. In his investigative report on the mysterious death of LaRouche’s longtime printer, journalist Avi Klein wrote, “More than anything else… what [LaRouche’s movement] resembles is a vast and bizarre vanity press.”

While Chaitkin’s confrontation with Emanuel remained obscure and generally unreported, LaRouche’s myriad journals and Web sites promoted the incident along with reams of related material likening Obama to Hitler. At the same time, LaRouche’s ersatz political action committee, LPAC, distributed posters to movement followers portraying Obama with a Hitler moustache. According to Jeff Steinberg, a longtime LaRouche cadre who edits the movement’s political journal, Executive Intelligence Review, top LaRouche advisors decided during the congressional debate over the stimulus package to liken Obama’s policies to those of Hitler.

“We went after this thing five months ago and put everything out publicly through our magazine and web sites and decided to make a very harsh and shocking point,” Steinberg told me. “It is our view that there's a lot of people who for pragmatic reasons could be inclined to accept policies that could take us down that slippery slope to Hitler’s policies in 1939.”

When opposition to Obama’s health-care reform proposals intensified this August, mainstream Republican figures began echoing LaRouche’s paranoid warnings. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich and Senator Charles Grassley insisted that Obama’s health-care plan would mandate the creation of “death panels” to determine which Americans would be euthanized. Rush Limbaugh weighed in by comparing Obama to Hitler, who, he said, “also ruled by dictate.”

Most remarkably, Fox News host Sean Hannity introduced a segment of his August 12 broadcast by identifying Ezekiel Emanuel as the intellectual author of the “death panels”—just as Chaitkin had done two months before. Hannity then turned to Ann Coulter, a guest panelist on his show. “Totally ironically,” Coulter quipped, “Zeke Emanuel is on my death list. Hold the applause. I’m going to be on the death panel.”

Not to be outdone, Fox’s Glenn Beck devoted an extended rant on his August 14 show to Ezekiel Emanuel and “the death panels.” Beck accused Emanuel of “the devaluing of human life, putting a price on each individual,” adding, “the death panel is not a firing squad… Rationing is inevitable and they know it!” (Emanuel’s growing identification by leading conservatives with the establishment of death panels prompted him to call the accusations a “fabrication” of his published writings.)

The death panels rumor surfaced again on August 20 when a female LaRouche youth cadre confronted Democratic Rep. Barney Frank at a town hall-style forum on Obama’s health-care proposals. “This is the T4 policy, the Hitler policy in 1939,” the follower shouted into a microphone, “when he said certain lives are not worth living; certain people we should not spend the money to keep them alive—which is exactly what Ezekiel Emanuel has said!”

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

Waving one of the LaRouche-printed leaflets depicting Obama with a Hitler moustache, the woman asked Frank, “Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported this policy?”

While the audience groaned and booed, Frank dismissed the woman with a characteristically sardonic question: “On what planet do you spend most of your time?”

The incident was replayed by cable news programs on a virtual loop, turning it into a national sensation. However, the coverage invariably failed to answer Frank’s question by reporting that his questioner resided on Planet LaRouche. Washington Post and Daily Beast columnist Kathleen Parker, for example, identified the woman as just one spoke “among America’s squeakier wheels.” Parker might have been right, but by omitting the woman’s political affiliation, the press avoided the more salient story about how the Republican Party co-opted a fringe movement’s propaganda for its talking points in the health-care debate.

“The Republicans had no leadership and no message,” Steinberg remarked. “So they might have picked this [the Obama-Hitler comparisons] up publicly off our website but it’s hard to say. They have certainly begun echoing what we’ve saying for a long time.”

Max Blumenthal is a senior writer for The Daily Beast and writing fellow at The Nation Institute, whose book, Republican Gomorrah (Basic/Nation Books), is forthcoming in Fall 2009. Contact him at [email protected].