ST. LOUIS — Kitty Werthmann has made quite a career out of warning Americans that fascism is on its way. The 84-year-old native Austrian survived the excesses of the Third Reich and, in her dotage as a leader of the South Dakota branch of the Eagle Forum, recorded tapes and videos explaining just how Hitler took power. She made her case during George W. Bush’s presidency, but the audience was small–fringe conservative activists, radio hosts like Alex Jones. Then came President Barack Obama. On Saturday, at the “How to Take Back America” conference here, Werthmann found herself speaking to an overflowing room of conservative activists about the parallels between Obama and the rise of Hitler.
“We had prayer in school before we started class, and after class,” said Werthmann. “One day I came into the classroom and the crucifix was gone, and there was Hitler’s picture, and the Nazi flag on either side. And our teacher said, ‘Today we don’t pray anymore. We sing ‘Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles.’”
The audience of mostly female conservative activists murmured; some of them scrawled out detailed notes, shaking their heads at what they were hearing. It had been a few days since Fox News reported that a New Jersey school had children sing a song of praise to President Obama. They kept on writing and listening as Werthmann explained how Hitler had euthanized mentally handicapped children, and how he’d kept lists of political enemies.
“What would you suggest we do,” asked one activist, “if we are asked to give up our guns?”
“Don’t you dare give up your guns!” thundered Werthmann. “Never, never, never!”
“Give them back one bullet at a time!” called out another activist. The tense atmosphere melted a little bit; the room broke up with laughter.
According to Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, the “How to Take Back America” conference was the largest summit the group had held in all of its 38 years. Schlafly, who turned 85 in August, moved slowly through the halls of the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac, a 30-minute drive west from the center of the city, as new attendees shook her hand and begged her for autographs and photos. She told TWI that the registration topped 600, beating the previous record of around 300, and the size was overwhelming as hurried hotel staff tried to break down and build up tables for meals, for books, for punch at the end of the day.
“Kitty has pointed out the parallels between the slow, incremental Hitler takeover of Austria and some of the things that are happening today,” said Schlafly, asked about Werthmann’s “How to Recognize Living Under Nazis and Communists” session. “She’s an expert on that. I see what [Obama] is doing as absolute socialism, as government ownership of the means of production.”
The “How to Take Back America” conference was no place for soft critiques of the Obama administration. It was a weekend of speeches and training sessions that were laden with doom, cries of mounting fascism, and long prayers for salvation. It was the kind of event where Schlafly, a conservative icon who’s often seen as a leader of the movement’s far right flank, could take the role of a pragmatist, sticking to the sort of criticism of the Obama administration that might appear on Fox News and asking activists to elect a Republican Congress in 2010. And Schlafly succeeded in bringing big Republican stars to the conference. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) was the biggest draw, but six members of Congress attended, too–Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), and Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). Several 2010 Republican candidates hosted workshops, including Ed Martin and Vicky Hartzler, both running for Democratic-held U.S. House seats in Missouri. But some of the rhetoric went beyond partisan politics. At worst, the speakers argued, fascism was on the horizon. At best, this was a pivotal time in a war on Christian values. Some of the speakers split the difference.
“If you look at the classic model for moving to Marxism,” said retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who would give the conference’s opening speech, “you look at what every Marxist organization has done, they nationalize. They redistribute wealth. They restrict gun ownership. They then go out and suppress the opposition. And then, finally, they censor the media.”
In his speech, Boykin–who has gotten into hot water for speaking out against Islam while in uniform–begged the audience to pray for their country. “It’s only because of intercessory prayer that we haven’t been hit again since September 11,” said Boykin. “Pray for America for 10 minutes a day. If we can mobilize millions of prayer warriors that can pray for 10 minutes a day, we can open the gates of heaven.”
In the halls and from the stages of the conference, there were constant warnings of fascist, anti-Christian campaigns to break down American morals and sovereignty. Rev. Rick Scarborough, a pastor who advised Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, pounded the podium at his Friday afternoon speech, warning that the president’s pro-gay agenda was endangering Christians who spoke out against gay rights.
“The day the president put his hand on the bible,” said Scarborough, “his minions were changing official White House Website to reflect a whole new understanding of civil rights, to refer to homosexuals.” The Bible, said Scarborough, called these people “sodomites, which no one wants to talk about because it reminds them of their behavior.”
Some activists followed this up with a breakout session on “How to Counter the Homosexual Extremist Movement,” where they learned about transgender awareness days at public schools. And some went to “How to Stop Feminist and Gay Attacks on the Military,” where they were informed that upwards of 200,000 active duty members of the military might quit if “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is repealed.
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