By James Hibberd
Updated January 04, 2013 at 08:09 PM EST

The writer-producer of the upcoming film Killing Lincoln says infamous presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth could be a “poster boy for the tea party.”

The incendiary comment was made on National Geographic Channel’s press tour panel Friday. Killing Lincoln dramatizes the final days of the 16h president and the man who killed him. The film’s writer and executive producer Erik Jendresen criticized the typical portrayal of Booth as a crazed failed actor and said Killing Lincoln takes a more rounded approach.

“The true story is more fascinating and disturbing,” Jendresen said. “This is not the act of somebody who could be easily dismissed as a psychopath. So that it’s easy to understand, ‘Oh well he’s crazy.’ No, it’s more distributing to find out who Booth was. This was a man who believed — and still probably 20 percent of this country believes — that he could be a poster boy for the tea party. … The tragedy is John Wilkes Booth was a man who fervently believed in something and he just got it so wrong and he ended up killing the best friend the South ever had … So it was just an immense mistake. … It’s easier to explain away Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan or John Wilkes Booth as, ‘Oh, they were nuts.'”

Killing Lincoln is based on a book by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. A critic asked Jendresen what he thought O’Reilly would say about comparing Lincoln’s assassin to the modern conservative political movement.

“I can’t speak for Mr. O’Reilly,” Jendresen said. “If you look at the politics of the time and a lot of the epithets that were being hurled at Lincoln there was a feeling in the nation that was not dissimilar from what we’ve experienced in the last four years in response to Barack Obama. The sense of an imperial presidency, of Obama declaring himself king and taking over… It’s stunning to read some of the newspaper articles and some of the interviews and some of the contents of letters and memoirs … some of the things that were thought about Lincoln in the South they were so similar to [the political dialogue today].”

O’Reilly wasn’t on the panel, which also included the show’s cast. The team seemed to downplay O’Reilly’s involvement in the film, saying his bestseller simply “inspired” the project. “He gave us great ability to make the film we wanted to make… O’Reilly has loved the results so far.”

Killing Lincoln is also executive produced by Ridley and Tony Scott and is narrated by Tom Hanks. Here is the first trailer for the film.