I admit it, he had me in tears—I felt like I was listening to the Gettysburg Address, like I was living through a moment that will be revisited again and again and again over the next 200 years.
White America has had this long-standing nightmare in which a vengeful black man—Nat Turner, Faulkner’s Joe Christmas, Malcolm X—comes out of the shadows to menace us, and a happier dream in which a black-skinned mother or father-figure loves us and forgives us unconditionally (Jim in Huckleberry Finn; Dilsey in Faulkner’s Sound & Fury; Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy). Then there’s the fantasy in which a gangster like, I don’t know, Spenser for Hire’s friend Hawk or rap’s Snoop Dogg, gruffly assures us that we can be his friend. Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons evoked those archetypes of reconciliation on stage; a lot of people, I suspect, projected some of them onto Obama too.
Obama changed the script in Charleston. Instead of an easy reconciliation (an un-earned grace that only Jesus can grant), he admonished white Americans to live up not just to our own ideals, but to the example that America’s black fighters and martyrs have set. He challenged us to open our eyes: to stop pretending that a proliferation of guns have nothing to do with gun violence; that racism and racial injustice have nothing to do with each other; that the Civil War was a noble cause with no lessons or implications for today.
So many martyrs. As Obama recounted the facts of Clementa Pinckney’s short life, I found myself thinking about how assiduous the Fox News machine has always been to remind us that Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddy Gray, and even the little girl in the bikini in Texas who was looking for her glasses, were “no angels”–and that the cops or would-be cops who hurt or killed them weren’t racists either, but just working stiffs doing a difficult job (which for all I know, some of them were–I can’t get inside their heads. But I have a pretty good idea about what’s going on in the heads of some of their loudest defenders).
Then an honest-to-God white supremacist gunned down nine angels in a historic church, a citadel of the Civil Rights movement, making sure to leave a witness behind so that there could be no doubt about his motive. It was as if, Obama said, God was using the killer to carry out a plan of His own. I’m no believer, but those words gave me chills.
When I finished listening to the president, I checked out the commentary at Twitchy. The upshot was that Obama’s “politicization” of the tragedy was narcissistic, unchristian, in poor taste, and of course race-baiting of the lowest kind. Obama, one wrote, is “a man whose messiah complex is so strong, that he’s found a way to turn a funeral into a pander-fest.” Can you imagine, talking about guns and racism at the funeral of nine victims of race-inspired gun violence? What possible place could progressive politics have in a eulogy for a progressive politician?
I almost felt sorry for them.
I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, but when the dust settles, I think the Republicans are going to have a two-pronged response to this week’s amazing events, one that will allow them to have their cake and eat it too.
To appeal to primary voters, they’ll call for the impeachment of Roberts and Kennedy and for the election of a truly conservative president who will nominate nine more Scalias. Supporting a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman at a time and equating publicly-mandated and partially-subsidized insurance with tyranny will be as important a litmus test for their national candidates as being pro-life and pro-gun.
To appeal to white, socially-conservative Democrats in the general election, they’ll argue that a conservative Supreme Court isn’t such a terrible thing, that when it comes to keeping millions insured, or being on the right side of history vis-a-vis gays and ex-slaves, even a far-right court will rise to the occasion.
It’s important to remember that the people that own them are the primary voters (and contributors).
I’ve written a lot (too much) about racism; I’m not going to spend any time parsing Dylann Roof’s manifesto–obviously he’s wrong and he’s bad, and so are the people who deplore his acts while endorsing his analysis.
I would just add that the KKK and the CCC and even the neo-Nazi groups like the NPI aren’t the biggest problem we face as a nation when it comes to racism–even most racists find them despicable. And they’re not being disingenuous when they disown Roof. The CCC’s Jared Taylor, for example, is a separatist, not an eliminationist; he believes that white nationalists should emulate Israeli settlers, Chasids in upstate NY, and the die-hard separatists in Rhodesia and build white-only ethnocracies.
One thing they do have in common with Roof is that they no longer presume to speak for “America,” but for cadres of right-thinking whites. They believe the Republic was poisoned at its inception by its “all men are created equal” rhetoric and finished by the Civil War and the 13th Amendment. If they aren’t as sanguinary as Roof, they hate the US with an equal passion. Here are Root’s words on patriotism, veterans, Jews, and the flag, which are sure to bring Tea Partiers and Libertarians and Democrats and Republicans together in execration:
I hate the sight of the American flag. Modern American patriotism is an absolute joke. People pretending like they have something to be proud while White people are being murdered daily in the streets. Many veterans believe we owe them something for “protecting our way of life” or “protecting our freedom”. But im not sure what way of life they are talking about. How about we protect the White race and stop fighting for the jews. I will say this though, I myself would have rather lived in 1940’s American than Nazi Germany, and no this is not ignorance speaking, it is just my opinion. So I dont blame the veterans of any wars up until after Vietnam, because at least they had an American to be proud of and fight for.
As loathsome as fringe racists like Taylor are, as despicable and dangerous as psychopathic nut jobs like Roof are, I believe that the mainstream enablers, sustainers, and normalizers of white privilege–the people who believe that separate and unequal schools and neighborhoods and opportunity structures, a militarized police force and citizenry, and an attendant prison-industrial complex are the bulwarks of their freedom–are far worse.
What matters the most isn’t what the likes of Dylann Roof wrote and said, but what so many “legitimate” politicians and pundits are NOT saying. Those are the people whose feet need to be held to the fire.
So as TPM reported, Diane Rehm sharply questioned Bernie Sanders about his supposed dual Israeli/American citizenship. Some listeners might have heard in this an echo of the familiar trope that goes back to the Protocols (and that last reared its head in national politics during one of Pat Buchanan’s campaigns). Rehm’s embarrassing mea culpa was that it was something she picked up on Facebook.
I’m pretty sure that both the Jews and Bernie Sanders can take care of themselves, but I have to admit that it troubles even a non-Zionist like me that the list she is referring to is most likely this one, which ran on Ken Adachi’s website, where you can also learn about the Illuminati bloodline, Agenda 21, the perils of vaccination, and the perfidy of international Jewry. I’m not saying that Diane Rehm subscribes to any of those theories, but shouldn’t someone with her platform at least know enough about the kinds of theories that travel around the Internet to be skeptical of sites like that?
This almost five-year-old post has gotten a lot of clicks too. Might as well re-blog it to make it easier for people to find. For what it’s worth, I actually regret my flippant tone (as I admit in one of the comments). I might not agree with Illig if I did know his work better, but the fact is I hardly know it at all. As for the word “crank,” I used it in the sense that Charles Pierce did in his book Idiot America, as a kind of backhanded honorific: “A pioneer gazing at the frontier of his own mind the way the actual pioneers looked out over the prairie….Very often, it was [the American crank] that provided the conflicts by which the consensus changed.”
Originally posted on Arthur Goldwag:
How could I have written a whole book about conspiracy theories without once encountering Heribert Illig? I just stumbled over a reference to his “phantom time hypothesis” and now I’m finding him everywhere.
A prolific crank in the grand tradition of Ignatius L. Donnelley and Immanuel Velikovsky, Illig has spent many years elaborating and defending his proposition that the years 614-911 CE were invented and inserted into histories ex post facto at the behest of Otto III. The present year is not 2010, but 1713; Charlemagne and Alfred the Great were fictional characters; the Viking raids never happened; etc.
Illig’s foundation for his theory are the presumed inconsistencies between the Gregorian and Julian calendars (which are in fact easily resolved); he criticizes historians’ over-credulous attitude toward written documents and points out inadequacies in dendrochronology and archaeological methods.
None of his books have been translated into English, though amusingly auto-translated reviews…
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This has gotten some interesting comments since I posted it, and seems, in a modest way, to be a nascent bulletin board for things Quinby. I am reposting it in the hope that it makes it easier for people to find.
Originally posted on Arthur Goldwag:
“Cranks are noble,” says Charles P. Peirce, author of Idiot America, “because cranks are independent.Their value comes when, occasionally, their lonely dissents from the commonplace affect the culture, at which point the culture moves to adopt them and their ideas come to influence the culture.”
A footnote in Jane Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead has gotten me reading and thinking about Commander Edwin Jenyss Quinby (1895-1981). Brilliant, eccentric, and very likely a crank, Quinby was one of those rare conspiracy theorists who was right.
One of Quinby’s formative experiences, according to this on-line tribute, was seeing the visionary scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla demonstrate a remote controlled submarine in Madison Square Garden. A Marconi radio operator on a tramp steamer (and later a Commander in the Naval Reserve), Quinby would be one of the first electrical engineers hired by RCA. He went on to patent a slew of inventions…
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Seymour Hersh’s London Review of Books piece on the killing of Osama Bin Laden has been met with wide skepticism; many have characterized it as “conspiracy theory.” Hersh, of course, was proven alarmingly correct about other things in the past that were initially denied–for example, his wild story about a massacre of innocent Vietnamese civilians at My Lai, or the horrible tortures that were carried out in an Iraqi prison by active duty personnel of the US armed forces and CIA. But he wouldn’t be the first prominent journalist to go off the rails either. Pierre Salinger gave his name to a syndrome in the months after the crash of TWA Flight 800 (he was suffering from dementia when he died just a few years later); back in the ’90s, Hersh himself fell for a notorious con man and almost used his forgeries in his book The Dark Side of Camelot.
Should Hersh be granted latitude now because he was so often right in the past, or should his present alleged credulity discredit his past bombshells? Neither, obviously, though you wouldn’t know that to read the stories on the Internet.
“Conspiracy theory,” it’s worth remembering, isn’t the belief in conspiracies per se, which often do happen. Merely disbelieving an official story doesn’t make you a conspiracy theorist. Given the government’s track record in the past and its strong motives for engaging in disinformation today you’d be foolish to believe everything it says, and you’d be particularly foolish to put much credence in its story about the OBL killing, which I went on the record at the time, for what it’s worth, to characterize as troublesome, to say the very least. It’s only when you craft an alternative story based on rumor, lies, inference, and supposition and present it with absolute certainty as the unvarnished truth that you become a conspiracy theorist.
This is some of what I wrote about the story back then–and I was speaking completely off the top of my head, without the benefit of high-placed (or not-so-high-placed) intelligence sources:
I got a call from Russia Today TV this afternoon and they asked me what I thought was going on. I repeated what I said in this space yesterday–that I find the whole thing baffling, especially after the weekend that Obama just had. Friday he released the birth certificate, belatedly conceding that conspiracy theories do matter but finally putting that particular one to rest. Saturday he eviscerated Donald Trump while wearing a tuxedo and a smile and Sunday he announced that he’d taken out the most hated man in the world. And then Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, he couldn’t stop tripping over his feet. Our Skype connection was pretty unstable; they only used a second of the interview, but you can watch their package here if you’re interested.
They aced the operation, but the subsequent messaging has been really uneven, to say the very least. I suspect that what we’re seeing is the result of a lack of consensus within the White House team on what the message actually is. One group–let’s call them the grownups–thinks that we should be bending over backwards to show our Muslim allies that we’re respectful, that we’re not gloating over or desecrating the body of a man that some regard as a religious leader. Another group–the political guys–figured that what happened wasn’t dramatic enough, that it needed the kind of artful, morally-telling touches that you’d see on TV, like Osama shielding himself with his young wife’s body before dying in a firefight, instead of simply having his head blown off when soldiers burst into the room where he was hiding. When the grownups rushed in to undo the damage that the political guys were causing, they planted the germ of cognitive dissonance that conspiracy theories grow out of.
Thomas Powers wrote something in the NYTBR piece about The Dark Side of Camelot I linked to above that stayed with me: “Hersh does not write history in the usual sense of the term, but he makes life difficult for historians by digging up just enough about distressing matters so they can’t honestly be ignored.” He goes on to say that while Hersh’s speculations about motives aren’t always to be trusted, his reporting generally is.
If some of Hersh’s LBR piece sounds like something you’d read at Infowars, a lot of it, to quote one of its lines about the enigma of the disposition of OBL’s corpse, sounds more like what you get after “the classic unravelling of a poorly constructed cover story – it solves an immediate problem but, given the slightest inspection, there is no back-up support.” I suspect that many of the mysteries that will forever surround Kennedy’s assassination could have been dispelled by documents that were made to disappear for a variety of reasons. Though I don’t believe that Hersh got all the details right and suspect that he got some of them wrong, I think he did get this one right when it comes to matters related to Iraq, Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and more: “High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.” Given all that, how could a piece like “The Killing of Osama bin Laden” not sound like conspiracy theory?