I came back from my Thanksgiving weekend to this e mail from Hume’s Ghost of The Daily Doubter, under the subject line “Can We Call Glenn Beck a Cult Leader Yet?”:
“I’m only being partly facetious. Ever read the Foundation novels by Issac Asimov? Beck is now apparently trying his hand at psychohistory
I have begun meeting with some of the best minds in the country that believe in limited government, maximum freedom and the values of our Founders. I am developing a 100 year plan. I know that the bipartisan corruption in Washington that has brought us to this brink and it will not be defeated easily. It will require unconventional thinking and a radical plan to restore our nation to the maximum freedoms we were supposed to have been protecting, using only the battlefield of ideas.
So not only is Beck Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Thomas Paine, but now he’s Hari Seldon, too.
On August 28, 2010, I ask you, your family and neighbors to join me at the feet of Abraham Lincoln on the National Mall for the unveiling of The Plan and the birthday of a new national movement to restore our great country.
Get it? Aug. 28 at the Lincoln statue … just like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This is literally sickening.
This blogger relative of the late I.F. Stone (grandaughter) summed it up pretty well
So now we see what Glenn Beck really is: He’s basically a televangelist. A huckster. A late-night pitchman selling seminars and book/DVD/audio combo packages that will allegedly help you get rich through flipping real estate. A human-potential-movement cult leader who promises life breakthroughs in exchange for participation in costly “religious” or “therapy” programs.
He wants you to attend one (or, surely, many) of his “conventions.” Will they be free? I strongly doubt it — oh, maybe the first taste will be free, but after that, I’d guess no. And he wants you to buy the next book (and, surely several after that). And there’s a “100 year plan” in the works — you can’t ever get off the mailing list because the good work he’s involving you in is never done!
As a writer on cults, conspiracies, and secret societies, I take the appellation “cult leader” fairly seriously. And after some serious pondering, I feel I can still answer the question in the negative. No, Beck is not a cult leader. A demagogue, yes. An entertainer/en-lightener of unparalleled grandiosity, absolutely. Beck’s roadshow will be part religious revival, part political barnstorming, but I think it’s still mostly about run of the mill self-aggrandizement and money-making, and less about thought-control and a God complex. Beck may portray himself as a Messianic seer, but his followers like him so much because he tells them what they already think and believe–they know and he knows that his real message isn’t about conversion or transformation or reform. He is purveying a prettied up, romanticized reflection of their own self-righteous anger and sentimental nostalgia, couched in the most patriotic of terms (and, not unlike other populist movements of the past, coded with racist and conspiracist themes of the sort that used to be blatantly antisemitic–and freighted with truckloads of books and other ancillary merchandise).
Was it Paul Begala who said that politics is show business for ugly people? I read somewhere that with his book recommendations and public displays of emotion, Beck is like the Oprah of the Angry White Underclass; I think he also aspires to be the Anthony Robbins of the Resentful Right–paradoxically, his relentless negativity offers his listeners/customers a sense of self-affirmation and even uplift.
I finally got around to reading Democracy Corps’ focus group memo, The Very Separate World of Conservative Republicans, which got a lot of attention in October. I found it really frightening, not so much because of its political implications as the fantastical, through-the-looking-glass loopiness of the world that these people live in. It is an altogether alternative universe, with no overlap with my own. Beck, who seems to me to be pleading for someone to assassinate Obama, is admired for his physical courage in the face of the left’s supposed homicidal intentions:
Two aspects of the discussion on Beck among conservative Republicans were particularly noteworthy. One was a common fear among the women for his personal safety, a belief that his willingness to stand up to powerful liberal interests was putting his life, as well as the lives of those working with him, in danger. Of course, his willingness to face this danger head on only adds to his legend.
I fear for his life… He is heavily secured believe me.
Glenn Beck is the type of man that he has put his personal finances on the line to protect everyone of his employees. They all have… bodyguards, security, high security. He said I don’t care if my business goes down or I am put out of business, this is my family, my family and, he has twelve employees in his business. That is the kind of man he is.
And Sarah Palin–who quit her job so she can promote her cult of personality full time–is lionized for her honesty and selfless simplicity:
They see in her the uncompromising personal conviction and integrity that they admired in Bush, but with an authentic conservatism that reflects her personal background.
You betcha… Spicy… Honest… Go girl… Forthright. Right up there… Says what she feels.
I just hope that Sarah Palin has Hillary’s backbone because she is going to need it and that is the thing. I would vote for her in a heartbeat. I love Sarah Palin.
I also admired Sarah Palin for being a professional woman and a great mom. She sacrificed and she was you know an Alaskan woman… She was a real woman… You know strong, courageous, almost like the pioneer women.
I think that she has the moral fiber. I believe she’s unselfish, really… I don’t think that she’s a person who lies or, you know, she’s probably not going to be perfect, but I think she’s got the moral fiber.
It’s all pretty much unanswerable. I also find it scary that these people believe that Obama is deliberately trying to destroy the country, that his agenda is treasonously subversive:
Their feelings toward Obama are not simply a reflection of intense partisan differences. They are actively rooting for Obama to fail as president because they believe he is not acting in good faith as the leader of our country. Only 6 percent of these conservative Republican base voters say that Obama is on their side, and our groups showed that they explicitly believe he is purposely and ruthlessly executing a hidden agenda to weaken and ultimately destroy the foundations of our country….Conservative Republicans do not oppose Obama’s policies simply because they think they are misguided or out of partisan fervor. Rather, they believe his policies are purposely designed to fail. When they look at the totality of his agenda, they see a deliberate effort to drive our country so deep into debt, to make the majority of Americans so dependent on the government, and to strip away so many basic constitutional rights that we are too weak to fight back and have to accept whatever solution he proposes.
None of this is new, of course. The America First Committee in the 1930s and the Liberty Lobby and the John Birch Society in the 1950s and 1960s said many of the same things about the New Deal and The Great Society–FDR was a Communist and a crypto-Jew and did nothing to stop the attack on Pearl Harbor; even Eisenhower was a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy”; Richard Mellon Scaife funded similar calumnies about the Clintons.
In a way, I wish Glenn Beck was merely a cult leader. Cults are by definition small and most of the harm they cause is to their own members. What’s scariest about Glenn Beck is that he’s almost mainstream.