Is Glenn Beck a cult leader?

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!

Happy Thanksgiving.”

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.


7 thoughts on “Is Glenn Beck a cult leader?

  1. I am going to be sick. Beck and his 12 apostles. “The Plan”…100 years? Come on. Maximum freedom. It sounds like a white rabbit just out of view. As a 6%-er I would ask, “If you cheer Obama’s failure but it is his plan to fail, what are you cheering?”

    At first I liked Sara Palin. Then her image began to crack and shift. Something happened during the campaign and she became soured? corrupted? bollywood? She drug her family into the limelight like some twisted mix of reality tv and J. Springer. The party altered her from “energetic Mom” to Tammy Fey. “Like Pioneer women”, don’t make me laugh.

    I read a blurb in a Time how many companies(oil) leaders feel they are entitled to contract privleges in Iraq, etc. Why? Because U.S. soldiers have died liberating them. ?? From a suit that has done zero push-ups in the rain. Never had to dissolve coffee crystals in his mouth and pretend it was Starbucks. Nary a day without hot water or cold milk.

    Sick’n’wrong. BO didn’t make the bailout. I know he met a sheepherder’s daughter in Afghan. Saw her with a lil’ color me Mohammed book and saw her smile. Why? Because of our efforts. Now he knows many want to pull out. He does too. But he knows that little girl, that no one cares about and will amount to nothing, will be tortured or killed if we leave things too soon. The wieght of his office and his humanity can crush him with the choice. What is the value of a single, obscure, innocent life? 100 soldiers? More debt during a glut implosion? More PTSD madness? Giving Becksters more ammo? Infuriating Bluedog Dems?

    Obama ran on Change and Hope. He was handed Broken and Doom. Just like W. ran on economics and was handed war. We are seeing how flexable he is in the confines of his office. The executive branch may not be able to change legislation or bring hope to the bankrupt but he can to others. Is it not romantic, the idea of the nation going down in flames to third world status while still helping the helpless?

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

    “It is an altogether alternative universe, with no overlap with my own.”

    And that’s putting it exactly. When I visited Media Matters yesterday, I was greeted by a link to Andrew Breitbart (the guy behind the ACORN “sting” operations that Beck has promoted endlessly*) saying on twitter that climate scientist James Hansen should be executed (capitol punishment) for treason because of “climategate.”

    “Climategate” is the e-mails of a UK university climate research center being hacked and quote-mined for out-of-context statements that appear to confirm global warming denialists fear of a conspiracy; the e-mails also some embarassing behavior which really doesn’t impact the science of AGW. That’s about it.

    James Hansen doesn’t work at that university. As far I know he has nothing to do with the e-mails. Yet here we have Breitbart ready to have him killed for “treason” despite the inconvenient fact that were the charges true and were it the case that Hansen had falsified his research that hardly meets the definition of treason.

    At least, that’s what I thought. Then I remembered that Breitbart lives in an alternate reality where global warming is a communist/fascist/liberal/progressive plot to destroy America and install a totalitarian one world dictatorship. In which case, presumably Breitbart would be okay with Michael Mann being executed since he actually is involved in the e-mails (although, again, in reality not in any damning way.)

    Today I notice (just got on the ‘net) that Breitbart also called for Brad of The Brad Blog to be executed for calling Breitbart out on his factual wrongness.

    1. Oops, I forgot the “*” footnote I intended to write. Which was, that when Hannah Giles first appeared on Beck’s show to promote her ACORN videos, Beck went on about how brave she is for putting herself in danger and what not, as if her life were in danger from retaliation by ACORN.

      Beck has previously warned his audience that ACORN might assassinate him.

  3. “… 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.”

    I was going to comment on this in a post, but I haven’t gotten around to writing it yet (and may not be able to get to it) so I’ll just go ahead and say that is one of the reasons that I find the MLK day speech thing so sickening. Beck’s audience (or at least, particularly his female audience) believe he’s in danger because he’s told them in he’s in danger. Specifically, he has compared himself to MLK in leading a civil disobedience protest against an oppressive government; and what’s more, that even if “they” assassinate Beck the movement will live on.

    Now who is the “they” that Beck is fighting? Why its the Marxist (and fascist?) black supremacist regime of President Obama and the “thugs” at ACORN and SEIU (the aforementioned Breitbart has been telling people that President Obama directed SEIU members to literally physically assault conservatives.) Beck is invoking Martin Luther King’s memory to spread a narrative that Stormfronters would (and do) love. It’s disgusting.

  4. I would put Beck in the same category as Kevin Trudeau-an amoral sociopath without a shred of compassion who lives in a fantasy world. Beck has a nightmarish vision of what the US should be. God help us all if his minions gain any political power.

  5. As the Quanity of your Anti American Anti Christ Jews infitrate this Once free Christian Republic, Change our Laws and Morals, Freedom Liberty and Property ownership will and has decreased as well as Maufactuting and productions has Decreased,Because of You Crime Deception and Murder Abounds as You have Changed Our Money,Our Laws and through Your Stollen Media have Destroyed our Morality
    Your Vomit only reflects on Your Love of other People Money Life and Property ,and Your Monopoly Disgraces Abraham Isac Jacob and Moses as Wellas your Hatred of our Christian Republic as you do Russiaand the Rest of Humanity

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