Category: Conspiracy theory

I Surrender

Forgive me for staying away. Epstein has made me question everything skeptical I ever wrote about conspiracy theories–clearly the Illuminati does exist, runs Hellfire Clubs, and works closely with the British royals. My best guess is that he is a reptilian from the planet Archon. This morning I woke up to Roy Cohn’s protege’s Twitter-howls about Israel-hating Communists. The smartset on Twitter says it’s a ploy to distract us from the concentration camps on the border and the roundups in the cities. Concentration camps? Roundups? Jesus Christ.

In August 2016, I sat down and read through THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA and IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE, as a kind of just-in-case–if he did get elected, I wanted to have some literary takes on what a fascist America would look like. Now I know.

No, I haven’t really surrendered. But sometimes I get the distinct notion that the Democrats have. I don’t pray, but if I did I would pray that I am wrong.

The Medium is the Message

I didn’t know what “pride goeth before a fall” meant until I got proud and fell. I didn’t know what “the medium is the message” means, until I started getting so much of my news from social media.

This morning on Twitter, I saw shaky phone-video of a drunken Irish lawyer berating Indian flight attendants while claiming to “run” BDS. “See?” Tweeter after tweeter said. “BDS is a racist movement, and its ‘leader’ is not just a hypocrite but a slattern.” I can and will get this kind of anecdotal garbage from the real social world too, but Twitter amplifies it and scales it and repeats it as relentlessly as a North Korean re-education officer.

If you want to know what’s wrong with Facebook, just look at how it leverages its own worst tendencies to its advantage, enlisting the ADL to deflect criticisms of Zuckerberg and Sanders as antisemitic, while retaining the Republican oppo-research firm Definers to attack George Soros as the presiding spirit behind attacks on Facebook.

Academic theory about the soul-sapping power of cults and the virality of paranoid conspiracy theory turn on their ability to create epistemic bubbles. Cult leaders do it through isolation, rape, starvation, and brainwashing. Conspiracy theorists do it by redefining reality. That’s what Facebook and Twitter do too, by allowing their members to customize their news streams, but mostly by using big data analytics to feed them an experience that will keep them clicking (and thus target-able for advertising).

The President has lost his Marbles

Trump was never half as smart as he said he was, but even as recently as six months ago he was a lot quicker than he is now. Pretty much every word out of his mouth these days bears witness to his declining cognitive capacities, his inability to control his impulses, and his estrangement from anything resembling reality. He has become a walking, talking poster for the symptoms of early-stage (or not-so-early stage) dementia, but because his politics are so poisonous, his administration so corrupt, and the stakes for the world so high, we continue to talk about him as if he is strategizing instead of clinically devolving.

When I read this item at Axios this morning, I suddenly saw the elephant in the room. The headline is (after his Paris Accord decision, it actually reads like a punchline): “Trump Pitched Congressional Leaders on a Solar-Powered Border Wall.”

Trump floated the idea that the wall could be covered in solar panels and the electricity generated used to pay for the cost.

Trump said his vision was a wall 40 feet to 50 feet high and covered with solar panels so they’d be “beautiful structures,” the people said. The President said that most walls you hear about are 14 feet or 15 feet tall but this would be nothing like those walls. Trump told the lawmakers they could talk about the solar-paneled wall as long as they said it was his idea.

This happened yesterday–after he broke diplomatic relations with Qatar with a Tweet (stranding our military bases in now-hostile territory) and challenged Sadiq Khan to an IQ test. This is from the guy who thinks that climate change is a fraud, solar power is a waste (Solyndra!) and that our energy future is in coal.

What else happened yesterday? A story broke that he made his dopey son Eric steal from a cancer charity on his behalf (that was when he still had all his marbles). We learned that Russia maybe did do a little more to our election than just plant fake news stories. We also learned that Trump has turned on Jeff Sessions of all people, and that he is resentful of all the attention that his son-in-law Jared is getting.

The proverbial anthropologist from Mars would take one look at any of those stories and conclude that Trump is not just an authoritarian agent of Russia but cognitively and emotionally off the rails. If he wasn’t such a monster, his unraveling would be a tragic spectacle.

I know this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I’m pretty certain that some very important figures in the military, business, the Republican party, and even Congress have noticed this too and have already started discussing how they can ease him out of power and install Mike Pence in his place. I would bet that Mike Pence (who I just learned from Jane Mayer’s DARK MONEY was Charles Koch’s favorite for president in 2012) is an active participant in those conversations–and maybe Jeff Sessions too. And I would further bet that they’ve decided that the best way forward is to give him enough rope to hang himself with–which in his case is his cell phone and his Tweeting compulsion.

Russia stole the election, the president they installed is not only a sociopath but mentally incompetent, and Mike Pence–the Evangelicalist tool of the Koch brothers–is about to become our next unelected president.

Why isn’t everyone else talking about this? Because I’m pretty certain that I’m not the crazy one.

Anti-Semitism and the Alt-Right

Back in 2008, I wrote a book that took a skeptical look at the phenomenon of paranoid conspiracy theory. Most of it, I learned, still follows the template that was laid down in THE PROTOCOLS OF THE LEARNED ELDERS OF ZION a century ago, which purports to reveal that organized Jewry is using socialism, popular culture, and its vast money power to undermine the moral and economic foundations of the Christian West, with the ultimate goal of ruling over it from a Davidic Superstate in Jerusalem. Dig past the surface of any subsequent New World Order conspiracy and you will soon recognize this same basic narrative, whether the antagonist is international Communism, the UN, race-mixing integrationists, or shape-shifting lizards. Since 9/11, Islamic Jihad and creeping sharia have been squeezed into the template as well.

The alt-right is a loose movement, born on the Internet, that has brought together and catalyzed a lot of the people who subscribe to these conspiracy theories. I see it as a product of a kind of Intersectionality in reverse. For all their differences with each other, its members see themselves as victims of a hegemonic Cultural Marxism that seeks to undermine whiteness, the traditional state, traditional religion, and traditional masculinity, and replace it with a globe-spanning reign of totalitarian political correctness.

Among their number are anti-feminist mens’ rightists, War of Civilization Islamophobes, scientific racists, Christian dominionists, classic anti-Semites, self-styled Libertarians, and even some radical Zionists. Donald Trump, a casual trafficker in conspiracy theories, racist dog whistles, and vulgar sexism, was their chosen candidate in 2016. After his victory, he installed Steve Bannon—the former chief executive of the Breitbart Report, the premier platform of the alt right—in the West Wing of the White House.

The election and its aftermath have been enough to make anyone believe in conspiracy theory, but I don’t and you shouldn’t. As Masha Gessen wrote in The New York Times last week, “the 2016 election was unimaginable…but we seem to have fallen into a trap: The unimaginable, happening out in the open day after day, not only continues to dull our defenses but also creates a need to see a conspiracy big enough, a secret terrible enough to explain how this can be happening to our country.”

Conspiracy theory has more to do with theology or literature than it does with history-as-it-is-lived, which is to say, politics. Conspiracy theory sees history as a well-crafted story, in which every character knows his or her role, and every twist propels the plot forward to a certain end. Jews have often been its antagonists, but we are not immune to the conspiracist temptation ourselves.

After Trump issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that undercut Jewish ownership of the Holocaust, many were quick to connect the dots between his election and the cemetery desecrations and bomb threats against JCCs that were being reported in the news. When Trump floated the ridiculous idea that his Jewish enemies were planting false flags to discredit him as an antisemite, many believed that he had proven that he was.

I believe that too, but now I also know that, for whatever reason, an Israeli Jew phoned in some of those bomb threats. We live in a world in which there are Jewish victims and Jewish perpetrators, Jewish by-standers and Jewish allies, and in which some Jew-haters are Zionists and many anti-Zionists are Jews. Reality requires us to hold all sorts of things in our heads at once. The fact that some of them seem to contradict each other doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t all be true. Reality is not an equation.

Most of all, reality demands that we acknowledge that everything that happens isn’t about us. Antisemitism was and continues to be a real thing, but it is not the only thing. At our present moment, Islamophobia and racism loom much larger.

Pneumonia-gate

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I didn’t vote for Clinton last spring and though I will vote for her in November, to my mind she is too hawkish by far, we had eight years of the Clintons already, etc., etc. I am one of millions of Bernie-ites who is voting against Trump rather than for Clinton. But come on. Her having pneumonia is not a scandal, not by a long shot.

I’m not saying that it was a good idea for her to keep all her commitments and stand out in the sun on Sunday, but I do know what I did when I got pneumonia. First, I didn’t go to the doctor for days, even though I was exhausted and miserable and had a sixth sense that something really serious was wrong with me. I wasn’t running for president but we had just moved, we were trying to organize our house and get our kids back on their routine, and I needed to finish The New Hate and deliver it to Pantheon on schedule. When I finally did go to the doctor, I waited for four hours and was too impatient to go to a different facility and wait again to get an x-ray (which turned out to be a big mistake as the pneumonia was more serious than the doctor realized).

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Haters and conspiracists are flooding the Internet with long-distance diagnoses (obviously the pneumonia was caused by her Parkinsons, deep-vein thrombosis, concussion, etc.). Obviously. Not just haters, but smart, sober-minded pundits are clucking that it isn’t the disease but the “coverup” that is the problem, a la Whitewater, e-mail-gate, and so on.

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So let’s do a thought experiment and imagine that she had announced that she was ill on Friday and canceled all her appearances as her doctor suggested. What would we have heard? That she is too old, too fragile, and too female to be president. That she is a drama queen, trying to upstage the 911 anniversary. That the “pneumonia” is a false flag, raised to divert attention from her “basket of deplorables” gaffe or perhaps to preemptively gain sympathy in advance of a terrible new revelation about Benghazi. That the pneumonia isn’t pneumonia at all and that she should bow out for Bernie or Biden. In other words, all the things that are being said anyway. And what would have happened if Trump had collapsed on Sunday? People would have admired his stoicism and marveled at his incredible energy and determination. Full stop.

The Deeper Roots of The Not-so-New Hate

Joseph Schmitz, a Pentagon Inspector General who left in 2004 under a cloud of accusations of anti-Semitism, is one of Donald Trump’s national security advisors. This has gotten me thinking about the nexus between political anti-Semitism and right wing (and fringe left-wing) politics.  Schmitz says that his 38-year marriage to an ethnically Jewish woman absolves him of any taint of anti-Semitism, but he has other family connections that suggest otherwise–he is the son of John Schmitz, the ultra-right wing Orange County Congressman whose holocaust denial got him booted from the John Birch Society (and who also gained notoriety for having a second family, and whose daughter–but I’ll let you Google that one).

How is it that a “debt king” who proposes to downgrade the US’s sovereign debt, who finances his business empire with Russian capital and staffs his campaign with Russian agents has become the leader of a party that was premised on fiscal austerity and anti-Communism? How has a thrice-married playboy who doesn’t know his Two Corinthians from the Koran become the candidate of choice of so many Evangelicals? And how has an avowedly pro-Israel candidate with an orthodox Jewish son-in-law, a converted daughter, and Jewish grandchildren become a beacon for a neo-Nazi like David Duke?  Believe it or not, I think it has more to do with mathematics—or more precisely, with some innumerate people’s fear of mathematics—than it does with economics.

If our partisan politics were as rational and money-driven as we like to think, the obvious coalitions would be between Wall Street, Main Street, and Silicon Valley on the right and the unionized– and especially the de-unionized–proletariat, service class, and students on the left. Instead they’re mostly driven by geography, with cities and inner-ring suburbs leaning leftish and exurbs and rural southern and mountain regions rightwards; by race, ethnicity and religion; by education; and even by gender and sexual preference. Jews are over-represented in the intellectual leadership of the neo-Conservative and neo-Liberal right, but as a voting bloc, they are reliably left-leaning (though numerically insignificant–Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus together make up about 6 percent of the US population).

Setting Trump aside, whose politics are incoherent and opportunistic, and taking a much broader, high-level view, the great fault lines in our politics are mostly cultural and of long-standing: the north versus the Old Dominion and the western frontier; farmers versus city folk; religious authoritarians versus secular materialists; Northern Europeans versus brown and black people and Jews, Muslims, and Asians. This is how the GOP became the home to both members of the investment class and the white nationalists that once made up such a big part of the Democratic party in the south. And this is why, as I wrote in my book The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and anti-intellectualism are such potent motivators for its base.

But in some ways the biggest fault line is between people for whom money is a simple means of exchange, a kind of proxy for barter, and people that use money as a means of making more money–and this one runs right down the center of the Republican party and bids fair to fracture its already fragile coalition of wealthy low-tax, anti-regulation contributors, morals crusading evangelicals, and know-nothing white nationalists. The hatred of usury, the fear of fiat money, the horror of fractional reserve banking is closely related to the timeless fear and loathing of sorcerers, witches, Satanists, and Jews, and it is what a gold bug like Ron Paul, a conspiracist like Alex Jones, and a programmatic anti-Semite like David Duke have in common. Farmers and manufacturers (Producers, in the language of the old Populists) are rooted in place; money people are cosmopolitan and globalist.

Protocols of the Elders of Zion anti-Semites didn’t hate the Rothschilds just because they were rich, or because their ancestors killed Jesus. They hated them because they used debt to make something out of nothing (interest)–and because they were presumed to use the leverage that gave them over the debtors to create action at a distance (which is both politics and a kind of magic).

A big part of our cultural divide is numeracy. Math is an esoteric language and tool. People who understand its principles and know how to wield it practically live in a different world than regular people do. When physicists look through its lens, they can see that the world is round, not flat, and that it moves around the sun rather than vice versa. When evolutionary biologists look at the mechanism of natural selection through a lens of mathematical probabilities and genetics, the development of complex organisms isn’t remotely as unlikely as, in the classic analogy of the so-called scientific creationist, a 747 being assembled by a tornado in a junkyard. When a regular person looks at money, he translates it into what he can buy immediately. When a financier looks at money, he sees it the way a quantum physicist sees the underlying constituents of the material world–as something in motion and flux, but that can be understood and predicted up to a point by probabilities.

Conspiracism, gold-buggery, programmatic anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, blood-and-soil nationalism and, yes, Trumpism itself are not just rebukes to science–they are an attempt to create an alternative science and economics that anyone can understand.

Paris, 11/13: An Act of War

“If you close your eyes/Then you will see/That it’s easier without complexity.” –Eagles of Death Metal

There’s no complexity in the ISIS statement: Paris is “the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe.” The suicide bombers and gunmen were believers and martyrs; their victims Crusaders and pagans and disbelievers who reaped what they had sown. The equation balances perfectly.

There’s no complexity in President Obama’s first statement: the attack is not just on the people of France but “on all of humanity and the universal values that we share”; which are “the timeless values of human progress.” There’s no complexity in President Hollande’s statement: the attacks are a “horror….There is dread, but in the face of this dread, there is a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilise its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists.”

And of course there’s no complexity on the US right: obviously the perpetrators were the refugees who are fleeing from ISIS. “How’s that Syrian refugee resettlement look now?” Representative Jeff Duncan (R), of South Carolina Tweeted. “There are those out there,” Ben Carson declared, “who have a thirst for innocent blood.” The answer, he said, is for America to “eliminate them…destroy them completely.” Paris was targeted, Newt Gingrich opined, because of its tight gun control laws. “Imagine a theater,” he Tweeted, “With 10 or 15 citizens with concealed carry permits. We live in an age when evil men have to be killed by good people.”

Kevin Barrett, the conspiracist editor of Veterans Today, knows exactly what happened Friday: it’s another false flag, its perpetrators all of the usual suspects: “Authoritarian insiders. Zionists. Militarists. Islamophobes. New World Order-Out-Of-Chaos freaks.” The date alone gives it away, he says: “It happened on Friday the 13th (commemorating the massacre of the proto-illuminati Templars) in the 11th month, in Paris’s 11th district. It’s going to be remembered as ‘11/13’ or ‘Friday the 13th.’ Illuminati numerology or coincidence?” Barrett knows why it happened too—it’s all about him and his false flag theories: “If I were a truly paranoid conspiracy theorist, or conspiracy intellectual, or whatever,” he wrote, “I would think somebody staged these new attacks just as I was leaving Paris and planning to return one month later because…well, because they’re afraid that my book We Are NOT Charlie Hebdo is picking up steam and threatening to expose the state-sponsored crimes of last January.”

France was a colonial power in the Middle East and Africa for a century; it has boots on the ground in West Africa and its war planes have been bombing ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. As shocking and terrible as yesterday’s attacks were, there really is no mystery as to why they happened; they did not come out of the blue. Just as Israeli realpolitik helped lay the groundwork for Hamas, ISIS, as we now know, is a monster that the West had a hand in creating.

Everyone and no one is innocent in wartime, and once the shooting starts, there is no such thing as moral clarity. It would be so much easier if that were not the case.

PS This is up on Salon now, under a different headline.