Intellectual underpinnings of Glenn Beck

Mostly Glenn Beck is an entertainer, who traffics in noise to the delight of his angry base. But he is also a keen student of a Mormon anti-communist crusader, W. Cleon Skousen (1913-2006), whose 5000 Year Leap: The Miracle that Changed the World has been selling like hotcakes in its 30th anniversary edition (with an introduction by Glenn Beck). Here’s some of Beck’s endorsement:

It’s the book Ronald Reagan wanted taught in high schools and Ted Kennedy stopped it from happening. That should tell you all you need to know. It is so easy to understand. When you read these principles, your mouth will fall open. You’ll read it and you’ll be — the scales will fall off your eyes on who we are. Please, number one thing: Inform yourself about who we are and what the other systems are all about. 5,000 Year Leap is the first part of that. Because it will help you understand American free enterprise. You’ll be able to defend it. You’ll be able to know what makes it possible for 6% of humanity living under our free economy to produce 1/2 of the Earth’s developed wealth every single year. That’s staggering! What is it? It’s the virtues and the principles that our founders believed in, that took us and pushed us and made us — allowed us to take a 5,000 year leap from the dark into the sunshine.

And here’s how Time magazine described Skousen in 1961:

one of the busiest speakers in the rightist movement…. a balding, bespectacled onetime FBI man who hit the anti-Communist circuit in earnest in 1960 after being fired from his job as Salt Lake City’s police chief (“He operated the police department like a Gestapo,” says Salt Lake City’s conservative Mayor J. Bracken Lee). Skousen freely quotes the Bible, constantly plugs his book, The Naked Communist, [and] presses for a full congressional investigation of the State Department.

Because Beck has been touting him so hard, Skousen has been getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere in the past few weeks, for instance in Alexander Zaitchik’s fascinating article in Salon, “Meet the Man Who Changed Glenn Beck’s Life.”

Skousen did much to popularize (and distort) Carroll Quigley’s scholarship about secret societies and enjoyed a certain amount of influence during the Reagan years as a member of the Council for National Policy. In 1982, he got caught up in a controversy when his textbook The Making of America was pulled from the California public school system and members of the committee that approved it came under fire. The most-vehemently criticized chapter of the book, The New York Times wrote at the time, was

…a 1934 essay on slavery by the historian Fred Albert Shannon.

Referring to the standard of living on plantations, the essay said, ”If the pickaninnies ran naked it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.”

Other sections present a picture of the white slave owner as victimized by malingering blacks who shirked their duties and left their owners with a costly burden of supporting them and their numerous offspring, concluding that ”slave owners were the worst victims of the system.”


ACORN, the Masons, and the Illuminati

Of course I’ve been following the news about ACORN. Not only did they cause the financial meltdown by helping prostitutes and murderers qualify for home loans that they couldn’t afford to repay and steal the election for Obama by registering ineligible voters, but if Glenn Beck is to be believed, ACORN and SEIU (Service Employees International Union) were complicit in the failure of New Orleans’ levees after Hurricane Katrina. Connect the dots: ACORN’s and SEIU’s national headquarters are in New Orleans. Their founder Wade Rathke’s brother Dale is an embezzler. As part of a massive coverup of Dale’s and other crimes, they didn’t fix the levees, allowing the flood waters to conveniently destroy all the incriminating documents in their files. Then Van Jones and his Color of Change organization tried to pin the blame on George W. Bush!

I get all that. What I’m still not clear on is how ACORN fits into the New World Order. But am I the only one who’s noticed that a company named Acorn Footwear manufactures the Mason Moc, a house slipper featuring a “comfort cushion insole heel to toe with padded arch support,” whose leather bottom “accents a skid-resistant rubber driver outsole”?

It gets worse. Another outfit, Acorn Tours, offers sightseers the opportunity to follow Robert Langdon’s trail through Rome as “he battles a secret underground brotherhood which aims to destroy Vatican City with an antimatter bomb. This group, the Illuminati, was formed after the Church censured Galileo.”

ACORN and the Masons? ACORN and the Illuminati? Be very afraid…

KRS-One and the Obama Deception

It’s all going according to plan. First they bombed the World Trade Center so they could mount a failed war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then they arranged a global financial meltdown. Desperate for change, the public played right into their hands by electing the first African American president. Alex Jones’s film THE OBAMA DECEPTION explains it all: how Obama’s police state, complete with FEMA concentration camps, euthanasia, and forced National Service, is just the latest phase in the New World Order’s program to turn Americans into “slaves on a Global Plantation.”

One of the talking heads in Jones’s film is the rapper KRS-One (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everybody). “If they controlled it before, what makes you think they’re not controlling it now?” he says. “They put a Black face on the New World Order and now we all happy. KRS ain’t buying it.” KRS-One has taken some flack for his stance, but as he told an interviewer for Hip Hop Wired , “I don’t really support the movie or how they tried to pull Obama out like that, I’m not in support of that….I’m not dissing Barrack, I’m dissing all motherfucking presidents.”

Are religion and conspiracism two words for the same thing?

An old friend, an ordained minister, sent me an e mail about my Chicago Tribune piece.

As a Christian I find that I do “maintain that a single vast conspiracy suffices to explain the better part of human affairs.”….Do you suggest that any vast explanation of evil in the better part of human affairs is a delusion?….Somehow, I would expect that a definition of a conspiracy theorist would exclude those who believe in a transcendent reality, that we are all spiritual beings affected by the spiritual realm that includes good and evil. It is the influence of this good and evil, God and Satan, that brings understanding to the awful truth of things gone so awry.

My response is complicated. Unlike many skeptics, I am not reflexively opposed to religion. Though not exactly a believer, I am not a principled disbeliever either. I look askance on any and all totalizing systems, supernaturalistic and naturalistic alike. Economic determinism, natural depravity, Satanic malice, imperialism, Illuminism, Manifest Destiny are all heuristics, some more useful than others.

I’m not anti-religion, but I wouldn’t hire a faith-based architect to build my house. Not that I wouldn’t hire a Christian architect…. but I’d expect him to use the practical side of his brain when he’s on the clock. If he feels compelled to tell me that he believes that it’s morally wrong to build an energy inefficient house that blocks its neighbors light, that’s perfectly reasonable. But if he says that he doesn’t have to set it on a strong foundation because a voice told him that angels would hold it up with their hands, then I would have to fire him.

I regard conspiracy theory as a misbegotten, debased form of theology–one that begins with a set of often hateful and vindictive first principles and then reverse engineers a fantastical version of reality that comports with them. If my first principles don’t include the possibility of a black man being president, for example, then I might conjure up a set of circumstances in which he’s isn’t, even if he got elected and lives in the White House. No, being religious doesn’t automatically make you a conspiracist, nor does the belief that we are part of a larger spiritual realm that includes good and evil. But if your first principles posit a world that’s neatly divided between Satan and God, in which all of us belong to one camp or the other, and in which everything and everyone is part of the war, then it wouldn’t be surprising if you were.

Conspiracism and political polarization

My op ed has been noticed at a couple of places. The Atlantic’s The Wire asks Why is America Polarized? and posts a link to my piece, as well as to articles by David Paul Kuhn at Real Politics and a post by Heather MacDonald at Secular Right.

The Week
asks Has the fringe gone mainstream? and posts links to my piece, as well as to articles by Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo and David Greenberg at Slate.

Nice to be a part of the conversation!