This isn't another post about Jared Loughner, although he provides the starting point. My intent here is try to set up some ground rules when talking about far-right conspiracy theories.
1. Some readers presumed, based on my previous post, that I was minimizing Loughner's obvious mental illness. Actually, if you scroll down to an earlier post, you'll see that I clearly stipulated that Loughner was, in all likelihood, schizophrenic.
But, as everyone knows, unbalanced minds can become more
unbalanced if they abuse certain psychoactive substances. Right-wing conspiracy theories are a kind of junk. They can be psychotoxins (if that term is permissible). Some people become addicted to the "high" they get from weird memes, and they scour the internet in search of an ever-stronger fix.
Loughner is, I think, such a person. Hence his attraction to works about banking conspiracies, NASA conspiracies, controlled demolition and so forth. I don't think that he has a very coherent political philosophy; people who have scrambled eggs in their brains are rarely noted for coherent thought. But most of his ideological input was of right-wing origin.
2. On the Confluence
, my post evinced a few truly bizarre reactions:
I’ll leave Joe Cannon and others to their own paranoia. Just read for the umpteenth time MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.
I re-read that letter earlier today, as it happens. It's the most brilliant argument ever constructed by any American addressing an important subject. It's also irrelevant to my post.
Well, perhaps relevant in this: The same (southern) culture which produced streams of propaganda labeling King an agent of Bolshevik conspiracy went on to produce much of the literature that Jared Loughner considered mighty fine reading.
But, jeez -- why lump me
in with the paranoids simply because I write about them?
Just because I know
a great deal about the conspiracy-spotter subculture does not mean that I am part of it. Audubon studied birds. That doesn't mean he was
3. The Loughner case underlines the need for greater sophistication when it comes to political labels. Many commentators have presumed that Loughner's embrace of the 9/11 "truthers" means that he must be a liberal. It's a simplistic equation -- "If you dislike Bush, you must be a lefty" -- and it just ain't true.
We are going to have to come to terms with the fact that the John Birch Society has infiltrated much of the conservative movement. I'm not just talking about card-carrying membership in that organization: I'm talking about an ideology, a mentality, a weltanschauung. When I say "Bircher," I'm actually talking about a general philosophy shared by a number of groups.
In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a battle between the Birchers and the William F. Buckley faction for the soul of the conservative movement. Buckley won. He's not around now, and the Birchers have gained new muscles.
This means that younger folk who are new to all this stuff have to learn some basic facts about the history of American extremism. And the first fact is this: Birchers and their ideological confreres have often criticized prominent Republicans from the right
. They have formed conspiracy theories about Republican presidents (Robert Welch thought Ike was a commie) and about other conservatives (such as Buckley). The Birchers even thought that the USSR had gained control of the CIA.
Extreme right-wingers have even mounted scathing criticisms of -- hold on to your hats -- capitalism itself
. Glenn Beck heavily promotes Cleon Skousen, the author of The Naked Capitalist
. This bizarre volume argues that communism and socialism were secretly sponsored and kept in power by the wealthiest families in the world.
Believe it or not, this malarky became a key tenet of Bircherism. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, many far rightists genuinely believed that Wall Street bankers created both the USSR and the even worse menace (in their eyes) of Fabian socialism. Whenever you asked a Bircher why the bankers would do such a thing, they would always mutter something incomprehensible about Hegelian dialectics.
Back in the 1960s, there was a surprising degree of overlap between the followers of Ayn Rand and the Birchers who pushed this "Wall Street commies" malarky. As you know, the Randroids are a big part of the modern Tea Party movement.
It gets even stranger.
There was even a faction of the anti-Semitic far right that worked up a grudging affection for Joe Stalin. These rightists understood that Stalin was showing signs, in his last days, of turning into the sort of monster who might well have completed Hitler's genocide. Stalin employed the code word "cosmopolitans" when he talked about the Jews whom he imagined to be behind the schemes he saw all around him. Various American writers picked up on this term, and a few still
use it. All of this deep-dish paranoia made Uncle Joe a potential member of the Good Guy Club, at least in the eyes of certain American racists. One writer in this category was the Reverend Kenneth Goff, who argued that Stalin was murdered by a Jewish conspiracy.
My point is simple: It gets really, really, really
strange out there on the American fringe. Alas, the fringe isn't so very fringe-y these days, now that the extreme has become so closely interwoven with the "mainstream" Republican party.
Right-wing extremists are radical, even revolutionary. Their opposition to the Washington establishment (even when a Republican sits in the oval office) does not
make them liberals. Quite the opposite. If they have their way, states will secede from the union -- and the leaders of those secessionist states will make George W. Bush look like JFK.