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Monday, January 17, 2011

Can we talk?

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 a bird.

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.
Comments:
The fact that is pulled out from thin air, is that "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", Loughner had an unbalanced mind, ergo, he listened to the right wing cr@p and was influenced to violence.

Rarely bad logic, no matter how well put together, arrives to the right conclusion. There's no evidence whatsoever that Loughner paid any attention to the right wing. He posted nothing about one of the most noxious political elections, the 2010 midterms. He said nothing or posted nothing about the 2008 elections. He was registered as an independent voter, and his concerns or obsessions, if you will, was about the currency, and mind control through grammar, which a friend says was the influence of the documentary Zeitgeist. There's no evidence that Jared Loughner was in any way impulsed to attack Giffords because she was a politician. Friends heard him complain that she did not answer a nonsensical question: "What is government if words have no meaning?".

I counted 5 shooting sprees in 2010, 2 in 2009, and 2 in 2008. There's no evidence that the right wing had anything to do with those shootings, and to make an exception for Jared Loughner is to connect imaginary dots that are as unreal as what drove Jared to his madness.
 
No evidence?

1. Banking conspiracies are a right-wing staple.

2. No lefty blathers on about the need to return to the gold standard.

3. That whole nutty "mind control through grammar control" thing comes from a particularly kooky right-winger.

4. I've never met a lefty who believes in that "We never went to the Moon" crap."

5. As I've demonstrated ad nauseum (see my recent comment on the Confluence), the whole "controlled demolition" theory of 9/11 is primarily the province of righties.

So there's five pieces of evidence right there.
 
By the way, Mr. Anonymous Piece of Shit: I've been reading about this "Zeitgeist" movie. It appears to be a compendium of many familiar crank right-wing conspiracy themes. Wikipedia says that the movie blames all wars and other unhappy events on a conspiracy created by -- wait for it -- the "international bankers." Anyone who has studied far right literature knows that this is a common euphemism for Guess Which Group of People.

And you admit that "Zeigeist" influenced Loughner. Your own damned words prove my point!
 
A good Article from the Daily Beast that echos the sentiments expressed here.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-01-13/zeitgeist-the-documentary-that-may-have-shaped-jared-loughners-worldview/
 
wow...so thinking that the government is out of control and out of touch with the governed is a right wing paradigm. Interesting how that view shifts from left to right depending on the particular whackjob presenting it.
 
I thought it was "British bankers" which was the code for "Jews run the world." Now it's "International Bankers?" You need to publish a Field Guide!
(and to think, you could even illustrate it)

I did find that one lone kook from the 80's who put forth that grammar conspiracy. I don't think you're going to find any regulars here who are going to argue that the "He's a lefty!" charge is anything but absurd.

The Palin Bashists, tho, instantly glommed onto it being specifically her fault, with no evidence of that whatsoever. And they have been proven FOS, since Loughner had been obsessed with Giffords since 2007...when she politely but cleverly dissed his vintage grammar conspiracy.
 
That MLK Jr., and really the entire civil rights movement, was associated with, and a creature of, communist subversion, was not just a far right wing theory. It was the guiding principle for J. Edgar Hoover and a significant number of national security state types.

Reagan made oblique reference to these materials in opposing the national holiday for him, stating that a lot would come out in some 20 years that would show what this reticence was based on.

And in fact, it is historically true that some of MLK Jr's associates were communists.

XI
 
The TP is primarily bankrolled by the Koch bros. Their dad was a key figure in John Birch Society, and the sons still espouse Bircher lunacy.

One of the tenets of the Ayn Rand groupies so influential in the TP is that our federal currency is meaningless and should be abolished.

Indisputable is the fact that these crackpot theories that the gov't is illegitimate and engaging in tyrannical conspiracies originate exclusively from the fringe Right.
 
Joseph, I appreciate that you love to riff on this subject, but I'm still left wondering what the point is.

I mean, even if Loughner had been obsessed with, say, Moby Dick, to the point where he went out and harpooned a half-dozen fat white men, what would that prove aside from the obvious: that people who are insane will do insane things, occasionally even violently lethal things, and there's no telling what's going to set them off?

& btw you know what I'd love to talk about? Mothman, baby! Maybe this weekend, when you do your non-political blogging? I'd forgotten all about Mothman until the Hell Hound's photo essay, and had never heard of him in the first place before the movie came out. And now someone on TC has said he's a NA legend as well, much like Bigfoot. Can't wait to see what you have to say on the subject.
 
LoL, I think that guys like Loughner are like the roverbial canary in the coal mine. Next time, the perp won't be someone so flagrantly schizy.

Actually, McVeigh (and his possible unindicted compatriots) weren't schizy either.

It says something about our society that we get these events every time a (D) gets into the White House. A message is being sent: "Vote Republican or we'll start killing people."

As for Mothman -- all I know is, it's a great story. I don't know how much truth there is in it.

If you go to the Mothman curio shop next to the statue (where they will serve you a Moth-acinno), make friendly conversation with the old cowboy behind the counter. He may show you a hazy picture of one of the Silver Bridge victims -- taken last year.

As good old Ed Sanders might put it: OOOOO-eeee-ooooooooo....
 
tidbits

1. re:"As I've demonstrated ad nauseum (see my recent comment on the Confluence), the whole 'controlled demolition' theory of 9/11 is primarily the province of righties."

Disagree somewhat with you on this. But my earlier comment discussing it in much more detail (comment to the Jared and Adolf piece) never showed up.

2. re: Zeitgeist
http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/01/16/20110116gabrielle-giffords-jared-loughner-profile.html
"He wanted to watch it all the time," Osler said. "It was cool at first. But then it got weird. It was all he wanted to do."
http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=12597092
"'I really think that this 'Zeitgeist' documentary had a profound impact on Jared's mindset and how he viewed that world that he lives in,' Osler said"

From the Daily Beast article:
"According to his friend, Zach Osler, Loughner 'didn't listen to political radio, he didn't take sides, he wasn't on the left, he wasn't on the right.' Naturally, conservatives have seized upon this to exonerate themselves of charges of incitement. But it’s not that simple. It’s hard to place Zeitgeist and Loose Change on the conventional partisan spectrum—both come from a shadowy conspiracy-mad subculture where the far right and the far left meet. Yet it’s the contemporary right, the right of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, that has mainstreamed ideas from this demimonde in an unprecedented way.
To understand how, it helps to look at the career of Alex Jones, an Austin radio host and the country’s most prominent conspiracy theorist. Jones was the executive producer of Loose Change, and chunks of Zeitgeist are taken from his documentary Terrorstorm. Jones disagrees with elements of Zeitgeist—he’s a Christian, while Zeitgeist attacks religion—but he’s said he supports 90 percent of what’s in the movie, and he promotes it on his show. 'A lot of people find my work because of Zeitgeist,' he said during an interview with the documentary’s director, Peter Joseph."

As the Daily Beast article is discussing, it's not clear to me that you can simply label Zeitgeist as rightwing. It borrows from and was promoted by Alex Jones, but the creator of the film, Peter Joseph, is pretty clearly left. Sites promoting his films online say "Peter Joseph is a left-wing documentarian", and from what I can make out, that characterization is probably not entirely incorrect. So how to characterize this is somewhat complicated (as discussed in Daily Beast article).

3. Here's something more on Loughner and the Sovereign Citizens Movement.
http://blogs.forbes.com/janetnovack/2011/01/12/expert-loughner-rants-sound-like-sovereign-citizen-beliefs/
 
tidbits

1. re:"As I've demonstrated ad nauseum (see my recent comment on the Confluence), the whole 'controlled demolition' theory of 9/11 is primarily the province of righties."

Disagree somewhat with you on this. But my earlier comment discussing it in much more detail (comment to the Jared and Adolf piece) never showed up.

2. re: Zeitgeist
http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/01/16/20110116gabrielle-giffords-jared-loughner-profile.html
"He wanted to watch it all the time," Osler said. "It was cool at first. But then it got weird. It was all he wanted to do."
http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=12597092
"'I really think that this 'Zeitgeist' documentary had a profound impact on Jared's mindset and how he viewed that world that he lives in,' Osler said"
 
tidbit continued

From the Daily Beast article:
"According to his friend, Zach Osler, Loughner 'didn't listen to political radio, he didn't take sides, he wasn't on the left, he wasn't on the right.' Naturally, conservatives have seized upon this to exonerate themselves of charges of incitement. But it’s not that simple. It’s hard to place Zeitgeist and Loose Change on the conventional partisan spectrum—both come from a shadowy conspiracy-mad subculture where the far right and the far left meet. Yet it’s the contemporary right, the right of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, that has mainstreamed ideas from this demimonde in an unprecedented way.
To understand how, it helps to look at the career of Alex Jones, an Austin radio host and the country’s most prominent conspiracy theorist. Jones was the executive producer of Loose Change, and chunks of Zeitgeist are taken from his documentary Terrorstorm. Jones disagrees with elements of Zeitgeist—he’s a Christian, while Zeitgeist attacks religion—but he’s said he supports 90 percent of what’s in the movie, and he promotes it on his show. 'A lot of people find my work because of Zeitgeist,' he said during an interview with the documentary’s director, Peter Joseph."

As the Daily Beast article is discussing, it's not clear to me that you can simply label Zeitgeist as rightwing. It borrows from and was promoted by Alex Jones, but the creator of the film, Peter Joseph, is pretty clearly left. Sites promoting his films online say "Peter Joseph is a left-wing documentarian", and from what I can make out, that characterization is probably not entirely incorrect. So how to characterize this is somewhat complicated (as discussed in Daily Beast article).

3. Here's something more on Loughner and the Sovereign Citizens Movement.
http://blogs.forbes.com/janetnovack/2011/01/12/expert-loughner-rants-sound-like-sovereign-citizen-beliefs/
 
Let me deal with this bit:

"According to his friend, Zach Osler, Loughner 'didn't listen to political radio, he didn't take sides, he wasn't on the left, he wasn't on the right.' Naturally, conservatives have seized upon this to exonerate themselves of charges of incitement. But it’s not that simple. It’s hard to place Zeitgeist and Loose Change on the conventional partisan spectrum—both come from a shadowy conspiracy-mad subculture where the far right and the far left meet."

I disagree only with the predictable claptrap about the far right and the far left meeting in that subculture. This line was added to make the author sound unbiased.

That said: Of course Jared didn't follow election news the way you or I might. Those who get immersed REALLY deeply in the extremist subculture will reach a point where they find conventional electoral politics meaningless.

Back in (say) 1936, you probably COULD find extremists of this sort on both the right and the left. The members of the Silver Shirts and other Nazi organizations probably didn't give that much of a damn about which side won the election, since they thought that democracy itself was a poor idea. Similarly, the communists thought that the whole business of voting was meaningless.

These people were definitely political. They just didn't care about the ballot box.

Today, of course, it is meaningless to use this "both sides do it" rhetoric. How many genuine communists are left?

I'll go into the 9/11 history in a later post. You're making me go over my collection of articles from 2002.
 
"It says something about our society that we get these events every time a (D) gets into the White House..."

Um, the assassination attempt on Reagan? By a Bush family friend??

Not always a D. But then again...I'm surprised we haven't heard more from the conspriracists on this one!
 
The following seems to do a reasonably thorough job of laying out much of the early truther history.
http://sites.google.com.nyud.net/site/911guide/influences
http://sites.google.com.nyud.net/site/911guide/history
[Also, additional discussion available here: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=86189 ]
A really motley cast of characters.
 
Thanks for the links. I had forgotten about the roles played by Gary North, of "Capitalism and the Bible" fame, and Carol Valentine. Then we come to Hufshmid and the like. Basically, it is as I thought: We are talking about the anti-Semitic right.

Among the major "early adopters," the only name there that was always a mystery to me was Jim McMichael, whose piece seems to be the earliest in my own collection of materials from that era.

I don't know who this guy is or what his politics are like. His only other net presence is in connection with an environmental group, so I'll presume that he is locatable somewhere on the left.

I actually have no real beef with guys like McMichael, even when they are wrong, as I think he was here. In a sense, he played fairly. He made an attempt to cite expert sources. He wrote to a higher standard than did just about any other conspiracist from that period. And he restricts himself to scientific questions.

In other words, he's not promoting a larger political weltanschauung. And you certainly can't call him a self-promoter, since he has pretty much disappeared.

In short, he seems -- based on the available evidence -- to be a reasonable guy.

Yeah, he got it wrong. WAY wrong. But that's no crime in and of itself.

My beef is not with him. My beef with the guys who who turned a bad theory into a crusade, who screamed "conspiracy" at the tops of their lungs and then used 9/11 to promote a larger paranoid worldview.

In general, I would say that if you go back to the 2002-2004 era, the left treated the CD theory very warily, while the Alex Jones/Barnes Review crowd did everything they could to trumpet the thing. The sources you cite back up that contention.

It was only in the 2004-2007 period that the CD-ers began to make some headway among the lefties.

Frankly, the only thing that stopped the virus was censorship. Air America stopped allowing the calls on the air, D.U. put the truthers in a cage, Kos wouldn't publish 'em.

It was sad that it had to come to that point, but it was necessary. The trannies were just fucking obnoxious. They simply did not know how to behave in public. They tried to take over completely any forum that let them speak. To prove the point, call up the archives and look at the way they treated ME back in December of 2006. I didn't want to ban them from this site -- but jeez, look at the way they acted!

The turning point was their ghastly outburst on Bill Maher's show. I think even the trannies look back on that appalling incident and admit (to themselves -- never out loud): "We fucked up."

It's like this: Imagine you have a friend who converts to evangelical Christianity. At first, you still want to socialize with him. But every time he shows up at parties, he tries to convert everyone else. Eventually, you have to "censor" him -- that is, you must keep him separated from everyone else you know. Or you just cut the guy out of your life altogether.

That's pretty much what happened with the left and the CD-ers.

And that's why it is so galling to see the "truthers" lumped in with the left. This crap was a virus injected (temporarily) into the left by the likes of Carol Valentine, Eric Hufschmid and Alex Jones.

That said, you can point to one great exception: Thierry Meyssan. He's definitely a lefty, and he's a definitely an irresponsible showman -- Alex Jones with a French accent. But he's no part of the American left. A guy like that can exist only in Europe; I can't think of any way he would have a voice in liberal circles in this country.

Thank god.
 
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