Why Glenn Beck Keeps Peddling Whack-Job Fantasies About Euthanizing Grandma, Outlawing Christmas and Turning Junior into a Raging Homosexual
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
—H. L. Mencken
In December 2004, when Bill O’Reilly was warning the nation that dark forces were threatening to destroy Christmas, Glenn Beck was touring local performance venues across the country on a “politically incorrect comedic romp” called the Real American Christmas Tour. His show satirized the secularization of Christmas with songs like “Happy RamaHanuKwanzMas.”
As Beck’s popularity grew, his routine became darker. Or perhaps, as his routine became darker, his popularity grew. In 2006, he joined CNN Headline News with a one-hour program offering “an unconventional look at the news of the day featuring Beck’s often amusing perspective.” Beck promised to present “a different take” to viewers who were “tired of the predictable left-versus-right debates.” His show did prove unconventional and unpredictable, and it was often amusing, though perhaps not in the way that CNN intended.
Glenn Beck made his first foray into primetime paranoia during the summer of 2006. In a series of broadcasts, Beck predicted that Iran and/or Russia would soon invade Israel, most likely on August 22, which would precipitate World War III. He told viewers:
When Beck spoke of Armageddon, he was not speaking figuratively. “End times” refers to the period of tribulation that precedes Christ’s return.* In another broadcast, Beck asked his audience:We are in the early stages of World War III—it’s the linchpin of World War III—the possible apocalypse in 13 days. Do you believe we’re in the end times? All outArmageddon. World War III is dangerously close.
Do you believe that Iran and Russia will come together to invade Israel, resulting in a world war of biblical proportions, an eventual peace treaty, and the beginning of theseven-year tribulation period, and the eventual revoking of the peace treaty by a leader who turns out to be the Antichrist, and a campaign of Armageddon, and the second coming of Christ?
*"Christ's return." Apocalyptic predictions are popular among Christian conspiracy theorists, and they always present the hastening of the end times as a catastrophe. But according to the prophecy, good Christians get to go directly to Heaven before the end of times. If I were a Christian, I'd be pretty excited about the whole thing.
But August 22 passed without Armageddon, and Beck must have figured that he couldn’t wait for Iran and Russia to get their acts together. Clearly, his first foray into fearmongering was a dud.
A Legendary Crank
Unbowed, Beck hit the books to learn how to construct a proper paranoia narrative. He found his muse and mentor in the late Willard Cleon Skousen. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum has described Skousen as “one of the legendary cranks of the conservative world, a John Bircher, a grand fantasist of theories about secret conspiracies between capitalists and communists to impose a one-world government under the control of David Rockefeller.” This was exactly the kind of man Beck needed.One of Skousen’s books is called The Naked Capitalist. It is ostensibly a commentary on the work of a Georgetown University historian named Carroll Quigley, whom Bill Clinton has cited as a major personal influence. Quigley has occasionally written about secret societies, so his work has also been popular among right-wing conspiracists like Skousen. In The Naked Capitalist, Skousen transformed Quigley’s secret societies into an evil global conspiracy of “socialistic” bankers who were plotting to take over the world. He wrote:
There is a growing volume of evidence that the highest centers of political and economic power have been forcing the entire human race toward a global, socialist, dictatorial-oriented society . . . The world hierarchy of the dynastic super-rich is out to take over the entire planet, doing it with Socialistic legislation where possible, but having no reluctance to use Communist revolution where necessary.
According to Skousen, a religious Mormon, the global takeover by the conspiracy of the super-rich had in fact been prophesied two thousand years ago in the Bible:
Anyone familiar with the writings of John’s Apocalypse might have suspected that modern history would eventually contain the account of a gigantic complex of political and economic power which would cover the whole earth. John predicted that before the great epic of Messianic or Millennial peace, the human race would be subjected to a ruthless, world-wide conglomerate of dictatorial authority which would attempt to make all men subservient to it or be killed.
Skousen’s “world-wide conglomerate” formed the basis of the popular new world order conspiracy theories, according to which a “shadow government” made up of Rothschilds, Rockefellers, the Illuminati, the Learned Elders of Zion, the Council on Foreign Relations, and assorted bad guys like George Soros’s plot to create a tyrannical one-world government and amass a very large fleet of black helicopters. Pat Robertson’s 1992 bestseller, The New World Order, is one of the most popular books of the genre. In 1994, a year before the Oklahoma City bombing, Oklahoma state legislators passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress “to cease any support for the establishment of ‘a new world order’ or any form of global government.” The concept also inspired the Syndicate, the secretive alien-collaborators of The X-Files series. Skousen’s role in germinating such conspiracy ideas is what David Frum meant when he called him a “legendary crank."
* “Legendary crank.” Carroll Quigley was not impressed by Skousen’s “commentary.” He wrote, “Skousen’s personal position seems to me perilously close to the ‘exclusive uniformity’ which I see in Nazism and in the Radical Right in this country. In fact, his position has echoes of the original Nazi 25-point plan.” (Joe Conason, “Should Fox fire Glenn Beck? Or should he resign?”)
“The Goal Is Globalization"
And so Glenn Beck set about becoming a legendary crank himself. On his September 6, 2006, radio show, Beck favorably discussed Quigley’s book and Skousen’s The Naked Capitalist: “It’s the only explanation that I have heard of why our government isn’t doing—why they didn’t put more boots on the ground [in Iraq and Afghanistan], why we don’t protect our own borders here.” A few weeks later, he continued the theme in an interview with CNN colleague Lou Dobbs. Beck asked:
Was Carroll Quigley right on the shadow government, on the companies taking over and really controlling everything? Because it’s really the only thing that I can put my finger on to say, “Why aren’t we doing anything about illegal immigration?” We’re run by companies now, aren’t we?
But Quigley never discussed a “shadow government.” The term comes from the Skousen-derived new world order conspiracy theories. Lou Dobbs was either unfamiliar with Quigley or chose to avoid the question, so Beck pressed on: “It’s not just corporate America. I mean, it’s global corporations. I think we’re being turned into MexAmeriCanada.”
MexAmeriCanada is Beck’s awkward name for the imminent union between Mexico, Canada, and the United States. Lou Dobbs, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), and his son Rand, the Republican Senate nominee from Kentucky, call it the North American Union.*
* “North American Union.” When unification happens, I hope that we get to vote on the name; my personal favorite is Camerico.There are many variations of the North American Union conspiracy theory, but the experts agree on two points.
First, the conspirators plan to deliberately devalue the dollar in order to force Americans to accept a new common currency, called the Amero. (Like the euro, get it?) The conspirators include the Federal Reserve and numerous foreign entities. Ron Paul speaks vaguely of “an unholy alliance of foreign consortiums and officials from several governments.” Others name the Rothschilds. Many also suspect King Juan Carlos of Spain for no obvious reason.
Second, the powers that be are constructing a massive “NAFTA Superhighway” to ship goods from Mexico to Canada. According to Ron Paul’s congressional website, “Proponents envision a ten-lane colossus the width of several football fields, with freight and rail lines, fiber-optic cable lines, and oil and natural gas pipelines running alongside.” Why such a wide road is so critical for the formation of the North American Union is unclear, but it has forced the Federal Highway Administration to deal with some unusual complaints.
To further investigate the conspiracy, Beck later invited renowned MexAmeriCanada scholar Jerome Corsi onto his show. Corsi became famous in 2004 for his powerful biography of Senator John Kerry, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. In 2008, Corsi would also become a staunch defender of the Obama birther theory. But in 2007, he was peddling his book The Late Great U.S.A.: The Coming Merger with Mexico and Canada. During the interview, Beck peppered the distinguished author with challenging questions:
You’ve got the trans—the NAFTA superhighway that, again, everybody denies, but you’ve got it broken up in chunks being built right now. It will deliver goods from China right to Mexico through America into Canada. You say this stuff is going to eliminate the middle class. How?
The MexAmeriCanada conspiracy worked better for Beck than the Iran–Russia–World War III bit, but it wasn’t quite evil enough. For one thing, there is no good way to draw an analogy between excessively wide highways and Nazi Germany. So Beck moved on to Al Gore’s campaign against global warming, which has more obvious parallels to the Third Reich. In April 2007, he did a radio show about a book that he was reading on the Nazis. Then he whipped in a bit of Al Gore’sInconvenient Truth. Then he whipped in a bit of Skousen’s world-government conspiracy theory. And voilà, instant fascist world-government conspiracy:
I understand World War II much, much better because we’re here again, gang. We are here again. And I read this one part on global warming about how they got—what was the first thing they did to get people to exterminate the Jews. Now, I’m not saying that anybody’s going to—you know Al Gore’s not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization. The goal is global carbon tax. The goal is the United Nations running the world. That is the goal. Back in the 1930s, the goal was get rid of all of the Jews and have one global government. You got to have an enemy to fight. And when you have an enemy to fight, then you can unite the entire world behind you, and you seize power. That was Hitler’s plan. His enemy: the Jew. Al Gore’s enemy, the U.N.’s enemy: global warming.
In presenting Al Gore as a cunning Hitler-like supervillain, Beck was warming up for his future role as chief witch hunter for the right wing. Comparisons between progressive bogeymen and murderous dictators would soon become a standard part of his repertoire.* Beck’s Nazi comparisons are so frequent that The Daily Show has accused him of “Nazi Tourette’s.” But when some compared Arizona’s law requiring people to carry citizenship papers to Nazi Germany, Beck was aghast. “You’re out of your mind?” he howled, “Are you comparing the systematic cold-blooded extermination of millions of Jews, to America making sure people are here legally. The parallels are non-existent.” As opposed to Al Gore’s environmentalism. (Lewis Black, “Back in Black: Glenn Beck’s Nazi Tourette’s”)
The accusation against Gore was also an impressive feat of Freudian projection. Glenn Beck, America’s preeminent fearmonger, stoked the fear that Al Gore was employing scare tactics—by gratuitously comparing him to history’s scariest fearmonger, Adolf Hitler. It’s so twisted that it’s genius.
But Beck was just getting warmed up. He began broadcasting at Fox News on January 19, the eve of President Obama’s inauguration. By March, he had tripled his CNN primetime viewership and was rivaling O’Reilly and Hannity with 2.3 million viewers per show, an incredible feat for a program with a 5:00 p.m. timeslot. The New York Times called him “Fox News’s mad, apocalyptic, tearful rising star.”
With a mix of moral lessons, outrage and an apocalyptic view of the future, Mr. Beck, a longtime radio host who jumped to Fox from CNN’s Headline News channel this year, is capturing the feelings of an alienated class of Americans.*
* “Capturing the feelings of an alienated class of Americans.” That makes Beck sound like some kind of sci-fi neuroterrorist. We need to call out the Starfleet Cortex Defense Squadron to liberate the feelings of innocent alienated Americans.
At Fox News, Beck was ready to take his conspiracism to the next level. The one element that his CNN conspiracy theories lacked was bogeymen. For some reason, he didn’t play up foreigners like Ahmadinejad or Putin during the near-apocalypse of August 2006. Global corporations are too nonspecific. Al Gore is not marginal enough and a bit too nerdy to be really scary. George Soros is a good standby, and Beck has used him on occasion, but he’s really O’Reilly’s bogeyman. Using someone else’s bogeyman is the right-wing conspiracist version of going out with your friend’s girlfriend. You can hang with her in a public place, but no groping. It might have been different if O’Reilly and Soros had an open relationship, but O’Reilly is a one-bogeyman kind of guy. Everything he hates is somehow funded and controlled by Soros. Beck, by contrast, is into free-hate; the more, the hatier. The Glenn Beck Program is essentially a nonstop hate orgy.
Where O’Reilly favored international financiers, Beck developed a passion for government bureaucrats. Specifically, Beck is into czars. Czar is not an official title. It’s media shorthand for an appointed official in the executive branch with a specific purview of responsibility. Unlike cabinet positions, Congressional approval is not generally required for such appointments. Woodrow Wilson had an “industry czar.” FDR had a “food czar,” a “manpower czar,” a “synthetic rubber czar,” and several others. Richard Nixon had a “drug czar” and an “energy czar.” George W. Bush, who was slightly czar-struck, had about thirty-six czars depending on how you count, including a “faith-based czar,” a “bioethics czar,” and a pair of “AIDS czars.” (One was a “global AIDS czar”; the other was just a regular “AIDS czar.”) Bush also appointed an “abstinence czar” and a “birth control czar,” which might have led to a drunken czar-fight in the State Dining Room were it not for the birth control czar’s opposition to contraceptives.
Barack Obama retained many of Bush’s czar positions (not the abstinence czar) and appointed a few of his own. Glenn Beck at one point counted thirty-two czars in the Obama administration. Republicans, who had voiced no opposition to Bush’s czars, complained bitterly about Obama’s, perhaps because they had no opportunity to filibuster them as they have done to almost every nominee who requires congressional approval. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called the appointments “antidemocratic.” Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said that they “undermine the constitution.”*
* To be fair to the Republicans, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) also criticized Obama’s czars.
Former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) objected to the term czar because it’s too Russian and helpfully suggested alternatives: “big boss, el jefe, head honcho, the big cheese . . . chief cook and bottle washer.”
The chief cook and bottle washer of the czar scare was Glenn Beck. Beck did not like those czars, not one bit. “This collection of these czars, these are evil people. These are wicked,” he said. Exploiting concerns that the appointment of czars sidestepped constitutional checks and balances, Beck contrived an elaborate conspiracy theory that placed the czars at the center of the “shadow government,” imbuing them with amazing powers of bureaucratic administration:
A shadow government is giving the Obama administration unprecedented power with virtually no oversight . . . They don’t need to be confirmed by the Senate; they rarely go before committees; they can claim “executive privilege” when asked to testify, and they’re accountable to no one but the president himself.
But who are these wicked czars? In a short series called “Know! Your! Czars!” Beck introduced them one by one:
• John Holdren, science “czar”—proposed “compulsory sterilization” and forced abortions to control population
• Cass Sunstein, regulatory “czar”—proposed bans on hunting and eating meat and proposed that your dog to be allowed to have an attorney in court.
• Carol Browner, global warming “czar”—was part of Socialist International, a group for “global governance.”
• Ezekiel Emmanuel, health care adviser—proponent of the Complete Lives System, which puts values on lives based mostly by age.
Angry Black Men
But the most wicked czar of them all, the czariest czar in the history of czars, was a man named Anthony “Van” Jones. If there were a czar magazine, Van Jones would be the centerfold. His official title was Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, but the folks at Fox News called him the “green jobs czar.” Time magazine named Jones one of its “Heroes of the Environment 2008.” Fast Company named him one of “The 12 Most Creative Minds Of 2008.” Glenn Beck named him “Marxist anarchist,” “revolutionary communist,” “black nationalist,” “convicted felon,” and all-around “wicked dude.”
Jones had been radical in his youth, though not quite the way Beck described. He showed up at Yale Law School with a Black Panther book bag, hence the “black nationalist” charge. During a 1992 job internship, his boss sent him to monitor a San Francisco protest of the Rodney King verdict. He was arrested along with the protesters and released the next day when the charges were dropped; hence the “convicted felon” misrepresentation. The experience did lead Jones to embrace communism for a time, but by the year 2000 he had soured on the whole idea and embraced eco-capitalism, which is like capitalism but with less pollution.
But that was more than enough for Glenn Beck, who assured his viewers, “He was a radical communist. He hasn’t shed that. He’s still a radical. He is still a black nationalist.” To prove the point, Beck played a brief audio clip from one of Van Jones’s speeches, ostensibly about ecocapitalism, in which Jones said, “This movement is deeper than a solar panel . . . We’re going to change the whole system.” Obviously, he wasn’t talking about environmental policy. He was talking about the whole system.
“When will America wake up?” Beck then asked rhetorically with a dramatic pause. “The left has started a revolution. No different than Hugo Chavez. When Hugo Chavez was elected, he was elected by Democratic process. But he did not tell the people when he was running that he was a communist. Can we stop claiming that this man, Van Jones, is an average everyday capitalist America, an American? Is that I mean, did that sound like you, Iowa? Did that sound like you, Nebraska? Did it sound like you, Texas? Did it sound like you, Florida, Georgia, Maryland? Did it sound like you, New Hampshire? It sure sounds like Berkeley, California, San Francisco, California, and now Washington, D.C.”*
“* Did that sound like you, Iowa?” This list of states is reminiscent of Sarah Palin’s infamous campaign line about “the real America.” Coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, Beck’s first book from 2005 is titled The Real America: Messages from the Heart and Heartland.
And it wasn’t just Van Jones who didn’t sound like an American to Iowa, Nebraska, and so on. Next, Beck played a clip from a campaign speech that Barack Obama delivered the week before the election in which Obama said, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” He wasn’t talking about solar panels either.
“You know,” said Glenn Beck, “I don’t want to believe these things about our president . . . If our founding principles are somehow or another no longer relevant, if the system in which this country was founded is somehow unjust or unworkable now and communism, Marxism, socialism is the right and relevant path, then that is the discussion in a republic we have. But to subversively bring in a new system through the back door in the middle of the night and build it piece by piece by overwhelming the system, that is not acceptable.”
But why, why does Obama want a revolution? To answer this question, Beck played yet another audio clip of Jones saying, “And our Native American sisters and brothers who were pushed and bullied and mistreated and shoved into all the land we didn’t want, where it was all hot and windy, well, guess what, renewable energy . . . They now own and control 80 percent of the renewable energy resources . . . We owe them a debt.”
2009's fear-monger in chief
Then Beck added a third black orator to the medley, playing an excerpt from a sermon in which Rev. Jeremiah Wright railed, “We believe God sanctioned the rape and robbery of an entire continent. We believe God ordained African slavery.” Then Beck played yet another clip from Van Jones’ speech—“What about our immigrant sisters and brothers? What about people who come here from all around the world, who we’re willing to have out in the fields with poison being sprayed on them?” Van Jones again: “The white polluters and the white environmentals are essentially steering poison into the people of colored communities.” And back to Rev. Wright’s sermon: “The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment. They purposely infected African American men with syphilis."
Beck then appealed to his audience, his voice quiet and heavy with anguish, gradually increasing in volume, swelling with anger, “How? How, America? I ask this sincerely. Show me where I have it wrong. I want to be wrong, but I can’t find any other way to explain this. The president is wearing a mask. He has surrounded himself with radicals and revolutionaries.” By then Beck had reached a full shout, “He has surrounded himself his whole life with radicals and revolutionaries!”
In this powerful jeremiad, Glenn Beck went well beyond the guilt-by-association tactics that Sean Hannity employed before Obama’s election. Beck’s point was not simply that Obama “pals around” with black nationalists and communist revolutionaries. His point was that Obama is a black nationalist and a communist revolutionary. By juxtaposing their speeches in quick succession, Beck blurs these three men together. They are all angry black men who hate white people; they are all secretly building a communist revolution to redistribute the wealth and privileges of the whites they despise to the American Indians, the immigrants, and the people of color. Thus, Beck deftly combined conspiratorial villainy with the white persecution narrative.
* “Beck deftly combined.” If you want to understand persecution politics, if you want to know why so many millions of Americans tune to Glenn Beck every day, listen to this radio program.
Like O’Reilly’s caricature of George Soros, Beck’s amalgamation of Obama, Jones, and Wright plays off a popular archetype from American culture—the Black Radical. The Black Radical archetype may be less familiar to younger readers, but Glenn Beck, who grew up in the 1970s, surely knows it well. Black radicals were African American civil rights activists who advocated a socialist or communist revolution. Many black radicals sanctioned violence, such as H. Rap Brown, who was imprisoned for armed robbery after a police shootout; Robert F. Williams, who fled to Cuba after trumped-up kidnapping charges were lodged against him; and Donald DeFreeze, leader of the Symbionese Liberation Army that kidnapped Patty Hearst.
The Black Radical archetype also showed up in Hollywood, taking the form of villains and sidekicks who were portrayed as violent and dogmatic. For example, the 1976 movie Network, which features the “mad as hell” Howard Beale character that Glenn Beck so admires, included two black radicals: a dogmatic communist organizer named Laureen Hobbs and a domestic terrorist called the Great Ahmed Kahn. Thus, Beck told his audience, not in so many words, that our president is a secret black radical who is preparing to realize the Black Radical dream of redistributing income to his nonwhite “brothers.” [This paragraph has been modified from the original text with permission of the author.]
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