How Glenn Beck's Twisted Worldview Goads Disturbed People into Acts of Violence
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Radio and TV personality Glenn Beck plays a unique and extraordinary role in our political discourse. He’s an entertainer who once referred to himself as a “rodeo clown.” He’s a self-appointed “educator” whose books and “university” are miseducating millions of Americans with false claims about American history and a distorted view of our Constitution. And he’s an increasingly messianic figure who claims that he has been divinely anointed to lead the nation back to God.
Central to Beck’s influence is the intensity of his fans’ devotion to him. And central to the danger he poses is his willingness to stoke fear, anger, and hatred among those fans with a toxic, if lucrative, mixture of conspiracy theories and charges that America is on the verge of being destroyed by enemies from within. In Beck’s world, those enemies include not only President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders, but also progressive advocacy organizations, unions, and even churches that promote social justice as a part of their religious mission. What Beck preaches is that these are not merely political opponents with policy disagreements, but agents of evil whose goal is the destruction of America and who will stop at nothing -- including the deaths of millions -- to advance their freedom-destroying plans.
Beck has also raised the stakes by claiming a divine mandate for his view of the Constitution and the U.S. government. He has not only attacked President Obama’s politics, but has called the president’s views on the nature of salvation “evil” and “satanic.” Beck and David Barton, the Religious Right pseudo-historian he promotes, claim that their views of limited government and the Constitution are divinely inspired. So progressives are not only un-American, they are un-Christian and anti-God. “If we do not put God at the center of our own personal lives and the center of our country, we will not survive,” Beck said in August. “The country will be washed with blood and then someone will have to start over, and God only knows how long that takes."
Beck’s propaganda traffics in alarmism, paranoia, racial resentment, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. These would make for a combustible mix at any time. But it’s an even more dangerous combination during a time of widespread economic hardship, when so many people are hurting and increasingly desperate. While backing politicians who don’t believe the government has a role in addressing that pain, Beck offers explanations that can deepen the desperation.
“Times of threat bring increased aggression,” 21-year CIA veteran Jerrold Post told Politico last fall. “And the whole country’s under threat now, with the economic difficulties and political polarization. The need to have someone to blame is really strong in human psychology. And once you have someone to blame, especially when there’s a call to action, some see it as a time for heroic action.”
For some troubled Beck fans, that “heroic action” has meant taking up arms against the nation’s “enemies” as Beck has defined them. The poison that Beck administers daily to our political culture has intensified the nation’s divisions and inspired murderous violence. But rather than take any responsibility for the impact of his irresponsible rhetoric, Beck has responded by dismissing his critics, raising the volume of his violent rhetoric, and repeatedly suggesting to his viewers that he is in danger of being killed by progressive leaders.
Beck’s indifference to the damaging consequences of his language and actions has led a number of public interest organizations to join forces in an effort to hold Beck and Fox News accountable, with a campaign asking owners of televisions in public locations to turn off Fox, and a campaign urging advertisers to drop Fox and stop funding Beck’s irresponsible rhetoric.