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Loughner Influenced by Conspiracy Movie "Zeitgeist": How Fearmongers and Conspiracy Theorists on the Right Encourage Violence

Conspiracy theories have always been around. The difference is their mainstreaming by politicians and pundits on the right.
 
 
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Michelle Goldberg tells us in this must-read article, about Jared Loughner's obsession with a conspiracy theory "documentary" which includes many of the oddball concepts in Loughner's videos.

We now know a little bit more about the matrix of ideas that helped inspire Jared Loughner’s murderous rampage on Saturday. According to a friend of his interviewed on Good Morning America on Wednesday, the conspiracy documentary Zeitgeist “poured gasoline on his fire” and had “a profound impact on Jared Loughner's mindset and how he views the world that he lives in.” He was also, according to his friend’s father, influenced by the documentary Loose Change, a classic of the 9/11 Truth movement. This does not mean that either of these movies is responsible for making Loughner do what he did, but it does show how his madness was shaped by a broader climate of paranoia, and offers a clue as to why he targeted Gabrielle Giffords.

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.

She goes on to explain radio conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' role in promoting these two films and it reminded me of an email I got from someone last week-end after the shooting in which a reader said that somebody ought to take a look at Jones. Apparently, a lot of the weird incoherence of Loughner's vids is familiar to people who are aware of the Jones ouvre. Goldberg writes of Jones:

His political hero is Ron Paul—he runs RonPaulWarRoom.com, and Paul is a frequent guest on his radio show. But until recently, most conservatives disdained him. In 2007, Michelle Malkin argued that Paul’s association with Jones was enough to disqualify the congressman from participating in GOP primary debates.

Since then, though, Republican politics have become a lot more paranoid. Tea Party groups and Fox News started echoing Jones’ warnings that the swine flu virus was really a pretext to establish martial law. Lou Dobbs went on Jones’ show in 2008 to discuss the coming North American Union.[Senator Rand Paul is on board with that one --- ed.]...

People who study the right have worried for months about the consequences of paranoid beliefs about treasonous government plots. In 2009, Berlet authored a report titled, “Toxic to Democracy: Conspiracy Theories, Demonization and Scapegoating.” It traced the history and dissemination of the kind of conspiracy theories floating around the right, and said, “People who believe conspiracist allegations sometimes act on those irrational beliefs, and this has concrete consequences in the real world.

Conspiracy theories have always been around. The difference, as Dave Neiwert explained in his book The Eliminationsts is the mainstreaming of it in the greater society, particularly under the auspices of "news" networks and politicians. Beck is clearly the king of this nonsense, with his blackboard of allegedly interconnecting relationships and credulous reporting of "Fema camps" and Soros conspiracies. As Goldberg points out in her piece, Beck's book The Overton Window, is nothing more than a novelized Alex Jones conspiracy theory.

One might have thought an incident like this would ring enough bells to make the mainstream right feel the do a little soul searching, but it's clear that's not going to happen. Indeed, they are very busy scapegoating the left, and as usual, the public as a consequence ends up believing that each side is equally to blame and putting a pox on both their houses. They are not going to back off.

The Overton Window is for sale at my corner drugstore right alongside the diet books and the Romance novels. You can't get any more mainstream than that. Of course, Glenn Beck would never be able to publish that drivel if it weren't for the fact that he's a huge television celebrity with a rabid following, many of whom believe that he's a very smart person.

Glenn Beck is the most highly regarded individual among Tea Party supporters of the people we tested. He scores an extraordinarily high 75 percent warm rating, 57 percent very warm.

This affinity for Beck came through very clearly in the focus groups. The only news source that participants said they could trust was Fox. Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity were cited as people who “are not afraid to tell it like it is” and support their arguments with solid facts. Beck was undoubtedly the hero in these groups. Participants consider him an “educator” (in contrast to the popular Rush Limbaugh who is an “entertainer”) who teaches people history and puts himself at risk because he exposes the truth. In the words of a woman in Ft. Lauderdale, “I would trust my life in his hands.”

Other comments are just as laudatory:

"I like the way he’s trying to get back to the basics of the Constitution of the United States because I think that’s where our government is losing focus. They’re trying to change the Constitution or somehow twist it…"

"He brings out facts… And he actually shows the people saying the things. It’s not like just sound bites. It’s not chopped and really edited. And he is scary because every time I watch the show, which is pretty much every day, my heart feels…and I feel like I want to do something."

"I’m frightened for him… Because of the things that he says. I think that he is stepping on some big toes."

"He really does his research and he really lays it out to you well; a good professor."

Among his fans are members of congress:

Monday on Fox News, Beck claimed that President Obama gave $2 billion to the Brazilian state-run oil company PetroBras "just days" after conservative boogeyman George Soros strengthened his investment in the company.

The very next evening, the two Republican congressmen repeated Beck's baseless charge on the House floor. While criticizing the moratorium on offshore drilling brought on by the Gulf oil spill, Rep. Burton said that "we just sent $2 billion to Brazil so they can do offshore drilling." Moments later, Burton parroted Beck's fantasy version of events: "We don't need to be sending Mr. Soros money in Brazil so he can make more money by doing offshore drilling with our taxpayers' money."

Here's Beck:

 

This whole thing was conspiratorial lunacy, by the way, completely untrue. As were the Beck conspiracy rants that explicitly inspired these acts of violence.

It's not there aren't paranoid, violent left wing conspiracy nuts out there. Of course there are. But their ideas are not being mainstreamed into the general population the same way the right's are and that's because the paranoid left doesn't have their own media. Also the politicians on the left don't listen to them and believe what they say. They don't even listen to the mainstream left.

You can't legislate this, of course. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to spout off ludicrous bullshit. But it's probably a good idea to at least try to draw attention to the loonier stuff, even though you will be descended upon by a bunch of shrieking harpies the minute you bring it up. Certainly the mainstream media could do a better job of filtering this nonsense out.

Oh, and Fox should be shunned by all right thinking people simply for the fact that they feature a bunch of conspiracy theorists on their air every day filling up millions of people's heads with this crazy stuff. Loughner may have gotten his ideas from the Alex Jones fringe, but a bunch of these other loons and militants got it from the next level of right wing paranoia --- Fox.

Check out Digby's blog, Hullabaloo.
 
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