Conspiracy Theories

Sing That Song Again, Kentucky


Matt Welch and Michael Moynihan have already blogged the news that the death of Bill Sparkman, the Kentucky census worker found bound and lifeless with the word FED on his chest, has been ruled a suicide. Michael was kind enough to include a link to my essay on the paranoid center, with its argument that

We've heard ample warnings about extremist paranoia in the months since Barack Obama became president, and we're sure to hear many more throughout his term. But we've heard almost nothing about the paranoia of the political center. When mainstream commentators treat a small group of unconnected crimes as a grand, malevolent movement, they unwittingly echo the very conspiracy theories they denounce. Both brands of connect-the-dots fantasy reflect the tellers' anxieties much more than any order actually emerging in the world.

I'll just add that the paranoid center thesis didn't rest on whether or not this was a murder. There's a certain number of politically motivated crimes each year, and my position isn't affected by whether one single death is or isn't one of them.

What's important was the leap to judgment. A large number of commentators assumed, apparently inaccurately, that the death was a murder, that the murder was political, and that the motive was linked to one congresswoman's crusade. They made those assumptions because it fit a narrative to which they were committed.

When people on the far left or the far right do that, they're accused of paranoia—of being so eager to connect the dots that they run ahead of what the evidence actually says. Let this sad story from Kentucky be a reminder that the establishment is just as capable of making this mistake as the fringe.

NEXT: Stock Transaction Tax: It's Like Slapping Yourself in the Face

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  1. It’s just like Tim Matheson’s supposed reason for having Fletch kill him! I bet Sparkman was thinking “Don’t talk to me like that, assface. I don’t work for you yet.”

    Jokes aside, the fact is is that people love to have reality fit their personal/political narratives. It is inevitable for them to fit something like this into said narrative, especially when Sparkman clearly was doing this to play directly to that. This human impulse is powerful enough that Sparkman thought he might just get insurance for his family by staging the narrative.

    Everyone has an inclination to be paranoid–it’s human. Some of us resist it better. Many don’t. For instance, I am convinced that Steve Smith is actually Wilford Brimley, and nothing you say can change my mind on that.

    1. It wasn’t really a bad plan on Sparkman’s part. Other than that he had to kill himself to make it work. But I mean if you are going to off yourself anyway, he didn’t have a bad idea.

    2. You don’t want to go on a camping trip with Wilford Brimley, Epi. Let’s leave it at that.

      1. They all want cake, Warty. THEY ALL WANT CAKE.


      1. Hey, that sounds pretty good.

        Did I say that out loud?

  2. I expect all the left-wingers who railed about how this was caused by crazy unhinged libertarians will be stopping in to apologize in this thread.


    1. I fall on my sword.

      No, wait…

      1. Not me. I blame everything on anyone right-of-center.

        Especially my erectile dysfunction. Not even gazing at Obama’s picture while pleasuring myself to Mao’s Little Red Book can get me hard these days. It’s all those rich, old white guys causing global warming, that’s a big part of my limp dickitude.

  3. If it turned out that Hassan went bizerk at Fort Hood because he was pissed off about never getting dates or because the Redskins are having a bad season, you better believe the left would be all over it calling anyone and everyone who thought it might relate to Islam racists.

    But when they are completely wrong and stand guilty of wrongly accusing their political enemies of aiding and abetting murder we get silence or him hawing about how if the those evil right wingers weren’t so evil people wouldn’t think they are responsible for murder. Assholes.

  4. “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.”

    They got everything in that Bible.

    1. bring the little pards down here. We got plenty of snakes and lizards for them to play with

  5. What did one Joseph P. Boyle of Lowell, Massachusetts have to say about this?

  6. the establishment is just as capable of making this mistake as the fringe

    It’s not a mistake when they do it. The Tiger-Repellant Rock won’t sell itself.

  7. Ain’t no such thing as too much paranoia!

    Some one is ALWAYS out to get you but it’s just that THEY probably don’t know it yet!

    (Of course, if you pull an Al Bundy and shoot a squirrel for lookin’ at your gold, then you might want to seek help of a professional nature!)

  8. I think the paranoia left, right and center is entirely justified. Not because people have changed but rather because of the growing power of government.

    Many people correctly recognize that their future depends upon seizing these levers of power in an attempt to prevent the inherent violence of government from being used against them. Their recognition that other people will come to the same conclusion makes the hunt for opposition conspiracies entirely rational.

    A sad state of affairs. The paranoia seems unlikely to recede until the power of the Government itself abates.

    1. But… but… government is good!

      As long as my party is in charge.

  9. I don’t understand. Did he write “FED” on his chest before or after he hanged himself?

  10. I can’t wait for the entire NY Times editorial board to apologize to us Right Wing Extremists.

    1. That would mean everyone rating 50.00001% right-of-center, using the liberal scales o’ goodness.

  11. Yeah, jumping to conclusions after someone was found dead with “FED” written across their chest.

    What would give these people the idea that he was murdered by loons? I mean, it’s not as if our country has ever had “white man’s burden” types pulling off news worthy acts. No. Reason doesn’t have contributors that talk about armed resistance, and how they’re being taken over by some nefarious conspiracy. Teabaggers aren’t showing up with guns to try and intimidate people. Again, where would anyone get that crazy idea?

    We get it. Everybody’s crazy except clearly sound of mind Libertarians who have it all figured out.

    When your magazine, and political party actively courts wackos, you better expect people to wonder when shit like this happens.

    With that being said, please post a story that matters. This whole campaign to try and get us to think that everyone is equally as nuts, is not convincing.

    1. This whole campaign to try and get us to think that everyone is equally as nuts

      No equality is implied. I’ve been reading your comments here for a while, and I’m happy to concede that you’re nuttier than most.

      1. Nuttier doesn’t cut it. MaM has gone way beyond that.

        Of course, he will never admit that liberals go off the deep end…



      1. I love this part:

        “This whole campaign to try and get us to think that everyone is equally as nuts, is not convincing.”

        MaM isn’t drinking the Kool-Aid… he’s snorting it dry, straight out of the packet.

        1. Hey! Don’t you go judgin’ and knockin’ that shit.

    3. You know, there is so much irony in your handle. “Markets” or, in other words, people being free to exchange goods and services as they wish, are in fact “magical”. Liberty is, in fact, magical. In as much as we have not had “markets” but instead some sort of rigged system designed to keep the entrenched elite entrenched and elite by virtue of their access to the levers of power it is absurd to blame anything on the “markets” and on “capitalism”. How giving hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the too big to fails and puttings billions of those dollars directly into the pockets financial executives has anything at all to do with “markets” is completely beyond me.

    4. An apology? It’s not like Bill and Hillary Clinton EVER got an apology from the rightie wackos who accused them of murder following the Vince Foster suicide. The partisan hacks will believe what they want to believe (which is whatever party line is consistent with what they already believe) no matter what the facts might be).

      I am still waiting, however, for an explanation of the word “fed” written on his chest being consistent with the verdict of suicide. I have heard the conclusion, but no facts. Yet.

  12. Everybody’s crazy misguided except clearly sound of mind political opinion L* libertarians who have it all think we have some things figured out.


    You’re welcome.

  13. The idea of a doctrinaire right-wing libertarian lecturing anybody on running ahead of what the evidence actually says is a fucking hoot. Thanks for the laughs, Jesse.

    1. If there’s a poster boy for sustaining a dubious narrative by connecting dots that aren’t there, it’s the guy who keeps insisting I’m “doctrinaire right-wing.”

      1. You always protest too much, Jesse. Just ignore the accusation. Most of your fans are proud right wingers. Courage of your convictions and all that.




  14. Of course no one would call Reason, Jesse Walker’s bread and butter, right wing. Geez, Jesse, you’re a little weak on the political spectrum thing, aren’t you?

    1. So, libertarians have to sound like liberals in order to be acceptable. Is that your take?

      1. No, but every time I call Jesse Walker a right winger, he says it’s not true as though being right wing is shameful or something. I mean if being super pro-market isn’t right wing, what the fuck is?

        1. Beats being super anti-capitalist.

        2. every time I call Jesse Walker a right winger, he says it’s not true

          You’ve said it dozens of times. The only other time I can recall replying to it is here.

          1. You’re right, Jesse. You’re a model of restraint when your place on the political spectrum is pinned down. Your denying that you’re right wing is so nutty that I imagined you’ve done it more often than you have. Just twice now, is it?

            1. Well, fuckface, even though you only replied to me once, my point about you replying to me every time still stands, assface. COCK SHIT ASS

          2. Jesse,

            When he is not calling you a right winger, I am calling you a communist. You just can’t win. 🙂

              1. First, you’ll need to find somebody who actually knows what the words “communist” “socialist” “libertarian” and “Tory” actually mean!

                It seems to me that people just use words at random, depending on how juicy a talking point they make, with no regard for what the words actually mean.

  15. Yep. Supporting social liberalism and opposing American imperialism overseas is right wing.

    Or maybe you only care about economic issues? In that case, you have a painfully bad understanding of the political spectrum.

    1. Lots of right wingers are isolationists. And libertarians might be not be social conservatives, but they don’t want any government intervention to promote liberal social policies. I think I understand the political spectrum. Jesse Walker is a fucking right winger by any reasonable definition of a fucking right winger.

      1. Looks like someone doesn’t know the difference between isolationism and non-interventionism.

        OR the proper role of government.

  16. I think I understand the political spectrum.

    There might be a few here who disagree with that self-assessment.

    1. His understanding of politics seems to be:

      Government is good, as long as every politician is a liberal.

      The private sector sucks porcupine cock.

      There is no such thing as a “fucking left-winger”.

      IMO, this cretin is probably “Markets are Magical”, or at least they take turns posting in between blowing each other.

      1. There is such a thing as a fucking left winger, but Jesse Walker isn’t one. Apparently, he would like to be. Maybe the Nation has an opening.

        1. Glad you admit it. Confession being good for the soul, and all that.

          1. What confession? I’m missing something.

            1. if being super pro-market isn’t right wing, what the fuck is?

              they don’t want any government intervention to promote liberal social policies

              Your denying that you’re right wing is so nutty

              Obviously, you have a problem with right-of-center politics.

  17. Markets are Magical, spent and gasping, reached over Tony to grab some Gatorade off the nightstand. Several pages of the most-recent Democratic health-care proposal were stuck fast with sputum, but it was worth the sacrifice, as it brought both of them to a new height of orgasmic bliss.

    However, just as they were about to spoon in post-coital bliss, Chicago Tony came in, wielding a can of butter-flavored Crisco and a raging hard-on fueled by the works of Mao and some Medicaid-funded Viagra…

    1. Oooo, I like where this is heading…

  18. And libertarians might be not be social conservatives, but they don’t want any government intervention to promote liberal social policies.

    Ask yourself what “liberal social policies” supposedly entail, and then you can talk with the adults again.

    1. That’s easy… “promote the general welfare” = welfare is a right.

      Just for starters.

  19. Chomsky on libertarianism:

    QUESTION: People have characterized your political beliefs over the years as “anarchist” or “libertarian.” I don’t think the labels are necessarily important, but what is the basic philosophy behind your political beliefs?

    CHOMSKY: Let me just say regarding the terminology, since we happen to be in the United States, we have to be rather careful. Libertarian in the United States has a meaning which is almost the opposite of what it has in the rest of the world traditionally. Here, libertarian means ultra right-wing capitalist. In the European tradition, libertarian meant socialist. So, anarchism was sometimes called libertarian socialism, a large wing of anarchism, so we have to be a little careful about terminology. I was drawn pretty early, maybe in the early teens, towards anarchist thinking and activities, and even spent a lot of time in anarchist bookstores and picking up pamphlets and talking to mostly Europeans who had fled or had been driven out of a pretty ugly continent in the 1930s. And that had a big impact. The other major strain was what was coming out of my own closer home background: the concept of deep concern for what was then Palestine, the Jewish community in Palestine. The rise of Hebrew, the collectivist institutions, the cooperatives, the kibbutzim, the network of socialist institutions, which had elements in the fabric of a kind of an anarchist or, in the European sense, libertarian strain, which I found very attractive. So it was a mixture of those things.

  20. Libertarian socialism is like mixing vinegar and axle grease, and calling the result “Italian dressing”.

    1. Leave Olive Garden out of this.

      1. Did I accidentally stumble into their secret recipe? What ARE the odds?

        1. Well, you forgot sandy “Parmesan” “cheese.”

          1. Gotta cut costs somehow. Liberals keep wanting more taxes, something’s gotta give in the quality department.

  21. If libertarian socialism is really “libertarian” in the sense that there is no government coercion, wouldn’t it have to be completely voluntary for people to participate in the socialist economy? And if that is the case, how would it be different from capitalism (where people are also free to participate in socialist arrangements)?

  22. Knock, knock.

    Who’s there?

    Someone who quotes Noam Chomsky as an authority.

    Someone who quotes Noam Chomsky as an authority who?


  23. The sky is orange, dammit! Orange, I say! Orange!

    Noam Chomsky says it’s orange!

  24. Ah yes. Now i remember why Edward typically spouts lame snark rather than attempting to make an argument: because he sucks at it. Edward, kill yourself.

  25. Morris used to cut and paste that passage here practically every other day back when he was calling himself “Edward.” He seems unaware that most of the people who call themselves libertarian socialists — though not Chomsky — are opposed to federal regulation and the welfare state. By Morris’ definition, I guess they’re “fucking right wingers.”

    1. Do you always exaggerate wildly when you’re upset, Jesse? It’s okay, man. Wear your right-wing fanaticism as a badge of honor.

  26. so now its a “vast libertarian conspiracy” that is only for freedom because its the best vehicle for oppression. Just cuz momma put your schoolwork on the fridge doesn’t mean we’re impressed.

  27. The Left = retarded fetuses.

  28. A little detail that Jesse Walker likes to gloss over (in an apparent attempt to avoid association with the right wing for some reason) is that libertarian socialism is anti-capitalist.

    1. Which is why libertarian socialism is a bad idea, if not an impossible goal.

    2. A little detail that Jesse Walker likes to gloss over (in an apparent attempt to avoid association with the right wing for some reason) is that libertarian socialism is anti-capitalist.

      I’m not glossing over anything, Edward. You are.

      If you follow the link to the last time we discussed your ideas about the left/right spectrum, you’ll find that you said “more government regulation of the market” is “what the left stands for,” whereas “demonization of government” is “right-wing.” So by your definitions, libertarian socialists are right-wing even though they’re anti-capitalist.

      1. Geez, Jesse, by your lights Marx was a libertarian because he was all for the state withering away. I get it. You’re not a rght winger because nobody is anything really.

        1. The shorter Morris: “I can’t defend my idiotic argument, so I’ll make up another argument, attribute it to someone else, and attack it.”

          Either you believe that “more government regulation of the market” is the difference between left and right, or you don’t. If you do, then you have to put Bakunin and Kropotkin (but not Marx) on the far right. If you don’t, then your other statements about left and right fall apart.

          As I said in the other thread, I don’t think “left” and “right” are especially useful categories. Your efforts to breathe life into them have not convinced me otherwise.

  29. The shorter Jesse Walker: “I work for a right-wing libertarian rag that depends on donations to stay afloat, but I pretend to be a real journalist, so I regulalrly deny being a right-wing hack by steadfatsly maintaining that there really is no difference between right and left. Please respect me and don’t associate me with the anti-intellectual market fundamentalists I shill for.”

    1. As I said, if there’s a poster boy for sustaining a dubious narrative by connecting dots that aren’t there…

      By the way, anyone who can find an example of me stating on this thread that “there really is no difference between right and left” gets a prize. (Note: That’s not what “I don’t think ‘left’ and ‘right’ are especially useful categories” means. I realize that most of you know this already.)

  30. I was disappointed to see you make the statement that a, “large number of commentators” made an inaccurate assumption without a single link to one of them. I also don’t see a big leap to assume that a person found bound (as you described him) with “FED” on his chest might have been a murder victim. By the way, even if you find a link to a commentator supporting your argument, you’ve described them as “commentators.” There’s a reason they aren’t called “reporters.” (PS: It’s because they usually don’t “report” before they speak.)

    1. I was disappointed to see you make the statement that a, “large number of commentators” made an inaccurate assumption without a single link to one of them.

      Actually, I linked to Michael Moynihan’s blog post from earlier in the day, which consisted almost entirely of quotes from the commentators in question. Yes, he included links.

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