Conspiracy Theories

Glenn Beck, David Frum, and the Eternal FEMA Conspiracy

The United States of Paranoia in The Week.


I have an article in the new issue of The Week about the history of American conspiracy theories. Here is an excerpt:

Did you miss me?

When scholars and pundits aren't claiming that paranoia is limited to the political extremes, they sometimes claim that it's a product of particularly harsh times. In 2009, the conservative writer David Frum offered that explanation for the popularity of Glenn Beck, a right-wing broadcaster with a fondness for conspiracy stories. "Conspiracy theories," Frum wrote, "always flourish during economic downturns."

He's right: They do flourish during economic downturns. But they also flourish during economic upturns. Frum was attacking Beck for his interest in the idea that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was building secret concentration camps, so it's worth noting that the very same fear was popular on the left during the booming '80s and on the right during the booming '90s. For the last few decades, elements of whatever party is out of power have worried that the party in power would turn fascist. (Beck eventually rejected the FEMA story.)

The article is adapted from my book The United States of Paranoia, and it has some overlap with the excerpt we ran recently in Reason.

In related news:

• Rob Hardy has reviewed the book for The Commercial Dispatch.

• A blog called Tiny Cat Pants has also reviewed it. Quote: "if you were just going to read two books on where we are as a nation at this moment, you could do no better than this and Balko's book. Somewhere, in the space between them, there's just a lot of good truth about where we are and why."

• "Dr. Conspiracy" has a review-in-progress at a site called Obama Conspiracies.

• The book has inspired a series of posts at a site called Our Values.

• Doug Henwood has interviewed me about the book on Pacifica. I'm in the second half of the show, starting at 32:21.

• The Portuguese magazine Sabado has interviewed me too. Apparently I told them "A 'paranóia das elites' existe e é a mais perigosa." I must've had a touch of glossolalia.

NEXT: Gov. Christie Trying to Keep New Jersey Pension Probe Secret

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  1. Unless FEMA can take over the country by handing out checks and in an untimely manner, I wouldn’t worry.

  2. I guess Jesse and James Gleick share the same cover artist.

    1. If that’s art, then the Jack Nicholson character in *The Shining* is the consummate artist…type “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” until he gets caught.

      Of course, a modern audience would be like, “duh, he could have cranked out that all work and no play manuscript in five minutes with the copy-paste function!”

      1. I saw the documentary about the Shining, remember that someone had to spend several weeks typing that up.

  3. Looks like Dem hack Lois Lehner is retiring from government. She can collect a pay check and no doubt will be moving on to some do nothing high paying post government job as a pay back for her loyalty to the cause.

    Remember, there is no scandal here. Lerner just took the fifth to throw the evil Rethuglicans off the trail, not because she has committed any crimes or anything.

    1. House Oversight memo: Washington Post’s tea party coverage inspired IRS to target conservatives
      The Washington Post’s anti-tea party coverage inspired IRS officials to improperly target conservative groups, according to a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee memo.

      “The IRS first identified and elevated the Tea Party applications due to media attention surrounding the Tea Party?Media attention caused the IRS to treat conservative-oriented tax-exempt applications differently,” according to a September 17 House Oversight memo entitled “Interim update on the Committee’s investigation of the Internal Revenue Service’s inappropriate treatment of tax-exempt applications.”

      While the memo acknowledged that President Obama’s and the White House’s anti-Citizens United, campaign finance reform-related rhetoric in early 2010 was not lost on IRS officials, the memo makes clear that the Washington Post’s heavy anti-tea party coverage directly inspired improper IRS targeting….

      1. Aha! So it was NOT Obama mind Jedi sekretly urging the IRSers into harassing the Tea Party.

        1. …Washington-based IRS officials were wary of the Washington Post, which was aggressively hammering away at the young tea party in early 2010 over “perceptions of racism” and other liberal complaints.

          In the memo, congressional investigators emphasized the role that the Post’s coverage played in spawning anti-tea party sentiment.

          “Washington Post columnists accused Tea Party groups of ‘smoldering with anger’ and practicing a brand of patriotism reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the memo. “Another Post columnist opined in late March 2010 that Tea Party rhetoric ‘is calibrated not to inform but to incite.'” The memo was referring to columns by Post op-ed columnists Colbert I. King and Eugene Robinson, the latter of which discussed the subject of Christian militia groups and lumped tea party rallies in with the terrorism work of Timothy McVeigh.

          “The potential for media attention continued to be a concern for IRS officials once Washington received additional sample cases in late March 2010? Around the same time that the Washington Post was running columns critical of the Tea Party, she [an IRS employee] added that ‘[t]he Tea Party movement is covered in the Post almost daily. I expect to see more applications,'” according to the memo….

          1. …”Really thinking about possible media attention on a particular case,” Grodnitzky wrote, ordering that the Washington IRS office draft a “sensitive case report” on tea party applications that have the potential for “media attention.”

            “Certain media attention involved with those cases, which was the basis for the significant case report,” Washington-based IRS supervisory employee Ronald Shoemaker testified, according to the Oversight Committee. “I was aware of media attention, yes.”…

        2. CHRISTFAG!!!

          Go have one of your seizures somewhere else Shreek.

    2. OK, I’m having trouble understanding this narrative about the media making htem do it…

      So what?

      The media says nasty things about the government all the time…

      Was the Washington Post going to fire the IRS officials? Name and shame them?

      So what if the Washington Post was saying mean things?

      1. If the best you can say is that the IRS if staffed by fanatical liberals who do their jobs based on what the media tells them is the biggest threat to liberalism, I am not sure you have quite made the case this is a fake scandal.

        1. To say “the media made me do it” is to admit you did it.

  4. So, whose interests are served by a new conspiracy book? You gotta look behind the scenes. Reason isn’t interested in earning money, because the Kochs give them all the money they need. So they’re trying to push an agenda – get people to dismiss conspiracy theories as routine, so that when a *real* conspiracy comes along – like the Koch-Illuminati-Masonic-Lizard People conspiracy, nobody will take it seriously.

    Wake up, people!

  5. The Beckerhead can tout his CT with immunity because his idiot fans will never doubt him.

    1. Go obsess about Beck somewhere else you little fucking weirdo. No one here cares.

    2. Let’s get rid of all anti-trust laws. Businesses would never ‘conspire’ together against the rest of us. That’s a “conspiracy theory”, and thus insane.

  6. Report: Obamacare provision will allow ‘forced’ home inspections by gov’t agents
    Citing the Heath and Human Services website, a report posted Wednesday at the Freedom Outpost says that under Obamacare, government agents can engage in “home health visits” for those in certain “high-risk” categories.

    Those categories include:

    ? Families where mom is not yet 21;
    ? Families where someone is a tobacco user;
    ? Families where children have low student achievement, developmental delays, or disabilities, and
    ? Families with individuals who are serving or formerly served in the armed forces, including such families that have members of the armed forces who have had multiple deployments outside the United States….

    1. That is some damn good CT right there.

      1. Let’s get rid of all anti-trust laws. Businesses would never ‘conspire’ together against the rest of us. That’s a “conspiracy theory”, and thus insane.

    2. Unsurprising. They are totalitarian fascists. Look at shreek, as grotesque as he is, he is a great example of who they are.

      1. You fell for that bullshit CT too?

        There is a provision in the ACA that allows for a voluntary home survey for dangerous objects that might kill/harm infants designed for stupid parents.


        1. Let’s get rid of all anti-trust laws. Businesses would never ‘conspire’ together against the rest of us. That’s a “conspiracy theory”, and thus insane.

        2. You are a disgusting fascist freak. Everyone on here either laughs at you or recoils in horror.

          1. Both John….both.

        3. Voluntary today…

          1. No, you don’t have to participate in the home health visit, but if you don’t we’re going to call CPS on your ass.

            Yeah, voluntary…

        4. Wow, a straight-up Godwin, and in delicious all-caps, no less. I think Shriek is losing it…

    3. It is a grant program to the states. If you are some state level do gooder, you can get the feds to fund you to go out and bother people.

      1. Let’s not kid ourselves: this money is used to expand the reach of Child Protective Services so they can “monitor” “at-risk” households.

        And what else does CPS do? Why, kick down doors and seize children.

        Voluntary, my middle testicle. This money expands one of the worst and most abusive bureaucracies out there.

        1. Of course it does.

        2. “Voluntary, my middle testicle.”

          Sort of like income tax is “voluntary”, until you don’t volunteer payment.

    4. It doesn’t say that agents can do that. Agents already can do that. The provision just makes available more funding to states that do it.

      I find the whole thing rather disturbing, but that is really not a very accurate summary of it. I don’t think it does any good to mischaracterize a program that is bad enough on its face. It just provides more opportunities for people to paint opponents of Obamacare as conspiracy theorists.

  7. I first heard about secret concentration camps “out West” for “hippies and protestors” during the Nixon administration.

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