I feel like I’ve done disservice to regular readers who may know of my home state of Utah as a “red” state, but might not be aware of just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
In my high school years, there was a requirement to take one of two courses. One was called “World Problems” and I forget what the other choice was because I signed up for World Problems. It was taught by a man by the name of Amos Musser. He was a fixture at the high school. My older brother had taken the same class from Mr. Musser and we had several arguments at the dinner table based on information my brother would bring home from the class. My father jokingly referred to the class as “Amos Musser’s World Problems” and in retrospect wasn’t far off.
Beck has created a massive meet-up for the disaffected, paranoid Palin-ite “death panel” wing of the GOP, those ideologues most susceptible to conspiracy theories and prone to latch on to eccentric distortions of fact in the name of opposing “socialism.” In that, they are true disciples of the late W. Cleon Skousen, Beck’s favorite writer and the author of the bible of the 9/12 movement, “The 5,000 Year Leap.” A once-famous anti-communist “historian,” Skousen was too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era, but Glenn Beck has now rescued him from the remainder pile of history, and introduced him to a receptive new audience.
What has Beck been pushing on his legions? “Leap,” first published in 1981, is a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recasting the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by the French and English philosophers. “Leap” argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. It lists 28 fundamental beliefs — based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith — that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined.
Wherein it Gets Personal
What do Glenn Beck and Cleon Skousen have to do with me and Mr. Musser? Musser taught extensively from Skousen’s works, and some of what Skousen espouses was echoed on Sunday (at least it was in my small town growing up as well as my years in Provo, Utah); that the U.S. Founding Fathers were all Christian and devout and “inspired by God” in the same way Mormon prophets are regarded.
This isn’t meant to be a dig against Mormonism, but a dig against the kind of revisionist thinking that permeates conservative talking points heard at demonstrations once Sarah Palin’s brand of crazy conservative was unleashed the summer of 2008. It should be noted that the Salon article mentions:
Before he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen’s own Mormon church publicly distanced itself from the foundation that Skousen founded and that has published previous editions of “The 5,000 Year Leap.”
In my high school course of “world problems,” we were required to do a book report from a reading list that included Skousen’s Naked Communist. As you might imagine, the conspiracy theories and crazy ran super deep. We were indoctrinated with “red scare” filmstrips and paranoid delusions about the coming communist takeover of the United States. Apocalytpic demise! Millenial destruction! It was very dramatic.
I learned of Freemasons, Adam Weishaupt (credited with the quote “the end justifies the means” which in modern politics is de rigeur; cf. Watergate, Nixon, Cheney, torture, warrantless wiretapping, suspension of Habeas Corpus, etc.), Adam Smith, the Tri-lateral Commission (Musser would have loved this story and this one), the New World Order, and so on. The class was an ultra-conservative/libertarian/fringe conspiracy wet dream. Mr. Musser had a few massive black binders that had typewritten outlines and references that we were “more than welcome to look at to verify his sources.” Sources that he typed on pieces of paper. He drolly referred to his binders as his “Big Black Books” and made a show of locking in his desk. If only the KGB knew. What I would have given for Wikipedia in those days. I bought into it for awhile until I started to see a strange pattern that didn’t come into focus until I read 1984. The very language that the nutjobs were using to describe the foundation of their thought; the pillars of their case and the language used to tie it Christianity (which Skousen is a master of) is embedded in Mormon theology. So, while crazy Adam Weihaupt was forming the illuminati to turn the world into a giant communist state or some other new world order, prominent conservatives used his very notion of “ends justifying the means” to perpetrate some of the most heinous abuses of power in our lifetime. We need only look to Cheney as the very embodiment of recreating, counter to Weishaupt’s tenets, a more monarchial presidential set of powers. Embodied by Nixons famous, “If the president does it, it’s not against the law.”
So much of my young life was surrounded by devout Mormons, some of whom bought into Skousen’s more preposterous notions (e.g., recasting the U.S. founding fathers as Christians). Some of those people were Sunday School teachers, advisors and neighbors. Even today, the pervasiveness of these ideas runs deep in most Mormon conservative thinking. The following is from Chris Cannon’s Amazon review of Skousen’s The Five Thousand Year Leap:
The fight for the soul of our country is real! Every patriotic American, young and old, should read this book! –Chris Cannon, US House of Representatives, 1997-2009
Read Cannon’s “review” here.
It should be noted that both Beck and Cannon are practicing Mormons.
In Modern Times
The problem I have with the current language at demonstrations and the bipolar rants of the conservative moron entertainers is that they co-opt language, revise it’s meaning and throw it back out into the public, smearing their opponents with the tactic that the words they use actually mean, but the weak-minded followers model and shout at things like healthcare reform townhalls and the 9/12 astroturfed demonstration last Saturday in Washington D.C. Skousen himself used the same tactics (quoted from the Salon piece):
Skousen laid low for much of the ’60s. But he reemerged at the end of the decade peddling a new and improved conspiracy that merged left with right: the global capitalist mega-plot of the “dynastic rich.” Families like the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds, Skousen now believed, used left forces — from Ho Chi Minh to the American civil rights movement — to serve their own power.
Mr. Musser jumped all over that conspiracy, teaching it as fact for years in classes in a public high school in northern Utah.
To be fair, the Mormon scholarly journal Dialogue asked scholars to research Skousen’s claims. Here’s what they wrote in 1971:
“Skousen’s personal position,” wrote a dismayed Quigley, “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.”
So here we are. Glenn Beck and the others talking about feeling like we did that day after 9/11, by inspiring divisiveness, cynicism and fucking with the very notion of what words mean. Obama is the scary “racist” “fascist” “socialist” “communist” that is going to kill grandma. Yet one of Glenn Beck’s heroes was found, by Mormons of all people, to be propagating thought that closely resembles the philosophical underpinnings of Nazism.
It’s time to call it. Smart people need to stand up and call this bullshit what it is: toxic waste hurled out across the public airwaves as pseudo-intellect and deep care for this great country. It’s dangerous. And it’s time to drop it.
Finally, 2008 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney (also Mormon) is a fan of Skousen. Read all about it in this National Review Online piece. It starts in the fourth paragraph.
In that same National Review piece is this nugget (the Salon piece mentions this as well):
As police chief of Salt Lake City, Skousen was such a law-and-order man he lost his job in 1960 after raiding a friendly card game that happened to include the mayor. On his way out the door, the mayor called Skousen “an incipient Hitler” and said that Skousen “ran the police department in exactly the same manner as the Communists in Russia operate their government.”
Which is kind of funny until you realize that Glenn Beck is a popular guy right now.
During my time at BYU, I took one of two required Book of Mormon courses from Ezra Taft Benson’s (then president and prophet of the LDS church) son, Reed. Reed was a funny guy until he started equating conservative talking points to Mormon scripture. Race was a big part of it. Strong military. White people should control federal government. Capital punishment is ordained of God. Crazy stuff. I got a B. I felt like I was in Mr. Musser’s class again, only this time it was more deeply wrapped in religion. The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I was that no one, including me, called him on any of this.
A controversy of that time was the ailing health of Ezra Taft Benson and his role as “prophet, seer and revelator” of the Mormon church. I recall watching a satellite broadcast of a birthday celebration of Benson and clearly seeing that he was out of it. President Benson barely knew where he was and his counsellors, Thomas Monsen and Gordon Hinckley were at his side, directing him to the microphone and keeping him on message, standing next to him the whole time, which is rare in LDS leadership speeches/sermons/talks. It was a weird thing to watch as the LDS church had been, up to that time, pretty tight with its PR efforts. A short time after this broadcast, Benson’s grandson Steve Benson called into question the LDS leadership’s veracity claiming that Ezra Taft Benson could in any way be coherent enough to receive anything resembling divine revelation, much less run an organization like the LDS Church. Steve Benson is no longer LDS. He also has an extremely well-researched and sourced article talking about Skousen here (via the National Review piece linked above).
So yeah. I’m tired of the bullshit.