As I noted Monday, Fox News host Glenn Beck has seen his ratings soaring recently, as he's climbing close to the top of the cable news charts. And his special on Friday was particularly successful, scoring the highest ratings among the key 25-to-54 demographic of any program in the genre so far this month.
What Beck gave these new viewers, though, was a blast from the radical past, and more specifically, the John Birch Society's radical past.
At New Majority.com, David Frum writes, "The audience for Beck’s Friday night special were each given copies of two books. One of them was Cleon Skousen’s 'Five Thousand Year Leap.' Skousen, who died in 2006, is one of the legendary cranks of the conservative world, a John Bircher, a grand fantasist of theories about secret conspiracies between capitalists and communists to impose a one-world government under the control of David Rockefeller." (Hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan.)
What Frum missed, though, was that the other book Beck promoted, "The Real George Washington," has its own Skousen connection. It was published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, which Skousen founded.
In a 2007 article, the National Review's Mark Hemingway excoriated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for his familiarity with Skousen, noting that when Skousen's conspiracy theories took an even darker turn than normal in the 1970s, the Mormon Church -- which had previously embraced him -- officially distanced itself from the NCCS' predecessor, another Skousen organization known as the Freemen Institute.
"Skousen accused the Council on Foreign Relations and the Rockefellers of puppeteering the election of Jimmy Carter to pave the way for One World Government, his new favorite topic," Hemingway wrote in describing the new ideology that made the Mormon Church renounce Skousen's group. Elsewhere in the article, he described Skousen as an "all-around nutjob," and said his book "The Naked Communist" was "so irrational in its paranoia that it would have made Whittaker Chambers blush."
"According to Skousen, 'The Manchurian Candidate' was a documentary — he earnestly believed Communists sought to create a regimented breed of Pavlovian men whose minds could be triggered into immediate action by signals from their masters,' Hemingway says. "Skousen was active with the John Birch Society throughout the 1960s, even going so far as to write another book titled 'The Communist Attack on the John Birch Society,' accusing those that criticized Birchers as promoting Communism... Skousen even managed to record this gem -- a spoken word album about the dangers of LSD for the John Birch Society’s record label."
Update: I almost forgot about a post I wrote way back in July of 2007, when Beck was still on CNN Headline News but was already flirting with the JBS. At the time, he brought the group's spokesman, Sam Antonio, on his show, and told Antonio, "[W]hen I was growing up, the John Birch Society, I thought they were a bunch of nuts. However, you guys are starting to make more and more sense to me."