Glenn Beck stops making sense

Beck: It's not the right wing's fault that crazy lefties are killing people to protest Obama's policies. Say what?

By Gabriel Winant

Published June 11, 2009 11:30PM (EDT)

I’d get exhausted, being Glenn Beck. The only time the talking head ever gets a break from blaming the left for fostering totalitarianism and encouraging political violence is when he pauses to remember that we shouldn’t try to score cheap political points from such tragedies.

On his show Wednesday, Beck tried to puzzle out the political meaning of the attack on the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Alleged shooter James Von Brunn, Beck said, is “a lone gunman nutjob.” Fair enough. “You're going to see a lot of nutjobs coming out of the woodwork now.” Uh-oh. Scarier still, all of our enemies may be working together. “They'd like to destroy us and they will work with anyone,” Beck says ominously.

You see, crazed militants, whether Islamists or white supremacists like Von Brunn, are responding to increasing “pressure.” Beck doesn’t excuse political violence, but he does see a cause. Several, actually. “It's the economy, it is political correctness, it's corruption in Washington, it's the militant Islam. It's all of these things.”

This seems like a rather typical laundry list of conservative complaints with current affairs, and not too far off from the factors listed in the Department of Homeland Security report that Beck scoffs at. (Of the report, Beck protests that violence “is not the work of right-wing conservatives.”) Then, to top it off, Beck throws in the General Motors bailout as another “pressure,” drawing an amen from guest Harry Binswanger. Binswanger adds that this sort of violence is “a leftist phenomenon.” “Right,” says Beck.

Let me break all that down for you:

  • There is a rising tide of political violence, prompted by militant Islam, the corruption in our left-wing government, political correctness and the bailout of General Motors.
  • Von Brunn is part of this phenomenon, as is al-Qaida.
  • Von Brunn, infuriated by the rise of militant Islam (among other things), may even have been working with al-Qaida.
  • Von Brunn is a Nazi.
  • But so are liberals.
  • Which is why the liberal-fascist DHS issued a report warning of right-wing violence against Jews.
  • Which was obviously a smear job against conservatives.
  • Because it’s not the right that’s violent; it’s the left that’s targeting Jews (and conservatives, apparently) for attacks, and it’s because of the increasing pressure caused by leftist policies.

Got that?

If you’re having trouble making all this add up, you’re not alone. The hallmark of Beck-style paranoia is typically that it makes too much sense. Conspiracy theory is, essentially, an effort to impose order on a disturbingly disorderly world. Even if it’s obviously false to an outsider, authentic political paranoia ought to have an internal logic. That’s the whole point. But the fantasy aired on Beck’s show doesn’t make any sense at all, no matter how far inside Beck’s head you try to get.

So I hope you can forgive me for my suspicion that our overwrought host has not been entirely sincere with us. There’s a touch of cynicism, perhaps, to his generous-seeming insistence, “We've got to not play politics. We have got to not use anything to any certain advantage for political gain or monetary gain or anything else. We just have to shoot straight with each other. Be decent with each other.”

“We are all sufferers from history,” the historian Richard Hofstadter famously wrote, “but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”

Funny -- Glenn Beck seems like he’s doing OK.

Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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