Interesting article from the New Yorker on the development of the far-right in America, currently personified by Glenn Beck and the Tea Party. Their paranoia and extremism is not a new phenomenon. The article discusses Robert Welch's John Birch Society in the 1960s:
An even crazier 1960s right-winger was a Canadian Mormon called Willard Cleon Skousen:Wherever he looked, Welch saw Communist forces manipulating American economic and foreign policy on behalf of totalitarianism. But within the United States, he believed, the subversion had actually begun years before the Bolshevik Revolution. Conflating modern liberalism and totalitarianism, Welch described government as “always and inevitably an enemy of individual freedom.” Consequently, he charged, the Progressive era, which expanded the federal government’s role in curbing social and economic ills, was a dire period in our history, and Woodrow Wilson “more than any other one man started this nation on its present road to totalitarianism.”
A year before Richard Condon’s novel “The Manchurian Candidate” appeared, Skousen announced that the Communists were creating “a regimented breed of Pavlovian men whose minds could be triggered into immediate action by signals from their masters.” A later book, “The Naked Capitalist,” decried the Ivy League Establishment, who, through the Federal Reserve, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Rockefeller Foundation, formed “the world’s secret power structure.” The conspiracy had begun, Skousen wrote, when reformers like the wealthy banker Edward M. (Colonel) House, a close adviser to President Woodrow Wilson, helped put into place the Federal Reserve and the graduated income tax.Even though this guy was so extreme he was shunned by even the further reaches of the US right, after his death he found a willing disciple in Glenn Beck:In 1981, he produced “The 5,000 Year Leap,” a treatise that assembles selective quotations and groundless assertions to claim that the U.S. Constitution is rooted not in the Enlightenment but in the Bible, and that the framers believed in minimal central government. Either proposition would have astounded James Madison, often described as the guiding spirit behind the Constitution, who rejected state-established religions and, like Alexander Hamilton, proposed a central government so strong that it could veto state laws. “The 5,000 Year Leap” is not a fervid book. Instead, it is calmly, ingratiatingly misleading.
Just to prove that the world has gone completely crazy, Beck has now established an online 'university' dedicated to imparting these wacky beliefs.By the time Skousen died, in 2006, he was little remembered outside the ranks of the furthest-right Mormons. Then, in 2009, Glenn Beck began touting his work: “The Naked Communist,” “The Naked Capitalist,” and, especially, “The 5,000 Year Leap,” which he called “essential to understanding why our Founders built this Republic the way they did.” After Beck put the book in the first spot on his required-reading list—and wrote an enthusiastic new introduction for its reissue—it shot to the top of the Amazon best-seller list. In the first half of 2009, it sold more than two hundred and fifty thousand copies. Local branches of the Tea Party Patriots, the United American Tea Party, and other groups across the country have since organized study groups around it. “It is time we learn and follow the FREEDOM principles of our Founding Fathers,” a United American Tea Party video declares, referring to the principles expounded by Skousen’s book. If Beck is the movement’s teacher, “The 5,000 Year Leap” has become its primer, with “The Making of America” as a kind of 102-level text.
The article goes on to show the relationship between the far right and the Republican party during the 1960s and 70s, and then into the Reagan era. It provides an interesting guide to how the US Right arrived at the extreme position it currently occupies, and is worth reading for anyone interested in American politics.
Glenn Beck, the Tea Party, and the Republicans : The New Yorker