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Conspiracy



All Reason.com articles with the "Conspiracy" tag.



Published: Thu, 29 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2017 11:57:48 -0400

 



Shakespeare and the Assassins

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:59:00 -0400

(image) Last weekend's Big Fake Outrage involved a Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of Julius Caesar that features a Caesar based on Donald Trump. Caesar, as every schoolboy knows, is murdered in Act 3, so the show was denounced as "assassination porn" (note: the play is famously anti-assassination) that proves just how uniquely crazy Trump has made people (note: modernized productions of Julius Caesar are a cliché, and just a few years ago a high-profile performance featured a Caesar based on Barack Obama). Under different circumstances the hubbub might have faded by now, but on Wednesday some jerk tried to kill a bunch of congressmen and then some people started suggesting he was somehow influenced by the play (note: that's nuts). So we're still hearing about it.

But enough about Julius Caesar. Want to know what a tasteless assassination-themed appropriation of Shakespeare really sounds like? Check out MacBird!, Barbara Garson's MacBeth parody in which Lyndon Johnson plots the death of John F. Kennedy. Below you can hear a performance directed by Phil Austin, of Firesign Theatre fame, that aired on one of the Pacifica radio stations in 1967. If you'd rather read the script, it's here; but honestly, it's more fun when you can hear the actors' faux-Kennedy accents:

src="https://archive.org/embed/pacifica_radio_archives-BB5388" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="500" height="40" frameborder="0">

The original performance of the play starred Stacy Keach in the LBJ role. Sadly, I don't have a recording of that one.

Bonus links: Matthew Lasar has more on MacBird! here. Garson has a cameo in my review of a rather different piece of literature here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For another Friday A/V Club with a Firesign Theatre connection, go here.




Cops Have Lost Control of Their Sex-Trafficking Panic, and It's Beautiful

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 12:36:00 -0400

Be still my little libertarian heart, there's just something beautiful about a cop-created moral panic slipping beyond their control. For years, U.S. police have been using tall tales about an American "sex trafficking epidemic" to scare citizens into giving up civil liberties (or at least offering up the rights of sex workers and their clients) and go about the government's typical types of thuggery. But now the narrative is getting away from them. So sure are Americans (despite all evidence) that sophisticated criminals are waiting to snatch up our girls and women at every opportunity that people are now inventing sex-trafficking rings of their own...and berating police for not taking action. The latest example comes from Glendale, WI, where local police had to fend off rumors that "girls as young as 12 are being snatched up from two local malls and sold into prostitution rings." Someone who said they had attended a banquet where "a Detective from [the Milwaukee Police Department] spoke" and told them "Mayfair Mall and Bayshore Town Center are very popular spots for human trafficking" posted the story on Facebook. After the bit about girls being snatched up, they warned neighbors to "be careful letting your girls go out alone" and asked that "if you shop in or frequent these areas keep your eyes open, you could make a huge difference." So what's going on here—someone with an activist or attention-seeking agenda? A well-meaning poster who garbled the story? A detective doing the usual hype with some local flair? Whatever the case, there's no truth to reports of trafficking-related abductions at the Bayshore Towne Center, according to local police. While "you should always remain aware of your surroundings, we have had no reports of this at Bayshore nor are we currently investigating anything related," the Glendale Police Department posted to Facebook. src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FGlendaleWiPD%2Fposts%2F1419622221447872&width=500" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0"> The Town Center also denied any such activity. And "per review of the Wauwatosa Police crime reporting software now available, there is no data supporting human trafficking concerns at Mayfair Mall," according to the Historic East Tosa Community Association. But rather than relief, commenters on the police post expressed skepticism. Some saw the whole thing as confirming what could take place, even if it hadn't yet. "Could happen here. Scary," one woman posted. "While I agree that scaring the public is never a good thing," wrote another, "human trafficking is very real and keeping an eye out in public spaces like this that are potential areas of activity is never a bad idea." "Just because there have been no reports of this sort of thing at Bayshore, does not mean it is not happening," suggested yet another, asking police to "please investigate this as a possibility because it IS happening, and turning a blind eye does not save these young women." Other commenters quibbled about the specifics of the imaginary story ("in fact, as young as 12, should read, 'of any age.' Don't know specifics about these locations, but children of both sexes-and all ages-are vulnerable. That is a fact"). Any posters who sided with the police (and reality) on this one were upbraided by the others for being obtuse. "I frequent Bay Shore Mall and have not seen anything of that order when I was there ... I always feel safe and am treated with care," said one cheerful commenter. She was greeted with an admonition that "the problem [is] already there, ignoring it won't change that." "Did anyone read the article? 'There have been no reports,'" noted someone on the local Fox story about it. Response: "You all should know it's all over and at any given time... Protect your kids and be aware." It would be easy to chalk all this up to stereotypical suburban "soccer mom" fears, but their reactions reveal an effect that's all too typical in even the most rational: When confronted with credible evidenc[...]



The British Left vs. the Deep State

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 11:15:00 -0400

(image) A phrase keeps cropping up in certain corners of the English press: A Very British Coup. That's the name of Chris Mullin's novel about a near-future U.K.—and by "near-future" I mean the early '90s, because the book was published in 1982—where a hard-left Labour government comes to power and then is undermined by intelligence agencies and their allies in the media. Writers started invoking the book after Jeremy Corbyn made his bid to be leader of the Labour Party, and Mullin himself got around 1,000 words in The Guardian a couple years ago to speculate about "how the political establishment would react to a Corbyn victory." Now that Corbyn has denied the Tories a parliamentary majority, you can expect the allusions to multiply.

I haven't read the novel myself, but I've seen the 1988 miniseries based on it. Watching it today should be a resonant experience for both the Corbynite left and the Trumpian right: the former because of the hero's similarities to the current Labour leader, the latter because the idea of the deep state subverting an elected outsider has suddenly picked up currency among conservatives. And if you're neither a Corbynite nor a Trumpian, you still might enjoy it, just because it's a pretty good conspiracy thriller. Great cast, too.

By the time this aired in the late '80s, the idea that Britain might make a sharp left turn seemed like an outlandish science fiction scenario. But Mullin was writing at the dawn of the decade, when the U.K. was in a deep recession and the solidly socialist Tony Benn had a shot at becoming Labour leader. The idea that hidden forces might try to undermine such a government didn't spring entirely from Mullin's imagination either: He was drawing on widely circulated stories that MI5 had deliberately subverted the Labour government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, effectively pushing him out of power. I don't know the evidence well enough to have an informed opinion on whether those tales are true. But I do know that James Jesus Angleton, the famously paranoid CIA counterintelligence chief, was convinced that Wilson was working for the Russians. Speaking of notions that have come cycling back into style.

Here is part one of A Very British Coup:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ACg6IuFfMJE" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

Here is part two:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/oANMGT0IK-A" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

And here's the final installment:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/zhVsUAmBQqo" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

The story was remade in 2012 as a four-part miniseries called Secret State; I haven't seen that one, but if you want to check it out you can watch the first episode here. Wikipedia's page on Harold Wilson conspiracy theories is here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.




The Conspiracy to Silence a JFK Assassination Theorist

Tue, 06 Jun 2017 16:40:00 -0400

Robert Groden has been issued 82 tickets by the city of Dallas and arrested twice. His offense? Running a table in Dealey Plaza on weekends offering passerbys an interpretation of the JFK assassination that conflicts with what Groden calls "the official fiction."

Groden's attorney, Brad Kizzia, uncovered emails between the Dallas City Council and an institution called the Sixth Floor Museum that references "how to deal with the vendor problem in Dealey Plaza." Kizzia's assumption is that the Sixth Floor Museum, an institution dedicated to telling the official story of the JFK asssassination, saw Groden as a nuissance and was conspiring with the city drive him out.

Groden filed a federal lawsuit on the grounds that the city and the Sixth Floor Museum were trying to suppress his First Amendment rights. Last month, after six years of litigation, Groden settled with the city and the Sixth Floor Museum for $47,500.

"I feel it's important that people know the truth," says Groden, who served as chief photographic consultant for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. (He was also the first person to get a copy of the famous Zapruder film, a home movie that captures the events of that day.)

"John Kennedy was our president, he died for what he believed in," Groden says. "And I felt we had no right to turn our back on his memory. We can't bring him back. It's too late for Justice in this case, but it's never too late for the truth."

Edited by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by Alexis Garcia, Zach Weissmueller, and McDaniel. Graphics by Meredith Bragg.

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Turkey Seeks Arrest of NBA Player, Says He Belongs to a 'Terrorist Organization'

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 10:00:00 -0400

A Turkish court has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Oklahoma Thunder center Enes Kanter, charging him with "being a member of a terrorist organization." The 25-year-old Kanter, a Turkish national who has been living in the United States since 2009, has been an outspoken critic of the increasingly authoritarian Turkish government. He is also a supporter of Fethullah Gulen, a former imam and former ally of Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Gulen, who has lived in the U.S. since 1999, is the spiritual leader of a movement known as Hizmet (Turkish for "service"). According to the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs, he was estimated to have "between 200,000 supporters and 4 million people influenced by his ideas" in the late 1990s. Erdogan regularly accuses him of being the mastermind behind last year's attempted coup. "Only exiled people are going to be willing to go on record" about Kanter, a source familiar with the situation on the ground in Turkey tells Reason. "The whole set of accusations and demands has become toxic. It's partly because it's a no-go topic in Turkey but also because the [Gulen movement] is flawed and disliked by a lot of ordinary people in Turkey." After the failed coup, Erdogan initiated a massive purge of academics, bureaucrats, members of the judiciary, and members of the media, claiming with little to no evidence that thousands of people were colluding with what the Turkish government now calls the "Gulen Terrorist Organization." Kanter's family in Turkey has publicly disowned him, with his father apologizing to Erdogan "and the Turkish people" for "having such a son." That didn't keep Kanter's dad from losing his job at a university in Istanbul.* Turkey's slide into authoritarianism accelerated after a constitutional referendum earlier this year that vastly expanded Erdogan's powers. Since then, and particularly because Germany and the Netherlands prohibited pro-Erdogan election rallies in their countries, "Erdogan has shown little concern with how the West (particularly the U.S. and the EU) view his actions, and arguably has been behaving in such a manner as to create a wedge between the Turkish people and the West," says Michael Wuthrich, a specialist on the region who directs the Global & International Studies program at Kansas University. "What is particularly surprising about Kanter's case," Wuthrich adds, "is that they are targeting a well-known international figure who hasn't lived in Turkey for any length of time for years"—and "whose connection with the foiled coup plot would be extremely dubious to all but the most ardent Erdogan supporter." For Wuthrich, that means Erdogan "no longer feels shame from a harsh reaction from the West; in fact, he is stoking it to present to his political base a Western bloc that is part of a grand conspiracy to thwart Turkey's rise to greatness." Gulen, meanwhile, serves as "an Orwellian foil of sorts," though "there is very little substance that would link him to the attempted coup," Wuthrich says. Gulen has structured his supporters' network "in such a way that he almost never conveys direct orders. Even if he wished that Erdogan was removed from power, it is unlikely that he expressed this in any sort of explicitly incriminating ways or would have sullied himself with planning and preparation for such a thing." It's not even clear that the Turkish government sincerely wants extradite Gulen. Because he has been "conveniently operating as a scapegoat for every problem that Erdogan finds himself in for the last several years," Wuthrich explains, Gulen may be more valuable abroad. Turkey's chances of securing an extradition of Kanter are low, according to Wuthrich: "There is almost no way that the Justice Department could link Kanter to anything beyond verbal support for a religious leader, who the Turkish government accuses of instigating a coup." Turkey has reportedly asked Interpol for an international alert on Kanter, wh[...]



3 Ways We're Reliving the Watergate Culture War

Wed, 24 May 2017 14:45:00 -0400

Whether or not we're reliving the Watergate investigation, we sure do seem intent on reenacting the Watergate culture war. That isn't just true of Donald Trump's critics, who are understandably eager to compare the 37th and 45th presidents. It's true of Trump and his team, who keep echoing arguments offered by Richard Nixon and his defenders four decades ago: 1. The double-standard defense. Complain about something Trump has done, and someone is bound to ask why you didn't say a peep when Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama did some other bad thing. (You will get this response even if you protested Clinton or Obama's action quite loudly.) The most prominent person to talk like this, of course, is Donald Trump himself: With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017 But this defense is a lot older than the present president's political career. Throughout the Watergate investigation, Nixon complained angrily that his predecessors had gotten away with the very activities that were getting him in trouble. In his 2003 book Nixon's Shadow, the Rutgers historian David Greenberg lays out some examples: "If I were a liberal," [Nixon] told [die-hard defender Baruch Korff], "Watergate would be a blip." He compiled a private catalogue of behaviors by others that he believed excused his own. On the basis of comments J. Edgar Hoover made to him, he frequently claimed, not quite accurately, that Lyndon Johnson had bugged his campaign plane in 1968. When Nixon was chided for spying on political opponents, he shot back that John and Robert Kennedy had done the same. And as precedents for his 1972 program of political sabotage, he regularly cited the pranks of Democratic operative Dick Tuck, who had hounded Nixon since his 1950 Senate race. During the Watergate Hearings, [White House Chief of Staff H.R.] Haldeman testified that "dirty tricks" maestro Donald Segretti was hired to be a "Dick Tuck for our side." There's more—much more—but you get the idea. Now, Nixon may have gotten his facts a little scrambled when it came to that alleged airplane bug, and some of the supposed precursors to his crimes didn't actually fit the bill. (He seemed convinced that Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers was comparable to the Watergate break-in—a bizarre analogy, though if you've been following the debates over Edward Snowden you've probably heard worse.) But broadly speaking, the president had a point. Many American leaders had abused their powers, sometimes in ways that resembled the Nixon scandals, and the press hadn't always been quick to trumpet the news. Like Nixon, JFK had wiretapped reporters and used the IRS as a political weapon. LBJ may not have bugged Nixon's plane in 1968, but he did spy on Goldwater in 1964. And both Kennedy and Johnson, like many others who have held their job, presided over enormous violations of dissenters' civil liberties. You can make a decent case that Nixon's misbehavior was even worse than theirs, but you can see how the man could get a little resentful about the uneven attention. The trouble with the double-standard defense is that it isn't much of a defense. The crimes of prior presidents aren't a reason to let Nixon off the hook; they're a reason to rein in not just one abusive president but the whole imperial presidency. The same goes for any Trumpian abuses today. 2. Intimations of a "coup." Then as now, each side accused the other of plotting a coup. Rumors that Nixon was planning to seize dictatorial powers circulated not just on the political fringes but in official Washington; many of the president's foes feared that fascism was on the way. After Nixon had Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox fired, Rep. Parren Mitchell of Maryland asked, "Will democracy as we have known it survive, or will fascism come to dominate in this [...]



Maybe Donald Trump Isn't Actually a Master Media Manipulator

Wed, 10 May 2017 11:29:00 -0400

(image) If there's one trope of the Trump years that we can definitively retire now, it's the idea that the president is constantly winning some 13-dimensional chess game devoted to distracting us from unflattering stories. Where a more adept politician would be trying to change the subject from the Russia probe, Donald Trump just can't help drawing attention to the very subject he wants people to ignore.

When Sally Yates and James Clapper testified to the Senate subcommittee investigating Russia's alleged interference in last year's election, another president might have chosen that moment to unveil a major policy initiative—or, if he didn't have any initiatives handy, to hold a photo op with some girl scouts. At the very least, he would have tried not to talk about the story. Instead Trump ran to Twitter to insinuate that Yates had leaked classified information, a tweet that amplified rather than disrupted the day's event. Then he plastered a message onto his Twitter banner declaring that Clapper had "reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is 'no evidence' of collusion w/ Russia and Trump." This was widely derided for misrepresenting what Clapper had said, but from a PR perspective it did something even more unforgivable than lying: It ensured that the first thing anyone visiting Trump's Twitter page would see would be a reference to the Russia accusations.

That was Monday. Tuesday he fired his FBI chief—that is, he fired the head of the bureau investigating his campaign's alleged links to Moscow—while clumsily shoehorning a hey-you-know-I'm-innocent remark into his letter dismissing the director.

Naturally, this prompted speculations that Trump is trying to cover up something serious. And that may well be true. (You needn't believe the more far-out Trump/Russia conspiracy theories to think a probe into the president's business dealings in Russia—or anywhere else, from China to New Jersey—could turn up something unethical and/or illegal.) But it's also entirely possible that we're watching a dumb guy with a big ego throwing a tantrum because he can't control the media agenda. Politico's piece on the lead-up to the firing claims that Trump "had grown enraged by the Russia investigation" and was "frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn't disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe..." And so he made a move that guaranteed his TV today would be talking about virtually nothing else.

According to the Politico report, "the fallout seemed to take the White House by surprise." Funny how that works out. If you could stuff the Streisand effect into a suit, it would look like Donald Trump. This isn't 13-dimensional chess; it's 13-dimensional 52 card pick-up.




Bill O'Reilly: The Kennedy Conspiracy Years

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 12:30:00 -0400

As we await the next stage of Bill O'Reilly's career—RT host? FCC commissioner? down-on-his-luck high-school basketball coach?—let's set the Wayback Machine for 1979 and check out one of the fallen Fox star's earlier incarnations. Before he was the Joe Pyne of cable news, before he was the tantrum-prone anchor of a syndicated tabloid show, O'Reilly was a twentysomething baby-boomer with a moptop of '70s hair and a yen to do investigative journalism. In 1979, when JFK assassinology was arguably at its peak, he tackled the death of John F. Kennedy in a report for a TV station in Connecticut. In the clip below, O'Reilly focuses on one of the odder byways of the JFK theories: the so-called "umbrella man" who raised a parasol shortly before the president was shot.

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gAf2vW53Ekc" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

After the station re-aired that in 2013, an anchor there posted an item promoting it online. "Look for our Carter-era disco inspired logo, the size of the tape cassette recorder Bill carried with him, his powder blue bell bottom pants, and the copious chest hair he showed off to the viewers," he advised, adding: "Hey, it was the '70s." As for the actual theory explored in the report, he described it as "fascinating yet somewhat bizarre."

There is, for the record, a non-conspiratorial explanation for the umbrella man; Errol Morris covers that here. O'Reilly returned to the JFK assassination during his tenure on Inside Edition; you can watch that happen here. More recently, O'Reilly wrote—or at least put his name on—a book called Killing Kennedy; I haven't read it, but a text search at Amazon reveals that the word "umbrella" doesn't appear in it.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. And I suppose I should take this opportunity to promote my book on the history of American conspiracy theories, right? Check that out here.)




The Great Charles Manson Conspiracy

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 10:35:00 -0400

The Daily Beast just devoted a podcast to Charles Manson, and they had me on to chat about Manson conspiracy theories. This mostly meant we talked about John Todd, a con man who in the '70s started posing as an Illuminati defector and who claimed, among other things, that Manson was raising an Illuminist army behind bars that would soon be rampaging across the country. But we touch on other topics too, from the first American Illuminati scare of the 18th century to the conspiracy theories of Mae Brussell. The full episode is below; my bit starts around the 27-minute mark.

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How Those Trump/Russia Tales Are Like a Bowl of Spaghetti

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 10:35:00 -0400

(image) When I speak skeptically about some alleged break in the Russia/Trump story, people sometimes tut-tut and tell me that "evidence is accumulating" that will prove a vast plot. Unfortunately, they're not always clear on how to tell a credible accusation from a kooky one. There's a spectrum of theses out there, with "Paul Manafort is a sleazeball" on one end of the plausibility spectrum and "Donald Trump became a Soviet sleeper agent in 1987" on the other.

In the L.A. Times today, I offer three pieces of advice for people who want to keep an open mind about potential wrongdoing but don't want to get lost in the liberal version of Glenn Beck's old chalkboard. "In conspiracy movies," I write, "covert politics is an octopus: There's a big head at the center manipulating everything with its tentacles. In real life, it's more like a bowl of spaghetti—a tangled mess of connections without a center." I hope you like that metaphor, because I spend the rest of the column belaboring it. Check it out here.




The Age of Frank Gaffney

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:12:00 -0400

Peter Beinart has a detailed article in The Atlantic about the anti-Islamic theories of Frank Gaffney, a man who thinks that Islam in itself is a subversive force and that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to turn America into a caliphate. Beinart's piece, which is convincing on most points, looks both at how Gaffney's views have grown more influential in the Trump era and at how they fit into the longer history of conspiracy theories about minority groups. I found this passage particularly interesting: It was not September 11 that made conservatives receptive to Gaffney's theories. It was America's failed post-9/11 wars. Joseph McCarthy won a following in the early 1950s, when Americans were exhausted by the stalemated war in Korea, by arguing that the real communist threat could be vanquished cheaply and nonviolently by ferreting out traitors at home. Gaffney argues something similar. "We can kill as many semi-literate bad guys as possible in the world's most hellish backwaters," he declared in 2012, "but as long as we ignore, or worse yet, empower and submit, to the toxic ideology they share with highly educated and well spoken Islamists in this country and elsewhere, we are doomed to defeat." Over the last decade, conservatives disillusioned by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and alienated from their party's interventionist elite, have found in Gaffney's theories an appealing alternative. Beinart has overstated his case here. The grassroots right did see an increase right after 9/11 in Gaffney-style crank theories about Islam. (And for that matter, the postwar Red Scare began before McCarthy's antics, and indeed before the Korean War.) But the real growth in Gaffneyism did come later, and I think Beinart's theory helps explain why. War-weariness can express itself in many ways. Gaffney himself shows no sign of being war-weary—his organization, the Center for Security Policy, is constantly hyping one external threat or another—but his ideas about Islamic subversion have an obvious attraction for conservatives disillusioned both with Bush-era ideas about how to fight jihadism and Bush-era ideas about Islam as a religion of peace. In any event, Beinart's piece is worth a read. But before you rush over to check it out, a couple of parting thoughts on the other fellow mentioned in that passage. The McCarthy era is widely remembered—with good reason—as a time of conformity, with people feeling pressure to conceal dissenting views. But what makes the McCarthy period stand out from the rest of the postwar Red Scare is that the senator aimed his accusations at some of the central institutions of American life, finally crashing after he reached too far and attacked the Army. There is a tension between enforcing conformity and disrupting institutions, and that tension didn't disappear entirely with McCarthy's fall; the fiercest segments of the anti-Communist right continued to amp up their domestic distrust after he departed the stage. The John Birch Society, for example, gradually moved from seeing powerful Americans as agents of the Communists to seeing Communists as agents of powerful Americans. If you seriously believe that the country's most powerful institutions are being infiltrated by the enemy, then there comes a point when you start seeing those institutions as enemies themselves. The fear of subversion itself breeds subversive suspicions. And that wasn't just true during the Cold War. Ask any Bush-era national-security conservative who today is overflowing with suspicion of the Deep State. Yet this sort of fear can also have a de-radicalizing effect: A distrust of institutions can be displaced by a distrust of the people who happen to occupy the institutions at the moment. The Obama years didn't end with the election of a veteran Tea Part[...]



John McCain Makes Heinously False Charge That Rand Paul ‘is now working for Vladimir Putin’

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 18:13:00 -0400

What do you call a U.S. senator who opposes the expansion of NATO to include the troubled former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, a country that survived a (reportedly Russia-backed) coup attempt as recently as last fall? If you're Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and that colleague is intervention-skeptic Rand Paul, you call him, remarkably, a pawn of Vladimir Putin. "You are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin... of trying to dismember this small country," McCain lectured Paul on the Senate floor today. (Was it really just five weeks ago that Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren over impugning the conduct and motives of a Senate colleague?) McCain then asked for unanimous consent for the Senate to approve Montenegro's accession into the U.S.-led military alliance, and Paul objected, before quickly exiting. That's when McCain got all voice-quivery and hand-choppy: I note the senator from Kentucky leaving the floor without justification or any rationale for the action he has just taken. That is really remarkable, that a senator blocking a treaty that is supported by the overwhelming number, perhaps 98—at least—of his colleagues would come to the floor and object and walk away. And walk away! The only conclusion you can draw, when he walks away, is he has no argument to be made, he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians. So I repeat again: The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin. Watch it here: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z06ELqdKzoE" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> In a follow-up statement, Paul said: Currently, the United States has troops in dozens of countries and is actively fighting in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen (with the occasional drone strike in Pakistan). In addition, the United States is pledged to defend 28 countries in NATO. It is unwise to expand the monetary and military obligations of the United States given the burden of our $20 trillion debt. McCain has been getting a lot of good press these days for the usual reason—occasionally opposing a Republican president that the press also doesn't like. Included in his latest round of re-mavericking are hosannahs for his brave stance against Trumpian conspiracy mongering. Will his friends in the press now point out that the Arizona senator has made a horrendous dual-loyalty charge against a sitting colleague with zero evidence aside from a procedural vote? McCain has been slamming Paul over his supposed "isolationism" since 2010, famously calling him a "wacko bird" in March 2013, telling reporters a few months later that a Rand vs. Hillary presidential race would be a "tough choice," and unhappily sharing a Foreign Relations Committee seat with the Tea Party senator these past four-plus years. Paul has frequently returned the favor by using the phrase "stale and moss-covered." All of which is understandable, given their very different positions on an important issue central to both of them. But just because Vladimir Putin dislikes an American policy doesn't make it automatically virtuous or wise. Part of the original conception of NATO expansion—which I, unlike 99 percent of libertarians, both favored and covered while it was happening—was that the new members had to be stable, with border disputes with neighbors fully resolved at the treaty level, substantial minority-population protections, and no pressing disputes with adversaries. Does that sound like Montenegro to you? Or Georgia, which McCain has been pushing for NATO inclusion since at least 2008 (and which Paul single-handedly blocked in 2011)? Despite writing a book critical of his views, I have happily defended John McCain against scu[...]



The Paranoid Presidency

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 09:50:00 -0500

(image) Donald Trump is famously prone to conspiracy theories, but that in itself isn't unusual in the executive branch. "Indeed, there's a long history of presidents and their inner circles obsessing about malevolent cabals. What's different about Trump isn't the fact that he talks about dubious conspiracies. It's the way he talks about them."

Who am I quoting there? Why, I'm quoting myself! Yep, this is one of those Hit & Run posts where we promote a piece we published elsewhere. In this case, The New Republic asked me to write something about presidential paranoia, and I obliged with a story that hops from John Quincy Adams' obsession with Masonic plots to Richard Nixon stewing about the Jews to Donald Trump's dark speculations about the death of Antonin Scalia. What makes Trump stand out, I argue, isn't the content of his theories so much as the fact that he spouts them without regard for elite mores:

Conspiracy theories tend to be disreputable. Indeed, in most circles of respectable opinion, the very phrase conspiracy theory is used as a pejorative. So when high-level officials embrace a position considered to be taboo, they often prefer not to talk about it. John Kerry has long rejected the official story about JFK's assassination, but when Meet the Press brought up the subject in 2013, the secretary of state clammed up. "I just have a point of view," Kerry demurred. "And I'm not going to get into that."

Our new president, to the delight of his supporters, presents himself as a man unshackled by such mores of polite society. Richard Nixon may have been prone to seeing plots everywhere, but it's hard to imagine him publicly promoting a transparently phony theory tying Rafael Cruz to Lee Harvey Oswald; it's harder still to picture him backing up his claims by citing the National Enquirer. For Trump, neither the story nor the source is something to be ashamed of.

There's a strong chance, of course, that Trump doesn't actually believe the Enquirer story, and that he only brought it up because Ted Cruz happened to be his chief political foe that day. That's where his cynicism comes in. Trump doesn't just spout unsubstantiated accusations; he often drops them as quickly as he brings them up, as though it never really mattered if they were true.

The full article is here. My book on conspiracy theories is here. And the last article I wrote for The New Republic is here. It's from March of 1998, so my appearances there, like the ancient Greek calendar, appear to be based on a 19-year cycle.




Arizona Bill to Crack Down on Rioters Could Be Used to Shut Down Protests

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 11:30:00 -0500

Rioting is illegal, even in Arizona, but some Republican senators there want to make it extra super illegal. And critics fear they're going to make it so illegal that it will result in people being charged with criminal conspiracy or racketeering (and risk having their property seized) just by participating in a protest where others might engage in violence. Democratic senators expressed such worries in a piece posted at Arizona Capital Times. They fear that if SB 1142 is made law, it will be used to find new ways to crack down on peaceful protesters by creating pretenses to connect them to troublemakers. The Republicans defending the law are turning to the conspiracy that all the violence is planned and paid for by outsiders as justification: By including rioting in racketeering laws, it actually permits police to arrest those who are planning events. And [Republican Sen. John] Kavanagh, a former police officer, said if there are organized groups, "I should certainly hope that our law enforcement people have some undercover people there.'' "Wouldn't you rather stop a riot before it starts?'' Kavanagh asked colleagues during debate. "Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?'' Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said the new criminal laws are necessary. "I have been heartsick with what's been going on in our country, what young people are being encouraged to do,'' she said. She agreed with Quezada that there already are laws that cover overt acts. But Allen said they don't work. "If they get thrown in jail, somebody pays to get them out,'' she said. "There has to be something to deter them from that.'' This seems a bit of a short-sighted approach, one Democratic legislator pointed out. The Republican senators are only perceiving the protesters as coming from the left and not considering the idea that this new crime classification could come back to haunt Tea Party type protesters if somebody decides to get violent at a protest. These senators also seem to be operating under the absurdly mistaken idea that violent agitators at protests are something brand new. Not mentioned in the Times story, but pointed out by Will Gaona, policy director for the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, on Twitter: Law enforcement unions are supporters of the legislation and are no doubt helping push it along. It will certainly make it easier for police to justify practices where they simply shut down and detain protesters without much consideration over who is actually engaging in destructive behavior. SB 1142 doesn't actually do a whole lot but simply add rioting to existing conspiracy and racketeering classifications and defines rioting thus: "A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which either disturbs the public peace or results in damage to the property of another person." The bill passed on a party live vote in the Senate, 17-13 and is heading over to the House.[...]



Outlandish Trump Hysteria Mirrors Obamaphobia

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:00:00 -0500

How thin is the line between reason and delirium. Just a few years ago, Democrats and liberals were presenting themselves as paragons of level-headed politics in contrast to those cranky Obama bashers and birthers in the darker crannies of the worldwide web. Now, four weeks into the Trump presidency, they've become the thing they mocked; they're giving febrile Obamaphobes a run for their money in the paranoia game. It's striking how closely the media and culture sets' meltdown over Trump mirrors the rash reaction to Obama among some on the harder, tetchier right of politics. Just as some of those frazzled comment-section dwellers became convinced Obama was a Muslim Brotherhood mole, bent on laying waste to their way of life, so left-leaning Trump-fearers are buying into ever-crazier notions about Trump being a Putin-puppeteered Manchurian candidate come to destroy American values, and art, and decency: everything they hold dear. The panic and self-pity that once gripped unreasoned right-wingers now has a firm hold of many leftists. The most striking similarity between the meltdown over Obama and the meltdown over Trump is the belief that the president is a stooge of dark foreign forces. A favored conspiracy theory of the Obama-fearers was that Obama wasn't born in the United States, and was probably a Muslim to boot. Some went further, insisting he was a smart, smooth-talking front for those dastardly aspiring destroyers of the United States, the Muslim Brotherhood. "Barack Hussein Obama: Muslim Brotherhood Mole?" headlines asked. (Always with the Hussein.) Some wondered if Obama was an MB "agent." "The Muslim Brotherhood has taken over the White House," bloggers feverishly claimed. They said there were MB moles "inside the Department of Homeland Security," and the "Commander-in-Chief is one of these individuals." This swirling theory made its way to National Enquirer. "Muslim Obama's White House Infested With Terrorist Spies!" the mag insisted. The unhinged conviction that the White House has fallen to a wicked foreign power now finds expression in many liberals' belief that Putin, through leaks and fake news, won the election for Trump, and that Trump is doing his bidding. Of course there's evidence of contact between Trump's people and Putin's people—dinners, phone calls, a shared dislike of Hillary—but nothing to warrant the widespread use of the term "Putin's puppet." That's appeared everywhere from the Washington Post to MSNBC. Trump is the "Siberian candidate," said a writer for The New York Times, using language right out of the conspiracy-theory thriller The Manchurian Candidate. "Putin has managed a bloodless coup," says a Daily Kos blogger. In short, Russia now runs America. Saturday Night Live runs skits showing a shirtless Putin bossing about a gurning Trump—a "manipulative dictator and his oblivious puppet," as The Guardian describes it. It's funny (at times) but it's worth remembering that the folks at SNL would have been in the frontline of mocking Obamaphobes who thought Obama was the plaything of Islamists. The talk of Trump as a Putin plant utterly runs ahead of any facts. Alarmingly, at the end of December YouGov found in a survey of Democratic voters that 50% of them believed "Russia tampered with vote tallies to help Donald Trump." This goes beyond believing that Russian-engineered fake news and leaked Dem emails swung the election for Trump, which is already a bit of a stretch, since I'm petty sure voters can still think for themselves; as YouGov said, it crosses into the territory of "Election Day conspiracy theory." The post-Obama meltdown led to loads of phony stories—what we now call fake news. Obama was raised[...]