Alex Constantine - October 14, 2010
Media Matters | October 13, 2010
Writing in the New Yorker, historian Sean Wilentz offers a thorough examination of how '60s-era fringe anti-communist extremists form the intellectual foundation for Glenn Beck's worldview. The piece focuses largely on two men, John Birch Society founder Robert Welch and right-wing activist W. Cleon Skousen, and the fact that their rhetoric -- which was considered wildly extreme even in their own time -- is echoed in Beck's nightly broadcasts:
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."
In the nineteen-sixties, Welch became convinced that even the Communist movement was but "a tool of the total conspiracy." This master conspiracy, he said, had forerunners in ancient Sparta, and sprang fully to life in the eighteenth century, in the "uniformly Satanic creed and program" of the Bavarian Illuminati. Run by those he called "the Insiders," the conspiracy resided chiefly in international families of financiers, such as the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers, government agencies like the Federal Reserve System and the Internal Revenue Service, and nongovernmental organizations like the Bilderberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission. Since the early twentieth century, they had done a good deal of their evil work under the guise of humanitarian uplift. "One broad avenue down which these conspiratorial forces advance was known as progressive legislation," Welch declared in 1966. "The very same collectivist theories and demagogic pretenses which had destroyed earlier civilizations were now paraded forth in the disguise of new and modern concepts." ...
Still, the most outlandish of the era's right-wing anti-Communists was not Welch but Willard Cleon Skousen. A transplanted Canadian who served as a Mormon missionary in his teens, Skousen was considered so radical in the early nineteen-sixties that even J. Edgar Hoover's F.B.I. watched him closely; one 1962 memo in his extensive F.B.I. file noted that "during the past year or so, Skousen has affiliated himself with the extreme right-wing 'professional communists' who are promoting their own anticommunism for obvious financial purposes." Skousen was himself employed by the F.B.I., from 1935 until 1951, much of that time as a special agent working chiefly in administration. These desk jobs, he claimed implausibly, gave him access to confidential domestic intelligence about Communism. Skousen also maintained that he had served as Hoover's administrative assistant; Hoover informed inquirers that there was no such position.
Skousen taught for years in the speech and religion departments at Brigham Young University, interrupted by a stint, from 1956 to 1960, as the police chief of Salt Lake City. His time in office was contentious, and after he raided a friendly card game attended by the city's right-wing mayor, J. Bracken Lee, he was promptly fired. Lee called Skousen "a master of half truths" and said that he ran the police department "like a Gestapo"; Skousen's supporters placed burning crosses on the Mayor's lawn. ...
All along, Skousen's evolving thoughts ran in tandem with Welch's. In The Naked Communist, a lengthy primer published in 1958, he enlivened a survey of the worldwide leftist threat with outlandish claims, writing that F.D.R.'s adviser Harry Hopkins had treasonously delivered to the Soviets a large supply of uranium, and that the Russians built the first Sputnik with plans stolen from the United States. 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. ...
The popularity of Beck's broadcasts, which now reach two million viewers each day, has brought neo-Birchite ideas to an audience beyond any that Welch or Skousen might have dreamed of. Several times a week, Beck informs his audience that socialists (whom he also sometimes calls Fascists or Communists) led by Obama have seized power, and that patriotic Americans must take their country back. His TV show for some time featured "Comrade Updates," in which Beck described perfidy while the Soviet anthem played in the background. He attacks all the familiar bogeymen: the Federal Reserve System (which he asserts is a private conglomerate, unaccountable to the public); the Council on Foreign Relations (born of a "progressive idea" to manipulate the media in order to "let the masses know what should be done"); and a historical procession of evildoers, including Skousen's old target Colonel House and Welch's old target Woodrow Wilson. His sources on these matters, quite apart from Skousen's books, can be unreliable. On September 22nd, amid a diatribe about House, Beck cited a passage from "Secrets of the Federal Reserve," by Eustace Mullins. The book, commissioned in 1948 by Ezra Pound, is a startlingly anti-Semitic fantasy of how a Jewish-led conspiracy of all-powerful bankers established the Federal Reserve in service of their plot to dominate the world.