Glenn Beck’s Spirit Present At Joplin Tea Party

I thought I would see and hear some references to Glenn Beck at Thursday’s Tea Party here in Joplin, since many of the ideas tossed around at such gatherings seem to first originate in his strange and lucre-loving mind.

But that didn’t happen.

Then, I realized that the spirit of Glenn Beck was there all around me: in the form of a book.

That book, The 5000 Year Leap, by W. Cleon Skousen, was available for free (courtesy of the Jasper County Republican Party), with copies spread along the table holding the “scroll of grievances.” 

John Putnam said the book, which he “found” in 1984, had “inspired” him.

Beck has endlessly and energetically promoted the book, which, according to Alexander Zaitchik, has become “the bible of the 9/12 movement,” “the civic initiative he pulled together…to restore America to the sense of purpose and unity it had felt the day after the towers fell.”

The popular Fox broadcaster has even claimed the book is “divinely inspired,” although Beck doesn’t specify what divine being inspired it. Presumably, it was the God of Mormonism.

So, since our local Republican Party subsidized the distribution of the book, and since our local Joplin Tea Partiers were urged to read the book—and I saw many folks walking around with fresh copies in hand—I thought I would find out more about the author, especially since the Tea Party movement is heavily influenced by Beck-like thinkers. 

Who was W. Cleon Skousen?

Perusing Alexander Zaitchik’s essay on Salon.com, I discovered that Skousen shared Glenn Beck’s Mormon faith, and that he was ostensibly a “historian.” But as Zaitchik described him,

 …Skousen was not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it. At least, that was the judgment of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which maintained a file on Skousen for years that eventually totaled some 2,000 pages. Before he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen’s own Mormon church publicly distanced itself from the foundation that Skousen founded and that has published previous editions of “The 5,000 Year Leap.”

Skousen died in 2006 at the age of 92, the author of more than dozen books; a 15-year veteran of the FBI (in administration);  a law school grad; a teacher at Brigham Young University;  Chief of Police in Salt Lake City (where, according to Zaitchik, “he gained a reputation for cutting crime and ruthlessly enforcing Mormon morals” and, according to a 1961 article in Time, the conservative Mayor of the city said Skousen, “operated the police department like a Gestapo“);  and most important for our purposes, a virulent anti-communist conspiracist,  who earned a good living giving speeches to far-right gatherings.

As an anti-Communist, Skousen was affiliated with the John Birch Society, whose elaborate communist conspiracies proved too much for men of the right like William F. Buckley, who sought to sever the Birchers from “legitimate” conservatives. In those days, there were adults in the conservative movement, and when Skousen and the Birchers grew more and more extreme—accusing WW II hero Dwight Eisenhower of being a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy“—most responsible conservative groups dumped him.  Buckley said such accusations were “paranoid and idiotic libels.”* Russell Kirk, an eminent conservative philosopher, viewed such people as being “disconnected from reality.”  Barry Goldwater concurred.

Wrote Zaitchik:

By 1963, Skousen’s extremism was costing him. No conservative organization with any mainstream credibility wanted anything to do with him. Members of the ultraconservative American Security Council kicked him out because they felt he had “gone off the deep end.” One ASC member who shared this opinion was William C. Mott, the judge advocate general of the U.S. Navy. Mott found Skousen “money mad … totally unqualified and interested solely in furthering his own personal ends.”

Damn. That sounds a lot like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other right-wing conspiracists these days.

Zaitchik also wrote something about Skousen’s increasing popularity that again sounds eerily like our own Glenn Beck, whose “enemy” is not so much communism, but progressivism:

When Skousen’s books started popping up in the nation’s high-school classrooms, panicked school board officials wrote the FBI asking if Skousen was reliable. The Bureau’s answer was an exasperated and resounding “no.” One 1962 FBI memo notes, “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.”

By 1970, Zaitchik reports that Skousen had discovered that “liberal internationalist groups” like the Council on Foreign Relations were pushing U.S. foreign policy “toward the establishment of a world-wide collectivist society,” which would later become the New World Order, a “super-conspiracy” involving the Rockefellers and the Rothchilds and other very “powerful” people.

Eventually, the Mormon Church cut its ties with Skousen, which was just in time for his invitation to become part of the “Reagan Revolution.”  Zaitchik wrote:

In 1980, Skousen was appointed to the newly founded Council for National Policy, a think tank that brought together leading religious conservatives and served as the unofficial brain trust of the new administration. At the Council, Skousen distinguished himself by becoming an early proponent of privatizing Social Security.

It was around this time that Skousen published the book that changed the life of Glenn Beck, The 5,000 Year Leap,  which Zaitchik described this way:

…a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recast the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by French and English philosophers. “Leap” argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. It lists 28 fundamental beliefs — based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith — that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined.

So, learning all of that, I realized that Glenn Beck was in fact a part of the Joplin Tea Party, through the vehicle of W. Cleon Skousen’s book.  And I realized what attracted John Putnam, the chairman of the Jasper County Republican Central Committee, to Skousen’s interpretation of American history.

Putnam is a conservative Christian, who when I first encountered him, was an elder at Christ’s Church of Joplin, and who was a believer in the Bible as the “inspired” and inerrant Word of God.  

He said at the Tea Party on Thursday:

I see a real similarity between the days we live in and the founding days of this country. I realized at least in 1978 that America was on an unsustainable path.  We have continued to spend more than we take in, we have continued to turn our back—to become more interested in commercialism and entertainment and luxury than we have the spiritual values that made this country great. And my family’s tired of listening to me say we can’t go on this way, but in the last year there is a whole lot of other people who have seen that the pace is accelerating and it is up to the people to restore the country…

I suspect that many in the crowd Thursday hold views similar to those of Mr. Putnam.  Indeed, Jay St. Clair, the minister who uttered a rambling four-minute plea to the Almighty, began his remarks this way:

Welcome to the Tea Party!  Well, this isn’t a religious gathering but I will tell you that everything about our country was founded on the faith of God and the principles that are found in his Word…

Such folks don’t want to admit that our secular country—the United States of America—was not founded on the Bible, but on Enlightenment philosophy, a philosophy that was responsible for taming the excesses of fundamentalist Christianity, and a philosophy that is under attack, either consciously or unconsciously, by some members of the Tea Party movement.

If these people were to get what they wanted—a return to “God-directed” governance—then the Tea Partiers would no longer be mere objects of liberal scorn.

They would be forces to fear.

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*In 1962, Buckley published “a 5,000-word excoriation” of Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, which included the following:
How can the John Birch Society be an effective political instrument while it is led by a man whose views on current affairs are, at so many critical points . . . so far removed from common sense? That dilemma weighs on conservatives across America. . . . The underlying problem is whether conservatives can continue to acquiesce quietly in a rendition of the causes of the decline of the Republic and the entire Western world which is false, and, besides that, crucially different in practical emphasis from their own.
Few conservatives today are willing to say about Glenn Beck and other conspiracists that their views are “so far removed from common sense.”
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5 Comments

  1. ansonburlingame

     /  April 17, 2010

    duane,

    Interesting information that Skousen (whom I had never heard of) was a virulent anti-communist, Mormon and member of John Birch Society. Sounds like a man to “keep your distance from” such as Buckley and mainstream conservatives did.

    Now Beck is a virulent anti-progressive and Mormon but not a “Bircher” as far as I know. I agree he is one to “be careful” getting too close to politically. Limbaugh is in the same category as far a “closeness” for any conservative politician.

    I agree with you that by promoting the book at the Tea Party, the organizers leaned but in my view did not on those principles. THAT is exactly the dilema of the Republican Party today, just how close should they “get” to the Tea Party movement and how much influence that movement may have on Republican candidate selection.

    Promoting John Putnam (or Sarah Palin) for political office would be a disastor in my view for Republicans just as doing the same for some “left wing” leaning “Republican”, one promoting more and bigger government.

    Now I ask, is there room in the Democat Party of today for a Democrat that would call for a balanced budget and put the numbers on the table to make it happen? I doubt it, at least one with any chance of winning an election nationally. Is there room in the Republican Party for someone doing the same. With open arms I hope. Same with someone promoting a Fair Tax initiative as was the principle message that I heard at the Tea Party.

    There are extremists in any political movement but those extemists do not necessarily typify the movement itself unless it is a “George Sorus” crowd or KKK/John Birch society rally.

    I reitierate that while I saw a few, a very few, extremists at the Tea Pary on Thursday, they in no way represented the majority of folks that I saw or heard. For sure, other than the ministers prayer (which seemed like 10 minutes instead of 4) and one comment by Putnam about God’s principles, the whole point was Fair Tax, limited government, “take back the country” AT THE BALLOT BOX and similar conservative messages.

    In my view you saw and heard the extremes or at least have so written. While most of what you have said in two blogs is technically accurate, believe your “reporting” is simply to promote your own progressive cause which is fine with me. Just be willing to “take my counter shots” (as you allow but usually discount).

    I believe the Tea Party movement is still looking for its true base, nationally. No doubt it will be conservative but radical or extreme, I will wait to see. What I saw Thursday was not radical or extreme with only a few exceptions.

    Anson

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    • Duane Graham

       /  April 17, 2010

      Anson,

      Just to clear up a couple of things:

      1. As far as I know, Skousen wasn’t a formal member of the John Birch Society. He was closely associated with them and apparently used their audience to make a lot of money.

      2. Glenn Beck said on CNN about 2 ½ years ago to an official of the John Birch Society that “you guys are starting to make more and more sense to me.” And were we to judge Beck by his (and much of the right-wing’s) own rules of logic, because Beck supports Skousen’s views and because Skousen supported the views of the John Birch Society, then Glenn Beck supports the views of the John Birch Society. This kind of logic is what Beck employs to taint Barack Obama as a “radical” and a socialist and even a communist sympathizer, if you pay attention to the implications of his rantings. Bill Ayers and Obama had a relationship involving fixing Chicago area schools, Bill Ayers was a terrorist, therefore Obama, in Palin’s words, was “palling around with terrorists.” So, as far as his own reasoning goes, Glenn Beck is a Bircher.

      3. CPAC this year, the one in which Glenn Beck gave his “Republicans haven’t repented yet” speech, had as one of its co-sponsors the John Birch Society. Even right-wing wackos (to borrow a term from Limbaugh) like Mark Levin had enough sense to come in out of the Bircher rain:

      I was invited to be the opening speaker at Saturday’s CPAC session. I had accepted but then, to my amazement, I learned that the John Birch Society would be one of many co-sponsors. This takes the big-tent idea many steps too far for me. So, I withdrew. Apparently, others were not so moved. That’s fine. But it wasn’t for me. Bill Buckley and Barry Goldwater, among others, chased the Birchers from the movement decades ago. And they’re not a part of the movement. So, to give them a booth at CPAC was boneheaded.

      The point is that the JBS is fast becoming a legitimate player among the Beckerhead wing of conservatism, which I believe was clearly reflected in the promotion and distribution (by the Jasper County Republican Party) of Skousen’s book.

      4. As far as the Fair Tax initiative, it has exactly ZERO chance of becoming the law of the land for at least one reason unrelated to whatever its merits are:

      The advocates of the Fair Tax have allowed it to become affiliated with the Tea Party movement by openly courting their support. This in itself dooms it, because as we know, the Tea Party movement is associated with all kinds of extremists and the Fair Tax idea looks like just another extremist idea. Just one example: In the current U.S. Congress, one co-sponsor of John Linder’s (one of the popularizers of the Fair Tax) bill is Todd Akin, a certifiably crazy conservative legislator from Missouri. A local example would be John Putnam, who pretty much used the Joplin Tea Party to sell his tax idea, since he is the co-director of Fair Tax for Missouri. Putnam is not exactly a mainstream guy.

      Add all of this to the general idea that the Fair Tax idea is almost always promoted by Republicans, and ususally by extremist Republicans, and you can see that it will NEVER replace the income tax nationally.

      5. As far as promoting my own political views, you have stumbled onto the truth: I tend to promote views I agree with. But if you don’t consider most of what was said from the podium “extreme” (forget for a moment what I personally heard individuals in the audience say), then you either a) weren’t paying attention, or b) think that completely revamping the way the government collects revenue—by totally eliminating the Internal Revenue Service—is simply an everyday, run-of-the-mill proposal. Come on.

      Duane

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  2. Duane,

    Your interchanges with Anson are interesting to me. Make me glad I did not not attend the Tea Party, actually, since it sounds like an olio of discontents with only a smattering of agreement on the nature of their irritations. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to be unhappy about.

    I am an advocate of smaller government. Anson is too, I believe. As poorly organized as the Tea Party phenomenon is (I will not call it an organization), I do not see much hope for accomplishment, but I look forward with interest to see if I’m wrong, because it is something new.

    One point of agreement I appear to have with you. America is poorly served by those who would ally it with religion. To me, America’s principal strength is its commitment to tolerating differences among us and to our equal opportunity to pursue happiness, each in our own way. It is pointless to argue religion with anyone because religion is not based on reason.

    I find your blog interesting.

    Jim Wheeler

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  3. Duane Graham

     /  April 18, 2010

    Jim,

    Thanks very much for the response. I think I agree with you about the Tea Party, that it is somewhat disorganized—even though there are Republican operatives and consultants who are attempting to “organize” it (I say, “hijack it”) under rubrics like the Tea Party Express, et al.—and I certainly like your description that there is only a “smattering of agreement on the nature of their irritations,” although I think there may be more than a smattering of agreement. There seems to be quite a bit of an agreement on nostrums like “going back to our Constitutional government,” but what that means in practice is anyone’s guess.

    And that’s my main problem with the movement, or phenomenon, besides its unsavory elements. The fact is that the movement offers no real solutions to any of the problems they indentify. Too much government spending? What should have been done, then, to ease the depths of the recession? What should have been done to save the financial industry and prevent an economic disaster? What should be done to bend the cost curve of Social Security and Medicare? Which government departments should be abolished? And so on.

    I hear a lot of talk about things like “earmarks,” which are actually often beneficial to local communities, but in any case they represent about two percent of the budget each year. I hear a lot of talk about government tyranny, but when I ask folks how their freedoms have been personally curtailed, they bat their eyes and stutter.

    And, of course, I appreciate much your concurrence in the unseemly mixture of politics and religion. I wish everyone could stipulate that believers of both parties love our country, as well as non-believers in each party. I think that’s one of the reasons Anson and I are able to keep a conversation going, despite our differences (and despite his irritating obstinance!). There’s no real religious element to it, so we can pretty much avoid those discussions.

    Duane

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  April 19, 2010

    We ALL agree that religion and politics should not mix.

    As for Duane’s “interesting” column, HA. I find it challenging to sort through the reported facts, which are usually accurate, and the “whole picture” which is NEVER reports.

    But again my friend Duane clearly acknowledges that fair and balance is not his goal. It IS to promote his polticial agends.

    But to a lesser degree (I hope) I promote mine as well.

    As to which of us is more obstinate, I might have to blog on that one!

    Happy reading and commenting.

    Anson

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