September 17, 2009

The centerpiece of Glenn Beck's incessant attacks on "White House czars" like Van Jones, as well as his attacks on ACORN, is his claim that this is all about rooting out the deep-seated radicalism within the Obama White House -- and ultimately, the deep-seated radicalism of Obama himself. He's been quite explicit about this.

But what about Glenn Beck himself? Beck has shown a powerful affinity for right-wing radicals dating back at least to his days at CNN's Headline News, when he declared his sympathy for the John Birch Society (in its campaign to stop the non-existent "NAFTA Superhighway") and warned that Al Gore's real purpose behind his "global warming campaign" was to install a global government. (Back then, it was Gore, not Obama, who was just like Hitler.)

It's only intensified since he left CNN for Fox. Given the freedom to let his fetid imagination run amok, has quickly amassed a massive record of mainstreaming ideas and talking points from the genuinely radical right of American politics. (The accompanying video gives you a 17-minute compendium of Beck's extremist rhetoric.)

We noticed this back when it first surfaced amid a raft of other Beck wingnuttia. This week, Alexander Zaitchik in Salon published a devastating rundown of perhaps the foundation of Beck's radicalism: His ardent adoption of the ideology espoused by W. Cleon Skousen, one of the most radical of the old "Church-Birch Connection" gang of LDS elders who spread Bircherirsm throughout Mormon-land. (I remember seeing The Naked Communist on the bookshelf of many of the Mormon homes I grew up around in southern Idaho, including several in my family.) Salty City Sinner noticed the Skousen connection back in March too.

Skousen, as Zaitchik explains, was so far out on the fringe he even made the Birchers nervous:

W. Cleon 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."

Beck not only avidly endorsed The 5,000-Year Leap on his program -- it was one of three texts he told everyone who watched his show to read as part of "The 912 Project," since the very phrase "912" came from Skousen (whose book details the "9 Principles" and the "12 Values" Beck employs). He also wrote the foreword to is newest edition, in which he told readers it was "divinely inspired" -- something repeated in his blurb for the book:

"I beg you to read this book filled with words of wisdom which I can only describe as divinely inspired. You will find answers to questions plaguing America, and more importantly you will find hope. I know I have!"

Beck also promoted The 5,000 Year Leap on the 912 Project Blog, and listed his "12 Values" on the Fox News site. Lawdy, when the first "912 Project" aired, it was truly a sight to behold.

The result, of course, was that Skousen's book shot up the bestseller charts:

On Friday, after several days in the top 10, "The 5000 Year Leap: A Miracle That Changed the World, Principles of Freedom 101" leaped to No. 1 on's list of Bestsellers in Books.

"Everyone should read this book," the conservative talk show host said as he passed out copies during a recent broadcast. On his radio program Friday evening, Beck touted the book's climb to No. 1.

Skousen published "The 5000 Year Leap" in 1981, nearly 25 years after he published "The Naked Communist," a national bestseller that has sold more than 1 million copies.

Just how far out on the far right was Skousen. As Zaitchik explains, some of movement conservatism's leading poohbahs fled screaming from him:

"The Naked Capitalist" does not seem like a text that would be part of the required reading list on any reputable college campus, but some BYU professors taught it out of allegiance to Skousen. Terrified, the editors of Dialogue: The Journal of Mormon Thought invited "Tragedy and Hope" author Carroll Quigley to comment on Skousen's interpretation of his work. They also asked a highly respected BYU history professor named Louis C. Midgley to review Skousen's latest pamphlet. Their judgment was not kind. In the Autumn/Winter 1971 issue of Dialogue, the two men accused Skousen of "inventing fantastic ideas and making inferences that go far beyond the bounds of honest commentary." Skousen not only saw things that weren't in Quigley's book, they declared, he also missed what actually was there -- namely, a critique of ultra-far-right conspiracists like Willard Cleon Skousen.

"Skousen's personal position," wrote a dismayed Quigley, "seems to me perilously close to the 'exclusive uniformity' which I see in Nazism and in the Radical Right in this country. In fact, his position has echoes of the original Nazi 25-point plan."

Hey, it may be that Glenn Beck is uncovering true radicals within the Obama White House -- though all we've seen so far is a McCarthyite smear job of Van Jones and his fellow "czars" and some videotaped corruption within a community-volunteer organization that has no official or other connection to the White House.

But what about the far-right radicals lurking in Glenn Beck's own closet? It might be time to take a longer and deeper look.

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