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From “Birthers” who claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States to counter-jihadists who believe that the Constitution is in imminent danger of being replaced with Sharia law, conspiratorial beliefs have become an increasingly common feature of our public discourse. In this deeply researched, fascinating exploration of the ideas and rhetoric that have animated extreme, mostly right-wing movements throughout American history, Arthur Goldwag reveals the disturbing pattern of fear-mongering and ...
From “Birthers” who claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States to counter-jihadists who believe that the Constitution is in imminent danger of being replaced with Sharia law, conspiratorial beliefs have become an increasingly common feature of our public discourse. In this deeply researched, fascinating exploration of the ideas and rhetoric that have animated extreme, mostly right-wing movements throughout American history, Arthur Goldwag reveals the disturbing pattern of fear-mongering and demagoguery that runs through the American grain.
The New Hate takes readers on a surprising, often shocking, sometimes bizarrely amusing tour through the swamps of nativism, racism, and paranoid speculations about money that have long thrived on the American fringe. Goldwag shows us the parallels between the hysteria about the Illuminati that wracked the new American Republic in the 1790s and the McCarthyism that roiled the 1950s, and he discusses the similarities between the anti–New Deal forces of the 1930s and the Tea Party movement today. He traces Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism and the John Birch Society’s “Insiders” back to the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and he relates white supremacist nightmares about racial pollution to nineteenth-century fears of papal plots.
“The most salient feature of what I have come to call the New Hate,” Goldwag writes, “is its sameness across time and space. The most depressing thing about the demagogues who tirelessly exploit it—in pamphlets and books and partisan newspapers two centuries ago, on Web sites, electronic social networks, and twenty-four-hour cable news today—is how much alike they all turn out to be.”
Praise for The New Hate:
"Titillating, shocking, brilliant, and often hilarious . . . a mesmerizing tour through the landscape of nutbaggery in the US."
"The most up-to-date. . . . The best written and the least paranoid [book] about paranoid haters."
—In These Times
"Arthur Goldwag’s dig through the history of American hate groups and haters . . . finds plenty of demented, paranoid, vitriolic dirt. . . . Goldwag is at his best when finding xenophobic parallels between anti-Catholic nativists and flamboyant anti-Semites, or language shared by extremist critics of FDR and Obama."
—The Portland Mercury
"A provocative, intellectually rigorous book written clearly and with an admirable lack of hatred."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"Goldwag has performed a valuable service in tracing the history of the new hate to the old."
—Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler and How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III
"A comprehensive history of hatred—it’s a history of misunderstanding fueled by a brand of ignorance so unbelievably irrational, so egregiously wrong, so utterly antihuman, that it staggers the imagination of thinking adults. What Goldwag shows clearly is that the new hate is the old hate of anti-Semitism, overt racism, and paranoid conspiracy warmed up and served cold."
"Fantastic—well written, clear-headed, sober. . . . Arthur Goldwag’s The New Hate helps lay bare and make excruciatingly clear why the populist right is what it is at present. . . . A riveting read. . . . If you’re just coming to (socio-political) consciousness and want to understand how we’ve moved in the ways we have for the past decade+, this book’s where to go."
—Weston Cutter, Corduroy Books
“Loaded with insightful and obscure information about groups and movements, from the John Birch Society and the Freemasons to the tea partiers and ‘Birthers’. . . . If you are easily roused into rage by the blind ignorance of others, this is not a book for bedtime reading.”
“A lucid and detailed account of the irrational and bigoted right-wing populists and their conspiracy theories of power in the United States. These conspiracists are like intellectual vampires sucking the blood out of the body politic and leaving behind a weakened democracy in a fading twilight for civil society. Goldwag illuminates the conspiracists to reverse their trajectory of increasing influence, which is a periodic problem for our nation.”
—Chip Berlet, co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America
“Arthur Goldwag confronts conspiracist fantasies and paranoia with reason and humanity–not to mention the briskness and drama of great historical storytelling. [His] dissection of how the political fringe has edged into mainstream culture deserves the attention and admiration of everyone who is concerned about the coarsening of our politics.”
—Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation
“The New Hate is a timely examination of the deep roots of the conspiracy theories that have animated the American radical right for more than a century. This important book gives readers the background they need to understand the astounding extremist rhetoric that now passes for mainstream political debate.”
—Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center
“This exhumation of the deep and gnarled roots of the American conspiratorial tradition could not be more timely. Combining a sweeping historical eye and sharp contemporary analysis, Arthur Goldwag explains not just why American politics in the Age of Obama is infected by a virulent strain of right-wing conspiracism–but why it has always been thus. . . . The New Hate covers everything you need to know about the paranoid style in American politics.”
—Alexander Zaitchik, author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance
“An informative and lively history of organized hate groups and their role in U.S. politics. . . . A witty narrator, Goldwag combines his research with contemporary analysis to explain what conspiracy theories all have in common and to show how the new hate is the same as the old, though it’s now ‘hiding in plain sight’. . . . Exhaustively well researched and passionately written. . . . Goldwag excels at showing how the obsessions of the past connect with those of the present.”
“Wide-ranging narrative. . . . A useful primer on the nation's ‘long-standing penchant for conspiratorial thinking, its never-ending quest for scapegoats’. . . . [Goldwag’s] thoroughness in exploring this subject is impressive.’”
“A well-reported study of disaffected groups who hate other groups whose members look or think differently than the haters.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Goldwag’s book makes a wonderful complement to Frank’s more openly polemical analysis [in Pity the Billionaire]. While Frank stresses the unique aspects of the Tea Party movement, Goldwag stresses its continuity with the past (the ‘new hate,’ he argues, is the old hate repackaged). Between them, they get to the heart of a movement that it’s all too easy to dismiss out of hand. Both books are excellent, but together they’re essential.”
Birthers, Birchers, and Death Panels
On February 18, 2010, The New York Times ran a story about a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement. “Urged on by conservative commentators,” it said, “waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists. . . . In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.”
It wasn’t exactly news to me. In the fall of 2009, I published a book called Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies. I had written it to satisfy my curiosity about, as one of my blurbers put it, “the wilder reaches of human belief”—and, more particularly, about totalizing systems of thought and faith, a subject I had become interested in while I was researching my previous book, ’Isms & ’Ologies. By the time I finished writing it, I’d learned all I thought I’d ever need to know about the New World Order and its demonic financiers, from the Templars of the twelfth century to the Illuminati, the Elders of Zion, and the Bilderberg elites today.
I delivered Cults to my publisher just after Election Day 2008. When the copyedited manuscript came back to me in January, I couldn’t help noticing that the controversy about the president-elect’s birth certificate wasn’t fading; in fact, it was beginning to gain some real traction. I considered adding a paragraph or two to bring the book up to date but after due reflection decided that references to such a transitory political derangement might just as easily date it. “Who will remember any of this in six months?” I thought.
Had I ventured to define birtherism back then, I would have called it the wishful notion, cherished by a hard core of Obama haters, that he is a citizen of Kenya or Indonesia and hence ineligible to be president. Birthers believe that a sinister cabal created a false identity for Obama that would enable him to be elected president despite his foreign birth, one that was sophisticated enough to pass muster at the highest levels yet so shoddy that anyone with a modem and a few minutes to spare could crack it. His Social Security number, for example, had originally been assigned to a Connecticut resident who was born in the 1890s, and it was just one of the dozens that Obama was purported to have used; the computer-generated shortform birth certificate that he did provide was said to lack the raised seal that would have ensured its authenticity. And why, they asked (until April 27, 2011, when he did), didn’t he release the handwritten long-form certification of live birth that was signed by the doctor who delivered him? Such a conspiracy would have required either supernatural forethought or time travel, as not only is a birth certificate with a raised seal and signature on file in Hawaii’s office of vital records but contemporaneous announcements of Obama’s birth were printed in two Honolulu newspapers.
But citizen or not, who’s to say that Obama’s not a Communist sleeper, a Manchurian candidate who wasn’t just destined for the presidency but literally bred for it? Lisa Schiffren—who made her name writing speeches for Dan Quayle when he was vice president, most famously the one that attacked television’s Murphy Brown for having a child out of wedlock—played with these notions in a piece she wrote for National Review Online in February 2008. “I don’t know how Barack Obama’s parents met,” she noted, before going on to pointedly assert that mixed-race children of Obama’s age tend to be “the product of very culturally specific unions . . . For a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics. . . . It was, of course, an explicit tactic of the Communist party to stir up discontent among American blacks, with an eye toward using them as the leading edge of the revolution.” Other bloggers have speculated that Obama’s real father was Malcolm X or the Communist writer Frank Marshall Davis.
By the time my book hit the stores, I’d seen the words “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” printed in ten-foot-tall letters on a billboard beside Interstate 78, not far from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Not just birthers but Tea Partiers were ubiquitous on talk radio, cable TV, and conservative Web sites like Newsmax, Townhall, and World-NetDaily. Rumors of one world government, creeping Socialism, and Latin American plots to conquer and annex the southwestern states, once the stuff of cheaply printed samizdat publications and shortwave radio broadcasts from backwoods compounds with biblical names, were being trumpeted by big-name pundits and even some elected officials. The Five Thousand Year Leap: 28 Great Ideas That Changed the World, a thirty-year-old book by the late anti-Communist conspiracy theorist W. Cleon Skousen, was perched atop the Amazon best-seller list with a new foreword by cable TV and talk radio’s Glenn Beck.
Now best remembered in far-right-wing Mormon circles, Skousen drew a straight line from the biblical patriarchs through America’s founding fathers and found them equally inspired, but in general he took a more dire view of things; most of the time he seemed convinced that he was living in the Republic’s last days. “There is an extremely high-powered, well-financed campaign afoot to abolish the United States Constitution,” he wrote in 1971 in Law & Order (a trade magazine for policemen that he edited), sounding uncommonly then as Glenn Beck does now. And as long as we’re on the subject of the then hugely popular, agenda-setting Beck (with the expiration of his contract with Fox News, Beck’s future as a TV personality is up in the air), most of his September 2, 2009, Fox News show was devoted to an exposé of the subliminal propaganda that he’d discerned embedded in art deco sculptures, murals, and wall friezes at Rockefeller Center—stunning proof, for those who know how to see it, that its builder, John D. Rockefeller, was a crypto-Communist. It was hardly a coincidence, Beck insinuated, that Fox News’s archrival MSNBC—the employer of Beck’s ideological adversaries and ratings rivals Keith Olbermann (who has since left the network) and Rachel Maddow—would be headquartered in a place so replete with images of hammers and sickles. Oddly enough, Fox News’s headquarters is also located in Rockefeller Center, albeit in a newer, more reliably capitalistic precinct of the vast complex. Walled off from its neighbors’ insidious influences, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, one can only presume, is the West Berlin of television news.
But it wasn’t just conspiracies that people were talking about as my book went out into the world; secret societies and cults were enjoying a renaissance too. Stewart Rhodes’s Oath Keepers, which enlists soldiers and policemen to swear to disobey any orders they deem unconstitutional, was just getting off the ground. Some of the most vociferous early opponents of health-care reform—the ones who first started painting Hitler mustaches on pictures of Barack Obama—turned out to be not Tea Partiers exactly but followers of Lyndon LaRouche.
On the wider cultural front, the novelist Dan Brown, whose megabest-selling Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code had revived some of the most egregious anti-Catholic stereotypes of the Know-Nothing era, was getting ready to launch his next blockbuster. Instead of scheming cardinals and Opus Dei hit men, The Lost Symbol focused on Freemasons in Washington, D.C., with all of their esoteric secrets and hidden histories. In Brown’s telling, the awesomely powerful Masons—billionaires, politicians, and paradigm-changing scientists—not only quaff rare vintages from human skulls but are on the brink of discovering the secret of eternal life.
Ingenious deconstructions of videos by rappers like Jay-Z, Rihanna, and the cult star Lady Gaga were popping up all over the Internet, exposing their cultic and conspiratorial content. The 2009 MTV Music Awards, the Web site the Vigilant Citizen reported, was “a large scale occult ceremony, complete with an initiation, a prayer and even a blood sacrifice.” Millions of people were downloading documentaries like Zeitgeist: The Movie (2007) and Zeitgeist: Addendum (2008), which a reviewer for the Web aggregator Boing Boing likened to “the John Birch Society on acid.” We were living in strange times.
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