The 5000 Year Leap, the Naked Communist, and the Man Who Changed Glenn Beck's Life

Paul Harvey

Alexander Zaitchik, "Meet the Man Who Changed Glenn Beck's Life" (H/T Matt Hedstrom), is a fascinating account of the subterranean influence of W. Cleon Skousen, the long life of the paranoid style in American politics, and the recent revival of far-right religiosity. It reminds me much of Lisa McGirr's coverage of the catalyzing role of the Birchers in the late 1950s/early 1960s -- they were necessary to energize a movement that later had to leave them behind as a price of entering the mainstream. Zaitchik explains,

"A once-famous anti-communist 'historian,' Skousen was too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era, but Glenn Beck has now rescued him from the remainder pile of history, and introduced him to a receptive new audience. . . . When he died in 2006 at the age of 92,Skousen had authored more than a dozen books and pamphlets on the Red Menace, New World Order conspiracy, Christian child rearing, and Mormon end-times prophecy. It is a body of work that does much to explain Glenn Beck's bizarre conspiratorial mash-up of recent months, which decries a new darkness at noon and finds strange symbols carefully coded in the retired lobby art of Rockefeller Center."

While I found this a great piece about a figure I knew little about, I'm not so sure about Zaitchik's connecting this to Republican Party politics; the kind of paranoia discussed here tends to be more all-encompassing than that, as Tenured Radical notes in her astutely engaging first-hand "accidental tourist" report on last weekend's DC protests. She concludes:

a group that is so internally fractured, unfocused and opposed to the political system is not a powerful interest group but a Frankenstein monster. These folks hate the Republicans too, and I think a lot of them are disappointed Goldwaterites for whom the conservative revolution that we historians are so fascinated by never happened. Their history is a story of decline, and of brave individuals fighting back against freeloaders, financiers and foreigners.


Christopher said…
Interesting article. Thanks for pointing it out, Paul. We've discussed some of these issues before here and over at the Juvenile Instructor (see here and here).

Skousen really is an interesting figure who deserves more attention, I think. As a side note, he was the home teacher (Mormon priesthood representative assigned to visit and fellowship several families within a congregation each month) assigned to my staunchly Democrat grandfather and grandmother when they first moved to Provo in the early 1960s. My grandma says she doesn't remember much discussion of politics, but did remember that he regularly brought up his apocalyptic theories during their visits.

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