Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christian Right conspiracy-mongering

(Note 12/16/2012: this was a post of mine from around 2004-5 that somehow seems to have become lost in cyberspace. I'm re-posting it now.)

One of the more notable manifestations of Christian Right conspiracy theorizing was Pat Robertson's book The New World Order (1991). In it, he described a conspiratorial theory of Western history in which dark forces have been working against God and his Christian people since the French Revolution or so.

Michael Lind reviewed this tract in 1995 for the New York Review of Books: Rev. Robertson's Grand International Conspiracy Theory 02/02/95 issue (the online version is available only in the subscription archive). It's a shame the Review doesn't make this essay freely available on the Web, because it's a very good description of the dark side of the Christian Right brand of Christianity. Robertson's book is a collection of favorite far-right tales about the centuries-long conspiracy. If there are "classics" of such things, this could probably be considered a classic of what Richard Hofstadter famously described as "the paranoid style in American politics." And, as Lind points out, Robertson's brand of it, along with the organizational clout of his Christian Coalition group, has attracted some respectable Republican admirers (or at least panderers):

Among the conservative politicians and polemicists who have addressed the Christian Coalition's "Road to Victory" conferences are Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp, Oliver North, William Bennett, William Kristol, Jesse Helms, David Brock, and Dinesh D'Souza. Not only do mainstream conservatives avoid criticizing Robertson and his movement, they rush to their defense in print. When the Anti-Defamation League, in 1994, issued a report critical of the religious right, conservatives like William Bennett, Irving Kristol and his son, William, and Midge Decter denounced the supposed "anti-Christian" and "anti-religious" bias of the ADL and of the media in general. Bennett, for example, has written that "Christians active in politics are now on the receiving end of an extraordinary campaign of bias and prejudice."
William "I love Vegas" Bennett's comment about the "bias and prejudice" against Christians is one of the endless examples of the victimization whining by white Christian Republicans that is not only an example of the "paranoid style", but incredibly tedious as well as amazingly callous toward Christians in countries like Saudi Arabia or china where they really are persecuted. But, oh, what a Faustian bargain the country-club Republicans have made with Christian Right:

The chief motive for conservative appeasement of Robertson and the religious right is strategic; as the editor of a leading conservative magazine explained to me in 1992, "Of course they're mad, but we need their votes." Such conservatives are so impressed with the political power of the Christian Coalition that they even refrain from criticizing the religious right's "biblical" economic proposals, like the banning of usury and the abolition of debts in a periodic "year of jubilee." In addition, many Jewish neoconservatives value fundamentalist support for American military and economic subsidies to Israel. Writing in Commentary in 1984, Irving Kristol called on American Jews to recognize that American Protestant fundamentalists are "strongly pro-Israel." Excusing an evangelical leader who said that God does not hear the prayers of Jews, Kristol wrote: "Why should Jews care about the theology of a fundamentalist preacher?... What do such theological abstractions matter as against the mundane fact that this same preacher is vigorously pro-Israel?"
In fact, the "pro-Israel" position of the Christian Right normally translate into support for the settler movement (the biggest obstacle to a Middle East peace), advocacy for the hardlines positions of the Israeli Likud Party and bitter opposition to any meaningful attempt by an Israeli government to achieve a practical peace agreement with the Palestinians. But, in fact, the fundamentalist Christian supposed love for Israel is based on very traditional Christian attitudes toward Jews. Attitudes which historically have borne some very poisonous fruit. Lind quotes the Rev. Robertson's book:

Indeed, it may well be that men of goodwill like Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush, who sincerely want a larger community of nations living at peace in our world, are in reality unknowingly and unwittingly carrying out the mission and mouthing the phrases of a tightly knit cabal whose goal is nothing less than a new order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer and his followers.
This Luciferian conspiracy to bring peace to the world began, in Robertson's view, with a group called the Illuminati, which successfully took over the Freemasons. Hofstadter credits the Anti-Masonic Party with being the first organized manifestation of the paranoid style in politics in the US. And how did peace on earth, good will to men and all that become a Hellish goal? With funding from Jewish financiers, the Illuminati/Masons caused the French Revolution. As Robertson describes it:

The slaughter that followed was not merely an assault on the king and the aristocracy—what was called the ancien regime - it was an assault against everyone, even the leaders of the Reign of Terror that followed on the heels of the revolution. The satanic carnage that the Illuminati brought to France was the clear predecessor of the bloodbaths and successive party purges visited on the Soviet Union by the communists under both Lenin and Stalin.
Then the Illuminati/Masons - with Jewish money, of course - incited the European revolutions of 1848, in this view. The Revolutions of 1848 are not that well known in the US, but those revolutions came close to sweeping away much of the old monarchical order in continental Europe. Even the Habsburgs had to abandon Vienna to the democratic revolutionaries for a while. These revolutions are one of the most important milestones in the history of democracy, in Europe and the world. To Robertson, they were a Luciferian plot bankrolled by Jewish money. In this paragraph, Lind points out one of the standard slimy verbal tricks of the Radical Right, one to keep an eye out for if you are ever trolling around the sewer to far-right ideology:

Marx and Engels, though, were given direction by another Jew, who happened also to be one of the early advocates of a Jewish state: "The precise connecting link between the German Illuminati and the beginning of world communism was furnished by a German radical named Moses Hess" (p. 69). (Note Robertson's use here, as in his descriptions of other Jews later, of the adjective "German" rather than "Jewish." This does not necessarily mean much, since the adjective "German" or "European" frequently refers to Jews in the American literature of anti-Semitism.) Just as the Rothschilds presided over the marriage of Illuminism and Freemasonry, so Moses Hess, the secret Illuminist, is the true father of world communism. This is the first mention in Robertson's book of that longstanding anti-Semitic myth, the Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy. It is not the last.
One of the more vomit-inducing aspects of Robertson's account of the American struggle with this Jewish conspiracy is that he tries to make Andrew Jackson (who was a Mason, by the way) and Abraham Lincoln heroes of the fight against the Jew/Mason/Illuminati plot. Lind elaborates:

What was the goal of these international bankers who were controlled, ultimately, by Satan, through the invisible but powerful Illuminated Freemasons? Robertson's answer comes close to endorsing one of the gravest anti-Semitic slanders of all - the claim that wealthy, cosmopolitan Jews incite wars in order to make money as war profiteers.
And he quotes Robertson on this topic:

The money barons of Europe, who had established privately owned central banks like the Bank of England, found in war the excuse to make large loans to sovereign nations from money that they created out of nothing to be repaid by taxes from the people of the borrowing nations. The object of the lenders was to stimulate government deficit spending and subsequent borrowing. War served that purpose nicely, but from 1945 to 1990 the full mobilization for the Cold War and the resultant massive national borrowings accompanied the result just as well without a full-scale shooting war. [p. 122, emphasis added {by Lind}]
Yes, according to Robertson, even the Cold War was part of the Big Jewish Plot. Well, you get the drift. The Council on Foreign Relations, one of the stock bogeymen of the John Birch Society crowd, figures in Robertson's theory as one of the main instruments of the grand conspiracy, which unites international (Jewish) banking to Communism and war profiteering. Quoting Robertson again:

In fact, is there not a possibility that the Wall Street bankers, who have so enthusiastically financed Bolshevism in the Soviet Union since 1917, did so not for the purpose of promoting world communism but for the purpose of saddling the Soviet Union with a totally wasteful and inefficient system that in turn would force the Soviet government to be dependent on Western bankers for its survival?
Are you following this? Yes, this is how one of the most influential Christian Right leaders in America sees the grand sweep of history. It's worth listening closely whenever Christian Right types start talking about Jews. In The New World Order, Robertson says that the Holocaust was a warm-up job by Satan for what he intends to do to Christians in America, a process Robertson thought was well under way in the US in 1991. This would be back when Old Man Bush was president. And the apocalyptic notions promoted by the Christian Right - based on a reading of the Scriptures that is anything but "literal" - is often the vehicle for some of their most appalling notions. Lind:

In his book The New Millennium, published in 1990, Robertson explicitly set forth his views about Jews and Israel. In the rapidly approaching Last Days, Israel will be destroyed: "That tiny little nation will find itself all alone in the world. Then according to the Bible, the Jews will cry out to the one they have so long rejected...." The destruction of Israel will only be possible, however, because of American acquiescence: "One day a vote against Israel will come in the United Nations when the United States neither abstains or uses its veto in the Security Council to protect Israel."

The US will abandon Israel, it seems, because American Christians, despite warnings by their leaders against anti-Semitism, will turn in wrath against the "cosmopolitan, liberal, secular Jews" who want "unrestricted freedom for smut and pornography and the murder of the unborn." Robertson writes of "the ongoing attempt of liberal Jews in America to undermine the public strength of Christianity" and notes that "the liberal, wealthy Jews voted for Democratic candidates Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis, not Reagan and Bush." ... Robertson's argument is that the destruction of Israel in the near future, though ordained by God, may be hastened if "wealthy" and "cosmopolitan" Jews foolishly provoke America's Christian majority, which is represented today, it must be presumed, by Robertson's own Christian Coalition.
And Lind also observes about fundamentalist apocalyptic thinking:

Apart from its emphasis on the United States rather than Nazi Germany, Robertson's elaborate conspiracy theory of world politics differs from populist and fascist conspiracy theories in one significant respect: it does not resort to overt anti-Semitism. This last reflects the influence of premillennial Protestant fundamentalism, which holds that the reestablishment of the State of Israel is the prelude to the Last Days, when most Jews will be destroyed and when the remnant will convert to Christianity. But the conservative Jews who defend Robertson in Commentary apparently do not realize that fundamentalist support for Israel is not incompatible with dislike and resentment of American Jews, especially liberal Jews, of a kind that Robertson has repeatedly expressed. (my emphasis)
I would say that "not incompatible", which certainly accurate is a mild description of the relationship of this theory to anti-Semitism. In fact, it comes from the aspect of Christian tradition that was most deeply hostile to Jews and Judaism. As the highlighted passage just quoted shows, this fundamentalist view assumes that God has designed an End of Days scenario in which "most Jews will be destroyed." It's safe to say than any view that looks forward to the day when "most Jews will be destroyed" is a fundamentally anti-Semitic theory. Lind in his review compares at some length parallel claims about the Jewish conspiracy in history to that of William Guy Carr in a book called Pawns in the Game, which Lind calls "a post - World War II defense of Hitler and fascism." Although Robertson doesn't explicitly defend the latter, Lind shows with long quotations how much Robertson embraces the same lines of argumentation. Lind's concluding paragraphs are well worth noting:

The evidence most relevant to the question of whether Robertson is an anti-Semite is found in the details of his conspiracy theory as set forth in The New World Order. Between the Illuminati and the Freemasons the link is the Frankfurt branch of the Rothschild family. "Lord Rothschild" - presumably Nathan Mayer Rothschild, who became a peer in 1885 - was the key link connecting the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy with the British Empire, through the Milner circle and Cecil Rhodes. Between world Freemasonry and world communism, the critical link is provided by Moses Hess. Between the Judeo-Masonic-Bolshevik "European bankers," the Ivy League American establishment, and Lenin's revolutionary Bolsheviks, the key links are two Jews, Paul Warburg and Jacob Schiff. Not only does the "octopus" control everything, but many of the major "tentacles" turn out to be Jews.

Robertson's theories about Jewish bankers and Jewish revolutionaries are central to his conspiracy theory, which in turn is central to his vision of his own destiny, his movement, and his ambitions for the American Right and the Republican party and the United States of America. Not since Father Coughlin or Henry Ford has a prominent white American so boldly and unapologetically blamed the disasters of modern world history on the machinations of international high finance in general and on a few influential Jews in particular. And not since Huey Long, with his Share Our Wealth movement, has there been a radical populist movement as powerful in American politics as Robertson's Christian Coalition.

Much has been written in the American press about neo-fascist movements in Italy, Germany, Japan, and France. But the United States is the only industrial democracy in which a far-right political leader in one of only two major parties has created a base of support so powerful that conventional politicians and intellectuals in his party feel they must defend him from charges of anti-Semitism. They have so far managed to ignore the fact that his best-selling book purveys the Illuminati–Freemason–Communist–High Finance conspiracy theory of world history familiar from generations of anti-Semitic propaganda. What would such conservatives, particularly Jewish neo-conservatives, be saying if Louis Farrakhan had written a book that made the New York Times best-seller list and claimed that Jewish financiers like the Rothschilds, Paul Warburg, and Jacob Schiff were leaders in a two-century old Freemason-Communist-Banker conspiracy to exploit American taxpayers and the members of the armed forces in America by stirring up deficit-funded wars?

Pat Robertson has written such a book. He has not repudiated a single word of it. Ralph Reed and the conservatives who dominate the newly ascendant Republican party would prefer that we continue to ignore it. (my emphasis)
That description of Robertson's poisonous ideology is a good one to remember the next time you hear some OxyContin Radio jock ranting about anti-Semitism in Europe, pretending to be against it. Anyone who ignores this deep strain of ugly religious bigotry in the Christian Right is just closing their eyes to reality.

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