Apocalyptic visions

Michael Barkun. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. University of California Press, 2003.
In this book Michael Barkun, author of books such as Religion and the Radical Right and Disaster and the Millennium looks at the territory which our friend Roger Sandell used to examine. This is the world of 'fusion paranoia', (though Barkun never uses those words), in particular the fusion of traditional radical right conspiracy theories with modern beliefs of alien intervention. 

Barkun enters deep into Magonia territory as he follows the careers of the likes of William Cooper, Jim Keith and David Icke who have straddled the boundaries of the secular and supernatural conspiracies, and how ufology and new world order myths permeate.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this fusion paranoia is the incorporation of traditional anti-Semitic myths such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion into the New Age milieu, through the writings of such as William Cooper and David Icke. In other cases such as the Hartoon 'changelings' of E.J and Doris Ecker and George Green the antisemitism is even more blatant.

Bakun notes the early appearance of this material in the writings of George Hunt Williamson, a disciple of pre-war fascist leader William Dudley Pelley and his occultist sidekick Guy Ballard. Barkun might have pointed out that Williamson, along with contactees such as Adamski, linked his anti-Semitic views with 'leftist', anti-big business and notionally pacifist views, echoing earlier generations of American populism. These views led the FBI to suspect that the contactees were spreading Soviet propaganda, and we should note the antisemitism and mixture of radical right and left ideas which permeated Stalin's National Bolshevik regime.

Barkun also notes the connections between alien abduction, Satanic abuse, and 'Project Monarch' literature, with their themes of sexual violence and exploitation by sinister forces, with earlier generations of anti-Catholic 'secrets of the convent' type of literature. He briefly comments on the appropriation of antisemitic imagery by the alien abduction literature. While his particular suggestion that the 'bad' aliens incorporate antisemitic stereotypes, (opposed to the 'good' blue eyes blonds) is too simplistic by far, there are subtler connections. For example David Jacobs' 'hybrids' are perceived as hyper-sexual predators who threaten 'our' women, and who contaminate the gene line, playing on America fears of miscegenation and echoing both anti-Jewish and anti-black stereotypes.

Barkun's book reminds us that
Islamic fundamentalism is just
one of many rough
beasts sloughing our way

Jacobs in The Threat also evokes New World Order style fears of the dictatorship to be established when the Grays take over. Both Jacobs and Hopkins present the Gray's as soulless demonic beings living in a 'socialistic' hive style society (more classic radical right fears).

Beyond the New World Order and ufological
fusion, and the fusion of left and right conspiracy theories, there are also fusions of material from both secular, traditional Christian and New Age motives. Thus the Anti-Christ and dispensationalist theology might be merged with the prophecies of Nostradamus and material derived from theosophy and its offshoots. Furthermore conspiracy material is presented alongside a wide range of New Age issues such as environmentalism, health foods, alternative medicine, auras, spiritualism and the like.

This material is not confined to the fringes; Barkun notes its impact in mass TV and film shows such as the X-Files, with its paranoid vision of the overarching super-conspiracy in which no-one can be trusted. This is by no means confined to the United States, and a wide range of fusion ideas circulate in Britain.

One of the most disturbing aspects is the embedding of Holocaust denial in a wider nexus of conspiracy theories, such as the belief that the lunar landing was a hoax. As more right wing conspiracy theories permeate (through for example the surprisingly popular works of David Icke) through the cultic milieu and into the wider culture, it becomes less of a surprise that a recent opinion poll found that 15% of respondents said that they believed that the number of deaths in the Holocaust had been greatly exaggerated.

The growing academic interest in 'stigmatized knowledge' itself indicates that this material cannot simply be dismissed as the ravings of cranks; it only gets produced because there is someone out there to buy it. In a world in which the boundaries of fiction and reality are blurring, where there are ever increasing numbers of semi-educated young people with no grand vision to fill there lives, where there is a distinct lack of grand visions all round.

OK, although ideas such as building the British Empire, bringing on the Socialist Utopia, colonising the Moon or ending world poverty seem hopelessly naive or just plain wrong with historical hindsight, one can't help feel that they offered some sorts of emotional satisfaction that a lifetime of nothing more than slogging away in a series of short contract jobs for Feed Us with your Credit Card Unlimited doesn't -- that those who are not inclined to simply drug and booze themselves into oblivion will look for anything, absolutely anything that offers as escape route. Barkun's book reminds us that Islamic fundamentalism is just one of many rough beasts sloughing our way. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 85, July 2004

1 comment:

Charles said...

No event in human history has been studied more thoroughly and carefully than the Holocaust. Thousands of thesis and dissertations papers have poured over mountains of data, from physical evidence and anecdotal testimony to captured German war documents. Virtually everyone with a PhD in History will stake their career on the fact that millions of Jews were systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany. One can no more "revise" this fact than one can revise the existence of gravity. Wannsee Conference records prove that Nazis planned the extermination of Jews as, "The Final Solution." German concentration camp records prove that it was carried out.

Whenever we stand up to those who deny or minimize genocide we send a critical message to the world. As we continue to live in an age of genocide and ethnic cleansing, we must repel the broken ethics of our ancestors, or risk a dreadful repeat of past transgressions.

Holocaust deniers ply their mendacious poison everywhere, especially with young people on the Internet. Deniers seek to distort the truth in a way that promotes antagonism against the object of their hatred, or to deny the culpability of their ancestors and heroes. If we ignore them, they will twist the minds of countless young people, creating a new generation of those who deny the facts of the worst episode of genocide in history. Freedom of speech and the press is a symbol of a healthy society. Yet, since no crime in history is so heinous as the Holocaust, its memory must be accurately preserved, to protect our children and grandchildren.

Museums and mandatory public education are tools to dispel bigotry, especially racial and ethnic hatred. Books, plays, films and presentations can reinforce the veracity of past and present genocides. They help to tell the true story of the perpetrators of genocide; and they reveal the abject terror, humiliation and degradation resulting from blind prejudice. It is therefore essential that we disclose the factual brutality and horror of genocide, combating the deniers’ virulent, inaccurate historical revision. We must protect vulnerable future generations from making the same mistakes.

A world that continues to allow genocide requires ethical remediation. We must insist that religious, racial, ethnic, gender and orientation persecution is wrong; and that tolerance is our progeny's only hope. Only through such efforts can we reveal the true horror of genocide and promote the triumphant spirit of humankind.

Charles Weinblatt
Author, "Jacob's Courage"