Glenn Beck, the Fourth Reich and the fluoridation of precious bodily fluids
October 5, 2009 1:20 PM   Subscribe

A dear family member has become a Glenn Beck devotee, worried about government tyranny &c. On the one hand I think Beck is a classic heel, irresponsible & insincere. On the other hand, I think there is definite value to smart people being highly suspicious of government. What literature or further reading can I suggest that might help relocate this impulse from Fox News Democrat-bashing to a more nonpartisan skepticism? [more inside, including The Rise of the Fourth Reich and the fluoridation of our precious bodily fluids]

I recently read Jim Marrs' The Rise of the Fourth Reich, and I'm of two minds about it. The Marrs book supposes that while the Germans lost in WWII, the Nazi ideology (the fascist melding of industry and the state) only kept propagating as business & industry absorbed displaced German scientists, and that these interests remain highly active in modern society through organizations like the Council of Foreign Relations, etc. Classic conspiracy stuff ... and, yet, I don't know how to disprove it. Marrs is the guy who wrote the book the JFK movie is based on, and I know he's gotten a pretty thorough going-over in that arena from other scholars. But in some ways the thesis of the book is that the ultra-rich want to preserve their dynasties and maximize profits at any(one's) expense, and who doesn't believe that, with or without the Nazi underpinnings? So on the one hand I feel like the book is an interesting exploration of these topics, and on the other hand I know the book's preoccupation with things like occult Nazi time-travel technologies only makes it look silly.

Here's an example: The book deals with the fluoridation of water. Now, the conventional wisdom we all know is that not only is it harmless, but it's good for your teeth. Marrs takes it into Strangelove territory, talking about its impacts on brain function and fertility. But in between those poles is the story that he tells the story of how the federal government began to permit water fluoridation, which takes a waste product from the aluminum industry (fluoride) and turns it into a salable commodity. (Oscar Ewing, who oversaw the US Public Health Service at the time, had previously served as the Aluminum Company of America's counsel.) As Marrs puts it:

They accepted the falsified data published by the U.S.P.H.S. [U.S. Public Health Service] on the order of boss Oscar Ewing, who had been 'rewarded' with $750,000 by fluoride waste producer, Aluminum Co. He then developed the 'public spirit' that impelled him to take a $17,500 job as Federal Security Administrator. He immediately demanded of Congress an appropriation of $2,500,000 for promotion of fluorides by his U.S.P.H.S.

So regardless of the health benefits or detriments of fluoridated water, and whether it's a Nazi or Commie ploy, in the middle of it all is a way for US industry to make money, with somewhat cavalier disregard for the public welfare, and their willingness to manipulate the US gov't to do so. (Or ... not, if someone else knows this story and doesn't think Marrs' facts are straight.) To be this is both heinous and business-as-usual.

So, 1,000 words later, the question: What are good resources for cultivating skepticism and independently minded research that avoid traps of partisanship or lunacy, and is there a history of the modern US that addresses these pernicious (or seemingly pernicious) influences without getting all tinfoil-hat?
posted by blueshammer to Law & Government (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, a lot of words here that I am pretty sure aren’t really all that related to your question. I don’t have a great answer myself, but I would say that metafilter is an example of such a place. Really, anywhere that there is a group of educated people discussing and arguing is bound to make one aware of responsible skepticism.
posted by Think_Long at 1:24 PM on October 5, 2009

In my experience, Jim Marrs's sources, when he cites them, don't bear out the points he claims they bear out. A generally good way to read assertions of fact and arguments from fact skeptically is to go back to the original sources and see if the person is quoting them accurately.

I have not read this particular book by Marrs, so cannot comment on its accuracy in particular. Certainly there was a great deal of leeway offered after the war by the US government to influential and/or useful Germans who had played key roles in the Hitler government: Christopher Simpson's Blowback is a well-researched book on this topic, and Linda Hunt (not the actor) has written a number of articles in venues like The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:31 PM on October 5, 2009

If your friend enjoys the sensationalism / exposé nature of Glenn Beck (though I'm not sure you can really call what he does exposé), why not go to the opposite end of the spectrum and show him some Michael Moore films? The loudness and "gotcha" style might appeal, and Moore actually does often raise really important questions about the way our government is run. (note: I'd probably start with Sicko, since just about everyone can agree that the American health system is screwed)
posted by oinopaponton at 1:31 PM on October 5, 2009

Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky
posted by alon at 1:34 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would suggest becoming acquainted with Austrian economics:,, and his related government website,

and Libertarianism.
posted by torquemaniac at 1:39 PM on October 5, 2009

Conspiracy theories dont make people smart, its makes them dumb. It internalizing this "but what arent they telling us" atittude that only leads to more consporacy theories and the next thing you know you're holding up a "OBAMA IS HITLER" sign at a Tea bagger rally. Teach them skepticism, not conspiracy theories. Teach them how to look at a source critically and how to examine other sources. Teach them to be skeptical of those with the loudest and wildest claims like Beck and Limbaugh. Teach them how to follow the money. Who owns the media they are reading? Who donates to the politicians they support? etc

A lot of this can be gathered easily with the internet. Wikipedia helps and there are several sites that reveal the backgrounds of people like Beck and Limbaugh. Other sites catalogue where a politicians money comes from. As for a single book? Im not certain, but Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things" is a good place to start.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:40 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I suspect that you are in a bit of trouble because you too suspect "big govt," yet you ignore the standing army, with bases over some 1000 places, the social security and many other programs that are via govt and which we like and take for granted and on and any decent historyh of your country and you will see how over time "states rights" gave way to all but in name only and the govt got big and powerful (note stimulous and bailouts)...Beck is riding a wave of anti this and anti that, and you will find it hard to change anyone's mind if they too feel "left out."
But Chomsky (aboive) 'good as are other radical writers, who depart from conventional writers.
posted by Postroad at 1:40 PM on October 5, 2009

I would suggest becoming acquainted with {libertarian websites}

I would suggest that you also read some good critiques of the philosophies expressed at the sites above and then make up your mind on that.

For a critique of "Austrian economics" (a phrase that actual Austrian economists hate), this is quite precise.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:51 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

^ Just linking to sites that would help explain Beck's viewpoint. Not proselytizing.
posted by torquemaniac at 2:02 PM on October 5, 2009

Maybe he could be converted from right-wing extremism to conservativism? A great read is John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience. Dean is a Goldwater conservative who explains what went wrong with the conservative movement.
posted by zompist at 2:05 PM on October 5, 2009

I recently read Jim Marrs' The Rise of the Fourth Reich, and I'm of two minds about it. The Marrs book supposes that while the Germans lost in WWII, the Nazi ideology (the fascist melding of industry and the state)

I have a master's degree in German History. Marrs has no clue what he is talking about. Fascist ideology does NOT involve the melding of industry and state. Frankly, the closer you look at Fascist ideology, the less coherence you begin to see, i.e. Drucker's famous quote from a Nazi agricultural speaker: “We don't want lower bread prices, we don't want higher bread prices, we don't want unchanged bread prices - we want National-Socialist bread prices!”

The more you look at Nazi ideology, you see complete incoherence on most issues except the need to stop the Jews and the need to obtain "living space" for the German people in European Russia. These guys were geniuses of politics and nothing else, (as indicated by their complete ass-kicking by the Allies).

I would just calmly "no drama Obama" refute, with citations, anything your dear relative attempts to give you that is a parrot of Beck. The White House and the DCCC have pretty good refutation websites. The key is this: People are afraid. Beck offers certainty and control. Focus on the lies, while reassuring him that Obama has it all under control. (which he does from the vantage point here in D.C.).

Also, the Austrian School sucks IMHO.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:05 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Like most things in life, there's no easy way to do this ("here Uncle Reactionary, read this book!"). My only suggestion would be to watch Beck with him, take notes, and come back in 24 or 48 hours and provide refutations of things where Beck is simply wrong. Be aware that this is no guarantee - changing minds is difficult. The human brain has a well documented proclivity to seek confirmation and discard or downplay objectionable evidence.
posted by kavasa at 2:12 PM on October 5, 2009

^ Just linking to sites that would help explain Beck's viewpoint.

I don't think those sites will explain Beck's viewpoint, though (and thus my confusion). Beck doesn't really build on "Austrian" economic theory, unless he's done something very different in the last month or so.

I thought this article offered interesting insights into Glenn Beck's source materials.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:13 PM on October 5, 2009

Thirding Chomsky, I'd also include A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn and, more recently, Letters to a Young Contrarian, by Christopher Hitchens. Chomsky and Zinn have left-wing politics, but they certainly have no love for most Democratic politicians.
posted by jalexc at 2:24 PM on October 5, 2009

^Interesting. I've never watched Beck - just going on his reputation as a Libertarian and assuming he follows the Austrian school as most Libertarians tend to do.
posted by torquemaniac at 2:26 PM on October 5, 2009

I've never watched Beck - just going on his reputation as a Libertarian

He's not really in step with any of the mainstream Libertarian traditions in the US. He's a lot closer to the nativist traditions a la the Know-Nothing Party, without the explicit racism and anti-Catholicism.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:53 PM on October 5, 2009

Noam Chomsky, Noam Chomsky, Noam Chomsky.

Also, what the heck, why not try out some Michael Moore? You'll probably get an initial kneejerk, but once it's explained that the style is just like Glenn Beck's and it's chock full of Clinton-bashing, you might just flip the right switch.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:14 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wealth and Democracy by Kevin Phillips is a must read.
posted by Max Power at 3:25 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with others: just find factual data about the stuff your family member hears.

I got into a discussion on Facebook recently with someone from high school who was spouting this garbage. She forwarded me some of the 'news' that she receives--actually, emails from highly partisan organizations. It took literally seconds of research to show how full of shit they were.

One example: Obama is trying to take away our guns, referring to HR 45, which the administration was sneaking past us via some nefarious congressional tactics.

It took me seconds to see that it this bill introduced months ago by a single congressman, no co-signers, and assigned to committee where no action has taken place (where it will clearly die).

Of course, my friend was not in the least interested in actual facts, just reinforcement of her existing narrow-minded, facile beliefs, so my refutations met deaf ears.

Good luck! I hope you have better success than I had.
posted by tippiedog at 3:26 PM on October 5, 2009

[Beware, long post, but it all relates the the original poster's question about Glen beck and conspiracy theories in the end]

Ironmouth - A Degree in German history is tangential to the topic of "Fascism" proper. Strictly speaking, Fascism is a Italian concept that was extended to monstrous degrees by German Nazism.

However, in general terms, Fascism is an ideology that spans all nations in the Modern era. As Roger Griffin would say "Fascism is a political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic [IE apocalyptic] form of populist ultra-nationalism." The nature of a "mythic core" and "ultra nationalism" is going to be unique and seem to grow almost without distinction out of the particular myths and history of the nation so unfortunate as to be afflicted with a viable fascist movement. Fascism literally wears the flag, the history, the culture, the traditions of the nation it grows out of as though those symbols WERE fascist symbols. But each Nation's fascism is, at least superficially, radically different.

So to say your degree in German history makes you an expert in Fascism is like saying my living through the flu a decade ago and seeing what it did to my body makes me a medical expert in all flu everywhere this year. Fascism, like a virus, mutates.

To the point you were refuting, if, hypothetically, there was a nation that viewed its relationship to its financial system as critical to its identity (Say, the relationship the US has with "Capitalism") it would be fair to assume that said nation's Fascism would be closely allied with that financial system, it's mythic history and central, unifying narratives. Capitalistic fascism would fashion itself a "fundamental return to basic Capitalism" etc.

Moreover, since Fascism in the abstract has no natural constituency or base of power it by necessity becomes a parasite on entrenched social, economic and political power structures, including the industrial power structure.

At the point when Fascism DOES become ascendant, you are right, it's policies make no sense, they are merely rhetorical and political dribble derived from some perverted view of the "good old days" and a constantly reconstructed collection of mythic histories, cultural narratives and strange national obsessions.

However, the nature of national jellification of fascist myth-speak, causing the body politic to dissolve into a blob chanting ultra nationalist slogans in unison, leaves plenty of space for unscrupulous cannibalization of various sectors of the previous power structure. The economy becomes run by economic strong men, those in cahoots with the central leadership, and it starts to resemble economic feudalism. In this sense there is a fusing of industry and state... the industry leaders must be cronies with the state, and must further its insane agenda, or risk being ousted by someone more loyal. Fascism doesn't care about competence or the bottom line, only the ability to regurgitate the core mythic BS, usually as embodied by one central "dear leader" or Fuhrer.

And, at last, we get back to the main question of this post. The best way to cultivate skepticism is to realize there is no one you can trust in the end. The conservatives and the moderates both compromised to let Hitler into power, for fear of the communists. IBM supplied computers that cataloged mass killing to make a quick buck. The liberals, communists and (actual) socialists, for selfish reasons, held out for more power trying to "Wait out" Hitler. Anyone could become complicit in the genocide for different conspiratorial reasons. So it is easy to get distracted with conspiracy theory and government skepticism.

But if there is someone who is out there getting you to believe in archaic national symbology that hardly makes any sense to the average person, and tries to convince you that these symbols are signs of impure influences that are hidden and must be violently "cleansed", and tries to de-legitmize the current power structure so that some totally amorphous ultra patriotic organization that shamelessly capitalizes on a moment of national tragedy can have cart blanch to "take us back to the good old days"... then that is not being complicit, or conspiring. That is openly inviting fascism.

(And not to make it unclear where I am coming from re Mr. Beck - his rhetoric is certainly mythic, ultra nationalistic, and total BS.)
posted by DetonatedManiac at 4:09 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Get him a subscription to Reason magazine, which is a libertarian magazine with lots of contrarian articles. It is a mixed bag for most people since it is socially libertarian and economically libertarian (free minds and free markets) and lots of people on either the left or right can't get behind both. I'm not advocating Reason's ideology, but I think it could be a plausible way of transitioning someone from watching Glenn Beck to taking a more intellectual approach to social and economic issues (unlike going from Beck to Chompsky, which is just wishful thinking).
posted by Falconetti at 6:31 PM on October 5, 2009

Why not have him read the original Common Sense by Thomas Paine, so he can see that Mr. Beck either has not or assumes his audience has not or both - that might make your friend a little skeptical about Beck and the Fox crew.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:27 PM on October 5, 2009

Seconding Chomsky - also Zinn
posted by joe defroster at 7:46 PM on October 5, 2009

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