Wednesday afternoon, Glenn Beck and two of his guests argued that Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party were “left wing”; that “political correctness” led the committed white supramacist, James Von Brunn, to shoot a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC; and that ultimately President Barack Obama is the one responsible for the violence because his “bailouts” and “Socialistic” policies are engendering widespread anger. Beck denounced those who claim he is “churning the pot” because, he says, “the pot is already boiling.”
Seeing this spectacle with subtitles at the gym today led me to wonder if there are any laws on the books against using the public airwaves to incite violence. Because that is clearly what Beck is doing. I only caught about ten minutes of the show (about all I can stand) and it was a white reactionary tour de force — incendiary, stupid, and racist.
In Beck’s world President Obama brings “identity politics” and “political correctness” to the White House, and it’s the “Left” that is “racist” because unlike conservatives, who judge people only on their individual merits and character (the three white men sitting at Beck’s table nodding in agreement), all liberals see is people of different races and classes and genders, which “divides” America. And Obama’s “socialistic” policies are leading people of dubious sanity to become unglued, and therefore the outbreak of right-wing violence is Obama’s fault. Talk about spin! Only through a conscious and disingenuous effort could anyone link the shooting today at the Holocaust Museum to President Obama.
Beck and his guests at the opening of his show today all agreed that the Nazis were not right wing but a bunch of leftwingers (like Obama and Nancy Pelosi). That is pretty weird when you think about how that tidbit of agitprop must disappoint a lot of white supremacists. All those white guys who hail Hitler and the Nazis because they were so good at kicking the crap out of Socialists, labor unionists, Communists and Soviets, women who didn’t know their place, and even “degenerate” Dadaists and surrealists, and don’t forget the Jews. What self-respecting Neo-Nazi or Ku Klux Klansman (or good ol’ boy at the Council of Conservative Citizens) wants to hear that Hitler was like Michael Moore and Al Franken? But it doesn’t matter because Beck is not appealing to his viewers’ brains but to their guts. And all those “isms” sound the same to ’em anyhow.
And since this James Von Brunn guy targeted a museum where the murder of millions of Jews is memorialized Beck took the opportunity to run a short audio clip of an interview he had with Benjamin Netanyahu three years ago. He then segued into a riff on how our currently tough economic times will lead some people to scapegoat Jews and that means that Israel should bomb Iran right away. Somewhere behind Beck’s talking points there is real thinking going on. No one should dismiss Beck as a hack or “entertainer.” He is a propagandist.
It’s also clear that Beck and his fans just can’t get over the fact that a black man is now their president.
The television and radio producers behind Beck’s shows are bright, highly educated Republican strategists at FOX News who are expert at calculating each talking point for the host to pull on the jingoistic heartstrings of his largely uneducated, working-class viewers. And it works. Beck’s writers are creative people because they’ve found numerous ingenious ways to denounce Obama because he’s black but in ways that don’t sound racist.
Beck’s good at what he does. I’m sure his functionally illiterate white boy viewers get fired up during every show. He’s also dangerous. He talks up a grand conspiracy of liberals and “Socialists” who are destroying everything that makes America great and constantly uses alarmist rhetoric as if the whole country is falling apart around us. He does so by emoting on command and with practiced histrionics.
I urge you go to Netflix and put on your queue “The Goebbels Experiment.” Watch the footage of the young Hitler doing his thing. Der Fuhrer plays on jingoism and white fear. He emotes on command and uses histrionics he practiced in front of a mirror for hours — just like Glenn Beck. If Hitler had a teleprompter and the backing of a force of nature like FOX News the world would have been in even bigger trouble.
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).
Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.