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The Bizarre Religious Myths Mormon Right-Wingers Are Pushing on Tea Partiers -- With Glenn Beck's Help

Society & Culture  (tags: religion, history, lies and propaganda, politics, media, humans )

- 2617 days ago -
With the rise of the right, the National Center for Constitutional Studies' bizarre version of U.S. history is gaining adherents.

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Carrie B (306)
Friday March 25, 2011, 1:05 pm
"One fine Saturday morning last year, around 60 mostly middle-aged conservatives trickled onto the otherwise deserted campus of Fairmont State University. Clutching notebooks and coffee cups, they looked like groggy Continuing Ed students as they took seats in a modern lecture hall on the ground floor of the school's engineering building. In a sense, they were Continuing Ed students. The room had been booked months in advance for a one-day, intro-level history and civics seminar entitled, "The Making of America."

But this was no ordinary summer school. Randall McNeely, the seminar's kindly, awkward, and heavy-set instructor, held no advanced degree and made no claims to being a scholar of any kind. He was, rather, a product of rote training in a religious and apocalyptic interpretation of American history that has roots in the racist right of the last century. His students for the day had learned about the class not in the Fairmont State summer catalog, but from the website of the obscure nonprofit run by fringe Mormons. Founded as the Freeman Institute in Provo, Utah, in 1971, the outfit now goes by the name National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCSS), and works out of a remote farmhouse in Malta, Idaho (population 177).

This humble base of operations, however, constrains neither the outfit's national ambitions nor its missionary zeal. The NCCS has been touring the country and propagating its ultraconservative Mormon message for nearly four decades. Yet its message has never been in greater demand than in 2010. Since the rise of the Tea Party circuit, the all-volunteer NCCS has experienced exploding interest from Tea Party-affiliated groups such as the 9.12 Project and the Tea Party Patriots. On any given Saturday, several of nearly 20 "Making of America" lecturers are giving seminars across the country in spaces like the rented classroom in Fairmont, with $10 tickets and NCCS book sales paying for their travel and expenses.

Along with a busier schedule, the NCCS also has a growing list of allies. In the media, it has found a powerful voice in the form of Fox News' Glenn Beck, who is a Mormon himself and has used his pulpit to advocate for NCCS books and ideas. Through Beck's sustained and energetic advocacy, once-forgotten NCCS tracts of Mormon-flavored pseudo-history such as The 5,000 Year Leap have become unlikely online bestsellers. As a result, traveling volunteer NCCS lecturers like McNeely today have no shortage of students eager to learn his version of "truth."

"In our time together, we're going to learn the truth about American history and what our government is supposed to do—and not do," said McNeely, after opening the August seminar in Fairmont with a Christian prayer and a patriotic song of his own authorship. "We're going to learn sound principles. Once we have possession of these sound principles, we can solve nearly every problem in America, the way the Founders would have liked."

As the morning progressed, it became clear that the NCCS worldview and program were based on three major pillars: understanding the divine guidance that has allowed the United States to thrive; rejecting the tyrannical, implicitly sinful, nature of the modern federal government; and preparing for a divine reckoning that will bring down America's government and possibly tear society as we know it asunder, thus allowing those with sound principles — i.e., godly NCCS graduates — to rebuild the republic along "sounder," more pious lines.

America's return to extremely limited government, as they think God intended, is destined to happen, NCCS lecturers teach, because God has already shown an interventionist role in American history. According to the NCCS, the founding of the United States was nothing short of a "miracle" in the literal sense of the word. God is watching, in other words, and he is not happy. Teaching out of the seminar's 131-page illustrated workbook, McNeely argued that the current federal government is guilty of a "usurpation of power." It is, therefore, illegitimate, though McNeely never actually uttered that word. Governmental powers should be used sparingly, he explained, limited largely to the common defense and the elimination of "debauchery and vice."

In some ways, the NCCS worldview can sound remarkably similar to that of antigovernment "Patriots," whose movement has exploded in the last two years. So it's not much of a surprise that it has found a number of new organizational allies among "Constitutionalist" groups such as the conspiracy-obsessed John Birch Society, the ultraconservative "pro-family" group Eagle Forum, and the Oath Keepers, a group of ex-police and military personnel who publicly promise to resist orders if they find those orders at odds with their understanding of the Constitution. At the 2010 National Liberty Unity Summit, a powwow of far-right groups, NCCS president Earl Taylor delivered the keynote address following speeches by leading Oath Keepers Richard Mack and Guy Cunningham.

But mostly, the NCCS focuses on its seminars. And business has never been better.

"We're trying to flood the nation," NCCS president Taylor told The Washington Post in June. "And it's happening."

Communists, Capitalists and Jews

Students of the American far right may not recognize the anodyne-sounding NCCS, but they no doubt know the name of its founder, the late W. Cleon Skousen. By the time Skousen founded The Freeman Institute in 1971 (the name was changed to NCCS in 1984), the bespectacled former police chief had become a minor legend in the annals of right-wing radicalism. Throughout the late 1950s and 60s, following 11 years of mostly administrative work in the FBI, Skousen toured the country whipping up anti-communist (and anti-civil rights) hysteria under the banner of the John Birch Society. Among the stories in Skousen's fantastical arsenal was the claim that New Dealer Harry Hopkins gave the Soviets "50 suitcases" worth of information on the Manhattan Project and nearly half of the nation's supply of enriched uranium. When the John Birch Society came under attack for its founder's claim that Dwight Eisenhower was a communist agent, Skousen wrote a pamphlet titled The Communist Attack on the John Birch Society.

In the 1970s, he penned an influential tract of New World Order conspiracism, The Naked Capitalist, which described a cabal of scheming, internationalist-minded bankers and government officials set on destroying the Constitution by manipulating left and liberal groups around the world. The purpose of liberal internationalist groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations, Skousen believed, is to push "U.S. foreign policy toward the establishment of a world-wide collectivist society."

Among the sources Skousen cited to substantiate this claim was is a former czarist army officer named Arsene de Goulevitch, whose own sources included Boris Brasol, a White Russian émigré who provided Henry Ford with the first English translation of the Jew-bashing classic, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and later became a supporter of Nazi Germany.

The controversy that surrounded Skousen's growing public profile in the 1960s and early 70s caused a debate within the Mormon Church leadership. For many church leaders, Skousen was bringing unwanted attention to the institution, which until then had generally eschewed involvement in politics. But Skousen also had allies in high places. The strongest and most loyal of them was Ezra Taft Benson, a Mormon Apostle and future church president.

As with Skousen, Benson remains an icon among many ultraconservative Mormons, and his name is routinely invoked during NCCS lectures. The flyer for the NCCS seminar in Fairmont prominently displayed, as do so many materials produced by the NCCS, a Benson quote: "The Greatest Watchdog of our Freedom is an informed electorate." But Benson had a decidedly illiberal understanding of just what an informed electorate should believe. Benson read America's history (and future) through a looking glass of apocalyptic Mormon theology and folklore. He believed that the Constitution would one day "hang from a thread," at which time Mormons would assume leadership of the nation and rescue it from certain and irrevocable disaster. (These ideas are not part of official Mormon Church doctrine.)

Benson was also an advocate for Bircher-style conspiracy theories. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he saw the hand of communism in every social welfare policy and fought them as both immoral and unconstitutional. A rabid foe of the civil rights movement, Benson in 1971 allowed one of his anti-civil rights talks to be reprinted as the introduction to a book of race hate called Black Hammer: A Study of Black Power, Red Influence, and White Alternatives. The book's cover featured the severed, bloody head of an African American. By the end of the decade, his politics had taken a similar turn to that of his friend Skousen. During a 1972 general conference of the Church of Latter-day Saints, Benson recommended all Mormons read Gary Allen's New World Order tract None Dare Call it A Conspiracy.

Such was the state of Skousen and Benson's politics (and intellectual seriousness) when they celebrated the opening of the Freeman Institute on July 4, 1971, in a converted storefront judo studio just off the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah. The purpose of the Freemen Institute, said its literature, was to "inspire Americans to return to the Founders' original success formula."

‘Christ or Chaos'
Skousen's new institute, then as now, was not greeted by universal acclaim among his fellow Mormons. Edwin Brown Firmage, a professor of law at the University of Utah, complained to the Mormon magazine Sunstone in 1981: "Skousen is teaching right-wing fundamentalism with a constitutional veneer. How anyone can prove that civil rights and welfare are unconstitutional is beyond me. For his people, ‘Constitutional' is just a right-wing buzzword." A reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Larry Eichel, reached the same conclusion after attending one of Skousen's lectures in the birthplace of the Constitution. "He preached a political return to the eighteenth century," wrote a dismayed Eichel.

The reporter was off by a century, but his point was well taken. What the Mormon constitutionalism pioneered by Skousen pines after most is the federal government of the mid-nineteenth century. If the NCCS could stop the clock anywhere, it would be 1867, the year before the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. Like today's Tenther movement, whose adherents cite the Tenth Amendment to advocate the sovereignty of the states over federal government power, Skousen argued that constitutional decline began when the federal government overrode the states to grant and enforce equality under the law.

Skousen first laid out his views on the Constitution in 1981, with the publication of The 5,000 Year Leap. Now the central text of Glenn Beck's 9.12 Project — the Fox host calls the book "divinely inspired" — Leap is an illustrated recipe for turning the United States into 50 little theocracies, each dictating morality according to its own religious ethics. These ethics, argues Skousen in Leap, should be transmitted through "extensive Bible reading" in public schools.

The project of the book is clear, even if its author never came right out and said it. Others would prove bolder in explaining the importance of Leap. In Ronald Mann's introduction to Leap's 10th-anniversary edition, he praises Skousen for grasping America's choice of "Christ or chaos" and for acknowledging that its future depends on "accepting and demonstrating God's government."

The project started by Leap was furthered a few years later with the publication of The Miracle of America. After reducing its contents to a smaller workbook suitable for one- and seven-day seminars, Skousen again hit the road. During the first "Making of America" tour, he demonized the federal regulatory agencies, arguing for the abolition of everything from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency. He wanted to repeal the minimum wage, smash unions, nullify anti-discrimination laws, sell off public lands and national parks, end the direct election of senators, kill the income tax and the estate tax, knock down state-level walls separating church and state, and, of course, raze the Federal Reserve System.

Skousen's rolling theocratic lecture tour ran into problems in 1987, when outsiders started examining the contents of the book on which the seminars were based. The Making of America, it turned out, presented a history of slavery that could have been written by a propagandist for the Ku Klux Klan. Skousen relied for his interpretation of slavery on historian Fred Albert Shannon's Economic History of the People of the United States (1934). Quoting Shannon, Skousen described African-American children as "pickaninnies" and described American slave owners as the "worst victims" of the slavery system. He further explained that "[slave] gangs in transit were usually a cheerful lot, though the presence of a number of the more vicious type sometimes made it necessary for them all to go in chains." Shannon and Skousen also cast a skeptical eye on accounts of cruelty by slave masters and expressed much more interest in the "fear" Southern whites had while trying to protect "white civilization" from slave revolts.

Newer editions of The Making of America lack the glaring racism of Skousen's original version. But the current NCCS president, Earl Taylor, is not unknown to echo some of Skousen's controversial views. At a Mesa, Ariz., seminar earlier this year, a Washington Post reporter heard Taylor argue that Thomas Jefferson hesitated to free his own slaves because of his "benevolence." As Taylor often does, he defended this interpretation by referencing his participation in a walking tour. "If you've been to Monticello and you see how Jefferson cared for them, they didn't want to leave," the Post writer quotes Taylor as saying.

Glenn Beck and the Apocalypse
Defenders of the NCCS argue that the outfit, run by the grandfatherly Taylor, is merely teaching good old-fashioned civics to interested Americans. But while there is a large amount of straight, accurate history included in "Making of America" seminars, the lessons are about much more than just the Constitution. The organization's larger mission is to crudely propagandize against America's secular foundations and sow doubt over the legitimacy of the modern welfare and regulatory state, using a textbook written by a notorious conspiracist who adhered to apocalyptic folklore. And like Skousen, current NCCS lecturers believe that time is quickly running out.

There is a dark, often unspoken, subtext to the NCCS's crusade to promote the "sound principles" of proper Constitutional government. That subtext is a belief in the imminent collapse of civilization. This collapse is interwoven in the bombastic teachings of NCCS friend and ally Glenn Beck, whose Doomsday-drenched shows are profitably promoted by fear-mongering purveyors of everything from gold bullion to "crisis gardens" and emergency radios. The NCCS has done much to encourage and spread a deeply apocalyptic worldview among far-right Mormons, of whom Beck is only the most famous.

The NCCS views its education crusade as crucial for rebuilding America after a coming cataclysm; thus, "The Making of America" is best seen as a God-centric civics class for the bomb shelter. Speaking last year in Mesa, Ariz., Taylor spoke cryptically of the need for "the Good Lord's help" to take America "into a much better phase of existence lasting for a thousand years."

Taylor's remarks only make sense in the context of a cleansing, holy wrath, after which will emerge pure Constitutional defenders ready to build a new society on the ashes of the old.

"I fear that the United States is going to have to go through the wringer," said Taylor. "It's gonna be rough."

"When the time comes, when the people who are in power for the power and the glory, and there is no more power and glory left, they'll probably be looking around asking, ‘Can anybody help?' And you'll say, ‘Yeah, I've got some ideas. Come on over and eat a little something.' Because there probably won't be much food anyway, but if you're wise, you'll have some."

At this depressing image of future Constitutional scholars discussing the evils of the income tax and battling "debauchery" amid the scarred ruins of a post-Apocalyptic America, Taylor brightens up.

"We're gonna win this thing," he said. "I've read the last chapter, like you have, and in the end, we're gonna win this thing."

"Isn't that great"

Vallee R (280)
Friday March 25, 2011, 1:36 pm
Maybe Glen Beck is the Anti Christ?

Past Member (0)
Friday March 25, 2011, 1:42 pm
I watched Glen Beck's recent talk on preparing for disaster. What disaster? He has told people to stock pile non-perishable foods, to give charity in public places and then walk away, etc. I just didn't understand what he is expecting or why he is promoting the siege mentality. I wonder what's going on in the USA.

Past Member (0)
Friday March 25, 2011, 2:05 pm
The good news is there are going to be a lot more people riding bicycles!
The bad news is they are going to knock on your door and try to convert you to Mormonism

Toni C (508)
Friday March 25, 2011, 2:42 pm
Oooh, Carrie, thanks for the article, but w-a-y too long. Beck and all the rest of the reicht are nothing more than snake oil manipulators, so let's hope the Tea Baggers and Repugnats out manipulate each other. with all the lies, hatred and prejudices spewing out of the mouths of these people, only the brainwashed who don't know any better will follow.. everyone else will turns away from religion completely

Carrie B (306)
Friday March 25, 2011, 3:41 pm
Sorry about the length of the article, but I felt it needed more than just a short summation. Will remember for next time.

Dotti L (85)
Friday March 25, 2011, 4:02 pm
Aren't all Mormons right-wingers?

Fiona O (565)
Friday March 25, 2011, 4:44 pm
The current federal govenment does usurp power.. Do not forgot that. I know other readers will be put off by reading all the Mormon propoganda. Still, please realize that the federal government is usurping power and it has done so for a long time. The Constituion, the Supreme Law of the Land, gives power to the states, power to the people, and what is left over it gives to the federal government. The powers given to the federal government exist only for the convenience of the states or the people - such as interstate commerce, and the same currency. The federal government has given money and power to things disallowed by the constituion, created an illegal means to tax the people, and finally created financial entities that the Founder would have outlawed if they had imagined such a thing could exist. The first thing is a standing army, outlawed by the Constitution. We have had a standing army since WWII. The Constituion only allows a small training cadre. The Navy is supposed to exist, but it duties far exceed its Constituional mandate which is to keep the sea lanes clear of pirates. The Constitution allows the federal government to only tax the people when the people purchase alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. What is the IRS? Then there is the Federal Reserve Bank, which the founders would have outlawed had they imagines such a monster. Congress gave some of their responsibilities to the Federal Reserve Bank. The Constituion states that Congress shall establish a system of weight, measure, and value and coinage tied to species (precious metals). Since Congress no longer performs that mandated duty, they are serving illegally. Meanwhile the Federal
Reserve issues currency tied to a capitalist debt system and not to precious metals. If we lived under the Constituon, we would be free and able to pursue happiness.

Constance F (418)
Friday March 25, 2011, 9:44 pm
I think I would like to start a chipin so I could move to Denmark.

Animae C (515)
Friday March 25, 2011, 10:16 pm
Why does the past matter so much?

Charlie L (47)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 12:45 am
Sioux, I would say that the past matters because enlightened people, nations and institutions should not want to repeat mistakes that have been made in the past. I don't advocate living in the past, but people of good will should be willing to look honestly at the past and learn from it. Unfortunately those on the right wing of the political spectrum want to rewrite history to suit their current agenda which is mainly to transform America into a fascist dictatorship with no trace of democracy whatsoever.

Saturday March 26, 2011, 6:04 am
Please send the NCSS a history book.

William Y (54)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 6:39 am
@ Sioux & Charlie, The problem is that one should learn from the mistakes made previously, but in this case they want to repeat them as if they weren't mistakes in the first place.

Deanna Shoemaker (7)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 9:48 am
Gotta love American rights. You're even free to make yourself the southbound end of a northbound mule.

William R (20)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 1:52 pm
Are the Mormons really christians? I wonder because they believe that a man should have many wives and all christian teachings say man should have only one wife. Even the Native Americans had only one wife. I might be wrong so please tell me if I am.

Thomas H (37)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 2:40 pm
Beck is a Mormon? What do his evangelical acolytes think of THAT?! Never mind....they can pick demagogues the same way they pick scriptures it seems.

Past Member (0)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 2:46 pm
I need to correct my previous comment. I forgot about the multiple wives. Change that from "riding bicycles" to "riding bicycles built for four". Thank you!

George R. (0)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 3:15 pm
You've accomplished the task of eviscerating Skousen et. al. but you have made virtually no cogent arguments about how "bizarre religious myths" specifically impacted specific points about constitutional issues. You simply pass over, presumptively, issues like income tax.

...and seriously, the article is not too long. For Pete's sake. Very nicely written.

I find many of the NCCS's points, as you present them, to have merit as I understand Federalism, Machiavellian concern, self governance and the extant need to limit and delineate the power of government in the interest of promulgating the benefits of liberty.

I find it to be the case in the preponderance of publicly discussed issues, that a great deal of the discussion descends to a focus on personalization of the characters in the discussion rather than focusing on the cogent issues.

I feel that way about your article. I would surely like a more pointed discussion about the specific issues about which you think the NCCS is wrong, and why you think that is the case. Even the Devil himself can be right occasionally.


Helle H (21)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 4:39 pm
And I thought mormons were people with 4 wifes trying to convince others to be like them. Strange, annoying but harmless.

Pamela P (0)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 5:34 pm
I'm Mormon and Glen Beck is full of hooey. I expected a bit better of people on this list, then to be mean and snarky about a person's belief system. No, Mormons do not practice plural marriage. Yes, Mormons are Christians. And having been to many churches and religious meetings, we are no weirder than any one else.

. (0)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 6:21 pm
noted with disgust!

William Y (54)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 8:00 pm
Pamela P. says "Yes, Mormons are Christians. And having been to many churches and religious meetings, we are no weirder than any one else."

Good point

Susanne R (235)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 9:04 pm
If Glenn Beck is promoting it, I'm not buying it! You have to wonder if he's playing with a full deck. The Board of Directors of the Fox Business Network should be worrying that even their staunchest supporters are going to defect if they continue to allow this manic cartoon character to represent them.

Ray M (0)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 9:45 pm
Beware of false prophets and deliver us from power hungry crackpots.

Deborah L (70)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 10:04 pm
Does Glenn Beck wear the "magic underwear" that I have heard the Mormons wear? Perhaps his is to tight and it has cut off the circulation to his brain and that may explain the craziness he gets paid mega bucks to spew all over the airwaves.

I like the episode of Southpark when the Mormon family moved into the neighborhood.

I did some research into the early beginnings of this religion and was less than impressed with it. When a group of settlers were traveling west, they stopped at the Mormons compound and the travelers were running our of food and water. They were told to travel on and were told the next "stop" was not that far away. They were deliberately given the wrong directions. Needless to say all the travelers died. The reason the leader of this cult did this was he claimed they were low on food and water and did not want to share what they had for themselves.

Not very" Christian like" in my understanding of the religion. But now, seeing what these GOP,'s and Repukelicans are behaving like, they are all indifferent to the care of their fellow humans and even display resentment and displeasure of those who earn less, are poor, might need assistance to survive.

Glad I no longer practice their so called only acceptable religion anymore. I believe in trying to help others when and if you can and treat others with respect. This includes nature, animals and everything else we come in contact with during our lives on this earth.

Carrie B (306)
Saturday March 26, 2011, 10:06 pm
Pamela P., I guess it depends on what service and what church you were attending.

kaisuorvokki m (26)
Sunday March 27, 2011, 9:37 am
I too would like to stop debauchery and vice - like these people who trample rights of other people in the middle of watching pornography and then preaching about immorality (like statistics show...).

Tracey O (38)
Sunday March 27, 2011, 11:00 am
I belong to at & I love to blog there. The article was too much info. I aw so not knocking it though as I am happy to see Alter Net is a wonderful site. All should consider joining in of just checking it out!

patricia lasek (317)
Sunday March 27, 2011, 11:25 am
They are downright scary!

Virginia N. (1)
Sunday March 27, 2011, 5:47 pm
The problem with insisting on 'strict interpretation of the Constitution' is as narrow-minded as trying to stick with 'strict interpretation of the Bible'. The Constitution was a guideline for the late 18th century written by very wise, well-read men. Even so, they could not predict the complicated future. This is why amendments are added to the Constitution. This is why the Supreme Court exists, to haggle over the constitutionality of an issue. Unfortunately, this august body has acquired the contagion of corruption from society's ills. Show me a normal person who believes an adulteress should be stoned to death in the street, or that the earth is 6,000 years old, and I will show you a person who believes he can fit into the shoes and clothes he wore in third grade.

Brenda Towers (0)
Monday March 28, 2011, 5:45 am
They are a disgrace to the Founding Fathers!!

Monday March 28, 2011, 3:45 pm
"Are the Mormons really christians? I wonder because they believe that a man should have many wives and all christian teachings say man should have only one wife."

Mormons have not been practicing plural marriages for about the past 100 years when they denounced it. Plural marriages in Utah do exist, but they are not sanctioned by church and I believe that they are illegal. The LDS (Latter Day Saints) Church has taken a very hard stance against plural marriage. Finally, Mormons are considered Christian.

Edith B (146)
Monday March 28, 2011, 10:01 pm
Glen Beck does not represent Mormons. He is an idiot. The LDS are conservative, but not racist and they do not sanction plural marriages. And yes, we are Christians!

Trequl M (170)
Tuesday March 29, 2011, 10:05 am
Noted with thanks.

Barbara Erdman (63)
Tuesday March 29, 2011, 4:57 pm
noted and thanx Carrie
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