Loughner, “Zeitgeist - The Movie,” and Right-Wing Antisemitic Conspiracism
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 09:29:46 AM EST
A friend of Jared Lee Loughner says that the alleged shooter in the Tucson terror attack was impressed by “Zeitgeist - The Movie,” one of the most popular conspiracy videos posted on the Internet. Since about a third of the video concerns conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks, right-wing pundits have been quick to label “Zeitgeist - The Movie” left-wing propaganda.

This is a leap too far. It is true that some on the Political Left have embraced the “9/11 Truth Movement,” but so have some on the Political Right, and a lot of folks with confused political ideas.

At its core, however, “Zeitgeist - The Movie,” is driven by a replication of longstanding right-wing antisemitic conspiracy theories about the so-called “International Bankers,” a phrase long associated by bigots with the Rothschild, Warburg, and Schiff banking families. Cue the Jew Banker rant.

In many ways the 9/11 conspiracy theories in “Zeitgeist - The Movie,” are bait used to attract viewers from the 9/11 Truth Movement and others who embrace conspiracist thinking to the idiosyncratic anti-religion views of the videographer and the world of right-wing antisemitic theories of a global banking conspiracy.

In a long review of Zeitgeist - The Movie, Jay Kinney on the Tech/Culture site boingboing in August 2007 notes that the video's worldview is that:

Religions in general, and Christianity in particular, are primarily systems of social control. 9/11 was an inside job and the destruction of the WTC twin towers and building 7 were aided by controlled demolition. And finally, International Bankers, through the Federal Reserve and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), control our money and our future, leading to, ta da, the coming One World Government and the microchipping of everyone.

The nefarious International Bankers meme has been propagating itself since at least the mid-1800s and has long been a mainstay of radical right-wing circles where it has often overlapped with mutterings about Jewish cabals….The over-all temper of the video is rather like the John Birch Society on acid, with interludes by Harry Smith.

Brian Dunning in his negative review on Skeptoid in March 2010 observed “asserts the existence of what Joseph believes is a worldwide conspiracy of international bankers, who are directly responsible for causing all wars in the past century as a way to earn profits.”

In the orbit of the John Birch Society, the phrase international bankers is avoided and replaced with the phrase “The Insiders.” The Birchers trace the conspiracy back to the Illuminati/Freemason conspiracy theory first popularized in the late 1700s.

In the late 1800s, several populist authors pursued the idea that British speculators manipulated the price of gold, which affected paper currency at the time. A common image was that of an octopus. Who was the head with tentacles reaching out across America depended on the author. This easily slid into antisemitic interpretations with the Rothschild family at the head.

The most infamous source of false allegations of a Jewish banking cabal is the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

The public circulation of the Protocols grew out of propaganda intrigues of the secret police of Czarist Russia in the late nineteenth century. The main Russian print source for the Protocols first appeared as an appendix in The Big in the Small, and Antichrist as a Near Political Possibility; Notes of an Orthodox Person by Sergei A. Nilus, published in 1905 but republished to wider audiences in 1911, 1917, and 1918.

The text purports to be secret minutes of meetings of a Jewish ruling clique conspiring to take over the world (a claim that should be unnecessary to point out is a bigoted falsehood.). The Protocols incorporate many of the core conspiracist themes outlined in the earlier attacks on the Illuminati/Freemasons and overlay them with antisemitic allegations about anti-Czarist movements in Russia. The Protocols reflect the same themes as other, more general critiques of enlightenment liberalism by those supporting church/state oligarchies and other anti-democratic and theocratic forms of government.

Three publications that followed are of particular interest because they trace a transitional arc that starts with the theme of money manipulation, jumps to war as a form of manipulated internationalist politics, and then jumps back to money manipulation.

The Reign of the Elders (Gold, Gold, Gold), is a short book by an anonymous author that starts with the Protocols, moves through the Rothschilds, and ends up with Roosevelt’s “Jew Deal.” It was published before WWII.

The pseudonym “Cincinnatus” took the same basic arguments and wove them around the theme of Jews plotting War, War, War, to help an England controlled by Jews.

E.C. Knuth’s, Empire of “The City”: A Basic History of International Power Politics was the post-war publication that took the same theme and returned it to focus on financial manipulation by Jews.

The result was the popularization of the idea that the Rothschild family and other Jews controls the British monarchy, City of London financial institutions, and through them, the U.S. government and economy. The Lyndon LaRouche network later adopts this claim, while removing the more obvious antisemitic references after being criticized for antisemitism. Some on the Political Left have picked up these claims and mindlessly repeat them. T

he bulk of published material pushing this antisemitic line, however, comes from the Political Right.

Who is really behind the vast timeless conspiracy? Is it the Freemasons, the Communists, or the Jews? The Rothschilds or the Rockefellers? Is the real control group the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, or the Bilderberg banking conference? The scapegoated group varies by the sector on the U.S. Right doing the construction of the frames and narratives. These distinctions on the Right really matter, both politically and analytically, writes professor Martin Durham.

Phyllis Schlafly blamed the conspiracy on the “Secret Kingmakers;” which to Schlafly meant the Rockefellers AND the Bilderbergers, but NOT the Jews (Schlafly, 1964).

Author Revilo P. Oliver, a leader of the John Birch Society, was purged by the Birchers after giving a speech where he challenged the organization to come right out and admit it was the Jews behind the conspiracy. Another migration moved L. Fletcher Prouty (Col., U.S. Air Force [ret.]) author of The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World, from the standard Birch Society analysis of liberal treachery to a place where Prouty had his book republished by a Holocaust denial outfit at the time controlled by Willis Carto.

If you compare the allegations against the Jews in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion they are remarkably similar to the allegations hurled by contemporary right-wing demagogues at liberals, leftists, and President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

It is in this right-wing milieu of conspiracy theories and venomous vilification that Loughner picked his target.

You wrote:

In many ways the 9/11 conspiracy theories in "Zeitgeist - The Movie," are bait used to attract viewers from the 9/11 Truth Movement and others who embrace conspiracist thinking to the idiosyncratic anti-religion views of the videographer and the world of right-wing antisemitic theories of a global banking conspiracy.

I was under a different impression:  that the primary target audience of Zeitgeist was not the 9/11 Truth movement, but, rather, the remnants of hippiedom -- where suspicion towards organized religion has long been commonplace -- and that its purpose was to introduce hippies and New Agers to the 9/11 Truth movement and to various classic right wing grand conspiracy claims.  "The John Birch Society on acid" is an apt description.

(And to me it's very ironic, given that many right wingers see the hippie culture itself as having been created by "the Illuminati" for nefarious ends.  Furthermore, Illuminati/"New World Order" claims are traditionally tied in with bigotry against not only Jews but all other non-Christians too.  Hence, the very idea of combining Illuminati/NWO claims with a critique of Christianity strikes me as utterly bizarre, almost as bizarre as a Jew promoting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  Incredibly, Jews who promote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion do exist too.)

Regarding the 9/11 Truth movement:  During late 2007 and early 2008 I was at least partly convinced of some "9/11 inside job" theories myself, but gradually ceased to believe them as I continued to study the alleged evidence and critiques by the better debunkers.  (Unlike many people who get caught up in such things, I made a systematic effort to find the best evidence and arguments on both sides of the issue.)  During the time when I at least tentatively believed in some "9/11 inside job" theories, I participated in the 9/11 Truth movement, on which I can therefore report from a position of inside knowledge.  From that position, I will say the following:

In my experience, most 9/11 Truth activists are not particularly fond of Zeitgeist, or will at best give it a qualified recommendation, advising the viewer to skip the anti-Christian stuff at the beginning.  Many 9/11 Truth activists consider the first part of Zeitgeist to be quite embarrassing, and some even regard it as a deliberate attempt to discredit the 9/11 Truth movement by associating it with an irrelevant controversial issue.  There are plenty of other videos that many 9/11 Truth activists like better than Zeitgeist.

Yet Zeitgeist is an extremely popular video.  Given many 9/11 Truth activists' negative or mixed feelings about Zeitgeist, I don't think it owes its massive popularity to the 9/11 Truth movement, nor do I think the 9/11 Truth movement ever was its primary target audience.  Most likely, its primary target audience consisted of people who would be drawn to the stuff about religion in the first part.

Hence I disagree with your assessment that Zeitgeist functions as "bait used to attract viewers from the 9/11 Truth Movement and others who embrace conspiracist thinking to the idiosyncratic anti-religion views of the videographer."

On the other hand, Zeitgeist does indeed have the effect of drawing people in the 9/11 Truth movement into classic right wing grand-conspiracy claims without any clue as to their right wing -- and Christian supremacist -- roots.

Alas, Zeitgeist is far from unique in so doing.  Alex Jones has also managed to convince a lot of otherwise progressive folks to believe in classic right wing grand-conspiracy claims -- again without any clue as to their right wing and Christian supremacist roots -- even though Alex Jones's radio guests do include some out-and-out Christian supremacists and anti-Jewish bigots.

by Diane Vera on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 03:08:26 PM EST

David Aaronovitch's "Voodoo Histories."

by khughes1963 on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 08:24:52 PM EST
... although I REALLY don't like the title.  (I'm sure the "histories" in question have nothing to do with the religion of Voudou.)

by Diane Vera on Sat Jan 15, 2011 at 06:20:59 AM EST

I respectfully disagree with one of Chip's comments. Chip claims that the Birch Society is loathe to use the term "international bankers" and, instead, prefers "Insiders". Actually, "Insiders" replaced Communist, Communist sympathizer and Communist agent in early JBS lexicon--perhaps because they lost a defmation lawsuit against Elmer Gertz which required them to pay $400,000 for falsely accusing Gertz of being a "Leninist" a "Communist fronter" who was engaged in a "conspiracy" against Chicago police. Then "Insiders" was transformed into a more amorphous meaning which encompassed a group of Master Conspirators who gave orders to their Communist underlings. These Master Conspirators were described as "immensely wealthy, highly educated, and extremely cultured" -- but whom, nevertheless, were "conspiring to enslave their fellow Americans". The JBS has no problem with the phrase "international bankers". One of the most popular books ever recommended and sold by the JBS was and is Gary Allen's classic, None Dare Call It Conspiracy which observes on page 39: "One major reason for the historical blackout on the role of international bankers in political history is that the Rothschilds were Jewish" and on page 41 "But while wars and revolutions have been useful to international bankers in gaining or increasing control over governments, the key to such control has always been control of money...Money-seeking governments have granted monopolies in state banking, natural resources, oil concessions and transportation. However, the monopoly which the international financiers most covet is control over a nation's money." Allen then goes on to explain the history of central banks and their role in "the conspiracy" -- leading up to his central premise, on page 102, that: "For fifty years the Federal Reserve-CFR-Rockefeller Insider crowd has advocated and carried out policies aimed at increasing the power of their satellite, the Soviet Union." The same basic argument is contained in writings (also recommended and sold by the JBS) of James Perloff, G. Edward Griffin, Cleon Skousen, and JBS President, John McManus.

by ernie1241 on Mon Jan 17, 2011 at 10:15:42 AM EST
Matt Lyons and I in our book Right-Wing Populism in America devote a number of pages to parsing the rhetoric of the JBS regarding who is behind the conspiracy (pp. 177-185); and comparing it to the more overtly but still coded antisemitic references found in the writings of the Liberty Lobby (pp. 185-192). We then explore the "Permutations (pp. 192-196). I don't argue that the term "Insiders" replaced the basic anticommunist motif; but AFTER the publication of the Gary Allen book the use of the term "international bankers" and mentions of the Rothschilds diminished through the 1970s. The more common term within official JBS publications became the "Insiders."
In recent years, on the JBS website, it is easy to find the term "international bankers," but almost always (it's hard to trace every incident) it appears in blog posts and comments, not in the official text posted or published by the JBS.
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