Though he roundly condemned Norway’s Anders Breivik as a “madman” who is “as bad as Osama bin Laden,” Fox News and radio host Glenn Beck couldn’t help adding that there was something unsettling about the very idea of the Labor Party summer youth camp where Breivick gunned down most of his 77 victims last month. “It sounds a little like the Hitler Youth,” Beck mused out loud for his radio audience. “Who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.”
This Sunday, the Louisville, Ky., Courier Journal ran a fascinating story about the Vacation Liberty School in Danville, Ky., the latest of an expanding roster of “volunteer-run programs for children mostly aged 10-15 that resemble a mix between vacation Bible school, U.S. history and tea party-style conservative ideas that supporters say aren’t taught in public schools.” The schools, the story added, are run by Glenn Beck’s Tea Party-friendly 9/12 Project.
Beck’s almost unbelievable mean-spiritedness about the murdered children of Norway did not go unnoticed by CNN and many others. But what hasn’t yet drawn attention is the screaming hypocrisy of the man’s complaints about “a camp for kids that’s all about politics.” Because that’s a description that precisely fits what Beck’s 9/12 Project’s Vacation Liberty Schools are all about.
If you want to hear about “disturbing” political indoctrination of children, listen to what students of Vacation Liberty School are being taught, according to the Courier Journal. There’s the supposedly constitutionally derived tenet of the superiority of the gold standard; the alleged myth of the separation of church and state; and, in the words of the paper, “‘faith’s role in the Revolutionary War,’ ‘avoiding the enslavement of debt’ and how charity should not be forced through the government or ‘enable dependency.’” But that’s not where Beck’s propaganda schools stop.
Lisa Abler, who fashioned the curriculum for the first Vacation Liberty School in Georgetown, Ky., in 2010 (there are some 40 of them today nation-wide), told the Courier Dispatch that she based it on the 1981 book The 5,000 Year Leap. The Courier Dispatch elaborates, noting that the book was written “by the late anti-communist author W. Cleon Skousen, who advocated private property, minimal government regulation and the belief that that the U.S. Constitution is rooted in the Bible. Copies of the book sat on a table at the Danville camp.”
“Skousen’s work,” the article continues, “has been criticized by scholars and groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has called it a “recipe for turning the United States into 50 little theocracies.”
Skousen, who also wrote the bestselling The Naked Communist, rose to national prominence in the late 1950s as an anti-Communist lecturer and writer. An internal FBI memorandum of the period described Skousen, who himself once worked for the FBI, as “well known to the Bureau. … [H]e has been aligned closely with the extreme right-wing such as the [rabidly anti-communist] John Birch Society and has been characterized as an ‘unprincipled racketeer in anticommunism’ who is ‘money mad’ and who is doing everything and anything to exploit the subject of anticommunism.” Skousen enjoyed a close relationship with Ezra Taft Benson, whose politics, though he served as Eisenhower’s Agriculture Secretary and was the president of the Church of the Latter Day Saints from 1985-1994, were every bit as extreme as Skousen’s. The pair formed the core of what came to be known as the “church-Birch connection.”
In 1970’s The Naked Capitalist, Skousen revived the idea that the Bolshevik revolution had been financed by the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds and that the Council on Foreign Relations was a Communist front. He also introduced the far right to the scholarship of Carroll Quigley, a Georgetown University professor who wrote a number of academic studies of the influential Anglo-American clique known as “the secret society of Cecil Rhodes,” “Milner’s Kindergarten,” “The Round Table Group,” “the Chatham House crowd,” the “All Souls group” and the “Cliveden Set.” In Skousen’s telling, this “relatively small but powerful group … has succeeded in acquiring a choke-hold on the affairs of practically the entire human race.”
Appalled by Skousen’s misappropriations of his scholarship, Quigley accused him of “inventing fantastic ideas and making inferences that go far beyond the bounds of honest commentary” and of espousing a politics that “seems to me perilously close to the ‘exclusive uniformity’ which I see in Nazism and in the Radical Right in this country.” Undeterred, the John Birch Society’s Gary Allen also made generous use of Quigley’s work when he wrote his bestselling None Dare Call it Conspiracy (1971)—a book that is constantly cited in far right wing conspiracist circles to this day.
Skousen’s name appeared briefly in national headlines in 1987 when the California Bicentennial Commission endorsed—and then abruptly un-endorsed—his textbook The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution (1985). The textbook quoted a 1934 essay on slavery by Fred Albert Shannon that referred to black children as “pickaninnies” and contained the eyebrow-raising observation that the “slave owners were the worst victims of the system,” burdened as they were with the care and feeding of their shiftless chattel.
To Lisa Abler, none of this suggests a political program or propaganda. “People say it’s politically driven—it’s not,” she told the Courier-Dispatch. “I look at it as revealing the truth.”
Maybe so — the truth about what Glenn Beck really believes, anyway.