There’s stupid, and then there’s really stupid. Finally, there’s blind, leaden stupidity, a quality personified in great detail by the loathsome Glenn Beck last week.
Beck has long been aware of his own ridiculous qualities, telling The New York Times for a major 2009 profile that he was a mere “rodeo clown,” not really a serious kind of a fellow. But that’s letting the one-time Fox News host off the reality hook a little too easily. The plain truth is that Beck has done as much as anyone to inject complete falsehoods, conspiracy theories and demonizing propaganda into American political discourse. Facts mean nothing to the rodeo clown.
Neither, it turns out, does any kind of taste or judgment.
Last Wednesday, Beck went one further, mocking an FBI warning of a dangerous radical-right movement of “sovereign citizens” in this country — a movement that produced Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and is responsible for the murder six law enforcement officers since 2000 — and suggesting that it was really a subterfuge to steal away Americans’ freedoms.
“I don’t believe a word of that, do you?” he asked viewers of his Internet TV show. “Let’s call a spade a spade. Let me tell you what this is, I believe, all about. It is deflection, again, to set the American people up. It goes right back to, ‘Yes, but can I scoop American citizens up and hold them without trial?’”
Then, to drive his point home, Beck got personal.
“Yesterday,” he said in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “the FBI gave this example of why sovereign citizens are so scary.” And he referenced the May 20, 2010, murder of Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans, two West Memphis, Ark., police officers shot down by a father-son team of sovereigns during a routine traffic stop. (Sovereigns believe authorities have no right to require driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations or insurance, an ideology that has led to many traffic-stop confrontations.)
“There’s something more to this,” Beck said in his tirade. “I believe we’re being set up. The FBI now says they’re concerned about the threat that sovereign citizens pose. … Are these guys a concern? Maybe, I don’t know, maybe there’s one crackpot there that’s gonna do something there — maybe. But you’ve got a whole buttload of crackpots on the streets right now and some of ’em are hanging around the president of the United States. This, I believe, allows the government [an excuse] to start cracking down on all types of ‘extremists.’”
The incident Beck refers to so lightly became infamous, in part, because it was shown in some the most awful dashboard camera footage ever, video that showed Paudert and Evans being murdered in cold blood. Beck may not know it — he doesn’t seem to know much — but Brandon Paudert’s father, Bob Paudert, was then the West Memphis chief of police, Brandon’s boss. Minutes after the double murder, Chief Paudert, accompanied by his ailing wife as they headed out of town for a weekend away, drove up on the mutilated body of his son. Since then, Chief Paudert has travelled the country, warning of the dangers of the sovereign movement.
He wasn’t too thrilled to hear of Beck’s latest.
“I don’t know Mr. Beck and I don’t watch the news that much, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that the sovereign citizens are dangerous. They killed my son and Bill Evans,” Paudert, a good and generous friend, told me today. “These extremists do advocate killing police officers, judges and politicians. That’s a serious problem for me, even though I’m a conservative person. I take exception to those who say they’re not dangerous. They’re extremely dangerous.”
But none of this, it seems, would sway the penetrating analysis offered by Beck, a man who demands certain facts in order to be convinced. “The FBI doesn’t even have an actual number of how many of these guys are even here in the U.S.,” he said, his voice rising with incredulity. “Well, that narrows it down!”
Presumably, it’s not known how many bank robbers there are in the U.S., or white-collar criminals or serial killers or child abusers or even Internet bloviators. But that hasn’t stopped each of these categories from presenting some serious problems.
Beck’s rant was provoked by an FBI press conference on the dangers of sovereign citizens. To Beck, that event apparently proved that the FBI was part of a nefarious Obama Administration plan to attack mainstream Christians. But to Chief Paudert, it was a welcome moment. “I have been very critical of the FBI for not [warning] about sovereign citizens” in the past, he said. “Now, they’re taking a proactive approach and I commend them for their actions.”
Not Beck. “I’m in the news business,” he said in one of his more dubious recent claims, “and I don’t even know who they are. Sovereign citizens?”