Friday, September 30, 2005

Reserve problem fixed

Apparently the library did not get one of the reserve readings, Enemies Within by Robert Goldberg, on reserve as they were supposed to. I just placed my copy of the book on reserve at Ellis this afternoon, so it should be available now. Thanks to the student who reported the problem.

This week in Conspiracy TV

Those of you who want to keep reviewing the new crop of conspiracy/alien invasion shows, please do so as comments on this post. It would be particularly interesting if you found any of the themes or motifs we have talked about in class being used in the shows. The earlier post introducing this assignment is here, along with a few student comments.

Lost and Found

Jared Engles from our class wrote this morning looking for an item he left in class. I did not find anything, but if you did please let Jared know. His note and contact info appear below.

Dr. Pasley,

I left my Palm Tungsten E in class last night (around 5). I was wondering if you may have picked one up, or if someone found it and returned it to you.

Please let me know either way asap.

Jared Michael Engles

410 Discovery Hall
906 Virginia Ave.
Columbia, MO 65201

Cell: 660-473-9620

Room: 573-771-4958

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Take-Home Midterm Questions

History 2420
Conspiracy Theories & Conspiracies in U.S. History
Sept. 29, 2005

INSTRUCTIONS: Write an essay answering ONE of the following questions. Your answer should be typed, proofread, and clearly expressed, just as in a conventional paper. You should use the course materials as fully as you can, documenting your arguments with examples from the readings and lectures. You are not required to do any research beyond the assigned course readings and other materials accessed through the course website and blog. This test is “open book,” but you are forbidden to use any secondary sources beyond what has been assigned or recommended in the syllabus, website, or blog. You may also refer to the music and film clips seen or heard in class or through the website.

References and quotations should be cited properly using your word processor's endnote or footnote function. For citations to the textbooks listed on the syllabus, the author's last name, a shortened version of the title, and page numbers will suffice. Example: Barkun, Culture of Conspiracy, 56. For the books that are document collections or anthologies, you should also include the author and title of the specific document or chapter, if they are different from the book as a whole. You do not need to create a bibliography beyond what appears in your notes. Citations to web pages must include the URL of the specific page you are citing, not just the whole site’s address.

There is no prescribed length, though more than 10-12 double-spaced pages or so would probably be excessive for undergraduates. 6-8 tightly-written, highly substantive pages might well be enough. Provide what you consider a thorough, well-supported answer. The essays are due in class on Thursday, October 6.
Essays will be graded primarily on the degree to which they reflect an accurate understanding and careful consideration of the course materials and concepts, including textbooks, reserve readings, web readings, visual materials, and lectures. The best answers will not simply regurgitate what was said in class, but will instead show an ability to deploy information and ideas from many different parts of the course, especially the reading, in support of a coherent argument. Please be specific and accurate, with regard to events, dates, names, and so on, but do not simply recite facts. Also, please avoid lengthy quotations. Anybody can cut and paste from web pages.

Please ask any questions you may have about the test or these instructions as a comment on this post. That way, everyone will get to see the answer.

1. Richard Hofstadter titled his influential work on American conspiracy theory “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Do you feel that “paranoid style” is the best and most accurate term that could be used? Why or why not? Are modern conspiracy theories extreme responses to the real problems of our times or merely dangerous fantasies of disturbed minds?

2. Giving specific examples, describe the sort of ideological work or political functions that conspiracy theory has performed at various points and for various groups in American history and culture.

3. What kinds of events, belief systems, and social situations seem most prone to the development of conspiracy theories? (You can choose among the three types if you wish.) Why?

4. In your view, based on what we have covered or you have read about so far in the course, what are the two or three most persistent themes or motifs found in U.S. conspiracy theories. Why do they seem to recur?

5. One might imagine that the widespread fears of conspiracy in American culture would have helped reduce the number of actual conspiracies mounted in or by the United States by putting people on their guard. Is this true? Have conspiracy theories performed as effective watchdogs against conspiracy, corruption, subversion, secrecy, and the excessive use of power, or have they had a different or even opposite effect?

6. Once when I was checking out books on UFOs in Ellis Library, the guy at the circulation counter asked me the Big Question regarding the subject of this course: Why does America seem to be so prone to conspiracy theory and other forms of political fantasy and extreme distrust? Construct your own answer to this question with reference (positive, negative, or in between) to the theories of at least two of the following authors: Richard Hofstadter, Chip Berlet, Timothy Melley, Patricia Turner, Frederic Jameson, Jodi Dean, Paul Boyer, Calvin Trillin, Michael Barkun, Robert Goldberg, Peter Knight, Gordon S. Wood, David Brion Davis,Fran Mason, or Corey Robin? You may also bring in another author from the assigned reading that I may have omitted.

Legends of Hurricane Katrina Exposed

This not is a conspiracy theory, exactly, but certainly it counts as an urban legend or rumor. Here is an article from today's New York Times on what really did and DID NOT happen in New Orleans during and just after Hurricane Katrina. Keep in mind that the Bush administration is eager to convince its supporters that the big failure was a liberal media exaggeration, and to blame what did happen on the local Democratic officials. Nice to see we are all coming together in this time of crisis.

Fear Exceeded Crime's Reality in New Orleans

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Sgt. Dan Anderson of the New Orleans Police Department inspected stolen car parts in the living room of a house used by looters.

Published: September 29, 2005

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 25 - After the storm came the siege. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, terror from crimes seen and unseen, real and rumored, gripped New Orleans. The fears changed troop deployments, delayed medical evacuations, drove police officers to quit, grounded helicopters. Edwin P. Compass III, the police superintendent, said that tourists - the core of the city's economy - were being robbed and raped on streets that had slid into anarchy.

The mass misery in the city's two unlit and uncooled primary shelters, the convention center and the Superdome, was compounded, officials said, by gangs that were raping women and children.

A month later, a review of the available evidence now shows that some, though not all, of the most alarming stories that coursed through the city appear to be little more than figments of frightened imaginations, the product of chaotic circumstances that included no reliable communications, and perhaps the residue of the longstanding raw relations between some police officers and members of the public.

Beyond doubt, the sense of menace had been ignited by genuine disorder and violence that week. Looting began at the moment the storm passed over New Orleans, and it ranged from base thievery to foraging for the necessities of life.

Police officers said shots were fired for at least two nights at a police station on the edge of the French Quarter. The manager of a hotel on Bourbon Street said he saw people running through the streets with guns. At least one person was killed by a gunshot at the convention center, and a second at the Superdome. A police officer was shot in Algiers during a confrontation with a looter.

It is still impossible to say if the city experienced a wave of murder because autopsies have been performed on slightly more than 10 percent of the 885 dead.

[On Wednesday, however, Dr. Louis Cataldie, the state's medical incident commander for Hurricane Katrina victims, said that only six or seven deaths appear to have been the result of homicides. He also said that people returning to homes in the damaged region have begun finding the bodies of relatives.

[Superintendent Compass, one of the few seemingly authoritative sources during the days after the storm, resigned Tuesday for reasons that remain unclear. His departure came just as he was coming under criticism from The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which had questioned many of his public accounts of extreme violence.]

In an interview last week with The New York Times, Superintendent Compass said that some of his most shocking statements turned out to be untrue. Asked about reports of rapes and murders, he said: "We have no official reports to document any murder. Not one official report of rape or sexual assault."

On Sept. 4, however, he was quoted in The Times about conditions at the convention center, saying: "The tourists are walking around there, and as soon as these individuals see them, they're being preyed upon. They are beating, they are raping them in the streets."

Those comments, Superintendent Compass now says, were based on secondhand reports. The tourists "were walking with their suitcases, and they would have their clothes and things taken," he said last week. "No rapes that we can quantify."

Rumors Affected Response

A full chronicle of the week's crimes, actual and reported, may never be possible because so many basic functions of government ceased early in the week, including most public safety record-keeping. The city's 911 operators left their phones when water began to rise around their building.

To assemble a picture of crime, both real and perceived, The New York Times interviewed dozens of evacuees in four cities, police officers, medical workers and city officials. Though many provided concrete, firsthand accounts, others passed along secondhand information or rumor that after multiple tellings had ossified into what became accepted as fact.

What became clear is that the rumor of crime, as much as the reality of the public disorder, often played a powerful role in the emergency response. A team of paramedics was barred from entering Slidell, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, for nearly 10 hours based on a state trooper's report that a mob of armed, marauding people had commandeered boats. It turned out to be two men escaping from their flooded streets, said Farol Champlin, a paramedic with the Acadian Ambulance Company.

On another occasion, the company's ambulances were locked down after word came that a firehouse in Covington had been looted by armed robbers of all its water - a report that proved totally untrue, said Aaron Labatt, another paramedic.

A contingent of National Guard troops was sent to rescue a St. Bernard Parish deputy sheriff who radioed for help, saying he was pinned down by a sniper. Accompanied by a SWAT team, the troops surrounded the area. The shots turned out to be the relief valve on a gas tank that popped open every few minutes, said Maj. Gen. Ron Mason of the 35th Infantry Division of the Kansas National Guard.

"It's part of human nature," General Mason said. "When you get one or two reports, it echoes around the community."

Faced with reports that 400 to 500 armed looters were advancing on the town of Westwego, two police officers quit on the spot. The looters never appeared, said the Westwego police chief, Dwayne Munch.

"Rumors could tear down an entire army," Chief Munch said.

During six days when the Superdome was used as a shelter, the head of the New Orleans Police Department's sex crimes unit, Lt. David Benelli, said he and his officers lived inside the dome and ran down every rumor of rape or atrocity. In the end, they made two arrests for attempted sexual assault, and concluded that the other attacks had not happened.

"I think it was urban myth," said Lieutenant Benelli, who also heads the police union. "Any time you put 25,000 people under one roof, with no running water, no electricity and no information, stories get told."

Crimes of Opportunity

The actual, serious crime began, in the recollection of many, before the catastrophic failure of the levees flooded the city, and much of it consisted of crimes of opportunity rather than assault. On the morning of Monday, Aug. 29, in the half hour or so that the eye of Hurricane Katrina fell on the city - an illusory moment of drawn breath, sunshine and fair breezes - the looters struck, said Capt. Anthony W. Canatella, the police commander in the Sixth District.

Using a chain hitched to a car, they tore open the steel doors at the back of a pawn shop called Cash America on Claiborne Avenue. "Payday Advances to 350," read a sign where the marquee would have been.

"There was nothing in there you could sustain your life with," Captain Canatella said. "There's nothing in there but guns and power tools."

The Sixth District - like most of New Orleans, a checkerboard of wealth and poverty - was the scene of heavy looting, with much of the stealing confined to the lower-income neighborhoods. A particular target was a Wal-Mart store on Tchoupitoulas Street, bordering the city's elegant Garden District and built on the site of a housing project that had been torn down.

The looters told a reporter from The Times that they followed police officers into the store after they broke it open, and police commanders said their officers had been given permission to take what they needed from the store to survive. A reporter from The Times-Picayune said he saw police officers grabbing DVD's.

A frenzy of stealing began, and the fruits of it could be seen last week in three containers parked outside the Sixth District police station. Inside were goods recovered from stashes placed by looters in homes throughout the neighborhood, said Captain Canatella, most but not all still bearing Wal-Mart stickers.

"Not one piece of educational material was taken - the best-selling books are all sitting right where they were left," Captain Canatella said. "But every $9 watch in the store is gone."

One of the officers who went to the Wal-Mart said the police did not try to stop people from taking food and water. "People sitting outside the Wal-Mart with groceries waiting for a ride, I just let them sit there," said Sgt. Dan Anderson of the Sixth District. "If they had electronics, I just threw it back in there."

Three auto parts stores were also looted. In a house on Clara Street, Sergeant Anderson picked his way through a soggy living room, where car parts, still in their boxes, were strewn about. On the wall above a couch, someone had written "Looters" with spray paint.

"The nation's realizing what kind of criminals we have here," Sergeant Anderson said.

Among the evacuees, there was gratitude for efforts by the police and others to help them get out of town, but it was clear that some members of the public did not have a high opinion of the New Orleans Police Department, with numerous people citing cases of corruption and violence a decade ago.

"Don't get me wrong, there was bad stuff going on in the streets, but the police is dirty," said Michael Young, who had worked as a waiter in the Riverwalk development.

French Quarter Is Spared

As the storm winds died down that Monday, small groups that had evacuated from poor neighborhoods as far away as the Lower Ninth Ward passed through the historic French Quarter, heading for shelter at the convention center.

"Some were pushing little carts with their belongings and holding onto their kids," said Capt. Kevin B. Anderson, the French Quarter's police commander. He said his officers gave food, water and rides. "That also served another purpose," he said. "That when they came through, they didn't cause any problems."

The jewelry and antique shops in the French Quarter were basically left untouched, though squatters moved into a few of the hotels. Only a small grocery store and drugstores at the edge of the quarter were hit by looters, he said. From behind the locked doors of the Royal Sonesta hotel on Bourbon Street, Hans Wandfluh, the general manager, said he had watched passers-by who seemed to be up to no good. "We heard gunshots fired," Mr. Wandfluh said. "We saw people running with guns."

At dusk on Aug. 29, looters broke windows along Canal Street and swarmed into drugstores, shoe stores and electronics shops, Captain Anderson said. Some tried, without success, to break into banks, and others sought to take money from A.T.M.'s.

The convention center, without water, air-conditioning, light or any authority figures, was recalled by many as a place of great suffering. Many heard rumors of crime, and saw sinister behavior, but few had firsthand knowledge of violence, which they often said they believed had taken place in another part of the half-mile-long center.

"I saw Coke machines being torn up - each and every one of them was busted on the second floor," said Percy McCormick, a security guard who spent four nights in the convention center and was interviewed in Austin, Tex.

Capt. Jeffrey Winn, the commander of the SWAT team, said its members rushed into the convention center to chase muzzle flashes from weapons to root out groups of men who had taken over some of the halls. No guns were recovered.

State officials have said that 10 people died at the Superdome and 24 died around the convention center - 4 inside and 20 nearby. While autopsies have not been completed, so far only one person appears to have died from gunshot wounds at each facility.

In another incident, Captain Winn and Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann, the assistant SWAT commander, said they both shot and wounded a man brandishing a gun near people who had taken refuge on an Interstate highway. Captain Winn said the SWAT team also exchanged gunfire with looters on Tchoupitoulas Street.

The violence that seemed hardest to explain were the reports of shots being fired at rescue and repair workers, including police officers and firefighters, construction and utility workers.

Cellphone repair workers had to abandon work after shots from the Fischer housing project in Algiers, Captain Winn said. His team swept the area three times. On one sweep, federal agents found an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle, Captain Winn said.

For military officials, who flew rescue missions around the city, the reports that people were shooting at helicopters turned out to be mistaken. "We investigated one incident and it turned out to have been shooting on the ground, not at the helicopter," said Maj. Mike Young of the Air Force.

Nathan Levy contributed reporting from Austin, Tex., for this article.

Marko Georgiev for The New York Times

Officer Herbert Patterson of the New Orleans police looking through a looted store on Sept. 5 while on patrol through the Garden District.

L. M. Otero/Associated Press

"The tourists are walking around there, and as soon as these individuals see them, they’re being preyed upon."
Police Superintendent, on Sept. 1

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Evacuees at the Superdome have been "watching hooligans killing people, raping people."
Mayor, on Sept. 6

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Satanic conspiracies at your local public library

Check out this list of the 100 books most frequently challenged at public libraries. Notice how many of them would seem to be on the list solely because someone thought a book had “occult theme or promot[ed] the occult or Satanism.” This appears to include a Halloween alphabet book, Harry Potter, and Roald Dahl's The Witches.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rapture visuals

Most of you should be able to see the 1941 film on the Rapture I attempted to show in class today through this link. For your further edification you also check out the Rapture comic I showed, from Jack Chick. The charts I showed should appear below (click to see them full size). If you find yourself hazy on on the details of J.N. Darby's system, see this helpful page from the web site of the PBS documentary Apocalypse that we saw part of in class today.

Midterm/Reading for week of Sept. 27-29

We will need another day to finish up with the Satanism/religious paranoia section, but you should be moving on to the next set of readings, on the JFK conspiracy theories, right away:

•Goldberg, Enemies Within, Ch. 4 (reserve)
•David B. Davis, ed., Fear of Conspiracy (reserve), pp.341-54
•Calvin Trillin, “The Buffs” (web)
Selected documents (web)

The takehome midterm questions will be posted here on Thursday, Sept. 29, giving you a week to complete them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Invasion of the TV alien invasions -- an extra credit opportunity

As I said in class today, the new TV season provides us with some evidence that the X-Files style of conspiracy show is not going away. There are at least 3 new shows premiering this month involving alien invasions or conspiracies. I won't have time to watch them myself, but if someone in the class wants to report on them here on the blog, I would be happy to dole out some extra credit. The point to focus on would not be so much whether the shows are any good, as how they deploy various conspiracy motifs, how they compare and contrast in their use of conspiracy & paranoia with other shows and other conspiracy stories in other media.

The three shows are:
  • Invasion (ABC, Wednesdays)
  • Threshold (CBS, Fridays)
  • Surface (NBC, Mondays) -- this seems to involve a sea monster that may be extraterrestrial, an idea stolen from James Cameron's The Abyss and doubtless other places
There is another set of ghost-hunting shows that might be relevant, too. One of them is a super-lame looking revival of one of my childhood favorites, The Night Stalker, about a reporter tracking down vampires, satanists, crazed computers, and such. Compare the two versions here.

Please post a comment here or email me if you would like to participate in this. If someone wants to do this over several weeks of a show or do a thorough a job of it, I would probably let you post directly on the blog ran than just through the comments.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Reading for week of Sept. 20-22

We will wrapping up the material connected to the second set of readings, or almost. Please be sure to check the documents page again as I have updated it and given you some choices.

Article on the Church of Satan, circa 1998

The Washington Post

August 30, 1998, Sunday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 3612 words

HEADLINE: A DEVIL OF A TIME; How Is the Church of Satan Getting Along? Not So Hot.

BYLINE: Jack Boulware, Special to The Washington Post


Banners proclaiming "666" hang from either side of the stage. Five shapes appear in the blackness, to the taped strains of the theme from "The Exorcist." Somebody cues the smoke machine. The lights blaze up to reveal an almost comically sinister guitar assault and a singer screaming throaty, unintelligible lyrics. Each member of the band wears at least one spiked wristband. The group calls itself Infestation.

In the bar, a handful of heads twitch to the speed-metal rhythms. The patrons all seem to wear a band logo: Altamont, Nausea, Iron Maiden, Metallica. After one song chugs to a halt, the drummer flashes the Devil-horn salute to the assembled. Somebody yells, "Rock on with a violent fury!"

Every Tuesday night, the Covered Wagon nightclub transforms itself into a death-rock scene known as Lucifer's Hammer. Recently, a party for the authors of the new book "Lords of Chaos," a compendium of the satanic music movement in Scandinavia, drew hundreds of sweaty kids wearing pentagrams and goat's head symbols, Baphomets.

But if Satan seems well represented in this trendy club, across the fog-shrouded city, in a Victorian home with black peeling paint, Lucifer's reign is in question. There, at the home of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, the organization he started in 1966 now stands at a fork in the tail, so to speak.

Ten months after LaVey died of heart failure at age 67, a protracted, nasty divorce settlement has left his scions little in the way of a legacy. LaVey's longtime lover and one of his daughters are wrestling in court over remnants of his estate. The infamous black house -- the headquarters for world Satanism -- is for sale, and could be demolished.

And down in the flaming bowels of the netherworld, having finally claimed the soul of Anton Szandor LaVey, Satan himself is no doubt wondering what in the hell happened to the first public church in history to bear his name.

While a portion of America's youth migrated to Haight-Ashbury in the mid- and late 1960s to seek enlightenment from a tab of acid, other young people were making a very different pilgrimage to the living room of a home on California Street. On April 30, 1966 -- the occult holiday of Walpurgis Night -- Anton LaVey signed away his soul forever and became leader of the most feared -- and perhaps the most entertaining -- religion in the world.

The news media quickly accepted LaVey into the pantheon of great San Francisco characters, at least in part because of the background he claimed. Before founding the church, LaVey asserted, he had worked as a psychic investigator, a police photographer, a burlesque organist and a lion tamer for the Clyde Beatty Circus. He was, he said, briefly a lover of Marilyn Monroe's. As a child, the legend went, he played oboe with the San Francisco Ballet Symphony. And for a long time, no one questioned the legend.

In the late '50s and early '60s he gave weekly lectures at his home on eccentric topics, among them vampires, cannibalism and lycanthropy, as in wolf men. The building itself, he claimed, was once a brothel operated by Barbary Coast madam Mammy Pleasant. Regulars called themselves the "Magic Circle," a group that included science-fiction writer Forrest J. Ackerman, filmmaker Kenneth Anger, an heiress to the Chock Full o' Nuts coffee fortune and a dildo manufacturer. Some members of the group once claimed to have sampled portions of a human leg, obtained from a doctor acquaintance and prepared by LaVey's wife, Diane.

Local journalists helped LaVey crank out press releases and stage ever-wilder publicity stunts. In the church's first year, LaVey conducted a satanic wedding, a satanic funeral on Treasure Island (in cooperation with the U.S. Navy) and a satanic baptism of his young daughter, Zeena. His pet 700-pound lion appeared regularly in Herb Caen's column. He ran ads in newspapers for a Witches' Workshop that taught women how to manipulate the opposite sex. To boost the ranks, church members scattered phony dollar bills around the city, with an invitation to join the Infernal Empire printed on the reverse sides.

The church was brazenly and publicly devoted to selfish hedonism. In 1968, LaVey opened up his home to a documentary film crew. Satanic rituals were staged for the cameras, with a nude woman serving as the altar. LaVey sat in his lair, cocktail clinking in one hand, and announced slyly:

"It occurred to me for many, many years that there was a large gray area between psychiatry and religion that was untapped. And no religion had ever been based on man's carnal needs or his fleshly pursuits. All religions are based on abstinence, rather than indulgence. And all religions therefore have to be based on fear. Well, we don't feel that fear is necessary to base a religion on."

In 1969, LaVey published "The Satanic Bible," a collection of Nietzschean philosophies and repudiations of Christian teachings: "Hate your enemies with a whole heart, and if a man smite you on one cheek, SMASH him on the other"; "Say unto thine own heart, 'I am mine own redeemer' "; "There is no heaven of glory bright, and no hell where sinners roast."

The canon has gone on to sell nearly a million copies. (Sales remain steady, with a noticeable rise every Halloween, according to an Avon Books publicist.) A copy of "The Satanic Bible" is exhibited under glass in Moscow's Russian Museum of Atheism. LaVey's follow-up texts, "The Satanic Rituals" and "The Compleat Witch," also remain in print.

Hollywood celebrities joined the fun. Jayne Mansfield enlisted as a satanic "priestess"; Sammy Davis Jr., another member, proudly wore a Baphomet medallion on stage. LaVey consulted on Hollywood horror films. Supposedly, he owned a fleet of automobiles, luxurious estates in Italy, Bavaria and Switzerland, and three oceangoing salvage ships.

The church eventually expanded into a network of grottoes across the United States, but LaVey -- feeling that members were treating the organization as a meeting lodge, rather than living their lives according to satanic principles -- shut the entire system down. Several followers left to form the rival Temple of Set (named for an Egyptian god), and LaVey went into seclusion for many years.

He resurfaced in the 1990s, granting media interviews and hosting young cognoscenti at his home for late-night discussions. To them he was known simply as "Doctor." While on tour here in 1994, shock-rocker Marilyn Manson received an invitation to meet with LaVey at his home. At the end of the visit, Manson was made a priest in the Church of Satan; he would later dedicate his autobiography to LaVey. This next generation of the curious gobbled up new releases of the Doctor's books and albums, on which he plays organ.

After years of heart problems, LaVey died last year on Oct. 29, though his death certificate, for unexplained reasons, was dated Oct. 31, Halloween. Three months and a day after her father's death, Karla LaVey -- his daughter from his first marriage -- filed a petition for probate, seeking to administer his estate, such as it was. Despite all the talk of mansions and ships, at his death the total value of Anton LaVey's holdings -- the legacy of the Black Pope, the most evil and materialistic man in the world -- came to $ 60,000, including book royalties. Several years of divorce proceedings and an ensuing bankruptcy had cleaned him out.

Less than two weeks later, Blanche Barton -- a zaftig blonde in her mid-thirties who was LaVey's lover, biographer and mother of his young son -- filed an objection to Karla's petition, providing the court with a copy of a handwritten will with LaVey's distinctive forked-tail signature. Dated 1995, the one-paragraph document appointed Barton as executor of the estate and designated their toddler, Xerxes Satan LaVey, as sole beneficiary.

Karla LaVey, 46, filed an objection to Barton's objection. Karla claimed, essentially, that the alleged will was a fraud. Karla's filing noted that the will was dated a few days after her father left the hospital where he had lain in a coma for three days. She suggested that Barton had falsely told LaVey that his daughter had abandoned him. Karla's filing also alleged that Barton had exerted undue pressure on LaVey to make the 1995 will, which, she asserted, contradicted her father's long-stated opposition to the very notion of wills. (Barton has denied all of Karla LaVey's allegations.)

The case reflects a long-running feud over the future direction of American Satanism. LaVey's church has been besieged for years by bickering former adherents who insist that he was a fraud and that his institution does not worship the Devil properly. A key element of the ongoing spat seems to involve the complete discrediting of Anton LaVey, who appears to have fabricated much of his past.

The people who seek to debunk LaVey have come to these basic conclusions: The church had its heyday in the late '60s and early '70s, and has been going downhill ever since. It has been in financial straits for years. And it may not, in fact, survive.

Oddly, the Church of Satan's decline has paralleled a sharp rise in warnings by Christian church leaders about Beelzebub's sway over American society -- from the early '70s, when heavy metal musicians like Black Sabbath started singing the praises of Old Scratch, to the era of Marilyn Manson and schoolroom shootings, when twisted, gun-toting teens would claim the Devil made them do it. All of which seems to beg a question: If the Devil is so damned powerful, how come he can't even hold together one little church?

Michael Aquino began corresponding with Anton LaVey while a psychological operative for the U.S. Army, stationed in the jungles of Vietnam. Aquino returned to the States and was soon made a high-ranking priest and editor of the church's Cloven Hoof newsletter. His distinctive appearance -- he sported a prominent widow's peak and darkly accented eyebrows -- was further enhanced by a small 666 tattooed on his scalp.

As the years passed, Aquino grew more and more frustrated by LaVey's policies. In Aquino's eyes, LaVey had always refused to believe in Satan as an actual supernatural being. Now, the high priest was selling priesthoods in the church for cold cash. This undermined the true purpose of Satanism, Aquino thought, and reinforced the reputation of the church as a farcical sideshow.

In 1975, Aquino left with many church members and priests (some say 28, he claims 100) to form the Temple of Set, a tightly organized religion that revolved around an Egyptian deity on whom the Hebraic Satan supposedly was based.

Church of Satan members snort at Aquino's accusations, and describe the detail-oriented Aquino as emblematic of the type of person Anton LaVey was more than happy to get rid of.

An Oregon painter and sculptor who goes by the name Rex Church is one of the oldest and highest-ranking officials in the Church of Satan. To him, Aquino is inconsequential. "This guy's greatest curse was that Anton LaVey completely ignored him," Church maintains. "And he couldn't stand that. Even to this day."

While declaring the Church of Satan extinct, Aquino has kept an abnormally keen interest in the life of Anton LaVey. His own biographical history of LaVey, which he mails out to interested parties, runs to more than 800 pages.

"My estrangement from Anton LaVey caused me intense personal pain," Aquino writes. "For six years I had regarded him as a friend, mentor, and ultimately 'Devil-father' -- a bond of affection and respect clearly as profound and meaningful to him as to me. That an impasse of principles should have brought about the destruction of this bond, replacing it with an almost pathological hatred on his part and an impatient exasperation on mine, seemed the harshest of ironies."

Anton LaVey's daughter Zeena, now 35, is sultry and erudite, and, like her father, stubborn as a goat. She is also his cruelest critic.

The platinum blonde had an unusual childhood, to say the least. She was baptized in a satanic ceremony at age 3 and had given birth to a son before she was old enough to drive. In the mid-1980s, when she was in her early twenties, she began acting as high priestess and spokeswoman for the church, appearing on many talk shows and contributing a new introduction for a reprint of her father's book "The Satanic Witch." She considered a career in Hollywood. It seemed she might succeed her father as leader of the religion, but in 1990 she renounced all association with the church and LaVey.

"While I have no regrets in my battle with the forces of ignorance, and my own unswerving dedication of my religion has only grown," she wrote in a letter to Michael Aquino, "I could no longer defend such an ungrateful and unworthy individual as the so-called Black Pope. . . . The cosmic cards are stacked against him."

After her father's death, Zeena and her husband, Nikolas Schreck, now both priests in the Temple of Set, prepared a volatile document called "Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality." The screed is most persuasive when it refers to the research of Lawrence Wright, a veteran reporter for Texas Monthly and the New Yorker who investigated LaVey's life in 1991.

Wright specialized in writing about American religions. On assignment for Rolling Stone to profile LaVey, Wright discovered a host of inconsistencies in the legend LaVey had woven around himself. The reporter was unable to confirm, among other claims, Anton LaVey's rendezvous with Marilyn Monroe, his Clyde Beatty circus affiliation, his job as a police photographer, or the existence of any ballet symphony that LaVey might have played for.

Wright did document that LaVey was born Howard Stanton Levey. His parents were Mike and Gertrude, who moved from Chicago to the Bay Area, where his father worked as a liquor distributor. And he was definitely not wealthy. According to 1962 divorce paperwork, Anton LaVey's sole income at that time was the $ 29.91 a week he earned playing organ at the Lost Weekend club in San Francisco.

Speaking from his home in Texas, Wright says he found LaVey intriguing, but was stunned at the blatant embellishments: "Being such a conspicuous and widely hated figure as he was, it surprised the hell out of me that nobody'd ever checked up on him. He had gotten very careless. When I met him, he had been essentially gulling journalists for years, without any consequences."

Wright recalls that the Church of Satan appeared to be largely finished as an organization even by 1991. "Whatever it had been in the past, it certainly wasn't when I went to meet him," he says. "I think he was very glad to meet my expense account."

LaVey's daughter Zeena combines Wright's conclusions with Aquino's findings and her own investigations to list some blistering allegations about her father. For instance, she says, the infamous black house on California Street was not a former brothel at all, but merely the home of LaVey's parents, who transferred ownership to him and his then-wife Diane in 1971.

The myth-busting continues: "The Satanic Bible" was conceived by Avon Books to cash in on the occult faddism of the 1960s, and LaVey paraphrased much of it from books by Aleister Crowley and Ayn Rand, and an obscure 1896 work, "Might Is Right."

According to an interview with the original producer of the film "Rosemary's Baby," LaVey was not technical adviser, as he claimed, and not a single member of the cast or crew has ever mentioned LaVey's involvement. The church's boast of having hundreds of thousands of members was wildly exaggerated; membership was never more than 300.

And LaVey's supposed affair with Jayne Mansfield was a stunt arranged by publicists.

When it comes to debunking her father, Zeena spares not a single grisly detail. She insists that he forced many of his female disciples into prostitution. She even attempts to discredit his reputation as an animal lover, describing one night from her childhood when she woke to discover LaVey beating the bloodied face of her German shepherd puppy with a board.

And as a final anti-tribute to her father, the day after his death, Zeena Schreck appeared on Bob Larson's radio program, a daily religious broadcast syndicated nationwide from Denver.

Larson figures into the Church of Satan in an odd way. For years, he has boosted his ratings by inviting its members onto his programs. In 1995, he even hosted a Satanic Summit, flying several priests to Denver for a series of one-on-one television interviews. Larson's debates with Satanists have served both to scare his Christian audience and to promote the Church of Satan, which tapes the same programs and distributes copies for its own use.

Zeena Schreck had been a frequent guest on Larson's show. On the day after her father died, she took to the air once again, this time giving Larson's listeners a startling bit of information: She had performed a ritual and put a death curse on her father, and it had finally killed him.

Despite the legal wrangling over the LaVey estate and the almost ritualistic attacks of detractors, the Church of Satan's governing Council of Nine remains supremely confident of the organization's future. They are also supremely dismissive of his daughter Zeena.

"She's an ass," declares Jeff Nagy, a Stockton, Calif., businessman and Church of Satan priest. Like many in the church, Nagy believes Zeena turned on LaVey in hopes of making herself famous. "He was definitely saddened by it, don't let anybody kid you. That's flesh and blood."

Church members contend it will take more than negative publicity and the death of the founder to derail the 32-year momentum of Anton LaVey. Los Angeles rock poster artist Chris "Coop" Cooper, himself a priest, insists that as long as LaVey's books are still in print, the religion will never die: "All that 'Who's gonna take over?' Honestly, who cares? I really don't think that's important. It's a portable feast, man. All you have to do is to go to B. Dalton's and buy 'The Satanic Bible.' It's all there."

But simple realities -- financial and otherwise -- suggest the Church of Satan may be headed south, so to speak.

"There's no future for that church," journalist Lawrence Wright says. "Unless some other person comes along who can spin out the same kind of charisma that LaVey was able to do."

That someone, many church officials hope, will be LaVey's companion and biographer, Blanche Barton.

The black Victorian stands out as if it were the Addams Family mansion, a rude interruption in the rows of pastel-colored homes that are its neighbors. An eight-foot chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, intended to discourage vandals, seals the house from the sidewalk. The windows are completely shuttered.

Since 1993 the home has been owned by hotelier Donald Werby, a longtime LaVey friend from the old days of the Magic Circle. Werby paid $ 240,000 for the building as part of LaVey's bankruptcy arrangement; the money was used to satisfy a divorce settlement of nearly a half million dollars.

In a city that cherishes its eccentric tradition, the structure may have value as a historical landmark. Rumors have circulated that church priest Marilyn Manson might purchase the building to preserve its legacy, but they remain unconfirmed. To church members, the black house constitutes a shrine, a monument of ultimate religious rebellion.

On the local real estate market, though, the black house is just a dump.

According to court documents, the 1905 building has deteriorated beyond repair. It has no heat. All plumbing and wiring is original and substandard. The owner's representative informs potential buyers that renovation is out of the question. It's more cost-effective to demolish the house and build something new.

But the Black Pope's home is not history yet. On a recent Friday evening, Blanche Barton answers the door and ushers a visitor into the former living room, long since converted into a satanic ritual chamber. Under a blood-red ceiling are pieces of antique furniture, including a grand piano, a church organ, a coffin and a rocking chair that supposedly belonged to Rasputin. The brick fireplace altar, upon which nude women once reclined, now displays a small photograph of Anton LaVey. It seems a shame that the occult artifacts and black walls and the strange energy that emanates from them could soon be leveled.

Barton offers a sofa and sits in a chair, reportedly once owned by Benjamin Franklin. Wearing a small Baphomet pin on her white blouse, she appears as relaxed as any mother of an energetic 4-year-old can be.

She says she discovered "The Satanic Bible" as a teenager living in San Diego, and kept it in mind through college. She met Anton LaVey while vacationing in the Bay Area with her family in 1984 and, she says, has been with him and the church ever since.

Court documents list Karla LaVey as a resident of the house, but Barton says Karla recently moved out, and she would rather not discuss it any further.

On the efforts of Michael Aquino and Zeena Schreck to discredit LaVey, Barton can only chuckle: "All you can really do is laugh at them. It's what the Doctor used to call 'satanic dismay.' "

Blanche Barton learned from the best, and she insists the Church of Satan is here to stay. And it's hard not to believe her. God knows, we'll always need the Devil -- if not as a scapegoat and excuse, then as something to strike fear in sinners' hearts.

Jack Boulware is a staff writer for SF Weekly, where a version of this article originally appeared.


, Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan: "No religion had ever been based on man's carnal needs or his fleshly pursuits." Clockwise from top: Karla LaVey holds a wax statue of her father at a news conference announcing his death; Anton LaVey at the organ; LaVey in 1986; the Church of Satan headquarters; and LaVey's "Satanic Bible."

LOAD-DATE: August 30, 1998

Red Dawn!

Here's link to the Red Dawn trailer I tried and failed to show in class last week. Below you should see a couple of alternate poster images for this most cretinous piece of 80s neo-Cold War schlock.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Date of the Columbine massacre

I just wanted to clear up a fact that was disputed in class today. The Columbine massacre was indeed on April 20, 1999, the day after my younger son was born, as I said. The attack probably was originally scheduled for April 19, but the choice of date may or may not have been related to the Waco/OKC anniversary. The Hitler's birthday suggestion for April 20 has also been made, but it is also just a suggestion.

9/11 conspiracy video: "Pentagon strike"

Steve Schuckmann from our class has helpfully supplied me with the link to the 9/11 conspiracy video everyone but me has apparently seen. (Click the title of the post to access it directly.) It's very professionally done, with the appropriate jarring cuts and an appropriately disquieting industrial/techno soundtrack. At the same time, the presentation pulls the usual conspiracy theory tricks, offering a particularly puzzling* example of the provocation motif and trying to sow doubt through the use of early, conflicting news reports and superficially mysterious photos and eyewitness accounts that rely on the uninformed person's "common sense" (Ohmygod, where are the wings?) to mislead them. There is a lot of emphasis on what people think they saw and heard. How many people have heard or seen a commercial jet flying full speed a few yards off the ground? I am guessing not many.

Do look at the video if you haven't seen it, but then also read the "Urban Legends Reference Page" entry on this theory. Here is the beginning and the end:

The notion that the Pentagon was not damaged by terrorists who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 (a Boeing 757) and crashed it into the military office complex, but that the whole affair was staged by the U.S. government, has been promulgated by French author Thierry Meyssan in his book, The Frightening Fraud. Meyssan offers no real explanation for what did cause the extensive damage to the Pentagon, asserting only that Flight 77 did not exist, no plane crashed into the Pentagon, and that "the American government is lying."

Unfortunately, the appeal of conspiracy theories has resulted in widespread dissemination of Meyssan's "theory" in France and the USA, particularly in web sites that mirror his work. As Le Nouvel Observateur noted: "This theory suits everyone - there are no Islamic extremists and everyone is happy. It eliminates reality." . . .

Update: A video presentation unleashed on the Internet in August 2004 rehashes the same conspiracy claims. It can be found at a number of locations, including:

Please do read the whole, very detailed entry if you find the video convincing.

*I say puzzling because if the idea was to motivate the Iraq war, which Rumsfeld was arguing for as early as 9/12/01, I would have thought that framing some actual Iraqis, rather than a bunch of Saudis, would have been the better plan.

Food for thought: The catastrophe that walks like a man

[UPDATE: I will be happy to remove this post if people in the class would prefer that. This blog appears on my personal webspace, so this obviously represents only my sense of humor and not the opinion of MU or the History Department.]

If may be permitted to indulge in a tiny bit of third-hand political commentary, I have to agree with Eric Alterman, the writer of the blog I took this from, about Bill Maher and the fact that this is too good not to post:

I’ve never been much of a fan of Bill Maher, he who helped spawn Ann Coulter, but this is so good I can’t help it:

Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more. There's no more money to spend--you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people. Listen to your Mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out. No one's speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or space man? Now I know what you're saying: there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don't. I know, I know. There's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela. Eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote.

But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire city to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky. I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

So, yes, God does speak to you. What he is saying is: 'Take a hint.'

On a related note, check out this photo of President Bush taking notes at his recent UN appearance, and look closely to see what important matters of state he is writing about, to the Secretary of State. This photo is real. Click here for a version where you can more easily read the note.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Conspiracy theory, Tony Blair, and the Iraq War

For those of us puzzled about British Prime Minister Tony Blair's motivations for joining the Iraq War, conspiracy theory now has an answer: "Jews and Freemasons controlled war on Iraq, says No 10 adviser." The British newspaper the Telegraph reports that the adviser in question is one Ahmad (born Martin) Thomson, a lawyer and convert to Islam who wrote a 1994 book, The Next World Order, claiming that the Holocaust never happened among many other offensive remarks. The liberal blogger Billmon has more, including a quotation from Thomson's book.

Even More Cattle Mutilation

Well, the student of conspiracy theory's work is never done. Apparently I completely missed a mid-90s scare (another one that became an X-Files episode) blaming cattle mutilations on the legendary bloodsucking Mexican monsters, the Chupacabras. Chupacabras are sort of a cross between vampires and Bigfoot. Click the link and read all about it.

Those who don't buy the Chupacabra theory can turn to the NIDS research on cattle mutilation mentioned in class, and find the specific study I showed, making the unexpected link between cattle mutilations and Alzheimer's, here.

After class Tuesday, a student told me a great cattle mutilation story from an actual Missouri farm. I hope he will post that as a comment. [Update: Thanks, Jared]

Reading for week of Sept. 13-15

You should still be working through the second admittedly rather lengthy set of readings. We won't be ready to move on to the next set until next Thursday (Sept. 22) at the earliest.

Monday, September 12, 2005

AIDS hoax crusader Christine Maggiore

In answer some of the questions last Thursday about the anti-HIV campaigner Christine Maggiore, here are a few more facts and links:

She first test positive in 1992, and is apparently still going strong today. She published a book in 2000, What if everything you thought you knew about AIDS was wrong?, and her filmmaker husband has made a documentary about her,
Documentary: "The Other Side of AIDS," featuring, among other celebrity supporters, the band Foo Fighters. I have pasted the skeptical Newsweek story seen in class below, but more positive coverage of Maggiore can be found at Virus Myth and Gadfly. I haven't been able to determine Maggiore's status as of right now, but she was apparently diagnosed with actual AIDS in 2002, a development she tries to 'splain away here.

The Foo Fighters apparently have other conspiracy interests besides AIDS denial. They recently played a concert at Roswell's abandoned Air Force base and their band name is taken from the term used by World War II fighter pilots for strange balls of light they saw in the skies over the Pacific.

From Newsweek online, 2000:

The HIV Disbelievers

Christine Maggiore is a different kind of AIDS activist—one who tells people to forget safe sex and stop taking their lifesaving drugs. Why?

One sweltering California afternoon a few weeks ago, Christine Maggiore was sitting in her cramped office, still jet-lagged from the long flight home from South Africa, where she’d attended the International AIDS Conference.

SHE HADN’T YET found time to answer the “hundreds and hundreds, perhaps literally thousands” of e-mail messages she’d received from people she’d met there who were looking for AIDS literature or doctor referrals, or simply wanting to pat her on the back. “All your work and dedication is appreciated!!!” a typical message declared. She doesn’t know when she’ll find time to catch up—her whole life is behind schedule because of her AIDS work. “My fiancé and I have been trying to find time to get married for years!” she says.

But Maggiore, who heads Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives in Burbank, Calif., is not your typical AIDS activist. In South Africa, some scientists spit nasty epithets at her. Protesters marching outside the meeting hall threatened to plug her and her galvanized followers with bullets. Why? Because Maggiore takes the strange contrarian stance that HIV, which has been blamed in the deaths of 18.8 million people worldwide, doesn’t cause AIDS at all. She exhorts people to stop taking their medications and stop worrying about spreading their virus.

Today Maggiore is the most prominent foe of what she calls “the HIV equals AIDS equals death paradigm,” having sold or given away 28,500 copies of her self-published booklet since 1995, in addition to the copies in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. She founded Alive & Well, which has spun off chapters around the globe and is affiliated with dozens of like-minded groups representing perhaps tens of thousands of followers.

Their message has resonated among a number of gay men who, exhausted by 20 years of medical vigilance and daily toxic drug regimens, are increasingly receptive to Maggiore’s exhortation to “live in wellness... without fear of AIDS.” And they have reinvigorated long-simmering AIDS conspiracy theories. According to a 1995 survey of 1,000 African-American churchgoers, one third believed HIV was concocted by the government for racial genocide. When she spoke before a crowded room in Harlem in 1998, spellbound members of the audience likened her to the abolitionists, interrupting her with cries of “John Brown lives!”

“If you told me five years ago I would be promoting the notion that HIV does not cause AIDS, I would have said you were nuts. I believed adamantly that HIV was a killer and these drugs were saving lives,” says Michael Bellefountaine, 34, a friend of Maggiore’s who decided against taking anti-HIV medication years ago. Now he attributes his survival to being drug-free. Last month he attended a protest in San Francisco and chanted, “HIV is a lie! It’s toxic pills that made them die!”

AIDS educators already hold Maggiore and her acolytes responsible for an upswing in new infections. San Francisco authorities just announced that new HIV cases in 1999 were nearly twice as high as in 1997. “People are focusing on the wrong thing. They’re focusing on conspiracies rather than protecting themselves, rather than getting tested and seeking out appropriate care and treatment,” says Stephen Thomas, who directs the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Minority Health.

HIV renegades sometimes seem as if their main goal is mayhem, not constructive discourse. For instance, the San Francisco chapter of ACT UP, once a major force lobbying for more money for AIDS research, is now run by dissenters who stage protests against other AIDS leaders—regularly bathing them in cat-box litter or spit. On Aug. 9, police charged two ACT UP members with assault and battery for allegedly striking city health department director Mitchell H. Katz and covering him with Silly String during a public meeting. Similar antics now prevail among a half-dozen ACT UP branches. “They’re crazy,” says Larry Kramer, who founded ACT UP in 1987. “They’re undoing all we’ve fought for.”

Picking over a black-bean wrap at her kitchen counter recently, Maggiore described herself simply as a person who asks questions others are overlooking. The fact that she provokes hostility only emboldens her. She sees only intolerance and recalcitrance among her detractors—they “smack of parental authority and religious authority,” she said. Her brother Steven, 41, calls her a modern-day Copernicus.

But she soon made it clear that her disregard for HIV is not just an intellectual gambit when her talkative 3-year-old son, Charlie, wandered into the kitchen after a midday nap. She talked about how she conceived him naturally and gave birth without drugs routinely given to prevent transmission. She continues to breast-feed him today, according to the family’s pediatrician. Her family supports her in this, even though HIV can be transmitted through breast milk and judges have charged mothers in similar cases with child endangerment.

Maggiore and Scovill, Charlie’s father, say they’ve never been curious to test the child for HIV (Scovill does not know his own status). Their pediatrician is not as sanguine. “I would not be opposed to testing his blood,” admits Dr. Paul Fleiss, who says the boy has been very healthy. “But she is.”

“He’s a perfectly healthy little boy,” says Scovill, bending to offer his son a macaroon. Charlie was skeptical. “They’re really good,” the father insisted patiently. “And for some reason they decrease viral load!” With that, both parents had a good laugh at the silly AIDS goblin. Such is the power of belief.

© 2000 Newsweek, Inc.

Change of commenting system

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted the old comments doing this. There were only a few, but I was sad to see a couple of them go. The new system has a few more features, including permanent links in comments so that they can be found again. As before, students in the class should use their real names or at least something recognizable when commenting.

Friday, September 09, 2005

UPDATED: Latest on the decline of FEMA

Besides the Washington Post story linked above, the Washington Monthly has a whole collection of links to stories about horse lawyer Michael Brown, Bush's pick to run the weakened disaster agency. . . er, I mean, secret government.

UPDATE: Brown has not been fired yet, but has been taken off the Katrina case. Washington Monthly now has links to a couple of pre-Katrina accounts of the rise and fall of FEMA, indicating that the criticisms are not based solely on bad feelings from the recent disaster.

As for the FEMA-as-secret-government conspiracy theories, here are two good pages pro- and con: FEMA- The Secret Government and Demystifying FEMA . I will let you guess which is which. It appears that the claims of scary FEMA powers come, typically, from repeated misquotation of the relevant Executive Orders.

Lecture outline posted

The outline for the first set of lectures has been posted on the Lecture Outlines page. It is in .pdf format and should be printable. If you look at it online, the web links in the outline should work.

Conspiracy-related films

We obviously have a lot of movie-lovers in the crowd this year, myself included. I noticed driving home that the Missouri Theatre is showing the 1950s "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" a week from Sunday (Sept. 18). I often show bits of this one in class. It's one of the original my friends and neighbors and loved ones are being replaced by emotionless pod people stories, and can be seen as allegory to Communist subversion, 1950s suburban conformity or both. Long story short: if you haven't seen this film and you are in this class, go see this film.

In other movie news, today's New York Times has a great review of a new exorcism film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Reviewer A.O. Scott actually pans the movie as religious propaganda, but argues that it's also indicative of the anti-scientific intellectual trends that we have discussed in class. These trends undergird "intelligent design" and other conservative attacks on science, as well as conspiracy theory and religion per se. In
"Dancing With the Devil, Then With a Prosecutor", Scott describes the rhetorical/intellectual judo through which a conservative, literal-minded Christian outlook (demons are real beings who move among us) gets to pose as "open-minded." I put one of his key phrases in bold :

"The movie pretends to take the same tolerant, anything's-possible position. While not especially good - judged strictly on its cinematic merits, it ranges from O.K. to god-awful - it is still a fascinating cultural document in the age of intelligent design. Its point of view suggests an improbable alliance of postmodern relativism and absolute religious faith against the supposed tyranny of scientific empiricism, which is depicted as narrow and dogmatic.

"The sincerity of a believer - Father Moore, in this case - is conflated with the plausibility of his beliefs. The doctors, meanwhile, seem so sure of themselves. But of course, the movie says, no one can ever be completely sure, and thus superstition becomes a matter of reasonable doubt. Meanwhile the clocks stop, the wind howls, and we are encouraged to believe - or at least not to disbelieve - our own eyes
. Father Moore knows what he saw. So do I: propaganda disguised as entertainment."

Unfortunately, as we have discussed, there is really nothing improbable about an "alliance of postmodern relativism and absolute religious faith" (or other supernatural/paranormal beliefs, or conspiracy theories. The former opens the way for the latter, and practically encourages the adoption of supernatural or conspiratorial beliefs in the face of modern technological society.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

New World Order 101

Here is the text of the "New World Order" rant we listened to in class today. Click the title above to get to the page I found it on. There is plenty more weirdness where this comes from, and I know you will all want your own file of that speech to keep on your iPod:

[Author's intro] This is an important message. Actually it is
the biggest untold news story in the history of the world. It is mind blowing, therefore most
people won't be able to believe it, although the facts and conclusions are unmistakable.
This is the challenge the misinformed masses will ultimately face one way or another.

Freedom is not something bought with taxes and forgotten about; it
is earned with never-ending vigilance and dedication to the principle
of upholding truth. The whole truth is the key to securing our freedoms
and safety. The lock is the mainstream consciousness.

Dear friends of liberty scattered around the world, here is a solid
write-up of the problem and answer to our shared woes. Truly, there
is no other solution than to rip open the veil of the deception the
American people have been under since the turn of the past century.

The most prideful of American people have been so dumbed down to think
we have the greatest political system that ever was. In truth, we have
been so neutralized - all of us; while thousands of outright lying
crooks have remained and grown in perpetual power above us in a
mafia over humanity itself, self-proclaimed the "New World Order".

Governments are no longer servants of the People. Merging together
'it' is now taking a stand as our global master to the extent of
resembling the likes of a false god: the capstone of the financial
pyramid, the 'all seeing eye' of Lucifer if you will. Under
increasing surveillance and scrutiny of the 'evil one', each common
person is now subject to an endless assortment of laws that today
make every person a candidate for interrogation and potential
incarceration at any time the state sees fit to frame and remove a
particular person or seize his/her wealth, standing, and/or children.

Today's emerging global regime is now moving ahead with policies of
extermination of any individual that would stand in dissent. Is it
at all reasonable to allow for such power over our natural lives,
our cherished liberties, and our individual right to pursue a path
of lifelong happiness?

It is often stated that this final Conspiracy is so monstrous that
it cannot be seen at all, almost too well disguised within the fabric
of society itself; or otherwise believed - as the magnitude of it,
once realized, is indeed frightening for any one person to face alone.

The television, which has been content controlled since the first
national broadcast, continues to lie to us through omission and
creates a skewed mass perception, a false sense of security, and
holds a great many of us in a temporary comfort through a blanketting
of ignorance. Yes, there have been many who have been operating in
front and behind the curtains of mainstream perception for scores
of decades. All the familiar faces everyone has grown to know from
Jay Leno to Dan Rather to those who preceded them. This is stated
in reference to the constant rewriting of our true history and the
many deliberate white-washings of major events from political
assassinations to large scale staged acts of terrorism to full blown
world wars. However, the surfacing of the truth of our hidden
governors along with their associated network of 'establishment
cronies' should eventually cast all fiction and untruth aside
once and for all.

However large it seems however, the great number of people of this
world have to understand that, regardless, it is still being managed
by a small group of people/men/Rothschilds/Rockefellers/DuPonts/
Kerrys and Haknesses and a handful of others. Even if the list
was presented in its entirety, it would still be comparable to
only one or two pages at most of a typical local community phone
book. We each know that a typical city phone book contains tens
of thousands of different family names.

The Word of Our Father in Heaven is invaluable in teaching us about
Truth and Hope. The Word of Our Father in Revelation 18 foretells
of a time when the Kings of the Earth, who committed lewd sex acts,
lived deliciously, and traded in the souls of men, will be judged

Presenting an essay for all people around the whole world published
on 11/15/04, relatively soon prior to the next large act of political
terrorism to again hit the United States. Nothing in this text is a
lie. Together, we need to be deeply committed to these facts of his-
tory rather than the cover stories the we are fed to otherwise mani-
pulate us. ]



Why do we enjoy conspiracy theories as entertainment?

Erin Morrow from our class answered my question today in the comments, and I thought would give her answer its own post so that others can chime in the same place.

Here's what Erin wrote:

"with regard to Professor Pasley's question in class today as to why we enjoy learning about conspiracies...
There are some conspiracies which I'm afraid to believe, and it's these same conspiracies which I'm afraid NOT to believe. These are the CT's I like learning about most. Maybe it's just exciting to think about these ideas, but I also feel for some reason that there are some ideas I should know about even if I don't want to or am skeptical."

Conspiracist banners from the Alex Jones websites

These are images I am going to use as examples in class today [UPDATED: next week, actually, representing the politically confused mixmaster or "improvisational" approach of the conspiracist sub-culture.

Face on Mars animation

As seen in class (I hope) . . .

The Skeptical Inquirer has covered the "Face on Mars" very well if you want more information.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Example of real conspiracy: Fake relief efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi

Speaking of real conspiracies as we were at the end of the last class, here is a truly astonishing example, the stage management of relief and repair efforts in places where President Bush has visited in the Hurricane Katrina damage zone. Below you will find a press release from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D - Louisiana), a Bush supporter (or a former one) on many other issues, reporting what she saw. MSNBC and German television report on similarly conspiratorial antics elsewhere. Bulldozers and other equipment were apparently following the president around in Mississippi.


Landrieu Implores President to "Relieve Unmitigated Suffering;" End FEMA's "Abject Failures"

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., issued the following statement this afternoon regarding her call yesterday for President Bush to appoint a cabinet-level official to oversee Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery efforts within 24 hours.

Sen. Landrieu said:

"Yesterday, I was hoping President Bush would come away from his tour of the regional devastation triggered by Hurricane Katrina with a new understanding for the magnitude of the suffering and for the abject failures of the current Federal Emergency Management Agency. 24 hours later, the President has yet to answer my call for a cabinet-level official to lead our efforts. Meanwhile, FEMA, now a shell of what it once was, continues to be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

"I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims -- far more efficiently than buses -- FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

"But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Reading for week of Sept. 6-8

I will need one more lecture day to get through the first set of material, but you should now move on to the second set of readings:

•Knight, ed., Conspiracy Nation, chaps. 7, 8, 10
•Robert Goldberg, Enemies Within, chaps. 3, 7 (reserve)
• Fine and Turner, Whispers on the Color Line
• Barkun, Culture of Conspiracy, chaps. 3-11
•Schultz, ed., Fear Itself, pp. 430-440 (reserve)
Selected documents (web) -- this page may be updated a bit