I highly recommend Alexander Zaitchik's feature in Salon today, "Meet the Man Who Changed Glenn Beck's Life." In it, he profiles not just Beck and his band of aggrieved, paranoid disciples, but the man who inspired him, W. Cleon Skousen, whom Zaitchik describes as "too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era."
Beck has resuscitated Skousen's book, The 5,000 Year Leap, catapulting it to the top of Amazon bestsellers and waiting lists at public libraries. Zaitchik, who is at work on a book about Beck, writes:
Skousen was not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it. At least, that was the judgment of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which maintained a file on Skousen for years that eventually totaled some 2,000 pages. Before he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen's own Mormon church publicly distanced itself from the foundation that Skousen founded and that has published previous editions of "The 5,000 Year Leap."
As Beck knows, to focus solely on "The 5,000 Year Leap" is to sell the author short. When he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen had authored more than a dozen books and pamphlets on the Red Menace, New World Order conspiracy, Christian child rearing, and Mormon end-times prophecy. It is a body of work that does much to explain Glenn Beck's bizarre conspiratorial mash-up of recent months, which decries a new darkness at noon and finds strange symbols carefully coded in the retired lobby art of Rockefeller Center. It also suggests that the modern base of the Republican Party is headed to a very strange place.
Of course, at some level, it's the strange place the Republican Party has been for decades. As Zaitchik also chronicles in his piece, Skousen played a key role in forming a crucial allegiance between the evangelical religious right and the Mormon church (even as many evangelical churches continued to teach that Mormonism was satanic). For many conservatives, their movement's ties to extremists -- whether the Christian reconstructionists seeking to implement biblical law, the nativist John Birch Society, various secessionists, and one-world order conspiracy theorists -- is simultaneously an uncomfortable embarrassment to the white-shoe crowd and a thrilling grassroots mobilizing boon. That's how Mitt Romney, who presents himself as a prototype of the hard-working, handsome, upper-crust entrepreneur, still admires Skousen, even as National Review describes the late conspiracy theorist as "by turns an FBI employee, the police chief of Salt Lake City, a Brigham Young University professor, consigliore to former secretary of agriculture and Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson and, well, all-around nutjob."
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