Cult of Paranoia: Fear-Based, Right-Wing Persecution Fantasies

Sure doesn’t seem like it’s possible to have rational discourse these days. Instead of explaining why one’s ideas are better than the opponents’, there’s more of a tendency – an outright desire – to ridicule opponents.

It’s not just that “their” ideas are bad; they “themselves” are bad. The louder and uglier one can make that attack, the better – at least as far as ratings are concerned, if you’re in the media realm.

How did our Socio-Political Environment come to be so?

Author Michael Wolraich gives his take on what he calls “Persecution Politics” in his new book, Blowing Smoke, with the subtitle, Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies About the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas and Turn Junior Into a Raging Homosexual.”

Succinctly, attacks from the extreme right find footing based upon Fear, primarily their acolytes’ fear of losing place in the power structure. The preferred means of fighting involves making themselves seem the victims, suffering unjust persecution from • anti-Christians (or worse, secularists!), • black power militants, • feminazis, • eco terrorists, • sexual deviants (that’s us gay boys and girls), and that all-purpose dumping ground for anyone they’ve overlooked, • socialists (lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!).

Wolraich breaks their strategy down into three steps:

  • the slippery slope,
  • the secret plot, and
  • persecution.

The first of many examples cited for this action strategy concerns Bill O’Reilly promoting the idea that Christmas was “under siege” (yeah, as if!) in a series of Fox News segments. Creating an issue out of thin air — calling a Christmas tree a “holiday tree” — was just the first step down an evil path leading inexorably to systematically undermining Christianity (you see that, right?).

Interestingly enough… in 17th century England, those fun-loving Puritans banned Christmas trees (too pagan), caroling (too Catholic) and nativity scenes (too idolatrous). Now, that’s a war on Christmas! Has Bill O’Reilly been informed?

Now, who could be behind such a nefarious plot? No shortage of Conspirators, it seems, presented themselves: including those “Committed Secularists” in the nation’s courts and school systems, the Liberal Media (hell, we couldn’t even keep a national radio station on the air… so what are you talking about?), and, of course, dread defenders of individual rights… the ACLU. Can’t you see what this means? Christianity is under attack!

I am always fascinated, and increasingly disturbed, to learn just how paranoid my right-wing fellow citizens think, not to mention what strange conclusions they hold:

  • Pat Buchanan, railing about how African-Americans are catered to by quotas, while bemoaning, “Who speaks for the Euro-Americans, who founded the United States?”
  • Pat Robertson, who actually said, “Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians! It’s no different! It is the same thing!” (Have I missed seeing masses of evangelicals being rounded up into concentration camps and then summarily executed?)
  • It’s also not a new tactic, as Wolraich shows when he quotes the President of the California Republican Assembly in 1962, campaigning against a proposition that would have outlawed housing discrimination, who explains, “The essence of freedom is the right to discriminate. Discrimination means free choice.”
  • Today’s world: cue libertarianmiester Rand Paul and Faux News fascist John Stossell who both publicly profess that true freedom means being able to discriminate based upon one’s racist proclivity so the free market may reward or punish them for their abusive discrimination (May the Gods above help us).

Technologically, the volume’s been amped up in our cable and internet-plagued era, while rational debate is increasingly stamped out.

Moderate conservatives are seen as being nearly as bad as those darn socialists, and if they don’t toe the line, they’re dumped — witness the tea-bagging of many moderate republicans who won’t be seated in the next congress.

The rest of us are simply demonized as not being “Real Americans” because we dare to disagree. If we do so with facts, information, and rational thought… then the abuse must be all the more severe.

What’s to be done? Wolraich has some suggestions.

  • One is the boycott: when viewers boycotted Glenn Beck’s show after he said President Obama hated white people, Beck’s rhetoric was (somewhat) toned down.
  • “Just say no to media thugs,” he says.
  • Present an opposing viewpoint whenever and wherever possible, with conservative moderates left out there especially encouraged to speak up.
  • Wolraich points out how in the 1960s, a group of conservatives, including Sen. Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, Jr., got together to strategize how to distance the party from the extremists in the John Birch Society, proving that yes, such things have successfully happened before.

Perhaps that was then, but this is a different time, and Wolraich’s proposals seemed naively optimistic to me. I’m simply overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. People seem to have so much invested in being ugly to each other these days, I just don’t feel we have much chance of getting past it.

I mean, really, I’ve experienced it myself many times… even with family… once, at a wedding reception… for my niece! After deserts were served, a group of my generation of the family sat around a large round table. My cousin’s second husband, Fritz, couldn’t let the evening pass with us just feeling happy for the new bride and groom… No, we had to be reminded how fortunate we were for being privileged to do so in the world’s greatest nation.

After – literally – gagging on my sip of Champaign, I looked at him inquisitively and offered, “Um, Fritz… (pause) I live in a different America than you, because… no, I do not live in the greatest nation on the planet.”

He started to interject, and I just spoke louder over him, “No, and I thought everyone in this family knew that I have tried to give up my citizenship and obtain EU citizenship on several occasions.”

Various words flew back and forth, but in the end, the inexorable words arrived with great anger and tonal violence, “Then get the fuck out of this country, if you don’t love it!” To which I calmly tossed back, “Perhaps you weren’t listening, Fritz, but that’s what I started out saying I have attempted to do… did IQ’s sharply fall as we started this conversation?” I couldn’t just be allowed to have my opinion, my position, my personal life conclusions. No, an attack had to be mounted against the patriotic defiler!

I looked around the table. No one dared step in… because they knew my experience with this country (despite financial and quality-of-life success), knew my steadfast conclusions drawn, and knew I would not back down. My cousin also knew Fritz would not back down, as well, so her hand found his hand, and her gentle words flowed forth, “Fritz, Steven has his reasons, and we do not need to agree with them. It is how he feels.” Enough said. Fritz and I shake hands now and move on at family gatherings (Love my cousin, not a fan of her hubby).

Do check out Wolraich’s book. In addition to making me angry, it also made me laugh.


As madness reigns, pundits, politicians, and cab drivers debate the source of the hysteria. Some blame ignorance; some blame racism; some blame the economy.

After poring over mountains of political screeds and heedlessly subjecting himself to countless hours of Fox News, author Michael Wolraich discovered the secret formula that turns ordinary men and women into fire-breathing, smoke-blowing right-wing maniacs. It’s “persecution politics”…again.

In Blowing Smoke, Wolraich documents, dissects and deconstructs the myths that underlie the right’s growing reliance on the politics of persecution, from Joe McCarthy to the Tea Party movement. In the process, he delivers an original and compelling hypothesis with penetrating insight and blistering wit.

At turns hilarious, disturbing and edifying, Blowing Smoke is a good if not great account of modern American politics.



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