Every morning in elementary school, my classmates and I pledged allegiance to the flag, said a prayer for the conversion of Russia, then, before curling under our desks to practice avoiding being vaporized in an atomic blast, we prayed for Sen. Joe McCarthy to root the communists out of government.

“Tail Gunner Joe” believed that men high in government were conspiring “on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.” McCarthy blamed Gen. George Marshall and Secretary of State Dean Acheson for making us vulnerable “to Soviet intrigue from within and Russian military from without.” Kindred spirit Robert Welch (John Birch Society) believed John Foster Dulles and Dwight Eisenhower were communist agents based on evidence “beyond any reasonable doubt.”

Many of McCarthy’s and Welch’s supporters also believed that “fluoridation” was a Socialist plot designed to “rot out the brains of the community by introducing chemicals in the water supply in order to make people more vulnerable to socialist or communist schemes.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Richard Hofstadter references these events and others in his 1964 book, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Hofstadter explains that this paranoid style has deep roots. For example, 19th century conspiracy theorists believed Catholics, especially Jesuits, were “prowling about” the U.S. “to disseminate Popery.” They believed Freemasons were “blasphemous, murderous, anti-Republican and anti-Christian” subversives.

The “paranoid style” trafficks in conspiracies, like McCarthy’s, that are “vast” and “gigantic.” It prophesies the imminent death of cultural and political orders. The enemy is always presented as ruthless and cunning. He “directs the public mind through ‘managed news’; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction; he is gaining a stranglehold on the educational system.”

Hofstadter discusses four basic elements of the paranoid style:

n the prevalence of a sustained conspiracy;

n infiltration of subversive elements into top government officialdom who are “consistently selling out American interests”;

n a pervasive network of agents who have infiltrated “the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media”; and

n “Projection”: “A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy.” In order to combat their chimerical enemy, right-wing organizations elaborately and defensively mimic the very systems they oppose.

Fifty-five years after Hofstadter’s book, the paranoid style flourishes, especially in the right-wing media. “Birtherism,” “Benghazi,” “Hillary’s Emails,” and the “Deep State” have provided the fist-pumping musical scores for Rush, Alex and Laura. But they are all second fiddlers to their brassy one-note trumpeter, Sean Hannity.

Hannity himself provides an instructive template for illustrating Hofstadter’s criteria for the paranoid style.

n Prevalence of a Sustained Conspiracy: Hannity stated that the Mueller investigation was a product of the “Deep State” and that “major documents” will demonstrate that the Trump campaign was spied on by “treasonous and politically motivated law enforcement officials” who favored Hillary Clinton. He stated “if there is no investigation of the investigators, we lose the country.” Hannity believes, moreover, that conspiracies continue unabated as Congress plots a “coup” in the guise of impeachment.

n Infiltration of subversive elements into top government officialdom: Hannity, parroting Joe McCarthy, believes highly placed figures are everywhere in government: in the State Department, the Judiciary, the FBI, the CIA, even the White House, where they continue to threaten Trump’s presidency. Hannity believes “these people” are a clear and present danger to the country and should be jailed. Moreover, somewhere … somehow … the diabolical George Soros and his misspent billions are implicated.

n Pervasive network of agents from education, the press, religion, and the mass media: Corrosive forces operate everywhere in Hannity’s mind. He indicts “the media mob and the Democratic mob who have lied ...repeatedly,” warning that they will “face the justice” they deserve. Perhaps seeking a “cultural revolution,” he also indicts liberal professors for brainwashing students and infecting our universities with socialist propaganda.

n Projection: Conspiracy theorists ironically transform themselves into the phantom enemy they oppose. Hannity and other Fox pundits have infiltrated so deeply into the President’s office that they have become Trump whisperers, offering advice and shaping talking points. Moreover, fully sanctioned by Murdoch’s “managed news” (brainwashing?) empire, Hannity employs the paranoid style every day, snarling practiced rage to his mesmerized and duly horrified viewers.

The paranoid style diagnosed by Richard Hofstadter 55 years ago is a recurring feature of American politics. The latest conspiracy theories are the latest variations on the paranoid style — same choir, similar tunes. The danger with phantom conspiracy theories today is that they obscure truth and divert attention from ongoing, verifiable threats to our electoral system.

Life was simpler when all we had to worry about was fluoride eating our brains and turning us into socialists.

William Shaw, of Pinehurst, is the author of “Fellowship of Dust: Retracing the WWII Journey of Sergeant Frank Shaw.”

(7) comments

Conrad Meyer

I've concluded that Shaw is a total moron.

PLEASE bring Dusty Rhoades back!

Richard Wright

I am not sure why you chose only Hannity. Seems the left fits your theme well. Schiff claimed President Trump colluded with the Russians and the evidence was there for anyone to see. Then Mueller's reports exploded that myth. The the so called whistleblower made accusations and Schiff claimed quid pro quo then bribery and finally abusive of power without a scintilla of evidence. Then he claimed Barr was biased --- and then McConnell would not give a fair impeachment hearing. Schumer , Pelosi and Nadler agreed. Now the left claims that President Trump acted against Suleimani to "wag the dog". Face it Mr. Shaw, the left is paranoid.

Sally Larson

"The danger with phantom conspiracy theories today is that they obscure the truth and divert attention from ongoing, verifiable threats to our electoral system."

Yes, and unfortunately that is our new reality of ignorance we have to fight against.

Conrad Meyer

So Sally, I interpret your short response as agreement that the Democrats have assaulted our electoral system with any angle they can conjure up. Only applies if the winner is a Republican - (examples Bush and Trump).

Never a peep if a Democrat wins.

Sally Larson

Conrad, not everything is a fight here. I didn't think I needed any interpretation of my comment on the quoted sentence. Paranoia does not support clear decision making. It's a very unstable and self-destructive place to lead from. It is something we should all try to identify and guard against.

Kent Misegades

This opinion piece is based on a false premise concerning Senator McCarthy. When the Iron Curtain fell in the late 1980s, information from the former Soviet Union came to light that has largely vindicated McCarthy's efforts to root out Communist sympathizers in our government and the media including Hollywood. See the book by M.Stanton Evans: 'Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and his Fight Against America's Enemies". He was not alone. As head of the Screens Guild, former President Ronald Reagan worked to root out Communist supporters from Hollywood. Again, information found in the files of Moscow have confirmed that those exposed and prosecuted had indeed been covertly supporting Communism at a time when its goal was control of the world. Another good source of details on the efforts of Nazis and to a lesser degree Communists in the US from the mid-1930s to the late 1940s is painstakingly documented the book 'Under Cover - My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America' by Arthur Derounian, published under the pen name John Roy Carlson in 1943. Sean Hannity and many others have done the work the media used to do - root out the facts amid the haze obscuring the true activities in the D.C. Swamp from citizens. As with Senator McCarthy, Hannity's excellent investigative reporting is now being shown to be undeniably true, despite the claims to the contrary by those suffering from TDS.

Dan Roman

Straight line from McCarthy to Trumps father to Trump son. The name of the line is Roy Cohn. Cohn was the legal adviser and brains behind McCarthy, lawyer for Trump father, mentor and lawyer for Trump son and one of the most evil men that has ever lived. He would lie, cheat, misrepresent, use specious lawsuits to intimidate and was utterly and completely unethical to the point that that he was disbarred. Cohn taught Trump son well to the point that when Trump son was fulminating about Sessons recusing himself he asked "Where is my Roy Cohn?"

Believing that McCarthy has been "largely vindicated" is bizarre if not pathetic, McCarthy has been completely discredited for the lying fake he was & Reagan ultimately distanced himself from the whole debacle. PS: the Nazi party attempt to gain a foothold in the USA was loudly and roundly rejected. The Soviet Union and it's version of Communism collapsed of it's own accord. Germany lost WW II (and WW I). Sorry Kent but the twisted truth as you see it doesn't change the facts.

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