Category Archives: True Believer

Acquiescing to Extremists is not the Answer

A cousin of mine has responded to one of my recent posts by saying, rightly so, that “Hamas has now proven to be nothing more than a ruthless killer and terrorist organization.” I agree. But I wanted to reply on my blog since not all of my faithful readers go first to Facebook. That is why I wish more people replied on the blog site rather than Facebook, but each has a choice and I am happy when people respond.

As I told my cousin in my Facebook reply (with a few additional comments and corrections):

There is no doubt that people have the right to defend themselves from attacks. Governments must defend their people from such attacks. There is also no doubt that Israel was subjected to a vicious by a terrorist organization, namely Hamas. Nothing Israel has done justifies raping, murdering, and killing innocent women and children.  I do no support what Hamas has done.  I renounce it unequivocally. That does not mean that Israel has an unlimited right to retaliate.

As Nicholas Kristof said in the New York Times:

“Israel has suffered a horrifying terrorist attack and deserves the world’s sympathy and support, but it should not get a blank check to slaughter civilians or to deprive them of food, water and medicine.”


I just heard on the news recently that, according to Hamas, and so far uncontradicted by Israel, that more than 4,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by the Israeli siege and about half of these are children. Is that justified? Israel says unlike Hamas it does not deliberately attack children. But is Israel so reckless about whether or not civilians are killed that there is really no difference between that and deliberate targeting of civilians?

I also recognize that Israel is surrounded by murderous enemies. That makes a difference. How would we respond in the same situation? But Israel claims the higher moral ground. To justify that claim it must act accordingly. Using superior brutal military power to effect mass killings on Palestinians is not the way to do that. There is a better way.

I wish Israel had not turned its country over to its worst extreme elements when it elected Netanyahu and the religious extremists with whom he has aligned himself.

When two groups led by religious extremists do battle there is not much room to protect the innocents on either side.

A New Religious War


Carl McIntire was an important part of this wave of talk radio in America. According to Justin Ling in his podcast Flame Throwers, as absurd as this sounds to the modern listener, McIntyre, like Coughlin before him,  gave the people what they wanted—lengthy sermons.” Most modern listeners would rather go for a root canal than listen to long sermons, but at the time in the US in particular they were very popular.  Yet, McIntire provided what he called “The Twentieth Century Reformation Hour,” and it was immensely popular. Religion and politics is often considered a poisonous stew, but in right wing radio it is magic. Black magic perhaps, but magic.


Much of right-wing talk radio was driven by fears.  The first of those fears was creeping socialism or even worse, communism. The second fear was the rise of ecumenism or the progressive wing of Christianity.  Those 2 fears would not generate much fear today, but in the early 60s that was real and scary stuff. Often the two fears were tied together to make the fears exponentially more explosive.  The National Council of Churches was representative of this opposition and McIntire obsessed over it. According to Ling, when he used the word “secularism” you could hear and see the venom in his speech. It was like spit being ejected with extreme distaste. Both of these of course, were generated by conspiracy theories that pointed to a takeover by these forces. Secularism was liberalism—evil in other words. He did not hesitate to suggest, without evidence of course, that they were Communist sympathizers. Fellow travelers in other words. Religion and politics in other words in unholy matrimony.


Ling’s podcast brought us Clarence E. Manion, another religious zealot and right-wing true believer,  bellowing, “This is not a political war, this is not an economic war, this is not even a military war, this is a religious war at bottom.” And this brought together religion and politics into a constantly heated toxic brew. In America at least, it is still today a religious war—i.e. the worst kind of war. Manion of course was a committed Catholic who loved to use radio. He said “Communism could not succeed in atmosphere of religious belief and practice.”


Another militant in this spirit was Billy James Hargis who led “the Christin crusade.” The name of course is important and tells us a lot all by itself. He said, “I believe that the National Council of Churches is an instrument of Satan.” Right-wing extremists always go after those in their own movement who are not extreme enough often with more hate than their liberal enemies.  To many of us this seems rather extreme. Because it is extreme. But in its day, this was dynamite. Such attacks were what Ling said was “a very successful formula.” The Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians ate it up. In 1956 Carl McIntire was on two national radio shows, one in Pennsylvania and another in Georgia. By 1960 he was on more than 100 radio stations and more than 400 by 1964.


Even though many of us (like me) have probably never heard of him, according to Justin Ling, “It was staggering how much affect McIntire had on the conservative movement in America. The National Review magazine, a prestigious right wing journal,  had 73,000 subscribers while McIntire had 23 million listeners! I have definitely heard of the National Review and their influence paled in comparison. Radio not literature was the King of the Right-Wing movement in America.


People like McIntire were instrumental in what became the “Southern Strategy” the movement to take the American south from liberal democrats in favor of conservative Republicans. Ling said “McIntire played a kind of John the Baptist role preparing the way for a kind of partisan transformation of the south from deep Democrat to deep Republican. They do so by playing on racist segregationist fears.”  He was important in convincing them their support of segregation was not racist. It was valid. It was ordained by God. Even though he was based in the north, half of his stations were in the south. By playing on racist fears, they helped move the south from the Democrats to the Republicans. This strategy proved very effective in getting Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan get elected. Fear and religion always play a vital role in this right-wing  movement. Race and fear go together like love and marriage. Or pee and porcelain to quote a friend of mine.


Flame Throwers and True Believers


The abolition of the Fairness doctrine in the US  opened the way for ordinary grass roots citizens who were unhappy with the political consensus of the 1950s to call in to talk radio and voice their opinions and gain some satisfaction from that engagement. These people felt connected to each other and a national movement. Their yearning to belong was deeply satisfied. AM radio did not have a lot of range during the day, but at night clear channel stations could pump out 50,000 watts. They were called “flame throwers” as a result. They threw the flames of hate.

Many of these radio shows offered ‘All talk, all of the time.”  That’s how popular the radio shows were, especially if they offered some spice. They were, in many ways, like Social Media is a today.  They offered a way for community members to engage with citizens on the fringes.  And those audience members were attracted to flames like flies to shit.

For most owners of most of such radio stations  did not care about ideology. The talk was cheap and all they cared about was making a buck. They weren’t  trying to elevate listeners or making the country a better place. Yet they helped to form a political movement.

They all tried to tap into a visceral element that kept such talk radio alive—“ this sense that is very common to conservatism, a sense of embattlement—the idea that everybody else is out to get you.”  Often they complained that they were held in contempt, that people ridiculed them, that their motives were questioned.

Again, this has been constant in right-wing extremism down to today.


The Revival of Talk Radio and the Far Right



The Radio Right provides the essential pre-history for the last four decades of conservative activism, as well as the historical context for current issues of political bias and censorship in the media.


After the disintegration of the Fairness doctrine by the Carter administration in the US in the late 70s , and the revival of talk radio that quickly followed,  suddenly radio stations on the right and left had a lot of bandwidth to dole out to attract listeners. It was also possible to create a national network with very little investment.

National networks could be created for super cheap funds. This was a golden opportunity for those who wanted to use radio. And radio entrepreneurs did exactly that. They invested and some of them got very rich.

There were a lot of people who resisted the apparent political consensus the political parties had reached in the 1950s.  These people resisted that consensus. Some Americans thought the political elites were just ganging up against them.

Especially at night they reached homes, cars, and particularly truckers. The first time I heard about this phenomenon was from a trucker I knew He told me how he loved to listen to Rush Limbaugh. At the time I knew nothing about Limbaugh.  Later I learned a lot about him.

This opened the way for ordinary grass roots citizens who were unhappy with the political consensus of the 1950s to call in to a radio show and voice their opinions and gain some satisfaction from that engagement. These people felt connected to each other and a national movement. Their yearning to belong was deeply satisfied. AM radio did not have a lot of range during the day, but at night clear channel stations could pump out 50,000 watts. They were called “flame throwers” as a result.  That was an apt description for what they did.

Homes, cars, and truckers could be reached easily and cheaply across the country. This was a massive audience. And unlike television they did not have to sit passively and watch. They could participate—by calling in. They could join in. They were not longer passive consumers, they were active participants.  Long-distance truckers could drive right across the country listening to talk radio all the way. And it was interesting. I have listened.  The hosts knew how to generate interest.  They were masters of engagement. Unlike social media giants they did not need algorithms.  These people were the livestock for those algorithms. As Matzko said, “that sense of interconnectedness across time and space is very powerful for social movement organizations, and political movement organizations.”]  Not only that, in my opinion that was a vitally significant force establishing the bonds for religious organizations—i.e. political religions that were created. Such social connection could create a very valuable asset—true believers! All that was needed was a spark.

And there were sparks.

The right wing pundits knew how to produce sparks; the left wing pundits were too boring for that.

Persistence in Folly


Shortly after we arrived in Arizona, it was the second anniversary of the attempted coup by violent supporters of the former president Donald Trump. It was a day that will live on in infamy.


Surprisingly, we learned that day that  Republicans in some states like Arizona and Pennsylvania are still challenging the outcome of the 2020 election as stolen despite a complete absence of credible evidence. More than half of Republicans believe that the election was stolen. That is why they continue to support Trump and even finance his endless litigation despite the fact that he loses every case. Don’t they have anything better to do with their money?

Their folly is nothing if not persistent. One of my favourite quotes from the Bible is this: “As a dog returneth  to his vomit, so a fool  returneth to his folly .’.


The Land of true believers


When we were in Texas, Chris remarked that there the churches are built to look like shopping malls. Is that done to attract and maintain the interest of people? Or is because to the believers of Texas, commerce was sacred and shopping is prayer?


Chris let out a bit of rant in a small town in New Mexico where we dined for lunch. A small family at the next table conspicuously prayed before dining. There is nothing wrong with that of course, but she immediately felt they were fanatics! This was not a fair evaluation, but we believe it was her reaction to zealotry.  Zealotry is all around us these days, nowhere more so than America. Often it is in the form of fanaticism. It is often not attractive.


Seeing these adherents felt like it we were back in the company of the Convoy protesters back home continually bearing Canadian flags on both side of the hoods of their vehicles. That experience has poisoned the Canadian flag for us. This is an insignificant fact, but it reveals something important. The cost of fanaticism is high. And these feelings came from a woman who not that long ago counted herself as a good Catholic. Zealots can ruin some pretty good stuff.

Religion in America is always interesting, but not always attractive.


When the opinion is partly true and partly false.


John Stuart Mill in his classic book, On Liberty, considered free speech from one more perspective: namely beliefs that are partly true and partly false. Here too, he said, is another situation in which diversity of opinion is advantageous. In fact this is almost always the situation for invariably any opinion is not absolutely true. First, he considered the case of an opinion that might be false. The second was the case where the opinion is actually true, but a conflict with the opposite error is needed in order to clarify the opinion or preserve or create a deep feeling about that true opinion. In this case the contrary opinion can help immeasurably. Thirdly, Mill considers the case where neither opinion contains the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As Mill said,


“But there is a commoner case than either of these; when the conflicting doctrines, instead of being one true and the other false, share the truth between them; and the non-conforming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the truth, of which the received doctrine embodies only a part  Popular opinions, on the subject not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth. They are a part of the truth; sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjoined from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited.   Heretical opinions, on the other hand, are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds which kept them down, and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in the common opinion, or fronting it as enemies, and setting themselves up, with similar exclusiveness, as the whole truth. The latter case is hitherto the most frequent, as in the human mind one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception. Hence, even in revolutions of opinion, one part of the truth usually sets while another rises.”


We ought never to think in black and white. We should always think in colour or include many shades of gray. Even revolutions usually just add one partial and incomplete truth for another. Hopefully the new truth will be better adapted to the needs of the time than the opinion or doctrine that is replaced. This is the profound point that Mill made which is particularly relevant to the age of extremes in which we live.

It was the glory of English empiricism and liberalism that grew out of the great period after the Religious Wars of the 17th century that produced thinkers willing to acknowledge that truth was not always entirely confined to one side of a discussion. Nowadays, this attitude is sadly rare. Nowadays, both sides often think they have the entire truth and the other side is of the devil. We must recognize that pure truth and pure falsehood rarely find homes on opposite sides of a dispute. That’s why holy truth and pure evil can rarely be found either. We should never expect to find pure truth or pure falsehood. Life is always more complicated than that. Mill was a member of that great British tradition of empiricism and liberalism.

As John Stuart Mill said,

“Such being the partial character of prevailing opinions, even when resting on a true foundation, every opinion which embodies somewhat of the portion of the truth which the common opinion omits, ought to be considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that truth may be blended. No sober judge of human affairs will feel bound to be indignant because those who force on our notice truths which we should otherwise have overlooked, overlook some of those which we see. Rather, we will think that so long as popular truth is one-sided, it is more desirable than otherwise that unpopular truth should have one-sided assertors too; such being usually the most energetic, and most likely to compel reluctant attention to the fragment of wisdom which they proclaim as if it were the whole.”


The thinkers of the Enlightenment were surprised that they did not have the entire truth in their minds. They were shocked because it did appear to them that all proponents of science and philosophy would ultimately agree with them. They thought they had the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but they were rudely awakened from their slumber by one lonely thinker. That thinker was Rousseau. He gave Mills an example of a thinker who opposed the gathering consensus and cut it down at the knees. Mills described this momentous event this way,

“Thus, in the eighteenth century, when nearly all the instructed, and all those of the uninstructed who were led by them, were lost in admiration of what is called civilization, and of the marvels of modern science, literature, and philosophy, and while greatly overrating the amount of unlikeness between the men of modern and those of ancient times, indulged in the belief that the whole of the difference was in their own favour; with what salutary shock did the paradoxes of Rousseau explode like bombshells in the midst, dislocating the compact mass of one-sided opinion, and forcing its elements to recombine in a better form and with additional ingredients.  Not that the current opinions were on the whole farther from the truth than Rousseau’s were; on the contrary, they were nearer to it; they contained more of the positive truth, and very less of error.  Nevertheless there lay in Rousseau’s doctrine, and has floated down the stream of opinion along with it, a considerable amount of exactly those truths which popular opinion wanted; and these are the deposit which was left behind when the flood subsided. The superior worth of simplicity of life, the enervating and demoralizing effect of the trammels and hypocrisies of artificial society, minds since Rousseau wrote; and they will in time produce their due effect, though at present needing to be asserted as much as ever, and to be asserted by deeds, for words, on this subject have nearly exhausted their power.”


This was an outstanding example of what Mill was talking about. One side rarely has the whole truth. Mill, like me, had a lot of sympathy for the thinkers of the Enlightenment who brought reason and critical thought to the problems of the times. This was desperately needed. Mill accepts almost everything the Enlightenment thinkers stood for. So do I. But that does not mean they had the whole truth to themselves and their opponents had nothing good on their side. Rousseau was the outstanding example of exactly thought. He added truth to the other side and hence made both sides richer.

In fact, this phenomenon is extremely common. You can see it clearly in contemporary politics where each side thinks it has the whole truth, when both sides would benefit from a dose of truth from the other side, but is very reluctant to accept such a heretical possibility. Instead of that each sides tries to shut the other down.  Each should be listening to the free speech of the other. Once again, I come down on the side of heresy.




 Hannah Arendt also wrote a book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann. She used that famous expression “the banality of evil” to describe him and his kind.  He was a man who facilitated horrid acts of violence against the Jews.  But Arendt said what set him apart was his “thoughtlessness.” To her he looked and acted like a boring accountant.

She had been shocked by how glib he was in court. He talked about exterminating millions of Jews as if it was nothing. What was there for him to admit to, he asked. He suggested, as did Himmler, that they could be reconciled with the Jews.  They had a sense of elation when they considered this possibility. But the feelings were not real. It was, in Arendt’s phrase, “an outrageous cliché.”  She said, “it was a self-fabricated stock phrase, as devoid of reality as those clichés by which people had lived for twelve years.”  As Carol Brightman said, “Clichés and conventional sentiments functioned as armor blocking the consciousness of the accused at just those painful junctures where painful intrusions of reality threatened.” These are some of the enemies of thought. In fact, during the trial Arendt had noticed how Eichmann was not perturbed by his starling contradictions. He was certainly not engaged in thinking. He was not stupid. He was just completely thoughtless.

Arendt was stunned that such horrific crimes could be committed without consciousness. She said she disagreed with Kant, who, according to her believed that stupidity was caused by a wicked heart. She contended instead that “absence of thought is not stupidity, it can be found in highly intelligent people, and a wicked heart is not its cause, it is probably the other way around, that wickedness may be caused by absence of thought.”

According to her teaching assistant Kohn, Arendt believed, as I believe, that “thinking conditions people to resist evildoing.”  Most ethicists do not accept this, but I find it profoundly compelling. I believe, like the American novelist Henry James, that ethics is high reason. Where there is no reason there is no ethics. this is what the sleep of reason is all about.

Arendt was clear when she said that everyone could think. Of course, that does not mean that everyone will think. You didn’t have to have an education to think. She was not elitist.

Arendt got mad when Jews accused her of being self-hating and anti-Jewish as a result of her book on Eichmann. She said that all she wanted to do was to think about what he had done. She wanted to understand him and that was not the same as forgiving him or being soft on the Nazis. It was her job as a philosopher to think about these things. And she thought that was very important. In the film about her, Arendt summed up her thinking this way,

“Trying to understand is not the same as forgiveness. It is my responsibility to try to understand. It is the responsibility of anyone who tries to put pen to paper on this subject. Since Socrates and Plato we have understood thinking to be a silent dialogue between me and myself. In refusing to be a person Eichmann utterly surrendered that single most defining human quality, that of being able to think. And consequently he was no longer capable of making moral judgments. This inability to think created the possibility for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale, the like of which one had never seen before. It is true I have considered these questions in a philosophical way. The manifestation of the mind of thought is not knowledge, but the ability to tell right from wrong; beautiful from ugly. And I hope that thinking gives people the strength to prevent catastrophes in these rare moments when the chips are down.  ”


For Hannah Arendt, what thinking meant was to train the mind to go wandering.  I love that concept. It brings me back to my concept of meandering.  I love to meander–physically and mentally. That is the essence of free thinking (and there is really no other kind) to meander through thoughts without regard to preconceived ideas, ideologies, or prejudices. Only the free mind can think. I said that. But that is a concept directly inspired by Arendt.

Arendt’s first major book was On the Origins of Totalitarianism. She thought there was something new or modern about totalitarianism. It was not like anything we had seen before. It presented profound change from everything that preceded it. It was much more than tyranny or dictatorship. It cut at individual will. It cut at our individual identity. In fact, according to one of Arendt’s most profound insights, totalitarianism cuts at our capacity to think.

As always, I ask myself how this is relevant to our times. There are not many totalitarian regimes around right now, but there are movements—various forms of populist movements—that tend in the same direction. I think often of the American near fascists—i.e. the Trumpsters, the insurrectionists on Capitol Hill that were looking to hang Mike Pence only because their leader told them that he had been betrayed by Pence.  That was enough to set off ordinary people looking to hang the vice-president of their country! Had they lost the capacity to think? To me it seemed that way.

Mutual Respect of Tyrants



To many it seems strange that Stalin and Hitler respected each other. One was a left-wing Communist, and the other supposedly a right wing fascist. They were mortal enemies weren’t they? Well yes, but also no. According to Hannah Arendt, in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism,  the only man for whom Hitler had unqualified respect was ‘Stalin the genius.” She also pointed out, “Hitler recognized in the early twenties the affinity between the Nazi and the Communist movements: ‘In our movement the two extremes come together, the Communists from the left and the officers and students from the right.” Khrushchev in his speech before the twentieth Party Congress said  Stalin trusted only one man, Hitler.

Trump made it clear that the politicians he loved the most were the dictators around the world. He had little use for democratically elected leaders. Like likes like.


It is interesting that all 3, Stalin, Hitler, and Trump, found their supporters growing in the same fertile soil. Arendt described this as follows,

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.


It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their numbers from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention.”


Isn’t this a perfect description of Trump’s supporters whom Hillary Clinton most unwisely dismissively called a “basket of deplorables” 60 years later? Dismissing these people is outlandishly unwise. It is from such soil that fanatical followers can be found, precisely what political leaders with totalitarian tendencies need. These were “people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”  They particularly despise elites like Hillary Clinton as we saw in the 2016 US presidential election. These are people who are ripe for a “strong man,” to whom they can give undying, fanatical and absolute, loyalty.

And therein lies the danger. Dismissing them is a big mistake.


The Attraction of Evil


The Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction.” Arendt here quoted Franz Borkenau, who said the Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction.” It seemed to me I saw this attraction in the rioters on Capitol Hill.  They seemed to relish the evil.

One of the interesting facts about supporters that Trump has ditched is that they still usually remain loyal. The same thing happened in Russia in the time of Stalin. Few Trump supporters have turned against him even when they were dumped. The most famous case is Mike Pence, but there are many others. For example, the abject loyalty of Jeff Sessions after he was dismissed from Trump’s cabinet was shocking. Their loyalty is often astounding. This is not unusual for tyrannical leaders. This happened glaringly in Stalinist Russia when the Stalinists turned against their own comrades. Again, as Hannah Arendt said,

“The disturbing factor in the success of totalitarianism is rather the true selflessness of its adherents: it may be understandable that a Nazi or a Bolshevik will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement or are even hostile to it; but the amazing fact is neither is he likely to waver when the monster begins to devour its own children and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself, if he is framed himself and condemned, if he is purged from the party and sent to a forced-labor camp. On the contrary, to the wonder of the whole civilized world, he may even be willing to help in his own prosecution and frame his own death sentence if only his status as a member of the movement is not touched.”


Membership in the group can be more important than life itself. At the insurrection in the Capitol on January 6, 2021 there were Trump supporters who carried signs saying they would die for him. I believe them.

The loyalty of the true believer is an impossible loyalty. No less real for that. There are other parallels between Trump and Stalin and Hitler that suggest he is a totalitarian or at least a ‘wanna be’ totalitarian.  Fortunately, he was not smart enough to achieve his nefarious goals. Or at least most of them.

What we really must fear is a new authoritarian leader who is a smarter Trump.


Evil can be attractive. Authoritarian leaders understand that. And that is a problem.