Persistent Paranoia

Our daughter called me the other day, horrified. She’d somehow gotten on the mailing list of one of the crazy organizations that seem to thrive in our country–a group called “Freedom Watch,” headed by one “Larry Klayman, Attorney.” The letter was, as she said, vile; among other things in its overheated diatribe, it accused President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton–“the mullah-in-chief” and the “corrupt communist”–of treason.

Most sane citizens, whether they agree with this administration’s policies or not, find such paranoid rantings incomprehensible. But there have always been fringe groups of mentally unhinged folks who project their own frustrations onto the Presidency. FDR was accused of having foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor and allowing it to happen as part of a plot to lead America into war. The notorious hater Father Coughlin accused him of being in league with “the Jews and communists.”

As one historian has noted, this paranoia came from both ends of the political spectrum:  “The Communist leader Earl Browder said that FDR was “carrying out more thoroughly and brutally than even Hoover the capitalist attack against the masses,” and the domestic fascist William Dudley Pelley called the President the “lowest form of human worm – according to Gentile standards.” One critic accused him of “blathering platitudes like a parson on vacation.” and another wrote to him savagely, “If you were a good honest man, Jesus Christ would not have crippled you.” It was in a formal address to the Chicago Bar Association, not in a harangue to an extremist rally, that a United States Senator from Minnesota did not hesitate to liken Roosevelt to the beast of the Apocalypse,” “who set his slimy mark on everything.””

Harry Truman was accused of employing a top Nazi from the Hitler regime as a covert advisor–not to mention his purported role in directing the cover-up of the crash of a UFO in Roswell, N.M.  The John Birch Society insisted it had proof that Dwight Eisenhower was a member of the communist party. George H.W. Bush was accused of being a member of a “Trilateral Commission” that was widely believed to be intent upon one-world government and an assault on American sovereignty.

In the rant from Freedom Watch, such paranoia is on flamboyant parade–complete with accusations of  “death panels,” “planting Marxists throughout government” and “canceling the National Day of Prayer in favor of Ramadan” among others. Klayman says that Obama “manipulated a deep economic depression” in order to fool Americans into voting for him. And he assures readers that he is working with Tea Party members of Congress–Michelle Bachmann, Allen West and Steve King are named–to submit articles of Impeachment against the President he calls a “treasonous tyrant.”

A quick Google check for “Larry Klayman”  brought up a legal decision disciplining him for violation of the canons of ethics, and a report that the status of his law license in Pennsylvania was “on suspension,” as well as information about an earlier organization called “Judicial Watch” and assorted charges and countercharges between him and other fringe characters.

What do we make of this strand of unhinged hysteria in our body politic?

On the one hand, as even a superficial stroll down history lane attests, America has always had a generous portion of “the crazy.” On the other hand, it only takes a few of these demented souls to disrupt public meetings, intimidate lawmakers, mislead well-meaning but uniformed folks, or even trigger assassination attempts.

In a free country, even the most delusional citizens have the right to spew their venom. But it might be a good idea to put more resources into mental health services.


  1. And in earlier days barely any of this made it on the daily 30-minute newscast. Nowadays every utterance gets play on the voracious 24-hour news cycle and the all-consuming web as if it is major news. Is that good or bad? I don’t know…

  2. …mislead well-meaning but uniformed folks…

    Well, you’d certainly know all about that!

    You’re criticizing the source, which you know is a logical fallacy. Having held public office, you also know that whomever shouts the loudest is right.

  3. Y’know, most flavors of crazy don’t last too long in the light. One of the best things about this-here Internet as opposed to, say, direct mail, broadcast media, newspapers or covert meetings in cellars is that its pretty wide-open, if we will but look.

    Sometimes you get shouting matches; probably more of those than classic debates. But it’s still instructive for the onlookers, even if all they decide from it is, “A pox on both their houses!”

    The Presidency is a lousy job and has been from the start; we’re more likely to get lightning-rods than philosopher-kings — and perhaps that’s as it should be. (Did we have even one President who didn’t get accused of treason, malfeasance or incompetence in the media of his day? Coolige, maybe?)

    Really, if a President doesn’t have enough backbone to get burned in effigy by his third year in office, he probably ought to be sent down early; we could throw another election or make the Veep serve out his stint. (Maybe that would stop them from picking scarecrows for that job, too).

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