Monday, February 17, 2020

#2309: Christopher Earl Strunk

Birtherism might be getting old, but since the central players are unlikely to be up to anything good these days either, we think it’s worth reminding people of who they were. Christopher Earl Strunk is a guy who files a lot of lawsuits (there is an interesting list here), including suing the New York State Board of Elections and others in 2011 to prevent President Obama from appearing on the 2012 presidential ballot. Strunk apparently alleged that Obama was connected to a massive conspiracy involving hundreds of people at behest of the Roman Catholic Church and especially the Jesuits. Judge Arthur Schack said of the case that “if the complaint in this action was a movie script, it would be entitled ‘The Manchurian Candidate Meets The Da Vinci Code.’” Strunk was fined some $177,000 in costs and penalties for filing “a frivolous” suit and wasting the court’s time. There are some absolutely fascinating details here.

Perhaps Strunk’s most recent suit is a 2019 lawsuit challenging New York’s new abortion law. To get a sense of where it is coming from – and possibly its likelihood of winning (update: it didn’t) – you can consult the part of the suit that contains Strunk’s thoughts on how fluoride lowers IQ. 

Apart from filing lawsuits, Strunk also writes books, including Soul Envy: SCOTUS in between the I.R.S. and Antioch Ministries (apparently a deranged take on some court case, written with Ronald Dean Joling and Eric Jon Phelps, whom we have encountered before), Jesuit Social Justice versus Le droit des Gens: The Global Estate versus Nation States, and Loose Nukes: The Kursk’s Unregistered Missiles (with Phelps, one Anatoly Miranovsky and Michael Shrimpton, the former British barrister and conspiracy theorist who was convicted in 2014 for falsely reporting that Germany was planning a nuclear attack on the 2012 Summer Olympics.) In 2016 he apparently also tried to run for President. It is unclear if anyone noticed.

Diagnosis: Colorful nuisance, mostly. But it remains staggering how many of these people there are, and how many fans they’ve actually got.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

#2308: Kimberlie Struiksma

Kimberlie Struiksma is a Washington-based wingnut. Now, we don’t know much else about her, but in 2009 she proposed an initiative to be voted on by referendum in that state, namely the Washington State Defense of Liberty and the Existence of a Higher Power Act. Though Struiksma has apparently heard about the First Amendment, her suggested act reveals, well, we’ll give you the text itself:Respecting no establishment of religion, yet with respect to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, whose existence has been declared in the preamble to the Constitution of the state of Washington, the state shall make no appropriation for nor apply any public moneys or property in support of anything, specifically including but not limited to, any display, exercise, instruction, scientific endeavor, circulated document, or research project which denies or attempts to refute the existence of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.” Or, in short, though government should respect no establishment of religion, if we allow contradictions, it still could, and we could then effectively prevent religion from being criticized. The whole proposal is here. By “scientific endeavor”, Struiksma “means any act, idea, theory, intervention, conference, organization, or individual having to do with science.” In short, no university would be allowed to pay a salary to, say, any employee who criticized or questioned religion, or engaged in scientific investigations that could be used to question aspects of religion.

Diagnosis: Of course, Struiksma enjoyed little success with her proposal, and both it and her have apparently receded from view after 2009. Still.

Friday, February 14, 2020

#2307: Eliyzabeth Strong-Anderson

Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson is a fundamentalist that managed to become something of an internet sensation when she released her self-published book BIRTH CONTROL IS SINFUL IN THE CHRISTIAN MARRIAGES and also ROBBING GOD OF PRIESTHOOD CHILDREN‼ in 2008. Selling for $150 on amazon, the 648-page book is written in all-caps, presumably since God is in Heaven and Heaven is really far away, so God has to scream really loudly for Strong-Anderson to hear him here on Earth. It is also seemingly utterly unconcerned with tense, grammar or punctuation. The first sentence, “"YES: GOD KNOWS YOU HEART AND GOD KNOWS YOUR INTENTIONS: BUT>>: THE VERY ACT AND THOUGHT OF BIRTH CONTROLING> IN A CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE: HAS ROBB GOD AND THE CHURCH OF MANY PRIESTHOOD CHILDREN: **CHILDREN RAISED IN THE LOVE OF JESUS HAS ALWAYS BEEN A TRUTH AND A KEY TO FUTURE AND PROSPERITY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HEAVEN. **”, really sums up the whole book. 

According to her amazon bio, Ms. Strong-Anderson is a “CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST SPEAKER: AND A CHRISTIAN HOLY BIBLE WRITER/TEACHER: CHOSEN AND CALLED BY THE HOLYSPIRIT GOD: MS. ELIYZABETH STARTED TWO CHRISTIAN CABLE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS IN 1996: CALLED: CHRISTIAN POWER! HEALTH PROSPERITY AND SOUL!! AND > ALSO A: > TEENAGER AND KIDS TELEVISION PRODUCTION CALLED:> CHILDREN RAISED IN THE LOVE OF JESUS. *SHE ALSO STARTED A CHRISTIAN BASE MILITARY CHRISTIAN BOOKSTORES AND MALL CART BUSINESS DURING IN 1991.” Not only that, she apparently “ALSO HAS A 1ST DEGREE BLACK BELT IN TAEJUKENPO KARATE”. According to herself, her book is (apparently) written by God: “THIS IS A HOLYSPIRIT MANUSCRIPT BOOK: WHEN YOU BUY THIS BOOK YOU WILL BE READING A HOLYSPIRIT DIRECTED BOOK FROM GOD; & *CHRIST JESUS. THIS BOOK IS GODS HOLYSPIRIT VOICE:”.

To complete this entry we will just provide a few representative excerpts.  

“*THIS WOMEN: ELIYEZABETH YANSTRONG>ANDRESON IS THE WOMEN THAT IS ON TELVISISION. **SHE RECIEVE THE IMAGE FROM GOD: WHEN HE APPEARS AT HER ON HER DREAMS.>> SINCE THEN: SHE HAS: BECOME A CLEAN TEACHER COMFORTER AGAINST THE EVIL BIRTH CONTROL METHDODS AND EVIL CITY MAYORS.***THIS BOOK TEACHED ME MANY>>THINGS AND MY LIFE IS VERY SILMILAR TO HERS LIFE.”

Strong-Anderson on education and science:

“*THE TRUTH IS> MY DAUTHERS GO TO SCHOOL AND HAVE A EVIL TEACHERS:> THEY MAKE THEM DO HOMMWORK. **WHY?? BECAUSE THEY ARE TEACHING THE EVIL WORKS OF DARWIN. **BUT THE TEACHRERS ARE NOT FILL OF THE: HOLYSPIRIT. THEY DONOT KNOW THAT THE TRUE REASON DARWIN WAS MAKING THE THOERIES OF EVULULTION. **HE BELIVED THE TRYANNROSARUS RIX WALKED AT> EARTH ONE MILION YEARS AGO. **THIS IS A LYE. **TAYRENROSUARAS RAX WAS SATAN IN DISGIUSE AS A DINESAUR:>> GOD SAY THE SERPANTS WAS THE EVIL LUCIFER AND LO I AM HERE TO SAVE YOU FROM THEM. ***DARWIN WAS THE SATAN: DISCIPLE. **HE WAS ALSO RACIST. **I TOOK MY DAUTHER OUT OF THE SCHOOL BECAUSE OF THIS EVIL!! **ITS NOT THE WAY OF GOD: AND NOT: THE GOOD WAY OF EDUCATION SUCCESS!! **THE DEVIL IS JEALOUS OF OUR CHRISTIAN LIFE AGAIN!! **”

It even offers health advice:

“THE TRUTH OF INSULINS COMING FROM DOGS OR PIG FLUIDS: IS THE CONSPIRACY TO DEFILE THE HOLY PERSON OR A AFRICAN PERSON. **CAUSING THEM TO TAKE ON A : ABOMINATION OF A UNCLEAN ANIMAL. **THIS IS TRULY THE WITCH DOCTORS WORK. **NOT A GOOD DOCTORS WORK. **INSULIN ALSO CAUSING CRIPPLING DISEASES. **AND TRULY I KNOW IT IS BECAUSE THE INJECTION OF PIG OR DOG INSULIN IS >EVIL AND FROM THE DEVIL. *IT IS NOT OF GOD. **AND THE PEOPLE WHO STARTED DOG AND PIG INSULINS SHOULD GET BLAME FOR MANY BAD CRIPPLING DISEASES THAT DIABETICS GET.”

She does seem to have had to deal with adversity herself:

“EVRY DAY> I ASK TO GOD: WHY I WAS ATTACKED BY THE LASER GUNS WHEN I GREW UP?? **THE ORGANIZED RULER OF DARKNESS: THE EVIL CITY MAYOR: WAS KEEPING RACISM IN THE > STREETS AND IT KEEP ME FROM BEING EMPLOY FOR 10 YEARS!! **THE LASER GUNS OF LUCIFAR!! **BUT IM THE HOLYSPIRIT DISCIPEL: I STAY STRONG FOR MY DAUTHERS> SO THEY DONT GROW UP TO BE DEMONIC DISCIPPLE. **THE SWORD OF GODS MOUTH WILL CRUSH:>>>THE NONBELIVERS.”

The main theme of the book is birth control:

“*BIRTH CONTROLS STOLED THE LIFES OF >THE: FUTURE BABBIES. THERE IS NOT GOING BACK TO THE FUTURE FOR BABYS WHEN: SATAN EVIL DEEDS ARE IN THE DOMINATION. **TRULY WE MUST REMOVE THE ERROR!! **GOD SAYS IT FOR TOMORROW!!>> GENESIS 5&10.**”

And you really need this book:

“AS YOU CAN SEE WHY THIS BOOK IS IMPOTANT FOR EVERY: ONE TO READ. **TEH LORD JUSES DEMANDS ITS TO BE SO!! **OVER A ONE-HUNDRED DOLARS IS CHEAP FOR THIS AMONT OF HOLY INFNORMATON. **YOU WANT TO BE A COMPENTANT HOLYSPIRIT PRACTITIONER DONT YOU?? *GET NOW OR BURN IN HELLFUR!!**”

Diagnosis: Well, we feel just a tiny bit bad about including here, but she really wants to be heard, and she did manage to become something of an Internet sensation back in the days. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

#2306: Doug Stringer

Doug Stringer is a Texas ‘Apostle’ and (for instance) National Church and Ministry Mobilization Coordinator for The Response, a series of “apoliticalprayer rallies that were first arranged in early Republican primary states during the run up to the 2012 presidential election – its apolitical nature underscored by featuring Rick Perry and being hosted by Bobby Jindal (there are informative reports on that particular event, and the level of deranged, fanatical lunacy it featured, here and here). The Response rallies have been arranged numerous times since then, consistently as an allegedly “apolitical” Biblical defense of wingnut politics. Stringer has taken part in and helped arrange a number of other prayer rallies as well, such as the America for Jesus prayer rally in Philadelphia.

A rather central figure on the more extreme end of the religious right, in other words, Stringer is a relentless theocrat and an unapologetic promoter of Seven Mountains dominionism, the idea that the right kind of Christians are meant to control every sphere – or “mountain” – of cultural influence: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion. His endorsement of Perry and/or Jindal should be seen in this light, as should his endorsement (e.g.) of former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory; Stringer said to McCrory that the Bible makes clear “that all authority, kingdom’s authorities, principalities and rulerships are subject to you, but your intention to give it to the church and through the church.”

Stringer believes that America only had itself to blame for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 because the country rejected God and His protection: “We asked God not to be in our schools, not to be in our public venues, not to be the lord of our lives any more except in image. Yet we want to blame God when things like this happen?” (no, the separation of church and state is far, far from Doug Stringer’s radar). Then he sort of blamed God: “This is not an act of judgment, it’s a wake-up call. God is longing to be in the midst of His people again.” It’s hard to imagine how Stringer thought that clarification makes anything significantly better. “The Response” prayer rallies Stringer organized for Jindal and Perry also featured prayer guides blaming Hurricane Katrina and deadly tornadoes on abortion rights and gay marriage. He has also blamed “earthquakes, floods, fires, and an escalation of natural disasters across the country and the world on “the continued moral failures of our leaders.”

According to Stringer “there are three primary things in Scripture that are so disheartening to God that they cause Him to be ill, and they ultimately cause His presence to depart from His people: 1. Ritual or temple prostitution; 2. The shedding of innocent blood on the altar; 3. Licentiousness or moral looseness to the degree that it is ‘in your face,’ including homosexuality”. Yes, being gay is for all practical purposes equivalent to child sacrifice.

Stringer is also founder of the fundie non-profit organization Somebody Cares America.

Diagnosis: Completely insane, rabidly deranged theocrat. It is a grave concern that people like Doug Stringer wield the political power they do, but yes: Stringer does have serious political influence.

Monday, February 10, 2020

#2305: Shannon Strayhorn

The Thinking Moms’ Revolution is a website devoted to mothers who like to try their hand at what they characterize as thinking but also unfortunately lack any comprehension of what critical thinking could possibly involve (yes, it’s hard: It must be learned), how to evaluate evidence or in general many of the topics they choose to write about. The result is, of course, rampant pseudoscience, new age bullshittery and denialism – anti-vaccine views are for instance regularly promoted – and their conclusions are based not so much on thinking as on feeling their way to their own gut reaction, guided by carefully selected and framed anecdotes.

Shannon Strayhorn, for instance, is one of the “THINKERS”. She is not very good at it. (Perhaps nagging doubt is why they felt the need to put “THINKERS” in capital letters.) Instead, she tries to compensate with a large dose of self-righteousness and sense of self-importance. Strayhorn appears to consider herself as something of a modern-day, anti-vaccine Sun Tzu in her post “If You Know Your Enemy and Know Yourself …”. She fails miserably on that second part, of course, and, indeed, equally miserably on the first. When she signed up for Paul Offit’s free online course on vaccines at CHOP, for instance, Strayhorn “didn’t sign up to learn something about vaccines, as I have been studying that for years” (yes, the University of Google); she “signed up to learn about the opposition.” Yes, the result is a brilliant display of the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.

Hat-tip: Refutations of Anti-Vaccine Memes
It wasn’t the first time Strayhorn signed up for such a course, and her previous antics in a course on vaccine clinical trials offered by Johns Hopkins University is telling: Instead of trying to learn anything, Strayhorn rather went directly to the student discussion boards to spread antivaccine misinformation and anecdotes (she has, for instance, weighed in on the so-called “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy theory with, well, conspiracy mongering (“mainstream media isn’t covering it”)). The other students were, predictably, not particularly impressed with her contributions, and it is worth quoting Strayhorn’s reaction to being rebuffed by the other students in full, since it gives such a fascinating and telling glimpse of where she is coming from: “I kindly said while I am soooooo impressed with their degrees and careers that I find it scary that someone so educated could in fact get to that point considering they couldn’t even be bothered to read the science, and couldn’t counter one little mom like myself. I asked if it was necessary to post my resume too? I was told we are just parents who are so clueless and don’t understand what the difference is between causation and correlation, that the discussion was going to be stopped because it was off topic, and that it wasn’t necessary to counter what I shared because the science was in and definite. Definitely in. Bahahaha....oh it is in....but it is clearly not showing what they want!” Yes, that’s the kind of person we are talking about. You know the kind.

According to Strayhorn, however, there is no need to learn because the issue is settled: “We don’t need to combat the same old nonsense. We have the information. We moved the goal posts. We won’t be dragged into ridiculous debates from ten years ago. There is no debate. We are not going to allow the same old tactics.” Well, they certainly moved the goal posts, but their tactics are precisely the same they were ten years ago – what Strayhorn means is of course that she is going to continue to disregard the obvious responses to her tactics and talking points provided ten years ago and ever since.

Diagnosis: Yes, a regular antivaccine troll, nothing more, but Strayhorn does her trolling with a level of self-righteousness and sense of self-importance that is truly dazzling, even for her ilk. Probably one of the best examples of Dunning-Kruger and Mount Stupid in our Encyclopedia.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

#2304: Steve Strang

Stephen Strang is the head of the Charisma publishing empire, which, in particular, publishes Charisma magazine, a magazine aimed at Pentecostals who see American politics enveloped as just one aspect of a spiritual warfare between believers and demons. Charisma is, of course, best known for vigorously promoting more or less any deranged, paranoid wingnut conspiracy theory that comes its way and, currently, for its ardent support for President Trump. Steve Strang himself is one of the most unhinged fanatics in the US. 

For instance, Strang thinks that the level of partisan hostility in the current political climate is not really about a fight between right and left, but between a worldview based on God and “Judeo-Christian values” and an anti-God worldview with man at the center of everything; in other words, “a battle against good and evil, between light and darkness.” According to Strang the Democrats are paving the way for the Antichrist: “The battle for this nation isn’t Republican versus Democrat or black versus white; it’s a spiritual battle. Now is the time for Spirit-filled believers to rise up, intercede and vote.He has also tried his hand at prophecy.

Politics and the “miracle” of Trump
Meanwhile, Strang has likened Christians who refuse to support President Trump to the Pharisees who attacked Jesus: “Here he was, the promised Messiah, and these are the people who practice Jewish law better than anyone else and they just had a mindset against him and couldn’t see the truth.” (To those who might harbor concerns about Trump’s moral compass – it is perhaps worth noting that Strang himself thinks that sexual assault and rape are just “nickel and dime” stuff that doesn’t matter – Strang insisted that Trump has been deeply transformed by his Christian faith, his concern with facts or evidence being about what you’d expect from him and his publications.) Strang has even written a couple of book-length paeans to Trump, including God and Donald Trump, which was heavily promoted by his magazine and which depicted Trump’s election as a miracle, citing the many visions and prophesies that charismatic Christians had about God using Trump to save America; and Trump Aftershock, which even included a section on “500 accomplishments in the first 500 days of the Trump presidency.” The purpose of the book was to “help readers to better understand the political, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of the election that brought us such a complex, unpredictable, and conspicuously gifted leader,” portraying Trump as God’s instrument in His battle against the evil forces of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Soros (while George Soros is not the Antichrist, “it’s obvious he operates in the spirit of the Antichrist”), “fake news” from the secular media, swamp-dwellers, and the deep state. (Charisma heavily promoted Jerome Corsi’s deep state conspiracy theory book, for instance.) 

Strang has also defended Trump from accusations of tax fraud, insisting that he had been “forced” to engage in massive tax fraud because the tax laws are “so unfair.” He is also convinced that Trump is a genius. And religious (“a champion for the church” at “a time when the left is waging an attack on Christianity”). And he has no trouble with Trump’s tweeting and is not offended by anything he tweets because Trump has “cleaned up his act a lot.” Indeed, Strang has even claimed that Trump is “humble”.

As for Obama, Strang claimed, for instance in 2012, that Obama is (was) just like Adolf Hitler: “The man has an agenda” (Strang is a bit short on the details of the parallel), and it is not only Obama’s agenda: “if you don’t believe it Google the Humanist Manifesto, which was written in 1921 [it wasn’t], and also the Homosexual Manifesto, which was written in 1987 [that seems to refer to a satirical article that, perhaps ironically, satirizes bigoted wingnut paranoia], and see what these people want to do and what is happening before our very eyes. What Jim Garlow says is true, the way of life that we have is over if Barack Obama is elected again.” Strang thinks that gay rights threaten the freedoms of speech, religion and the press, and that the Obama administration gave the “homosexual agenda the “red-carpet treatment.”

Strang on other issues
Strang’s commentaries on the ills of society are not limited to (outright) politics, however. In 2019, Charisma ran a campaign warning about the dangers of Halloween, with Strang saying that Halloween isn’t harmless fun, but “indicative of spiritual warfare” … before praising the efforts of fundies to pray “every demonic network that has aligned itself against the purpose, against the calling of President Trump, let it be broken.”

A climate change denialist (of course), Strang has suggested that climate change is the “Trojan Horse that has booted the door for the government to control everything” and just another attempt by the Democrats to advance their agenda of socialism in the US. Conspiracy theories are in his backbone. He also thought it was curious that Andrew Breitbart “attacked the Clintons and now he’s dead.”

Defending Kenneth Copeland’s comment that he needs a private jet because commercial planes are nothing more than “a long tube with a bunch of demons”, Strang claimed it was hyperbole but immediately pointed out that “there are people in those airplanes who are not spiritual,” and that “there are demonic activities” and an atmosphere of “oppression” on commercial flights that someone like Copeland simply shouldn’t have to endure as he travels the world spreading the Gospel.

Strang is also round-handed with helpful, if unsolicited, advice. He has for instance advised the black community to get over slavery and to look to the Jewish community on how to do it: “There is no concept in the Jewish community that they’re ex-slaves. They have moved on.”

Diagnosis: What kind of delusions do you have to have to be Steve Strang and genuinely believe that you are, somehow, on the good side? The belief that he, himself, has any kind of moral compass is, given what he actually believes and does, sufficient on its own to qualify him for an entry. But Strang is also an extremely powerful force on the religious right – as publisher of Charisma many fundies cannot really afford to do anything but sing his praises. Strang is, ultimately, probably something like what Donald Trump would have looked like if he were remotely religious. 

Monday, February 3, 2020

#2303: Ronda Storms

Ronda R. Storms is a former Florida State Senator (10th District) from 2006 to 2012 – she lost her comeback attempt in 2018 – and something of a legend for her deranged lunacy. Prior to serving in the Senate, Storms enjoyed an eight-year tenure on the Hillsborough County Commission (1998-2006). 

Adventures in science denial
Storms is probably most famous for her role in promoting the teaching of intelligent design creationism in public school science classrooms. In 2008, Storms introduced an academic freedom bill (co-sponsors were Stephen R. Wise and Carey Baker) modelled on the recommendations of the Discovery Institute, which would give teachers the right to teach the controversy (the bill’s sponsor in the House, Alan Hays, arranged for a private screening of the creationist promotion film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed for legislators who were to vote on the bill, just to make sure they understood the purpose). The bill underwent substantial revisions, but ended up requiring the intelligent design lesson plan “Critical Analysis of Evolution” (which does not involve critical analysis) to be taught, before ultimately dying in committee. Though she ostensibly only wished to promote critical thinking about science – according to Storms the bill was not about letting religion into classrooms but about protecting the rights of students and teachers who don’t agree with the science behind Darwinian evolution (she curiously didn’t seem care about students and teachers who don’t agree with the spherical Earth theory or the germ theory of disease) – it is worth mentioning that when a proposal to have similar protections extended to sex-education were introduced, Storms voted against them. For more background on the bill, this is useful and this one is very good.

In connection with the bill Storms claimed that she was contacted by multiple teachers who had been disciplined for speaking of alternative theories. She wasn’t able to name any, though. Indeed, according to the Department of Education, there has never been a case in Florida where a public school teacher or public school student has claimed that they have been discriminated against based on their science teaching or science course work. Storms is, in other words, more or less as honest as you’d expect a fundie in a position of power and influence to be.

Storms is also a critic of the Dewey Decimal System, primarily because libraries tend to categorize books about creation and creationism with numbers associated with “religion” rather than “science”. According to Storms the system was, therefore, “too confusing” for her.

Storms has made other efforts to favor religion, provide financial support for organizations that work to introduce faith-based initiatives in public schools, introduce school prayers and generally break down the separation between church and state, too.

Yes, there is anti-gay stuff
In 2005, Storms was responsible for introducing a bill that banned displays of books celebrating gay and lesbian pride in county libraries, and indeed for the Commission to “adopt a policy that Hillsborough County government abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events” of any kind. The motion passed. Then, because conditions were favorable, she got an addendum placed upon the bill that it cannot be repealed without a super majority vote of at least 5-2 and a public hearing. (It was nevertheless repealed in 2013.) Similarly, when she led a successful effort to block a statute which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace, she also managed to raise the number of votes needed from commissioners to place the issue on direct referendum to county voters from four commissioners to five.

As an opponent of gay adoption – “I don't support putting at-risk children in homes that I think are at-risk themselves” – Storms was ostensibly surprised by criticisms from the gay community, complaining that she had experienced “all sorts of threats and horrible things said and done to me” despite the (alleged) fact that “I’ve never attacked anybody’s appearance”; indeed, according to herself, she had even worked with homosexuals and “have never done anything but treat them with dignity and respect in my personal working relationship with them.” You should probably stress the part after “in”. 

Diagnosis: Industrious and zealous, and precisely as honest and reasonable as you’d expect from a deranged fundamentalist in a State Senate. Hopefully neutralized, but she was never alone in her efforts, and there are plenty of similar loons to take her place.

Friday, January 31, 2020

#2302: Steve Stockman

Stephen Ernest Stockman was the U.S. Representative for Texas’s 9th congressional district from 1995 to 1997 and for Texas’s 36th congressional district (Texas “is becoming the last bastion” of freedom in the country,” said Stockman) from 2013 to 2015. He is currently in jail.

His tenure was marked by extreme wingnuttery, in particular concering gun rights (an actual Stockman campaign bumper sticker read: “If babies had guns they wouldn’t be aborted”), combined with conspiracy theories (e.g. this one) and a generally poor grasp of reason, reality and basic decency. There is a good summary of some of his political and personal antics here. No one should really have been surprised when he was arrested and found guilty on 23 felony counts in 2018, including conspiring to use contributions designated for a charity to fund his campaign and for personal use, money laundering, as well as mail and wire fraud.

Conspiracy theories
In 1995, for instance, Stockman wrote an article for Guns & Ammo claiming that the Waco siege was a false-flag operation orchestrated by the Clinton administration “to prove the need for a ban on so-called ‘assault weapons.’” According to Stockman, “[h]ad Bill Clinton really been unhappy with what Attorney General Janet Reno ordered, he would not only have fired her, he would have had Reno indicted for premeditated murder.” A little later Stockman came under some fire for participating on a holocaust-denialist radio show run by pro-militia conspiracy theorist group called the Liberty Lobby. Stockman denied that the show was was anti-Semitic; the ADL “said that because they talk against ‘international bankers that means they’re against Jewish folks,” he told Jewish Week; “I don’t agree.” Besides, Stockman should be off the hook because his own staff included “a Christian Jewish person.”

In 2013 Stockman referred to President Obama’s re-election as a “scam” and suggested that the president won due to voter fraud in the uncontested Democratic primary.

In a letter on behalf of the National Association for Gun Rights, Stockman alleged, completely without evidence, of course, that President Obama was working with the United Nations to implement gun “confiscation on a global scale” and an “international gun registry.” Stockman famously once organized an AR-15 giveaway. Meanwhile, immigration reform is a tool “to destroy America, and the 2013 Senate reform bill a “joke” that will “destroy our country” and bring down the GOP.

In 2014 Stockman also claimed that Obama had laid the groundwork for using the Ebola outbreak to have “emergency powers to take over control of the economy and everything” and speculated that the president might intentionally slow the government response to Ebola in order to create a crisis situation that he could exploit to become a dictator. Stockman also claimed that the U.S. is faking the military campaign against IS and was instead instigating a conflict bigger than World War II, presumably for the same reasons.

Education (and conspiracy theories)
In 1995, Stockman called for a Congressional investigation into Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 study “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” after having learnt that Kinsey had used data from the diary of a pedophile for research purposes. Stockman, not really understanding how research works, believed the allegations discredited all current theories of sexual education in the United States, writing that “[o]ur children have been taught that ... any type of sex is a valid outlet for their emotions. They are taught that the problem with sex is not that it is wrong to engage in homosexual, bestial, underage, or premarital sex, but that it is wrong to do so without protection.” We are willing to believe Stockman really has no clue about what sex-ed is. Unsurprisingly, he got his information from Judith Reisman.

Stockman twenty years later apparently had no more clue about education. In 2013, he latched onto a chain email conspiracy theory about the CSCOPE curriculum, which ostensibly promoted Islam, Communism and anti-Americanism. The charges were ridiculous, but wingnuts, including Stockman, ran with it and even linked it to President Obama. Stockman’s campaign literature asked his followers to stand with Stockman “to fight stop [sic] President Obama’s radical take over [sic] of our Texas Schools.” Yes, there are two typos in his one-sentence statement about education.

Miscellaneous (and conspiracy theories)
Stockman has toyed with birtherism, based on thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories, claiming for instance as that Obama might have a “fraudulent” birth certificate and thinking that he was listed as a “foreign student” at Columbia. Perhaps the most notable element of Stockman’s forays into birtherism, were the hoops he attempted to navigate through while trying to argue that whereas Obama was ineligible for being president, he had no problem with Ted Cruz – who was actually, demonstrably and uncontroversially born abroad – being eligible (the attempts weren't that serious; Stockman doesn’t really have great concerns about consistency).

Here is Stockman talking about fascism, arguing that “we do have some fascism” in America due to “government intervention” in the economy, such as the GM bailout. He does not have the faintest clue what “fascism” means, of course. (Nor “treason”.) It may give some clue to where he is coming from to know that he also thought that a group of activists that advocate for getting rid of the influence of money in our political system and who were planning a series of sit-ins in DC in 2016 were thereby trying to “enslave an entire nation.”

Stockman has also enjoyed a bit of a career as an anti-climate-science activist. It is not particularly surprising, but remember that Stockman was, for a while, a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. As a member of the committee, Stockman complained that he “can’t get answers” on how long it would take for the sea level to rise two feet: “Think about it, if your ice cube melts in your glass, it doesn’t overflow. It’s displacement. This is some of the things that they’re talking about that mathematically and scientifically don’t make sense.” No, he doesn’t have the faintest clue how any of this works.

There is a fine Steve Stockman resource here.

Diagnosis: Proud and true gohmert. Probably neutralized, but there are plenty of deranged criminals and conspiracy theorists ready to take his place, and the good people of (parts of) Texas do seem to love them.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

#2301: Susan Stevenson

Founder of the conspiracy theory, New Age quackery, anti-vaccine and anti-GMO site Gaia Health, homeopath Heidi Stevenson, has passed away. Susan Stevenson is probably not related, but she is at least just as crazy (though somewhat less influential). Stevenson is a hypnotherapist who practices past life regressive therapy, and a promoter of angel therapy, a type of New Age therapy based on the idea that communicating with angels is a key to healing. And Stevenson sees angels everywhere: “My life seems to be teeming with angelic connections, and the momentum is building. Have you noticed this in your own life? Angelic reminders that they are with us – ‘whispers’ in our ear, ‘taps’ on the shoulder, brushes of air across your skin or changes in air pressure, ‘flutters’ from deep inside, glints of light and color – all these gentle hints to pay closer attention to their presence. Think back – have you been paying attention, listening, responding? I know I certainly have been. Doreen Virtue, Ph.D. [her “degree” is from California Coast University and not worth the paper it is printed on], in her newest book Angel Therapy [the quote is some years old], says that this increased activity is directly related to the approaching millennium.” Some might suggest that the symptoms she describes would warrant an altogether different kind of response. Stevenson offers instructions on “contacting your personal angelshere.

Stevenson is apparently “a registered and certified clinical hypnotherapist in private practice”, where she offers “private sessions for adults and children,” as well as “workshops and audio tapes on a variety of life enhancing topics.” We do, admittedly, wonder a little bit how she squares her angels with her evident commitment to reincarnation (as per “past life regressive therapy”). More than that, we wonder who on Earth certified her – she doesn’t tell, and California does not recognize any separate licensing category called “hypnotherapist.”

Diagnosis: Yes, they seem warm and welcoming and enthusiastic and positive and harmless, but one cannot help but wonder why such fluffy New Age proponents always feel the need to dishonestly market their skills and qualifications. They are, perhaps, so post-truth that dishonesty doesn’t register any more. Stevenson probably needs serious help making other important distinctions, too. 

Hat-tip: Skepdic.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

#2300: Deborah Stevens

Yes, she’s pretty obscure, but Deborah Stevens is at least some kind of serial conspiracy theorist with numerous webpages to her, and whose ravings occasionally make their way to various whale.to-style websites. According to her bio, her “mission is to stand up for the Constitution and The Bill of Rights and to educate folks through her music (Three Shoes Posse) about 9/11 Truth, proper grand jury power and function, voting machine fraud and Vote Rescue, the scam of the Federal Reserve and an alternative known as the Liberty Dollar” (hyperlinks removed). Yes, it’s civics woo, through and through, and once you’ve bought into some freeman-on-the-land-style crazy it’s apparently hard to stop – Stevens, unfettered by reality, appears to believe roughly every dumb thing thrown her way as long as it fuels her already well-developed paranoia.

Her band, Three Shoes Posse, apparently consists of her, Jerry Stevens (her husband) and Patterson Martin, and they have ostensibly “brought their own special blend of activism together with genuine musical talents to bring the world their self titled CD release which includes the smash truth hit, 10 Second Freefall.” Apparently she is also a (somewhat) prominent member of WeAreChange San Antonio and runs (as far as we can tell) something called the Rule of Law radio network and the unlicensed Radio Free Austin, where she and her cohost Randall Kelton have been ranting about Barack Obama’s birth certificate, “the cartel” (“it’s all about the cartel, the monopoly cartel, the Texas Association of Broadcasters and the FCC protecting their cartel illegally”) and the accuracy of various prophecies. Much of Stevens’s contributions emphasized how ordinary citizens can “take back control” of the legal system. Stevens is not a lawyer.

Diagnosis: Probably rather harmless – Stevens is probably more reflective of a disconcertingly common mindset than someone who actually manages to change anyone’s mind. Her apparently firm beliefs about the law are mostly likely to harm herself.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

#2299: Richard Stephenson & the CTCA

Richard Stephenson is the founder of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), which is probably the most powerful backer of the quackery that is naturopathic oncology in the US. Stephenson founded the CTCA out of frustration with cancer care after his mother died of cancer, but confused “holistic” care with welcoming quackery, fraud and nonsense, and made sure to facilitate the incorporation of naturopathy and similar bullshit into CTCA from the start. Now, the CTCA does provide state-of-the-art conventional cancer care, but that care is integrated – sometimes almost seamlessly – with fraudulent nonsense, and Stephenson, despite his best intentions, is as such also partially responsible for ensuring that others will meet the same fate as his mother but with the addition of some meaningless wellness terminology at extra cost so that a slew of quacks and frauds can benefit from the tragedies. 

Treatments offered by the CTCA include acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, naturopathy – according to the CTCA “[n]aturopathic medicine can help reduce these [cancer-related] symptoms, strengthen the immune system and support the healing process throughout your brain cancer treatment, claims that are so bland or meaningless (“strengthen the immune system”) that they are probably not legally actionable – homeopathy, reflexology, aromatherapy, myofascial release, hydrotherapy and mind-body medicine, including Reiki (faith healing with an orientalist touch) and Qigong. They also, of course, provide a lot of nutritional advice, which is generally fine, but includes fair amount of quack talking points (e.g. the ridiculous lie that conventional medicine doesn’t care about nutrition – you see: making it sound like only alternative practitioners do would be an effective way of legitimizing their woo; rebranding scientific therapies as “integrative” is actually a big thing) and even appeals to superfoods, no less. And telling cancer patients that “nature heals through the response of the life force” really shouldn’t inspire confidence (it's exactly as based in reality as an appeal to midichlorians would have been). You can read a more detailed description of the quackery endorsed by the CTCA here.

Just as woo is integrated into cancer treatments in CTCA hospitals, so it is integrated in the organization’s national leadership, which includes:

-       Katherine Anderson is the National Director, Naturopathic Medicine and also Director, Naturopathic Medicine, Southwestern Regional Medical Center; 
-       Timothy Birdsall, no less, is the Chief Information Officer. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone more explicitly anti-science (he doesn’t think he is) and a stauncher advocate for special pleading on behalf of woo than Birdsall;
-       James Rosenberg, National Director of Chiropractic Care;
-       Carolyn Lammersfeld, Vice President of Integrative Medicine; 
-       Katherine Puckett, National Director of Mind-Body Medicine, and Director of the Department of Mind-Body Medicine;
-       Karen Gilbert, National Director of Oncology Rehabilitation, who also prides herself of being certified in auriculotherapy

Importantly, Stephenson is also one of the primary funding sources for the wingnut Tea Party organization Freedom Works, and yes, it’s relevant (and no exaggeration): Stephenson’s for-profit hospitals, while offering real treatment, also sell unscientific nonsense and woo to people in the most vulnerable positions imaginable, and then use the profits to fund wingnut causes.


Diagnosis: Though they do offer what appear to be state-of-the art treatments, you should be very, very careful about the advice they give you. Stephenson himself is probably more confused than evil, but that doesn’t make the sorry state of affairs at the CTCA any less sorry.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

#2298: Karl Stephan

Karl Stephan is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Texas State University, San Marcos, and a thorough science denialist with regard to fields in which he has no expertise. Stephan is for instance a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s idiotic petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism (though we haven’t verified his actual views on evolution), and when you give up scientific standards in one area you might as well walk the whole mile: Stephan is also a climate change denialist, and instead of climate change Stephan has suggested that birth control is among the greatest threats to civilization, citing Steven Mosher, no less.

Diagnosis: A fine example of crank magnetism, Stephan does have a real degree and is involved in research in his own field of expertise. To some people that might lend some credence to his silly claims about other fields, too, but Stephan is really a good illustration of why it shouldn’t.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

#2297: John Stemberger

John Stemberger is president of the Florida Family Policy Council – closely aligned with the Family Research Council – and affiliated with a number of other, similar groups (like On My Honor). As you’d expect from the name of his group, Stemberger is a fundie, denialist and all-round bigot, and many of his efforts have, unsurprisingly, been directed at making life as hard as possible for gay people, but he has also initiated or contributed to a number of other fundie efforts, too, such as circumventing the law to distribute Bibles in public schools. He has also tried to contribute to discussions of race relations.

Gays in the Boy Scouts
Stemberger was very critical of proposals to end the ban of gay youths in the Boy Scouts, warning that doing so would “further public scandal to the BSA, not to mention the tragedy of countless boys who will experience sexual, physical and psychological abuse”. Also, according to Stemberger, a young gay man will only join the Scouts in order to begin “flaunting his sexuality and promoting a leftist political agenda” and “inject a sensitive and highly-charged political issue into the heart of the BSA”. Apparently these are among Stemberger’s “top ten reasons” to oppose ending the ban on gay youth in the organization. Wanna bet whether the others are any better? As Stemberger sees it, “anything that has the word ‘gay’ on it [is] inappropriate for kids,” and “that’s what we’re talking about; we talking about injecting hyper-sexuality and a leftist political agenda right into the veins of the Boy Scouts and it will utterly devastate it.” Of course, the Boy Scouts weren’t supposed to start using the word ‘gay’ – indeed, their policy change was more about ending the use ‘gay’ or similar expressions in their rules. What Stemberger is talking about is thus not what he thinks he is talking about. He also warned that the Boy Scouts would commit “suicide” if they allowed openly gay members, whom he said would be “segregated” and put “in separate tents” from the other boys. At least he tried his best to make that prediction come true. 

In response to the end of the ban, a heartbroken Stemberger tried to help start an alternative, anti-gay version of the boy scouts, Trail Life USA, an initiative he compared to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Trail Life USA would ban anyone who is gay unless he is working to hide and banish his gay demons, in opposition to “society and schools and even parents”, which he blamed for affirming LGBT youth, something that, in Stemberger’s mind, is “tantamount to abuse.” Stemberger also said that gay people are “intolerant,” and indeed that this is why he will not “tolerate” them in Trail Life USA or any other youth group. No, he didn’t put two and two together. But he did express his outrage at Disney, who at the time (2014) was still not funding the BSA because the organization still barred gay people from leadership roles, calling Disney’s decision proof that gay rights advocates have a “vitriolic spirit” of “intolerance.” Disney is “completely a pro-gay agenda,” said Stemberger: “ I don’t trust Disney anymore with my kids. The Disney Channel can’t be trusted. If it has ‘Disney’ on it and says it’s for kids you better watch what it is parents because they can no longer be trusted as a family source for entertainment.” All in the spirit of fighting intolerance, of course.

And when a state judge in Florida overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014 Stemberger vowed to continue fighting: “This is an issue worth dying for,” he said, adding that “every domestic partnership, every single civil union, every couple that cohabitates, these arrangements dilute and devalue marriage.” It makes one wonder a bit how his own marriage works and what it’s based on.

After the 2016 massacre in an Orlando gay club, Stemberger complained about being “tired of seeing special interest rainbow flags”, and wishing instead to see greater “unity”. The statement itself – and Stemberger was not the only one to make statements of that kind – kinda suggests that Stemberger is not that fond of unity (hint: unity is not quite equivalent to everybody do as want), but to emphasize he added that “Christians should be prepared to be attacked and persecuted if they do not bow down and pledge allegiance to the gay pride flag and all it supposedly represents,” and the strategy of LGBT rights advocates is to “manipulate and bully Christians into submission to the new orthodoxy of the moral revolution,” presumably by letting themselves be gunned down in an Orlando nightclub.

Among efforts to help people avoid homosexual temptations, Stemberger has suggested ending welfare: after all, people wouldn’t be gay if they could just be kept dirt poor. “People who are hard-working and have to be self-sufficient and are not going to be propped up by the government don’t have the luxury of doing stupid, immoral things,” argued Stemberger. So, one major reason for opposing welfare measures is because they make you gay.

Creationism
Stemberger is also an advocate of teaching creationism in public schools, usually by arguing that teachers should (be allowed to) do so under the “academic freedom” label. In response to discussion of Florida’s education standards in 2008, Stemberger objected to adding the phrase “scientific theory” to evolution, ostensibly because it would be a “meaningless and impotent change,” which is a peculiar choice of words. 

As Stemberger saw the debates, the “Neanderthals” – i.e. the scientists and experts – were fighting hard to prevent exposure to denialist talking points (not his formulation) in public schools: “It’s apparent that evolution has become almost like one of the prongs of the Apostles’ Creed for the secular humanists. They guard it as if they were guarding a doctrinal truth,” said Stemberger, who would not be able to distinguish science from dogma if his life dependend on it (he interestingly didn’t liken the idea of gravity to the Apostles’ Creed). “They’re not open to discussion and debate and examination of evidence,” he concluded. Stemberger is not interested in the evidence, of course. He did, however, liken creationists to Galileo, “when he was trying to establish an order of the day and come against the Flat Earth Society.” That was not remotely what Galileo was doing.

There is a decent Stemberger resource here, and a good portrait here.

Diagnosis: Yes, relatively standard fare for us, but still: John Stemberger is an insane, delusional conspiracy theorist with a tenuous grasp of reality. But he is certainly tireless, and still has the ability to cause real harm.