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.

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.

Friday, January 17, 2020

#2296: Jill Stein

A.k.a. Tofu Palin

Jill Stein is the Massachusetts Green Party candidate and two-time U.S. Presidential candidate, poised to run again in 2020. She is also a medical doctor, which would make some of us naively think she would have something intelligent to say at least on healthcare policy. She does not. 

We will refrain from commenting on Stein’s and her party’s general political stances and policy suggestions – though terribly naïve, we admit to being sympathetic to some of them. But Jill Stein is definitely a loon, and giving her actual power (little chance of that, it seems) would be a terrible idea. Now, we suspect that Stein isn’t actually antivaccine, but she is nevertheless an apologist for antivaccine views and that is sufficient to qualify her for an entry on those grounds alone. Although the Republican Party has in general clearly become the antivaccine party, there are plenty of left-leaning antivaxxers to cater to, and Stein is more than willing to do so. Though what she actually says might come across as reasonable (she famously fooled Snopes; see here for a response), those who have some experience with antivaccine conspiracy theories will quickly notice that she is a master of antivaccine dog whistling, usually hiding her antivaxxer pandering behind (largely debunked) criticisms of alleged corporate influence in the CDC and FDA.

She also panders to the anti-GMO crowd. In addition to promoting mandatory labeling, Stein has called for a moratorium on production of GMO-based foods, as well as on pesticides (how she imagines sustainable food production should take place is fortunately something she doesn’t need to explain). Her opposition to nuclear power isn’t much less silly (nuclear power plants are “weapons of mass destruction waiting to be detonated” is not an intelligent contribution to discussions on renewable energy).

Moreover, the platform of the Green Party states (or has at least stated) that “Chronic conditions are often best cured by alternative medicine [a claim utterly divorced from anything resembling reality]. We support the teaching, funding and practice of holistic health approaches and as appropriate, the use of complementary and alternative therapies such as herbal medicines, homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine and other healing approaches.” Stein’s response to the platform was that “[t]he Green Party platform here takes an admittedly simple position on a complex issue, and should be improved,” which is moronic: it is not a complex issue. The treatments suggested are based on pseudoscience, imagination and conspiracy theories and will lead to patients being defrauded of their time, money, health and life. Stein, an internist, should know.

Somewhat more recently, Stein has warned that WiFi signals might harm the brains of children, doubling down on the claim after some people interpreted it as a joke: “A number of scientific studies have raised red flags about possible health effects of WiFi radiation on young children. I do not have a personal opinion that WiFi is or isn’t a health issue for children. There is not enough information to know]. I do however believe in science. Scientific research should go forward and find out. Countries including Switzerland, Italy, France, Austria, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Israel, Russia and China, have banned or restricted these technologies in schools.” Every single sentence in that quote is false, and yes, there is enough evidence to conclude.

Stein has also called for a new 9/11 investigation, although she has not declared herself a truther. Moreover, her 2016 running mate, Ajamu Baraka, has contributed to the anthology Another False Flag? Bloody Tracks from Paris to San Bernadino edited by Holocaust denier and 9/11 truther Kevin Barrett, which asserts that 9/11 was a CIA-Mossad conspiracy.

Diagnosis: To say that she is as anti-science as Trump (who has for instance explicitly endorsed antivaccine conspiracy theories) might be an exaggeration, but she bloody well comes close on certain issues. Now, we don’t really believe Stein is actually antivaccine, but she is completely spineless and morally bankrupt and willing to do anything whatsoever to gather voters, not matter how crazy or evil they might be, and is a master of dogwhistles that allow her to do so while maintaining a superficial veneer of respectability. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

#2295: Sherry Hansen Steiger

You can sort of see
how this could be
a ripe topic for authors
struggling with the
Brad Steiger was a legendary crackpot, conspiracy theorist and pseudoscience promoter particularly well known, perhaps, for promoting ancient astronauts and Atlantis nonsense but really into more or less any conceivable brand of silliness. Several of his books were coauthored with his wife Sherry Hansen Steiger, and since Brad passed away in 2018, she will be rewarded with being the focus of the present entry. Many of the Steigers’ books, such as Conspiracies and Secret Societies: the Complete DossierReal Visitors, Voices from BeyondReal Angels: Guiding Spirits, Benevolent Beingsand Heavenly Hosts and Parallel Dimensions and The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained (which they edited), read as descriptions of the various conspiracies and delusions mentioned in the titles, but the Steigers have also been pretty clear that they tend to at least assign some degree of credibility to more or less every piece of nonsense that comes their way – their books can, as such, be characterized as ambitious attempts at JAQing off.

Not all of their
releases have aged
particularly well
Brad and Sherry are for instance largely responsible for promoting the sad delusions of Al Bielek, having coauthored The Philadelphia Experiment and Other UFO Conspiracies with him in 1990. The book does a comprehensive job of packing all the expected nonsense involving CIA plots, government conspiracies, secret meetings with aliens, trips to Mars, visits from the Men in Black and so on together in a single volume. Another book in the same vein is their The Rainbow Conspiracy: The Greatest Cover-Up of Our Time, which ostensibly concerns a WWII program by the US Navy designed to make their warships invisible to the enemy, but which instead ended up “forever chang[ing] our relationship with extraterrestrials”, a conclusion reached by a substantial dose of imagination and paranoia.

Sherry Steiger is, rather unsurprisingly, also heavily into woo. She has “actively studied the dynamic interaction between the body, mind and spirit in health-related matters as well as the effects of environment and technology on health and wellness,” and given her distaste for methodology, accuracy and accountability displayed in her “studies”, has arrived at exactly the kinds of conclusions you’d expect. 

Given that even her and her husband’s website is currently defunct, we suspect that she is more or less retired.

Diagnosis: Prolific, colorful, and with a very tenuous grasp of the distinction between fiction and reality (or, perhaps more accurately: the Steigers simply never cared about that distinction), the Steigers are probably responsible for recruiting plenty of bored, critical-thinking-challenged people to the fantastic realm of delusion, pseudoscience and conspiracies. Hansen Steiger does seem to be more or less retired, but she is still with us, and famous enough to warrant an entry nonetheless.

Monday, January 13, 2020

#2294: Robert David Steele

Robert David Steele is a former CIA officer who has found a new career as a major league crackpot: given his background, paranoid conspiracy theorists are naturally inclined believe that Steele’s wild-eyed rantings carry some sort of authority, especially since Steele claims to have government resources at his disposal: for instance, according entirely to himself, Steele helped President Trump use the NSA database to “get every name, date and place for every pedophile, every traitor and every white collar criminal in the United States of America.” Yes, this one’s for the QAnon and pizzagate crowds, and builds on some remarkably resilient conspiracy tropes in wingnut circles.

Steele was also the one who told Alex Jones about the pedophile colonies the government has on Mars: “We actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride,” said Steele, “so that once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony.” And if you wonder what the purpose would be for NASA to go through such efforts, Steele is ready to explain: “Pedophilia does not stop with sodomizing children. It goes straight into terrorizing them to adrenalize their blood and then murdering them. It also includes murdering them so that they can have their bone marrow harvested as well as body parts” (ok, so for an explanation this misses some details, such as why they would go to Mars rather than some local pizza parlor, but it’s the best you’ll ever get for this type of claim.) “This is the original growth hormone,” commented Alex Jones. “Yes, it’s an anti-aging thing,” Steele replied. Now remember that President Trump listens to Alex Jones’s show, rather than to the “fake news” of the mainstream media.

Steele also told deranged dingbat Sheila Zilinsky that if Hillary Clinton had been elected, she would have legalized bestiality and pedophilia. He was, however, quick to lay the blame for his imaginary Clinton-policies on the Jews: “Hollywood has been run by Zionists from day one,” said Steele said, “and Hollywood was designed, inclusive of Walt Disney, was designed to destroy American values.” For instance, “if you go back and look at every Shirley Temple movie, it is essentially soft porn for pedophiles […], they are essentially the pedophile’s wet dream.” Steele’s reaction to watching Shirley Temple movies should, in other words, be the cause for some concern. Continued Steele: “We have senior founding Zionists in Hollywood saying, ‘Our objective is to eliminate all American values,’ [he did, curiously, not provide any attribution for the quote] and we have a senator who has exposed a memorandum from Loretta Lynch, had Hillary Clinton become president, they were going to legalize bestiality and pedophilia.” 

Steele also believes that “Jeffrey Epstein is a Mossad clandestine operations officer” whose mission was to “entrap US politicians, judges, celebrities, prosecutors, and corporate leaders with rigged ‘no name’ hotels and the multi-cavern ‘Lolita Island’” with the help of the FBI and CIA – not to expose them, mind, since FBI and CIA are evil, but to blackmail them (Epstein is, moreover, probably still alive). Accordingly, he hopes that “President Donald Trump follows through on this – and then throws in 9/11 disclosure [but of course] and an end to our support for Zionist Israel and its unregistered agents bribing and blackmailing everyone of consequence (AIPAC and ADL),” suggesting that if he does, “then he will in all probability be re-elected in a landslide, at the same time that the Democrats lose the House and 27 states flush their Governors and state legislators out of office for making it a felony to speak freely about the need to boycott Zionist genocidal apartheid criminal invented state Israel.”

Steele is currently Chief Enabling Officer of the Earth Intelligence Network and CEO of Open Source Everything. His insights have appeared for instance on the globalresearch webpage, including his article “The Soft Coup Collapses – CIA Bluffing, Russia Did Not Hack, Blackmail Revealed – What Next?” about the alleged deep-state conspiracy against President Trump, presumably because Trump’s tireless work against Zionist child abuse on Mars is a threat to their machinations.

He has also written numerous books, including The Orlando Mass Casualty Event: A False Flag Drama, Atrocity, or Hybrid? and the somewhat confusingly titled EYES ONLY: For the President (and the Public): Everything the Deep State Does Not Want You To Know. Steele’s earlier predictions for revolution (“all preconditions for revolution are now present in the US and Britain”) and WW3 starting in 2019, which was met with some enthusiasm in the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) community (where Steele used to be a respected figure), should probably be evaluated in light of his more recent revelations.

Diagnosis: Yes, people – lots of people, apparently – believe this. We can and should point and laugh, of course, but it’s pretty scary.  

Sunday, January 12, 2020

#2293: Anita Staver

Perhaps most familiar as the wife of deranged fundie Mat Staver, Anita Staver is a deranged fundie in her own right and president of Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBT hate group (you’d never imagine, from their actions and arguments, that Liberty Counsel fancied liberty; that’s why they had to put “liberty” in their name.)

No fan of public schools, Staver has called them “dangerous, anti-God indoctrination camps” that “threaten our nation’s very survival” because they teach facts and science, like evolution, that Staver does not think children should be exposed to lest their commitment to fundie denialism might start to waver. Pleading with parents to homeschool their children instead, in a column titled “Stealth Creation of Government Indoctrination Camps Underway”, she complained that “millions of helpless people are taken there on busses to be brainwashed and victimized” in “repressive” schools controlled by “secularists, humanists, and socialists.” “Public schools have indeed, become some of the most dangerous places in America,” Staver concluded.

Mostly, though, Staver dislikes LGBT people, who she – albeit totally unable to cite even cursory evidence – perceives to be threat. Staver was for instance part of the group behind the American Prayer Initiative, which offered members a specific prayer for every day of each month until Election Day 2012, including prayers condemning the separation of church and state and homosexuality, and endeavored to pray for God’s “healing for those who struggle with same-sex attraction” and to “replace unnatural affections”. (Other members of the initiative included National Day of Prayer’s Shirley Dobson and Vonette Bright, Janet Parshall, Penny Nance, Susan B. Anthony List’s Marilyn Musgrave, Rebecca Hagelin and Susan Allen.) Staver’s comments on the Florida proposition to enshrine a definition of marriage as between man and woman in the constitution in 2008 probably sum up her views reasonably well: “We don’t need a crystal ball to tell what’s going to happen … Normalizing same-sex marriage will suppress speech and religion. The ultimate goal for those opposing Amendment 2 is to silence all opposition to same-sex behavior and the homosexual lifestyle,” presumably based on what she would do to those who threatened to disagree with her if she had the power to do so – there really is no other justification for the claim. Moreover, noting that the debate, in her mind, is “really a battle over the freedom of speech,” shows that her stance is, unsurprisingly, mere standard wingnut conspiracy mongering based on strong feelings and no facts to appeal to.

She has also taken a strong stance on the imaginary War on Christmas, arguing that when enough people learn the truth, the ACLU and similar “Scrooges” and “grinches” will lose their power to steal Christmas.

Diagnosis: Standard wingnut fundie fare, but Staver definitely wields some power, and must be considered a significant threat to human civilization and well-being.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

#2292: Penny Starr

Penny Starr is reporter for CNSNews, employee of Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center – a group that barely even pretends to be a media research center – and conservative activist. In particular, Starr is vehemently and virulently anti-gay, and her main claim to fame is the uproar she caused in December 2010 with her story “Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibit Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts”. The story was a deranged review of a National Portrait Gallery exhibit on the gay and lesbian experience in American art, which predictably gave rise to a standard call for safe spaces in the right-wing controversy machine and ultimately led to the Smithsonian removing a work from the exhibit – Starr had described said artwork as “anti-Christmas”.

She attempted to repeat the success the following year by attacking a National Portrait Gallery exhibit on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, which also committed the unforgivable sin of triggering rightwing snowflakes like Starr by acknowledging the existence of gay people.

No fan of science either, Starr is at best critical of evolution, as shown by her (false) assertion that the theory of evolution remains controversial “even in scientific circles” in her “news report” on the New Smithsonian exhibit on human origins entitled “New Smithsonian Exhibit on Human Origins Devoid of References to God, Creation or Pre-Natal Existence” (no link provided). 

Diagnosis: A seasoned manufactroversy-monger on the religious right circuit, which is admittedly an easy job considering how easily triggered her audience is, and how little accuracy matters to whether they are triggered or not. Moderately dangerous.