Sunday, August 31, 2014

#1141: Walid Shoebat

We can’t be bothered to cover Priscilla Shirer. Shirer is a Biblical motivational speaker who has authored mountains of tripe, but looking through it for a single, concrete claim in the nebulous, wooey clouds of fluffy gibberish is simply too daunting a task. She’s disqualified on technical grounds. And Andrew Shirvell needs a hug more than an entry in our Encyclopedia.

At least they pale in comparison with the amazing Walid Shoebat. Shoebat is a central actor in what seems to be a burgeoning industry of fake and questionable “former terrorists” who are selling their alleged expertise to the FBI, local police departments and – first and foremostly – lunatic wingnut talkshow hosts and columnists (Kamal Saleem is another). Shoebat is a self-proclaimed “Former Muslim Brotherhood Member Now Peace Activist,” ex-terrorist and terrorism expert, with an emphasis on “self-proclaimed” – those investigating his background has found anything resembling evidence for any terrorist or even particularly radical Muslim background, and quite a bit of evidence to the contrary (there are, for instance, no record of the terrorist attack in which he claims to have participated, and his story contains some impressively blatant contradictions) – and even if correct his background would hardly make him an expert on terrorism, something he has had ample opportunity to demonstrate. Nevertheless Shoebat, as a fundamentalist Christian, currently makes his living as an expensive lecturer and co-author of silly, paranoia-pandering books like The Case FOR Islamophobia: Jihad by the Word; America's Final Warning, and has become a pretty familiar face on fake news outlets such as Fox News. (Investigations into his finances and accountability have also led to some curious results, but that’s a different story).

And in his lectures and media appearance he gives you precisely the kinds of idiocy you’d expect someone willing to pay 5000 bucks to listen to a guy like this would want to hear. Apparently based on his background, Shoebat is in a good position to point out that Obama is a Muslim – “no one is called Hussein unless he is Muslim. So it is very clear that Barack Hussein Obama is definitely a Muslim,” says Shoebat, evidently unaware of how names work. And Obama’s pro-Islaimist worldview is motivated by Satan. “This is a demonic influence and the more America becomes liberal, the more that kind of influence prevails in America,” according to Shoebat (also here), who warns that liberals will dispose of the First Amendment in order to ban criticism of Islam and “the homosexual agenda” because … right. He managed to top most of the usual suspects on the Huma Abedin “case” – not only is Abedin a terrorist agent, “[i]t is extremely rare to have Muslim women marry non-Muslims, much less to have conservative Muslims look the other way, unless Huma has a ‘higher calling’ and a unique exception was made for her, since she is an ear into top U.S. sensitive information, or Anthony Weiner has converted to Islam or even both.” Yes, that’s how the mind of Walid Shoebat works.

Though most of his ranting concerns the evils of Islam, Shoebat does not shy away from criticizing other religions (or fail to see that they are different from Islam). So Shoebat has, for instance, accused Glenn Beck and David Barton (!) of attempting to bring about “Islamo-Mormon deistic universalism” because Islam and Mormonism are, well, the same (never mind that Barton’s vision of government would make Oliver Cromwell’s look like a pagan orgy) – according to Shoebat, Beck is a practitioner of “Chrislam”. And don’t get him started on Buddhism: “The reality is that Buddhism is just as violent, just as tyrannical, just as dangerous, and just as demonic, as Islam. Anyone who thinks otherwise is dictated by the now and the present, and not by prudence. The reason why Buddhists have, for a long time now, given an aura of peace, is because Buddhism is not in a position of power from which to commence violence and war. Buddhism has the concept of the use of false peace to deceive one's enemy, just as in Islam there is the use of false peace, or hudna (temporary truce), in order to trick the opponent to buy time and regain strength.

In his role as Bible scholar (which also produced this, which we are not even going to try to make sense of; this is rather confusing as well), Shoebat has also determined that Allah is the antichrist of the book of Revelation, claiming that “the evidence is overwhelming”. It tells you a bit about Shoebat’s standards of evidence. At least it means – to Shoebat – that the war on terror (to him the just war against Islam) really is “God’s war on terror”. And yes, the terrorists are apparently all Muslims; for instance, when Shoebat noticed that one of the victims of the Boston marathon bombings was a Saudi guy he immediately concluded that he must be among the conspirators (after said victim had been cleared immediately by the FBI, of course) and berated Michelle Obama for visiting him during her visits to the bomb victims. But then, Muslim attempts to take over the US are, apparently, everywhere and include for instance Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erodogan; proof? In 2013 a Turkish-American Cultural Center was being built in Maryland. What more do you need (especially given Shoebat’s aforementioned standards of evidence)?

His son Theodore Shoebat seems to be following in his father’s footsteps, and we’ll return to him in a future entry.

Diagnosis: Well, at least he has the mindset of a raging Taliban fundie, we’ll grant that much. He seems to have a softer spine, however.

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We apologize for dropping off the face of the Internet for a while, but due to moving (to Gerald Allen territory) things have been a bit crazy lately. Can't promise that updates will be quite as frequent as they used to be, but we'll try.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#1140: Frank Sherwin

Frank J. Sherwin III is a research associate, “Senior Lecturer” at, and “Science Writer” for the Institute for Creation Research, sometimes coauthoring with Brian Thomas for the ICR newsletter Acts and Facts. Apparently he has a master’s degree in zoology, which is not (apparently) quite sufficient to confer any authority on his rejection of virtually his whole area of expertise.

He has also published in Answers in Genesis’s house journal Answers, including “Louis Pasteur’s Views on Creation, Evolution, and the Genesis of Germs”, with Alan L. Gillen (which, one wonders, is supposed to show exactly what?) and “A Possible Function of Entamoeba histolytica in the Creation Model”, which contains absolutely no research (“the Scriptures teach” doesn’t count) but plenty of conjecturing concerning a micro-organism before and after the Fall. Sherwin is, however, perhaps most famous for taking the Cambrian explosion to be one of the “four irrefutable arguments” against evolution – not that he ever pauses to consider what biologists actually have to say about it.

According to his sister Elisabeth, Sherwin is a creationist because he is “irritated by the arrogance of evolutionists who claim to have all the answers,” which sounds like a pretty lame reason; also, “the world view of a person who thinks they came from bacteria is likely to be substantially different from the world view of someone who thinks they were created in God’s image,” which is not a particularly well-considered reason either.

Diagnosis: Pretty much your standard fare among creationists. Because of Despite the complete absence of actual research (or critical thinking) efforts, Sherwin nevertheless remains a figure of authority in the creationist movement.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

#1139: Daniel Shenton

Yes, there are still people believing that the earth is flat, and they do have an organization, founded by one Samuel Shenton in the 1950s. Daniel Shenton is the current president (and he is, curiously, apparently not even related to Samuel). According to Shenton, it is not gravity that pins us to the ground but the rapid upward motion of a disc-shaped planet (that Newtonian thing about constant motion seems to have escaped him), and you can indeed fall over the edges. He also uses a GPS when riding his motorcycle, apparently.

Of course, to accept a flat earth cosmology you have to accept some conspiracies, and Shenton is happy to grant for instance that the moonlandings were faked. Apparently the idea that motivates him is Zeteticism, which according to Shenton “emphasises experience and reason over the ‘trusting acceptance of dogma’,” and the earth feels flat to him. Actually, it doesn’t really, but whatever. Apparently the evidence that convinced him was Thomas Dolby’s 1984 album The Flat Earth.

In fact, Shenton comes across as a rather curious case. He has no problem with evolution, and he does think there is good evidence for man-made climate change; he was accordingly deeply offended when Obama compared global warming denialists to flat earthers.

Diagnosis: It is, to be honest, a bit unclear how deeply committed Shenton is to his idea, and it is hard to imagine his society having any lasting, detrimental effect on civilization. Indeed, one may compellingly argue that they provide a good and helpful illustration of how denialism works, and how silly it actually is.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

#1138: Bruce Shelton

Bruce Shelton is a physician (a real one). But he is also a former Arizona homeopathic board chairman and one of the most active (and worrying) lobbyists for gettingstate boards to recognize quackery. Remember the Arizona homeopathic board? Yes, they were the ones who exonerated Gabriel Cousens for malpractice in 2001 – anything to avoid doing harm to a cherished form of quackery, I suppose (people, on the other hand ...). Shelton is also a signatory to the International Medical Council on Vaccination’s list of, well, people who question the safety and efficacy of vaccines, since denialism, anti-science zeal, and lack of understanding of scientific methods or critical thinking rarely restrict themselves to isolated topics. He is currently affiliated with the Valley Integrative Physicians in Arizona.

Apparently Shelton thinks a good justification for believing in the efficacy of crazy woo such as homeopathy is that these have been practiced for a long time, often “hundreds of years”. Like alchemy. And bloodletting. Words fail.

Diagnosis: Not the loudest or most obviously incoherent promoter of woo out there, Shelton is nevertheless among the more influential. Seeing his name in any context should raise a red flag for anyone. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

#1137: Lou Sheldon

Being chairman of something called the Traditional Values Coalition is asking for an entry in any respectable encyclopedia of loons. And as chairman for this organization Louis P. Sheldon speaks and writes, as expected, primarily about social issues such as abortion, religious liberty, and public acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and does so with precisely the level of acumen, insight and humanity you would expect. The Traditional Values Coalition, which claims to be the largest non-denominational grassroots church lobby in America, is listed as a hate group by the SPLC, and Sheldon was an associate of Jack Abramoff, but he nevertheless manages to sustain an impressive media presence (despite creeping out even Tucker Carlson: “You want to know what the single biggest problem facing inner-city black neighborhoods is?” asked Sheldon: “Homosexuality,” he answered).

Insofar as Sheldon’s arguments and stances are so typical we won’t be bothered to cover them in too much detail, but for a representative sample you may for instance look at his attempt to argue that Glee is working to “desensitize Americans to the genuine risks of the homosexual agenda” (in an article called “The Plan for a Gay (Domi) Nation”) – indeed, America is in danger because gay people on television are portrayed as too nice; “Rome fell because of its immorality,” says Sheldon (completely untrue, of course), and likewise “moral anarchy will pull down any kind of a republican government, and that’s where we're headed if we don't turn things around.”

And predictably: The fact that he is sometimes rightfully criticized for his views is taken as proof not only that he is being persecuted, but that Christians are being persecuted in the US (gays, of course, cannot be Christians, according to Sheldon). A similar, illustrative example of his way of thinking is his organization’s (and other “pro-Family” organizations’, though only Sheldon himself showed up) efforts to overturn the Fair Education Act in California and his call to “take back our courts from the anti-God left” after the courts found that the Constitution doesn’t support making Sheldon’s hate-based opinions into law. There’s a good resource on Sheldon’s anti-gay views here.

Sheldon is also a hardcore creationist. In the 90s, for instance, he was heavily involved in campaigning for ruining public education in California, complaining about an “overemphasis on the study of evolution in the school curriculum, underplaying the role of religion in the formation of the U.S.,” paying “insufficient attention to the value of sexual abstinence” and “the glorification of gay lifestyles” in California schools. At least according to himself, his group was successful in persuading the state board to dilute references to evolution in state textbooks. “The important thing in our view is that the Earth was not created by evolution but by God,” said Sheldon. Apparently the existing evidence for evolution is persecution of Sheldon and those who agree with him.

He is apparently also a beneficiary of the philanthropic efforts of Howard Ahmanson, but James Hartline, interestingly, does not seem to be a fan. Sheldon also claims to have known that Ted Haggard was gay before the familiar scandal, but decided to cover it up because maintaining political momentum was more important than truth (yes, he actually said that, but will probably never realize that he did). And, not the least, he is the father of Andrea Lafferty.

Diagnosis: Sheldon is still one of the big religiously motivated haters and anti-civilization activists in the US. Batshit insane, and extremely dangerous.