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 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.

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.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

#2291: Todd Starnes

A dominant feature of fundamentalism is the martyr complex. No matter what power and influence you have, and no matter that your religious convictions represent the majority of the population, you are a victim, standing defiant in the face of the the Satanic horde, your flag held high and your convictions strong in the face of overwhelming forces trying to vanquish you. It’s a compelling narrative, and for many it’s the self-image they maintain even as they use their own privileges and power to force others to live by their convictions on others, yelling “help, help, I’m being oppressed” while doing so. 

A screaming ball of fundie paranoia, Todd Starnes is perhaps the leading propagandist for the myth that Christians are persecuted in the US today. Starnes sees persecution wherever he looks, and regardless of what he is actually looking at – he has a narrative to construct, and everything is interpreted to fit that narrative. Accordingly, Starnes finds a lot of persecution: more or less everything Starnes disagrees with, including separation of church and state and the fact that people with actual power may have different religious beliefs than him, Todd Starnes, turns out to be, ultimately, scandalous and shocking persecution of not only him, but all true Christians. Indeed, everyone who disagrees with him on anything seem to be persecuting him and/or the Christians he represents. There is, according to Starnes, a war on Christianity going on, and Christians are the face of this generation’s civil rights movement. But the road to victory will be hard: “We are going to see, within our lifetime, an attempt to outlaw or criminalize parts of the Bible,” says Starnes; if you ask for evidence or reason you haven’t remotely understood what’s going on here.

Todd Starnes is otherwise a columnist, commentator, author and radio host, a long-time guest on Fox and Friends and Hannity, and from 2017 until 2019 the host of a syndicated talk radio show on Fox News Radio – he was apparently fired from Fox News and all affiliates in October 2019 after endorsing the idea that American Democrats worship the pagan god Moloch. It wasn’t his first time getting in trouble with the media outlets employing him: In 2003, Starnes was let go by the Baptist Press after falsifying quotes from an interview with then U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige – the interview had actually spawned national headlines with several members of Congress calling on Paige to resign over comments on religion and the public schools before the Baptist Press was forced to issue an apology noting “factual and contextual errors” and decide that Starnes “no longer will be employed to write for the Baptist Press”. (For some reason we can’t help suspecting that Starnes’s audacity and predilection for journalistic malfeasance didn’t for the most part actually count against him at Fox.)

Starnes’s examples of religious persecution
Starnes has no compunctions about lying in order to support his persecution narrative. He has for instance repeatedly promoted the Raymond Raines story, which has been repeatedly debunked for some 20 years now. It is very instructive that, when asked for examples of persecution, this fake story is the go-to example for Starnes’s and his religious right allies.

And it is mostly for stories like these that Starnes has earned his position among the religious right; indeed, most persecution stories that rise to popularity on the religious right circuit are either Starnes fabrications or falsehoods picked up and popularized by him. Another famous example is the story of Air Force Sgt. Phillip Monk, who was apparently “relieved of his duties after he disagreed with his openly gay commander when she wanted to severely punish an instructor who had expressed religious objections to homosexuality.” As Starnes saw it, the case was an illustration of how Christians are punished for their religious beliefs and how “in essence, Christians are trading places with homosexuals.” The story spread rapidly, and were for instance picked up by Liberty University official Shawn Akers and AFA’s Bryan Fischer – not people known to check their sources if a story pats them the right way – and Monk was, not surprisingly, also invited to share his tale at a Values Voter Summit panel on the alleged trend of anti-Christian persecution. Of course, Monk’s story was false from beginning to end – he was, for instance, never “relieved of his duties” for anything.

And when Starnes accused a Georgia school of “confiscating” a display of teachers’ Christmas cards, the truth was that the display had merely been moved from a hallway to an office to accommodate the privacy concerns of a teacher who had wanted to participate but didn’t want her personal card displayed in a public space. (As school administrators rightly saw it, Starnes’s fabricated story was “an intentional and vicious dissemination of untrue information that disrupted the good work going on inside” the school.) There is a pattern here, of course, and there are plenty of other examples of Starnes trademark fabrications here, including his story – which gained immense popularity in wingnut media – of a six-year-old girl in California who had been stopped in the middle of a class presentation about her family’s Christmas traditions because “she can’t talk about religion in school” (never happened), his reports about the middle school students forced into a lesbian kiss (false), the tale about the athlete disqualified for thanking God (false: the athlete in question admitted he was disqualified for taunting and disrespecting a referee), the story about students at a Colorado high school who were banned from celebrating America (completely false), and the report of the Pentagon blocking a Southern Baptist website (an intentional lie; the Defense Department employees were briefly unable to access the website because it was infected with malware) – indeed, with regard to the latter example Starnes promptly accused Obama of “Christian cleansing”, and claimed that the incidence was part of a general effort on part of “politically correct Obama administration officals in cooperation with “church-state separation activists” to conduct a “sort of religious cleansing of the military”. It is probably little surprise that his 2013 column about the military getting ready to court martial Christians (picked up for instance by the Family Research Council and Louie Gohmert) was also completely groundless.

And then, of course, there was the April 2014 story about an elementary school student in Florida who was allegedly told by a teacher “that she was not allowed to pray before eating her lunch time meal” and that “it’s not good” to pray – which was thoroughly investigated and found to be utterly baseless. The girl’s father, however, happened, by what is surely an amazing coincidence, to be head of sales at the company publishing Starnes’ new book God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values, a book that is precisely filled with these kinds of tall tales. There is, by the way, a criticism of parts of that book here; perhaps the most remarkable chapter of the book is Chapter 5, “So Absurd It Could Be True: The Gospel Of Barack Obama,” in which Starnes explicitly relies on his imagination to illustrate the persecution Christians are facing in the US at present (the other chapters rely more or less solely on his imagination, too, but are less explicit about where Starnes finds his data.) 

You can probably imagine how he spun the Kim Davis affair. Yes, it’s persecution, of course, and Starnes concluded by predicting that “jails will soon fill up with Christians.” And if you thought it’s a bit of an exaggeration to characterize Starnes as a theocrat, we suggest you think a bit about what his views on how the courts should work, as expressed in connection with the Davis case, would actually imply.

Meanwhile, atheists and others fighting government prayer or mandatory prayers are basically “Hitler. But of course. Anyone who disagrees with Starnes is Hitler (who, by the way, often claimed that God was backing his policies in his speeches).

The War on Christmas
We could, of course, continue: Starnes’s December 2013 report that VA hospitals in Texas and Georgia were guilty of anti-Christian bias because VA administrators had banned Christmas cards for patients? Not only false, but obviously an intentional lie. Or his report from the same month that a Georgia hospital had banned Christmas carols? A lie, of course. Or for that matter: his story about how a Texas school banned Christmas trees and the colors red and green? A complete fabrication (the story was picked up e.g. by Sarah Palin). But of course: the accusations nicely fit the popular wingnut “War on Christmas” narrative, so you can rest assured that someone with as little time or taste for truth and accuracy as Todd Starnes will continue to make them.

One final, illuminating example of Starnes’s strategy for marketing paranoia over the alleged “war on Christmas”. In 2013, Starnes claimed that America is transforming into “1930s Germany” under President Obama’s leadership. The evidence? A 2009 story about how administration officials under the then-social secretary debated whether to have a crèche at the White House, ultimately deciding to do so, which in Starnes’s deranged imagination became President Obama personally trying “to get rid of the nativity scene.” Here is Starnes blatantly lying about how Obama handled the Saeed Abedini case.

To combat the perceived persecution of Christians in the US, Starnes has asked God to send more insects. How effective he thinks mosquitoes and gnats would be in combatting religious persecution at Christmas time across the US is unclear, but not the silliest thing about the request.

Anti-gay antics
Starnes has also fabricated a number of stories to oppose marriage equality (also beyond the Monk story above). Moreover, he has, on multiple occasions, suggested that Obama is secretly gay and implied that devastating floods in D.C. were God’s retribution for the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage. Not the least, Starnes thinks that the gay community is largely responsible for the rise of divorce and single parent households (don’t ask us – or him – how) and that gay rights will lead to “cultural Armageddon, since that sounds appropriately scary to his audiences.

When Michael Sam came out as gay before the NFL draft, Starnes was deeply disappointed and explained that the mere knowledge that there is a gay person on the field was completely going to ruin his enjoyment of football. Apparently we should all feel sorry for him, and Michael Sam should have thought a bit deeper about the sentiments of Todd Starnes before choosing his orientation.

During the controversy over Chick-fil-A’s stance on gay rights issues, Starnes said that people boycotting the restaurant chain are “un-American” and warned that “the days of persecution are upon us.” That didn’t prevent him from endorsing the Religious Right boycott of the Girl Scouts over bogus accusations that Girl Scout cookies fund Planned Parenthood, of course. (Ha-ha: you really thought this had anything to do with reason or coherence? This is about framing the expression of your position; Starnes could hardly care less about reason and coherence (case in point), unless you compared it with how much he cares about accuracy.) His announcement that he would be boycotting Frito-Lay because of the release of Rainbow Doritos is illuminating, too.

Most importantly, gay rights and marriage equality amount persecution of Christians. Starnes predicted, before the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, that allowing gay people to marry will mean that pastors will be arrested for preaching the Bible as a hate crime, presumably based on the fact that this is what Starnes would do to those who disagree with him if he could and because he is completely unable to fathom that others may be less deranged than himself – I mean, it’s not like he provides any other source for his conclusions.

Here is Starnes attempting to don his postmodernist hat to claim that Obama is “radically deconstructing the family.” (The idea that words mean anything is presumably a liberal myth.)

Starnes’s more forthright views about people with other religious beliefs
In 2015, Starnes managed to court some controversy for his response to the film “American Sniper”, when he stated that Jesus, well-known to people on the religious right for his blood thirst, “would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’ ” for dispatching disbelieving Muslims to the lake of fire.

And while he is pretty clear that government-led prayers should be allowed (or mandatory) in public schools – currently US “public schools have been turned into indoctrination centers” where “teachers are preaching a liberal ideology” – they should obviously be prayers in English to the Christian God. Anything else is pure oppression.

In 2017 Starnes was outraged to see Muslims praying at a protest of President Trump’s immigration executive orders at the Dallas airport, saying that the prayer was evidence of police stepping back and making way for a violent coup against Trump: that Muslims are protesting politics and even praying means that “a good argument could be made that the mainstream media and liberal activists and Hollywood, quite frankly, are … trying to foment some sort of a faux revolution or coup in America”. Once you realize that any religious view that deviates from Starnes’s own, or any other disagreement with Starnes, is inherently tyrannical, you will quickly also realize how much Christians (i.e. those who agree with Starnes) are persecuted win the US. (This one is pretty illuminating when it comes to how Starnes views the world.)

And people who disagree with Starnes are everywhere. Even Superman has become “a propaganda tool for the defenders of illegal aliens” since there is an issue in which he defends a group of Latino men from a gun-wielding racist instead of rounding them up and “flying them back to where they came from.”

Miscellaneous politics
Starnes has referred to the removal symbols of the old Confederacy from public places as “cultural cleansing” and compared anyone supporting it to ISIS. Indeed, the decision by the University of Mississippi to stop playing “Dixie” at football games is apparently also just like ISIS. He also commented on Cliven Bundy and his allied militias in their lawless stance against Bureau of Land Management in 2014, suggesting that violence would have been an appropriate response to the authorities who confronted Bundy after his defiance of several court rulings. And here is Starnes trying to claim that Obama wanted tax payers to pay for marijuana for college kids – Starnes’s dislike of Obama, combined with his dislike of facts, actually makes for some interesting commentaries, for instance his attempt to explain how Obama is to blame for violent Trump supporters.

Meanwhile, the 2016 election of Trump was “a miracle. Later Starnes accused Jeff Sessions for opening “the door for Robert Mueller and his partisan cronies to come in and wage political jihad on the White House” – he has, as usual, at best only a vague idea about what’s going on, of course. Starnes has also, predictably, fabricated several stories about how persecuted Trump is by the liberal establishment.

Here is a report on Starnes, apparently with a straight face, praying that the media will “reject fake news and embrace the good news” of Jesus Christ.

In 2018 Starnes wrote that female protesters who protested the Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh were “screaming animals” who “should be tasered, handcuffed and dragged out of the building;” it is unclear whether what made the protestors deserving of such treatment was the fact that they disagreed with him or the fact that they were women. The comment is nevertheless an instructive point of departure if you try to imagine what a society would look like that would, for Starnes, count as not oppressive to his particular brand of fundamentalism. “Capitol police should stand their ground and protect the senators at any cost,” continued Starnes. Just think for a moment about what he means by that.

There is a good Todd Starnes resource here.

Diagnosis: Liars for Jesus have rarely lied more brazenly than Todd Starnes, but his formula has apparently been a huge success, and his stories enjoy wide distribution on the religious right scene. Starnes knows his audience: older, paranoid wingnuts who are already afraid, and Starnes delivers fear, outrage and conspiracy aplenty for his audience. It works. Extremely dangerous.