Monday, May 23, 2022

#2539: Austin Bennett

The antivaccine movement has a penchant for violent rhetoric, and the rhetoric has arguably grown more violent in the last few years – and that process started even before COVID and Qanon. The consequences are, unfortunately, not that surprising. And though antivaxxer Austin Bennett’s 2019 physical attack on Richard Pan, a California lawmaker and vocal supporter of various bills that would limit vaccine exemptions in public schools, didn’t in itself cause much actual harm (more on the attack here), the tendency and what it represents – not only the chance of real violence, but the silencing effects of legitimate threats of violence – should scare us. And here’s the thing: If Bennett’s crazy, deranged, paranoid conspiracy theories about the world were true, they would arguably justify extreme measures. The crucial point is of course that the frantic, idiotic nonsense that fuels Bennett’s brain is laughably ridiculously false.


It is also worth pointing out that Bennett received plenty of support in the various antivaxx communities after the attack. Others, predictably, claimed that Bennett’s attack was a false flag operation designed to cast antivaxxers in a bad light – as if any effort were needed beyond their own to put antivaxxers in a bad light.


Bennett, who by the way actually tried to run against Pan for the California Democratic nomination for his Senate seat in 2018, is not only an anti-vaxxer. Indeed, his rants and videos arguably tend to be more focused on disseminating his ideas on chemtrails. We haven’t made any attempt to sort out his rather disordered and incoherent thoughts on those matters.


Diagnosis: A paranoid, deranged idiot, and really a pretty minor crackpot in the antivaxx movement, whose only claim to fame rests on willingness to resort to violence – and yes, we do admittedly feel a bit ambivalent about giving him the attention of an entry here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

#2538: Owen Benjamin

Owen Benjamin – really Owen Benjamin Smith – is a wingut and alt-right internet celebrity, conspiracy theorist and promoter of pseudoscience. Back in the days, Benjamin was a relatively mainstream standup comedian and actor, even something of a minor celebrity, but at some point, he switched profession to YouTube crank, before being kicked off most mainstream social media platforms. He has also performed in several PragerU videos; intellectual bankruptcy is rarely signalled with more clarity. His descent followed a trajectory from Steven Crowder’s YouTube channel, through Washington Times coverage, to Joe Rogan’s podcast to InfoWars, to (this is as close to rock bottom as we can imagine) a show by Vox Day. Though he was banned from most mainstream social media platforms for various policy violations (some hate speech, some violations of terms of service), he temporarily returned to Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as a sockpuppet in 2020 to spread COVID-19 misinformation, before being re-banned. There is a good account of his descent into nonsense here.


Benjamin often presents his views as an attack on political correctness, but that is – obvious to all, really – really just an excuse for promoting all sorts of deranged nonsense, conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. His comedy act has been described as “the alt-right movement disguised as comedy”.


A recurring feature of Benjamin’s “comedy” routines and Instagram posts is antisemitism, including references to international Jewish conspiracies and suggesting that there is a massive Jewish influence in pornography, Hollywood and media (a notable example). Apparently Jewish people are secretly responsible for education programs that help children understand their LGBTQ identities; “nobody wants any of it and it’s all Jews!yells Benjamin: “It’s war Jews [and] sodomy Jews and they’re having a family feud at our expense.” Benjamin is an unapologetic holocaust denialist, and has for instance gone full in on the Neo-Nazi idea that Anne Frank was a hoax (Anne Frank “never existed” and is “even more of a hoax than the thunbergs story”), based partially on the easily debunked “ballpoint myth”. He has even stated that Hitler was trying to “clean Germany, clean it of the parasites, of the fleas”, and that “gays and Jews were considered the worst of the worst. Why? Because if they get power, they will destroy your entire civilization.” Just as the H-guy himself might have put it! Benjamin has apparently also posted fabricated writing from the Talmud to support his antisemitic conspiracy theories. (And yes, he also has a thing for Greta Thunberg, calling her “a little demon troll,” a “bitch,” and “a little gremlin”, all in the name of preserving Western Civilization)


The transgender rights movement, meanwhile, is ostensibly part of a eugenics program to lower the world population. Apparently Bill Gates is involved, too, because of course he is and Benjamin is a moron. In another example of red-pill thinking, Benjamin stated that Stephen Spielberg murdered child actress Heather O’Rourke by pedophilia in 1988: “She, according to the coroner, was sodomized to death on set.” No coroner has ever remotely hinted at anything such, of course, but it’s a claim regularly found on Qanon redpill sites with ‘truth’ in their urls. Benjamin also said he wishes the Spielberg family had been killed in the Holocaust.


Moreover, Benjamin has engaged in moon-landing conspiracy theories and even flat-earthism – in November 2019, he spoke at the Flat Earth International Conference in Dallas. Unsurprisingly a creationist, Benjamin’s crucial evidence against evolution is apparently his self-professed high IQ, which is greater than any scientist’s. And as Benjamin sees it, the fact that evolution is generally accepted among scientists is not only a matter of error, but of conspiracy: dinosaurs, for instance, are a “Smithsonian lie”.


And of course, Benjamin spreads coronavirus misinformation, urging people not to take the virus seriously (“fear is the virus” is a favorite line) and complaining about restrictions: “If the government says close your business, that doesn’t mean anything. That’s just a pedophile in a suit at a news conference.” The messages are, of course, full of anti-gay and anti-semitic rhetoric, referring to Jewish people as “grabblers,” and stating that it was statistically less likely that a Catholic priest is screwing kids than “a Jew is stealing money.” “What’s up with the Jews?” added Benjamin, “because there is something going on with it.”


The Great Bear Trail

In 2020, Benjamin purchased ten acres in Idaho for his “The Great Bear Trail”, purportedly a community “self sufficient and not depending on those with ideologies that are oppressive to mankind.” One pitch to donors described it as “a new Ruby-Ridge-style compound”. The effort has, predictably, led to some legal trouble, largely because of the expected lack of planning and failure to apply for relevant permits – it doesn’t help that his neighbors are understandably less than pleased to have “[a]nother racist zealot with a ‘compound’ nearby”.


The project has been criticized e.g. by experienced Idaho journalist Mike Weland. In response to the criticism, Benjamin published a video where he mocked Weland for using a wheelchair, called him “the pedophile guy,” and made fun of the wheelchair ramps in his home.


Diagnosis: Described as a typical example of what happens when you OD on red pills, Benjamin is mostly a laughable moron shunned even by other altright sympathizers. Given how he systematically goes for lunacy, he could potentially be useful as an anti-fact checker – if Benjamin suggests something, it is evidence that the opposite is correct.

Friday, May 13, 2022

#2537: David & Jason Benham

The Benham brothers, David and Jason, are the spawn of legendary anti-abortion and anti-gay activist Flip Benham, and themselves hardcore fanatics and promoters of hate and bigotry. Both are Liberty University graduates (and currently fellows at Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center), Minor League Baseball players, and filmmakers (a number of Christian films, some of which have been relatively successful with certain groups), and probably most notable for their alternative, for-profit model for Christian mission work termed ‘missioneering’, which, we admit, is among the most quintessentially American ideas we have ever encountered. Their missioneering work have included virtual assistant and business services, CrossFit gyms in North Carolina and ample space on American Family Radio to push their ideas.


In 2014, HGTV announced a home improvement reality television show with the brothers. The plans were cancelled after HGTV was made aware of the dismal nature of the brothers’ characters and their work as anti-gay extremists. Christianity Today claimed that the show was cancelled because the brothers were “too Christian for cable”, which would be correct only on an interesting definition of “too Christian”.


Work as anti-gay extremists

Among the examples cited to HGTV was David Benham’s 2012 protest outside the Democratic National Convention, where he asserted that “homosexuality and its agenda” was “attacking the nation” and that “demonic ideologies” were infiltrating “our universities and our public school systems.” Also relevant was David Benham’s work to promote and supportNorth Carolina Amendment 1, a referendum that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in the North Carolina constitution. He also compared same-sex marriage with Nazi Germany, because of course he did. He later did claim that he never compared gay rights advocates to Nazis, but he could make that claim because people like the Benham brothers are so good Christians that they have been granted an exception to the general ban on lying whenever it suits them, a privilege they use to the full.


Like a lot of hateful anti-gay activists, the brothers are careful to point out that they’re “not there to bash” gay people, e.g. when they arrange anti-gay demonstrations, but rather, in Jason’s words, “to tell them that Jesus loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way.” They also call gay people “destructive” and “vile” “filth” and claim that gay people are out to destroy the nation because they are under the influence of demonic ideologies. But it’s all a way of telling them that Jesus loves them, we guess, and should never be mistaken for “bashing”. Here they explain their love for gay people by claiming that the homosexual “agenda is led by Satan. In particular, the brothers are not trying to fight gay people, but are rather engaged in a spiritual war against Satan and demonic forces, the forces that, as usual, are out to silence Christianity. “It’s a spiritual fight,” Jason Benham said. “Silencing” in this context is when gay people criticize the brothers for calling them “vile” and “filth” and for engaging in “bashing”; offering such criticism is a terribly demonic thing to do.


For of course, the Benham brothers are the victims here. According to the brothers, “discrimination against gay people simply does not exist. To say otherwise is disingenuous at best and misleading at worst.” By contrast, American Christians are exactly like the victims of ISIS! Because just like ISIS silences their victims by beheading them, critics of antigay twats like the Benham brothers silence them by quoting them verbatim. At least that’s how the brothers described it when they complained about how they were silenced at a massive conference broadcast on C-SPAN. Jason Benham also likened himself and his brother to Jesus Christ. In other words, they clearly struggle mightily to figure out how comparisons work.


The Satanic origin of gay marriage and gay relationships is a recurring topic in their speeches and interviews. According to Jason, Satan is behind both gay relationships and abortion rights because he hates reproduction; David, meanwhile, claims that same-sex marriage is the “ultimate attack” on God [it’s not clear that he knows what ‘ultimate’ means, but it sounds dire] and “a mask for Satan.” And the brothers truly sawthe inside of the devil’s lair” when they lost their TV show and became victims of “the thought mafia that targets Christians”. Here is a summary of a talk David gave at one of David Lane’s supposedly “non-political” rallies in North Carolina. According to the brothers, hurricanes striking the U.S. are also a warning for the U.S. to repent for “breaching the boundaries” of God on gender, sexuality and marriage.


And here is the Benhams on how the sexual revolution is forcing itself on everyone and how the revolution “has no capacity for reason. It has no ability to see its own hypocrisy or discern its hopeless future. It just forces itself on others regardless of cost or consequence.” It’s a strikingly weird column. But it was the same observations that led them, in 2017, to skip Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show to protest by prayer how the “vine of Sodom has pierced and penetrated our nation at one of the biggest sporting events of the year.”


Religious freedom and related issues

Like so many fundies, the Benham brothers like to claim that Christians are persecuted in the US today, and in a column for the WND, they nicely explain what they mean by more or less explicitly stating that Christians are persecuted because they are prevented from forcing others to conform to their religious views (example), citing as examples of persecution the fact that public schools are not allowed to force students to pray, read the Bible or use the classrooms for religious instruction. In general, they warn against a separation of church and state, citing George Washington with “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible,” which is a fake quote. According to the brothers, religious freedom is also the cause of violent events in the US at present.


The brothers are also famous for their campaigns against Islam. According to David Benham, they were labeled ‘antil-Muslim’ several places after they, on September 11, 2011, “went to New York City and I remember watching radical Muslims marching through our streets screaming, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ and I stepped into the middle of the street and I began to proclaim the gospel and let them know that that stuff is not welcome in our nation.” Of course, that Muslim march took place entirely in David’s imagination – the reality/imagination is a distinction they systematically struggle with. The brothers did take part in a march against Islam, and specifically the so-called Ground Zero mosque, on that date, however.


In 2016, the brothers received the “National Heroes of Faith Award” from Vision America, whereas their father, Flip, got the “Don Wildmon Pastor Award.” Anyone with even a minimal level of normal decency would hang their heads in shame after being thusly marked.


There are decent resources on the Benham brothers here and here.


Diagnosis: Incoherent wingnut fundies, and particularly egregious examples of the deeply American tradition of making hateful bigotry and dominionism a for-profit venture. They enjoy relatively high profiles in the religious right insane-clown circus, however.

Monday, May 9, 2022

#2536: Charles Benbrook

One of the leading anti-GMO activists in the US, Charles M. “Chuck” Benbrook is an agricultural economist, pesticide litigation consultant and former adjunct professor with the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR) at Washington State – a job fully funded by the organic food industry with no independent funding or funding from the university. Benbrook was also scientific advisor for the organic industry research organization The Organic Center, which does not mean that his efforts, or those of the center, were particularly science-based. Benbrook is best known for his promotion of pseudoscience and his willingness to use any tactic and gambit possible, no matter how dirty, to defend the efforts of the industries that hire him from actual scientific research and data, and to influence public opinion, as well as to produce strikingly flawed studies in support of said industries (the efforts are, for Benbrook and his side, a matter of winning, not of ensuring that they are actually right through evidence and genuine research). What’s really worrying, though, is how many people view him asan authority worth listening to.


During his time at the CSANR, Benbrook directed the organic industry-funded “Measure to Manage” program, and conducted several studies also funded in their entirety by the organic food industry, which also paid for his lobbying efforts to require that genetically modified organisms be labelled. His contract with Washington State was terminated after he “forgot” to disclose his industry-funded conflicts of interest. It is noteworthy that Benbrook also directed the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Agriculture from 1984 to 1990, but was ultimately let go, after several warnings, because he used the authority of his position to promote pseudoscience and conspiracy theories – what the NAS more diplomatically described as public comments on incomplete research that did not reflect the views of the academic professional reviewers at the Academy.


Since his NAS days, Benbrook has primarily been working as an expert for hire. He was, for instance, chief ‘scientist’ at the Organic Center, a ‘research’ organization funded by the organic industry and operating under the management of the Organic Trade Association, relationships that the center did not want to be publicly known – it really is striking, and really a system feature, how anti-GMO and anti-pesticide activist groups like to run the shill gambit and appeals to Monsanto, falsely accusing those who disagree with them of being bought and paid by industry interest on whatever flimsy (and often non-existent) multiple-degrees-of-separation line they can imagine, while being themselves entirely in the pocket of and producing research results to order from Big Organic. From a cynical point of view, the dynamics are understandable. The research underpinning the scientific consensus on GMO or glyphosate safety is demonstrably largely free of industry-related conflicts of interest. And if you apply just a bit of reason, it should really be obvious how ridiculous the claim is that studies that show that GMOs and pesticides are safe are compromised by Big Industry interests: It really isn’t in the best interests of said industry to influence results so that it looks like things are safe and effective when they really aren’t: as the industry very well knows, mistakes in the assessment of safety of their products will come back to harm them down the road. For the anti-GMO activists, the situation is different: their goal isn’t to establish the safety of their own products, but to undermine public confidence in others’ products: And then, why would truth, accuracy and accountably matter? There is a reason why FUD tactics are effective. It’s worth noting that the only major case of scientific misconduct in research on glyphosate that has come to light is … yes, precisely: Benbrook’s.


Over the last decade, Benbrook has also served as expert witness in several GMO- and pesticide-related lawsuits. Since 2014, he has been a paid litigation consultant for mass tort pesticide litigators on class action cases involving glyphosate, paraquat, and chlorpyrifos.


In 2018, Benbrook established the Heartland Research Study and Heartland Health Research Alliance, LTD, which is a front for the organic industry – they were notably funded by organic grocery magnate Mark Squire, as well as leading anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist (and also anti-glyphosate activist) Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. The study group works to establish at least a perception of a connection between pesticide use and health issues for women and children in order to promote a shift to organic production methods and the use of organic pesticides that are at least as dangerous as conventional ones. (What counts as an organic industry-accepted pesticide and what doesn’t is based on appealing to nature and seems in practice to be determined by relatively arbitrary, pseudo-theological agreements between industry leaders.)



Benbrook has produced a number of studies whose methodology ranges from fair to sloppy to straight-out pseudoscientific. Among the most famous is a 2012 garbage study funded by the organic industry that concluded that genetically modified foods have resulted in increased pesticide use, putatively because weeds are growing resistant to glyphosate – even people not paying particular attention to the antics of anti-GMO activist may have picked up on that one. The rather crucial flaws of the study include failing to take into account the fact that glyphosate is less toxic than other herbicides (so that net toxicity may decrease even if total herbicide use increases) and pulling estimates out of his own ass because data provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service don’t in fact distinguish between GM and non-GM crops.


That study in particular promoted Benbrook to being someone mainstream media would seek out as an actual expert on issues related to pesticides or GMO, and they would often portray him, implicitly or explicitly, as an independent commentator rather than someone who was completely on the payroll of industry interests. Benbrook has of course extensively exploited his position to systematically lobby journalists to provide sympathetic coverage of his work and the industry interests that pay him, for instance to provide coverage of his pro-organic milk study. As opposed to how media portrayed it, the vast majority of independent research (which Benbrook’s was emphatically not) on the topic was sharply critical of that study, but you would never guess from the media coverage.


There is some further discussion of Benbrook’s research efforts here.


(More) Anti-GMO Activities

Benbrook is a prolific speaker and signatory to various petitions. A recurring feature of his contributions is, of course, attempts to poisoning the well by suggesting conspiratorial collusions between researchers, industry and regulatory systems, in particular to promote the idea that one cannot trust GMOs because the regulatory systems in place rely too much on studies supplied by companies that develop such foods. Of course, as mentioned above, the claim is false, The irony is that, as Amy Levy and Julie Kelly point out, Benbrook himself “has been bankrolled by the organic industry for years and his research is always favorable to the anti-GMO organic industry. […] Quite simply, the money trail behind Benbrook’s latest work can be directly traced to the organic industry that greatly profits from any bad news about Monsanto, glyphosate or GMOs.”*


*Teachable moment: The dynamics here nicely illustrate the difference between a fallacious ad homiem and legitimate IBE inferences – though it might immediately look like both Benbrook, on the one hand, and Levy & Kelly, on the other, appeal to questionable motivations, there is a world of difference: Benbrook commits an ad hominem fallacy because he appeals to industry funding to question studies on GMO safety without engaging with the actual studies; Levy & Kelly, on the other hand, starts by establishing that Benbrook systematically draws the wrong conclusions, and then point to vested interests to explain why that is the case. There is a golden rule of rational debate (and if anyone knows the reference, please tell us) stating that you are not allowed to try to explain why someone is wrong before you have shown that they are, in fact, wrong. Benbrook violates that rule; Levy & Kelly don’t.


You can find a decent illustration of Benbrook’s level of integrity here.


(More) Anti-Pesticide Activities

According to serious studies, organic foods do not confer significant health advantages compared to conventional foods. Benbrook, of course, is not particularly happy with that conclusion and has campaigned extensively in various media to get official institutions to dismiss studies that conclude that glyphosate is safe based on careful research and rather adopt the views Benbrook’s gut feelings tell him are correct. According to actual expertsBenbrook’s conclusions conflict with virtually all peer reviewed studies, including two recent studies in PNAS and Nature.”


There is an unbiased introduction to glyphosate here for those in need of a primer.


Diagnosis: This is perhaps the war that the denialist side is most likely to win, at least in the short term; there is already an obvious asymmetry between those who claim that GMOs and glyphosate are safe, even though that claim is backed by scientific consensus – since it really is in their self-interest that the research is careful and accurate – and the denialists backed by Big Organic, whose FUD strategies would really see little benefit from being truthful and accurate. And the case of Charles Benbrook is a pretty vivid illustration of the asymmetry. A substantial threat to civilization.

Friday, May 6, 2022

#2535: Larry Bell

Larry Bell is a professor of architecture and space architecture at the University of Houston, co-founder of several high-tech companies, long-term contributor to Forbes (and, not the least, Newsmax), and climate change denialist. Bell does, of course, have no expertise in any issues related to climate, and has not puclished any articles in peer-reviewed journals on any subject related to climate. He has, however, written a (non-peer-reviewed) book Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax about how “politics is responsible for the global warming hoax.” There is a compact but decent (though a bit old) profile of him and his contributions here.


One of Bell’s favorite techniques in his opinion pieces is the Gish Gallop, where the point is to score a rhetorical win by utilizing Brandolini’s law or the bullshit asymmetry principle, i.e. by swamping anyone who disagrees with nonsense PRATTs. So Bell will tell you e.g. that climate has changed before (true but irrelevant), that NASA studies report that the oceans are entering a new cooling phase (they don’t – hint: that an article contains the phrase “ocean cooling” in the headline doesn’t mean that it purports to show that the oceans are cooling; you ought to read beyond the headline), that the sea level hasn’t risen (simply wrong), that he Northwest Passage has been open before (not in recorded history), that Greenland ice caps have accumulated and snow growth (which is true, but predicted by warming – the major issue is the loss of ice at the edges), and so on, and so on. There is a good takedown of one of his efforts here (another representative example is mentioned here).


In 2017, Bell was one of the signatories of a petition organized by Richard Lindzen ( urging President Trump to pull the US out of the United Nations international convention on climate change. Lindzen desicribed his list as containing signatures from “more than 300 eminent scientists and other qualified individuals”. Bell, being not remotely a climate scientist, is presumably representative for that list of characters. Bell is also a recurring speaker at the Heartland Institute’s International Conferences on Climate Change, e.g. in 2014.


Diagnosis: A not completely insignificant force in the denialist circus. Though the denialism of many of his associates is obviously ideologically motivated, Bell often comes across more as a kind of Giuliani to the industry giants to whom climate change is really annoying. And no, he is not, by any stretch of imagination, an expert on climate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

#2534: Michael Belknap

Michael Belknap is a former veterinary technician and currently “Zoo Keeper at Answers in Genesis” and “assistant content writer for the attractions division of Answers in Genesis”, which might make him partially responsible for a lot of not-entirely-harmless anti-science bullshit.


As a young-earth creationist and Biblical literalist, Belknap is eager to distort reality, disregard the facts and go far into absurdity to defend his view of things. Like some of his AiG fellows, he is at least aware that some people may have worries about the feasibility of Noah’s Ark, and he has devoted a considerable amount bullshit production to address some obvious concerns, such as the piece ‘Fantastic Voyage: How Could Noah Care for the Animals?’ which tries to respond to a few of them. Needless to say, he fails miserably (indeed, he mostly just gives up). He gave the topic of ark feasibility another shot (with Tim Chaffey) in ‘How Could All the Animals Fit on the Ark?’, which chose the obvious approach of not actually addressing any of the concerns.


Here is a summary of Belknap’s take on ‘DNA day’, which, according to Belknap, is mostly a neo-pagan atheist celebration, given that Watson and Crick were primarily “motivated to study and comprehend DNA out of an eagerness to see faith in God and belief in His Word undermined.” According to Belknap, however, Watson and Crick failed, ostensibly primarily because DNA is not a code but poetry, and poetry requires a poet.


Diagnosis: No, not a central player in the young-earth creationist anti-civilazation movement, but as an ‘assistant content writer’ for the Ark Park or Creation Museum attractions, Belknap’s contributions will be seen by quite a number of people, and some of them will probably mistake it for something other than egregious bullshit.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

#2533: Julie Beischel

Julie Beischel is a spiritualist, parapsychology practitioner and New Age babble producer, most famous for her appearance in The Goop Lab series on Netflix. She is pretty indicative of the general intellectual level of the content of that series. And yes, she is affiliated with Goop, as well as co-founder of the Windbridge Institute.


The Windbridge Institute – full title the Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human Potential   is an organization devoted to all sorts of psychic bullshit, and claims – just like that – that levitation, psychokinesis and mediumship are scientifically genuine, because blanket assertions are cheap and those who find such claims intriguing are unlikely to care too much.


Beischel herself has apparently got a PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology which she uses to adorn her lies, falsehoods and misrepresentations. Among her publications is the book Among Mediums: A Scientist’s Quest for Answers (2013), where she claims that mediums such as Leonora Piper actually communicated with the dead. Piper, of course, was a well-known fraud, but like with the other mediums covered, Beischel just skipped over the evidence of fraud parts. Beischel has also voiced her support for the conclusions drawn by Gary Schwartz from his experiments – indeed, she has frequently collaborated with Schwartz.


Otherwise, Beischel has an extensive publication record of pseudoscientific papers claiming that mediums can talk to the dead, published in various parapsychology journals, such as this one, coauthored with people like Dean Radin and Arnaud Delorme, as well as Leena Michel and Mark Boccuzzi of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Basically, the paper concluded with the trivial observation that mediums who attempted to communicate with the dead experienced changes in electrocortical activity (duh!), that “the impression of communicating with the deceased may be a distinct mental state distinct from ordinary thinking or imagination” – yeah, science! – while still managing to be methodologically bonkers. (Even otherwise sympathetic readers are sometimes forced to dismiss her studies). Boccuzzi, by the way, is apparently Beischel’s husband, and they are currently coauthoring a book, Psychic Intimacy: A Handbook for Couples, that will “highlight practical applications of telepathy for couples.”


Beischel has also written Meaningful Messages: Making the Most of Your Mediumship Reading (2013). Her ridiculous nonsense paper “Anomalous Information Reception by Research Mediums Demonstrated Using a Novel Triple-Blind Protocol”, with Gary Schwartz, is discussed here; the set-up and execution of the study is pretty … illuminating.


Diagnosis: A fabulous illustration of pseudoscience, and a really interesting case study of a strikingly common feature of pseudoscience studies in these kinds of fields, what one might perhaps term pathological self-undermining: though Beischel evidently believes the results of her studies, the designs are so obviously inept and the methodological flaws so obviously terrible that it’s hard to believe it’s not deliberately set up to fail to yield worthwhile results. It’s really rather fascinating.


Sunday, April 24, 2022

#2532.5: Paul Begley

Paul Begley is a fuming wingnut, pastor, conspiracy theorist and host of the “Coming Apocalypse” program – yes, that kind of pastor. Precisely when the apocalypse is supposed to come is less unambiguous – it often seems to be happening constantly, as Begley presents things – but Begley has at least given us the date April 13, 2029, when, on the basis of some astronomical observations as filtered through sensationalist media, there was a question whether an asteroid could, in principle, hit Earth. That isn’t Begley’s first celestial-object-based end-times predictions, however; in 2011, he apparently got hold of some conspiracy nonsense about Comet Elenin, which NASA patiently tried to tell people would not threaten Earth – people like Begley, however, when faced with a choice between facts and incoherent conspiracy babbling, won’t hesitate: “It’s coming!” thundered Begley to his Congregation. It was admittedly unclear precisely what it’s effects would be – “Will there be some type of magnetic pull? Will the poles shift? Will there be some type of pull of gravity that creates earthquakes and tsunamis and volcanoes and hurricanes and tornadoes and cyclones and mudslides, forest fires?” asked Begley – but it was pretty clear to him that there would be some effect, and that it would be cataclysmic: you see, the comet’s nearest point to Earth would fall during the Feast of Tabernacles, according the Jewish calendar, and what are the odds for that? “I’m here to tell you right now, we’re getting closer and closer and closer and closer to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ,” said Begley.


In 2017, Begley even jumped on the Nibiru revival bandwagon, which was apparently too silly even for most of the loonier parts of the conspiracyverse. Nibiru would, according to Begley, appear in 2017, and he declared that a solar eclipse was a sign both of the apocalypse and of the (non-existent) rogue planet. In 2019, however, it was blood moons (a very natural and common phenomenon) that conclusively showed that we are living in the “last days”. At least he doesn’t let persistent, total out-of-the-field failures stop him, or even cool down his prophetic activities. In 2018, for instance, he predicted that Romney would run for president in 2020 in order to siphon votes away from President Trump and help Clinton become president.


He has also expressed deep concerns that scientists working at CERN are trying to open a portal to hell.


Demons in the White House

Begley managed to get some mainstream media attention for his 2017 claim that First Lady Melania Trump ordered the White House to be “completely exorcised” before she moved in. “The first lady, in that five hours when the Obamas and the Trumps went down to the Capitol and Trump was being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States,” Begley elaborated, based entirely on his imagination, “Melania Trump said to her husband, ‘I’m not going to go into that White House unless it has been completely exorcised.’” Such an operation was required, according to Begley, because when the Obamas lived there, the White House was filled with “all kinds of idol gods and images and all kinds of artifacts in there that were demonic,” so “during that five hours when they were ripping out carpets and changing drapes, there were people in there packing up every idol.” When asked for sources, Begley said that his source for the story was close to “those working in the White House” but had requested that he (or she) not be named.


One interesting point here is that Begley seems to simultaneously believe his story wholeheartedly and be completely aware that he made it up out of thin air. The most interesting point about the story, however, may be the fall-out. Though completely idiotic and obviously false, the far-right press decided to run with the tale: CNS News was quickly there, and it made its way straight to American Family Radio and Infowars – Infowars presenter Owen Shroyer apparently thought Begley’s story in some not-entirely-clear way discredited the presumably apocryphical “pee tape” and that the whole thing symbolizes “that Donald Trump and Melania Trump understand that this is more than a political battle, more than an earthly battle, but a spiritual battle.” Bryan Fischer, meanwhile, declared that the first lady was very right to remove all those “demons” left in the White House by the Obamas. The story got so big that the first lady’s office actually chose to publicly affirm that the story was “not true in any way.” As Miranda Blue points out, the whole thing was an illustrative example of the genre of Trump-finds-God fan fiction, which has been going really, really strong in fundie rightwing circles.


Begley himself, by the way, did not back down: Though the first lady’s office might have denied that there was an exorcism in the White House, “they didn’t say that they didn’t remove all of the idols, all the relics, all the witchcraft, all the voodoo, all of the things that were in there.”


Miscellaneous politics

Begley’s political commentaries are in general characterized by his view that anyone who disagrees with him is possessed by demons and controlled by the Illuminati (they’re everywhere). For a while, Begley was the main proponent of the claim that Barack Obama was leading an Illuminati plot to assassinate then-President Trump – they’ve apparently been assassinating people left and right, including White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who was shot with a “heart attack gun – and that if Hillary Clinton had been elected president, she would have handed control of the US over to the Illuminati/the United Nations in preparation for the rise of the Antichrist. That, for instance, is why Obama ordered the government to spy on Trump: “Obama tapped his phones, he tapped his home, he sent around drones, trying to figure out a way to derail the Trump campaign.”  According to Begley, “the deep state [which is apparently usually focused on trying to put Christians in internment camps – Begley knows this on the basis of a miraculous vision he had in 1994], the New World Order, the Illuminati, the Bilderberg group, the Bohemian Grove [in 2018, Begley suggested that the recent suicides of designer Kate Spade and travel writer Anthony Bourdain were really “high profile sacrifices of the Illuminati” that took place during the annual Bilderberg conference], everybody at Skull & Bones, everybody in every secret society that there is, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, all of the swamp creatures, all of ’em; the plan was to put Hillary Clinton in the White House and then to move this nation and the world under a one-world government, a New World Order.” And Clinton would have subverted the democratic process: “There would be laws changed; Obama put all these different judges in the federal courts and in different positions, they were going to rewrite this Constitution, folks. They were going to railroad this democracy … The United States was going to be handed over to the New World Order or to the Illuminati at the United Nations and then there would be ten kings selected as an Antichrist would emerge on the scene.” Fortunately, Trump God derailed that plan because “Israel needed to celebrate its 70th anniversary with the U.S. embassy and the city of Jerusalem as the capital of the nation.” Lucky us.


Once Trump got to power, however, he teamed up with that other beacon of Meassianic light, Putin, to successfully combat the Illuminati and One World government (“they are. They really, really are,” declared Begley because unless you assert it several times it doesn’t count as proof). And that’s why all these people are so critical of Trump: “We have an Antichrist lurking among us, folks, and these old senators and congressmen that won’t go away, it’s because they thought they were going to see the glory of the Luciferians. They thought their time had come.” Trump’s critics “are just the mouthpiece of the beast.


FBI agent Peter Strzok, by the way, was obviously one of the Illuminati agents – at least Begley quickly declared that Strzok was part of a demonic Illuminati cabal trying to implement a one-world government: “You were that close from losing this freedom, what we call a democracy or a republic. We came within an eyelash of losing this nation.” Explained Begley: “I think [not a concept he masters] Peter Strzok is part of a vast secret society complexity, an Illuminati demonically-charged biblical beast called the deep state that was involved in hijacking this great nation of America and ultimately hijacking the world into a one-world government, a new world order. Because what Peter Strzok was doing is right out of the pages of the Illuminati.” It’s not entirely clear which pages Begley has been reading.


However, even Clinton’s candidacy was apparently dwarfed by the 2018 sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Supreme Court (then-)nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which wasn’t merely sign of the Beast but represented “the darkest hour in the last 150 years” and led Begley to wonder how we could possibly survive.


Begley’s 2018 discussion of the Parkland shootings with incoherent maniac Russ Dizdar of Shatter The Darkness is also illuminating (or whatever you call it). Begley and Dizdar floated a range of ideas about who could “really” have been behind the massacre – “demons” being an obvious suggestion, … but could it also be “the video games, virtual reality video games?”; or “was this planted, what this done, did they use this weaponized microwave technology to mess with the brain of this kid to get him to do this to try to take away our Second Amendment rights and your right to bear arms?” That the approach would have been a notoriously silly means to employ if the goal was to curb everyone’s Second Amendment rights is clearly not anything worth pointing out to someone with a mind like Begley’s.


Diagnosis: Demonstrably unable to distinguish reality from incoherent, angry fever dreams, or facts from nonsense stories he just made up himself, Begley must count as one of the less coherent, rabid and paranoid fundies on the fundie clown circus – at least among those that enjoy a modicum of real influence. … cause he does, in fact, enjoy some influence, thus demonstrating that there is, indeed, room left on the far side of the JFK return Qanon conspiracy cult-level crazy.


Editorial note: After completing this entry, we discovered that we’ve actually covered Begley before, long before he rose to the limelight. In case anyone keeps a tally, we decided not to give this entry a whole number.