Posted on | August 27, 2013 | 105 Comments
Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme, 1975
President Gerald Ford’s video testimony about Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme’s 1975 assassination attempt has been released, and if you read through the story, you encounter this:
At times during the trial, [Fromme] was ordered removed from court because of her tantrums and bizarre ramblings about the environment, saving the redwoods and other topics. . . .
Seventeen days after his encounter with Fromme in Capitol Park, Ford was the target of a second assassination attempt, this time outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where Sara Jane Moore fired a shot at him.
Moore had been associated with radical groups, including the Symbionese Liberation Army, and later would say she regretted firing the shot. Like Fromme, Moore was sentenced to life in prison. She was eventually released in 2007.
“Squeaky” Fromme was a former member of Charles Manson’s murderous hippie cult (whose story is told in Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi), and the Symbionese Liberation Army was the bizarre terrorist faction that became notorious for kidnapping heiress Patty Hearst. The SLA’s motto was, “Death to the Fascist Insect That Preys on the Life of the People.” (See the 2004 documentary, Guerrilla.)
All these people were crazy, but they took themselves quite seriously — as crazy people usually do — and the criminal havoc they caused was the frothing foam of the gigantic tsunami wave of political radicalism that crashed through America in the 1960s.
That wave was unleashed by the act of radical madman Lee Harvey Oswald, whose Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy is generally remembered as a turning point, after which many idealistic young people lost faith in the political system. Recently, I’ve been re-reading Edward Jay Epstein’s remarkable 1978 book, Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald. In February 1963, Oswald met a young German immigrant, an engineer named Volkmar Schmidt who had studied psychology and was interested in political ideology:
When the conversation turned to the subject of the Kennedy administration, Schmidt expected that Oswald would express the usual liberal sentiments about the President’s attempting to bring about constructive reforms. Instead, Oswald launched into a violent attack on the President’s foreign policy, citing both the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 as examples of “imperialism” and “interventions.” He suggested that Kennedy’s actions against Cuba had set the stage for a nuclear holocaust . . .
As he listened to Oswald define more closely his political ideas, [Schmidt] began to work out his “psychological profile,” as he called it. Oswald seemed to be a “totally alienated individual,” obsessed with political ideology and bent on self-destruction. Even then, he reminded Schmidt of a Doestoevskian character impelled by his own reasoning toward a “logical suicide.”
Profound psychological alienation, which often manifests itself as a resentment of authority and a rejection of social norms, is the driving impulse of radicalism. Although radicals are typically, like Oswald, “obsessed with political ideology” and quick to cite government policies as the grievances that justify their radicalism, their alienation leads them to reject conventional politics. The radical lacks the kind of patience needed to work steadily to persuade voters and mobilize support for reform policies, because the radical’s real grievance is not political, but rather psychological, in nature.
Lee Harvey Oswald, arrested after an August 1963 pro-Castro protest
The alienated radical suffers from feelings of helplessness and insignificance and, unable to find satisfaction in ordinary life, seeks to vindicate himself — to prove that he is a person of historical importance — by grandiose gestures on behalf of fringe ideologies, savagely lashing out against “the system” he rejects in a sort of sour-grapes rationalization: Feeling rejected by society, he rejects society in revenge.
Because his true motives are profoundly irrational, rooted in his own psychological resentments, the radical’s political involvement makes no sense when closely scrutinized, as Schmidt quickly realized during his conversation with Oswald.
His burning hatred of Kennedy and his fanatical support of Castro’s Cuban revolution weren’t merely extreme in a political sense (others on the Left held similar views) but were symptomatic of a self-destructive impulse. Oswald embraced unpopular fringe beliefs for the very reason that they were unpopular. His extremism enabled Oswald to rationalize his own obscure and marginal status in society as heroic: “Corrupt society rejects me because I courageously speak the radical truth.”
The Symbionese Liberation Army, circa 1973
Such alienated radicals exist in every age, but their ideas and behavior are influenced by trends in the mainstream society they reject. And, just as Symbionese Liberation Army sympathizer Sarah Jane Moore and Manson follower Squeaky Fromme carried forward the radical impulses of the 1960s into the 1970s, so too have we seen the radicalism of Bush-era anti-war activists carry over into the Obama age.
Social Destruction as Personal Revenge
Because their motives were basically psychological rather than political, the anti-Bush moonbats have kept up their radical craziness long after the original grievance has passed. The U.S. has pulled out of Iraq and is withdrawing from Afghanistan, but the radicals have not been placated by the policy changes they demanded, because policy changes are not really what radicals seek. Rather, the radical desires to destroy the society from which he is alienated.
Consider, for example, Adam Kokesh. Everyone familiar with the anti-Iraq War movement remembers how Kokesh zoomed to prominence in 2007 as a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and everybody who paid attention knew Kokesh was crazy.
In 2007, fringe nutjob Adam Kokesh was arrested on Capitol Hill.
In May of this year, Michelle Malkin warned conservatives against embracing Kokesh in his new guise as a libertarian gun-rights activist and, predictably, Kokesh soon proved her right. Last month, Kokesh was arrested on drug charges, at which time I explained:
[T]hose of us who first became aware of Kokesh as the poster boy for “Iraq Veterans Against the War” are unlikely to forget him: A self-righteous half-educated egomaniac strutting for the cameras and insulting people with ridiculous “chickenhawk” and “neocon” slurs. The first time I ever saw Kokesh in person was when he showed up to heckle David Horowitz at an event at George Washington University, FWIW.
His narcissistic camera-hogging and anti-social personality made Kokesh an unwelcome crazy even within the far-left millieu of Bush-era antiwar protests, where mental health was by no means a prerequisite for membership. (Hint: “Sociopath” is not a political philosophy.) Like a few other antiwar oddballs — including the dangerous kook Alex Jones — Kokesh drifted into the Ron Paul orbit, speaking at a Paulista rally during the 2008 GOP convention and then getting himself arrested for heckling John McCain during his acceptance speech.
Why have fringe kooks like this — who raged against Bush when all the cool kids were doing it — not been placated by Obama’s policies? For the same reason that Oswald, who embraced Marxism during the Eisenhower era, was not placated by John F. Kennedy’s liberalism: It’s not really about politics for these kooks.
As alienated as they are from mainstream of politics, however, this doesn’t mean radicals are not influenced by mainstream politics. The idea that Bush’s presidency was illegitimate was fostered by Democrats who falsely claimed Bush “stole” the 2000 election, and the same ridiculous “neocon chickenhawk” argument embraced by Kokesh was the basic rationale of John Kerry’s 2004 “reporting for duty” campaign, during which Dan Rather of CBS News sought to revive the claim that Bush had been AWOL from National Guard duty.
If Kokesh and other alienated radicals demonized Bush, their kook-fringe hatred was certainly shared by mainstream Democrats. And having stirred up these irrational and counterfactual resentments, the political Left denies responsibility for the predictable results.
For years, I’ve covered the political fringe for two basic reasons:
- It’s fun — The daily grind of mainstream politics gets dull. American politics is proverbially a football game played between the 40-yard-lines, where flamboyant rhetoric about fundamental differences in policies and principles are usually just carnival-barker ballyhoo, an attempt to arouse the voting public from their typical apathy. (The recent ratings slump at MSNBC shows how difficult it is to make Americans enjoy a diet of all-politics, all-the-time.) There are plenty of journalists working the D.C. beat who can give you the latest score in the Democrat-Republican football game, and there’s usually not a lot of value-added factor in my joining the scrum covering those stories. But the activities of fringe kooks who seldom make the front page of the Washington Post — yeah, that’s amusing, and often I can have a story like that nearly all to myself.
- The future always begins on the fringe — Until the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, the same-sex marriage movement was just a lot of angry noise from crazy gay people, but that Supreme Court ruling (and especially Justice Kennedy’s “emerging awareness” doctrine) immediately provided the legal basis for the Massachusetts court decision that mandated same-sex marriage. In the past 10 years, despite the fact that a majority of states have passed constitutional amendments to forbid recognition of same-sex marriage, activists in the media have made this issue so “mainstream” that no one dares even speak out against it for fear of being condemned as a hater. Likewise, when the first anti-war protest marches mobilized after the 9/11 attacks, opinion was strongly in favor of war, and both the 2002 and 2004 elections seemed to be repudiation of the radical protesters. Yet the next two elections, in 2006 and 2008, turned sharply against Republicans in large measure because of anti-war sentiment. In 2012, Mitt Romney was unable to articulate any important GOP criticism of Obama’s foreign policy, despite the obvious failure of Obama’s “Arab Spring” policy, because Republicans know they cannot win elections now as the pro-war party.
By successfully mainstreaming left-wing fringe movements, Democrats effectively deprived Republicans of two legs of what Richard Viguerie has called the “three-legged stool” of Reagan-era conservatism. Seemingly incapable of arguing over social policy or foreign policy, the GOP has effectively limited itself to arguing about fiscal/economic issues, only to discover the the Democrat “free stuff” platform has an inherent appeal to the so-called “low-information” voters whose mobilization was the key to Obama’s re-election campaign.
Yet to quote an old Red Rider lyric, “Lunatic fringe, I know you’re out there.” The alienated kooks who were attracted to the Left during the Bush era are still around, the same way ’60s refugees Squeaky Fromme and Sarah Jane Moore were still at large in 1975.
‘Daddy Issues’ as a Political Grievance
Look at how the Left is now trying to turn Barrett Brown into a mainstream figure, a heroic martyr for First Amendment freedom. Since his September 2012 YouTube meltdown that got him arrested for threatening an FBI agent, Brown has been celebrated as a “political prisoner” (!) by his fellow kooks who refuse to confront directly the abundant evidence that Brown was simply cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
December, 2010: Barrett Brown explains his plans on YouTube.
Barrett Brown was a heroin addict and, at a January court hearing, we learned that since his arrest, he has been prescribed Zoloft and Risperidon, powerful medications used to treat serious mental illnesses including depression and bipolar disorder.
Brown’s admirers choose to ignore this evidence, just as they ignore the glimmers of truth that emerged in his paranoid rants:
When I was seven years old, I first heard the term FBI. I don’t remember exactly the context. I did know that my parents were fighting a lot, that my dad would sometimes get angry and throw things at my mom. Uh, some of that I don’t remember; apparently I blocked it out, but it happened; uh, and part of the reason for that was because my dad was being indicted by the FBI. At the time, he had made several million dollars, after moving to Dallas as a young man in real estate; and one of his partners had been apparently been involved in land-flipping, which is so illegal and dangerous that it must be responded to, even, even the possibility of it, with a massive FBI response, regardless of the consequences for other people involved. Anyway my dad was found not guilty and apologized to by the judge sometime later, after he had spent most of the last of his money, uh, on lawyers – and the rest hunting in Africa; it’s not entirely the FBI’s fault. Ah, but it impacted me a lot, and I went from living in a nice house in Highland Park, one of the nicest communities in America, to living in a uhh, two-bedroom apartment with my mom and grandma, and sharing a bed with my mom for the next year, when I was in third grade. She taught me to meditate and whatnot; it was a great learning experience for me.
The fact that my complaint, my original complaint about the FBI, is that I’m no longer rich because of it, is a pretty small complaint in terms of what people go through every single day, because of not just the FBI but law enforcement and governments across the world.
“So, tell us about your Daddy issues, Barrett.”
Have any of Barrett Brown’s admirers attempted to verify this story that Barrett tells about his father? Not that I’m aware of.
My guess is that if you did investigate this story, you would find that Brown’s version of events is at odds with the actual facts of his father’s case. Nevertheless, the reader sees — and you can watch the YouTube video of this rant — how Brown uses this narrative to justify his hostility not only toward the FBI but also toward “law enforcement and governments across the world.”
The Quest for Cosmic Justice, as it were.
What is remarkable is that this transcript of Brown’s rant comes from the “Free Barrett Brown” Web site. Any of his admirers could read this transcript and, if they had the least bit of training in psychology, recognize the essentially personal nature of Brown’s insane rage.
Barrett Brown was crazy, and if you don’t see this — if you take seriously all his paranoid gibberish about a government conspiracy against him involving Jennifer Emick, HB Gary, Aaron Barr, Tom Ryan, Alan Everett, et al. — then you should seek psychiatric help.
In fact, however, you’ll find that many of the people who share Brown’s radicalism have already been diagnosed with mental illnesses. They’re on Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Effexor, and other heavy neurochemical treatments that suppress their symptoms without addressing the underlying personality disorder. Many of them, of course, are undiagnosed and untreated, self-medicating with marijuana, alcohol or other drugs. But time and time again, you will find that when you scratch a radical, a lunatic bleeds.
Via the “Free Barrett Brown” page, for example, you can find audio of Barrett’s August 2012 interview with John Tiessen. Recorded barely a month before Brown’s epic meltdown, the interview is remarkable primarily because John Tiessen is dangerously crazy — a convicted sex offender and admitted liar:
“I know I’m guilty. . . .
“The coke whore that I picked up promised me a blow job if I gave her coke and then she tried to renege on it, and I said, ‘No, you’re going to do it.’ . . .
“I’m a f–king true freedom fighter. I’m not one of these f–king wannabes.”
John Tiessen, ranting on YouTube
The very fact that Tiessen admired Barrett Brown is evidence of how the relationship between a radical leader and his followers is often a folie a deux. Once you know that Barrett Brown was crazy — and I take credit for having been one of the first to recognize just how nuts we was — then you realize to what an extent all such radicalism is not a response to legitimate grievance, but symptomatic of mental illness.
The Occupy Wall Street movement was a kook-magnet that attracted lunatics, perverts and criminals of every imaginable variety, a smorgasbord of derangement that was nonetheless celebrated by the liberal media as an authentic grassroots protest. Mainstream liberalism lost interest in the Occupy movement, and many pretended that the endorsement of prominent Democrats like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi hadn’t actually happened, once the disgraceful criminality of the movement made it unpopular. Yet the radical resentments the Occupiers stirred up among the alienated fringe have not dissipated, even if they are no longer manifested in organized protests.
It is wrong to dismiss these kooks as irrelevant to mainstream politics, because the mainstream influences the kooks even while the kooks influence the mainstream. When I first took notice of Barrett Brown, more than a year before I made him the central focus of “Narcissism, Isolation and Trolls” in December 2010, he was such a fringe figure that people wondered why I paid him any attention. But now we see allegedly serious people taking Barrett Brown quite seriously.