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Tucson, Zeitgeist and Madness: The Obsolete Politics of Jared Loughner UPDATE: Another E-Mail From a Zeitgeist Follower; Movement Leader Issues ‘Message to Members’

Posted on | January 15, 2011 | 44 Comments

In the comments of a previous post, the blogger at elbowed me as a “Tea Party enabler” — an epithet that he would also apparently apply to Glenn Reynolds — and I think it’s time to clarify a few points about why I’ve spent the past four days digging into the Zeitgeist angle on the Tucson massacre.

Remember that I am a newsman by profession, and learned that trade on the job under the tutelage of Old School editors. So when I saw Jared Loughner’s friend Zach Osler tell ABC News that Zeitgeist had a “profound” impact on Loughner’s worldview, and then Ashleigh Banfield failed to follow-up with more questions, it pissed me off.

It appears quite possible that Zeitgeist was to Loughner what the Beatles’ “White Album” was to Charles Manson. And here was Banfield who, when confronted with what looked like the equivalent of “Helter Skelter” written in blood, utterly dropped the ball as a reporter.

The director of Zeitgeist has threatened legal action against ABC News, and now Zach Osler is turning down interview requests from other reporters. So the opportunity fumbled away by Banfield may be difficult to recover.

Meanwhile, it seems, the major media have turned their attention to covering reaction to the Tucson massacre as a political volleyball game. And this, too, is pissing me off.

So when I found myself elbowed in the comments, I went over to and replied:

Look: You and I are both concerned about illegal immigration, agreed? You’re grinding an axe against the Tea Party movement. I get that. But you’re failing to put Jared Loughner’s rantings into the proper context.
We have it on the authority of Zach Osler — who appears to have been Loughner’s closest friend in the 2007-08 time frame — that Zeitgeist had a “profound impact” on Loughner’s worldview. If Loughner had a Tea Party orientation (and if he weren’t so completely psychotic as to be living inside his demented fantasies) he would have been a supporter of Jesse Kelly, right? But we’ve got no indication of that and, indeed, records show that Loughner didn’t even bother to vote in 2010.
Whereas, in the 2009-10 time-frame, an “anti-government” stance automatically conjures up the idea of the Tea Party, what Zach Osler’s Zeitgeist reference reveals is that Loughner’s political worldview was decisively shaped in 2007-08 — at a time when it was the political Left that was attacking the Bush administration as fighting “two illegal wars.” If you think back to 2007-08, it was the Left that was then raging about “genocide,” the First Amendment and their right to dissent.
This is why my ire is directed at reporters who have failed to follow up with Zach Osler and find out more about Loughner’s interest in Zeitgeist. It is clear that Loughner began descending into a mental illness circa 2004-05. His friend Caitlyn Parker, who knew Loughner from his middle school years up until about 2007, has said his politics when she knew him was “quite liberal,” “left wing” and “radical.” So then we follow through 2007-08 with Osler and find that Loughner was deeply interested in Zeitgeist. It was in that time-frame (August 2007, to be exact) that Loughner first encountered Rep. Gabby Giffords.
After mid-2008, Loughner became steadily more erratic. He and Osler became estranged, Loughner was unable to find work and acting irrational in school, etc. It seems to me, then, that Loughner’s political worldview — such as it was — had been clearly established during the second term of the Bush presidency. He was anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-capitalism. This is why I said at my blog that Loughner sounds so much like the people who supported Ned Lamont in 2006, like Cindy Sheehan, like the “peace” protesters at the Bush-era marches organized by International A.N.S.W.E.R. Loughner’s politics were basically obsolete, about three years out-of-date, because he went off the deep end about 2008 and lost touch with reality.
It isn’t my habit to argue in the comment fields of other people’s blogs, but I just wanted to make clear how I see this situation, and also to make clear that although you and I seem to be of differing opinions about the Tea Party movement, I don’t view you as an enemy.

Everybody seems to be trying to put Loughner’s crime into the context of the politics of 2011, and I think this amounts to trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. By the time the Tea Party movement started in early 2009, Jared Loughner’s decisive break with reality had already happened, perhaps more than a year earlier.

Or at least that’s my hunch.

If my hunch is correct, however, to understand Loughner’s political worldview, we have to go back to the Bush era, when the killer’s ideas were congealing. There is no partisan finger-pointing necessary to this understanding. Loughner alone is responsible for his criminal acts, although there is also the question of why — when he was so obviously spiralling down into psychosis — no one effectively intervened.

But no mainstream political figure or movement appears to be implicated, and if even Charles Blow isn’t letting the Left off the hook for its “conjecture, speculation and innuendo,” then I am more than happy to stipulate that Jared Lee Loughner wasn’t driven to murder by Firedoglake or

Nevertheless, there is a political and historical context to this crime. The tensions and struggles of the Bush era — from the Florida recount to 9/11, to the wars in Afghanistan and iraq, to the 2004 campaign and onward to the TARP bailout of 2008 — left a lot of people confused about core principles and the proper means of expressing dissent. It may be that “Bush Derangment Syndrome” became an actual diagnostic truth in the drug-addled mind of Jared Loughner, but before anyone can reach that conclusion, more reporting will have to be done. 

Earlier this week, in the immediate aftermath of the Arizona atrocity, several readers suggested I should go to Tucson — a suggestion I rejected. I don’t like doing “pack journalism,” and it seemed to me that reporters already on the scene were doing good work. Now, I’m starting to reconsider that decision.

Kind of burnt-out on road-tripping after the 2010 campaign, I’d planned pretty much to stay home until CPAC, but . . .

I don’t know. How much is a round-trip flight to Tucson?

UPDATE: The Zeitgeist cultist to whom I sent an earlier e-mail just sent me a reply that I reprint in full:

My thanks for your response.
True communication is difficult to reach. I hope that we can, at least, reach some communication here. Yes, I agree with you that there have been many word-games practiced over the course (around politics, philosophy, and science), so I wish to provide some initial information about how the Venus Project (VP) goes beyond word-games or ‘word-magic’.
At its foundation the Venus Project is aware of problems in general semantics. I hope you won’t mind the following exercise; here’s a typical piece of word-magic:
“Julia is a lazy girl.”
Such a sentence would be considered normal within our culture. A child could understand it. However, upon even initial inspection the sentence insinuates that:
“Julia” is equated to the concept of “lazy girl”: “Julia” = “lazy girl”, and “Julia” is nothing but a “lazy girl” – for example, “Julia” cannot be happy, sad, inquisitive, only lazy.
Furthermore, “Lazy girl” might be considered an offensive thing, an ‘evil’ inborn laziness trait. Or alternatively perhaps, just some humorous bad habit picked up from her brother.
We might ask more questions: Who made the observation “Julia is a lazy girl”? When was it made? Why was it made? Where was it made? … and so on. Without asking these questions we might come to erroneous conclusions about Julia. For example, Julia might not be lazy, but suffering a serious illness. If we pass off Julia’s characterises as ‘lazy’ we might be unwittingly depriving her of medical treatment. You get the picture: words (or opinions) can be dangerous.
The essence of communication using language is a difficult problem. Mostly we do not know what it is about the words we say, and we do not how to say them, and we do not know how they’ll be received. Lao Tse once said:
“Those who know do not tell; Those who tell do not know.”
Some truth in that, I think.
We cannot trust our language system when even a simple sentence like “Julia is a lazy girl” (which even a child could apparently ‘understand’) is subject to (mis)interpretation. I’m sure you are aware of the general tyrannies of words though, so I’ll get to the point.
Heavily loaded, overused, old words like “socialism”, ‘liberalism’, “the left”, “extreme left”, “communism”, and “Marxism” have become convoluted. Few people are aware of any real difference between them, and the words have a different meaning per different author. You might even say that such words have become meaningless. The words are centuries old, they are not relevant to improving modern society.
Then we could consider these words in so-called practice. Most of the examples of “Socialism/communism” in the real world have not been “Socialism/communism” at all. For example, China is effectively a dictatorship of one party, and North Korea continues to call itself a socialist state. These are not examples of “Socialism/communism”, or whatever ideas “Socialism/communism” were in the first place.
Moreover, a Venus Project is not “Socialism/communism” because in a resource based economy:

  • there is no government or laws – resources are managed using the scientific method;
  • there is no money, barter, or social stratification;
  • And while Socialism/communism are concerned with the working class, in the Venus Project, technology/automation (products of science) seeks to eliminate the working class.

This is very foreign to the way we think in this society though, I know. In the Venus Project by declaring all resources the common heritage of all people we are actually applying the scientific method to society’s concerns. Everyone in the world is supplied with: food, water, shelter, a relevant education, and health care.
… So it is difficult for me to reply to your response. While I am aware of the general concept of socialism, I do not know what you mean by it. It is more valid to focus on the concepts of the Venus Project and say why they won’t work. It’s not useful to say the Venus Project is “bogus”, or that it’s “socialism in disguise”, or that it’s a “cult”, or that “it won’t work at all” (without saying why), or that it isn’t “original” (it doesn’t matter if it isn’t original, it just needs to work).
If we are to communicate with each other we must refer, in a highly focused way, to real-world things, not become involved in word magic! Just pinpoint any component of the Venus Project, and tell me why it wouldn’t work. I will try to respond. But if you can find a better way of doing something, the Venus Project will be happy to take your idea on board! This is why we call a resource based society ‘emergent’, and our current monetary economy ‘established’.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that one billion people in the world are categorised ‘starving’. To this the Venus Project says: “we have the technology and the resources to feed these people right now”. However, in this society fictional boundaries between countries and fictional representation of resources (money) do not permit this; there is no profit in feeding the starving. These fictions we might say are just another form of word-magic: countries and money are abstract things like “socialism”, “communism”, and “democracy”. In the so-called “democracy” here (in the UK), as a citizen I have never had the chance to participate in any real world decision, be that construction of a new bridge, creation of a new policy, or going to war on Iraq. I’ve all the freedom in the world, though, to purchase any one of the 20 brands of washing liquids at my local store (hint: brand names are magic words too).
The zeitgeist films are self-admitted pieces of art by one person (Peter Joseph), merely providing a starting point for investigation into the Venus Project. Here (, a wonderful lecture by a 94 year old Jacque Fresco, is a good place to get more detail on this new direction. The zeitgeist Movement and Venus Project would never advocate violence of any sort.
(I notice you that you published your response to me; you might publish this if you wish to provide a balanced view of both sides of the debate — you could label this an official response from the Zeitgeist Movement, but please keep my email address private.)
(Also thanks for the references, I will review them when I get the chance.)
All the best

Am I the only one who sees here the same kind of semantic fascination that manifested itself with Loughner as “grammar-is-mind-control” paranoia? What really matters to the followers, you see, are the glittering generalities of the movement’s approved lexicon: “This is why we call a resource based society ‘emergent’, and our current monetary economy ‘established’.”

It doesn’t matter what you call it. The dream of a classless society, of a high-tech future where machines do all the work, of doing away with prices and markets — there is nothing “emergent” about these ideas. They can be traced back to various utopian socialist movements of the 19th century, and are as unworkable now as ever, having failed on every attempt to put them into action. What is stunning to me is that literate intelligent people (and my correspondent is not stupid or uneducated) could somehow be unaware of this history.

Also, my cultist correspondent asserts that I have failed to explain why the Venus Project won’t work, or why it can be categorized as a species of socialism. He then refers me to the movement’s own propaganda — the video lecture by 94-year-old utopian “futurist” Jacque Fresco — as if I haven’t already examined Fresco’s ideas and found them unsatisfactory.

Even worse, although perhaps predictable, Zeitgeist Movement leader Peter Joseph (Merola) has begun posturing as a martyr and encouraging his followers’ fears of persecution:

Message from Peter Joseph to Members

Those that have listened to my radio shows might have remembered me commenting many times on the fact that when it came to attacks we have experienced in the past: “we haven’t seen anything yet”.
The bored, petty bloggers and various hatefilled individuals who have wasted their time creating anti-z/anti-peter joseph sites and videos are about to be royally trumped by a mainstream media onslaught that will bring the definition of attack/propaganda into a whole new light.
I have been contacted by CNN, NBC, FOX, ABC, AP, Yahoo! and many national/local/international news agencies regarding the comment by Zack Osler referencing a TWO YEAR OLD association of my first film and Jared Loughner. The parroting of this painfully unscientific and idiotic association has resonated across all mainstream outlets. As of now, I am not engaging them for I want the new film to be released before anything.
After the film is released, I have a feeling we are going to see a huge backlash. The stage has been set… and I want all members to hold strong. Don’t let any of this get to you. This is exactly what I have been expecting with regard to the media introduction of TZM and it is long overdue. If it wasn’t the AZ shootings it would have been another scapegoat. Just as Wikileaks is now associated with a “rapist”- the Z films and hence the Movement/myself are going to be publicly pegged to “mass murder”. This is how the game works and I plan to do a radio show on the history of propaganda in the near future to discuss this historical phenomenon.
After the release, I am going to established a large PR campaign for all press interactions from the Movement and TZM is going to explode with interest.

OK, now I’m getting creeped out. Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Marshall Appelwhite and Heaven’s Gate

There is a pattern, a trajectory, to such cults. When the leader starts telling his followers that the movement’s (mundanely predictable) problems are proof that his prophecies are being fulfilled — “See? I’m omniscient! I’ve foretold the future! And now I predict my triumphant vindication!” — things tend to start getting crazy.

Were I asked to guess what we’ll see from The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM) over the next year, I’d say schisms and purges. A year from now, the faint-hearted and disillusioned will have drifted away, rival groups will have sprung up to dispute Joseph/Merola’s leadership, and Joseph/Merola’s TZM will consist of a hard core of fanatical True Believers. Whether they’ll hunker down in a “compound” to await the apocalypse, I can’t predict. But these things never end well.

UPDATE II: Welcome, Instapundit readers! And welcome to the most fascinating angle on the Tucson shootings, I assure you. I’ve spent the past couple of hours digging into the role played by author Achyra S (a/k/a D.M. Murdock) whose anti-Christian theories inspired the first segment of “Zeitgeist” (you can watch the whole movie online here), and that alone is a never-ending controversy.


  • Obligatory: Video in Which Tucson Killer Jabbers About ‘Illegal Wars’ Like Your Average DKos Diarist or Cindy Sheehan
  • How to Talk to a Follower of the Zeitgeist Cult (If You Must)
  • Zeitgeist: Watch the Conspiracy Movie That Had a ‘Profound Impact’ on Tucson Mass Murder Suspect Jared Loughner
  • Salvia, Zeitgeist and the Tucson Shooter
  • ‘Vain in Their Imaginations’: God-Haters and the Tucson Massacre
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