Paranoia strikes deep

“A small Christian subculture in the United States strongly believes in the notion of cosmic war. Believers are splintered into a number of small groups, the largest of which is the Christian Identity movement. According to Christian Identity ideology, the British are descended from ‘Aryan’ northern Israelite tribes who migrated to the British Isles in the wake of the Babylonian conquest of ancient Israel. These Aryans are the true Jews of the Bible. This self-serving myth about the genetic superiority of the British people appeared in England in the nineteenth century and quickly died out there, but not before migrating to the United States. The transplanted version took on anti-Semitic overtones, holding that contemporary Jews, who are assumed to be the descendants of the biblical Jews, are masquerading in that role and may well be the children of Eve and Satan. There are many variations on the core beliefs of the movement, which has now settled in Idaho and also has communities in the southern Midwest. Most adherents believe that mainstream Protestant churches in the United States are unwilling to confront the fraud perpetrated by the Jews, or have secretly been taken over by them. The Catholic Church is also believed to be part of this conspiracy. Identity sympathizers believe that the late nineteenth-century Czarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purports to disclose the Jewish plan for world domination, is genuine. In pursuit of their goals, the Jews have teamed up, in one or another variation of this story, with the United Nations, the federal government and the Federal Reserve Bank, the Democratic party, Freemasons, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos to thwart the quest of Aryan Christians for liberty and independence. The world is not as it seems: Aryan Christians are the true Jews; the Jews are scheming imposters; ordinary churches are in league with Satan. These convictions are intertwined with an obsession with firearms. In the perilous world inhabited by these Aryans, they will need their weapons to prevent the government from completely subjugating them and enthroning the Jews. Gun control legislation is therefore part of a larger, barely visible conspiracy to enslave white Americans.” – Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror

And the walls came down

“The scriptural emphasis on warfare has armed successive generations with powerful mental images of an embattled world. The community of the faithful is perpetually in crisis or at its edge. When a religious group believes that its identity is fundamentally threatened, it may turn to stories of apocalypse that describe the end of earthly history. In Christian apocalypses, Jesus is not the pacifist messiah of the Gospels, but a man of war. . . . In Christian and Jewish apocalyptic literature—exactly as in the Muslim literature, which is based largely on the earlier-born faiths—the reversal of fortune is a stock theme. The righteous advance from suffering under the murderous rule of a terrible beast to a restored community of believers who enjoy eternal life in the presence of God. The transforming event is the destruction of the beast, followed by the annihilation of Satan and death at the hands of a heavenly figure sent by God. . . . In times of severe social dislocation, political change, and economic upheaval, individuals overwhelmed by radical pessimism may turn to apocalyptic millenarianism. They see the signs that their tradition has identified as portents of the end of time. The tribulation they experience is interpreted as the era of cataclysms that precedes the eruption of a new order and God’s reassertion of his beneficent rule. When these individuals merge into groups and find a charismatic leader, or he finds them, they can be stirred to dramatic action intended to force the end of time and the kingdom of God.” – Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror

Another dismal political reality

“Religious violence is typically different from any other kind of warfare—for the simple reason that for a true believer, there is no compromise about the sacred. Or, to put it in a more monotheistic key: one God, one truth. Tolerance is not an intrinsic part of any of the monotheistic religions. For some believers, the outcome of a conflict cannot be ambiguous. When the issues are sacred demands, there can be no bargaining. The believer cannot compromise on the will of God. Killing becomes an end in itself, rather than one instrument arrayed among nonlethal instruments in a bargaining process. Such believers want a lot of people dead and may not care whether a lot of people are watching, as long as God sees what has been done in His name.” – Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror

But the rich have gotten richer, that’s a start

“Despite some success, the industrialized world has done relatively little to alleviate poverty, not just in the Arab and Muslim world, but globally. Indifference is not the full reason. In absolute terms, significant sums are given over to poverty reduction by contributors to multilateral development banks and by bilateral donors. The ineffectuality of aid programs is an equally important explanation for the persistence of poverty. Recipient countries do not have the financial, legal, and social institutions that would allow them to transform financial assistance into lasting economic gains, and donors do not know how to create these institutions. The governments receiving the aid resist the necessary structural reforms because their hold on power is often too fragile to subject their publics to the supposedly short-term pain of reform. The potential recriminations are not worth the uncertain long-term benefits.” – Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror

Decline and fall

“History, scholars say, is written in three stages: heroic, with the narratives of great individuals and their feats; revisionist, which turns those accounts on their head; and tragic, where we see how events conspired to bring about an end beyond the reckoning of most actors of the time.” – Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror

Newsmakers

“There is a schizophrenia about the power of the press. At times, we still think of it as an objective bystander, narrating events—and many of its leading practitioners portray it this way. In American democracy, however, the press is part of the policy process. As Washington reporters from top newspapers and the networks know well, their personal ability to move the wheels of government equals that of almost anyone in the stone and concrete piles that line Pennsylvania and Independence Avenues. The physicist Werner Heisenberg famously noted that observation changes matter at the subatomic level; it does so every bit as much at the political level.” – Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror

Not all it’s cracked up to be

“There are few more durable illusions in American life than the omnipotent presidency. For fear of appearing weak, incumbents rarely draw attention to the minimal powers accorded them by the Constitution and established practices of American government. Their critics in Congress and the public avoid mentioning this inconvenient fact because letting the executive off the hook never serves their purposes. Yet anyone who has worked in the White House knows that the office has remarkably little real power, not only when it comes to dealing with Congress and the judiciary but also in running the vast, unwieldy contraption that is the executive branch. A President relies on the loyalty of his appointees in the agencies to overcome the inertia and ingrained predilections of civil servants and the uniform military.” – Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror

Day of locusts

“Humanity today is living in a large brothel! One has only to glance at its press, films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars, and broadcasting stations! Or observe its mad lust for naked flesh, provocative pictures, and sick, suggestive statements in literature, the arts, and mass media! And add to all this the system of usury which fuels man’s voracity for money and engenders vile methods for its accumulation and investment, in addition to fraud, trickery, and blackmail dressed up in the garb of law.” – Sayyid Qutb (quoted by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon in The Age of Sacred Terror)