Guest Post: Cameron on Millenarianism and the Paranoid Style

I don’t think we should read the sudden interest in concentration camps for evangelicals as pointing inexorably to some terrifying outcome, but it is becoming part of the scenery. What its impact on military personnel who regard people like McTernan as prophetic voices will be is hard to estimate — but Maj. Stuckert who as far as I can tell is currently deployed to Kabul, is in for a shock when he finds out that a paper he wrote now has him figuring as a principal spokesman for the US Army’s preparations to serve the Antichrist. And the same is presumably true for Col. Stefan J. Banach, the Director of SAMS, who is named as “Responsible Person” on the monograph’s “Report Documentation Page” — who has already fielded at least one irate phone-call on the subject, and is suggested as a target for such calls by McTernan.


One thing that might really help ease the situation would be for DOD or the School of Advanced Military Studies to post a note attached to Maj. Stuckert’s monograph, stating unequivocally that it does not represent Army policy but is one of 2,500 similar theses explored by students in the course of obtaining a degree, and as such presents one student officer’s views only.

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12 comments on this post.
  1. Bob Morris:

    Heh, back in the late 60’s there were dark rumors that Nixon and Kissinger had concentration camps set up and the roundup of pinko peaceniks was imminent.

  2. Cheryl Rofer:

    Does millenarianism make people paranoid or do paranoid people become millenarianists?
    Apparently the thesis says nothing about concentration camps. That was a gloss by those who were offended by it. This is just too crazy.
    I’m wondering how many millenarianists we have in the military and whether they believe this nonsense.

  3. Lexington Green:

    Good post.  Conspiracy theories are a permanent feature of American life.  Walter Russell Mead has a brilliant discussion of this in his book Special Providence.  The locus of conspiracy was for centuries the Catholic Church, then the Kremlin and communist subversion (which had a fair amount of factual basis), and it has in recent years shifted to the New World Order (George Bush Sr. used this expression and millions of people said "Ah ha!  He admitted it!") and international institutions and similar more diffuse sources of danger, real or imagined.  The rock-bottom distrust that millions of Americans have of the United States government is nothing new.  It takes many odd forms.  The TV show "This Week in Bible prophecy", which I don’t think exists anymore, was a fascinating compendium of this kind of thinking.

    People of genuine religious belief know that the people who have power and influence in this country consider them to be dangerous, even subhuman, imbeciles.  The relentless mockery and contempt shown to Gov. Palin was taken as proof by many that all the powerful institutions in American life are the enemy of millions of people who go to church.  It is a short step to thinking that the government would act on this most basic belief of the kind of people who staff its higher ranks, and take steps toward active oppression. 

  4. J. Scott:

    Lex you said: "People of genuine religious belief know that the people who have power and influence in this country consider them to be dangerous, even subhuman, imbeciles." You hit the nail on the head. The step is indeed "short" between observing the treatment of Palin and drawing the conclusion that Christian religious people have no seat in the halls of influence. Of course it doesn’t help that the true "nitwits" among Christian religious people are regarded as representative of the whole. Lex, still reminds me of the danger of ambiguity; the unknowns which cause peoples to follow the wrong gods home (the William Stafford ref). Good post…stay tuned. 

  5. majormarginal:

    While DFW airport was being built Dick Gregory spoke of it at being a concentration camp.

  6. Charles Cameron:

    FWIW, there is also some jeering and cheering from those on the "opposite side" of the culture wars:

    Unfortunately this monograph is only a tiny first step and not nearly enough to begin what I believe is a long overdue crack-down on these dangerous and powerful Christians. I am not going to hold my breath waiting for a round-up of these Christians. But I am cheered by this acknowledgement of the problem they present, if not the solution.   

  7. zen:

    "Does millenarianism make people paranoid or do paranoid people become millenarianists?"
    Cheryl asked a great question here. I do not know the demographics of millenarians but my intuition is to say "yes" to both.

  8. Charles Cameron:

    Stephen O’Leary, in the opening pages of his Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric, writes that Hofstader "identifies an affinity between the apocalyptic mentality and that of the conspiracy theorist" (p. 7), and later quotes from the book version of Hofstader’s essay, which I don’t have easy access to. The Harper’s version is online, however, and I’ve drawn these paragraphs from it:  

    The paranoid style is not confined to our own country and time; it is an international phenomenon. Studying the millennial sects of Europe from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, Norman Cohn believed he found a persistent psychic complex that corresponds broadly with what I have been considering — a style made up of certain preoccupations and fantasies: “the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary; the refusal to accept the ineluctable limitations and imperfections of human existence, such as transience, dissention, conflict, fallibility whether intellectual or moral; the obsession with inerrable prophecies… systematized misinterpretations, always gross and often grotesque.” This glimpse across a long span of time emboldens me to make the conjecture — it is no more than that — that a mentality disposed to see the world in this way may be a persistent psychic phenomenon, more or less constantly affecting a modest minority of the population. But certain religious traditions, certain social structures and national inheritances, certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties. 


    The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millennialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort [sic] the apocalypse.

    So Hofstader thinks he discerns a single "persistent psychic phenomenon" which can express itself either in religious and or political beliefs and movements, which are then labeled as "millennial" (if religious), or "paranoid" or even "conspiracist" is political, the latter distinction being one of apparent degree. As Cheryl points out, the thesis says nothing about concentration camps.  But this gloss is not just an add-on, it is a matter of considerable significance — because without a preceding conspiracist sense that American Christians were about to face persecution from their own government, the Luckert monograph would hardly have appeared as the "proof of concept" that to McTernan and others it clearly is.      Cheryl’s third point, wondering "how many millenarianists we have in the military and whether they believe this nonsense", opens up a set of issues that I hope to address in a follow-up post. 

  9. david ronfeldt:

    esoteric mixtures of paranoia, conspiracy, and apocalyptic and millenarian conjecture are routinely evident in the AM radio program "coast to coast" that runs for hours deep into each night on stations across the country (here in los angeles area, on the major talk-radio station).  the program (and its website) often concerns UFOs and ghosts.  but it also voices guest’s concerns about the "new world order" and secret elites, not to mention gun laws. 
    when i’m having difficulty sleeping, it’s more entertaining as a background drone than my usual staples: NPR or BBC news on the FM band.  i gather it has quite a following, though i don’t know how to verify that. 
    also, btw, here’s an interesting article that just showed up at WSJ about conspiracy thinking by david aaronovitch, based on book he’s done:

  10. Bryan Alexander:

    Fascinating on several levels, Charles.1: interesting to see the focus on those holy places in the thesis.  Do this week’s reactions pick up on that?2: another case of a single military person’s document being assigned to the entire military.  I recall similar cases with contingency plans.  It’s a form of argument from authority.3: how likely is it that such a textual circulation would have happened, pre-Web?

  11. IntelTrooper:

    Thanks for pointing this out. I can only take comfort that these people have marginalized themselves through their extremist rhetoric, but the fact that this guy has such a following does disturb me a little.

  12. Charles Cameron:

    Hi, Bryan — glad to see you posting here: .On your first point… The "holy places" gets a bit of a glancing blow in the actual document — he’s just getting into the subject, then pulls back and goes on to something else — but I picked up on it because as you know I think that’s the major flash-point.  And he’s read Gershom Gorenberg’s The End of Days and includes it in his bibliography.  .Point two.. Yes, I think scenario planning (as an exercise) is sometimes mistaken for intent to act.  . Point three?  I think the monograph would have been unlikely to surface, pre-web, but if someone had run across it, and pointed it out to an apocalyptically inclined author, it might still have received pretty wide quotation via the printed page.  Hal Lindsey, John Hagee and the Left Behind folks sell an impressive number of books…