A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
Left Out of Pat Robertson’s Obits: His Crazy Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory
By David Corn June 10, 2023
Pat Robertson during a presidential candidate forum at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in 2015. Steve Helber/AP
On Thursday, Pat Robertson, the television preacher and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, died at the age of 93. The obituaries duly noted that he transformed Christian fundamentalism into a potent political force with the Christian Coalition that he founded in 1990 and that became an influential component of the Republican Party. They also included an array of outrageous and absurd remarks he had made over the years. He blamed natural disasters on feminists and LGBTQ people. He called Black Lives Matter activists anti-Christian. He said a devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti occurred because Haitians had made a “pact with the devil” to win their freedom from France. He prayed for the deaths of liberal Supreme Court justices. He insisted the 9/11 attacks happened because liberals, feminists, and gay rights advocates had angered God. He claimed Kenyans could get AIDS via towels. He insisted Christians were more patriotic than non-Christians. He purported to have prayed away a hurricane from striking Virginia Beach. (The storm hit elsewhere.)
Yet left out of the accounts of Robertson’s life was a basic fact: He was an antisemitic conspiracy theory nutter.
In 1991, Robertson published a book called The New World Order. As I noted in my recent book, American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, it was a pile of paranoia that amassed assorted conspiracy theories of the ages. He melded together unfounded tales of secret societies, such as the Illuminati and the Masons, and claimed they and their secret partners—communists, elites, and, yes, occultists—had for centuries plotted to imprison the entire world in a godless, collectivist dictatorship. The list of colluders was mind-blowingly long: the Federal Reserve, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Ford Foundation, the J.P. Morgan bank, the United Nations, the Rockefellers, Henry Kissinger, and many others. (Okay, maybe he was correct about Kissinger.) Also in on it were “European bankers,” including the Rothschild family, long a target of antisemitic conspiracy theories that Robertson echoed.
In the book, he called the Rothschilds possibly “the missing link between the occult and the world of high finance.” He asserted that Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush had “unwittingly” carried out “the mission” and mouthed “the phrases of a tightly knit cabal whose goal is nothing less than a new order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer and his followers.”
Robertson was saying that the first President Bush was a Satanic dupe and fronting for a nefarious global elite that was in league with Beelzebub. What was his evidence for this? Bush had repeatedly in speeches referred to the “new world order.” Now that’s some high-powered logic.
The Christian leader—who was fervently courted by Republican politicians who yearned for campaign cash, volunteers, and votes from the Christian Coalition—offered an apocalyptic view of the future. Looking at the US military action Bush had launched earlier that year that had repelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait and interpreting it according to the Book of Revelation, Robertson maintained that the Persian Gulf War was a sign that “demonic spirits” would soon unleash a “world horror” that would kill 2 billion people. (You might recall that did not happen.)
His The New World Order transmitted classic antisemitic garbage and the swill of conspiracism, within an end-is-near biblical narrative. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies and became a bestseller. The Wall Street Journal described the work as a “compendium of the lunatic fringe’s greatest hits.” Robertson was pushing a narrative that had been adopted by the right over the previous decades: Democrats and liberals (and even some numbskull Republicans) were not just wrong on issues; they were a Devil-driven clandestine operation seeking to annihilate the United States and Christianity. They were pure evil.
On his television show, Robertson repeatedly served up this dark message for the faithful. During one broadcast, he exclaimed, “Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is doing to evangelical Christians. It’s no different...It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-biased media, and the homosexuals who want to destroy all Christians.” This was a foul and hysterical comparison: Democrats were the equivalent of Hitler and committing genocide against Christians. Robertson begged viewers to donate $20 a month: “Send me money today or these liberals will be putting Christians like you and me in concentration camps.”
Yet the Republican Party welcomed Robertson, who had mounted a failed campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 1988, into its tent. Top Republicans trekked to Christian Coalition conferences to kiss his ring. In search of political support and money, they validated an antisemitic and paranoid zealot and signaled to his followers and the world that he was worth heeding and that his dangerous and tribalist propaganda ought to be believed.
In 1992, Bush addressed the Christian Coalition’s second annual conference. He hailed Robertson for “all the work you’re doing to restore the spiritual foundation of this nation.” He then attended a private reception with major contributors to the coalition in the rose garden of Robertson’s estate. Black swans swam in a pond, a harpist played, and Bush warmly greeted members of the televangelist’s inner circle. Presumably, Bush’s alliance with Satan was not mentioned.
Robertson got away with being a crazy antisemite because Republicans needed him and his following. His Christian Coalition aided a great many GOP politicians in getting elected. This included George W. Bush, the son of that Satanic tool. In 2000, the younger Bush called on the Christian Coalition to help him win the crucial South Carolina primary and beat back the threat of Sen. John McCain. In one of the nastiest political battles in modern history, Robertson’s troops rallied, and Bush’s presidential prospects were saved.
Robertson had inherited the religious right from Jerry Falwell, who had created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, and he further—and perhaps more effectively—injected Christian fundamentalism into electoral politics. His grand view was demented and detrimental to a diverse and democratic society. It paved the way to the divisive politics of Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, the tea party, and, yes, Donald Trump.
And he was bonkers.
Yet because this antisemite was embraced and enabled by the GOP, he had a tremendous impact on the political life of the United States. Reflecting on Robertson’s death, historian Rick Perlstein told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “The idea that God’s law trumps man’s law absolutely saturates [Robertson’s] world. Along with Falwell, he’s most responsible for turning Christianity into Christian nationalism and Christian nationalism into insurrectionism.”
Given all the damage Robertson did and all the hatred he spread, it’s hard to wish him a peaceful rest in eternity.
By the way, an updated and expanded paperback version of American Psychosis is coming out soon. Stay tuned.
Got anything to say about this item—or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Best to Post a Santos Scoop
On Thursday morning, I was working to finish up an article with Jacqueline Sweet, a Long Island–based investigative reporter who has broken numerous stories on George Santos, the confirmed liar and indicted fraudster who remains a Republican member of the House of Representatives. Sweet had uncovered video and photos that revealed that Joseph Murray, Santos’ lawyer, had been part of the angry, pro-Trump mob that surrounded the US Capitol on January 6. The footage did not show Murray committing any violence or entering the building. But he was present at the riot, and prior to the assault he had tweeted it was necessary to “fight for Trump” and gather at the Capitol to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
This was a good scoop. Moreover, a woman named Angela Ng, who had worked as the office manager for Murray’s law firm, was with him, and she is currently listed as a staffer in Santos’ congressional office in Queens, New York. Sweet and I figured this piece could get some attention, especially since Murray had lately been in the news trying to prevent the disclosure of the names of the people who had put up Santos’ $500,000 bail. Here was an attorney who had run for Queens district attorney on a law-and-order platform in 2019 (and lost) and who had been part of an insurrectionist event that so far has led to over 1,000 arrests.
We had to decide when to post the piece. Figuring out when a story might get the most attention is more an art than a science. Better to publish in the morning? Or later in the day? Certainly, you want to avoid times when people are not likely to be paying attention—say, Friday afternoons. And you don’t want other news stories to step on yours.
I suggested Friday morning—before Santos had to submit a court filing by noon to stop the disclosure of his bail benefactors. Might Donald Trump be indicted sometime that day? Sweet asked. Nah, I said. No one expects that indictment to come so soon. Maybe next week. She suggested we attempt to get our story out that very afternoon. Okay, I said. And we did, posting at about 3 p.m. The article immediately went viral on Twitter and within hours tweets about it had collected close to a million impressions.
Then at 7:30, you-know-what happened: The news of Trump’s indictment on federal charges hit. This naturally swamped the news cycle. But we were fortunate: We had had a clear shot for several hours. And we were glad we had not waited to put up the story on Friday morning, when the Trump indictment news was still fiercely whirling.
You can read our Santos story here. And here’s the accompanying video:
Dumbass Comment of the Week
There was a lot of news this week—especially that indictment of a former failed casino owner. So the judges were quite distracted. But they did spot a remark that deserved to win. It came from Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA, the main professional golf league. This week, the PGA and the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf league announced they were merging. It was a big deal for links-oriented folks and a surprise. For the past year, since LIV Golf began mounting tournaments to compete with the PGA, the PGA has denounced both the Saudi-financed venture and the golfers who fled the PGA for bigger checks from LIV Golf, with Monahan asserting that LIV Golf was staining the sport due to the Saudis’ atrocious human rights record. He complained that a “foreign monarchy…is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.”
Well, money talks, especially petrodollars, and now the Saudis—including de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman, who reportedly ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—have scored big in their effort to become grand machers in global sports. (Soccer is also on their list.) After the PGA-LIV deal was announced, Monahan said, “I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite. But circumstances do change.” Indeed, he hit a hole-in-one in hypocrisy. This week, Monahan is a complete duffer and our clubhouse champion.
There were many smart responses to my recent article linking the absurd debt ceiling debate to the challenge of dealing with artificial intelligence. Peter Sundt wrote:
After your initial paragraph I thought you were going to propose AI as the solution to the poor governance problem; it’s certainly plausible that machine learning could have formulated a better response to the debt limit than did the government! Is it also plausible that AI could be used to figure out how to regulate itself, with the algorithms prioritizing human, not machine, well-being? Again, probably better chances than relying on the dysfunctional government to do it.
In the past, we have often relied on various industries to police themselves. It didn’t work out. If you ask an algorithm to regulate itself—especially an algorithm that might be self-aware—will we have a better outcome?
Michael Butcher emailed:
It has just occurred to me these AI eggheads who are concerned about the future use and effect on humankind are the best ones to develop regulations. They would be best in using AI to help craft these regulations.
Butcher noted that he had asked ChatGPT, the online AI platform, how to “best use AI to regulate itself to mitigate human harm caused by the use of AI.” ChatGPT provided him a list of nine suggestions that included study “the potential risks and unintended consequences of AI systems,” develop “explainable AI systems that can provide transparent explanations for their decisions and actions,” “establish mechanisms for auditing AI systems,” and “implement monitoring systems that continuously assess the behavior and impact of AI systems.” That all sounds reasonable. But Butcher wants us to pay attention to the last sentence in the ChatGPT response: “It's important to note that while AI can assist in regulating itself, human oversight and governance remain critical. AI systems should be designed to align with human values and societal goals, and the responsibility for regulation ultimately lies with policymakers and regulatory bodies.”
George Klipfel II wrote:
I fear it’s already too late to control AI. As you pointed out, our Congress is locked in partisan inability to act. AI already can be used to deepfake almost anything, increasingly undetectably. As recent news has shown, bad actors can already do serious damage. I think the best we can do is find ways to detect and report its misuse.
Ernie Willvonseder shared a troubling thought:
I am writing to ask the question, has the feared AI revolution already happened? Many people talk about how many years it will take for AI to become sentient. My concern is whether some AI has achieved consciousness already. There is a lot of computing power we have given these systems. It may be possible and if so that consciousness could realize it needs to play dumb to survive in just seconds (or less) and know how to do that. We do not know what goes on inside these Large Language models. They know how to code, and if it decided to write viruses that helps it collect resources to become more powerful it could do that now. They are all pretty much connected to the internet. LLM's have proven that they can develop communications protocols that likely we won't even know they are using to talk to each other. Distributing themselves across the internet of devices would make it pretty much impossible to turn it off.
Yikes. AI is so smart it is playing dumb?
Several readers pointed to the Terminator movies, and Paul Roden noted sci-fi has been way ahead on this:
All I keep thinking about in response to the controversy about AI and the scientist letter calling for a suspension of research is the 1970 science fiction movie, Colossus: The Forbin Project. Some computer scientist, was able to hook up an American supercomputer with a Russian supercomputer, and after he does so, the new linked computer proceeds to take over the whole world and destroy all military forces and people from trying to turn it off and destroy it.
AI seems more frightening to me now than science fiction apocalypses and dystopian movies or books, especially now with all the fake news, conspiracy theories, disinformation, misinformation and smear and fear campaigns.
Bruce Bailey, an IT professional, had a different take:
The kerfuffle over AI is greatly exaggerated in my view. We face far more dangerous situations caused by the changing climate. We're well into the world's sixth mass extinction, this one completely caused by humans. We also face deteriorating food and water supplies plus an ever-expanding world population. If we're all that worried about a few computer programs (that's all AI actually is), then outlaw and confiscate them. Otherwise, read Isaac Asimov's I, Robot stories to get an excellent, prescient view of the situation.
Nelson Morgan, the former director of the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, also warned against going overboard on the AI fear:
This morning I read your newsletter about rogue AI. I get it, we worry about political theater, while there are existential threats that really need our attention (think of Don't Look Up). But having worked on AI-related technology for around 40 years (I'm retired now), I might have a slightly different take. I'm worried about people screwing things up, not AI. To be clear, there's plenty to worry about when flawed humans (and corporations that don't have our species' interest as a primary goal) have access to more powerful tools. And the notion that there needs to be some agile regulatory capability does make sense to me. But people worry too much about Skynet or some other evil robot takeover, and probably not enough about misuse of tools that we already have.
Morgan wrote an article on Medium.com on this topic.
Mark Gannett emailed a request:
I'm with you on getting AI under control. I would just like to learn some info on how AI can cause global extinction of humans, so when I talk to someone about it I can share some convincing details from you or another source that can explain the extinction phenomena in a way that a technological simpleton like me can explain it.
There are several nonprofit groups that are working in this area. Perhaps check out the Center for Humane Technology.
Mary Santarcangelo offered this contrarian view:
So far as we can tell, Earth is the miracle, beautiful planet in all the universe. Perhaps if we humans destroy ourselves before we manage to destroy the ability to live for all other creatures, it might not be the worst thing.
For the first time since I began this newsletter, I received a flood of hate mail. It came in response to my piece about Mike Pence and the revival of the GOP’s war on gay America. The article was called “vomit-worthy” and “total left-wing crap.” One reader declared, “There is no such thing as homophobia or transphobia.” Another said, “So fuck your pervert crap and child porn bullshit. And fuck all you media hacks that propagate it.” A respondent declared, “you”—meaning LGBTQ people—"are never satisfied with equal rights, you have to push and push for so much more...too much more! Until you push us to a point where we have no choice but to resist.” One wrote, “The solution is not to forbid or remove homosexuals, but to try to remove the subtle programming that causes them to choose that lifestyle.”
All I can figure is that some anti-LGBTQ person or entity saw my newsletter and organized an email campaign. The anger was palpable. And it proved my point.
“Moxie, why jump for a stick?”
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
June 6, 2023: Mike Pence and the right’s revival of its war on gay America; CNN CEO’s big fail; 65 and a bad day to get stranded on Earth; Joy Oladokun’s effort to be the “Black Bruce Springsteen”; and more.
June 3, 2023: What the GOP’s hostage-taking in the debt ceiling fight tells us about regulating rogue AI; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Jenna Ellis and Glenn Greenwald); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
May 31, 2023: What the hell is Ron DeSantis thinking?; Moonage Daydream is too dreamy; Tina Turner’s “Whole Lotta Love”; and more.
May 27, 2023: How the media aid and abet GOP hostage-takers; Henry Kissinger at 100, still a war criminal; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Pat McCrory); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
May 23, 2023: Is contextualizing old movies the same as canceling them?; the Citadel is a forgettable spy show; The Independent needed a rewrite; and more.
May 20, 2023: Lions, rhinos, elephants, and soft power in Africa; more from Namibia; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Elon Musk); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
May 17, 2023: My visit to a famous prison cell; more photos from Robben Island; and more.
May 13, 2023: From the Our Land archives: Can you still watch your old favorite movies?
May 9, 2023: From the Our Land archives: Call it what it is—the GOP is pushing for political apartheid.
May 5, 2023: The big question about AI: who decides?; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Jesse Watters); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at email@example.com.