Suspicions of government, conspiracy beliefs have firm root

They came to Kamloops like some strange characters from an  episode of X-Files.  There was Eldon Warman, who considers himself a foreign citizen of Anglo Saxon common law under the Magna Carta.  As an alien (who lives in Alberta), he feels that the Canadian judicial system doesn’t apply to him.  Then there were his cast of supporters from the Patriots on Guard, a group with ties to other anti-government groups.

x_files

His supporters said that it wasn’t them who phoned in the bomb threat that emptied the courthouse while Warman’s assault trial was taking place. A Patriot on Guard, who only wanted to be identified as Ron, said that the bomb threat probably came from the R.C.M.P. who wanted to portray them  as radicals.  I don’t think it requires a conspiracy by the R.C.M.P. to do that.

Warman and the Patriots on Guard do a good job of making themselves seem radical, yet their message is surprisingly familiar.  Warman’s account of what happened is on the group’s web site. In it, he says that the B.C. government is running an Al Capone protection racket.  Highwaymen (peace officers) lay in wait for unsuspecting foreigners, like him, with his busload of 25 Taiwanese tourists.

“The [Kamloops] judge, a pleasant man, or a smooth con artist (yet to be decided), vehemently denied that the court  was in admiralty jurisdiction”, Warman continues, … “We  MUST move rapidly to curtail this encroachment by government  upon the Common Law RIGHTS of the Canadian People. I would hope this can be accomplished by peaceable and sane methods,  and before mob retribution extracts a blood bath of  revenge  upon those responsible for this wholesale theft of our basic  and inalienable rights – RIGHTS which have been won for us  by the sacrificial blood of our ancestors.”

The reason all this seems familiar is because we have heard it all before through popular media and entertainment.   Movies and television (mostly American) regularly portray conspiring governments with groups of citizens preparing to  defend themselves.  The F.B.I. connives to hide alien invasions and officials in high office participate in assassinations and evil machinations.

Suspicion of government and beliefs in conspiracies have their roots in the American psyche, according to Professor Robert Goldberg.  In his recent comments on CBC radio, he outlined how the seeds of suspicion in government were  planted by the John Birch Society in the 1960s.  Since then, those seeds have taken root in North American culture.   The result has been the growth of patriotism, individualism,  quasi-religion, and armed citizenry.  These organizations  have been eating away at public confidence in government.

The members of the John Birch Society were not just some  mind addled  group from the fringe, but well educated  members of the upper and middle class who were convinced  that the Illuminati were conspiring to take over the world.   The Illuminati were founded in Germany, in 1776,  by  professor Adam Weishaupt.  They have long since been officially disbanded but their legendary power lives on.

Professor Goldberg, from the University of Utah, has traced the route of ideas of the John Birch Society into modern culture.  Ideas that were once considered fanatical and right-wing now seem familiar.  He told me that it is not  the conspiracy core —  those who live in their own  world,  a closed circle of confirming argument and  information — that he is worried about.

Rather, Goldberg’s concern is with mainstream institutions, such as movies and TV, who have popularized conspiracy theories.  In doing so, they have promoted the decline of confidence in government.  These are the calculated and systematic efforts of talented people.  They cannot simply be dismissed as paranoid, weird, or sick.

Democracy is under attack from within and from the outside.   The World Trade Organization wants to replace government.   Big business wants to reduce government regulations that  protect the environment and food supply.  Government is the  democratic expression of our collective will.  It may not be perfect but it beats the alternative — rule by greed and  fear.

“Democracy is the worst form of government,” said Winston  Churchill, “just better than all the others.”  I agree with Warman that ordinary citizens are threatened, but from a  government weakened by trade agreements and from lack of  democratic participation, not from a government that is too  strong.

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