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Glenn Beck's art criticism explained

September 17, 2009 |  5:06 pm

Glenn Beck Carolyn Cole LAT

When Fox television commentator Glenn Beck played art critic two weeks ago, giving a now-notorious rant about some 75-year-old art commissioned for Manhattan's Rockefeller Center, it wasn't the mash-up of socialist, communist, fascist and other symbolism he identified that left some viewers slack-jawed. That obvious information has been known and studied for, well, 75 years.

No, the surprise lay elsewhere.

First, Beck lamented that few observers now have any idea what that symbolism is — which made his wild-eyed concern bizarre. If people today don't recognize the symbols, how could they be a threat?

Second, Beck kept linking the symbolism to über-capitalist John D. Rockefeller Sr., founder of the Standard Oil monopoly, and to the Rockefeller family, presumably including his philanthropist son John Jr. and grandson Nelson, who oversaw construction of much of Rockefeller Center and was later a Republican governor of New York. Monopoly capitalism doesn't usually fit very well with socialist and communist ideals, so Beck's adamant insistence on the Rockefeller family connection seemed weird.

Turns out there's a fairly simple — and quite horrifying — explanation.

Writing in Salon Wednesday,  journalist Alexander Zaitchik, who is working on a Beck biography, detailed the commentator's admiration for the late conspiracy fantasist W. Cleon Skousen. What kind of all-American fellow was he? In addition to his radical John Birch Society activities, Zaitchik writes that “The Making of America,” a history text authored by Skousen, “characterized African-American children as 'pickaninnies' and described American slave owners as the 'worst victims' of the slavery system.”

More to the point of Beck's foray into art analysis, Skousen also developed a conspiracy theory that dynastic families like the Rockefellers used left-wing front groups “to do their dirty work and hide their tracks.” In 1971 Skousen founded the Freeman Institute, Zaitchik adds, “a research organization devoted to the study of the super-conspiracy directed by the Rockefellers....”

Rockefeller family archives Skousen, a former Salt Lake City police chief who died at 92 in 2006, authored more than a dozen books and pamphlets on Christian child-rearing, the communist threat to the United States, the global conspiracy of a New World Order and Mormon end-times prophecy. The LDS Church has distanced itself from Skousen and his "theories," but Beck, a professed alcoholic and drug-abuser who partly attributes his recovery to his conversion to Mormonism, wrote the preface to a recent reissue of Skousen's best-known book, “The 5,000 Year Leap.” The Freeman Institute later changed its name to the National Center for Constitutional Studies, Zaitchik observes, and now publishes the Skousen book with Beck's foreword.

To Beck, Rockefeller Center's art therefore appears to be some sort of evidence confirming Skousen's loony theories. A dynastic family was supposedly hiding behind socialist and communist front groups, like the Wizard of Oz furiously pulling levers behind a curtain.

“These things have been in plain sight, and nobody notices it,” Beck sputtered about the Rockefeller Center friezes and murals. “It makes sense!”

It doesn't make any sense, of course — until you read Zaitchik's chillingly informative article.

--Christopher Knight

Photos: Glenn Beck; credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times; (l. to r.) Rodman, Nelson, John Jr. and John D. Rockefeller Sr.; credit: Rockefeller Family Archives

Comments () | Archives (33)

Even ultra-conservative, William F. Buckley, discredited the John Birch Society (of which Skousen was an active member) in the pages of the National Review. Among the Birch Society's many Communist targets were none other than Republican President Eisenhower. Today we don't have any Republican leaders attempting to distance themselves from extremists like Beck. I believe that he is considered a “useful idiot” for furthering their agenda. I remember the Communist scares of the 50s and 60s; people were building fall-out shelters, and some thought fluoridated water was a Communist plot. One neighbor refused to get a government sponsored free polio sugar cube vaccination because they were afraid of the evils of big government. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Dude....this story has lost all steam. Give it up already Mr. Knight. The more you hang onto this obsession you have for Glenn Beck, the bigger tool you become.

And the left wonders why Beck's numbers are sky high for a 5 Eastern show. It's because idiot writers/bloggers and journalists with no skills keep reporting on him.

There was a time when the Republican Party had many of the brightest in our country. In addition, the main principal was honor and integrity.
Then some thing happened. The party ended with the intellectual likes of Gov. Palin and Glenn Beck. They are not far removed from many of the current Republican Congressmen. We can all remember how bright the school bullies were.

A good, fair and balanced article that better "explains" Glen Beck and his diatribes of fear about "what's happening to America." thanks for the links to supplemental information, and for the info about the foreward written by Beck, and his religious conversion as associated with his sobriety. I too often see addictive personality traits in one person manifest in rabid, ridgid "addictive" behaviors directed away from the substance of choice and directed to a new mission or purpose... After reading this article I'm sure many can now agree that this Beck nonsense in retrospect now makes sense. He actually believes his words and it sustains and fulfills a void left from his substance abuse recovery

Jon in CA: It's a freaking news article. It's something stupid that a public figure said/did on a nationally televised 'news' (propaganda) channel. Of course someone is going to cover it. Not only that, but the 'scoop' here is the connection to this Skousen nutbag. That IS the meaning of journalism. Go buy a dictionary. Jeez. And as far as that ACORN stunt the two desperate weirdos pulled... That made them look like losers more than it did ACORN. The woman who was talking to them was clearly shining them on just to get them to go away and was probably afraid for her safety. The part of the tape they WON'T release will almost surely show that. If not, then why not make the WHOLE tape available? And if you ever do get around to buying a dictionary, look up 'P-nis envy" (hint: that's not how you spell it). You'll be surprised to find that it's not what you think it means at all, and in fact is a stupid and inapplicable comment to make towards a male.

I don't see why anyone would take anything Glen Beck has to say as important, correct or even intelligent. He is an overblown, loud, obnoxious, screaming and yelling Media personality only in it for the money and fame. His antics are designed to get him ratings and he is not really looking for any deeper truths. If you want conspiracy theories hows this: there is a conspiracy among conservative talk show hosts to rile up american's emotions, get then mad so they can't think clearly (which happens when we are too angry or scared) so the conservatives can take over society, control all the money, control the people, etc.. so the 5% of men who have 80% of the wealth can move it up to 90%.

Just for accuracy, there are two entirely false comments posted here.

1. The Birch Society is not "neo-nazi" as one reader claimed. In fact, actual neo-nazis (such as George Lincoln Rockwell and William Pierce) have always considered the Birch Society to be an organization without the guts to recognize and publish "the truth" about the actual source of our national problems. In addition, neo-nazis (aka National Socialists) favor extensive government intervention into society whereas the JBS pursues the opposite objective.

2. W. Cleon Skousen was NOT a Birch Society "member" as another reader claimed. He was however, a JBS endorser as well as a paid speaker under the auspices of the Birch Society's Speaker's Bureau.

This is quite the kettle calling the pot black. I think it’s telling that the first book Knight lists (in his effort to show Skousen's nut-house tendencies) is Christian Childrearing. WOW, teaching kids to love one another end turn the other cheek is a good way to start the list of crazy, kooky ideas. I don't know much about this Beck guy, but Knight's references and reasoning gives me good impetus to support him. I’ll have to look into him and thanks for the recommendation!

chill out jolie! you are so full of hate that you are willing to punch someone due to your disagreement him. this is america,like it or not. if you think your so smart, go ahead and challenge him you lousy cowerd! [p.s. go see a docter]

The president is afraid of answering Glenn Becks questions ...although the White House has had to let some people go due to the Glenn Beck show hmmm Its not Glenn Beck with the power it is Glenn Beck with the truth ...its easy to spot ..it makes the corrupt people fear...Go ahead watch Glenn Beck ask his questions...he tells his viewers to do their own homework, look it up .. Most of what he says is from the videos of these radicals saying it in their own words.. thats not to hard to grasp...If your in politics and you open your mouth make sure you mean what you say and say what you mean ...Glenn only exposes those who expose themselves. So, go do your homework..and stay away from name calling and whining..ask the better question.

Its time to start doing your job. Ask the questions. You know how hard it is to change yourself or to get someone around you to make a healthy change..even something that will benefit them.. Its tough. But, just as confucius suggested, real change starts with each individual taking personal responsibility. That means the journalist must start doing what real journalist do....ask real questions.. Dig for the truth like there is no tommorow ...drop your political bias. Glenn Beck will at least be able to say he put it all out there ...everything ..what about you !

How can Mr. Murdach get away with these lunatic baffoons? He's an AUSSIE. Do you think that he's trying to subvert and crush this country by airing a host of great baffoons?

I'm SHOCKED! ... Positively SHOCKED, I tell you!!! How is it that the LA Times is going down the toilet with such insightful, important writing? ... I DON'T UNDERSTAND!

For the love of iPod, could we please have more bashing of Fox News and everything non-leftist? This will solve the toilet issue. I'm sure of it.

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