The Inadequacies of Infowarriors Revealed

About a year ago, I posted a fairly innocuous article on this infrequently updated blog called Alex Jones: Profiteering Prophet of Doom, detailing the  recent creation of  Infowars Life, an online store created by Alex Jones to market a whole line of quack medications to his listeners. Given the amount of time he spends promoting these products on his radio show (sometimes turning whole segments into infomercials), I suspect the store has become an excellent source of revenue for his quixotic battle against the phantoms of the New World Order.

For the first couple of months, the article remained unnoticed by the wider public–not surprising given the blog’s average number of monthly views was well under 1,000–but then, a curious thing started to happen. In February, the views doubled, and in March they tripled as I received almost 4,000 views.  Along with the views came a bunch of angry comments from Alex Jones supporters accusing me of being paid by the government to attack Alex Jones (I wish), and other general nastiness.

Curious to know why it was happening, I looked at the stats to see if someone had linked to my blog from Infowars, but what I found instead was more interesting, and kind of amusing.

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Where Is God When Bad Things Happen? Another Poor Defense

A recent column in Christianity Today begins:

God is all-powerful and all-loving, yet evil exists. The classic problem of evil has baffled believers and provided ammunition for sceptics for centuries.

I’m not sure “baffled” is the right term — more like “been avoided by” or “been dismissed by” since most believers do not like to be baffled by something that casts doubt on the all-knowing, all-loving character of their God.

However, religious leaders and teachers will, at times, attempt to tackle the problem of evil head on, but the results are typically far from convincing, and we see this again here.

But before any answers to the question of evil are offered, we get an attempt to lower expectations:

“The testimony of the witnesses taken together will be much stronger than any one witness on her own.”

So, if one answer doesn’t do it for you, don’t worry, we have plenty more where that came from, and let’s ignore the fact that we are no better off with a thousand weak answers than we are with one.

Next, we get to the answers. First up:

Wishing God had made a different world is to wish yourself out of existence.

Huh? This isn’t an answer. It’s an excuse for not giving us one — “If you don’t like the way God created the world, well, too bad, it’s the one you’re stuck with.”

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“The Heart Attack Pack” Or “How Not To Survive a Heart Attack”

I don’t know whether to be impressed or disgusted by the latest abomination I heard being hawked on the local “liberty” radio station here in Austin, Texas the other day. For once, it wasn’t Alex Jones doing the shilling, but an outfit called “Apothecary Herbs” selling something they call their “Heart Attack Pack” which they claim is an “Emergency Heart Attack Aid” for “When Seconds Count”

This so-call “Emergency One-Pound Pack” comes with not one, not two, three, or four but five specially formulated “concentrated herbal liquids” for use in those vital seconds after you have had a heart attack, “when emergency rooms and medical physicians are not available.”

Just imagine, you’re feeling faint, your chest feels like it’s in a vise, you stumble into the bathroom to your medicine cabinet, and fish out your handy-dandy heart attack pack with its five separate formulas designed to work together to keep you alive. But which should you take first?

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Alex Jones: Dead Wrong on the Origin of the IRS

Hmm. While I’ve been away, I see the mice have come to play — at least on my previous post about Alex Jones. That’s fine. I just wish I’d have been paying more attention so I could have responded to some of the comments, but it’s probably a bit late now.

Anyway, I just heard another great example of Alex Jones’ casual association with the truth. I didn’t hear the entire discussion he was having about the IRS on his show today (I was driving home at the time), but I did hear him claim that the law creating the IRS was passed by just three senators.

I thought that sounded weird, so when I got home I thought I would check for myself. After all, isn’t that what Alex Jones tells everyone that they should do?

Well, it didn’t take long to find what looked to be Alex’s smoking gun:

Senate Vote #375, Jun 05, 1862 (37th Congress)

TO AMEND H.R. 312 BY STRIKING OUT ALL AFTER THE ENACTING CLAUSE AND INSERTING, AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE BILL, A PROVISION TO ESTABLISH AN OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE IN THE TREASURY DEPARTMENT, FOR THE PURPOSE OF SUPERINTENDING THE COLLECTION OF INTERNAL DUTIES, STAMP DUTIES, OR TAXES. (P. 2587-1)

Aha! An amendment that appears to establish the office of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. And sure enough, only 3 senators voted for it, with 33 voting against.

Oh, my God! Alex was right…

Er, well, not exactly…

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Time for Nonreligious Lawmakers to Crack Open the Closet Door

Today, there are six openly gay or bisexual members of the US House of Representatives, evidence that the sexuality of candidates is becoming less and less of an issue for voters across the country. In contrast, as the Cronkite News reported this week only one current member of the House has stepped out of the closet and said that she is not religious, and sadly, since the news broke, she is edging her way back in, at least part of the way:

But there is only one member of Congress who has gone on record as nonreligious: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, was the only one to answer “none” when a 2013 Pew Research poll asked members of Congress about their religion.

Sinema’s office declined requests for an interview for this article.

“When she first got elected, everybody in our movement was very enthusiastic,” said Bishop McNeill, coordinator for a new secular political action committee. “But unfortunately … she has gotten some advice to stray away from that label.”

That is the sad reality of American politics. As Gallup reported last year, more Americans are willing to vote a gay, lesbian, or Muslim into the White House, than an atheist.

Of course, I’m happy that gays, lesbians, and Muslims are now finding a political voice within the political establishment (even if it is almost exclusively on the Democratic side), but given the amount of bigotry and vitriol they have had to overcome to get to this point, it shows just how bad it still is for non-believers who want step into the limelight of public service.

Unfortunately, a candidate’s religious faith is still being used as quick and dirty yardstick for assessing a person’s suitability for office. Sure, the measure has become more inclusive over the years, adding Catholics, Jews, and Mormons to the original Protestant-only club,  but openly atheist and agnostic candidates are still very much on the outside looking in.

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Fordham University on the Rise of the Nones

Ever since the headline-making Pew Research report titled “Nones” on the Rise came out in October 2012, there have been numerous attempts by various religious leaders and organizations to make sense of the steep rise in the number of the religiously unaffiliated Americans in recent years.

Naturally, most of them claim that the numbers aren’t as bad as they first appear, typically arguing that the majority of those who now consider themselves to be religiously unaffiliated are, in fact, non-denominational Christians, or are still in the process of seeking some kind of religious or spiritual meaning in their lives.

This week, it was the turn of the Fordham Center on Religion & Culture (a Catholic Jesuit organization) to have a crack at interpreting Pew’s research results, and it will come as no surprise when I tell you that they also paint Pew’s findings in a gloriously rosy glow.

The details are provided by the National Catholic Register:

The center’s director, James McCartin, introduced the evening’s conversation by reframing the findings of the Pew study. The numbers, he suggested, demonstrate a surge in spiritual seeking.

“As varying approaches to the divine have emerged,” he told the audience, “spiritual seekers have become everyday religious leaders in their own right, shaping the spiritual landscape in their own way.”

One has to admire McCartin’s chutzpah in making such an audacious claim, but you don’t have to read too deeply into Pew’s own analysis of the results before you realize that he is in complete denial.

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NSA Derangement Syndrome

608px-EFF_version_of_NSA_logoA lot of good has come from the Edward Snowden-sourced revelations about the scope of the NSA’s mass surveillance activites, not least the public debate over the legitimacy of the secret FISA court system and how much electronic surveillance should be allowed when tracking down terrorists in the age of digital communications.

But not all the developments have been positive, and as a life-long Guardian reader–the British newspaper that’s playing a pivotal role in the Snowden leak–it pains me to see just how deranged the comments have become on any article or column that’s remotely related to this story.

Of course, all large news sites are prone to this problem. Yahoo News especially is notorious for it’s horribly rancid and racist comments, but I would have expected better things from Guardian readers, given that it is one of the best quality news sites on the Internet.

Alas, not so.

I guess it was only to be expected, since the revelations about the NSA play into virtually every paranoid fantasy of conspiracy theorists around the world, and they appear to have flocked to The Guardian website as the primary source for the material that (supposedly) confirms their worst fears about the New World Order.

Here are some examples of the common themes to be found in the comments section, taken just one NSA-related article selected at random.

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Alex Jones: Profiteering Prophet of Doom

It is becoming increasingly apparent that when someone believes in one conspiracy theory, they tend to fall for others. That’s good to know when you’re the owner of one of the foremost conspiracy theory peddling websites in the entire world.

Fear sells, and when that fear is mixed with pseudoscience and globe-spanning conspiracies, it can be used to sell just about anything.

Exhibit A? Alex Jones’s “Infowars Life” (“Because there is a  war on for your life,” apparently), which in reality, just redirects to the alternative medicine section of his long established Infowars Store.

A few years ago, when you tuned in to Alex Jones on the radio, you would always hear him hawking his usual New World Order nonsense, talking about his newsletter or his latest video, but these days, as likely as not, you’ll hear him promoting whatever latest quack alternative remedy his guest (and business partner) has to sell, typically by putting the fear of God into the listeners with claims of how the government is trying to poison you with all that fluoride, vaccine, and GMO foods they’re supposedly force down our throats.

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