A UFO cult, a book giveaway, and militant COVIDiots in Beaver County
In which I quietly return to this newsletter after a year-long hiatus
Let me tell you briefly about a trip I took this week to a place called (believe it or not) Beaver, Pennsylvania.
On Wednesday, the “Arise! USA” bus tour came through this town in western PA, within spitting distance of the Ohio border. I arrived to hear a local businesswoman screeching into the microphone: “Donald Trump is not going to save us; the storm is here!” This line received wild applause. “The storm,” of course, is a QAnon reference.
That evening I learned that if you have sex with your partner in the four weeks since they received the COVID vaccine, it will permanently alter your DNA. I also learned that mask mandates were the first step in the government declaring martial law. And I learned that the NSA is currently reading the emails of Democratic politicians and getting ready to lock up the ones who are caught abusing children in satanic rituals. There was also a fair helping of military worship on display, and jokes about Antifa “terrorists,” due to the fact that someone on the outskirts of the park was holding a sign that read Black Lives Matter. All this is the kind of propaganda that motivates right-wing terrorists, and it was being preached to some of your most average, everyday Americans. And they were eating it up.
In a way, it seemed as if there was nothing remarkable about the gathering. Not after four years of tracking these people and their kooky beliefs, at least. But I couldn’t help but be struck by how “normal” everyone was. I’m used to hearing this stuff from militia members and hard-right grifters like Alex Jones. But this wasn’t that kind of crowd. These were grandmothers and grandfathers, families with small children; not one Boogaloo Boi or Proud Boy was seen among them. And the crowd was eating this stuff up! Nobody flinched when the speakers mention the United Nations’ plans for world domination or the need for “Second Amendment solutions” to the problems facing the United States.
I’ve been hearing for months about how the conspiracist fringe has taken over the Republican party, but I don’t think I realized what that really meant until I saw it firsthand. At one point, the local high school’s JROTC teacher addressed the crowd. Later, his students marched in front of the stage while a six-year-old girl led the Pledge of Allegiance. (The idea that a local teacher could bring his students to an event like this is really troubling; I'll be following up on this with the school board.)
After the Pledge, a conman in a ten-gallon hat told the crowd that Democratic politicians “won’t survive what is coming” (but not before plugging his merch). When an Abraham Lincoln impersonator took the stage, I had to leave. It was getting too weird, even for me.
This newsletter, and all my work over the last several years, has been about the culture of American decline. Tracking conspiracy theorists and far-right extremists is about staring in the face of American culture’s many bizarre manifestations in the twilight of the empire.
Cults are part of this too, and so I’d like to let you know (if you don’t know already) that my book New Age Grifter: The True Story of Gabriel of Urantia and His Cosmic Family is due out on August 17. This book means a lot to me. From the back cover:
Gabriel of Urantia is the leader of a UFO religion based in the desert of southern Arizona. He has spent the last three decades weaving together his belief system, a tapestry of Eastern spirituality, Born Again Christianity, and New Age doggerel. In a compound near the Mexican border, his disciples tend the garden, take classes, and serve their guru while they wait for the end of the world.
It sure seems like a lot of people these days are sure that the world’s about to end, they just differ on the details.
If you’d like to read the book, my publisher (the legendary Feral House) is giving away five trade paperback copies for free. If that doesn’t pan out for you, would you consider pre-ordering the book from Amazon? If you’d rather listen than read, my book on conspiracy theories in American culture, Satan Goes to the Mind Control Convention is now available on Audible.