The incoming Trump Administration continues to prove my point that fringe history can’t be separated from the politics of race and culture. Trump appointed white nationalist Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart, as his senior strategist. Trump’s aids have floated the name of an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist as deputy national security advisor, and Trump himself plans to appear on Nephilim-believing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s show to thank him his support, after Jones announced that Trump had called him to offer his personal thanks for helping him win the White House. Regular readers will remember that Jones had claimed that Trump’s opponent was a literal demon from hell, selected by Satan and the demonic Nephilim to promote evil. Jones did so with the help of Steve Quayle, a Nephilim theorist who agrees with Vice President-Elect Mike Pence on most gay rights issues but thinks he doesn’t go far enough because Quayle believes gays are actually demon-spawn Nephilim whom God commands the righteous to exterminate.
For all those who complain that it is unfair even to mention the connection between Trump and the alt-right conspiracy view of history and culture, I find that argument untenable in the face of the fact that the incoming administration has made no bones about its embrace of those who advocate it.
Bannon’s Breitbart organization, both before and during his tenure as its CEO, repeatedly damned the History Channel for being too liberal (a “toxic mix of guilt and victimization”), when they weren’t celebrating any conservative or nationalistic programs that served their momentary political interest. The site’s hatred of History came about because the network aired an adaptation of liberal professor Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in 2009, and the site’s owner, Andrew Breitbart, and his staff vigorously opposed what they claimed was liberal propaganda. (For the record, I disliked Zinn’s book immensely, and also for its subjection of facts to ideology.) Breitbart recruited college students to conduct what he called “stings” on events held on college campuses by History in an attempt to humiliate the network. The site even blamed the network’s liberalism for History declining Sarah Palin’s series on Alaska, which moved to TLC.
Consider this typical anti-History Channel (and implicitly misogynist) rant from 2011, written by Dan Gagliasso, who is both a conservative columnist for Breitbart and a former producer for the History Channel in the early 2000s:
Meanwhile over at the HISTORY Channel, Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Ice Road Truckers, Monster Quest and other such contrived reality programing have become the network’s staples. […] There has been a price to pay as older and more traditional viewers have left History in droves, replaced by younger and more female viewers. […] We need a new Fox-like history channel, one that extols the values and virtues of tradition while entertaining and informing, especially on the subject of our own American History. The left-leaning Fox haters just blew a blood vessel here, but if you know the controversies and the facts and can back them up while still providing good quality “info-tainment,” the viewers will come. Given the major ratings that Fox routinely trounces CNN and MSNBC with, just imagine what they, or another enterprising network that appreciates an accurate, traditional and entertaining approach to historical programing could achieve. […] Who will step up to the real history mound and strike out the no-history History network with good, straight up American history, instead of the far-left lunacy centered on race, class and gender that predominates in the intellectually bankrupt world of academia and History the network today?
And it seems that History Channel executives were listening. Their programming is notably more in tune with conservative views of history than it was a decade ago.
After Breitbart’s death in 2012, Steve Bannon took over, and the site’s attitude toward the “liberal” History Channel changed in time with the network’s own lurch, but never complete pivot, toward the right. The turning point seems to have come with History’s 2013 The Bible miniseries, after which the alt-right site seemed to see the network as a fellow-traveler, repeatedly praising its newer programs for celebrating the Bible, Tea Party patriotism, and America-first values. (The Bible seems to have convinced History that their primary audience should be on the right.) Interestingly, Breitbart let the network’s Roots remake pass largely without comment, except to highlight when Black Americans like Snoop Dogg and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. opposed the show for focusing too lustily on violence against African Americans. This, Breitbart News suggested, was not a problem for their readers.
It’s interesting to see the way that History and Breitbart achieved a détente right around the time History and H2 started broadcasting a slate of programs like America Unearthed and Search for the Lost Giants and Curse of Oak Island that provided support for the alt-right’s celebration of Biblical fundamentalism and white supremacy through appeals to the authority of Genesis and the unmatched prowess of ancient white colonizers as the rightful and legal owners of the Americas.
As most of you know, a majority of prominent fringe historians are right-wing, with many openly endorsing Donald Trump. Among these is Scotty Roberts of Intrepid magazine and the Paradigm Symposium, which once was sponsored by the History Channel (though no longer). Roberts, with Rocci Stucci and John Ward, hosts a conservative radio talk show called The Situation Room, whose listeners are known, tastefully, as Sit Heads. Roberts invited me on his show this weekend, and I appeared on the program Sunday for a generally pleasant discussion of swastikas and the value of truth and reason in an age that values neither. You can listen to it here or below:
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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