The real threat of Glenn Beck’s fantasies
It’s harm not to myself, but to American democracy that I fear from the Fox News host’s paranoid theories of social collapse
by Frances Fox Piven
About two years ago, Glenn Beck, the Fox News personality, began a series of tirades against what he called the Cloward-Piven plan for orchestrated crisis to collapse the system. The plan, he explained to his audience, had been laid out in an article written by Richard Cloward and me, and published in the Nation magazine in May 1966. In the article, we proposed a mobilisation of poor people and their advocates to claim the welfare benefits to which poor families were legally entitled, but that they often did not receive. We thought that the ensuing problems of rising rolls and costs would create pressures for federal reform of the archaic welfare system.
Whatever you think of that article, and I still like it, it was written some 45 years ago in a magazine with a rather small readership. But, astonishingly, in Glenn Beck’s world, it had led to most of America’s ensuing troubles, including the rise of SDS, Acorn, George Soros and the Open Society Institute, the election of Barack Obama and the financial crisis. Beck depicts this on his chalkboard as the “tree of revolution”, and he continued to feature this theory of American history on some 50 subsequent shows, as well as on the Blaze, his blog.
Other rightwing blogs were quick to pick up the orchestrated crisis theory. Together with the Blaze, the news stories elicited many hundreds, if not thousands of rude and insulting postings directed at me, and many lurid death threats, as well. (My husband Richard Cloward, who would have enjoyed this more than I, has been dead for a decade.)