Glenn Beck, archaeologist

Celebrity conservative and goldbug, Glenn Beck, made an interesting argument this past Wednesday, August 18, on his Fox News show — since 2009, the most watched news program on television’s most watched news network. Beck contextualized this segment as part one in a three part series on Civil Rights in America.

Here the Hopewell earthworks with their numerological connection to the pyramids of Giza are being deployed as evidence that North America was a site of divine providence. The Bat Creek stone, originally found in Tennessee in 1889, is supposed to be evidence of pre-Columbian Jewish migration west from Phonecia across the Atlantic. Later in the segment a guest offers Tisquantum’s (Squanto) discovery of the Plymouth colonists as another example of divine providence.

The foil to Beck’s argument about divine providence, that America is special in the eyes of God and that the Founding Fathers were doing God’s work on Earth, is what he terms manifest destiny. For Beck manifest destiny is a perversion of divine providence. He states, “Manifest Destiny is, get out of my way, my way or the highway, because I’m on a mission from God. That is Manifest Destiny. That’s Woodrow Wilson. That’s Andrew Jackson. That’s not George Washington. It’s different.”

According to Beck, the purpose of this lecture is to reveal a history that “the Smithsonian, science, government, and commerce colluded to erase.” He continues, “The history that has been erased in our nation and, in particular, with the Native Americans, happened because it didn’t fit the story they created – manifest destiny. It only works if the Indians were savages. And they had to have savages for commerce and government to expand. The ancient artifacts prove otherwise. Why aren’t we looking into those?”

I think its unfortunate that archaeology, perhaps the most popular and most public face of anthropology, is so frequently hijacked by amateurs for nationalist and religious ends. The blog A Hot Cup of Joe just did a noteworthy post on this very topic. With the authority and authenticity that so many cultures ascribe to events in the past a material remainder can, like a fetish, carry great power. An actual physical object from the distant past that is undeniably real to the touch is proof that people were here before and the certainty of that physical reality is conveyed, like Frazer’s principle of magical contagion, onto ideologies making them just as real.

It’s doubly unfortunate that living American Indian people have to put up with this manipulation of the past to suit the ends of non-Indians. On August 13, Indian Country Today reported that the Cherokee Nation was filing suit against the state of Tennessee for extending state recognition to six groups that the Cherokees believe to be fraudulent. Included in this group of six are the “Central Band of Cherokee” which claim to be a Lost Tribe of Isreal.

Meanwhile on Glenn Beck fansites, his viewers did not give the above performance high marks. A common concern expressed on discussion boards was that the history lesson resonated too closely with Beck’s Mormon faith and they feared that the stigma attached to Mormonism would lead some to question their fandom of Beck, possibly leading to less enthusiasm for his general political agenda that they so highly value.

This case is a prime target for the Bad Archaeology blog and I hope they choose to write it up.

Matt Thompson is adjunct assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University and a Masters student in the School of Information Science at the University of Tennessee. He was once cast as a soldier in Andrew Jackson's army in a theatrical production on an Indian reservation.

10 thoughts on “Glenn Beck, archaeologist

  1. Thanks for the mention! And thanks for giving me an opportunity to scoop Bad Archaeology! :-) (I’d still like to see Keith’s take on it, though).

    Anyway, Beck has some serious flaws in just the first few seconds of this video. The 606 feet don’t measure that way (more like 1000 feet). And the “artifacts” he mentions are 19th century frauds.

  2. Bizarre! Check out Beck’s “expert,” Peter A. Lillbeck. He is the president of Westminster Theological Seminary, where he also got his Ph.D. According to their website:

    What We Believe:
    “Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth.” John 17:17 (ESV)

    Westminster is committed to Scripture and to the systematic exposition of biblical truth known as the Reformed faith.

    http://www.wts.edu/

    In discussing a Smithsonian publication, Beck talks about true history being hidden or erased by archaeologists and others due to the “collusion of power” among “science, government, commerce, and religion.” Don’t you just hate it when all those guys collude with one another? No wonder we need Glenn Beck to set things straight.

  3. Thanks for posting this – I was looking for a short video to start a discussion on pseudoarchaeology.

    I find it interesting (and troubling) that this is another re-hashing of the old Moundbuilder Myths, but with a different punchline. In this new version, Native Americans were not savages, but instead are civilized star-gazers and sophisticated mathematicians. But they are only that way because they had received this wisdom from abroad – no way they could have developed it for themselves! So even with Beck trying to argue that Native Americans were mistreated – he still attributes their achievements to others.

    And this is hardly the tip of the iceberg – just view some of the videos here:
    http://wow-video.ru/index.php?key=Mesoamerica

  4. @Michael Smith: I think this illustrates how empowering a conspiracy theory can be for those who believe in it. By the old maxim knowledge is power, so to come into knowing something secret or hidden distinguishes one from the ignorant masses. So not only is acquiring this knowledge a kind of act of resistance, but it also conveys a cultural capital and marks membership in a select group.

    @Erick Rochette: When I first heard of this (by way of my buddy Jon Marcoux, an actual archaeologist — I’m a cultural anth) the first thing that popped into my head was Kon Tiki. Wasn’t it Thor Heyerdahl’s thesis that Egyptians had sailed west to build the Mayan pyramids and then South Americans sailed west to populate the Pacific? At any rate its the same principle, Indian achievements get attributed to others, like you said.

  5. I think this illustrates how empowering a conspiracy theory can be for those who believe in it.

    David Weigel said something similar in the 23 September 2009 edition of Fresh Air (which I will not link to so as not to get this reply hung up in moderation):

    I think it’s simple. The reason for Beck’s popularity is that he tells the audience he’s uncovering something. Shawn Hannity, I don’t think is – he’s not become much less popular, but he basically bashes liberals and says that Democrats are gross and Ted Kennedy’s – the late Ted Kennedy was unappealing, and stuff you’ve heard on talk radio for years and years. Beck says, I’ve uncovered something; me or my investigator – have uncovered a video; we’ve uncovered a secret link; we’ve uncovered a document. And that’s fascinating.

    It’s fascinating from the normal consumer of news’s perspective. It’s fascinating from the conspiracy theorist’s perspective. I mean, no one else is giving you a chart showing you the 87 interlocking connections of the left-wing movements and Barack Obama. And I think that’s exactly it; that’s why he’s become popular.

    @Erick: This might be veering a bit off topic, but one thing I have found fascinating in reading a number of early 18th century documents regarding European visits to Cherokee communities is that the writers seem to take for granted that the communities had a role in the construction of the then functional earthworks. Of course they were not of the scope of Monks Mound or the Great Serpent Mound, but still, I find it intriguing that by Cyrus Thomas’s day their provenance had come into question.

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