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Barack Obama is a CIA Plant!

One of the things I find really irritating about wingnuts is that they don't appear to think very clearly, and their writing shows it. Here's a typical passage from a typical "run your underwear up the flagpole" bit of conspiracy-baiting from Jim Lindgren at The Volokh Conspiracy:

As part of a joint “project” with SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] (p. 170), Oglesby arranged meetings with Haynes and Business International clients as part of their “round-table meetings,” allowing SDS to explain their opposition to the war (p. 171). New York SDS members continued to meet regularly with Business International even after Oglesby left New York.

Haynes “had come to agree with SDS about the war, racism, and urban poverty.” (Id.) Haynes, who died in 1976, told Oglesby that if he had been in the same generation as Oglesby, he might have joined SDS. (p. 170) After Robert Kennedy died, Haynes even called up Oglesby and urged SDS to riot: “Get your people out and tear the goddamn place into pieces.” (Oglesby, p. 188)

According to Oglesby, the Dohrn/Klonsky wing [of the SDS] was highly suspicious of SDS’s joining in any programs with Business International. Oglesby’s memoir recounts long discussions and interrogations of Oglesby — led by Dohrn, Klonsky, and Arlene Bergman — over Oglesby’s development of SDS links with Business International. [emphasis added]

Of all the firms in all the world, Obama had to walk into the one that years before had closer ties to SDS than any other mainstream business in the world. What luck!

(It's so cute the way scare-quoting "project" turns it into a wingnut dog-whistle.)

The point, I think, is that because Obama worked for a company that eight (or more) years previously had a President who was sympathetic to the aims of the Students for a Democratic Society, we're supposed to be suspicious of Obama's aims, now. As though just having one official who made contacts with the SDS was enough to taint an entire company such that not only would the taint still be there ten to fifteen years later, it would be strong enough to taint in turn everyone who ever worked there for a brief time, or perhaps everyone who was ever associated with them -- and that now, we're supposed to suspect that any of those people might be a sleeper-agent for the ComIntern.

But that's not what's wrong with this passage.

It's not even the dog-whistle invocation of "SDS" as code for "communist", harkening back as it does to the cold war and the days of "useful idiots." (By the way, the Right has useful idiots, too -- they just all think the idiot is someone else.)

What's really wrong with this passage is that Lindgren screws up telling the story.

He wants to establish "ties" between SDS and Business International. Clearly he wants to imply that those ties are somehow active, that they have sufficient vitality to make us legitimately worried about Obama as a result. Yet he takes great care (probably because, like any writer, he's loathe to edit) to keep a passage that expresses great ambivalence ont he part of SDS over being involved with Business International. He doesn't say why, but suspicion of Business International's motives seems like a plausible reason. Apparently there have been rumors off and on that Business International was a CIA front, like Coca-Cola (though it's as easy to imagine SDS's suspicion starting those rumors as being in response to them).

Here's where it gets sloppy: Lindgren seques from that into trying to draw the connection between scary-SDS and scary-Obama by way of (possibly spooky) business research firm Business International, right after clearly establishing that some influential elements of scary-SDS were scared of Business International.

So that's how Lindgren screws uptelling the story: He precedes his closer with evidence that undermines (if not negates) it. And because of his own confirmation bias, he probably doesn't even realize he did it.

At another level, though, this is merely typical conspiracy wanking. He's taking a random connection and tossing it against the wall. It's as though I were to point out that John McCain consorted with Democrats as a Naval attache to Congress in the 1970s. Some lunatic might make the leap to associate him with Democrats and by extension with the anti-war movement. Voila: John McCain is now a secret Commie, in the mind of one lunatic. It's a dog whistle. The great holy grail of conspiracy baiting is to find the dog whistle that calls the most dogs. Sometimes it's best to leave the crap in, because you can just never know what will resonate with a lunatic. 

The juciest irony, though, is that based on Lindgren's story, it's just as easy to create a nutjob conspiracy narrative where Barack Obama is a CIA plant as it is to create one where he's a secret Commie.

It does encourage the development of poor rhetorical skills, though.

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