The return of the paranoid style
Both the Very Online right and the woke left are turning into conspiracy theorists.
What is Tucker Carlson playing at? Having an hour-long chat with a delusional crackhead who falsely claims to have had gay sex with Barack Obama is not journalism. It’s shit-throwing in the hope that some of it will stick. It’s rumour-mongering. It’s the platforming of wild claims by a notorious fabulist to the narrow end of irritating a politician you don’t like. Carlson used to be an important alternative voice – now he’s out there saying ‘Amazing, amazing’ as a mad man yaps about having a cocaine-fuelled bonk with Obama in a Comfort Inn.
Carlson got the Very Online right salivating this week by interviewing Larry Sinclair on X. Mr Sinclair is a convicted fraudster and conman who has been trying to hawk his story about banging Obama since 2008. In a nutshell, Sinclair claims that, back in 1999, when Obama was a member of the Illinois Senate, they hooked up in Chicago twice. They smoked some drugs and had a little fellatio. Apparently, Obama went around with a crack pipe ‘in his pocket’. And this definitely wasn’t his first time with a fella, Sinclair wink-winked at Carlson. Shorter version: your former president is a secret gay crack addict.
There’s only one problem with Sinclair’s story: there’s not a scintilla of evidence for it. Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports, who is clearly as good at reviewing Tucker Carlson interviews as he is at reviewing pizzas, put it best: ‘Top to bottom [Larry Sinclair is] maybe the least trustworthy human I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’d say this story has 0.0 per cent [chance] of being true and that’s generous.’ Indeed, Sinclair’s story has been debunked many times. Politico looked into his tall tale when he first told it in 2008 and found that Sinclair has a slew of crazy aliases, has racked up multiple convictions, and was in the slammer for years, during which time he behaved so badly he was disciplined 97 times. Who’s Tucker going to interview next? The schizo outside his local 7-Eleven?
How the mighty have fallen. Carlson was a fascinating, at times essential voice back when he was on Fox. Sure, there were mad moments, like when he bemoaned the newer, less sexy candy characters in M&M commercials or dabbled with ‘great replacement’ theories. But, in the round, he did a good job of taking the woke to task, challenging modern insanities like the idea that someone with a penis can be a woman, and holding to account marauding modern capitalism and the poverty wages it pays to its lowliest employees. Most importantly, he knew how to engage the so-called deplorables, those working Americans so sniffily looked down upon as semi-fascists by the Democratic elites. Indeed, a large part of the left’s loathing for him sprung from the fact that, unlike them, he could tap into the cultural and economic worries of Joe Public.
Which makes his new stuff on X all the more tragic. Who’s it for? Who wants to hear a former junky with tombstone teeth tell lies about giving oral sex to Barack Obama? Or, for that matter, the interminable ramblings of those creepy Tate brothers, who Carlson has also had on? The good people who nodded along to Carlson’s Fox critiques of PC lunacy, Democratic elitism and uncaring big business are not interested in fraudsters and pimps. They have their criticisms of Obama, of course, but they will baulk at Carlson’s platforming of a clearly unstable man who’s trying to get famous on a pack of lies about Obama. Fox News viewers are not the braindead rednecks that the liberal elite fear and fantasise that they are – they’re people who want factual, moral, interesting critiques of the new establishment. They used to get that from Tucker. They don’t anymore.
Carlson seems determined to cultivate a new audience: less the curious, ticked-off working classes, and more the paranoid online right. Less the working family that’s had enough of sneering CNN anchors, and more those permanently online anti-woke bros who think Andrew Tate is the new Sigmund Freud, Volodymyr Zelensky is a WEF puppet and Michelle Obama is a man. That’s another Obamaphobic theory: that Michelle is a bloke in a dress. I look forward to the Carlson interview with some unhinged alcoholic who claims to have once seen Michelle take a leak at a urinal.
We need to talk about the feverish conspiracism of online Obama haters. I have endless criticisms of Obama’s time in power, especially of his domestic authoritarianism and his foreign bomb-dropping. But the frenzied virtual gossip about Obama and his wife just feels nasty. He’s a Muslim, he was born in Africa, he’s married to a man masquerading as a woman. It is all entirely fact-free and, yes, a tad racist. You don’t have to be a woke graduate drunk on bell hooks and CRT to see that calling America’s first black president a foreigner and his wife a big black bloke stinks of prejudice.
And now we have a new addition to Obama conspiracism: he’s gay! He’s in the closet. He’s a liar. That whole family-man president thing was a vast trick played on the American people. As with all conspiracy theories, that’s the true attraction of the Gay Obama nonsense – it’s further proof that the establishment is hoodwinking us. All of them are engaged in a huge cover-up to hide the fact that Obama is a crack-smoking homosexual who was born overseas.
Conspiracy theories are the comfort blanket the clueless wrap themselves in. They’re the means through which people exasperated with politics and suspicious of democracy explain the workings of power. Apparently, it’s all done behind the scenes, in secret, with Masonic-like handshakes between media men who want to stay onside with politicians and politicians who want to hide the fact that they get fellated every now and then by crackheads in hotel rooms. Conspiracy theories are depressing and anti-democratic. They’re fatalism masquerading as criticism. The Obama is gay / Muslim / foreign crowd think they’re getting one over on a former president they detest, but in truth they’re revealing their own moral despondency, their turn from the reasoned sphere of political engagement into the warm, comforting swamp of doing nothing because ‘they’re all the same, they’re all liars, they’re all connected in a web of deceit’.
And here’s the thing: it isn’t only the online right who spread conspiracy theories about politicians — so does the online left. And the mainstream left, for that matter. The Guardian and others have looked down their rationalist noses at Carlson’s chat with Larry the loon, but didn’t these people treat seriously an equally mad sexual conspiracy theory about President Trump? In that case it was claimed that Trump asked prostitutes to piss on a hotel bed while he watched. There’s as much evidence for these watersports as there is for Obama’s homosexuality – that is, none. And yet the dossier that contained that insane claim about Trump was pored over by leftish hacks.
Then there was the Russia stuff. The liberal elites love to bash Fox News but at least Carlson had to leave Fox before he could start promoting crazy theories about Obama’s sex life. In contrast, the conspiratorial view of Trump as Moscow’s chosen one to run America into the ground was given huge airtime on MSNBC and CNN. Conspiracism has exploded on both the right and the left, among the woke and unwoke. Suspicion elbows aside discussion, wild accusation supplants cool analysis.
We are witnessing the return of the ‘paranoid style’. It is more than 60 years since Richard Hofstadter wrote his seminal essay, ‘The paranoid style in American politics’. Inspired by the dire experience of McCarthyism, Hofstadter examined the long history of ‘heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy’ in American politics. It’s a history that continues. Gay Obama, Russian Trump – all of it speaks to a swirling mindset that has taken leave of the calm and reason that are essential to public life. Paranoia remains democracy’s great enemy.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy
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