UPDATE: Dinesh D'Souza just resigned as President of King's College, which is apparently fine with paranoid fearmongering but frowns on extramarital affairs.
The first and most anticipated speaker at this past weekend’s Defending the American Dream Summit in northeastern New Jersey was Dinesh D’Souza. Long regarded as a stock “public intellectual” in the world of conservative media and think tanks, D’Souza has taken things to a whole new level under the Obama Administration. His propaganda film 2016: Obama’s America now ranks as the fourth-highest grossing “documentary” of all time and may well take the top spot soon, having already been shown in more total theaters than the current leader, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. So Dinesh has really struck a chord. Obama is not who he seems, according to the film’s central theme—not by a long shot. The dark truth is that our president desires to bring about the downfall of America by destroying it from within. D'Souza, the narrator, at one point ominously asks viewers if they have noticed that Obama “seems weirdly sympathetic to Jihadis captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.” You see where this is going.
During his morning speech at a hotel in suburban Morris County, D’Souza advised the crowd of mostly middle-aged (and almost entirely white) folks that if they are confused about the “real” Obama, they ought to consider “the anti-colonial angle,” which will help them make sense of his first term in office. According to this thesis, Obama is attempting to fulfill the Marxist/Leninist/atheist/Islamist/racist/anti-American ambitions of his late, estranged father by surreptitiously undermining capitalism and extirpating traditional cultural mores. Mike Proto, media pointman for the summit, told me in advance that it'd be “about economic freedom”—but D’Souza's argument goes way beyond extolling the virtues of free markets.
He signed books, greeted fans, posed for many a cheerful photo and was generally lavished with adulation. “The book actually goes way beyond the movie,” D’Souza informed a prospective buyer, referring to Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream, a text-based “sequel” to 2016. (I haven’t read it yet, but Dinesh did generously autograph my copy.) “God bless you,” one woman effused, rushing up to give him a big hug. Another woman reported that “everybody stood up and applauded” at the screening she attended; people were crying. “Brilliant—you’re a genius,” someone else told him. “You don’t stop. I’m not gonna stop either.”
I was honored to be afforded a few minutes with the filmmaker just before he slithered out to catch a plane. D’Souza attributed the astonishing success of his film to “the fact that people feel that they don’t have full information on Obama. They feel that it was odd enough that he was so unknown four years ago, but it’s even odder that he remains a mystery man now.” Ah yes—the infamous “mystery man” Barack Obama, about whom no biographical record would be available if not for Dinesh.
One of the claims in the film is that Obama has taken up cause with the Palestinians in order to hurt Israel. But there are more mentions of Israel in this year's Democratic Party platform than the Republican one, I told Dinesh, which befuddled me. D'Souza explained that “Jewish money” has forced the president to adopt friendly rhetoric about Israel against his will. “Obama recognizes that Jews are a powerful force—in political, financial support of the Democratic Party.”
As you might imagine, undercurrents of paranoia and throbbing rage ran throughout this so-called “summit,” which was put on by Americans for Prosperity—the allegedly “Tea Party” organization bankrolled by mega-financiers Charles and David Koch. Well-meaning folks traversed the venue wearing their Romney-Ryan 2012 and American flag gear; one lady proudly displayed her button featuring Clint Eastwood’s gruff visage accompanied by the quote “Make My Day” and a Romney-Ryan logo.
I had largely pleasant conversations, except for the time a guy almost physically attacked me because I stated my preference for Obama over Romney (though, full disclosure, I’m not voting for Obama). I had been chatting with Peter Schiff, the “libertarian” radio host and failed GOP senatorial candidate (he lost a 2010 primary to WWE chief Linda McMahon in Connecticut), when the man approached, scowling and going, “MORON! MORON!” He’d apparently overheard me mention Obama somewhat positively, and of course this was viewed as tantamount to endorsing total tyranny. Fortunately, tensions simmered down and the guy backed off. (Schiff told me he had D’Souza on his program recently to promote 2016, though conceded he’d not actually seen the film.)
One of the summit’s early-afternoon “breakout sessions” was devoted to explicating the specter of Agenda 21, a John Birch Society-derived conspiracy theory. The gist of it is that cabals of environmentalists are working to subjugate hard-working Americans under the guise of implementing “Sustainable Development,” “Green Energy,” and related initiatives. “When you’re dealing with these people, don’t try to be their friend,” warned Rick Shaftan, a self-described “conservative pollster and media consultant.” He clearly harbored much angst about these nebulously-defined “people.”
“Every single thing they say is a lie,” Saftan proclaimed, and there is no “common ground” to be forged. Rich Matrisciano, another anti-Agenda 21 “expert,” posited that climate change represents “perhaps the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the human race,” and enjoined that folks remain vigilant about hoax-peddlers’ unrelenting attempts to “indoctrinate our children” by teaching them about environmental issues in school. Attendees were encouraged to get active at the municipal level—boards of education, town councils, and so forth. Take the fight directly to those who would impose this criminal regime. Shaftan also advocated employing blunt talk about “low-income housing” schemes—a key feature of Agenda 21—which are really nothing more than attempts to plague their quiet New Jersey towns with “overcrowding and urbanization.” (If it must be said, yes, this assertion was racially-tinged.)
Certainly, a reasonable conservative argument in opposition to Obama’s stance on environmental regulations could be made. But a reasonable conservative argument—on any subject—isn’t what these people are about. For this I partly blame D’Souza, who has imbued the populist right-wing critique of Obama with unmistakable xenophobic resentment, wild conjecture, and paranoia about his unorthodox personal history—i.e., his “foreignness.”
It would be one thing if these views were limited to the fringes, but Americans for Prosperity is no fringe group; they’re agenda-setters. D’Souza’s thesis has become extremely influential. Once relegated to email chains and depraved blogs, the “anti-colonial angle” percolated up through the right-wing media ecosystem and, evidently, into the subconscious of Mitt Romney, who has regularly leveled the charge that Obama represents something profoundly “foreign.” For instance, at a campaign rally last month in Ohio, he said the president possesses “a vision of government that is entirely foreign to anything this nation has ever known,” and at last night’s town-hall debate, he again blew the dog-whistle by invoking the f-word.
Perhaps this helps explain why “very few” conservatives have expressed reservations about D’Souza’s style, as the man himself reported to me. For further investigation on this matter, I sought out Jonah Goldberg, another featured speaker at Saturday’s summit. Boy, did Goldberg ever have that crowd laughing up a storm; the founding editor of National Review Online opened with jokes about Elizabeth Warren’s “fake Indian” heritage, then transitioned to some ninth-grade political theory on the rival approaches of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. (Goldberg said he did not know how much he was being compensated for the appearance, and referred such questions to AFP staff, who in turn refused to disclose the info.) As he prepared to inscribe copies of his magnum opus Liberal Fascism for admirers, I asked Goldberg if he felt D’Souza’s huge mark on the conservative movement has fuzzed up a coherent critique of Obama.
“I think it’s a bad thing,” Goldberg said of D’Souza’s manner. “A lot of conservatives made a real mistake by making the Manchurian Candidate kind of arguments.” Despite the film’s exploding popularity, he said he was not aware of any review by NRO. “Obama may have an exotic personal story, but he represents mainstream American liberalism,” Goldberg admitted.
On 2016, however, he added: “I haven’t seen it yet. I’m sure it’s a good movie.”
Perniciously, D’Souza has instilled in these pliable folks the idea that America will literally not survive another four years of Barack Obama, so therefore, even if they’re not especially amped up about Mitt Romney, there’s simply no other option but to work their darndest on his behalf. Yes, the idea is that only this (pretty much) pro-choice, pro-“government takeover of healthcare” former Massachusetts governor can save our nation from moral decay and socialism.
Speakers riled these legions of suburb-dwellers into a nationalistic fervor. It didn’t really anger me though; I found the whole affair pitiful. A woman in a Big Bird costume pranced out onto the stage to provide everyone a special funny surprise. “Final Countdown” by Europe blared over the speakers. John Fund, the American Spectator writer, made a strident case for suppressing election turnout by instating those notorious voter ID laws, which are being struck down by judges throughout the country. Michelle Malkin, the “conservative” blogger and pundit, gave advice to fans on how they might circumvent “corporate” media. Given her regular appearances on corporate-owned FOX News, I requested clarification, and this is how she responded:
“The point I was making,” Malkin snapped, “I don’t know how much of the conversation you heard, is that I’ve carved out an independent existence online. I don’t know if you know anything about my career."
“Oh, I know a lot about your career,” I assured her.
“I’ve been with FOX for a dozen years—but I think it’s my small businesses that I’ve launched: my individual site, Hot Air, and now Twitchy—where I’m able to spread my wings,” Malkin declared. “I mean, you see me on FOX—by choice—ten minutes a week, maybe?” Like Goldberg, she would not reveal how much she’d received in compensation for gracing the summit with her presence.
The right-wing’s anti-Obama worldview is not grounded in typical anti-black racism. In fact, they love to demonstrate their open-mindedness at every opportunity by trotting out a minority or two for the cameras. But this element’s delirious fixation on his “foreignness” is every bit as vile as the old-time stuff, and represents a 21st century breed of ethnic animus and xenophobia not too far removed from the Know-Nothings of the mid-1800s. This is precisely the sentiment being stoked by D’Souza and Romney to make money and gin up votes, respectively. They convince these answer-seeking Americans—D’Souza explicitly, Romney much more subtly—that another Obama term means our country is simply done for. And on top of that, he’s an effeminate “third world” bozo who gives undeserved handouts to poor people and goes on “apology tours” to other countries. Never considered, of course, is Obama’s absolutely lethal foreign policy—endless drone strikes, escalating troop levels in Afghanistan, unprecedentedly crippling sanctions on Iran, and the list goes on. This crowd believes with all their hearts, in spite of any and all evidence, that Obama seeks to forever emasculate and cripple American prowess. Because, again, he hates America, the country he leads.
Obama, a professed Christian, has by all accounts remained faithful to his wife. (Excluding an insane right-wing rumor that he’s gay and Michelle is his beard, that is.) By contrast—in a hilarious and oh-so-perfect twist of fate—D’Souza now faces accusations from his associates in the world of conservative evangelical Christianity that he carried on a long-term extramarital affair. (Among his alleged lover’s “Likes” on Facebook: Dinesh D’Souza, Kid Rock, Gossip Girl, Senator Rand Paul, and Ayn Rand. Sounds about right.) Apparently Dinesh went around introducing this (much younger, and pretty) woman as his “fiancee” at events where he spoke on Obama’s stealth “anti-Christian” agenda. On October 4, just one fleeting day after a journalist with the Evangelical WORLD magazine confronted D’Souza, he filed for divorce.
Well now. Dinesh sure has some ‘splainin to do. If remarks about “Jewish money” to a reporter don’t convince some of his followers he’s not a paragon of virtue, maybe an affair will. The money is still flowing, though. To close our conversation on Saturday, I asked how much in profits he anticipated making from the blockbuster success of 2016. “I don’t know,” D’Souza told me, “because the film is just coming out on DVD.”
Michael Tracey is a journalist based in Brooklyn, New York.