Note: I'm changing the way I do excerpts from now on, because Squarespace's quote function is awful. Let me know if it's difficult to read or causes any problems.
Chapter 3 opens on a fake document from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, called "“Constitutionalists,” Extremism, the Militia Movement, and the Growing Threat of Domestic Terrorism." But it's totally actually about keeping good, red-blooded, freedom-loving American patriots from resisting Woodrow Wilson's evil plan.
This is really the first concrete clue that The Overton Window is basically pornography for reactionaries who share Glenn Beck's worldview; spending this long on a (long, dry, not very interesting) policy document makes no sense for a book that's trying to tell an actual story, but it makes complete sense if the real goal is to titillate people who want to believe they're fighting a heroic culture war against an oppressive regime.
And look, there's nothing inherently wrong with writing something that lets you explore your personal hot-topic buttons. I've done it, and I know that it brings the good tingles to the old writing organ. But there's a limit, and that limit is when you're too busy getting high on the endorphin rush to tell a good story. I've shelved entire novel ideas because they seemed too likely to slip into self-indulgence; Glenn Beck probably should have done the same thing.
The document, as we'll see soon, was leaked to the press; the bad guys (including Noah's dad!) manage to bury it, even though, as I'm going to demonstrate, if such a thing actually leaked from a US government agency it would probably trigger an instant civil war.
As the Administration continues to be tested by economic, social, and political challenges unprecedented in our country’s history, the rise of radical/reactionary organizations and the accompanying dangers of “patriotic rebellion,” virulent hate-speech, and homegrown terrorism must now be acknowledged as a major threat to national security.
What kind of liberal fantasy land is this? Imagine thinking that homegrown, right-wing terrorism could ever be a bigger threat than Muslim terrorists!
Educate law enforcement and enlist the populace in a program designed to profile, identify, and report individuals and groups engaging in suspect behaviors, protests/advocacy, distribution of inciting literature, and/or evidencing support of issues that are known “red flags”:
I have to screech on the breaks right away here. If the US government suggested that ordinary citizens should spy on each other for certain political views, it would cause instant pandemonium. A lot of people, from both sides of the political divide, would be screaming bloody murder. There is no way the release of a document like this could pass under the radar.
But things get even more ridiculous when we look at the "red flags" themselves.
—Militant anti-abortion or “pro-life” organizers
Starting off with a real hum-dinger, the evil conspiracy wants anti-abortion activists flagged as potential terrorists. I don't know if Beck realizes this, but being pro-life is a completely mainstream opinion in many parts of America, and there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of individual pro-life organizations that could charitably be called "militant". Half the elected politicians in America fit that bill.
Again, and at the risk of repeating myself: the release of this document would be the political equivalent of throwing a box of live hand grenades into a crowded room.
“Army of God”
Apparently, the Army of God is a Christian terrorist organization that uses violence to fight against abortion.
So actually yeah, that should probably be a red flag! Seems perfectly sensible to me. Hold onto your butts for the next one, though, because it's a doozy.
Seriously? Home-schoolers? Home-schoolers are on the terrorist threat list?
It's true that, in the wrong hands, home-schooling can be used as a cover to either give children a sub-standard education or outright abuse them; there's a shadowy world of hard-line evangelical communities that use home-schooling (and other "religious freedom" doctrines) as a smokescreen to get away with truly awful things, aided by professional lobbying organizations that have been repeatedly accused of helping parents cover up abuse. There's a reason why a lot of people assume (unfairly) that all religiously-motivated home-schoolers are secretly beating their kids or teaching them that the world is going burn down next month.
But even the most extreme fringe of this movement surely doesn't qualify as a terrorist threat. And the document doesn't even specify that it's talking about the subset of home-schoolers who are Christian extremists--it just says home-schoolers, full stop. If all the schools you have access to are dangerous, poorly-funded hellholes (and this is America so they probably are) and you decide your kids would be better off learning at home, you go on the watch-list.
Of course, I'm operating on the assumption that this is a political thriller and not persecution porn for people who want to think their precious way of life is under assault.
—Anti-immigration / “border defenders” / NAU alarmists / Minutemen / “Tea Parties”
My, doesn't this one feel timely.
I had to do some googling to find out what the hell "NAU alarmists" is referring to. It stands for "North American Union", which is a long-standing conspiracy theory that the governments of Canada, Mexico and the US are secretly conspiring to merge into one country, which will let all those dirty Mexicans come and steal our jo--I mean, erode the unique identity and culture of all three nations. Yes.
In Beckland, if you believe this bullshit conspiracy nonsense, you're a threat to the system. You, yes you, dear reader who's also a fan of Infowars, are a rebel!
—Militia organizations / military reenactors / disenfranchised veterans / survivalists
There's some pretty clever dog whistling going on here, which you might not catch if you aren't up on the kinds of things angry cranks get mad about. American militia organizations are legitimately dangerous and really do warrant monitoring as a terrorist threat--several of them have killed government officials, and their rhetoric played a huge role in radicalizing Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber--but by mixing them in with veterans and military reenactors, Beck is sending the message that the Forces of Evil are really cracking down on any civilians with military training.
Remember back at the start of the book, where Beck claimed he was bi-partisan and unbiased? He tries to reinforce that here by including typically left-leaning groups like environmental activists, as well as actually-dangerous movements that liberals tend to not like such as neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. This is to give the impression that the villains are hostile to all politics outside of their preferred, narrow scope (a sort of "window", if you will).
But I'm not buying it. The subtle nods to specifically further-right concerns and bugbears are too obvious. It's also suspicious that there are no truly far-left groups mentioned, like the American Communist Party or North Korea sympathizers (but the Libertarian Party is specifically singled out).
—Libertarian Party / Constitution Party / “patriot movement” / gun rights activists
Can you imagine--can you just imagine--how the NRA would respond if the government suggested that it was flagging "gun rights activists" as suspicious? They'd be bellowing about it for the next five hundred years.
This first section alone has enough incendiary material to make Texas try to secede from the Union, but parts two and three are where it gets really interesting. Laid out in handy sound-bite form is a plan to monitor, arrest, detain indefinitely, and possibly torture members of these dangerous "subversive" elements (like those damn home-schoolers and their deadly pencil sharpeners); the document goes on to caution that this will cause significant public resistance, which could only be quelled by some sort of massive 9/11-style catastrophe. Such as, I don't know, eleven stolen nuclear weapons going off.
I'm curious how the Forces of Evil are going to manage to turn the public against all of the groups on that list. Are the bombs going to be blamed on a united militia/eco-terrorist/radical anti-abortion/gun nut/Libertarian/tax resistor/neo-Nazi plot? What are the home-schoolers supposed to be bringing to the table here, are they supplying all the paper and rulers so the conspirators can draw up their evil conspiracy-diagrams?
The extralegal practice of indefinite preventive detention / enhanced interrogation / rendition of nonmilitary enemy combatants has been normalized in the public perception, at least to a serviceable extent. The precedent has been established and remains supported by a neutral-to-positive portrayal in the mainstream media. However, with U.S. citizens suddenly in the news in the place of al-Qaeda terrorists, some level of psychological resistance must be anticipated and then defused when it arises. It is the opinion of the committee that such a reflexive populist reaction would prove to be a major obstacle to progress.
Why would the villains have a document like this? Who would it be for? It doesn't have any specific implementation plans, and anyone who was in on the conspiracy enough to receive this information would surely already know the basic outline of the plan. Prior to 9/11, Al-Queada probably didn't have a sheet of paper somewhere that said "Plan to destroy America: Step 1 steal some planes, Step 2 fly them into buildings, PS plz don't leak to the CIA."
“I think I’ve read quite enough.” Arthur Isaiah Gardner closed his copy of the new client’s binder, placed it carefully on the conference room table, and then slid it a precise few inches forward, to a spot just outside his circle of things that mattered.
An official document detailing how the government wants to round up and imprison thousands of its own citizens for their political views? Pfft, I've got bigger things to worry about.
Noah had grown up with a healthy dread of this gesture but, in more recent years, he’d come to appreciate its versatility. As an all-purpose expression of deep fatherly disappointment it worked just as well for a prep-school report card as it did for a disastrously leaked presidential briefing document set to splash on the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post.
I'm getting the feeling that Arthur is a bit of a dick, in case it wasn't already obvious.
Noah and and Arthur (who's the head of the PR firm Noah works at, remember) are in a conference with some government clients about the leaked report. Arthur does a little power play with one of the clients, and there's a real howler of an editorial slip-up that I want to highlight because it's so egregious. One of the clients interrupts Arthur, and he asks incredulously who spoke.
“Who spoke?” was uttered with genuine wonder, as though the old man had been addressing a cage full of laboratory rats when suddenly one in the back had raised his little pink paw with a question. The room fell dead silent.
“I did.” It was an older man at the far side of the long table, positioned in the power seat on the client side. Nice suit and a fresh, careful haircut, a touch of a rosy blush now rising in his cheeks.
Arthur Gardner answered only with a slight upward motion of his open hand, reminding the man that he’d been clearly directed to get up onto his feet. A few long seconds crawled by before he complied. “To put your busy mind at ease,” the old man said, “let me assure you that the trifling problem you brought us today is already put safely to bed.
Did you catch that? Arthur and the client are both referred to as some variation on "old man", including in dialogue tags that don't specify which one of them is speaking. As such, I initially thought that the "To put your busy mind at ease..." dialogue was the client talking, even though that didn't seem to make any sense.
It's a small thing, but this is a major mark of sloppiness in a novel. You need to consider how the reader is going to interpret your writing.
(Also: I'm not the head of a big PR firm, but I'm going to suggest that scolding your clients as though they're misbehaving school children is probably not a good way to retain business)
"...and the memorandum itself is now being thoroughly and plausibly denied by its authors and blamed on an overzealous local bureaucracy somewhere in the barren Midwest. Who will be the culprit again, Noah?”
“Illinois National Guard,” Noah said.
“There. Crisis averted."
Oh, well then. It's just a state's official militia who wants to round people up and put them in concentration camps. That'll be out of the news cycle in no time.
(Did you catch that little snub about the "barren midwest"? Beck is signalling to his real audience again).
Everybody in the room, including Noah, continues to be utterly blase about the contents of the document and the effect it might have, which makes me wonder if they've been replaced by pod people or something. I get that Beck is trying to imply the American public are all sleep-walking sheeple who can't see what's happening under their noses, but surely an official government document that says WE ARE GOING TO ROUND YOU UP AND TORTURE AND IMPRISON YOU would get a reaction from even the most politically apathetic person. Even the fucking Nazis weren't that transparent about what they were planning.
The older client tries to object again, so Arthur yells at him and dramatically flings all of his binders off the table. This is less giving me the impression that he's a ruthless captain of the corporate world and more than he's mentally unstable.
The government man stopped talking, his eyes a little wider, the rest of his face suspended in mid-syllable.
I think the actual reaction would be more along the lines of "I'm your client, and I'm from the fucking government, you dipshit. Have fun finding new contracts, because all of ours suddenly got withdrawn."
“A columnist in the Wall Street Journal once wrote”—Noah’s father straightened his cuffs from the preceding exertion as he spoke—” that I had more money than God. I can’t attest to that. I don’t believe in God, and like a growing number of the world’s other major economies, I no longer believe in the dollar, either.
He must be one of those American businessmen who doesn't value profit. You know, the ones we've all heard about that definitely exist.
If we needed more proof that Arthur is a villain, here it is.
One is my time, and I’ll caution all of you not to waste another second of it. The other is my legacy.
Your legacy is going to be as an abusive asshole who flips out at his own clients. Word about that kind of thing tends to travel.
Arthur bloviates about what an awesome business guy he is and humiliates the older client some more. I'm wondering exactly how much older the guy is and how he can be a "rising star" in the department of homeland security when Arthur is seventy-five. Unless "older" was referring to older than Noah, or just "older" as in "middle-aged", which would be really sloppy writing.
“You were so eager to guide me along earlier. A virgin whiteboard awaits there along the wall, freshly erased, with a new set of colorful markers all at your disposal. I believe we can even muster a laser pointer to help you direct our rapt attention around your fascinating illustrations.
I've been in meetings between high-level executives and clients in the business world. Let me tell you, if we pulled shit like this the client probably would have physically assaulted us. Remember, they're the ones bringing the business in. When you're a service provider, you need them way more than they need you. They can always find another company that does what you do--a bunch of them probably put a bid in for the project--but you can't just scoop up another client to replace one who walks. The power is absolutely on the side of the client.
Arthur continues his monologue, regaling his clients about how he was in Sri Lanka when the 2004 Asian tsunami hit and he deliberately stayed on the roof of his hotel to watch a bunch of people get obliterated by the tidal wave.
No, seriously. That's actually what he says.
A servant girl came to me and woke me from the most wonderful dream. She was breathless, the poor young thing, and told me an urgent message had arrived, word of an earthquake near Sumatra, and that we needed to leave as soon as possible.
A "servant girl." Does he mean a member of the hotel staff, or does Beck think every white person who visits South East Asia gets assigned a personal servant at the airport?
The point of this fun anecdote about how Arthur endangered his own life to watch thousands of people get horrifically killed by a natural disaster is that he's noticed the economy is on the brink of collapse (referencing the 2008 financial crisis). He knows that the government is worried about how people will react when everything falls apart and they enact their dystopian plan, and he's offering to not just bury the document leak but help them sell the whole "concentration camps for military cosplayers" deal.
That isn’t your problem at all, of course. It’s not what they might think of you that should be keeping you up at night; it’s what they might very well do to you, and to your superiors, in the aftermath of the global catastrophe that’s just around the corner.
Just wait until the home-schoolers catch wind of this, you'll really be fucked then.
This book was published in 2010, and was probably being written right after, or even during, the major events of the financial crisis. If Beck thought the public would rise up in anger and demand accountability from the people who caused it, he was giving them way too much credit.
“Look at you. You’re stacking sandbags when your entire coastline is about to change forever. All the while the crimes you’re so worried that people will discover are still in progress. We are in the midst of what will become the most devastating financial calamity in the history of Western civilization, and just this week—please do correct me if my figures are wrong—the Congress and the administration have committed to funnel almost eight trillion dollars to the very institutions that engineered the crisis.
I'm confused about why Arthur thinks the government doesn't know what's about to happen, when the document he just read--which was authored by the departments that the people he's talking to are part of--states pretty clearly that the financial crisis was deliberately engineered.
Yeah, in case you were unclear on that: Arthur's government clients aren't trying to pass this off as a hoax or something. They seem to be fully up-front that it's real and accurately reflects their plans, and they're talking about it openly, with the head of a PR firm and his son. It's complete luck for them that Arthur decides to jump on the bandwagon for his own benefit. He could just have easily have said "you people are out of your minds, I'm going straight to the press with this."
Notably, we haven't checked in with Noah at all for several pages, even though the chapter started from his perspective. I'm curious what he thinks of all of this.
It’s a heist, an inside job. It’s been done before, of course. Social Security was the boldest Ponzi scheme in history until now.
This is coming from the mouth of a villain, but it seems like the sort of thing Glenn Beck would actually say. I think the book's intended audience is meant to read this as Arthur being an anti-American bad guy, but one who's intelligent enough to agree with them on certain topics. He sees the evil liberal agenda for what it is, but he goes along with it because it benefits him.
For heaven’s sake, you nationalized General Motors just to get your union friends off the hook. As you know, those union pensions you just took over are severely underfunded, adding another seventeen billion dollars to your tab.
Glenn, dude. Government bailouts were not done for the primary benefit of trade unions.
(What actually happened with General Motors in 2009 is a good bit more nuanced than the US government "nationalizing" it; the only people I can find using that phrase are right-wing cranks).
Arthur keeps going on (and on) like this, predicting that the attempts to stabilize the economy will fail and the US will entirely collapse into anarchy and chaos as the desperate people rise up to punish the robber barons in power, eventually self-destructing in an orgy of violence. You all remember when that happened back in 2012, right?
Instead of helping each other, these international bankers
DING DING DING DING
What's that??? Why, it's the antisemitism bell!
“How do I know all of this? Simple: When things go wrong, there must always be someone to blame; a villain, if you will. As they say in your neck of the woods, ‘If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.’
Which neck of the woods specifically is that? How does he know where any of these people are from?
Eventually Arthur stops blathering, and the government cronies desperately ask him what they should do.
“Your answer is in here,” he said. “I am a strategist, and a man of some modest renown in that sense, though in this case I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants—Woodrow Wilson, Julian Huxley, Walter Lippmann, Cloward and Piven, Bernays and Ivy, Saul Alinsky. The list is long.
Woodrow Wilson is a villain in this book, remember. Seen through Beck goggles, this is basically Arthur comparing himself to Hitler.
“Because we must, we will finally complete what they envisioned: a new framework that will survive when the decaying remains of the failed United States have been washed away in the coming storm.
But...that's what the conspiracy document said. The villains are already planning to do this exact thing. Why do they need Arthur to tell them this? Are the people he's talking to in on the plot or not?
One of the clients (which has now morphed into a Shadowy Council Of Evil) asks what they should do about the public, and Arthur replies that the public are all passive, slack-jawed sheeple staring at their television screens. Not their tablets and smart-phones? I get the feeling parts of this, like the phone booth scene in the prologue, were cannabilized from a much earlier draft.
The screens winked out at once, and left behind were three tall words in black on white, dominating the room from floor to ceiling.
HOPE AND FEAR
Didn't we start this chapter with Arthur dealing with a leaked memo? Isn't he the head of a fucking PR firm? Why is he suddenly Big Brother? Why is he selling this evil plan to the people who already came up with the exact same evil plan?
Arthur just continues prattling on and on and on. This chapter has to be at least as long as the proceeding three combined. I started skipping paragraphs, but basically he says they need to use fear to alter people's perception of the truth so that they'll find things previously deemed unthinkable acceptable.
That leaked document sparked a conversation that I’ve had with your superiors, and they with theirs and so on, about a wide-ranging plan of action that has long been in development and now awaits its execution.
So...the head of a PR firm read the document outlining the government's sinister plot, and then Arthur said "hey you should let me organize and implement all of this" and they were like "okay sure".
Arthur says the government had one condition, which was that the people currently sitting in the room with Arthur have to be the "boots on the ground" to lead the revolution.
On the screen behind him a quotation faded in, finely lettered as though written in the author’s original hand. It took a moment but Noah soon recognized the words from Julius Caesar.
This is the first time Noah has been mentioned since the opening of the chapter. Apparently, he's just been sitting there this whole time, listening to his dad rant and rave about turning America into a dystopian hellscape and having absolutely no reaction at all.
“Shakespeare wrote of a time of great decision, and ladies and gentlemen, that time has come. We stand at a crossroads; the civilized world stands at a crossroads. Down one path all men are created equal: equal in poverty, equal in ignorance, equal in misery. Down the other is the realization of the brightest hopes of mankind. But not for all men; that was a brief experiment, tried and failed. Abundance, peace, prosperity, survival itself—these coveted things are reserved for the fittest, the deserving, the most courageous of us, the wisest. The visionaries.”
It's funny, because we're meant to think this is villainous, but it's actually a perfect encapsulation of the conservative world view. I assume the self-own was unintentional.
Having transformed into Skeletor, Arthur closes out the chapter, finally, with some more evil grand-standing. We still don't have a clue what Noah thinks about all of this, which makes it seem like he fell asleep or had a stroke or something and didn't really understand what was going on.
The opening bit with the conspiracy read-me was actually quite deft as a work of political dog-whistling; the way the book weaves the communities that Beck is actually trying to appeal to in with targets that mainstream readers will find unremarkable was skillfully done. But then we get to Arthur's endless filibustering, and the book just completely loses all restraint.