A couple of decades ago I got ahold of High Weirdness by Mail and made a hobby of collecting crank literature from variety of religious and political nutjobs. I viewed this as a form of research. Seeing the odd pathways it is possble for human minds to go down was a way to understand the workings of more ordinary ones. My former housemate Donna Kossy made a small career out of similar activities.
The Internet of course has made it too easy to find disturbed and disturbing people, so it became somewhat less interesting to me. Also there was an element of it I found distasteful, as if I was mocking the patients in Bedlam as was the practice in 18th century. So I mostly dropped that hobby. Kookdom, I supposed, would continue as ever on the fringes of discourse, perhaps gaining some strengths from the net's ability to let interest groups coalesce.
I never expected the nutjob paranoid style -- the kind that likes to draw elaborate influence diagrams -- to become mainstream. Yet here is Glenn Beck, owner of a show on a mainstream corporate network and Time magazine cover subject, ranting away about some conspiracy involving Che, Woodrow Wilson, George Soros, and of course Obama.
I don't really believe that Beck is a genuine kook (although who knows about his audience). He is a showman, and has cleverly appropriated the style of paranoid conspiracy theorists for his own purposes. Note that whereas the genuine paranoids would at least pick targets for their diagrams that had some actual power (The Trilateral Commission, Bilderbergs, Rothschilds, etc), Beck targets organizations like ACORN and the SEIU which are composed largely of poor and working-class people. This cleverly redirects whatever genuine insights the conspiracy-mongers have to offer. There is, in fact, an elite who runs the world, whether they need to meet in shadowy rooms to do it or not. They do not have your interests at heart. This fact drives some people mad, but at least their madness is grounded in something real. The madness of Beck and his followers lacks that. It's either insincere or just plain stupid. It's paranoia for lazy obese Americans who can't even manage to generate their own crazy obsessions.
Beck's success at peddling a faux version of kookery just proves once again that the genius of America is its ability to convert absolutely anything into a product.