Dark Wings on Luna
January, 1912, an amateur astronomer named Dr. Frank B. Harris caught a glimpse of something unusual on the moon. “About 10:30 Eastern Time, I was surprised to see the left cusp showing the presence of an intensely black body about 250 miles long and fifty wide, allowing 2,000 miles from tip to cusp.”
“The effect was as fully black comparatively as the marks on this paper,” Harris wrote to the journal Popular Astronomy. Its shape was “as a crow poised.”
“Of course dark places are here and there on the lunar surface,” he concluded. “But not like this.”
On February 2nd, 2012 – a hundred years and handful of days after the omen on the moon – an amateur statesman named Willard Mitt Romney (supposedly he worked without salary as governor of Massachusetts) found himself in the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, grinning blankly against a backdrop of American flags beside the owner of the building. Donald Trump was endorsing him for president.
“As everyone in this room knows, our country is in serious, serious trouble,” said Trump in his brief remarks. Foreign powers, he continued, “laugh at us,” thrilled at “what they’re getting away with.” But Romney was “tough.” He’d end all that.
The candidate followed his host on the microphone. On that occasion, and on many to follow, Mitt Romney behaved like the victim of the most elaborate and expensive kidnapping in the history of the American republic. “Donald Trump has shown extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works to create jobs for the American people,” he said, smiling nervously.
I imagine that had he deviated too far from the script concocted by his handlers would have transmitted a flurry of “go” signs to the C.I.A. sniper teams strategically arranged along the third and fourth floor of the hotel’s facing buildings. After that? God only knows – especially with Romney’s wife, Ann, standing directly in the line of fire…
“There are some things that you just can’t imagine happening in your life,” he said, “This is one of them.”
Six Signs of the Anti-Christ: Murder in Dallas … Empire on the Potomac … Monkey Brains Kept Alive Outside Skull…
“What many people do not realize is that events of today are already paving the way for a world dictator,” wrote Salem Kirban, the popular evangelical writer, in the preface to his 1970 novel 666. The signs of Anti-Christ, he explained, could be seen in newspaper headlines. “On the next few pages are true reproductions of actual excerpts taken from newspapers in 1969,” he said. “Read them carefully. [They] may serve to awaken you to the End Times … and how close we are to the time when the antichrist will be welcomed by the millions who will hail him as hero and leader.”
One of the stories Kirban singled out was a United Press International story from June of 1969: “U.S. Is Fast Becoming Elective Dictatorship, Sen. Fulbright Says.” Its subject was a speech given by senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. Fulbright, a democrat, is best remembered today for his “Fulbright Program,” a system of grants established for Americans hoping to study abroad. In 1969, Fulbright was chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, and one of the most prominent critics of the Vietnam War in government.
“The future can hold nothing for us except endless foreign exertions, chronic warfare, burgeoning expense and the proliferation of an already formidable military-industrial-labor complex,” he said, barring a radical correction of course. “In short,” Fulbright concluded, “the militarization of American life.”
Should the United States “become an Empire,” he explained, “there is very little chance that it can avoid becoming a virtual dictatorship as well.”
The statement did its work – it grabbed headlines. On a practical level, Fulbright’s remarks were just a dramatic preface for a senate debate on a non-binding resolution designed to sanction the executive branch for acting unilaterally in international affairs. This nuance, however, is not reproduced in 666. Kirban restricts his selections to Fulbright’s most dramatic – and most apocalyptic – prophecy.
Fox News has been doing the same thing this week: airing, with great solemnity, brief clips of a crowd of Black Lives Matter activists chanting “pigs in a blanket, fry em’ like bacon!” as they marched behind an animated white woman on the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair. The clip – less than twenty-seconds long – has become the locus of a patented Fox News micro-controversy. Guests have been grilled. Anchors have editorialized indignantly. On the August 31st edition of his ailing talk show, Bill O’Reilly staunchly refused to call Black Lives Matter anything but a hate group, explaining that they “hate police,” and want to see them dead.
It’s easy to look at this behavior as crass and manipulative, because it is. But it’s something else, too.
Back in 1969, a few months before Senator Fulbright appeared in the headlines spouting doom, Jim Garrison, the district attorney of the parish of Orleans, Louisiana, had his own fearful brush with prominence. He’d brought a minor C.I.A. spook to trial – a man named Clay Shaw. The charge, morally and legally, was conspiracy. Shaw, Garrison believed, had been part of the secret plot to murder John F. Kennedy. His closing statement at trial was distributed to the press.
“I thought you might want to have a copy of the enclosed,” the D.A. wrote to Art Kunkin, an editor at the Los Angeles Free Press. “I am quite aware that it was neither one of the more impelling arguments nor one of the most important parts of the trial, but it was the only place where we had the opportunity to touch, at least, the realities behind the whole affair.”
Garrison’s reality was this: “The Government’s handling of the investigation of John Kennedy’s murder was a fraud […] the greatest fraud in the history of our country [and] probably the greatest fraud ever perpetrated in the history of humankind.” It wasn’t just about covering up the murder of a sitting president – it was about covering up what the United States of America had become less than two-hundred years into its history as an independent state.
The people of both the jury and the nation, Garrison continued, did not “have to accept the continued existence of the kind of government which allows this to happen.”
“The government does not consist only of secret police and domestic espionage operations and generals and admirals,” he said. “The government consists of people.”
For Garrison, the facts of the case were exceeded by the truth behind them. Shaw may have been the one on trial, but really, the alleged conspirator was just a cipher – a bit of practical machinery necessary to bring Garrison’s religious investigation into a court of law.
Just how real is the world out there?
Fox News is full of shit. Taking less than a minute of footage of less than a hundred protesters in Minnesota and tying it into the killing of a sheriff’s deputy in Houston the day before is deceptive. It treats Black Lives Matter, a populous and geographically diverse coalition of activists, as if they were a monolithic entity with a coherent system of public messaging.
But Fox News is full of shit, and their primary demographic is dying off like weeds in the wintertime – so they need all the help they can get. Teasing a race war keeps their ratings up – but, more importantly, it also provides raw material perfectly suited for the hothouse fungi of the Internet. Whether you think Fox News is full of shit or Black Lives Matter is full of criminals, that twenty-seconds of footage is salacious enough to hang a whole think-piece off of – and brief enough that it can summed up in a tweet, or summarized by a jpeg screen capture and twelve words of Impact commentary.
I’d like to say “we’re all Salem Kirban now,” but sadly, it isn’t true. 666 used its truncated news as background material for a tale of strange salvation – a catastrophic dream that, ultimately, affirms the essential dignity of both Kirban’s characters – and his readers. Few works are so humane.
American politics, writ large, are more than statistics on the size of rallies and speculation on the latest polls. These “objective” elements are, in fact, as much material as paint and paper – from them, the artists of reality go to work, spinning tales of the saints and sinners of a democratic process that (some fear) might not exist as anything other than a persistent fantasy.
When Donald Trump announced his candidacy on June 16th he rambled for a little more than forty minutes about foreigners and political corruption and the tarmac at LaGuardia. Few of his themes approached a definite conclusion.
At the end of the speech, however, he found a line that echoed. “Sadly,” Trump proclaimed, “the American dream is dead.”
That he still leads the polls shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s easy to make friends at the end of the world.
What, Exactly, is Going On?
The study of religion is the study of countless realities, and the equally countless modes of navigation employed by human beings as they move between them, moment by moment – year by year. Faith and belief are, in this model, forms of both movement and attachment. Jim Garrison, for instance, believed that the death of president Kennedy coincided with the death of the federal government’s foundation in truth. While the facts of his case against Clay Shaw were undoubtedly important, the D.A. saw “reality” in the abstract issue he derived from them. No proof could, irrefutably, link Garrison’s material evidence with his immaterial philosophy. But at this level of play, “truth” means little, because everything is true.
Kirban saw the “reality” of the coming Anti-Christ presaged by about two paragraphs of Fulbright.
Fulbright saw an “elective dictatorship” lurking in the bowels of the Nixon Whitehouse, and sought to allay his political fear with an empty act of parliament – a little bit like flashing a cross at Nosferatu.
Dr. Frank B. Harris saw a two-thousand foot crow, perched smart upon the moon. Through some trick of God and optics, he gazed through the glass of his telescope and saw something that could not be – but was.
Through the eyepiece of Fox News, you’ll see a potential race war at the Minnesota State Fair. Look at Fox News through some of the most extreme political ecosystems on the Internet, and you’ll see a vast clandestine plot to cover up a race war already in progress.
Blame it on the wind, or the beating of vast wings – but the “truth” of American politics does not originate in the material world. Its truths are pure, red spirit – temporarily and inconsistently instantiated, stitched together by the ritual augury of headlines…
Declaration of Principles
Every week, this column will address the issue of religion as it appears in the conspiracy of incidents, interpretations and prophecies surrounding the 2016 presidential election.
My mandate isn’t just to cover religion in the election (although I hear Rick Perry has been asking his staffers to take a vow of poverty). Salem 66 is about the religion of the election – the multiple realities our electorate now occupies, and the bonds of faith and prejudice and suspicion through which this occupation is announced and reified.
Next week I’ll probably have to write about Donald Trump.