Seymour Hersh and Michael Weinstein Share Conspiracy Theories

A few weeks ago, Seymour Hersh, whose fame is essentially centered on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, made headlines when he said portions of the US military were trying to conquer and convert the Muslim world:

The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh alleged in a speech in Qatar that key branches of the U.S. military are being led by Christian fundamentalist “crusaders” who are determined to “turn mosques into cathedrals.”

Hersh specifically cited now-retired General Stanley McChrystal and, more vaguely, much of the US Special Operations community.  He claimed members of the US military were members of a small sect of Christianity out to continue the crusades:

He then alleged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”…

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

While some gave deference to Hersh’s journalistic credentials, others were quick to point out Hersh provided no support for his statements, nor did he indicate there was any means by which he even could.  The original author, Blake Hounshell, had an interesting quote to summarize one of Hersh’s accusations:

The plural of anecdote is not data — and acknowledging there are devout Christians in the military and implying that top military leaders are embarking on a “crusade” against Muslims are two very different things.

The interesting highlight here is that Hersh’s remarks were actually critically analyzed, in one case “rebuked,” or at least questioned, by some in the mainstream press.

By contrast, the vitriolic conspiracy theories of Michael Weinstein and his MRFF have essentially gone unquestioned.  Weinstein and his group have said Christians in the US are trying to reinstitute the Holocaust, establish a theocracy, forcibly convert military subordinates, etc — all as part of some secret Christian coup.  Gordon Duff, frequent purveyor of MRFF press releases at Veteran’s Today as well as its “chairman of the board,” recently said

Through the bungling of high ranking members of a secretive “crusader cult,” headquartered at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, can we now explain the mysterious failures of the “war on terror,” the WMD hunt in Iraq and the Osama bin Laden fiasco, withholding the announcement of his death in 2001?

Dominionists are one of a series of politically active religious cults currently in control of the United States Air Force and the Army.  They gained control though the chaplains corps years ago…

The Air Force Academy and West Point have been taken over, controlled for decades now…

The pressure that members of the military are subjected to, cadets, recruits, serving military around the world, by the cult, one that controls promotions, forces soldiers and cadets in training to change religious beliefs, no Jews allowed, no Muslims, that we know for sure, has been carefully documented for years by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Interestingly, the Colorado Springs Gazette published a piece on conspiracy theories at nearly the same time Michael Weinstein was gearing up for his lawsuit against the Academy, claiming the leadership there was some secretive group trying to convert cadets.  The article reads like a primer on Michael Weinstein’s accusations against the military:

[Conspiracy] theories revel in their vagueness — they often lack details about who did what, when and where. This makes them fundamentally difficult to disprove with evidence to the contrary — especially to true believers.

Oh sure, there is often copious evidence to counter any popular conspiracy theory, but because these theories are vague, a true-believer can always come up with a way to either discount that particular piece of evidence or — even more cleverly — to show that the counter-evidence is in fact proof of an even wider conspiracy to cover up the truth — your basic “conspiracy wrapped in a deep-fried cover-up.”

This is textbook Weinstein.  MRFF researcher Chris Rodda often makes vague accusations of wrongdoing, sometimes merely saying ‘Christian officer did X,’ as if the “crime” should be intuitively obvious to the casual observer.  The MRFF’s accusations are supported almost exclusively by insinuation, anecdote and anonymous complaints.  In keeping with the Gazette‘s framework, MRFF board member Rick Baker fills the role of the clever “true believer” who can turn any refutation into further “proof” of a clandestine coup.  (He most notably said James Dobson and Dick Cheney were running the country in a secret shadow government.)

Continuing with the article:

And this leads to a bigger problem: Most popular conspiracy theories simply involve too many diverse people to be believable. Once you’ve gotten at the heart of most popular conspiracy theories, you should defiantly feel like you are in the minority relative to those who are in on the conspiracy.

Imagine all those scientists “hiding the decline” in mean global temperatures. Or the literally hundreds of people it would require to fake the moon landing or a Hawaiian birth certificate. Just like your mother told you about secrets: If you want to keep it, keep it to yourself. A conspiracy would work the same way, the more people who know about it, the more likely it would be to be found out.

This is where Weinstein’s conspiracies are weakest.  The US military is a public, government institution of more than 3 million uniformed members from all walks of life.  The belief that any secretive group could be promoting an institutional religion or planning an “evangelical coup” and yet have no one else know about it is asinine on its face.  Yet that is precisely what the MRFF’s representatives assert.

And, oddly enough, these conspiracy theories, like Weinstein’s claims of an upcoming Holocaust, go largely unnoticed or unchallenged.

Of course, Seymour Hersh apparently has some credibility left in the public sphere; at least, he did before he made this speech.  Michael Weinstein, by contrast, has faded so far into irrelevancy that his alliterative attacks rarely get the press they once did.  This has likely relegated his ridiculous accusations to the level of “not worth it.”