Glenn Beck's Paranoid “Tipping Point”

The year Glenn Beck was born, Harper's published an essay by Richard Hofstadter in which the historian explained a “style of mind” common among “extreme right-wingers” of his time. He referred to it as “the paranoid style” for it adequately described this small minority's “sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” Today, it's become increasingly clear that no other conservative personifies Hofstadter's “paranoid spokesman” for the 21st century more than Fox News' Beck.

Wrote Hofstadter in his 1964 essay:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms -- he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said [Robert H.] Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack.”)

As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.

As Simon Maloy noted in December 2009, “Beck's America is one that is beset on all sides and constantly on the verge of collapse.” Indeed, for the past few years, Beck has perennially warned of an "Archduke Ferdinand moment," as well as an imminent "perfect storm," which he claims will be an “attack unlike anything ever before from multiple fronts.” On his February 25 show, for example, Beck stated: “The rain has begun to fall in the perfect storm. It has begun.”

During the same show, Beck announced:

BECK: We're at a tipping point. We've seen protests in Wisconsin spread from state to state. Van Jones has called on the, quote, “powers that be” in both parties to come together in solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin. He says organized workers, business leaders, veterans, students, youths, faith leaders, civil rights fighters, women's rights champions, immigrant rights defenders, LGBTQ stalwarts, environmentalists, academics, artists, celebrities, community activists, elected officials, and more -- he says they all need to come together and stand up for what is right. He goes on to say, quoting, “This is our tea party movement in a positive sense.”

America, we are living in a country that I said, two years ago, before the election of Barack Obama, I said there is gonna come a time when you wake up in America and you won't recognize it anymore.

This claim that we have arrived at a “tipping point” or that a specific event heralds a “tipping point” is another revealing element of Beck's apocalyptic rhetoric. For years, in fact, Beck has harped on this imaginary “tipping point” to set himself apart as today's premier paranoid stylist:

January 20, 2011:

BECK: All progressives have done is to say that people are cows and then they are ranchers, the elite.


BECK: Well, let me ask you: in a republic, who's working for cows? We the people.

If the elites and the marshal are building fences around, they don't answer to the cows. Who? Who answer to the cows? No one. They have flipped the entire system upside down. And how many Americans believe it now because they've been dumbed down?

These two ideas cannot coexist. They cannot. When you say, well, it's always been this way. No, it has not. We are now at the breaking or the tipping point where these two ideas can no longer coexist.

This is why you do not shut people up. You must decide. This is why I've been saying to you, you have to know what's true. [From Nexis]

February 3, 2010:

BECK: Here comes the tipping point: we are quickly approaching it -- where we don't make the best decisions for us, the citizens, anymore. They're not going to be made by us, the citizens. They are going to be made in the halls of large finance in Beijing.

We must wake up and stop spending. [From Nexis]

November 23, 2009:

BECK: We are at a tipping point. We are, could the government become more corrupt and us survive? I don't think so. Could they listen to you less than they do now and you have any voice? I don't think so. Would they spend more and you have any future left for your children? I don't think so. Could they be any more politically correct?


BECK: We're in a different world. We are, we are at the point of singularity. We are at the tipping point. The paradigm is about to shift, no matter what it is you want to call it. You feel it in your gut.

November 19, 2009:

BECK: The time is now to stand up. We're at a tipping point, and in the balance, this or this? The decision is being made. Are you are even in the game?

Look, I don't want to believe -- a year ago, I said all of this stuff must be crazy. But I no longer believe that anymore. I don't want to believe the things I believe about what's happening in Washington.

But we have a president who has surrounded himself with not free-market system lovers. These are people that don't want to increase America's prosperity. They are spending us into oblivion for their own purposes.


BECK: America, we are at a turning point - we are at a tipping point. You have to make a choice. Which one of these would you rather have ruling your life? If you don't believe in personal responsibility and want progressives and the government to decide everything for you, then you're probably for one of these 2,000-page bills that nobody has read because, quite honestly, they know better not to read them they're not going to be able to understand it anyway. It doesn't make sense. [From Nexis]

June 2, 2008:

BECK: So at what point do these numbers become frightening? At what point do these numbers tell the people in Washington, look out, the torches are coming for you clowns?

SCOTT RASMUSSEN (pollster): Well, they should be very concerned right now. It's not just these numbers. We have now been 30 years since Jimmy Carter won the White House after the Watergate affair. And in that time, there has been only one candidate who managed to win a mandate, a majority of the popular vote by a significant margin, and that was Ronald Reagan. And it's because the leaders are not connecting with the public. We haven't had a period like this since the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. And the political system is in serious trouble.

BECK: Do you believe that there is a tipping point? I mean, look, I talk to about 8 million people on my radio program all the time and I hear it. I hear the -- I hear -- I said last week that I thought Montana might actually, not secede from the union, just call it game over if the Supreme Court ever said that guns were a collective right, not an individual right. My phone and e-mail exploded. People saying, really, Montana, how can I buy property there? I mean, there are people that are just done with it. [From Nexis]

May 30, 2008:

BECK: I'm religious. And I feel this -- something coming. And I think you could talk to just about anybody that they feel something coming.

Is that -- in your words, would it be the singularity? Would it be that tipping point where everything is just going to start changing?

RAY KURZWEIL (inventor): Singularity is a pretty profound transformation. So, if people believe that there is something profound coming, that that would fit the bill. But it is going to come from our technology, which it is going to explode exponentially. [From Nexis]

May 19, 2008:

BECK: Bob, you told me, I don't know, about a month ago, you said if oil prices are still this high -- and they've only gotten higher since we last spoke.

BOB O'BRIEN (then-stocks editor at Barron's Online): Yes.

BECK: If it's this high July 4, that's a tipping point. What does that mean?

O'BRIEN: Well, that means you're going to be looking at $4 a gallon when you pull up to the pump. That means effectively that that's money that you're not going to be able to spend. [From Nexis]

July 12, 2007:

BECK: I just fear that these politicians have sown so much hatred, the Republicans have said, “Oh, it's the Democrats that are un- American.” And the Democrats are saying, “No, it's the Republicans that are un-American.”

And they've sown so much hatred. I'd hate to see what we might reap, especially once the game -- you know, what did you know and when did you know it. Both sides knew what was coming. We all know what's coming. It's just a matter of time.


BECK: The thing you have to do, America, is just prepare yourself and don't wait for the government to do it. You've got to take care of yourself.

The thing -- also, the other thing that frightens me is, what is the tipping point that turns people from, hey, let's be reasonable, let's be rational, to the America that put Japanese behind razor wire? What is the -- what's the trigger that makes good people go nuts and say, “Put them all behind wire”? [From Nexis]