Glenn Beck likes books. He reads some. He writes some. And on his radio show this week, Glenn Beck defended his prior defense of a revisionist history text that had drawn criticism for its controversial depiction of slavery in the United States. Raw Story reported July 16 that the conservative radio talk show host was self-admittedly “doubling down” on his support.
“That book is absolutely right,” Beck said on his show. “That book, The 5000 Year Leap, changed my understanding of the United States government and our founders. It is the clearest, simplest, most direct way to teach what happened and why we were founded the way we were.”
Beck’s co-host, Steve Burguiere, stated that critics of the book had never submitted “one sentence from that book that was controversial.”
Perhaps, but The Raw Story didn’t find it too difficult to find parts of The 5000 Year Leap that might be considered at least somewhat controversial, if not blatantly so. In the book, author Cleon Skousen reveals the “story of slavery” by relying on the work and quoting historian Fred Albert Shannon. Those quotations make the claim that white boys during the era of slavery envied the freedom of black slave children. He also described those newly sold into slavery as “a cheerful lot.” There is also the claim that abolitionists spread false rumors about the mistreatment of black slaves. The book even goes so far as to claim that “slave owners were the worst victims of the system.”
Beck was taking exception to the criticism of the Arizona charter school, Heritage Academy, that requires the book as an historical textbook for class by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a non-sectarian, non-partisan advocacy group that promotes the legal doctrine of separation of church and state. The group says that the book, along with another Heritage Academy text, The Making of America (also written by Scousen), teaches “Christian propaganda” and not true history, noting that The 5000 Year Leap also claims that the institution of slavery was actually beneficial to African Americans.
But Glenn Beck doesn’t just support Heritage Academy and Scousen’s take on American history. He wants his listeners to buy it and read it.
There may be only a few people in America as into revisionist thinking — like, really, really into it — as pundit Glenn Beck, and over the years there has been no telling where the man’s spin on things will take the unwary viewer/listener of his various shows. But to take a topic as well-documented as the American slave trade and the “peculiar institution” of the American South and defend it as being a veritable era of freedom and general well-being could very well be seen by many as quite indefensible. As for defending the idea of the United States being a Christian nation, it would do those who harbor such a narrow view of the U. S. Constitution to look a bit beyong that exclusionary notion to the idea that the First Amendment was set up to protect American citizens from the hegemony of religious rule by any sect by denying any particular sect governmental legal imprimatur.
When advocating interpretative works, especially historical revisionist texts, care should be taken presenting them to certain intended audiences. Glenn Beck says it changed the way he looks at the U. S. government and the Fouding Fathers of the nation. And Glenn Beck is the guy everyone knows as the conservative talk show host with “Nazi Tourette’s” and capable of producing the most convoluted conspiracy theories imaginable.
As with all things that will eventually be seen by impressionable minds, like the students at Arizona’s Heritage Academy, a line for textbooks and other various scholarly stimuli can at times be drawn at considering the source. In this case, observers would do well to consider the controversy not only with regard to Beck but also with regard to those who feel the need for historical revisionism to reimagine the history of the United States.