Authoritarian

In this interview, I speak with Dave Troy. Troy is a tech entrepreneur and disinformation researcher. His research focuses on the intersection of sociology, network science, and political science. He believes that studying long-term historical conflicts — rather than focusing on individual politicians or personalities — is the best way to understand current political issues.

Right-wing, authoritarian interests plotted insurrection

When studying history, it is easy to notice parallels to recent political events. For example, in the 1930s, New Deal opposition culminated in an attempted insurrection, similar to the events of the capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021.

When Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933, the country was suffering from the Great Depression. Roosevelt promised to use the power of the government to create economic recovery through New Deal social programs and by abolishing the gold standard. Not surprisingly, industrialists and conservative, right-wing proponents vehemently opposed these changes.

In an attempt to stop the implementation of New Deal policies, right-wing financial magnates hatched a plot (sometimes referred to as the “Business Plot”) to replace Roosevelt with a dictator. They asked retired Marine Corps general Smedley Butler to lead the insurrection. Fortunately, Butler knew this to be treason and reported it to Congress, thus ending the effort.

There are obvious parallels between the motivations for the Business Plot and the ideas of modern conservatives. Opposition to the New Deal rested on the belief that is still common among right-wing, conservative thinkers: unfettered capitalism is the only defense against communism. Today, conservative pundits argue that any social program is the beginning of a slippery slope toward communism.

Elite, conservative interests say they support “sound money”

The same authoritarian network of interests that fought to preserve the gold standard in the 1930s is now advocating the broad implementation of cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies are designed to be “sound money,” which means that their purchasing power is determined by markets and cannot be controlled by the government. From 1834 until 1933, the United States used a sound money currency system: the gold standard.

Under the gold standard, the country’s currency was directly linked to the value of gold. During the Great Depression, bank failures and crippling deflation led citizens to hoard gold. Roosevelt’s proposed “fiat money” system (the system that is used in the United States today), would give the government and the banks more control over the economy because they would have the power to control how much money is printed, and the value of money would no longer be exclusively controlled by the market.

In the early 1930s, Guy and Edna Ballard founded a religious cult called I AM. The cult recruited members by telling people that the world was going to end and that to achieve salvation, people needed to turn over their bank accounts and life insurance policies to the cult’s leaders. The cult also spread anti-Roosevelt and pro-gold standard ideas. By 1938, the cult had more than a million followers.

Edna, her son Donald, and several other of the cult’s leaders were eventually indicted on 18 counts of fraud for collecting about $3 million from followers, and they were later indicted on counts of mail fraud. A jury initially found them guilty, but in 1946, on a second appeal, the Supreme Court vacated the fraud conviction, on the grounds that women were improperly excluded from the original jury.

Libertarian polemicist Robert LeFevre was one of I AM’s leaders who was indicted for fraud. Later, in 1956, LeFevre founded the “Freedom School,” which he ran until 1973. The purpose of the Freedom School was to teach students about LeFevre’s free-market economic philosophy. The school laid the foundation for and promoted American libertarianism. Charles Koch was one of the school’s pupils. Koch later became a trustee and provided significant financial support for the school.

The same authoritarian libertarian interests that were fighting to preserve the gold standard are now promoting cryptocurrencies and NFTs. Cryptocurrencies are very similar to many multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs). MLMs are predatory because they often require steep investments and promise massive returns that usually never come. Similarly, financial elites encourage people to invest in cryptocurrencies and NFTs and have marketed them as tools that can help “the little guy” get ahead. This is called “class collaboration” and weaponizes working-class people on behalf of the ultra-rich.

Understanding political interests is essential to understanding current events

When thinking about current political issues it is tempting to focus on individual politicians or specific events. However, I argue that it is much more effective to take a deep dive into the history of the coordinated efforts by special interest groups.

Troy says that the January 6 insurrection was orchestrated by a network of right-wing, authoritarian interests that has existed for decades, and on January 6, Donald Trump was essentially an “avatar” for that network of interests. The network of right-wing organizations that orchestrated the January 6 insurrection will continue to pursue their goals through any possible avenue. They will make new alliances or rename organizations as necessary. As Troy points out, it is important that we not get distracted by the antics of individuals and miss the underlying coordinated effort to dismantle democracy and establish a fascist dictatorship.

But shedding light on the interest groups that pose a threat to our democracy, tracking their attempts to disguise their true goals, and assessing their potential as authoritarian cults is critical. Once we identify nefarious groups and discuss their secretive and subversive tactics, we can begin to work effectively to counteract them.

Further Resources:

Dismantling Qanon, TEDxMidAtlantic (October 2020)

Oil, Gold, Crypto, and Fascism: How We Got Here and How to Fix It (Audio series by Dave Troy)

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right

Drilled podcast with Amy Westervelt

Disinformation Expert Dave Troy Explains Big History Behind January 6th

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