Twice on the pipe if the answer is no

Twice on the pipe if the answer is no July 4, 2023

• “I’m being indicted for you,” the Former Guy told his biggest fans last month at Ralph Reed’s latest version of White Christian Nationalist Woodstock.

This is messianic language, which isn’t new. Trump has long told his followers that he and he alone can save them and they have long believed it. But I don’t quite grasp how this works, even as an analogy.

Trump is telling him that he is like Jesus, indicted on their behalf and suffering in their place. But this Christ imagery suggests that he and they believe that he has been indicted for their sins. Yet the whole Trumpian movement insists that his MAGA fans and followers are, like him, sinless.

I don’t think any of them have really thought this through. Then again, look at that image from Newsmax with the split-screen showing Trump’s remarks alongside an ad for a brazenly grifty gold-coin scam bearing Trump’s name. Not really thinking things through seems to come easy to these folks.

That screencap captures the essence of Trump’s MAGA movement: it’s half messianic claims of pseudo-religious salvation, half predatory con fleecing anyone naive enough to take him seriously.

• Speaking of the cross between fervor and flim-flam, here’s a fun RNS piece by Fiona Andre: “Summertime spirits: Village of Lily Dale reopens for believers and doubters alike.”

Lily Dale is something between a village and a summer camp on the shores of the upper Cassadaga lake in western New York. As Andre writes:

About 10,000 people attend Lily Dale every summer to meet with mediums who they believe can connect with the spirits of their dead relatives. Established in the late 1870s, the village of Lily Dale has been a mecca for spiritualism and mediumship ever since. With the COVID-19 pandemic’s official end, the village is reopening without any restrictions, allowing seasoned regulars and curious first-timers to cross paths at “the Dale” after a hiatus of three years.

… Western New York has held a special place in the spiritualist community since the practice arrived in the U.S. in the 1840s. The region is believed to have special properties that ease the connection with spirits.

Lily Dale is smack in the middle of the “Burned-over district” — the region of western New York that produced so much religious passion and innovation in the 19th century that it had to export the excess. This was ground zero for the Second Great Awakening and for the birth of the Latter Day Saints and home to a fascinating variety of spiritual and religious movements, reformers, activists, prophets, teachers, and con artists.

The Burned-over district also gave us the Fox sisters of Hydeville, then of Rochester, and then of Lily Dale. Kate and Maggie Fox learned to communicate with the spirits of the dead using “rapping” and snapping noises as a kind of auditory ouija board. They became famous (and wealthy) as mediums, drawing visitors from all over the world to the tiny village of Lily Dale who came seeking to speak with their departed loved ones. Most of those visitors went away happy even though, of course, it was all a trick. Part of that trick was knowing what it was that people wanted to hear their dead relatives “say” to them and the other part mostly involved the Fox sisters’ talent for loudly cracking their toes, feet, ankles and knees.

The spiritualism of the Fox sisters got mixed into the brew of religious fervor and activism in the Burned-over district, drawing admirers and getting entangled with some of the religious reformist movements of the time including, ironically, the temperance movement. That was ironic because Kate and Maggie Fox were alcoholics, which accounts for why they were never able to hang onto all the money they were raking in.

Eventually, after they’d been at this for more than 40 years, they accepted a New York City newspaper’s offer of $1,500 to confess, before a public audience, that the whole shtick was fake. They did that, followed by a well-paid speaking tour debunking their own prior claims. But that money didn’t last and the sisters drank themselves to death in 1892 and 1893, respectively.

The footnotes to the Wikipedia entry on the Fox sisters include a host of books by skeptics from their time, several of whom had figured out the trick long before the sisters confessed. I’d never heard of any of those authors and their books are now all out of print. But Lily Dale will still attract thousands of visitors this summer seeking to communicate with the departed through the many successful mediums plying their trade there. And thousands more will visit Cassadaga, Florida, where the Fox sisters’ legacy lives on in Lily Dale’s swampy southern spin-off.

• The idea of “ley lines” is a more recent development than the 19th-century spiritualism of the Fox sisters or Madame Blavatsky. It was the product of an early 20th-century British obsessive who got caught up in the realization that between any two points one could draw a perfectly straight line. If that isn’t yet giving you goosebumps, consider this: Those two points could be the Great Pyramid of Giza and Stonehenge. A line drawn between those two ancient, mysterious monuments would be perfectly straight.

That initial insight didn’t produce much excitement, but later “researchers” developed and complicated the idea, suggesting that these lines were the source of great mystical power that was harnessed by ancient druids and/or ancient alien astronauts.

But now our friends in the MAGA/NAR/Charisma/Strang-world are trying to make “ley lines” a thing here in the New World: “South Dakota State Rep. Joe Donnell Claims Mount Rushmore Is a Demonic Portal Spreading Communism Across the Nation.”

Donnell is just following the basic post-Peretti formula for “spiritual warfare” right-wing charismatics. Take whatever you hear on Coast-to-Coast AM or read in the Weekly World News or see on any of those “paranormal” shows on cable TV and treat it all as credible evidence of demons. UFOs and alien abductions? Demons. Cryptozoology? Demons. Frog-rain? Spiritualism? Mothman? Demons, demons, demons. Credulously embrace every form of paranormal nuttery you can find,* but reframe it all as “evidence” of spiritual warfare with demons.

That’s why white MAGA Pentecostals are now babbling about “ley lines” and masonic conspiracies in a way that would make the most credulous visitors to Lily Dale roll their eyes.

Meanwhile, there seems to be a split among the overlapping factions of NAR and QAnon “prophets,” because where some see Mount Rushmore as a demonic portal, others see it as Trump’s Holy Mount of Transfiguration.

* Except, of course, for lake monsters. Nessie and all of her cousins are fully embraced, but not as proof of demonic spiritual warfare. They are, instead, treated as proof of young-Earth creationism.

P.S. I had a lot of options for bad musical puns knocking the original raps of the Fox sisters. Could’ve gone with Dylan or Steve Miller but, as you can see from the title of this post, I opted for Tony Orlando and Dawn.

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