Educated Fanatics

I’ve been reading a book about the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, when radical Islamist students stormed the US Embassy and took 66 Americans hostage, ostensibly to demand the return of the exiled Shah, who had been admitted into the US for cancer treatment. Later the hostage-takers acknowledged that the events had nothing to do with the Americans or the Shah but were about destabilizing the moderate Bazargan government and consolidating power for radical Islamists, both of which goals were accomplished. I am not making a statement about the justification for the assault but simply reporting what the main actors have said themselves.

The hostages all say pretty much the same things about their captors: these were educated young Iranians–at least in terms of having formal study–but who viewed the world through a hopelessly naive and dogmatic prism of religious extremism. Americans thought it was ridiculous for the captors to call the embassy a “den of spies,” but the students seemed genuinely to believe that every activity in the embassy was dedicated to destroying Iran and its new regime. Every embassy employee from secretaries to Marine guards to the cultural attache was accused of being a CIA operative, and many were beaten and threatened with execution unless they confessed. The rough treatment of the hostages, including solitary confinement, long periods of being bound and blindfolded, not being able to speak to each other can mostly be explained by their captors’ fervent belief that they were dealing with evil people who were torturing Iranians and plotting to make Iran part of their empire. They couldn’t fathom that most of the embassy staff was involved in mundane activities, such as processing visa applications and running the motor pool.

One Army warrant officer jokingly said he had been in charge of a “wheat mold” program to destroy Iranian crops, and later several hostages were beaten and interrogated about this insidious attempt to ruin Iran’s economy. Another was asked about his role in the 1953 overthrow of the Mossadegh government. He replied, “I don’t know anything about it. I was ten years old at the time.” The hostage-takers were sure that they had God on their side and that the rest of the world would soon embrace their radical Islamist vision of heaven on earth. One captor rapturously predicted, “The American people will revolute!”

As I read these things, I thought of the numerous politico-religious fanatics who have crawled out from the woodwork lately, who see everything in the world as some kind of Satanically inspired effort to destroy all that is good in the world. Thus, a call to stop bullying gay children becomes an insidious plot to recruit children by homosexual pedophiles; a modest attempt at healthcare reform is the first step towards a Stalinist system of repression; adoption of any moderate or liberal social or economic policies is worthy of execution; and sending children to a Labor-party summer camp is morally equivalent to mass murder. These are some examples of extremism a friend of mine shared from a Mormon message board where I used to post.

Yes, I know most of these folks are just trolls, but some of them actually believe the crap they spew. As much as I would prefer simply to mock these idiots, I recognize that there is a dangerous edge to them, as fanatics tend to sacrifice their values ostensibly in the service of those values. The hostage-takers, for example, espoused freedom, faith, and morality but engaged in theft, torture, kidnapping, and other crimes. They thought their behavior was entirely justified, even though it violated the tenets of Islam, as some of their hostages often reminded them. The same potential exists among some of our crazier Mormon-rightwing fanatics. I have no doubt that, in the service of liberty, they would be happy to deprive their enemies (liberals, feminists, gays, immigrants, and so on) of their liberty. For instance, we’ve seen efforts over the years not only to deny gay couples the right to work benefits but also the right to work in the military and in public service. In the effort to “protect the unborn,” these folks would force women to go through pregnancy but without the resources to care for their children; they have used humiliation, intimidation, and plain hatred in their quest to celebrate the dignity of human life.

But these people are just like the hostage-takers: they believe fervently in a reality created by talk radio and extremist Mormon rhetoric, and they reject any facts or information that conflicts with that reality. Unlike them, I am happy to let them vent their nonsense. As the recent election showed, their vision of America is not appealing to most Americans, even Republican voters. What worries me is that too many right-wingers are responding not by thinking about what changes they need to make to become politically relevant again but by talking about civil war and secession. One of my coworkers said he thinks the only solution is revolution: “I’m ready.” A more extreme example is the Mormon woman in Arizona who ran over her husband with her SUV because he hadn’t voted, thus dooming the world to four more years of Obama.

I know, most conservatives do not have such warped thought processes (I am a conservative Republican, by the way), but there are too many crazy people out there.


9 Responses to Educated Fanatics

  1. Seth R. says:

    This isn’t a conservative problem Runtu. I hear equally extreme and ridiculous things coming from the political left. It’s basically merely a feature of human nature. I found this article interesting on the point of why smart people can be pretty stupid at times:

  2. Dave says:

    Hey Runtu, I enjoy reading your comments and views here and on I tend to think that being educated has little to do with how correct ones views are regarding politics or religion. People in general tend to adopt opinions and beliefs without really doing enough research into things. Many well educated people still cling to Mormon dogma and refuse to see through it. The same is true in politics. Most of these people haven’t been able to break free of the programming they received growing up and then by the media they have allowed themselves to be subjected to through the years. The establishment media greatly distorts our world view from what would be a correct picture of reality. Control the information control the people. Powerful interests discovered long ago the power of the media in shaping (social engineering) the way society thinks and views the world. Most people fail to realize this. Yes, the media lies and distorts the truth. Am I beginning to sound like a conspiracy theorist? I am, and the events of history and the world in which we live has greatly been shaped by the activities of conspirators much more than most people realize.

    Perhaps the Iranian students did poses some radical world views stemming from their religious beliefs but I don’t blame them for having a distrust for any operations involving our CIA. I can document many serious crimes carried out by our CIA if you like.

    I use to be a conservative republican, by the way, but have renounced the neocons and have become a libertarian constitutionalist. I believe as Barry Goldwater did when he said ” Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”.

    I am convinced that our constitutional republic and our liberties are under deliberate attack by very powerful interests and we ( free humanity ) are dangerously close to loosing this battle. If you agree with this view then our research has brought us to the same conclusions, if not, I would like to hear why you might disagree.


    • runtu says:


      I’m not disputing that. We could go through a litany of CIA ops from Arbenz to Mossadegh to Allende ad infinitum. What I was commenting on is the absolute dogmatic belief among the hostage-takers as to who and what these embassy personel were. There were four or five CIA agents among the hostages, but the hostage-takers thought they all were and that there was an active plot to reinstate the Shah. Neither was true.

  3. Mahonri says:

    Are you certain the woman who ran over her husband was L-dS?

  4. Odell Campbell says:

    I think when any of us limit our information to one-type of source; we can lose balance and perspective. That loss leads to skewed thinking and fanaticism.

    History is so replete of examples of fanatical groups, it leads me to balance that every one of us, given the isolation of information, could become a fanatic, too.

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