Tuesday, August 22, 2017

#1887: Peter Leithart

Peter Leithart is a theocrat and president of Theopolis Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, & Cultural Studies in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also the author of numerous books, some coauthored with George Grant or Gary DeMar, including a series of children’s bedtime stories that we haven’t read but nevertheless recommend that parents who wish to raise wholesome, good and wise kids avoid with a passion. Taking a cue from Islamic fundamentalists – reconstructionists like Leithart tend to harbor a certain envy for radical jihadists – Leithart has presented “American Christians with a call to martyrdom,” in particular as a response to the legality of abortion and gay marriage: “Throughout Scripture,” Leithart says (in his book Between Babel and Beast), “the only power that can overcome the seemingly invincible omnipotence of a Babel or a Beast is the power of martyrdom, the power of the witness to King Jesus to the point of loss and death.” At least Leithart, as opposed to some dominionist, recognizes that the type of hatred and bigotry he would prefer be the law is neither popular nor embedded in the Constitution: “To be faithful, Christian witness must be witness against America.” How Leithart’s claims are relevantly different from a Taliban video is less clear, insofar as Leithart is explicitly and repeatedly calling for Christians to seek martyrdom in combat against America and its values.

It is probably not even worth mentioning that Leithart is a young-earth creationism; indeed, he doesn’t even seem to bother with the science: any semblance of criticism of a literary reading of the Bible from science or history is for Leithart entirely beside the point.

Diagnosis: He does his best to make himself ideologically indistinguishable from the most delusionally rabid Taliban jihadists – and he seems to have a number of followers (David Lane, for instance). Dangerous.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

#1886: Noson Leiter

More from the fuming, delusional hatred department. Noson Leiter, of the rather unappealingly named Torah Jews for Decency, is apparently one of the Religious Right’s favorite rabbis, and has appeared at Tea Party conferences along with luminaries like Rick Scarborough. Leiter rose to a modicum of fame when he blamed Hurricane Sandy on New York’s marriage equality law. He was, of course, not the only dingbat to do so, but might have been the only one to point out the appearance of a double rainbow after the storm as evidence that Hurricane Sandy was a sequel to the Flood (which God, according to the Bible, explicitly promised never to do again). Leiter had previously worked with Liberty Counsel and New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms in an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn said law. Not everyone was impressed with Leiter’s observations.

Leiter has also asserted that the “end game” of the gay rights movement is “child molestation.” (No, he has no decency, which is presumably why he feels the need to put “decency” in the name of his organization.) “They are after our kids,” says Leiter; “they are after the bibles and guns that Americans cling to but they are also after us and after our kids.” He also warned that gay rights advocates “will not rest until all of their opposition is totally eliminated,” but fortunately assured us that they will ultimately lose, because “the Lord will vanquish evil.” Apparently, this is a recurring theme; also in connection with blaiming Hurricane Sandy on the gays, Leiter said that the “LGBT radical homosexualist movement” will increase child abuse by giving molesters a “license to victimize” children and even “a certain degree of diplomatic immunity.”

Here is Leiter in 2013 warning then-Senate candidate Tom Price about the “tremendous medical health impact and economic impact” of the “homosexual agenda” and asking him (Price) whether Congress will consider studying the “fiscal impact” that “promoting such a lifestyle will result in.” Leiter’s general point was ostensibly (but not really) that any bill involving social issues should require a study of the “fiscal impact” the legislation would have. Price agreed, of course.

Diagnosis: Hate, hate and more hate, fuelled by fanatic delusions. Same as always.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

#1885: Tim LeFever

Tim LeFever is a two-time Republican nominee for Congress in the Sacramento area, chairman of the board of the Capitol Resource Institute, member of the board of directors of The Pacific Justice Institute – both fundie anti-gay organizations, if you wondered – and occasional writer for Townhall (which is pretty much a fundie anti-gay organization as well). The CRI and LeFever did for instance get some attention for their efforts to repeal the 2011 California landmark gay education bill, which ensures that contributions of gays and gay rights are included in school textbooks, and adds sexual orientation to the state’s existing anti-discrimination protections prohibiting bias in school activities, instruction, and instructional materials. The reason the bill should be repealed was ostensibly because it, according to Lefever, undermines lessons in the Constitution. (Yeah, no: it’s hard to believe that Lefever really believed that.) Meanwhile, Robert Newman, head of California Christian Coalition, said about the bill that he was concerned about the protections against bullying, claiming that bullying is not an important issue and anyways part of the “maturation process.”

Currently LeFever seems to be particularly concerned with preventing people from using bathrooms that accord with their gender identity.

Diagnosis: A person with some influence in the wingnut movement, though probably not among the more familiar faces. Still, loons like this deserve exposure.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#1884: Sin Hang Lee

Sin Hang Lee is an MD and formerly pathologist at the Milford Hospital pathology laboratory (where he received the boot in 2010), who has gained a reputation for himself for scaremongering about the Gardasil vaccine (facts here). His ideas about HPV DNA are silly and have been widely discredited, but that matters less to the antivaxx crowd than his credentials and that he tells them what they like to hear, and he is currently one of the more sought-after antivaxx voices for various antivaxx events – he appears, together with an impressive array of other conspiracy theorists, for instance in the recent “documentary” The Truth About Vaccines.

Lee has been reasonably well-known in the conspiracy community for a while, but made a bit of a splash in 2011 when the conspiracy website SANE Vax claimed to find “Recombinant HPV DNA” in “multiple samples of Gardasil”. Lee, of course, was the guy (“well-known for using cutting-edge DNA sequencing for molecular diagnoses”) contacted to perform the analyses. Of course, we are not informed about how he got the results – there is no scientific article or report attached to the findings, and neither he nor SANE Vax would tell us because they need to “protect the proprietary processes and information utilized by our laboratory to test the samples.” That is one pretty enormous red flag, insofar as testing for DNA contamination is otherwise a pretty straightforward affair, at least if the amount of contamition is sufficient to be anything to conceivably worry about. Nor do SANE Vax tell us how much was detected, which is rather telling; it turns out that the quantities were so small that Lee had to use nested PCR to detect it, which means that they are close to homeopathic (if Lee really found anything at all). Moreover, one would need some serious pseudoscience to dream up a possible mechanism by which such DNA would be harmful, but at least Lee is perfectly willing to provide that:  the HPV DNA in Gardasil™ is not ‘natural’ DNA. It is a recombinant HPV DNA (rDNA) – genetically engineered – to be inserted into yeast cells for VLP (virus-like-particle) protein production. rDNA is known to behave differently from natural DNA. It may enter a human cell, especially in an inflammatory lesion caused by the effects of the aluminum adjuvant, via poorly understood mechanisms.” That is utter nonsense (but common nonsense in anti-vaxx groups), but we suspect that most of SANE Vax’s regular audience wouldn’t know, so claims like this probably do their tricks among the target audience. More details here.

So, basically Lee is the source of a fear mongering campaign derived from a nonexistent understanding of molecular biology, if not on his part then certainly on the part of his intended audience (what he is pushing is ultimately nothing but a version of the toxins gambit). And Lee has continued in the same vein, claiming that deaths not caused by the HPV vaccine were caused by the HPV vaccine and publishing case reports in what appears to be predatory journals based on laughable methodology (indeed, it becomes clear when looking at the report that Lee deliberately made poor methodological choices; one wonders why.)

His research has, of course, been endorsed by various antivaccine activists and pseudoscience groups, such as the deranged conspiracy theory and anti-science hate group (!) the American College of Pediatricians (not to be confused with the reputable American Academy of Pediatrics, though the ACP certainly revels in the confusion).

Diagnosis: Pseudoscientist and crackpot, who seems to have a penchant for choosing the methodology for investigation based on what is most likely to create fear and sensation rather than accuracy. Dangerous.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#1883: Richard Lee

Most people are aware of conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 or the JFK shootings, but it turns out to be difficult to find a major event in history that has not been subjected to conspiracy theory. There is a whole industry of conspiracies surrounding the suicide of Kurt Cobain, for instance, and Seattle public access TV presenter and independent journalist Richard Lee is probably its most famous promoter. According to Lee, Courtney Love collaborated with Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic – and probably many more whose motives and identities remain shrouded in shadows – to kill Cobain, and Lee will apparently stop at nothing to prove his hypotheses true, g the fact that they are obviously false and ridiculous notwithstanding.

To promote his ideas Lee produced a show called Now See It Person to Person: Was Kurt Cobain Murdered? (later the somewhat more assertive Now See It Person To Person: Kurt Cobain Was Murdered), which was running weekly for years (with some involuntary hiatuses) and might still be online for all we know; Lee is at least still pushing the conspiracy theories, and has over the years acquired a number of restraining orders for stalking people he thinks were involved or know something about Cobain’s death. There is a fine portrait of Lee here.

Over the years Lee has also tried to run for various political offices. He ran for Seattle City Council in 1999, but a judge ruled him ineligible because he reused old petition signatures to get on the ballot. In 2001, Lee ran for mayor of the city of Seattle, and used the opportunity to question other candidates about a supposed cover-up regarding the investigation of Cobain’s death.

Of course, Lee is not the only one to push Kurt Cobain murder conspiracy theories. Others include:

  • Tom Grant, a private investigator hired by Courtney Love to find Cobain after he went missing from a rehab facility, and then to investigate Cobain’s death. Grant came to believe that Cobain was murdered by Love.
  • Eldon “El Duce” Hoke of the band The Mentors, who claimed that Courtney Love offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain. Hoke’s later death in an accident only fuelled the conspiracy theorists.
  • Ian Halperin and Max Wallace, who wrote two books, Who Killed Kurt Cobain? and Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain (2004), the latter with help from Tom Grant.

Richard Lee the conspiracy theorist should be distinguished from Religious Right figure Richard Lee, editor of the American Patriot’s Bible and paranoid persecution myth promoter.

Diagnosis: Colorful, belligerent and probably mostly harmless (except for the harassment issues, which I suppose are serious enough), but also representative for a mindset that is not particularly harmless at the scale we are observing at present.