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“The Conspiracy Theorists And Doomsday Preppers”: Ben Carson, American Gun Advocates, And The Fantasy Of Individual Heroism

Chances are that you are not a hero. That is to say that you do your job and live your life, but seldom if ever are you called upon to do something extraordinary in a life-or-death moment, some spectacular act of bravery that calls upon otherworldy cunning and physical skill. Compared to a Hollywood action film, your life is rather mundane and ordinary. You don’t begin your week on Monday knowing that by Friday you will have leaped from explosions, taken down ninja death squads, or battled supervillains.

It’s fun to indulge those fantasies from time to time—with enough money, time, and training, maybe I could be Batman!—but most of us are level-headed enough to realize that they are just fantasies. They certainly shouldn’t be the source of judgments we make about our fellow human beings, let alone the basis for policymaking.

But not everyone agrees. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, for instance, has recently attracted a great deal of attention for saying that unlike those cowering sheep who were killed by a gunman in Roseburg, Oregon, he would have quickly organized his fellow victims-to-be and rushed the shooter. In the ensuing discussion, Carson’s similar views about the Holocaust came to light—that if the Jews had more guns and more gumption, they could have stood up to Hitler and, if not stopped the genocide entirely, at least … well, at least done something or other.

As a piece of historical analysis, this is positively deranged, as any historian will tell you. But it’s also widely shared on the right, not just when it comes to World War II in particular but as a way to understand the broader relationship between the individual and government. Take, for instance, this execrable op-ed on from frequent on-air contributor Keith Ablow, which basically argues that the Holocaust happened because German Jews were too wimpy to rise up, find some guns, and do the job.

As Jacob Bacharach reminds us, plenty of Jews did fight back, not only in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising but among resistance forces spread throughout Europe in the places Germany occupied. And what happened to them? They mostly got slaughtered, because they were fighting against a vastly stronger force, the Wehrmacht. It took the combined might of the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and about 20 smaller countries to actually defeat the Nazis. But Carson and others want to believe the Jews could have done the job, too, if only they had some guts and a few bolt-action rifles.

And why might they think that? I’d suggest that it’s because their ideas are shaped by a particular kind of Hollywood fantasy, one in which individual heroism and ample firearms are the means by which enormous, sweeping problems can be solved.

Though it hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should in the coverage of his candidacy, Carson is succeeding in part because he is the candidate of a particular portion of the Republican fringe, the conspiracy theorists and doomsday preppers who watch Glenn Beck, listen to Alex Jones, and know that the apocalypse is around the corner. One of the key components of the ideology these people imbibe is not just that you’re on your own, but that on your own you can do anything. Society will disintegrate, vast conspiratorial forces are arrayed against you, jackbooted government thugs are about to come knocking at your door—but if you’ve got your AR-15 and a strong will, you can turn them all back and maintain our freedom. Not only that, the only reason it hasn’t happened yet is because the government knows and fears your potency.

This fantasy—at once maniacally paranoid and looking desperately forward to the day the opportunity for heroism comes—is fed by the gun industry, the NRA, and gun advocates like Carson. It tells people they need to have lots of guns stockpiled at home, and to always carry their gun everywhere they go. Because today could be the day when everything depends on your willingness to use deadly force.

Now think for a moment about how Hollywood action films work. They’re seldom about large armies facing off, with the individuals within them each playing their small but important role. Instead, they show us a solitary hero or small band of comrades doing spectacular things against far superior forces. Arnold Schwarzenegger mows down hundreds of faceless enemies who never manage to lay a hand on him; Liam Neeson cracks the necks of dozens of thugs on his way to save his daughter; Sylvester Stallone single-handedly defeats the entire North Vietnamese army; Jennifer Lawrence overthrows a brutal dictatorship with a few friends and some well-aimed arrows.

If you don’t appreciate that these are fantasies, it might make perfect sense to think that Germany’s Jews could have stopped the Holocaust by being more gutsy. In real life, though, that’s not how it works. Armies aren’t defeated by a lone hero with a gun and a ready quip; armies are defeated by bigger, better armies (or in some cases by organized, decades-long insurgencies). Dictatorships aren’t brought down by a single act of defiance; more often it takes years or even decades of protest, organizing, and arduous work.

All of the Republican candidates would probably tell you that owning a gun (or two or twelve) is a good idea to protect your family. This happens to be wrong; a gun in your home is far more likely to wind up killing one of your family members than it is to defend you from a home invasion. But at least it’s possible. And you might, someday, commit an act of heroism that saves people’s lives, even if most of us never do. But the chance that you will buy a gun and use it to stop a fascist takeover of America is precisely zero, not only because there won’t be a fascist takeover, but because if there were, you and your gun wouldn’t stop it from happening.

Ben Carson imagines himself a Hollywood hero. If he were in that classroom in Oregon, no one might have died. And if he were a Jew in Germany in 1939, he would have hidden away a revolver, stood up to the SS, and before you know it, Hitler would have been taken care of. Right now, he’s speaking for everyone who shares his fantasy. And it looks like there are plenty of people who do.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, October 11, 2015

October 14, 2015 - Posted by | Ben Carson, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , ,


  1. Actually, the more likely reason why Carson, Beck, and the like won’t stop a fascist takeover with their guts and guns would be because they would be the ones leading it.


    Comment by List of X | October 14, 2015 | Reply

  2. Where does this end and to what purpose does it serve? How about what if Jesus and his disciples had Uzis? What if the slaves had AK47s – oh I should have called them workers as some new whitewash text books call them?

    Or, a far better and realistic question. What if the Northern Arizona student did not have a weapon in his car? If so, when he lost a fight, people would not be dead and he would not be in jail? Or, what about the family and friends who got shot by a toddler as a weapon was lying around? Or, what about the sons and daughters who became so despondent over cruel social media that they went and found Dad ‘s gun and acted on impulse? Those are the questions we should be asking.


    Comment by Keith | October 14, 2015 | Reply

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