Thursday, May 24, 2018

#2018: Frank Monte

Few tragedies go by without some idiot moron connecting some dots to find whatever pattern their deranged brains wanted to see, and then forming some lunatic and dumb conspiracy theory. You can probably think of a few examples yourself, and the case in the present post is just an illustrative example chosen more or less at random: When Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace was gunned down in front of his South Miami Beach estate in 1997 by serial killer Andrew Cunanan, one who didn’t accept the official story but created his own was New York-based private detective and one-time Jackie Onassis bodyguard Frank Monte. According to Monte, as described in his book The Spying Game, Cunanan didn’t kill Versace; rather, it was the Italian Mob. According to Monte himself, he was hired by Versace a year before the latter’s death (false) because Versace had fallen afoul of the mob, and the hit was carried out by them using Cunanan as a patsy. The cops, according to Monte, never ran a match on the bullets. As for Cunanan, the Mob had killed him at least a week before the murder and kept his body on ice in the houseboat where he was eventually found. The videotape from Versace’s security camera, which clearly shows Cunanan running from the murder scene, is as far as we know left unexplained.

Apparently Monte has a bit of a story to him, failing in 2012, for instance, a legal bid to prevent the police cancelling his private investigator’s licence due to his “lack of moral integrity” and a history of ripping off clients. There is certainly a possibility that “loon” is not the most apt description of Frank Monte.

Diagnosis: Ok, so it’s just a bit silly and not nearly as crazy (or nasty) as some conspiracy theories. But it is still a fine example of how village idiots like to just make things up and then vehemently believe them regardless of evidence, truth or reason. Probably harmless, but the trend he exemplifies is not, which is why we include him.

Hat tip: jcs-group

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

#2017: Jeff Monroe et al.

Jeffrey “Jeff” Rodrick Monroe has been representing District 24 in the South Dakota Senate since 2013, and previously in the South Dakota Legislature between 1995 and 2003. It is worth mentioning that Monroe is a chiropractor whose education is from the Northwestern College of Chiropractic – now Northwestern Health Sciences University – one of several institutions that specialize in offering courses on various types of woo, pseudoscience and quackery. Perhaps his background might help explain some of Monroe’s confusions over and distaste for science, evidence and reason.

In 2014, Monroe sponsored Senate Bill 112 (details here), which would, if enacted, provide that “[n]o school board or school administrator may prohibit a teacher in public or nonpublic school from providing instruction on intelligent design or other related topics” – it was, in other words, an attempt to introduce Intelligent Design Creationist misinformation in South Dakota public schools (co-sponsors were Phil Jensen (R-District 33), Dan Lederman (R-District 16), Ernie Otten (R-District 6), Bruce E. Rampelberg (R-District 30), and Bill Van Gerpen (R-District 19)). The bill, unsurprisingly, closely followed the Wedge strategy authored by the intelligent design think tank the Discovery Institute, and framed the issue as if it were a matter of academic freedom. Bars on teaching falsehoods is not a violation of academic freedom, and teaching creationism in public schools is of course unconstitutional, but serious nuttery is characterized by applying the same cognitive resources to interpreting the Constitution as to interpreting science. Of course, anti-science legislation on education in South Dakota is no new thing; in 2010 they tried to pass a resolution to stop teachers from teaching global warming, which included the formulation: “astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect [sic] world weather phenomena.”

Fortunately the bill died, but Monroe promised to return to the issue in the future. He did, in 2015, with Senate Bill 114 (details here), another “academic freedom bill” allowing and encouraging teachers to teach the “weaknesses” of scientific theories, with “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, [and] human cloning” singled out as disputable topics – this time without overtly religious language such as references to Intelligent Design creationism. Co-sponsors were Lederman and Van Gerpen from last time, as well as Bob Ewing (R-District 31), Brock L. Greenfield (R-District 2), Jenna Haggar (R-District 10), Ried Holien (R-District 5), Betty Olson (R-District 28), David M. Omdahl (R-District 11), and Mike Vehle (R-District 20). There is no shortage of anti-science loons in South Dakota. 

And don’t you know: Monroe et al. were at it with another attempt in 2016, with Senate Bill 83 (details here), “[a]n Act to protect the teaching of certain scientific information,” and again in 2017, with Senate Bill 55 (details here) (adding Stace Nelson (R-District 19), Jim Stalzer (R-District 11), and John Wiik (R-District 4) to the list of co-sponsors). This one passed the Senate Education Committee on a 4-3 vote, despite the opposition from the state’s educational communities, which says a lot of not particularly flattering things about South Dakota and its voters. Monroe himself asserted that “we’re dealing with theories, we’re dealing with things that aren’t proven. Things that people know are not established facts.” At least it must be counted as an established fact that Monroe has not the faintest clue about basic scientific thinking, distinctions and vocabulary. The day after, the Bill passed the Senate, and moved to the House (where its sponsors were Blaine Campbell (R-District 35), Julie Frye-Mueller (R-District 30), Tim Goodwin (R-District 30), Leslie J. Heinemann (R-District 8), and Taffy Howard (R-District 33)), where it was stopped by the House Education Committee. The bill was lauded by the Discovery Institute, who even found a local “expert” with an actual PhD (not in anything related to evolution, of course) to praise it. That “expert” was William Harris, whom we’ve encountered before.

To top it all, however, Monroe is also an advocate for anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. In 2012, Monroe introduced a bill making it easier for parents to refuse to get their children vaccinated, in order to guarantee an increase in deaths from preventable causes (not Monroe’s explicit justification). Monroe, of course, claimed it was all about religious freedom, even though South Dakota was already one of the states with the laxest religious exemption laws.

Diagnosis: Astounding mistrust of truth and evidence – and that goes not only for Monroe but for a substantial portion of the South Dakota legislature, and by extension its voters. Extremely scary, all of it.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

#2016: Matt Monarch

Matt Monarch is a raw food vegan activist who thinks that cooking food kills it and poisons you (cooked foods are “dead,” having had their “vital force” and nutrients sucked out of them), while eating only raw vegetables, fruit, grain, and plant matter is the secret to health. He defends the ideas on the website The Raw Food World. Said ideas include the delusion that nearly all disease is caused by unspecified toxins, in particular through “autointoxication,” where allegedly accumulated fecal matter piled up in your colon leaks its “toxins” into your bloodstream and makes you sick. The idea is complete nonsense (having sufficient fecal matter in your colon to make you sick would make you septic – that’s true – but certainly does not cause the chronic illnesses Monarch claims.) In any case, as Monarch sees it this mythical accumulated fecal matter needs to be purged through detoxification, and he seems to be perfectly willing to subject his own children to such procedures, which is less funny.

Of course, he has no evidence for his claims. People who want evidence are sheeple “stuck in the ‘system’, doing everything that they are told by “authority” figures such as their doctors and family members, all out of fear and weakness.” He doesn’t need evidence: the information he provides “is so basic and obvious to me and I feel extremely sad that the majority of the people will likely just brush this info off.” He has anecdotes, however, and willingly tells you how he has applied his methods to unnamed people with “instantaneous results.” 

And there is a conspiracy, of course: According to Monarch, the body is always naturally “purging” but those evil “allopathic doctors” and Big Pharma are pumping you full of drugs that to him “suppress” the body’s ability to detoxify itself. The solution is enemas. Enemas for headaches, for kidney stones, for cancer, for everything. To achieve best possible effect, however, you should supplement the enemas with raw vegetable juice and molasses. And just remember: if you don’t get better, it’s because you didn’t have sufficient faith; if you are “truly” doing “these things consistently for a good amount of time,” you can heal anything, and if you don’t then “my best guess would be it’s a spiritual phenomena that you have to figure out.” Blaming the victim is of course part and parcel of any serious altmed treatment regime.

Among the products promoted by Monarch is Adya Clarity, which Monarch claims – without evidence or any plausible mechanism – can “eliminate pathogens” and “toxins”; in particular, it can get rid of candida and it worked for his wife. Interestingly, his promotion of Adya Clarity got him in a fight with woomeister supreme Mike Adams, since Monarch also claimed that Adya Clarity made Zeolite superfluous, and Zeolite is a bullshit supplement Adams has some financial stakes in (indeed, Monarch and Adams were, at some point, engaged some kind of cooperation, and Monarch has previously written for NaturalNews). So it goes.

Of course, Monarch has gone down the rabbit hole more or less completely. He’s for instance also antivaccine, and is willing to tell us how to make our shoes “grounded”. Unfortunately, he is unwilling to reveal the really deep secrets: “This rabbit hole DOES go deep and most of the stuff that I say probably sounds totally OUTLANDISH and EXTREME to the majority of the population. I feel, for example, that I am doing a service by not revealing what I feel is the real truth about where humans came from and how degenerated we may actually be at this time, as I feel that I would likely lose much credibility sharing these kinds of ideas.” The last insight is probably correct, though.

Diagnosis: Utterly deranged pseudoscientist and conspiracy theorist, and a genuine threat to people close to him. At least you have the option to stay far away; others seem to be less lucky.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

#2015: Tom Monaghan

Often counted among the American Taliban’s greatest success stories, Tom Monaghan is the founder of Dominos Pizza, dominionist and currently owner of the Ave Maria Foundation, the Ave Maria University (garbage) and an area of land in Florida called, well, Ave Maria. Monaghan is, as you may have guessed, a Catholic, endorsing a range of (extreme versions of) positions typically associated with Catholicism (in the US that seems to include supply-side economics), and he thinks that Catholic orthodoxy on these issues is far too liberal. His answer is to donate vast sums to Catholic extremist groups, including the cult Word of God. 

Monaghan is also the founder of the fundamentalist Thomas More Law Center, famous for providing the defense in Kitzmiller v. Dover, for the 2011 claim that Obamacare was unconstitutional, and for a 2001 suit brought against the San Diego chapter of Planned Parenthood to force it to inform women of a possible link between abortions and breast cancer. Needless to say, none of the cases were even remotely successful. Oh, and Monaghan is the guy behind the Catholic fundamentalist Legatus organization, which we have encountered before.

His most curious endeavor is probably his Ave Maria community, however. Officially founded by the Ave Maria Development Company, the Ave Maria community was an attempt to create a version of a Catholic dominionist utopia, completely controlled by Monaghan forever through the the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District, and a limited government law that allows for a “special interest” group to completely and totally control the town’s community infrastructure, its development systems, facilities, services and everything else, without any oversight other than Monaghan’s (the law was passed by the Florida State legislature); details here. Monaghan can, as such, decide which stores, hospitals or churches can be established in the area (as per Monaghan’s right to exercise his religious freedom, of course): “We’ll own all commercial real estate. That means we will be able to control what goes on there. You won’t be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town. We're going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won’t be able to get that in Ave Maria Town,” said Monaghan. Also, badmouthing Monaghan or the Pope may get you fired and run out of town. There’s a good description of the place here.

Diagnosis: Fanatic theocrat, and powerful enough to actually realize his dominionist ideas. Honestly, we are not completely sure that he qualifies as a loon in the original sense, but whatever. 

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

For the record: Stefan Molyneux is Irish-Canadian and thus disqualified from an entry on technical grounds.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

#2014: Roberto Miranda

More religious extremist fanaticism. Roberto Miranda is the pastor of Congregación León de Judá, ostensibly one of the biggest churches in Boston. Miranda is best known for claiming that Satan is behind marriage equality and for directly tying the promotion of gay rights to 9/11. “Satan has warred mightily against [the Boston] region, and has effectively neutralized it through the influence of principalities of rationalism, humanism, intellectual pride and spiritual arrogance,” says Miranda. He seems to mean “rationality”, not “rationalism”. Woe on rationality. As a result, “Massachusetts, as well as all of New England, has become a cemetery of churches, a breeding ground for heretical doctrine, and intellectual furnace energizing attitudes of godlessness, rational arrogance and secularism. It is no coincidence, of course, that something as dramatically distant from the Christian worldview as gay marriage would be originated in this region.” 

As for the 9/11 connection: “Is it exaggerated to see prophetic significance in the fact that on September 11, 2001 Boston served as the point of departure for the deadly forces that spread so much destruction and havoc in this nation and all over the world?” Why, yes: of course it is. But Miranda’s question was rhetorical: “What took place at the material level is now being carried out at the moral and spiritual level, as the virus of homosexuality and gay marriage begins to spread dramatically all over this nation and perhaps the world.”

Diagnosis: Batshit insane wingnut fundie idiot.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

#2013: Tom Minnery

Tom Minnery is president emeritus of CitizenLink and the vice president of public policy at Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist institution devoted to homophobia, gun policy, wingnuttery, science denialism and supporting corporal punishment for unruly children. They are also vigorously in favor of banning unsuitable books (“libraries’ policies” of making available books the contents of which Minnery disagrees with “are anti-family,” says Minnery), the power of prayer (e.g. against Obama) and committed to anti-environmentalism and climate change denialism; Minnery has himself appeared for instance in the anti-environment conspiracy theory documentary The Green Dragon, according to which environmentalism is a secular religion trying to supplant Christianity in order to set up a world government to implement a population control scheme (you wondered how Minnery would be considered even remotely conceivably relevantly qualified to talk about environmental issues, didn’t you?). Minnery is also a member of the secretive religious right lobbyist group the Council for National Policy, which is closely connected to the Dominionist movement and also apparently quite influential. It is also worth mentioning that Minnery in 2006 vigorously attempted to deflect questions about his organization’s relationship with Jack Abramoff. It is also worth mentioning the group’s rather intsense support for Russia and Russia’s policies on gay people, religion and how to deal with unpatriotic journalists. 

Minnery is also a great fan of reparative therapy, claiming that reparative therapy is “common and there is a history of them working well, many people have lost their confusion about sexuality as a result of them to the good.” This is false. Minnery, however, followed up by criticizing then-governor Christ Christie for signing a bill barring the practice of ex-gay therapy on minors, rhetorically asking if Christie also approves of adultery. Nor is Minnery a fan of feminism because the Bible (“how many feminists know who it was who gave us the very name ‘woman’ (Genesis 1:26),” asks Minnery).

He has also argued claimed that religion can substitute for and thus offset the costs of healthcare. It’s accordingly no wonder that he’s opposed to Obamacare.

There’s a fine Tom Minnery resource here.

Diagnosis: Fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist who toys with dominionism, fueled by bigotry, denialism and a striking inability to draw relevant moral distinctions. He is also extremely influential. Dangerous. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

#2012: Forrest Mims

A somewhat central figure in the Intelligent Design creationist movement, Forrest Mims has no formal academic training in science but does teach electronics and atmospheric science at the University of the Nations, an unaccredited religious institution in Hawaii. He has also written quite a bit about science –his instructional electronics books are reasonably widely read – and his lack of academic training might actually be an advantage when the goal is to try to shoehorn existing science, through distortion, omission and strawmanning, into the service of promoting pseudoscience. Mims is also a global warming denialist.

He is perhaps most famous for his 1988 application to take over the Amateur Scientist column at Scientific American. Scientific American offered him the opportunity to write some sample columns, but he was ultimately not offered the position. Mims concluded that he didn’t get the job because he wasn’t qualified there were better qualified applicants of his religious and creationist views, which one would imagine would have been an entirely legitimate basis for rejecting his application even if it were true. Nonetheless, creationists still offer the case as an example of how Christian scientists are persecuted by mainstream science just because they have no formal qualifications and reject all the science, its methodology and evidence (not their formulation).

Mims also received some attention for his claim that ecologist Eric Pianka was advocating mass genocide by genetically enhanced Ebola virus with the goal of exterminating up to 90% of the human population. Pianka was not advocating this. When Mims’s misrepresentations of Pianka’s views were pointed out to him, Mims responded by trying to portray himself as the victim. There is a pattern here.

Despite his lack of formally recognized scientific credentials, Mims is nevertheless a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s laughable petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. He is also a Fellow at the Discovery Institute and of the creationist organization The International Society for Complexity, Information and Design.

Diagnosis: Pseudoscientist and denialist. That people still listen to him about anything – to the extent they do – given his past story of distortions nad misrepresentations as well as his demonstrable lack of credentials and his equally demonstrable lack of understanding of science, is a disgrace.