Spirit of Paranoia: A Critical Analysis of “Zeitgeist” (Part III)

howard-beale

The third and final part of Peter Joseph’s Zeitgeist is by far the most fascinating – and perhaps the most delusional and paranoid – of the film’s three sections. Part III, titled “Don’t Mind the Men behind the Curtain,” takes a decidedly darker and more sinister turn. In the film’s previous chapter, we were assaulted with a barrage of media clips, sound bites, and images full of people breathlessly exclaiming that 9/11 was an inside job because of this or that anomaly. It contained very little commentary from Joseph and had no apparent connection to anything that was discussed in Part I. At the end of Part II, we finally learn what the whole point of this middle portion of the film is supposed to be. The events of 9/11, says Joseph, were a massive false flag operation perpetrated by the U.S. government in order to further their agenda for total control over the population and inaugurate their New World Order. Is it too late to grab a tinfoil hat?

Two money-related theses are argued in Part III. One is that all debt in the United States is created by a seemingly never-ending money supply that the Federal Reserve produces out of nothing. The second is that the federal income tax was created not only as a means of paying off this debt, but also as a means of enslaving people to perpetual debt. The subject of war is also explored. Joseph argues that World Wars I and II and the Vietnam conflict were provoked by central banking interests for monetary gain. The film then disastrously veers off the deep end when it reaches its conclusion, which posits a coming One World Government à la Logan’s Run that tracks every single person on the planet via an ID chip that locks all people into a control grid.

Much of the content in the third part of Zeitgeist originates from two primary sources. The first is the various anti-government militia movements that cropped up in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. The other source, ironically enough, is evangelical Christianity. Many adherents to Christian faith believe that a personage they call “Antichrist” will someday emerge on the world scene and create a One World Government, complete with a one world currency, over which he will rule with an iron fist. Beginning around the late 1970s, such ominous and dystopian right-wing predictions managed to grow beyond fringe status and achieve wide circulation, as evangelicals and fundamentalists came out of the woodwork to preach their expectations that a One World government was imminent. This expectation is still alive to this day, and now the fundamentalists are joined in the paranoid chorus by secular conspiracy theorists, people who do not embrace any particular religious ideology. Like the 2,000 year-old belief that Jesus will “soon” return to Earth, anti-government conspiracy theorists are today proclaiming nothing essentially different from what their counterparts in past generations have warned. Even before the political rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s, the neo-conservative movement of the Sixties and Seventies spawned a culture of paranoid anti-government activists. Today this community enjoys a stronger public voice than they had in earlier decades, thanks in large part to the Internet. Zeitgeist is just one such voice clamoring for attention. Let’s see what, if anything, it has to contribute to the cultural discussion.

 

Central Banks

So who are the “men behind the curtain” referred to in the title of Part III? It turns out they are the rich and powerful banking magnates of Wall Street, the giants in the world of Big Finance. In the following quote from the film, Joseph sets the scene by essentially poisoning the well, portraying central banks as a scheme by the rich and powerful to enslave the populace to perpetual debt:

A central bank is an institution that produces the currency of an entire nation. Based on historical precedent, two specific powers are inherent in central banking practice: the control of interest rates and the control of the money supply, or inflation. A central bank does not simply supply a government’s economy with money, it loans it to them at interest. Then, through the use of increasing and decreasing the supply of money, the central bank regulates the value of the currency being issued. It is critical to understand that the entire structure of this system can only produce one thing in the long run: debt.

The main justification for having a central bank has to do with practical economics and is actually far less sinister than Joseph makes it out to be. The currency of small independent banks during the “free banking” era of the mid-nineteenth century was not based on anything other than the credit they had stored in their vaults in the form of gold or silver. Without a centralized banking system in place to shore up their assets, these small independent banks tended to survive an average of only five years before going bankrupt because of the unpredictable vicissitudes of the market, including seasonal fluctuations in interest rates. [1] By setting a fixed loan and interest rate, centralized banking provides a level of stability that allows markets to trade internationally.

The main catalyst for the creation of a centralized bank in America was the Bank Panic of 1907. [2] This major financial crisis was sparked by the United Copper Company’s failed scheme to artificially inflate stock prices through aggressive purchasing of shares and the subsequent runs by depositors on banks in imminent danger of bankruptcy. Zeitgeist touches briefly on this event:

[. . .] J.P. Morgan, publicly considered a financial luminary at the time, exploited his mass influence by publishing rumors that a prominent bank in New York was “insolvent,” or bankrupt. Morgan knew this would cause mass hysteria, which would affect other banks as well, and it did. The public, in fear of losing their deposits, immediately began mass withdrawals. Consequently the banks were forced to call in their loans, causing the recipients to sell their products, and thus a spiral of bankruptcies, repossessions, and turmoil emerged.

No, J.P. Morgan was not responsible for inciting the Panic of 1907. The Knickerbocker Trust Company, the third largest commercial bank in New York City at the time, was primarily responsible for sparking the panic, as the company provided funds for the United Copper Company’s designs. In a matter of a few days, the price of the metal increased from $37 per share to nearly $60 per share, placing a burden on short sellers that couldn’t be satisfied. The panic kicked into full gear on Monday, October 21 when the National Bank of Commerce announced that it would no longer clear any checks from Knickerbocker, leading to depositors making a run on the bank to withdraw their funds. [3] In short, the mass withdrawals happened because banks began calling in their loans. The threat of imminent insolvency was not a fabrication or a rumor.

Zeitgeist briefly discusses the other big market crashes of the early twentieth century, making similar claims about the stock market panics being “manufactured” by wealthy and powerful bankers. According to Joseph’s narrative, J.P. Morgan, J.D. Rockefeller, and other household names in the banking industry fabricated all the scares, intentionally trying to spread panic and cause banks to fail so they could buy up rival banks at a discount. But there is no evidence to suggest that Morgan ever published fraudulent rumors of about banks going bankrupt. In fact, the opposite is true. Morgan, along with an informal team of trust company executives he organized, attempted to halt the Panic of 1907 and rescue the economy. He purchased large amounts of falling stock from financially-sound companies in order to stabilize the market. [4] “Thanks to Morgan and the other New York bankers,” writes historian John Steele Gordon, “the crash of 1907 did not mark the onset of a period of severe depression, as the crashes of 1873 and 1893 had. But it did make clear that the country simply could no longer do without a central bank. A man of the stature and probity of J.P. Morgan might be able to avert financial calamity in the future, but there was no guarantee that there would be such a man available.” [5]

A similar strategy was employed in an attempt to curtail the economic crisis ignited by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the most devastating crash in U.S. history. On October 24, 1929, a day that has come to be known as “Black Thursday,” 11 percent of the market value was lost and an unprecedented 13 million shares were traded on the Stock Exchange by panicking sellers desperate to cash out of the speculative bubble they had created before it burst. Because of the heavy volume of trading, brokerage offices were hours late in reporting prices on their ticker tapes and mass chaos ruled the day on Wall Street. A consortium of leading bankers, among them the heads of Morgan Bank and Chase National Bank, decided to stem the selling frenzy by infusing hundreds of millions of dollars into the Stock Exchange. They enlisted Richard Whitney, acting president of the Exchange, to act as their intermediary. Whitney went to the U.S. Steel trading post and purchased 10,000 shares of U.S. Steel at a price well above their market value. [6] As planned, the market stopped plummeting. But unlike the 1907 solution, it was only temporary. The panic stopped for that day, but the bankers’ efforts were not enough to stop the events of Black Tuesday five days later, a day that has lived on in the American psyche as the benchmark between the high and giddy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties and the squalor of the Great Depression that followed for the next decade. [7]

All this information is missing from Joseph’s film, for the simple reason that it does not fit the narrative he is feeding us. It would not be convenient for Joseph to inform his viewers that the big names in the world of early twentieth-century finance tried their best to save crashing markets, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so successfully. The Morgans and Rockefellers of the world stood to lose just as much as the depositing layman if the market crumbled. But Zeitgeist instead paints a picture that flies in the face of plausibility, claiming that “a few months before October of 1929, J.D. Rockefeller, Bernhard Barrack, and other insiders quietly exited the market, and on October 24th, 1929, the New York financiers who furnished the margin loans started calling them in en masse.”

This is completely inaccurate. These banking insiders did not withdraw their money before the crash happened. They took their money out and left the market during the crash, which makes practical sense. They did all they could to rescue the market but it still began to collapse around them. What rational person wouldn’t take out their money at this point?

Virtually all conspiracy theories surrounding the passing of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913 would have people believe that very few individuals knew about the act, and that it was passed under very secretive circumstances by only a handful of people. Zeitgeist is no exception. The narrator states,

After this bill [the Federal Reserve Act] was constructed, it was then handed over to their political front man, Senator Nelson Aldrich, to push through Congress. And in 1913 with heavy political sponsorship by the bankers, Woodrow Wilson became President, having already agreed to sign the Federal Reserve Act in exchange for campaign support. And two days before Christmas when most of Congress was at home with their families, the Federal Reserve Act was voted in, and Wilson in turn made it law.

This is a gross distortion of the facts. The majority of Congress was present, not “at home with their families.” Further, the majority of Congress voted for the act, and it was democratically passed into law on December 22, 1913 with 298 yeas against 60 nays. This was after four months of debate and discussion. [8] A total of 76 Congressmen present did not vote, which means that even if all 76 had voted against the bill, the yeas would still have been in the majority. The Act then passed the Senate vote the following day, 43 yeas to 25 nays, with 27 not voting.

The film claims that in later years Woodrow Wilson regretted signing the Federal Reserve Act into law. In support of this claim, the film quotes passages from two speeches written by Wilson. In the first quoted speech, Wilson said, “A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is privately concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men who, even if their action be honest and intended for the public interest, are necessarily concentrated upon the great undertakings in which their own money is involved and who necessarily, by very reason of their own limitations, chill and check and destroy genuine economic freedom.” [9]

In the second quote given in the film, Wilson said, “We have restricted credit, we have restricted opportunity, we have controlled development, and we have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated, governments in the civilized world–no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men.” [10]

The problem is that Zeitgeist is representing these quotes dishonestly. Both quotes actually come from Wilson’s 1912 campaign speeches. They are hardly statements of regret about passing the Federal Reserve Act into law, because he said these things before the Federal Reserve Act even existed. Joseph must know he is lying through his teeth when he represents Wilson as saying these things “years later.” These two speeches, along with several others, were later collected into a book titled The New Freedom, published in 1913.

Congressmen Louis McFadden and Charles August Lindbergh have been discussed by conspiracy theorists more than any other figures involved in the Federal Reserve Act debates, and they figure prominently in Zeitgeist’s discussion as well. McFadden and Lindbergh both strongly opposed the Act and attempted to establish an impeachment case against those primarily responsible for creating it. Very few of the many people who express admiration for these two men realize that McFadden’s opposition to the Act stemmed from his belief that the Federal Reserve was part and parcel of an international Jewish conspiracy to undermine the economic integrity of the United States. McFadden was an extremely shady individual who believed that the Jews not only controlled the American economy, but that they were also responsible for a number of major economic upheavals and changes, especially in the United States. [11] He was also a strong supporter of Adolf Hitler and promoted a number of Nazi policies that were specifically anti-Semitic in nature. Most notably, he supported Hitler’s attempts to put an end to alleged Jewish control of all aspects of the German infrastructure. [12] When McFadden tried his hand at running for president in 1936, he ran on a platform of anti-Semitism, one of his campaign slogans reading “Christianity instead of Judaism.” [13]

In 1932, McFadden and Lindbergh spearheaded impeachment proceedings against President Hoover in addition to conspiracy charges against the Federal Reserve Board. Congress took it to a vote, and the impeachment resolution was defeated 361 to 8. Only eight people in Congress voted with McFadden and Lindbergh. [14] Even Ron Paul draws in better votes in Congress with his unpopular fringe ideas.

Historically speaking, opposition to the Federal Reserve was rooted in anti-Semitism. Of course, most people who want to see the Federal Reserve eliminated in the present day are not anti-Semites. The problem is that most of them do not realize that anti-Semitic motivations are what drove the initial oppositions to the Federal Reserve Act. And to portray figures like Louis McFadden as heroes for freedom, as Zeitgeist does, is to display an ignorance of history.

Today, much of the public’s opposition to government-run finance industries such as the Federal Reserve has its roots in a fear of the Central Bank concept. The many conspiracy theories that this fear has inspired, including those concerning the Rothschild family, the Bilderberg Group, and the Trilateral Commission, virtually all stem from a fear of banking in general, an anxiety that is experienced even by rational, common-sense individuals who have their head on straight. I myself have little confidence in banks, and while I have no reason to distrust extremely wealthy people in financial industries, I do not particularly trust them either. However, this does not justify making up “facts” and grossly misrepresenting the process by which money is created, as Zeitgeist does. The film argues that money comes from nothing and has no basis. This is incorrect; while there is no physical thing one can point to and identify as the basis for money, the monetary concept itself has a well-grounded foundation, albeit a needlessly complex one. [15] Desiring a system that is both easier to understand and more trustworthy is quite understandable. It is also easy to sympathize with the desire to end the private status of the Federal Reserve, and it is legitimate to ask why anyone should trust a private industry to uphold and protect the best interests of the people. However, to suggest that the Federal Reserve and central banks in general are evil entities that are out to intentionally harm and enslave us is an unwarranted and unfounded conclusion with no basis in reality.

Moreover, people who harbor paranoid notions of iron-fisted government control tend to grossly underestimate the power of the democratic process wielded by the people. There is an obvious psychological reason for this fear. The participation of “we the people” in the election of politicians to government offices has a great deal to do with overall trends in and evolution of public opinion surrounding national politics, and it is surprising how often this fact is either under-emphasized or not acknowledged at all by the general public. For example, the United States was treated to heavy doses of neoliberalism as a result of democratically electing Ronald Reagan to the office of president. We are to some degree still experiencing the effects of this political philosophy today, particularly in the maximization of the disproportional influence of the private business sector in outlining the economic priorities of the state. This development can ultimately be traced to the will of the people, not to a conspiracy on the part of a shadowy and elite class of bankers who control us like puppets. There are no “men behind the curtain.” And when neoliberalism or whatever other political philosophy may be trendy at some given time fails to deliver what the majority of people want, the psychological basis underlying the public’s underestimation of democracy comes into play. Rather than placing the blame on the individual we elected or taking responsibility for electing him or her, we tend to instinctively blame other people outside our sphere of influence. The irrational mindset inherent in this attitude is that we as a people never vote wrong, so a conspiracy must therefore be taking place against our collective will.

 

The Gold Standard

The current economic system of the world is one of the most highly prioritized concerns of the Zeitgeist Movement (TZM), the advocacy organization spawned by Joseph’s film. TZM members strongly advocate for abandoning the current fiat-based economic model and replacing it with a resource-based economy. According to the TZM mission statement, the group’s defining goal is “the installation of a new socioeconomic model based upon technically responsible resource management, allocation and design through what would be considered the scientific method of reasoning problems and finding optimized solutions. This ‘Natural Law/Resource-Based Economy’ (NLRBE) is about taking a direct technical approach to social management as opposed to a monetary or even political one.” [16] Because this proposed revolution in world economics is such an overriding concern among Zeitgeist’s most loyal fans, it is worth our time to critique what the film has to say about the gold standard in America in the 1930s:

Now, having reduced the society to squalor, the Federal Reserve bankers decided that the Gold Standard should be removed. In order to do this, they needed to acquire the remaining gold in the system. So, under the pretense of helping to end the depression came the 1933 gold seizure. Under threat of imprisonment for 10 years, everyone in America was required to turn in all gold bullion to the Treasury, essentially robbing the public of what little wealth they had left. At the end of 1933, the Gold Standard was abolished. If you look at a dollar bill from before 1933, it says it is redeemable in gold. If you look at a dollar bill today, it says it is legal tender, which means it is backed by absolutely nothing. It is worthless paper. 

The only thing that gives our money value is how much of it is in circulation. Therefore the power to regulate the money supply is also the power to regulate its value, which is also the power to bring entire economies and societies to its knees.

Peter Joseph has a poor understanding of what a fiat-based economy is. In a fiat-based economy, the value of money is not determined by the amount of money in circulation. Rather, the value is determined solely by the dynamics of a country’s economy, specifically the relationship between supply and demand. Fiat money is not based upon or backed by any physical commodity but instead is based on an estimate of “all taxes, customs, and other public dues” that the government will receive the following year. [17]

In the United States, the gold standard was adopted in order to relieve the Great Depression. In the first of his “Fireside Chat” radio addresses delivered on the evening of March 12, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt detailed the series of steps his administration was taking to bring an end to the banking moratorium (euphemistically referred to as the “banking holiday”) and identified the massive withdrawal of money from panicked depositors as a social ill to be remedied:

Let me make it clear to you that the banks will take care of all needs, except, of course, the hysterical demands of hoarders, and it is my belief that hoarding during the past week has become an exceedingly unfashionable pastime in every part of our nation. It needs no prophet to tell you that when the people find that they can get their money — that they can get it when they want it for all legitimate purposes — the phantom of fear will soon be laid. People will again be glad to have their money where it will be safely taken care of and where they can use it conveniently at any time. I can assure you, my friends, that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under the mattress. [18]

Less than one month after this address, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6102 into law. Under this executive order, everyone who owned more than $100 worth of gold (equivalent to $1,500 in today’s money) was required to hand over the excess gold to the Federal Reserve on or before May 1, 1933. In exchange, the Reserve would pay $20.67 per troy ounce of gold thus delivered (adjusting for inflation, this was equivalent to about $378 today). [19] Thus, contrary to what Zeitgeist claims, the public were not robbed at all. They were compensated.

executive-order-6102

Zeitgeist is also incorrect in stating that the gold standard was abolished in 1933. What actually happened was that in January 1934, the government artificially raised the nominal price of gold to $35 per troy ounce under the Gold Reserve Act while simultaneously devaluing the dollar by 41 percent of its previous value to balance out the scales and to spark inflation. This price change stimulated a huge inflow of gold to the United States from foreign investors, resulting in a significant increase in the gold reserves of the U.S. Treasury. [20] While it’s true that U.S. money is now on the free-floating fiat system and therefore no longer backed by gold or any other materials, this change did not happen during the Great Depression. The convertibility of US dollars to gold was ended by President Richard Nixon nearly 40 years later. As of August 15, 1971, “the government would not redeem its foreign dollar obligations with gold. Within the domestic economy, gold had not had any such relationship since 1935, so the Act did not change any current realities between gold and the domestic dollar. However, the new policy had the indirect effect of eliminating any reason for denying ordinary citizens ownership of gold for their own use.” [21]

 

Income Tax

Zeitgeist is equally cynical about states’ power of participation in the ratification of federal laws, an attitude that emerges in the way the film treats the subject of income tax laws. Peter Joseph doesn’t like paying taxes, so he opts to place the blame on a shadowy conspiracy that transcends due process of law. The film claims that there is actually no law in America that requires anyone to pay income taxes to the government and that enforcing income tax is unconstitutional:

It’s worthwhile to point out that the American public’s ignorance towards the federal income tax is a testament to how dumbed down and oblivious the American population really is. First of all, the federal income tax is completely unconstitutional, as it is a direct, unapportioned tax. All direct taxes have to be apportioned to be legal based on the Constitution.

Joseph is the one who is “dumbed down and oblivious” if he actually believes his own statement about tax apportionment. Before the passing of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, taxes on income acquired from personal property had always been indirect and thus exempt from apportionment. The Sixteenth Amendment simply eliminated the direct apportionment requirement, making the source of income an irrelevant factor. [22] The amendment does not actually impose any direct tax at all.

Secondly, the required number of states in order to ratify the amendment to allow the income tax was never met, and this has even been cited in modern court cases. 

“If you . . . examined [the 16th Amendment] carefully, you would find that a sufficient number of states never ratified that amendment.” – U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox, 2003.

Both Joseph and James C. Fox are wrong (yes, even district court judges can make statements in error). By February 3, 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified by a total of 36 states. Since there were 48 states at this time, this number just exceeded the three-quarters majority required for the amendment’s ratification. [23]

Joseph goes on to make a claim that has the potential to cause serious financial hardship for those who take his arguments seriously. He states that “there is literally no statute, no law in existence, that requires you to pay this tax, period.” The film then shows two former IRS agents talking about their failure to find the income tax laws, leading to their decision to leave their job:

“I really expected that, ‘of course there’s a law that you can point to, in the law book and code that requires to file a tax return. Of course there is.’ I was at that point where I couldn’t find the statute that clearly made a person liable, at least not me and most people I know, and I had no choice in my mind except to resign.” – Joe Turner, former IRS agent

“Based on the research that I did throughout the year 2000 and that I’m still doing, I have not found that law. I’ve asked Congress, a lot of people, we’ve asked the IRS Commissioner’s helpers. They can’t answer, because if they answer, the American people are gonna know that this whole thing is a fraud.” – Sherry Jackson, former IRS agent.

Joe Turner and Sherry Jackson go on to say that they have not filed their federal income taxes since leaving the IRS. Somebody needs to teach these two how to use Google. The income tax laws actually do exist, and one does not have to look very far before finding them. Sections 6012 and 6151 of Title 26 of the U.S. Code clearly lay out the requirement for every individual to file a general tax return.[24] Section 6072 of the same title specified further, requiring every citizen to file income tax return. [25] How Joe and Sherry were not able to find these laws is beyond me, and I suspect it is an outright fabrication on their part.

Of course, this idea that there is no law in America requiring citizens to pay income tax did not originate with Zeitgeist. The same claim was promoted by Kent Hovind, a fundamentalist young-earth creationist and Christian evangelist. To quote Hovind directly,

“I have not filed an income tax in 28 years. If there’s a law requiring me to file something, I would like to see it. [. . .] This is something I read a lot on, because I want very badly to be right with God. The Bible says, ‘Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.’ I agree. It does not say, ‘Render to Fred that which is Caesar’s.’ [. . .] the IRS is tied into Communism, socialism, and evolution ultimately.

The government gives corporations the right to exist, and that’s what has happened in the last hundred years. Many churches have become incorporated. If a church is not incorporated, it’s just a real, true, New Testament church. They answer directly to God. The church does not have permission from God to give away God’s authority. So since our ministry here, Creation Science Evangelism, is under the auspices of Faith Baptist Fellowship, an unincorporated church, I don’t have God’s permission to put God under some other sovereign. It’s a sovereignty issue.” [26]

I bring this example up not only because of the irony in the fact that Hovind’s religious fundamentalism is something that Peter Joseph would certainly scoff at and reject, but more importantly because Hovind ended up serving nine years in federal prison as a direct result of acting on his views about income tax by not only failing to pay taxes, but also structuring his transactions and obstructing federal agents.

No one should take Zeitgeist’s claims about tax laws seriously for the very same reason no one should take Hovind’s views seriously. Denying the existence of the easily-accessible income tax laws is just as stupid as denying the existence of transitional fossils in the geological record.

 

War

Having planted an image of the Federal Reserve as the Great Satan in his viewers’ minds, Joseph next turns to the subject of war. Every major conflict in the twentieth century, he asserts, was planned, engineered, and orchestrated by the international bankers in order to increase their wealth:

Now, the control of the economy and the perpetual robbery of wealth is only one side of the Rubik’s Cube the bankers hold in their hands. The next tool for profit and control is war. Since the inception of the Federal Reserve in 1913, a number of large and small wars have commenced. The three most pronounced were World War I, World War II, and Vietnam.

Blaming war on the wealthy and powerful elite makes for a compelling story, and it is par for the course in conspiracy-theory lore. But aside from not having any basis in reality, it also strikes me as redundant. Zeitgeist spent a considerable portion of Part III weaving a tale about elite bankers controlling the world’s economy and enslaving the world’s populace to perpetual debt. If they pulled this off successfully, why do they need war?

Starting with the events that led to America’s entry into World War I, Zeitgeist pulls a quote by Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary of England, out of context to argue that he masterminded a plot to intentionally send the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, carrying American passengers, into hostile territory in order to spur America into the war:

So, on May 7th, 1915, on essentially the suggestion of Sir Edward Grey, a ship called the Lusitania was deliberately sent into German-controlled waters where German military vessels were known to be. And, as expected, German U-boats torpedoed the ship, exploding stored ammunition, killing 1200 people.

To further understand the deliberate nature of this setup, the German Embassy actually put advertisements in the New York Times, telling people that if they boarded the Lusitania, they did so at their own risk, as such a ship sailing from America to England through the war zone would be liable to destruction.

Joseph’s film makes it sound as if the advertisement was intended to warn the Lusitania specifically. Actually, the advertisement that appeared in the New York Times and other leading New York newspapers (pictured below) was a general warning cautioning that any Allied ships that venture into the war zone around the British Isles were liable to be destroyed. The notice contained no particular reference to the Lusitania.

notice

The appearance of this warning in New York newspapers does nothing to prove that the Lusitania disaster was deliberately planned. To the contrary, in fact, the advertisement serves as evidence that there was no conspiracy. If the “powers that be” had wanted to maximize the extent of the disaster they allegedly planned, why would they provide adequate warning to potential travelers?

Two other facts further weaken the premeditation hypothesis. First, this advertisement was printed again the day after the Lusitania was sunk and was slated to appear a third time when the German Embassy advised the newspapers to discontinue its publication. [27] The second is the signed date on the advertisement. According to Johann Heinrich Count von Bernstorff, the German ambassador to the United States at the time of the Lusitania disaster, the notice was originally scheduled to be published on April 24, a mere two days after the signed date. As Count Bernstorff related in his memoir, “By one of those fatal coincidences beloved of history, it happened that owing to technical difficulties the communiqué was not actually published until May 1 – the very date on which the Lusitania left New York Harbor.” Indeed, the unpredictable contingencies of history often militate against conspiracy on the sort of grand scale envisioned by Zeitgeist. Count Bernstorff went on to point out in his memoir that, “To the best of my belief technical factors render it impossible for a submarine commander to make any one particular ship the object of his attack, so that the officer responsible for the sinking of the Lusitania could not have been certain what vessel he had to deal with.” [28]

On May 7, 1915, six days after the warning notice was printed, the Lusitania was torpedoed by the German submarine U-20 and sunk off the coast of Ireland. America had not yet entered the war at this time, which at this stage was mainly fought between France and England on one side and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the other. Zeitgeist incorrectly claims that the sinking of the Lusitania was the catalyst that immediately propelled America into the war:

In turn and as anticipated, the sinking of the Lusitania caused a wave of anger among the American population and America entered the war a short time after.

This statement is technically inaccurate and very misleading. The United States declared its participation in the war on April 2, 1917, nearly two years to the day after the Lusitania was sunk. [29] A bit of background is in order here. The sinking of the Lusitania by the German U-boat was widely condemned by the international community, including even the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But Woodrow Wilson was still reluctant to involve his country in the war, and the worldwide uproar over the tragedy helped bring about a development that Wilson had been diplomatically pushing for. As historian Thomas A. Bailey writes, “One immediate and highly significant effect of the Lusitania affair was to bring about a blunting of Germany’s U-boat campaign. Two days after the sinking, but unknown to President Wilson, the Chancellor persuaded Wilhelm II to instruct the Admiralty to avoid any more attacks on neutral vessels. On June 6, 1915, almost one month after the tragic event, the Kaiser issued a secret order that required German submarine commanders to spare all large passenger ships.” [30] Wilson also had to wrestle with the fact that it was not in the best interests of Britain for the United States to enter the war. Since the start of the war in 1914, the United States had been supplying war supplies to Britain. “If the U.S. entered the war, those guns and ammunition would be needed to build up America’s standing army, a process that the State Department estimated would take a year or two. A U.S. declaration of war would, initially at least, result only in the diversion of supplies that the British desperately needed.” [31] Incidentally, one of the primary reasons the sinking of the Lusitania has generated more debate, analysis, and controversy than any of the hundreds of other Allied ocean liners destroyed by the German blockade is the fact that the Lusitania was a carrier of contraband munitions:

The ship’s cargo space was – just as the Germans claimed – being used to carry American munitions to Britain. As Lusitania prepared for her last voyage, 1,248 cases of 3-inch artillery shells – four shells to a case – and 4,927 boxes of rifle ammunition – each case containing 1,000 rounds and the total weighing 173 tons, which included ten tons of explosive powder – had been placed in the liner’s cargo. [32]

It was not until the Germans reintroduced unrestricted submarine warfare into the danger zones in January 1917 that the United States finally took an interest in the war. Even then Wilson remained hesitant to declare war. The final nail in the coffin of U.S. neutrality was actually unrelated to German destruction of its merchant ships. In January 1917, British Intelligence intercepted and decoded a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman that invited Mexico to join in a military alliance with Germany in the event that the U.S. joined the war. The American public was outraged and frightened at the threat this proposed alliance posed, and Congress was finally convinced to declare war on Germany three months later. [33]

Through a series of misused and out-of-context quotes and historical inaccuracies ranging from subtle to blatant, Zeitgeist proceeds to argue that World War II and the Vietnam conflict were engineered by power-hungry banking elites. For example, the film claims that on December 4, 1941, three days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, “Australian intelligence told Roosevelt about a Japanese task force moving towards Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt ignored it.” The idea being pushed here is that President Roosevelt wanted the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor because he “was very sympathetic to the interests of the international bankers” and “nothing is more profitable for international bankers than war.”

The problem is that the only evidence for an advance warning of the Japanese attack is anecdotal in nature. The only non-conspiracy source for this story that I could find is a single New York Times obituary from June 29, 1989. The obituary reports the death of one Elliot R. Thorpe, who in December 1941 “was a military attache in Dutch-controlled Java when the Dutch broke a Japanese diplomatic code. One of the intercepted messages referred to planned Japanese attacks on Hawaii, the Philippines and Thailand.” According to this article, when Thorpe was told about this message by an unnamed Dutch officer one week before the December 7 attack, he immediately sent a cable to Washington warning of the coming attack. [34] Assuming all this is true – which is generous, since Thorpe’s story was modified and reworked in later years – it is not surprising or damning to the U.S. administration that Thorpe’s extremely vague and as-yet uncorroborated warning went unheeded.

 

Microchips and a One World Government

Zeitgeist pulls out all the stops in its conclusion with a brief and highly paranoid discussion of microchips. Here the film claims that the coming One World Government will utilize microchip technology in tracking the every move of every single person on the planet. To quote the film directly,

In 2005, Congress, under the pretense of immigration control and the so called “war on terrorism,” passed the Real ID act, under which it is projected by May 2008 you will be required to carry around a Federal Identification card which includes on it a scannable bar code with your personal information. 

However this barcode is only an intermediary step, before the card is equipped with a VeriChip RFID tracking module, which will use radio frequencies to track your every move on the planet. If this sounds foreign to you, please note that the RFID tracking chip is already in all new American passports. And the final step is the implanted chip, which many people have already been manipulated into accepting under different pretenses. 

In the end, everybody will be locked into a monitored control grid, where every single action you perform is documented. And if you get out of line, they can just turn off your chip, for at that point in time, every single aspect of society will revolve around interactions with the chips. This is the picture that is painted for the future if you open your eyes to see it: A centralized one world economy where everyone’s moves and everyone’s transactions are tracked and monitored. All rights removed.

The notions here entertained of tracking modules and implanted microchips that lock all people in a centralized control grid derive from postmodern interpretations of apocalyptic and dystopian scenarios, many of which have been promulgated by adherents of dispensationalist Christianity. However, there is nothing particularly diabolic or draconian about a standard national ID card. Virtually every other industrialized country in the world has already implemented a national ID system in one form or another. The United States itself has adopted some forms of national ID, including Driver’s Licenses, Birth Certificates and Social Security cards. In similar innocuous fashion, the real intent of the REAL ID Act is not essentially any different from any other form of nationally-implemented ID system. The intent is simply to make available a national standard that works everywhere in the country. REAL ID does not give the government any more control over people than does a Driver’s License. In fact, the only difference between the two is that REAL ID establishes a national standard that renders information scanning a smoother and more streamlined process that minimizes the occurrence of mistakes. As matters currently stand, ID standards differ from state to state. Of course, this more convenient single nationwide standard that Congress envisioned has not yet come to fruition, and the May 2008 date of implementation predicted by Zeitgeist has come and gone.

The views of right-wing religious organizations and personalities, such as the John Birch Society and Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, constitute a primary source of the general fear felt by a surprising number of otherwise rational people of a One World Government or New World Order actually coming into existence in the real world within their lifetime. The connection to Christian end-times doctrine is clear: this New World Order, it is believed, will be headed by the Antichrist who will require world citizens to bear some kind of identifying mark – a tattoo placed either on the hand or forehead according to older conspiracy theories, an implanted microchip in the telling of more modern interpretations. Without this mark, a person living under the rule of this global government will not be allowed to buy or sell goods and services, a policy enforced by the Antichrist in order to maintain his one-world currency system.

Given the concordance that exists between Christian end-times belief and the fears promoted in Zeitgeist, it is ironic that most of the people who embrace the Zeitgeist Movement are actively opposed to Christianity or, at the very least, do not identify as Christian. And while it is true that there is no necessary connection between Christian end-times beliefs and notions of a One World Government using microchips to control the masses, the discussion of the subject in Zeitgeist betrays an undeniable resemblance to well-known interpretations, preached as absolute truth by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, of the thirteenth chapter of Revelation in the New Testament. [35] Following are just two examples of fundamentalist end-times theorizing that are nearly identical in nature to Zeitgeist’s claims on the subject. The first is from Robert Van Kampen, the late banking magnate (!) and fundamentalist Christian minister, and the second from the popular author and Christian doomsday evangelist Hal Lindsey:

We do not know how the mark will be imprinted on the hand or the forehead. Given modern technology, however, there are numerous ways this could be accomplished. A tiny microchip, for example, could be imbedded just under the skin in the palm of the hand. Whenever anyone wanted to buy or sell something, he could be required to wave his hand over a scanning device that would “read” the chip, identify the buyer or seller, and validate or invalidate the sale. [36]

~~~~~

This prophecy [Revelation 13:16-18] says that the Antichrist is going to require every person on Earth to receive this mark, which will contain the number of his name . . . today we can do exactly that. With today’s technology, a miniaturized computer chip about the size of a sesame seed can hold not only your own personal ID number and name, but also a file on your personal history. These can be injected under your skin and powered by the energy generated by your body. Now, these little chips can be linked together and tracked by satellite. Satellites linked with computers can now track a person with a PC chip implanted in his body anywhere in the world . . . this prophecy says that unless you receive the number of the Antichrist’s name, 666, you can’t buy or sell. Well, everyone has to have a personal number. What they apparently do is, when you swear allegiance to the Antichrist as being God, then you are given a prefix number of 666, which then validates your personal number. [37]

Notice that in trying to apply an ancient religious text to modern-day technology, Lindsey is forced to provide a rationalization for the use of the Bible’s number of 666. But wouldn’t the use of such a number as a validating prefix be a dead giveaway? If the Antichrist or the secular equivalent really is going to orchestrate and carry out exactly what is described in the Book of Revelation, how is it that this world dictator expects no one to immediately take notice? The “mark of the beast” idea has been featured prominently in popular culture and in countless sermons for laypeople. How could any aspiring Antichrist or world ruler reasonably expect anyone to accept his or her system? “The government has chosen the number 666 to be the validation code prefixing everyone’s personal ID number? Wait a minute, where have I heard that number before?

Conspiracy theorists often try to support their fear-mongering about government-issued microchips by making dubious comparisons to the methods of control employed by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Zeitgeist jumps on this bandwagon as well, for it draws comparisons between the Bush/Cheney administration and Hitler. In this way Zeitgeist perfectly fulfills the predictive principle of Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies, an Internet adage which states,

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one. [38]

Rather than showing that any such comparison is accurate or sufficiently warranted by evidence, the point of Godwin’s Law is that comparisons involving Hitler or the Nazis appeal to people who have an interest in demonizing the person or idea that has offended them. As Godwin later explained in a 1994 Wired article,

[T]here are obvious topics in which the comparison recurs. In discussions about guns and the Second Amendment, for example, gun-control advocates are periodically reminded that Hitler banned personal weapons. And birth-control debates are frequently marked by pro-lifers’ insistence that abortionists are engaging in mass murder, worse than that of Nazi death camps. And in any newsgroup in which censorship is discussed, someone inevitably raises the specter of Nazi book-burning.

But the Nazi-comparison meme popped up elsewhere as well – in general discussions of law in misc.legal, for example, or in the EFF conference on the Well. Stone libertarians were ready to label any government regulation as incipient Nazism. And, invariably, the comparisons trivialized the horror of the Holocaust and the social pathology of the Nazis. It was a trivialization I found both illogical (Michael Dukakis as a Nazi? Please!) and offensive (the millions of concentration-camp victims did not die to give some net.blowhard a handy trope). [39]

When enough anti-government activists and conspiracy theorists demonize microchip technology and personal ID cards, there comes a point at which such paranoid missives matriculate into the general population, with the result that more and more people start becoming needlessly concerned about being tracked wherever they go at all times. This anxiety would be justified if there were any evidential grounds for suspecting that such a program is in the works. But this is far from clear. More importantly, neither Hitler nor Stalin required implanted microchips in order to find people and kill them. They managed to carry out these actions quite efficiently without such means, and they obviously lacked the level of technology we have today.

This means that even if “the State” wanted to wield control over every aspect of the life of every individual in the population, they would not need to track the every move of each person at all times in order to do so. Indeed, any technological measures undertaken to achieve that level of control would be a huge waste of resources. Consider for a moment what would be required to insert microchips in every single person on the planet, not to mention subsequently tracking every person’s move at all times. The amount of financial investment needed, the level of networking required, the kind of infrastructure that would need to be constructed, the size of the central control establishment that would need to be built and maintained, all yield staggering figures when calculated. It would be perhaps the most impractical scheme ever conceived. It would require thousands if not millions of tech personnel and other specialists and trillions of dollars to put in place. How would the government ensure that all the tech and engineering personnel are paid off sufficiently to remain quiet about the ultimate goal of such a massive endeavor? If the Watergate scandal could not be kept under wraps, a plan to track every single person on the planet is certainly not going to remain secret for too long. Why would the global or even national elite even want to go to such lengths to control us? Would we really buy or sell any more or less than we already do? What more would we have to offer the controllers once we are locked into their grid? Ultimately, it would be an utter waste of massive amounts of money for a plot that the conspirators would never receive a return on in the future.


 

NOTES

[1] J. Lawrence Broz, “Origins of the Federal Reserve System: International Incentives and the Domestic Free-rider Problem,” International Organization 53, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 39-70.

[2] Ellis W. Tallman and Jon R. Moen, “Lessons from the Panic of 1907,” Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Economic Review 75 (May/June 1990): 2-13.

[3] Robert F. Bruner and Sean D. Carr, The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market’s Perfect Storm (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007).

[4] Vincent P. Carosso, The Morgans: Private International Bankers, 1854-1913 (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1987), chapter 15.

[5] John Steele Gordon, An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), p. 280.

[6] Barrie A. Wigmore, The Crash and Its Aftermath: A History of Securities Markets in the United States, 1929-1933 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985), p. 7; Gordon, An Empire of Wealth, p. 315.

[7] Ric Burns (director), “Cosmopolis (1919-1931),” New York: A Documentary Film, episode 5 (Arlington, VA: PBS, 1999).

[8] U.S. House Report no. 69, Changes in the Banking and Currency System of the United States, 63rd Congress, 1st session (Washington, D.C., September 9, 1913).

[9] Woodrow Wilson, The New Freedom (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1913), Ch. VIII.

[10] Ibid, Ch. IX.

[11] Robert Michael, A Concise History of American Antisemitism (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), p. 180; Gulie Ne’eman Arad, America, Its Jews, and the Rise of Nazism (Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000), p. 174.

[12] Michael, A Concise History of American Antisemitism, p. 186.

[13] Ibid, p. 142.

[14] “National Affairs: I Impeach. . . .,” Time 20, no. 6 (December 26, 1932). Online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,744826,00.html (accessed May 31, 2015).

[15] For a detailed explanation of the basis for money, see Edward L. Winston’s review of Part I of Zeitgeist: Addendum (the sequel film) at http://www.conspiracyscience.com/articles/zeitgeist-addendum/part-one/ (accessed May 31, 2015).

[16] The Zeitgeist Movement, “Mission Statement,” http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com/mission-statement (accessed September 25, 2016).

[17] Sixty-Third Congress, Second Session, Chapter 6, December 5, 1913, p. 265; U.S. Code Title 12 § 411.

[18] Amos Kiewe, FDR’s First Fireside Chat: Public Confidence and the Banking Crisis (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2007), p. 4. Audio of this speech is available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6nYKRLOFWg (accessed September 25, 2016).

[19] Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Executive Order 6102 – Requiring Gold Coin, Gold Bullion and Gold Certificates to Be Delivered to the Government,” April 5, 1933. Available online at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=14611 (accessed September 20, 2016).

[20] Christina D. Romer, “What Ended the Great Depression?” The Journal of Economic History 52, no. 4 (December 1992): 757-784.

[21] Richard H. Timberlake, Constitutional Money: A Review of the Supreme Court’s Monetary Decisions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 218.

[22] Boris I. Bittker, “Constitutional Limits on the Taxing Power of the Federal Government,” Tax Lawyer 41, no. 1 (Fall 1987): 3-12.

[23] Steve Mount, “Ratification of Constitutional Amendments,” U.S. Constitution Online, http://www.usconstitution.net/constamrat.html (accessed June 8, 2015).

[24] “26 U.S. Code § 6012 – Persons required to make returns of income,” Legal Information Institute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/6012 (accessed June 14, 2015); “26 U.S. Code § 6151 – Time and place for paying tax shown on returns,” Legal Information Institute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/6151 (accessed June 14, 2015).

[25] “26 U.S. Code § 6072 – Time for filing income tax returns,” Legal Information Institute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/6072 (accessed June 14, 2015).

[26] Christian Science Evangelism (producer), College Level Course 103, class 6 [DVD]. Video available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZTroN66ixE (accessed September 18, 2016).

[27] The New York Times Current History, Vol. II (June 1915), p. 413.

[28] Count Bernstorff, My Three Years in America (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), p. 138.

[29] Woodrow Wilson, War Messages, 65th Cong., 1st Sess. Senate Doc. No. 5, Serial No. 7264, Washington, D.C., 1917; pp. 3-8, passim. Available online at https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Wilson’s_War_Message_to_Congress (accessed September 24, 2016).

[30] Thomas A. Bailey and Paul B. Ryan, The Lusitania Disaster: An Episode in Modern Warfare and Diplomacy (New York: The Free Press, 1975), p. 231.

[31] Robert D. Ballard, Exploring the Lusitania: Probing the Mysteries of the Sinking that Changed History (New York: Warner Books, 1995), p. 194.

[32] Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (New York: Random House, 2003), p. 530.

[33] Thomas Boghardt, The Zimmerman Telegram: Intelligence, Diplomacy, and America’s Entry into World War I (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2012).

[34] “Elliott Thorpe, 91, Army Attache Who Warned of Japanese Attack,” The New York Times, June 29, 1989. Available online at http://www.nytimes.com/1989/06/29/obituaries/elliott-thorpe-91-army-attache-who-warned-of-japanese-attack.html (accessed September 24, 2016).

[35] Revelation 13 (Revised Standard Version), Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+13&version=RSV (accessed June 7, 2015).

[36] Robert Van Kampen, The Sign: Bible Prophecy Concerning the End Times, Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), p. 231.

[37] “End-Time Prophesies (Microchips) – Dr Hal Lindsey” (video), YouTube, March 20, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7M1z-Gfnyk (accessed June 14, 2015).

[38] Mike Godwin, “Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies (and Corollaries),” Electronic Frontier Foundation, January 12, 1995. Archived from the “Net Culture – Humor” section of EFF.org, http://w2.eff.org/Net_culture/Folklore/Humor/godwins.law (accessed June 15, 2015).

[39] Mike Godwin, “Meme, Counter-meme,” Wired 2, no. 10 (October 1994), http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/godwin.if_pr.html (accessed June 15, 2015).

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