One of those unfortunate discoveries made over decades of wrestling with one fringe idea, creationism, is that when you tug on one string in the fringe, you find that it’s connected to all the other fringes, and you have to unravel the whole thing. Creationists often have bizarre ideas about Christianity and space and electromagnetism and how the Pope isn’t the true Pope and Jesus is connected to the Masons and the Rosicrucians and the Hebrews colonized Mars and Nazis possessed the Spear of Destiny and used the Holy Grail to power their flying saucers that were used to shuttle slaves to the gold mines at the center of the Hollow Earth and did you know the Nephilim built the pyramids. There is a gigantic tangle of remarkably nonsensical myths lying around, and if you’re so ignorant that you believe that scientists have engaged in a centuries-long conspiracy to hide the fact that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, then you’re primed to pick up on any bullshit you hear. If they’ve been lying about that, then sure, maybe the sun is actually only a few thousand miles away, and the Earth is also flat.
The SPLC has noticed, and has put up an article discussing the indisputable links between the alt-right and alt-history and alt-science. It starts with our contemptibly racist president — not the current one, the 19th century one, Andrew Jackson — who believed that the Mound Builders, and any other culture that built cities and monuments in the Americas, had to have been a superior and white race that was exterminated by the “savages” currently occupying the ruins. There is a long history of cultural chauvinism in the West, where the accomplishments of non-white cultures are belittled or bestowed upon super-intelligent visitors from alien worlds or visiting white tribes or angels, because gosh, the wogs couldn’t possibly have built the pyramids.
We’ve been pandering to it. If you’ve read von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, you’ve been soaking in racism. That’s the whole premise: that anything of any complexity or sophistication could not have been constructed by non-Europeans, and therefore, it must be interpreted as a product of alien influence. Maybe you’ve laughed at Giorgio Tsoukalos, but it’s the same thing, a set of arguments resting entirely on contempt for the intellectual capacity of brown people. We’ve seen entire television networks consumed by this pseudo-scientific conceit — anything that babbles about “hidden history” is basically garbage. But popular garbage.
Take “America Unearthed,” which aired between 2012 and 2015 on H2, a defunct History Channel network. That show’s host, a geologist named Scott Wolter, promoted theories that ancient Celts and Scots settled North America and hybridized Native Americans centuries before Columbus. The details can be found in Wolter’s contributions to Lost Worlds of Ancient America, a 2012 anthology edited by Frank Joseph, born Frank Collin, founder of the National Socialist Party of America. (In 1993, following his expulsion from the party for “impure blood”, Collin became editor of Ancient American magazine and has authored dozens of books dealing with ancient “suppressed” history.) In another episode, when a guest professes admiration for the Knights of the Golden Circle, a group of wealthy Southerners who sought to create a hemispheric slave empire, Wolter just nods. (Wolter has denied that he or his ideas are racist, and claims to be politically liberal.)
I’ve met Scott Wolter. He’s not liberal, he’s just nuts.
In the movies, we’ve got crap like The DaVinci Code and National Treasure built on ridiculously convoluted conspiracy theories about the past. Worst of all, we’ve got Indiana Jones…and I liked those movies (except the last one) and took my kids to see them. Indiana Jones is a terrible archaeologist, the very worst, and every one of those movies rests on the idea that the past accomplishments of exotic cultures rest on occultism, rather than the entirely human minds and skills of their people. And then there is the Nazi connection.
Popular media has been feeding the idea that the Nazis had secret super-science, as well as insight into the Truth™ of mystical paranormal powers and the potency of magical religious relics.
Another inevitable development in postwar conspiracy subculture was the rise of a belief in secret Nazi bases underneath Antarctica. The idea of a “hollow” or “inner” earth was a key tenet of nineteenth-century occultism, and in the postwar years it reemerged as a setting for escaped Nazi scientists working in secret technology and weapons labs.
The legend took root during the mid-1970s, nurtured by the Canadian neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel, who argued that Nazis invented flying saucers and had taken their breakthrough technology to bases deep under the South Pole.
The Third Reich was interested in a possible base at the South Pole, and a few high-level Nazis did escape to Argentina, whose national territory includes a slice of Antarctica extending to the South Pole. Zundel and his successors have infused these facts with Victorian inner-earth legends, and then marinated them over multiple viewings of the 1968 B-flick, They Saved Hitler’s Brain. Versions of the theory remain popular on neo-Nazi alt-history sites, and in recent years British tabloids like the Mirror and Daily Star have found click-bait gold in spreading them.
Yeah, “click-bait gold”. There’s a reason rat poison is sweet, too.
There were no Nazi magic powers. Germany was an industrial and scientific powerhouse in the 19th and early 20th centuries — Germany dominated physics, chemistry, and biology, and had built a substantial technological lead over the rest of the world. The Nazis didn’t create that, they exploited Germany’s hard-won advantages, and wrecked them. The Nazi regime was a major setback to our technological progress (and civilization as a whole), and I despise this propaganda that tries to pretend they were an engine of innovation rather than looters and wreckers who drove away a large part of their scientific talent and murdered good human minds.
There are no shortcuts to education and research. Our media, though, have been going down this path of promoting fables about how the world works, and it’s going to take us down the same ugly path that derailed Germany.