Over the weekend, Naomi Wolf made a series of bizarre claims on her Facebook page. The Pullitzer Prize winning author claimed the ISIS beheadings were staged by the U.S. military and that James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Allan Henning and their families were portrayed by actors. She also claimed that ISIS is funded by the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia and that U.S. troops were being sent to Africa to bring Ebola back to the United States. For good measure, she also said the Scottish Referendum results were faked. Following a social media backlash, Wolf subsequently deleted the post, but later wrote to say that she stood by what she had said.
Honestly, I’m surprised she isn’t claiming the Tigers and Angels threw the ALDS.
I say this because of an encounter I had with her seven years ago at the Harvard Coop Bookstore in Cambridge. At the time, she was promoting her book The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. That book was an expanded version of an essay she had published in The Guardian in which she claimed the Bush Administration was planning a fascist takeover of America and that he planned to stay in office after his term ended. Naturally, I just had to write about it. Here is a somewhat lengthy excerpt which details our exchange:
Wolf also complained about her treatment at our nation’s airports. She said that for the past 18 months she has been subject to extra searches and cited as a “top security risk”. How does she know this to be so? Because a TSA employee told her that she was “on the list.” So because Naomi Wolf is on the list (whatever that list might be) she declares America a fascist state. Talk about chutzpah. I have no doubt such a thing is a pain particularly if one travels by air a great deal, and I am sure I would not care for it a great deal if I were in a similar position. Yet I think these experiences have perhaps compromised her capacity to reason. She also described being “menaced” by a New York City police officer at a train station. Wolf also complained that she could only get a small publisher in Vermont to print End of America and that there was a “media blackout” on it. She also said that if a journalist or editor is declared an “enemy combatant” in this country she will stop talking. Clearly this is someone who is at wits end, fraying at the edges.
That emotional state was in evidence when I questioned her. In her Guardian essay, in easy step number nine (dissent equals treason) she warns of arrests of public figures taking place. “If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.” I reminded her of several things. One, we were in a bookstore. Two, we were in a bookstore that had dozens of books critical of the Bush Administration including Charlie Savage’s Takeover, John Dean’s Broken Government, Jack Goldsmith’s The Terror Presidency and Glenn Greenwald’s Tragic Legacy. Third, I pointed out that people were not afraid to speak in this country and that in New England most political commentary was decidedly anti-Bush. Fourth, I reminded her that we were discussing her book in public and not under cover of darkness. Fifth, I further reminded her that the Bush Administration would be leaving in fewer than 460 days never to return. With this in mind, I asked her if she honestly believed that she and the other authors I mentioned would be arrested and imprisoned.
Naomi Wolf did not want to answer my question. She began by talking about Germany in 1931-1932 and that there was an intellectual class strongly opposed to the Nazis before the “tipping point.” Then for some odd reason, she veered off into talking about Dan Rather’s lawsuit against Viacom. I must have got a skeptical look on my face because she then shouted at me, “Let me finish” even though I had not uttered a word of interruption. If Dan Rather has the right to sue his former employer and wins money as a result I am not sure quite sure how this brings us fascism. She then cited journalist Greg Palast (who has also written a book critical of the Bush Administration) being under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for filming an oil refinery. What she did not mention was while there had been a complaint filed against Palast, he was not arrested and DHS ultimately decided against pursuing any charges.
Since she did not answer my question the first time, I asked her once more. Wolf replied, “I hope not.” She then shouted at me yet again and asked me, “Why are we having this discussion?” If she had permitted me to retort, I would have said because she brought it up in her essay. Wolf then proceeded to tell me she was getting “angry” and then invoked her two children much to the delight of the crowd sympathetic to her who began applauding. I just smiled having successfully gotten under her skin. That was not my intent, although I was prepared for such a reaction.
In all fairness, a few minutes later, Wolf did publicly apologize for getting angry with me citing the need to be civilized. I told her and all assembled that I had taken no offense from her diatribe. But her outburst was quite revealing. Aside from whatever stress she is experiencing in her life, it is also clear to me she has not thought her argument through and is ill-prepared to defend it. After all, if you are going to tell people it is the end of America you ought to expect your ideas to be vigorously challenged and be able to answer tough questions arising from honest scrutiny.
Not much has changed in seven years. Now as she did then, Wolf makes a series of assertions that she cannot back up. When challenged on her claims she cannot defend her argument and is reduced to becoming petulant, prickly and paranoid.
The only difference now is that people are catching on to what I found out first hand about Naomi Wolf seven years ago – she’s gone off the deep end and has taken refuge there. As such, her words must be taken not just with a grain of salt, but a full shaker’s worth.