The economic crisis has most of us worried about a lot of things. How will I retire? How will I pay the mortgage? Will I have enough ammo and MREs to outlast crazed “urban” hordes marauding the countryside?

I’m especially worried about the last one after seeing Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News raising apocalyptic free-for-all as a very real possibility. With ominous music and images of swarthy people burning American flags, refugees, rioters, and military on the move, it was the very definition of public-service reporting, if by “public service” you mean “losing your mind.”

Beck is the happy face of the fever swamps, just recently departed from CNN’s Headline News (or HNN—who cares?) and finding a home at News Corp., publisher, among other things, of The Wall Street Journal and the Sunday Tasmanian.

For his grim duty to prepare the American people, Beck even has the help of The Wall Street Journal editorial board (Fox News’s corporate cousin) in the guise of Stephen Moore, who proffers a more pecuniary paranoia.

The Journal edit page shares the spotlight with Gerald Celente, last seen being a paranoid creep in a fun New Yorker article in January:

The convention’s opening speaker was a trend forecaster named Gerald Celente, who registered the domain name panicof08.com in the fall of 2007, anticipating what he called “an economic 9/11”…

Privately, Celente stressed to me that he’s “very optimistic,” because out of chaos comes greatness (“When you look at the Renaissance, it happened after the last Dark Age”), at least for those who are prepared. On the morning of the actual 9/11, in 2001, Celente had called his girlfriend in New York and told her to withdraw all her money and meet him at his house upstate, in Rhinebeck. She said, “Oh, Gerald, you’re kidding.” He wasn’t kidding. He called his bank and asked them to wire all his money to Rhinebeck. They said, “Sorry, Mr. Celente, we can’t. Wall Street is closed.” He felt fortunate to have some gold. He thought of Indian Point, the nuclear power plant fifty miles down the Hudson, as another potential target, and immediately filled up both of his cars with gas, bought bags of dried figs, dates, and raisins, and readied his Chinese SKS rifle. (“It’s accurate, it’s light, it’s simple: knock it down, put it back together in no time.”) He figured he could be in Canada in four hours. “So when it happened, I was ready to move,” he said. “Same thing with this. My money’s out of the banks. I’m only interested in gold.”

So, perhaps it’s not surprising that in response to Beck’s scenario that in five years unemployment is at 12 percent, the Dow is at 2,800, U.S. credit is no longer AAA, and, hilariously: “Government and unions control most of the business,” Celente says this:

BECK: OK. What is life like — under that scenario — what is life like in 2014 for America?

CELENTE: New York City looks like Mexico City. If you have money or they think you’re going to have money, you’re going to be a target for a kidnapping. We’re going to see major cities look like Calcutta. There is going to be the homeless, panhandlers, hookers… It’s going to be serious. It’s going to be — we are going to see petty thieves and we’re going to see pick-pockets.

Oy! Petty thieves and pick-pockets?

But Celente thinks it will get much worse than that. See if you can untangle the subtext of the remarks that follow a nutty interlude from an Ayn Rand Institute official and a nudge from the Journal edit-board’s Moore:

BECK: What — tell me what life is like for the average person… Are we still living in our homes? (Ryan here: Because our biggest problem right now is a shortage of homes. Genius.)

MOORE: Think gated communities. I mean, you were talking about this before. You know, those countries you were talking about like cities like Mexico City. Those are — the rich people live in fortresses, right? With armed guards and the masses are — as you said, people get kidnapped when they go outside the fortress, and you essentially privatize security and all the other kind of government functions because government breaks down. Isn’t that what happens.

CELENTE: And the other thing, even these — even these gated communities won’t be safe, because you’re going to see criminality — you’re going to see gangs like you’ve never seen before… I mean, you look at high school graduation rates — you have under 50 percent in major cities. So, now you have all these people — I’m not a classist, I’m a guy that was born in the Bronx, you know…

You have people that are ignorant, functionally illiterate, and whacked out on drugs, Hillbilly heroin, well, you name it, meth, go down the line, and they have nothing to lose.

Not a “classist”— just classy. Celente helpfully adds:

You know, I’m a practitioner, a close combat practitioner, Attackproof.com is my instructing — teachers, John Perkins, and he’s a self defense expert. He’s a close combat. Number one, anybody that wants to look him up, he’s there. You know what he teaches us? He teaches us to prepare for the worst — survival. And then you back off from that.

I’m sure your close-combat kung fu skills will come in handy in the Hobbesian nightmare that you predict, Gerald. Us, we favor a sawed-off in that situation. Of course, I personally live in the District of Columbia where until very recently it was illegal to have any guns at all, so I don’t have one. I’m not exactly quaking in fear.

Beck conjures something he calls the “Bubba Effect,” which he thinks “is likely to happen.” The Bubba effect is, apparently, the rise of some sort of patriot militia movement, plus.

Here, a retired Army command sergeant major adds some more, ahem, subtext:

STRONG: They’ll be very conscious of who enters their own community and it’s almost going to be a commune-based society, but they won’t project that based on the fact that they want to project normalcy.

BECK: OK.

STRONG: but those that enter their space that are threatening to them. And again, we don’t want to use the word “profiling,” but that’s — you are definitely going to stand out. You are not going to look like a bubba.

My favorite part is when Beck keeps saying “we’re not predicting this will happen.” Not at all! No worries. Here’s Beck’s talking about Mexican drug gangs: (emphasis mine):

BECK: Right. And it will lead to, I believe it will play into, at least, the disenfranchisement and a possible uprising here in the United States with — God forbid — please, everybody, have a seat and relax just a little bit.

I would take a seat, Glenn, but I’m too busy hiding under it.

Another Glenn, this one Greenwald at Salon, puts all this lunacy in historical context and makes some very sharp points:

Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 gave rise to the American “militia movement”: hordes of overwhelmingly white, middle-aged men from suburban and rural areas who convinced themselves they were defending the American way of life from the “liberals” and “leftists” running the country by dressing up in military costumes on weekends, wobbling around together with guns, and play-acting the role of patriot-warriors. Those theater groups… spawned the decade of the so-called “Angry White Male,” the movement behind the 1994 takeover of the U.S. Congress by Newt Gingrich and his band of federal-government-cursing, pseudo-revolutionary, play-acting tough guys.

What was most remarkable about this allegedly “anti-government” movement was that — with some isolated and principled exceptions — it completely vanished upon the election of Republican George Bush, and it stayed invisible even as Bush presided over the most extreme and invasive expansion of federal government power in memory. Even as Bush seized and used all of the powers which that movement claimed in the 1990s to find so tyrannical and unconstitutional — limitless, unchecked surveillance activities, detention powers with no oversight, expanding federal police powers, secret prison camps, even massively exploding and debt-financed domestic spending — they meekly submitted to all of it, even enthusiastically cheered it all on.

Funny how that works. Greenwald correctly ties this into the Santelli debacle:

The week-long CNBC Revolt of the Traders led by McCain voter Rick Santelli and the fledgling little Tea Party movement promoted by the Michelle Malkins of the world are obvious outgrowths of this 1990s mentality, now fortified by the most powerful fuel: deep economic fear.

Beck uses that economic fear to posit the withdrawal of America as the world’s policeman and predicts that would lead to chaos from Muslims. Remember Beck’s the guy who asked Keith Ellison, our first Muslim Congressman, this gem:

“I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’ ” Beck added: “I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”

And here’s Beck on the “War Room” program:

…what would happen in the Middle East is also tied in to just running over Europe. Europe, itself, is teetering with Muslim extremists as well. How does the world stand without America standing there and being prepared to deal with it?

Nice.

And, yes, it gets worse.

Finally, Beck veers from paranoia to darn-near sedition:

OK. Michael, the government coming in and disenfranchising people over and over and over again, and having the people say, “Please listen to us,” the average person, some people will listen to the government, but others - and I’m seeing it already.

They know the Constitution. They know the writings of the founders, and they feel that the government, or they will in this scenario, and I think we’re on this road - the government has betrayed the Constitution. And so they will see themselves as people who are standing up for the Constitution. So how do you defuse this, Michael, or how long even do we have before this becomes a crazy real scenario?

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER HEAD OF THE CIA BIN LADEN UNIT: Well, I don’t think you would want to defuse it, Glenn. We have had a 40-minute program so far, and all of the problems we have talked about in one way or another are the result of the American government either overspending or overreaching.

BECK: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Wait a minute. Are both of you guys saying that you don’t want to - I don’t think we would head for an American revolution. We would head for a French revolution.

SCHEUER: Civil war.

Etc. etc. Hey, I’m not the biggest fan of the government, but come on! Beck’s even worse when he tries to be responsible:

BECK: I am against the government, and I think that they have just been horrible, and I do think they are betraying the principles of our founders every day they’re in office.

But I have to tell you, this scenario scares the living daylights out of me because it is completely - it is shaking nitroglycerine.

You both served in the military. You tell me, do the soldiers come in and do they round up people? Or do they fight with the people for the Constitution? What is the Army? What does the military do?…

SCHEUER: No. I don’t think the military is ever going to shoot on the American people.

Folks, this is a “news” program in a good slot on national television. We too often write off Fox News because we know its journalism is awful. But real people are watching this stuff and believe it. Trust me, I know some of them.

That’s what scares me.

You just have to laugh at Fox News and Beck:


UPDATE: Also, see this even funnier Colbert segment lampooning Beck. The Journal’s Moore even makes a sporting appearance:

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.