Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Department of Just-Us (And Screw Everyone Else): Kevin Trudeau, Donald Trump and (lack of) accountability

Quick take: Imprisoned serial scammer Kevin Trudeau's loyal fans, many of whom are also Donald Trump supporters, are still campaigning for "justice" for their hero, looking to Trump to deliver that justice by commuting Trudeau's ten-year sentence and, ideally, pardoning him as well. Some declare that by doing so, Trump would be taking a stance not only for justice in general but also for increased government accountability (it was the US government that prosecuted and sentenced Trudeau).

However, folks who look to Trump for either justice or accountability are, for numerous reasons, on very shaky ground -- particularly in light of recent events, e.g., Trump's meddling in high-profile criminal cases (especially that of convicted felon and long-time Trump buddy Roger Stone); and the recent clemency spree in which Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of a string of corrupt white-collar criminals who were well-connected (either by virtue of the criminals' support of Trump/the republican party, or by their celebrity status, or by a personal connection to Trump). These acts of clemency totally bypassed the usual channels in the Justice Department.

In a sense it's a bit surprising that so many Kevin Trudeau fans are still so enamored of Trump. After all, Trudeau has been posturing for decades as a brave fighter against government tyranny and corruption, and his fans have often echoed that battle cry -- but Donald Trump seems to be dragging the US headlong down the path
towards tyranny and unfettered corruption, raising the question of whether people who are fans and supporters of both Trump and Trudeau are experiencing any sort of cognitive dissonance. It seems unlikely, though: what appears more likely is that both Trump and Trudeau, against all reason and logic, are still viewed by their supporters and fans as rebels who are fighting against a corrupt establishment -- despite the fact that Trump has been very much a part of that establishment all of his life, and Trudeau has benefited from it as well. Regardless, anyone who views either or both of these men as heroic clearly needs to choose better heroes.

It must be enormously frustrating to be a loyal defender of imprisoned serial scammer
Kevin Trudeau (aka KT, aka Katie), particularly a supporter who has been participating in a shamelessly sycophantic multimedia plea campaign imploring #NotMyPresident Donald Trump to commute Trudeau's ten-year prison sentence and, ideally, issue a full presidential pardon as well. This campaign has been going on ever since Trump assumed office; I've written about it a few times.

Every time one of Trump's pardons or commutations has made the news, the Free KT contingent have gotten their hopes up, doubling down on their efforts to convince Trump that Trudeau deserves clemency as well. So I can only imagine the frenzy that Trump's
latest clemency spree is stirring up. When, oh, when, will it be Katie's turn?

Trump's pardons and commutations thus far have either been a result of pressure from mostly-useless celebrities like Kim Kardashian, or they've been politically motivated. The most recent clemency orgy, which may not be over yet, has targeted high-profile folks who are either celebrities or have some ties to the White House -- well-connected people, in other words. And most of the clemency grants bypassed the Justice Department.

That said,
a piece in the Washington Post noted that so far Trump has ruled on only 204 clemency requests -- 24 approvals and 180 denials, which is the slowest pace in decades. The White House wouldn't answer detailed questions about Trump's approach to clemency. But former head of the pardons office Larry Kupers, who quit in 2019 over frustration that under Trump the office had become little more than a bureaucratic way station, had this to say when asked what advice he would give to an offender seeking leniency: "Find a way to get to Kim Kardashian. I'm very serious about that." (Yes, that is pretty much the "advice" I offered in my May 2018 post about this very matter.)

It appears that Kevin Trudeau's army still doesn't have either the celebrity angle or the political clout to get the Orange Oaf of Office's attention. They can't even use Troy McClain, former Apprentice star and once a pretend-buddy of Donald Trump. As many may recall, Troy purchased the Trudeau-founded Global Information Network (GIN) a few years ago, and was head honcho for a while, but sold his interest some time in the summer of 2017. Besides, credible rumor has it that he dislikes Trudeau, so why would he advocate on his behalf? And a couple of years ago he caught flak from Trump supporters for allegedly playing a racist Trump tape for former White House staffer Omarosa M. Newman. (Troy vehemently denied it.) So Troy McClain is a wash.

But the lack of celebrity or political connections hasn't stopped the Free KT contingent from trying.

The Trump-Trudeau connection
The obsession with getting through to Trump on Katie's behalf is not at all surprising. To begin with, Katie himself is apparently a longtime admirer of Trump, though there's no indication so far that the love is mutual, or that Trump himself is even aware of Katie's situation (and no, form responses issued by the White House, and bearing a reproduction of Trump's signature, don't count).

Trump and Trudeau seem to have a lot in common, such as serial scamming and chronic lying and pandering to racists. Furthermore many -- dare I say most? -- loyal Trudeau fans, at least those in the US, are also Trump supporters, and they clearly look on both of these guys as heroes who are sticking their necks out to protect the rights and freedoms of all Americans. Convincing these hero worshipers that they are either misinformed, misguided, or willfully blind about Trumpdeau is an uphill battle, and possibly a losing one, not that this will prevent my ongoing efforts to do so. I am nothing if not obsessive.

Among the most loyal and persistent defenders of Kevin Trudeau is former Congressman
Ed Foreman, who has gone to such lengths on Trudeau's behalf as getting himself physically dragged out of court -- and fined for his disruptive behavior -- during the sentencing part of Katie's criminal trial in March of 2014. Eric Nicholson of the Dallas Observer mentioned that incident in a short piece that leads with this observation about Foreman:
It's not impossible to see how voters, first in West Texas (1962), then in southern New Mexico (1968), might have decided to send Ed Foreman to Congress. He has a hypnotic stage presence and exudes a folksy charisma, complete with an endless supply of homespun anecdotes.

Also pretty easy to decipher is how he was unseated in both cases after just one term, and it's not that he was running as a Republican in traditionally Democratic districts. His charm is that of a snake-oil salesman; for many, perhaps most, his manic shtick would wear thin rather quickly.
Manic or not, Foreman has been front and center in the "Free KT" campaign, posting content online and spearheading the concerted effort to get Trump behind the cause. (Katie himself cited Foreman's efforts in some of his own communications directed to Trump.)

One of Foreman's most detailed messages, originally written in 2017 and
apparently updated recently, is filled with the usual distortions, misinformation, and outright lies about how the US government committed an outrageous act of injustice against Trudeau. Here's the link to the latest edition of Foreman's twisted history (twistory?) about Trudeau's legal woes.

At some point I may take the time to go line by line through Foreman's long screed and point out exactly where he is either providing incomplete information, distorting the facts, or just plain lying. I've actually addressed several of these distortions and lies, particularly as they were presented by Kevin himself, on past blog posts over the years (
here is one from 2016, addressing the relatively minor fib that Kevin's sentence is the longest ever imposed for contempt in the US). But I know it would be much more convenient if the information were to be consolidated into one post that directly addresses the Trudolt camp's "official" narrative. For now, though, I want to address one crucial item in Foreman's twistory that stands out like Trump's fake tan under an energy-efficient light bulb.

Oh, the hypocrisy...
At the conclusion of his KT timeline, Foreman invokes the Constitutionally granted right of the US president to reduce the sentence of any federal inmate, solely at the president's discretion. Given Trudeau's repeated failures with his appeals, Foreman clearly views Trump as being Kevin's last best hope.

At this point, one man, and one man alone – President Trump – can rectify this grotesque derailing of our entire judicial process.

By commuting Trudeau’s sentence, President Trump will be sending a clear message of accountability to the judiciary, demonstrating that they are not bullet proof and remain subject to the same checks and balances as every other branch of the government.

President Trump will also show that judicial overreach, abuse of discretion, and politically motivated legal actions will not be tolerated.
No irony intended, I'm sure. But the actions of Trump and his Department of Justice following the sham impeachment "trial" and acquittal make Foreman's words about Trump sending a message of "accountability," and Trump showing that "... politically motivated legal actions will not be tolerated" seem even more absurd than they were when Foreman first wrote them. In fact, the very concept of Trump being a defender of the system of checks and balances is ludicrous.

During the entire process of impeachment, from the inquiries and hearings in the House to the "trial" in the Senate, the republican lawmakers demonstrated that they had little interest in checks and balances or the rule of law, particularly the spirit of the law. From the February 5, 2020 Vox piece I linked to in the paragraph above:

Senate Republicans didn’t violate the Constitution’s rules for holding an impeachment trial. They adhered fairly reasonably to the letter of the law and can credibly claim they did all that was legally required of them. But this was a sham trial, one whose outcome was never seriously in doubt. By following the formal rules, Senate Republicans gave this fiction a veneer of formal legitimacy. All of them, with the brave exception of Mitt Romney, weaponized the letter of the law against its spirit.

This kind of corrupt legalism is a common practice among ruling parties in democracies that have fallen into autocracy. That these regimes contain the most direct parallels to what’s just happened in America makes clear the precise way in which our democracy is under attack. We should not fear a coup or seizure of authoritarian emergency powers, but a slow hollowing-out of our legal system to the point where the people no longer have meaningful control over their leaders.

On Wednesday, the United States took another notable step in that direction.
Trump, of course, emerged triumphant from impeachment precisely because the republicans had done his bidding. Clearly the legislative branch -- or at least the republican part of it -- doesn't think the rules of accountability that Ed Foreman mentioned apply to them.

And Trump himself has already demonstrated, many times over, that he believes the executive branch is answerable to no one but himself. Of course he is not alone in his inflated view of executive privilege. Ever since the republicans let their Mad King off scot-free (and even before that), another key figure in the executive branch -- that would be Trump's plump little lapdog, Attorney General William Barr -- has also demonstrated that in Trump's America, "accountability" and "checks and balances" are abstract concepts at best, and "rule of law" only matters if (mis)used to quash Trump's critics and opponents.

For several reasons Barr has been raising alarm bells for years, at least among those who care about civil liberties in the US. He is particularly alarming to people who care about the separation of church and state -- although the secretive and extremist org Opus Dei insisted in November 2019 that Barr is not now and never has been a member of Opus Dei. But The Nation reported that as recently as 2017, he was on the board of directors of a DC-based organization called the Catholic Information Center, whose leadership are Opus Dei members, so that's probably a bit less than the proverbial six degrees of separation.

But the current kerfuffle is over Barr's
intervention in the criminal case against longtime Trump associate and evil person Roger Stone, which has had a chilling effect nationwide on federal prosecutors who are only trying to do their jobs. From The New York Times on February 12, 2020 and updated on February 14:
In 2001, William P. Barr, describing his first stint as attorney general, under President George Bush, spoke of the department’s protected status in the post-Watergate era. “You didn’t mess around with it, didn’t intervene, you didn’t interfere,” he recalled in an oral history.

Fast forward to 2020, and Mr. Barr is attorney general once more. But President Trump’s ground-shaking conduct has demolished those once-sacrosanct guardrails. Mr. Barr’s intervention to lessen a prison sentencing recommendation for the president’s convicted friend Roger J. Stone Jr. prompted all four career prosecutors handling the matter
to quit the case.

To career prosecutors around the country, the Stone case raised new fears of what is to come. Until now, according to conversations with more than a dozen career lawyers in some of the 93 U.S. attorney’s offices, they had watched other divisions in the Justice Department execute significant shifts in response to Mr. Trump while the work of prosecuting crimes was largely unaffected by the politics of the moment. Now career prosecutors said they worried they might face more pressure...

...Prosecutors across the United States, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals, said this week that they had already been wary of working on any case that might catch Mr. Trump’s attention and that the Stone episode only deepened their concern. They also said that they were worried that Mr. Barr might not support them in politically charged cases...
Also from the Times, on the same day:
Mr. Trump has established a new normal at the senior legal leadership of his administration. The rhetoric of Mr. Sessions’s successor, William Barr, suggests that he accepts, to a disturbing degree, the president’s desire for a politically responsive Justice Department. Mr. McGahn’s successor, Pat Cipollone, defended the president in the impeachment proceeding with arguments of the kind, in tone and variance from the factual record, you would expect to hear from Trump surrogates on Fox News.
Mark Sumner at Daily Kos summed it up in an email to subscribers:
Here's what you need to know about Tuesday and Wednesday's stunning and terrifying events:
  • Federal prosecutors had recommended sentencing longtime Trump associate Roger Stone to seven to nine years in prison. Trump tweeted that this was unfair.
  • Just hours later, Trump Attorney General William Barr intervened in the case, instructing the Department of Justice to overrule the prosecutors in the case and reduce Stone's suggested sentence.
  • All four of the U.S. attorneys who had signed on to the sentencing recommendation have resigned, sending the strongest possible signal that things at the Justice Department are not normal.
  • Trump again took to Twitter, even more unhinged. He mocked the prosecutors and threatened to bring charges against them. He spread lies and conspiracy theories about them, their connections to Robert Mueller, and even accused Mueller of lying to Congress.
  • Barr has given up even pretending to be the country's top law enforcement officer, as NBC News reports he has "control of legal matters of personal interest to President Donald Trump." That includes persecution of Trump’s enemies, such as former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and protecting Trump allies such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.
In the past 48 hours, Trump has fully transformed the Department of Justice from the country's top law enforcement agency into a personal and political instrument of Donald Trump.
I don't have a convenient link to that email, but here's a link to one of Sumner's articles, dated February 12, 2020, about the same events.

And nobody should be fooled by
Barr's seemingly "bold" condemnation, in an ABC News interview, of Trump's Twitter habits. From The Guardian on February 14:
Matthew Miller, an Obama-era justice department official, wrote on Twitter: “Don’t be fooled by this one, people. Barr is telling the president that his impulsiveness is making it politically harder for him to deliver the results he wants. If Trump would just shut up, Barr could take care of him much more effectively.”

“The best indicator of future performance is past performance,”
wrote the US congresswoman Val Demings, of Florida. “Attorney General Barr’s past performance was to mislead the American people (about the Mueller Report) in order to cover up wrongdoing by the president. Why shouldn’t we believe that’s exactly what he’s doing now?”
Indeed. Fortunately, it appears that a lot of folks were not taken in by Barr's theatrics.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to declare, as
David Corn at Mother Jones did on February 13, 2020, that the Trump presidency has "entered its most dangerous phase."
With the impeachment behind him, Trump has been acting like Michael Corleone on steroids, intent on settling all the “family business.” He sacked impeachment witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Next he moved onto the Justice Department and the judiciary. At the same time, Barr set up a special “intake” channel at the department for Trump’s henchman Rudy Giuliani to feed rumors, dirt, and supposed leads about Trump’s rivals.

All this is crooked and horrific. Trump is rigging the justice system, trashing norms that have been in place for decades, and attacking the notion that the rule of law is essential for democratic governance. Early in his presidency, facing the Russia investigation being run by the FBI, Trump
exclaimed, “Where is my Roy Cohn?” He was referring to the thuggish mob lawyer who had been red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy’s chief hatchet-man years before becoming a mentor and consigliere for the young Trump. Though Trump placed Barr, his own lapdog, in charge of the Justice Department last year, Trump has become his own Roy Cohn, consolidating power and seeking vengeance. And extracting revenge has long been one of Trump’s primary psychological motivations, as I first explained before he was elected president.
But hey, don't take the word -- or the many words -- of those "liberal" or "fake news" media outlets I've been quoting at length. More than 2,000 (and counting) former federal prosecutors, who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, have signed a scathing letter condemning Barr's actions regarding Roger Stone, and calling for Barr to resign. An excerpt from that letter:
...As former DOJ officials, we each proudly took an oath to support and defend our Constitution and faithfully execute the duties of our offices. The very first of these duties is to apply the law equally to all Americans. This obligation flows directly from the Constitution, and it is embedded in countless rules and laws governing the conduct of DOJ lawyers. The Justice Manual — the DOJ’s rulebook for its lawyers — states that “the rule of law depends on the evenhanded administration of justice”; that the Department’s legal decisions “must be impartial and insulated from political influence”; and that the Department’s prosecutorial powers, in particular, must be “exercised free from partisan consideration.”

All DOJ lawyers are well-versed in these rules, regulations, and constitutional commands. They stand for the proposition that political interference in the conduct of a criminal prosecution is anathema to the Department’s core mission and to its sacred obligation to ensure equal justice under the law.

And yet, President Trump and Attorney General Barr have openly and repeatedly flouted this fundamental principle, most recently in connection with the sentencing of President Trump’s close associate, Roger Stone, who was convicted of serious crimes. The Department has a long-standing practice in which political appointees set broad policies that line prosecutors apply to individual cases....

...Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice. In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.
Yeah, what they said. Then again, if Barr goes, that means Trump will most likely appoint an "acting" AG who won't require Senate confirmation, and that person could very well be someone who is even more willing than Barr has been so far to "play ball" with Trump -- so it could be a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

It doesn't help the general anxiety level that
Trump has also (falsely) declared himself to be the "chief law enforcement officer" in the US. This was in the context of his (fake) conflict with Barr over the TrumpTweets and Barr's intervention in the Roger Stone case, and also in the wake of the aforementioned clemency spree. Given this context it appears that Trump is pardoning and commuting a string of corrupt white-collar criminals for the same reason that a dog licks its privates: because he can.

So far I've gone on (and on) about the legislative and executive branches of the US government, but some might wish to point out that Ed Foreman, in his long lament about Kevin Trudeau's legal saga, was specifically targeting the third branch: the judicial branch, which handles the courts. But that is precisely where the unintended irony grows even richer, because, far from making any kind of statement against the politicization of the judiciary,
Trump has actually done more than any president in recent memory to shape the courts in accordance with a far-right political agenda. The Vox piece linked to in the previous sentence concludes:
The truth is, by worshipping at the altar of Trump, Republicans haven’t simply ensured conservative dominance of one branch of government. They may have entrenched conservative governance for decades.

And let's not ignore what's been going on, under the Trump administration, at the very tip-top of the judicial branch, i.e., the Supreme Court of the United States. On February 21, 2020, SCOTUS voted along very familiar ideological lines to allow a Trump admin rule targeting low-income immigrants to take effect, making it much more difficult for many of them to enter the US (Wolf v. Cook County). The case involves the "public charge" rule, aka the Immigration and Nationality Act, which would make it harder for immigrants who are "likely at any time to become a public charge" to obtain green cards. Critics have called it a "wealth test" for legal immigrants. Wolf v. Cook County had sought to reject the policy's effect in Illinois; a district court had filed a preliminary injunction while the case was being played out in the appeals courts. The conservative-dominated High Court voted to lift that injunction, clearing the way for Trump's "immigrant wealth test" to take effect all across the US.
It is not the first time that SCOTUS has appeared to be doing favors for the Trump administration. In
a dissenting opinion to the February 21 decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor accused the Court of "putting a thumb on the scale in favor of" the Trump administration. She described the ruling as part of a "now-familiar pattern" of the Court granting a stay pending appeal of a given case, an action that in a previous dissenting opinion in September 2019, she had said should be an "extraordinary" act. Under the Trump administration, however, it has become the "new normal."

Here's Vox again, posting about the February 21 action:
The Trump administration, moreover, has a high win rate when it seeks extraordinary relief from the Supreme Court. It’s achieved a partial or full victory in about 65 percent of the cases where it asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block a lower court’s opinion.

As Sotomayor explains in her Wolf opinion, it is very unusual for the Supreme Court to grant such relief so easily.

Because the Supreme Court is the final word on nearly all questions of federal law, it typically likes to let novel legal issues percolate in the lower courts before handing down a final command. “Stay applications force the Court to consider important statutory and constitutional questions that have not been ventilated fully in the lower courts, on abbreviated timetables and without oral argument,” Sotomayor writes in her Wolf dissent. They also “upend the normal appellate process, putting a thumb on the scale in favor of the party that won a stay.”

And in this Supreme Court, that party is almost always the Trump administration.
Should you have any doubt about Trump's attitude towards SCOTUS, consider this: he has called for Justices Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg to recuse themselves from cases involving him or his administration. He claims Ginsburg "went wild" with criticism of him during the 2016 campaign, and he is not at all happy about Sotomayor's "highly inappropriate" comments in her recent dissent. (Ginsberg made one comment about Trump to The New York Times in July 2016, but a few days later, after a round of criticism, she admitted that she had made a mistake and that her remark was inappropriate.) Absurdly, Trump is claiming that there should be a "higher standard" for Supreme Court justices, but I think we know what his definition of "higher standard" is.

As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich
wrote on Facebook February 25, 2020:
Trump has called on Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to recuse themselves from all cases involving him and his administration, accusing them of being biased against him. Last Friday, Justice Sotomayor objected to the court’s decision to allow the Trump administration’s cruel “public charge” immigration rule to go into effect, criticizing the court for fast-tracking cases at the government’s request and warning of a dangerous precedent.

Meanwhile, Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife is personally delivering personnel recommendations to the president and advocating for purges of supposedly disloyal staffers. Now that he has been emboldened by his sham acquittal in the Senate, Trump has stepped up his attacks on the judiciary and launched a full-out assault on the basic notions of checks and balances and separation of powers. How can we teach children in America about these core principles of our Constitution when our very president tramples on them every day?
Accompanying Reich's post was a link to a Business Insider piece about this matter.

It's no exaggeration to say that the Trump administration seems to view SCOTUS as its personal fixer, and that the Court's actions have supported this view.

* * * * *

Do all of these events and facts constitute evidence that the US, under Donald Trump, has taken another few giant steps towards tyranny? Possibly. If so... are you paying attention, Kevin Trudeau fans? After all, Katie has been posturing for years as a brave fighter against tyranny. Don't Trump's actions bother y'all in the least?

Or is this situation more like
those lines in the 1990 Bruce Willis flick, Die Hard 2? Like, say, Trump may be a tyrant of sorts, but he's "our kind of tyrant?"

On the other hand, if you've seen Die Hard 2, you know that the John Amos character who told Bruce Willis' character that he was "your kind of asshole" turned out to be a very bad man who wasn't good-guy Bruce's kind of asshole at all. And by the time Willis found this out, it was almost too late. 

Now, I am perfectly aware that most of Trump's supporters, whether they're Kevin Trudeau fans or not, do not perceive Trump's actions as tyrannical at all -- only strong and forceful and patriotic and alpha-male and America-first-ish, just like Murica has been needing for a long, long time. But I am also reasonably certain that most of them would perceive similar actions from an Obama or a Clinton or some other liberal or progressive as the very tyranny that they fear.
Of course, Ed Foreman originally composed his KT legal timeline well before most of the events we've been discussing, but then again, as I mentioned earlier, the chronology has been edited and updated recently -- and even at the time the original was posted, the writing was already on the wall about the type of "president" Trump was turning out to be. Clearly Foreman didn't see those indicators as troublesome then, and I'm thinking he probably doesn't see the latest events as problematic either.

But the next time you hear any preaching from Ed Foreman or from any Trudeau and/or Trump fan about accountability, or justice, or preserving the sacred system of checks and balances, take their sermon for what it is worth, which is absolutely nothing.

The "hate-love" list -- and a few foolish inconsistencies
If you're still wondering how being both a Trump supporter and a Kevin Trudeau loyalist could be a bit problematic at times -- at least for those who are bothered by glaring incongruities -- let me belabor the point a bit.

When poking around on the kevintrudeau dot com site, I redisovered
a PDF that was originally published in November 2017, judging from the date in the link. The document summarizes the central mythology embraced by Trudolts after years of being subjected to Trudeau's own propaganda, regarding what a hero Katie is, and how loved he is by so many millions of good folk, and how loathed he is by a host of bad actors (the "they" who don't want you to know "the truth").

It was the hate/love list that interested me the most, for it highlights some truly foolish inconsistencies (apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson). And here, unlike on Ed Foreman's long post, I am going to annotate. I pulled the bullet points directly from the document, but the non-italicized comments, and the links, are my own additions. You'll see several links to pieces about Trump, because the industries, agencies, and groups that Kevin Trudeau has supposedly been battling for decades -- and that allegedly "hate" him, and that he has convinced his fans to hate as well -- are some of the very same entities to which Trump has given major passes since he assumed office.

First, the "hate" list:
Generally speaking, Trudeau is "hated" by the:
  • FTC [nope, got that reversed. It's Trudeau who hates the FTC, because they've repeatedly nailed him for his frauducts and flopportunities and lies]
  • FDA [see FTC, above. Also possibly add FBI and SEC and a few other alphabet agencies.]
  • Washington, D.C. political establishment [I'm pretty sure that most of these people couldn't care less about Kevin Trudeau -- former political establishment member Ed Foreman being a notable exception]
  • mainstream media [the mainstream media don't "hate" Katie; he hates them because they have a long history of duly reporting his mulitple grifts (not that this has prevented thousands of people from falling for his lies, over and over). There's also the fact that mainstream TV stations have been running his infomercials for years, which benefited Kevin greatly for years, which doesn't sound much like "hate" to me.]
  • liberal elites [this decades-old conservative talking point has become increasingly meaningless, and I'm surprised that anyone still falls for it. Now more than ever, the concept of "elite" has become a two-edged sword in both politix and Scamworld, intended as either an insult or the insincerest form of flattery, depending upon how it is used. Back in 2018 I wrote a two-parter about that:
    Part 1: On Donald Trump's misuse of the word "elite" and his apparent misunderstanding of both elitism and populism.
    Part 2: On elitism in Scamworld. This is where Kevin Trudeau enters the picture.]
  • deep-state operatives [gimme that ol' time conspiranoia]
  • globalists [too bad Donald Trump is a globalist... Also, given the fact that GIN is earnestly trying to expand its global reach, and there's every indication that Kevin Trudeau wants to do the same, it seems that being a Katie and/or GIN fan and a hater of "globalism" would clash at some point. Also, Kevin more than likely still has some cash stashed in various places all over the globe, so...]
  • Big Pharma [too bad Donald Trump is a pushover for Big Pharma]
  • banks [too bad Donald Trump is a friend to the big banks]
  • insurance companies [too bad Donald Trump is trying to do everything possible to kill Obamacare, with its protections for pre-existing conditions (that bane of the insurance firms, and one of the focal points of Trump's gas-lighting re health care); plus he seems to have his eye on privatizing Medicare -- all of which should make the insurance companies quite happy]
  • Monsanto and the entire food and diet industry [too bad Donald Trump and the Trump EPA seem to have a cozy relationship with Monsanto...
    January 2020:
    Trump EPA Once Again Greenlights Roundup
    February 2020:
    Why we should all be pissed off about Trump still having Monsanto's back
    As for the food industry, let's start with Big Ag,
    to whom the Trump administration has been much, much kinder than to the small family farmer, despite Trump's big promises to the latter.
    This is hardly surprising, since Trump's pick for Ag Sec, Sonny Perdue, has
    big ties to Big Ag and Big Food.
    And overall,
    the Trump administration favors the meat industry, as indicated by the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for America. This is part of a larger pattern of the administration making an across-the-board effort to suppress scientific information about diet and health and sustainability.]
For me, several items on this list once again raise that big question I've been bouncing around throughout this post: How does someone who passionately supports Kevin Trudeau and Donald Trump reconcile Trump's unwillingness or inability to stand up to, and in some cases his apparent alliance with, the very "enemies" that Trudeau has been fighting for so long? Or do these fans and supporters simply shrug it off as not important, because Trump is their kind of tyrant, and Trudeau is their kind of huckster, and both Trump and Trudeau make them feel good? I'd really like to know.
Now here's the "love" list... 

Trudeau is generally "loved" by:
  • millions of his loyal supporters, readers, radio show listeners, and most importantly, his customers [notwithstanding the hundreds of consumer complaints against him over the years -- and please don't be fooled by the clusters of "five-star" reviews, most of which occurred during very brief time periods and suggest an effort by supporters to "stack" the reviews]
  • Christian conservatives [pander, pander, pander. It's understandable, though, since many of these folks possess a combination of gullibility and disposable or semi-disposable income that makes them a scammer's wet dream]
  • spiritual seekers [more pandering, this time to the new-agey/McSpirituality types (see above, re gullibility and disposable income)]
  • people who believe in God or a higher power [just so all the bases are covered]
  • entrepreneurs [especially scammers or wannabe scammers]
  • free enterprisers [again, scammers or wannabe scammers, as well as pretty much everyone for whom doing business would be so much easier if all consumer protection laws, environmental regulations, and other constraints on greedy businesses were to just go away]
  • self-reliant citizens [is this code for "sovereign citizens," I wonder? Kevin attracts these types, as well as survivalists and conspiranoids]
  • libertarians [we don't need no stinkin' protective laws or regulations! Of note, the Koch-funded libertarian think tank, The Cato Institute, did try to intervene in Katie's court dramas back in 2012, but they ultimately failed.]
  • those interested in natural health alternatives [and for decades, Kevin Trudeau has been a big promoter of all manner of alt-health frauducts and the scammers who sell them. Like Katie's former b.f.f. Not-Doktor Leonard Coldwell. And this joker.]
  • free-speech advocates [free speech for those who support Kevin and his pet causes, that is... everyone else (particularly Katie's critics), not so much. Back in GIN's heyday Kevin warned GIN members to ignore the "rats in their heads," which was code for the "negative" voices discouraging them from immersing themselves in GIN. Even today Trudeau's followers use the term "rats in your head" to describe critics and "naysayers." For the most part they don't like hearing from critics at all; I can't count the number of pro-Katie forums where I've been banned from participating. I guess I'm a "suppressive person," as they say in Scientology. I realize that these are private forums so this isn't technically a First Amendment issue, but still, you'd think that "free-speech advocates' would tolerate a little dissent.]
  • Second Amendment advocates [another obligatory conservative talking point, and while many if not most Katie fans may also be gun-rights advocates, I haven't actually seen an NRA endorsement of Kevin Trudeau.]
  • the "middle class", the "forgotten men and women", and "working men and women" [a cynical echoing of Donald Trump's hollow promises during the 2016 campaign, despite the fact that neither Trump nor Trudeau gives a flip about the actual lives of these "forgotten" folk. Trump wants their votes, Katie wants their money, but apart from that, the "forgotten" ones are disposable. Trump has shown that he is no friend to the middle class, and Kevin Trudeau enjoyed a lavish lifestyle for years on the backs of thousands of working men and women. If those "forgotten" legions really looked honestly at either Trump's or Trudeau's records, maybe they wouldn't love these guys so much.]
  • people who want to "drain the Washington, D.C. swamp" [flagrant pandering to Trump supporters, who overlook all the evidence that Trump has simply made the swamp swampier -- including the above-mentioned recent clemency spree where he pardoned the swamp]
  • those who believe in "Making America Great Again" [more flagrant pandering to Trump supporters and to Trump himself, should he be reading this document (or having someone read it to him)]
Trudeau has always been a proponent of, and personally embraced, the values of free enterprise, capitalism, and entrepreneurship. Kevin is a true patriot who loves our flag, our Constitution, and the United States of America.
Cue The Star-Spangled Banner. Or better yet, O Trumpistan -- to which, unfortunately, I'm probably going to have to add a few new verses, just to keep current with all of the atrocities.

Love is blind, and blinding
In Trump's America, "accountability" is becoming an increasingly meaningless concept, "justice" is only relative, and the rights and privileges that most Americans claim to hold so dear apply to "just us" -- the "us" in this case being Trump and his cronies and supporters, and everyone else be damned. I will concede that tribalism seems to have reached an unprecedented intensity all across America, and it's not just a thing among Trump supporters. But Trumpism has morphed into a cult in which tribalism and the attendant "just us" double standards are particularly powerful, both driven and reinforced by a chronic unwillingness or inability among cultists to perceive anything negative in Trump's actions and rhetoric.

And those same characteristics -- intense tribalism, double standards, willful blindness -- are seen in Scamworld as well, particularly with charismatic figures such as Kevin Trudeau who rely so heavily on the cult of personality. Like the Scientology-inspired cult leader he is, Trudeau has pushed his "who do you listen to?" shtick for years in the service of persuading his followers that they should listen to him above all else, and that critics and outsiders and all mainstream media constitute "rats in your head." 

In a sense, then, I've answered some of the big questions I raised above. I think it is a safe bet that most Trudeau fans who are also Trump supporters will have no problem with the inconsistencies and incongruities, no matter how blatant they may be. Trump and Trudeau may be liars, but they're "our kind of liars."

The sad reality is that Trumpdeau loyalists, against all reason and logic, apparently still view both men as rebels fighting against a corrupt "establishment." This is despite the fact that
Trump himself has been very much a part of that establishment all of his life, and as a businessman he benefited for years from America's broken political system. And it's despite the fact that Trudeau has also benefited greatly from an "established" system/society that (1) all too often looks the other way when scam artists ply their trade -- and is even complicit in various ways; (2) has inadequate resources to fight every scam and con; and (3) on one level, actually admires the ingenuity and brazenness of con artists. (Fraud has arguably been an integral part of American enterprise since the early days of the republic, a matter explored at length in a 2017 book by Edward J. Balleisen, Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff.)
Love really is blind, and blinding.

A big question that remains unanswered is whether or not Donald Trump will finally hear, and heed, the desperate pleas of Kevin Trudeau's fans to spring their hero from the hoosegow. No matter what happens, it is abundantly clear to me that some folks really need to choose better heroes --- but when I read near-worshipful comments to and about Kevin Trudeau on Facebook forums, or when I watch the cheering, chanting, red-capped throngs at Trump's fascist MAGA rallies, that prospect doesn't look very promising.

But I'm still not giving up hope.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Secret is still a Scamworld marketing hook, 14 years later

Quick take: Fourteen years after the launch of a cheesy, virally promoted DVD coyly titled The Secret, the craze that was sparked by its release shows no sign of dying down. Multitudes of derivative works, including a number of equally hokey imitation "movies," have been released since then, one of the most recent being Beyond The Secret: The Awakening, which had its "red carpet premiere" in January 2020.

The creator of
The Secret, Rhonda Byrne, had no hand in these myriad derivative works; she has been too busy raking in the money from her own ever-expanding franchise. But for those who are looking for the "real thing," blessed by Rhonda herself, there's a new Secret movie just around the corner -- The Secret: Dare to Dream, due for limited theatrical release in April 2020 -- and this one has Rhonda's full blessing, right down to the famous "Secret seal" logo. And for better or for worse (most likely worse), it may very well breathe new life into a phenomenon that never really went away.

Way back in May of 2007, I wrote a short (for me, anyway) blog post, "The Secret" may fade, but stupid is forever. The reference, of course, was to The Secret, the intensely annoying and once-ubiquitous New-Wage/McSpirituality infomercial thinly disguised as a movie, which was truly in its glory days back then. Over the years I've written hundreds of pages and thousands of words about Rhonda Byrne's bloated cash cow, which all levels of hucksters and hustledorks and scammers continue to milk to this day.

Most of my writings re The Secret are on this blog, of course, but The Skeptical Inquirer site also published
an essay of mine, "The Wrath of the Secretrons," which highlighted some of the absurdities of The Secret and the wrathful comments (and occasional threats) that I'd received on my blog for my opinions about the "movie."* I'm still getting responses to the "Secretron" piece years later, most of them supportive.

In retrospect the title of my May 2007 blog post may have reflected a bit of over-optimism regarding the shelf life of The Secret, which had popped onto the scene in March 2006 or thereabouts, a few months before
this Whirled was created. The Secret may indeed fade, eventually, but we're not there yet. For an example of the continuing viability (or virulence, depending upon your perspective) of the franchise, look no further than one of this blog's top snargets, Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, Secret "star" and Scamworld luminary. Mr. Fire is always finding new ways to exploit his role in this by-now-classic tribute to greed, narcissism, and the most facile variety of magical thinking.

Of course, he's not alone. But let's start with him.

On January 24, 2020 Joe boasted on Facebook -- or rather,
he shared someone else's boast -- about attending the January 23 Hollywood "movie premiere" of something called Beyond The Secret: The Awakening. Joe, being one of the "stars" of the new work, was on the pretend red carpet along with his paramour and "Twin Flame," New-Wage dilettante Lisa Winston, who was first introduced here back in July of last year. Apparently Joe and Lisa are still going strong, ready to conquer the planet as one of Scamworld's newest MystiCouples, though public records indicate that Joe's divorce from Nerissa Oden is not yet final.
The person whose post Joe shared is a guy named Eric Zuley, whose own Facebook cover photo, as I write this, describes him as a "multi-media mogul; digital solutions concierge; speaker, branding and promotions expert; and host, actor, producer, entrepretainer, philanthropist." In the Intro section on the same page, he brags that he is a "TOP 10 SOC. MEDIA INFLUENCER."

If he hadn't lost me at "multi-media mogul" or "entrepretainer" or "philanthropist" on the cover photo, Eric most assuredly would have lost me at "SOC. MEDIA INFLUENCER." I am assuming this is an abbreviation of "social media influencer," which more often than not is code for "self-important attention whore, as useless as a Kardashian but not nearly as rich and famous."

There are several more photo-packed posts on Zuley's Facebook page about the premiere of Beyond The Secret. But Zuley didn't confine his crowing to Facebook, nor would one expect him to, since he is, after all, a "multi-media mogul" and "digital solutions concierge."
Here's a link to the coverage on Zuley's EZWay Broadcasting site of the momentous "premiere" of "the most anticipated sequel of all time!"

But if you ask me, and even if you don't, Beyond The Secret: The Awakening is more like the most anticlimactic "sequel" of all time. (And if you really want to get technical, it's not even a sequel, because Rhonda Byrne had nothing to do with it.) But it is anticlimactic nevertheless.

Same song, different verse
To begin with -- and I've written about this numerous times over the years -- the original DVD of The Secret had no sooner been released than the "stars" of the moviemercial, as well as scads of other wannabes, were releasing their own Secret derivatives that claimed to be the "next step after The Secret," or to offer important information that The Secret left out, or to contain "the missing secret," or to reveal the "secret behind The Secret" or any one of dozens and dozens of variations on those themes.

For example, subsequent to the world debut of The Secret, our Mr. Fire offered, among many other info-frauducts,
The Key: The Missing Secret for Attracting Anything You Want; and The Missing Secret: How to Use the Law of Attraction to Easily Attract Whatever You Want..Every Time; and The Secret to Attracting Money; and Install and Transcend The Secret; and... oh, I could probably go on for days, as there are "too many to list here," but you get the idea.

And as I mentioned earlier, Joe is far from the only huckster to crapitalize on The Secret. For instance, there were the Three Amigos --
Scientist Bob Proctor (noted quantum physics expert), Jack "Chicken Soup" Canfield, and Reverend Michael Beckwith -- and their $2,000 briefcase scam to promote their MLM, The Science of Getting Rich (inspired in part by the early 20th-century Wallace D. Wattles classic that Rhonda Byrne claimed was a major inspiration for The Secret). (Here's another Whirled post about the briefcase scheme; I wrote several, but this one is notable for the comments following the post.)

The Three Amigos' branding so closely resembled that of The Secret that many people apparently thought their shtick was an "official" offering, but Rhonda and her legal team were reportedly quite unhappy, and issued statements disclaiming any involvement in the scam. A couple of years later the briefcases and their contents were going for a deeply discounted price.

Apropos of the actions Rhonda and team may have taken against interlopers -- and I've written about this previously as well -- I don't blame Rhonda and her lawyers for wanting to protect her copyrights, but (1) It appears that she was a bit ambiguous in the beginning about letting her "stars" know how much leeway they had to use her work, apparently becoming less willing to let them share the glory as The Secret became more successful; and (2) as the The Secret soared to even greater heights of success, she became increasingly copyright-conscious (and greedy), leading to her involvement in several lawsuits against people whose work was instrumental in the unparalleled success of the early marketing. And I'm not talking about the "stars" of her boondoggle: I'm talking about folks who had apparently done work for hire, in good faith, and were understandably unhappy when she stiffed them.

But no amount of ambiguity and jealous copyright protections could prevent the flood of Secret-related content, in print, on audio, and online.

"Well, gee, Cosmic Connie," you might be saying, "all of those works you listed may have been inspired by The Secret, but they weren't specifically advertised as being a sequel to the movie, and many of the products you cited weren't even movies anyway, so that kind of weakens your argument about Beyond The Secret: The Awakening being anti-climactic, doesn't it?"

No, not really, especially if you look at it from the larger perspective that content is content regardless of the format, and that the market has been inundated with Secret derivatives for years and years.

But if you want to get picky, there has also been a flood of Secret-type "movies" that employed much the same format as The Secret: a string of New-Wage/McSpirituality/selfish-help gurus sharing their wisdumb under the umbrella of some vaguely unifying feel-good theme. These "movies" were often marketed using the same type of intriguingly mystical trailers and viral promotional strategies as The Secret, including affiliate programs to encourage people to hustle the products themselves. Early on I dubbed this genre of moviemercials
"Hustledork Cinema," and although to my knowledge, not one of them was nearly as successful as The Secret, that clearly didn't stop the imitators from deluging the market.

Granted, the creators of these derivative moviemercials may not have overtly claimed their works to be a sequel to The Secret either. But a few came pretty close to doing so, and almost all of them referenced The Secret in their promos. And by the way,
Joe Vitale was in quite a few of these mostly forgettable offerings.

In fact there is even another moviemercial called
Beyond The Secret, which featured the aforementioned Bob Proctor and was released way back in 2009. Perhaps that's the reason that the new one also has a subtitle (The Awakening) so there won't be any brand confusion with the 2009 work, which got its share of bad reviews.

But as groundbreaking as it may have been, The Secret wasn't the first New-Wage moviemercial, and no discussion of Hustledork Cinema or New-Wage/McSpirituality moviemercials would be complete without at least a passing nod to the appalling 2004 work, What the Bleep Do We Know? This one had a corny storyline featuring actress Marlee Matlin, and some pretty terrible animations, but it also had a lineup of talking heads -- including a couple of discredited scientists (and at least one scientist who was peeved because his comments were taken out of context in the final product). Woven throughout the "movie" was a thick thread of psuedoscientific quantum-physics claptrap. Worst of all it featured that leading light of the imaginary-friends industry, J.Z. Knight, inventor of a 35,000-year-old being named Ramtha. My pal Skeptico debunked What the Bleep early on; here's a post from April 2005 explaining why this "movie" is crap.

Crap it may have been, but it was wildly popular, and its success must have surely inspired Rhonda when she was desperately searching for a lucrative shtick and a workable format in which to present it. Ultimately The Secret was much more successful than What the Bleep.

It's noteworthy, and I've previously noted it, that much of the derivative material spewed out since the 2006 release of The Secret -- whether in "movie" format or other media -- has been in a sense a disavowal of The Secret, an indictment of its limitations or inadequacies. This disavowal is all in the service of hucksters convincing marks that their own info-frauducts will provide the missing pieces. Joe Vitale has done this dozens and dozens of times over the years to advance his own brand;
here's a blog post he wrote 11 years after The Secret came out. And here's Bob Proctor throwing The Secret under the bus back in 2008, in the service of pushing his crap. And so on.

Still, The Secret has always remained the point of reference to which the hucksters have felt compelled to return again and again and again.

Which brings us to 2020 and Beyond The Secret: The Awakening.

So, what's this new "movie" about?
You have probably already guessed the answer to this question, but let's look into it (superficially, which seems fitting) anyway. A
January 22, 2020 press release for Beyond The Secret: The Awakening begins:
The premiere of “Beyond the Secret – The Awakening” brings global thought leaders together to dig deeper into the Law of Attraction at Universal Studios on Thursday, January 23rd...
Now, halt right there, press release writer. To define people like Joe Vitale and his colleagues as "thought leaders" is seriously stretching the definitions of both "thought" and "leaders." And to suggest that this work is in any way "deep" would be a clear case of journalistic malpractice if this were an actual news story instead of a hype-y press release.

Beyond The Secret: The Awakening features the expected lineup of the usual suspects. Besides Joe Vitale, there are other "stars" of The Secret such as Bob Proctor; John Asshat Assaraf, who famously
went bankrupt a few years after his star turn in The Secret (here's the letter he wrote to his coaching clients); and Marie Diamond, who was involved in some legal battles of her own a few years back, and who probably jumped at the chance to have her "career" revived by appearing in another moviemercial. Also featured is a not-so-young-anymore hustledork, Doug Vermereen, whom I first wrote about in August of 2007 in conjunction with his "star" turn in The Opus, one of those aforementioned Secret imitators.

And there are quite a few others; go to
the moviemercial's home page and see the lineup, and then, if you can stomach it, watch the trailer. You'll see, among other things, Mr. Fire with an earnest look on his face, waxing insincerely authentic about a whole new level of "creating your own reality."

In other words, there's not much new here.

Real or unreal?
It has occurred to me that some may object to my characterization of the original DVD of The Secret as not being a "real movie." They may protest that just because it didn't have a theatrical release, and it wasn't marketed as entertainment, this doesn't mean it's not a legit film. After all, with today's technology there are numerous legitimate ways of introducing movies besides through conventional theatrical releases. But my gripe was never with the unconventional distribution; it was with the content.

Then there's the fact that some people have referred to The Secret as a documentary -- and documentaries are real movies and even get Academy ® Awards, don't they? Yes, but
documentaries generally provide a factual record or report about serious subjects such as social or political issues, scientific matters, history, biography, and the like. At best, The Secret is a pseudo-documentary pushing pseudo-science, and it would be a pseudo-documentary even if it had been introduced to the world via nationwide theatrical release.

But I prefer my own longstanding description, "New-Wage moviemercial." And in case it isn't obvious, that's because the hucksters who starred in The Secret -- as well as in the string of "motivational" "movies" since then -- have aggressively used the works to market themselves, and in fact many if not most of these "movies" have been thinly disguised lead generators for much more expensive frauducts and flopportunities, including horrendously overpriced "coaching" programs. I would be willing to bet that Beyond the Secret: The Awakening is a case in point.

And now for something completely different (or at least a little bit different, maybe)
If you're really desperate for something approaching an actual sequel to The Secret, there is, as it turns out, yet another Secret movie in the hopper. It's called The Secret: Dare to Dream, and -- hold on to your magickal genie lamp --
this one seems to have the full blessings of the grande dame of The Secret scampire, as it boasts Rhonda Byrne as one of its producers. And it actually features real film celebrities such as ex-Scientologist Katie Holmes, rather than the faux-lebrities of Scamworld; in addition, it is slated for a real theatrical release (albeit a limited one) on April 17, 2020.

In other words, The Secret: Dare to Dream is a real movie, with, apparently, a plot, though more than likely a schlocky one, if the trailer I watched (and will link to in a little while) is any indication.
The Secret: Dare to Dream was first announced in 2017, with an expected release date of June 2018, but that was delayed by funding problems. Apparently Rhonda Byrne, who surely must have been a gazillionaire by then with her sprawling Secret franchise, didn't want to put up her own money. But at the time the project was announced, she did express her enthusiasm, according to
The Hollywood Reporter.
Byrne's book, published in 2006, has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, been translated into 50 different languages and remained on the New York Times' best-seller list for 190 weeks. The book and nonfiction films of the same name suggest that thoughts and visualizations of one’s desires can lead to those things appearing in one’s life.

“I am so excited that the film version of The Secret is finally here," said Byrne. "This movie will not only be a great thrill for The Secret fans across the planet, it’s also certain to ripple out and touch millions more people. The Secret book was life-changing for so many, and this movie continues that legacy within a stunning piece of entertainment."
With that statement, even Rhonda seemed to be acknowledging that the original DVD of The Secret was not a real movie. Let's not get into that argument again, but for those who insist that The Secret was indeed a movie, then it would be technically correct to say that Dare to Dream is a movie based on a book based on a movie.

And while it may indeed end up being shlocky, at least it boasts some impressive acting and directing talent. On the other hand, What the Bleep?!? had some real H-wood movie stars, and a sort-of plot, and a limited theatrical release... and it was just as hokey as The Secret.

the IMDb page for The Secret: Dare to Dream. And here's the Wikipedia page, which erroneously describes the book of The Secret as a novel. Actually, I guess it is fiction, but it wasn't intended to be or marketed as such.

And more importantly,
here's the trailer, which, given the presence of the trademarked, copyrighted and jealously guarded "Secret seal" logo, should remove any doubt that this is an "official" Secret release (unlike -- not to belabor a point or anything -- Beyond The Secret: The Awakening).

Alas, Joe Vitale and the other hucksters who were in Rhonda's original, and in dozens of selfish-help/McSpirituality moviemercials since then, don't seem to be listed in the cast of The Secret: Dare to Dream.

But maybe that's okay with them. There's still plenty of life in that old Secret cash cow, and the hucksters are going to continue to milk it in any way they can for as long as they can get away with it. More than likely they'll continue to make and hype derivative "movies," striving to emulate the astounding marketing success of Rhonda's original, and attending cheap imitation "red carpet" events to "premiere" these works -- all in an effort to convince the world and themselves that they're true celebrities.

So I guess at this point you might as well get used to it. But that doesn't mean you have to like it.

Why this still matters, and why I won't just let it go
Maybe you're sick of hearing about The Secret and/or reading about it here. Perhaps you think I should just finally learn to shrug it off and adopt more of a "live and let live" attitude. And even if you're not a fan of The Secret and that whole Law of Attraction mindset that it popularized, you might feel a need to point out to me that there is obviously a continuing market for this stuff, and the content creators and providers are merely filling that market need, and that just because I personally don't like it, that doesn't mean it's bad or even that it lacks legitimacy.

I've heard all of these arguments before, 13 or 14 years ago, but I stand by my criticism. Moreover I think that most of the criticisms leveled against The Secret all those years ago -- not just mine, but hundreds of others as well -- still stand.

In the unlikely event that you're not familiar with objections to The Secret, here are just a few, though by no means all, of the reasons so many of us are not fans:

  1. The Secret conflates abstract feel-good principles with real science.
    The so-called "Law of Attraction" is presented as a scientific "truth" that has something to do with quantum physics. No doubt this spurious claim, and some of the self-important talking heads (like Bob Proctor) who attempted to explain it in detail, hooked thousands of folks,
    but it just ain't so.
  2. Despite the lofty claims of spiritual significance, The Secret and most of its derivatives encourage narcissism, selfishness, laziness, and greed -- again, all in the service of validating the spurious "Law of Attraction."
    The Secret placed a great deal of emphasis on
    magical thinking techniques to acquire material goods.
    it encouraged mindlessness, victim-blaming, and selfishness, among several other less than desirable traits.
  3. The Secret elevated some very questionable people to the position of "thought leaders" and role models, with sometimes dangerous -- even deadly -- results.
    The most notorious among these was James Arthur Ray, whose reckless behavior at one of his "Spiritual Warrior" events in October of 2009 resulted in the deaths of three of his followers. He had been clawing his way to the top in the aggressive sales/motivational rackets for years before he became the "genie" guy in The Secret. It was The Secret, though, that pushed him onto the A-list, expanding his platform and allowing him to attract many followers who probably would never have heard of him otherwise. But there are several other "stars" of The Secret who are also reprehensible. I covered a few of them in this April 2011 post, which happened to be while Ray's criminal trial was still going on, and before he was convicted of three counts of negligent homicide and sentenced to less than two years in an Arizona state prison. Ray has been out of prison for years now, and has been scrabbling to make a "comeback" since his release.
The countless Secret derivatives, including the latest ones, are simply reinforcing the validity of the original, often in the guise of providing a "deeper" or more "realistic" examination of the principles touted in Rhonda's 2006 work. At the same time, these works are definitely making a few folks in Scamworld even richer, and raising false hopes in many more.

For the most part, though, it's all a big pile of
"staggering bullshit," as blogger Mark Manson wrote back in 2015 about the original Secret works. Or if you prefer, horse shit, as Hamilton Nolan put it in a Gawker piece, also in 2015. And yet herds of folks are still eagerly scooping up the turds as if they were the most precious of treasures, vainly believing that there must be a pony in there somewhere.

In other words, nothing has really changed.

And if The Secret: Dare to Dream is even moderately successful, it will almost certainly breathe new life into Rhonda's franchise, and the countless coattail riders will exploit it to their own purposes, to the extent that they can get away with it. You don't have to like it, but you might as well get used to it.

* Note: Although my essay, "The Wrathof the Secretrons," is dated September 2008 on the Skeptical Inquirer site, I wrote it nearly two years earlier, and SI originally published it in on their site in March of 2007, as this Whirled post indicates. Apparently the date got skewed when they did a site redesign. There were also links to the original 2007 SI page (now defunct) on the Democratic Underground site and on Boing Boing.)