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Paranoia in the age of big government: the strange death of Justice Antonin Scalia

Written By | Feb 17, 2016

WASHINGTON, February 17, 2016 – The facts surrounding last weekend’s sudden and unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia from a supposed heart attack has fueled a score of conspiracy theories.

When Scalia failed to attend breakfast with friends last Saturday morning at the luxury Cibolo Creek Ranch near Marfa, Texas, owner John Poindexter went to check on his celebrated guest.

“We discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head,” Poindexter told the San Antonio Express-News. “His bed clothes were unwrinkled. He was lying very restfully. It looked like he had not quite awakened from a nap.”

But it took local authorities hours to find a justice of the peace to determine the cause of death. When Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara eventually answered the call, so to speak, she declared Scalia had died of “natural causes.”

Over the phone. Without seeing the body. Without ordering an autopsy.

Retired homicide detective Patricia Tufo told the New York Post it’s “not unreasonable to ask for an autopsy in this case… He’s [Scalia’s] not at home. There are no witnesses to his death, and there was no reported explanation for why a pillow is over his head. So I think under the circumstances it’s not unreasonable to request an autopsy… you want to be sure that it’s not something other than natural causes.”

Conspiracy theory aficionado Alex Jones in a video posted online asked, “Was Scalia murdered? And the answer to that is: has the Bill of Rights and Constitution been murdered? Has it been reported that members of the Supreme Court have been blackmailed? Yes.”

Jones continued, “You have a Supreme Court justice dead in a hotel room. And within ten minutes the first announcement was that it appears to be natural… I wonder if Clarence Thomas will die of a heart attack next week,” asked Jones.

Many Americans, like Jones, are paranoid when it comes to their liberties, fearful of the threat posed to their freedom by their own government.

In a 2015 poll, the Pew Research Center found that “only 19 percent of Americans – about 1 in 5 – say they trust the government ‘always or most of the time.’”

This form of paranoia is a very healthy national trait.

“The Declaration of Independence is a celebrated instance of big government conspiracy theorizing,” Joseph Uscinski and Joseph Parent write in their book “American Conspiracy Theories.”

“There was plenty of concern during the Constitution’s drafting and ratification about excessive concentrations of power, cabals, and subversive factions.”

They have a point.

Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence indicts a certain head of state for erecting “a multitude of New Offices” and sending “swarms” of bureaucrats “to harass our people, and eat out their substance… for taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Government…”

He could just as easily been referring to President Obama’s royal decrees (“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone”), his societal shepherds in the form of aptly-named “czars,” his dictatorial health care law that kills jobs and depletes the shrinking incomes of a dying middle class and his activist judiciary’s intrusion into the social fabric of the nation concerning the free exercise of religion and the sacred institution of marriage.

Getting back to Scalia, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte notes that right-wing mistrust in America has reached “a crescendo” and that “Scalia death conspiracy theories are just another flavor to the same kind of entitlement and paranoia that is leading mainstream Republican figures to deny that President Obama has a right to appoint Supreme Court justices.”

That is lefty paranoid nonsense, of course. Obama has no such “right.”

It is well within the constitutional prerogative of the Senate’s Republican majority to deny the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee offered them by a failed, lame-duck president.

Republicans, at least for now, say they will wait for the American people to weigh in on the issue when they elect a new president this November.

Portrait of Sir Thomas Moore by Hans Holbein.

Portrait of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein.

Back in early 2013, NPR’s arch liberal journalist Nina Totenberg was perturbed by Justice Scalia’s choice of headgear while attending Obama’s presidential inauguration. As the president recited his oath of office, Scalia sat nearby wearing a replica hat like that worn by Sir Thomas More in the famous painting by Hans Holbein.

Totenberg asked Scalia in an interview if he intentionally wore “the cap of a statesman who defended the liberty of the church and integrity of Christian conscience to the inauguration of a president whose policies have imperiled both?”

Scalia denied it, but Totenberg’s question was illustrative of the left’s big government, pro-monarchist strain of paranoia.

Only a member of America’s left-leaning mainstream media would express fear over a hat believed to express opposition to a president whose royalist governing style was in part restrained by the U.S. Constitution’s most ardent defender, Scalia.

The evidence supporting Totenberg’s lefty paranoia was nothing more than a felt hat.

Bolstering the paranoia of the “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” on the other hand, is quite literally the copus delicti of one Justice Antonin Scalia.

Steven M. Lopez

Originally from Los Angeles, Steven M. Lopez has been in the news business for more than thirty years. He made his way around the country: Arizona, the Bay Area and now resides in South Florida.