“Take Up Arms and Get Rid of the Guy”: Tom Head and the Conspiracy of Opinions

I’m not even sure what to do with this video clip. The first time I watched it I was just stunned. When it ended, I promptly watched it again three or four times. There was no Onion watermark in the corner. It didn’t appear to be a hoax. It appears to be real and valuable ethnographic material—documenting a folk mythology that I find academically fascinating, albeit if also a touch terrifying.

In the clip from a Fox television newscast, Texas Judge Tom Head, describes that a local tax increase will bolster local law enforcement. That seems normal enough—until he explains that if reelected President Obama will hand over US sovereignty to the UN and there will likely be civil unrest. Not just ordinary civil unrest, but the kind where folks will have to “take up arms and get rid of the guy.” That’s when the new law enforcement will be needed most.

Seriously, Judge Head’s interview is more foreign, alien, exotic, and “other” than anything I have seen or heard in my many years working as an anthropologist in China. Completely unpacking Mr. Head’s head would clearly teach much about a part of America about which I know very little and about conspiracy theories of which I have heard only bits and pieces. If he lived closer I would want to sit down and chat with him.

I suppose he would have to be from Texas.

Seriously? This is real, not just YouTube. This judge—an elected government official and a person that I assume has power in his community—said all of that on a TV news interview. He even went so far to say that he spoke to the local sheriff and that he will “back him” when the UN troops arrive.

Is it just me or is the proliferation of video facilitated by social media exposing some really bizarre mythologies? A few days ago it was Representative Todd Akin’s sharing his folk ideology about the way women’s bodies can defend against, what he referred to as “legitimate rape,” with natural defenses against conception. Now it is a judge who wants more police to defend against the UN.

By the time I got to the end, I’m not sure what bothered me more, that Judge Head believes these things so deeply that he had no problem frankly sharing them on TV, or that the reporter who is interviewed him didn’t at any point stop to challenge his outlandish ideas. At any number of moments the reporter could have said, “Hey, hang on a sec, can we stop the interview for a minute? I’m curious how you came to these ideas. Do you really think Barack Obama is going to lead the UN to invade Lubbock, Texas?” The reporter failed to challenge the judge about what he was saying—implying that it might be a reasonable belief. Let me repeat: reasonable that an elected government official thinks the president of the United States will invade Texas with United Nations troops.

At the end of the segment, the news reporter back in the studio transitions back to the news report by bracketing the entire conversation,

“Wether you agree with the judge or think his theories are unrealistic, the reality is a tax hike…”

This is an interesting linguistic maneuver, because it elevates the judges’ ideas to the level of a “theory” and then leaves an evaluation of the truth of these ideas up to the viewer. “You decide.” At no point during the interview did facts enter the discussion. In fact, the only reference to reality was the reality of a tax hike. 

So after seeing this interview, and confirming that it does not appear to be a hoax (really?!), I found a very interesting followup interview with the judge that was posted on YouTube by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. While not as well polished or edited, the followup interview is, in some sense, even more interesting than the original Fox broadcast. In it, the judge provides a more detailed context for his remarks, including some revealing moments.

While watching this, I was struck by his heavy use of phrasings like “I think,” “I feel” and “my opinion” that keep his conspiracy theories in the realm of the possible and shield him from actually being held responsible for what he is saying. So, while Judge Head thinks that it is unlikely that his officers will have to go toe to toe with UN troops—it is his “worst case scenario.” Couching his points as “his opinion” and then later, even piling on his values and his “theology and philosophy” it becomes impossible to have a discussion about facts for the community in which he works. He clearly cannot separate his opinions from his leadership. And, he believes that voters selected him based on his value system:

In my opinion Barack Obama, or the senate Democrats or Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi don’t have the same value system. They don’t have the same opinions that I do, but they’re…in my opinion…they’re…um…they are making decisions based on their opinions and their value system. Well, I don’t approve of that. So I’m going to vote against them. So, when you make political decisions, or if you are making business decisions, your value system, your opinions are going to have an influence on you. And, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

In this exchange it is fascinating how references to personal opinions and values inoculate his points from criticism. After all, in a democracy, everyone is entitled to their opinion, right? The thing that makes me uncomfortable, however, is that he reduces elections to a consumer-market choices—voters choose the one they like. An election is not about being a leader for the entire community, but being comfortable with “who I am” because “voters chose me”. As the judge says, “I can’t divorce my theology and my philosophy.”

An unusual, and possibly most revealing part of this interview, however, is when the judge is asked if he was making a threat against the president. While hemming and hawing for a few moments, he interrupts himself (at about 7:13) with a very strange aside:

I’m surprised that some militia groups…say in the north-central part of the United States, or whatever…I’m surprised that they haven’t been more vocal, against…not Barack Obama…but any government official. But they have been kind of quiet lately…And, so I don’t know why…But no, that’s not a threat at all.

Woah, what just happened there? Is he saying that he wasn’t making a threat against the president during the Fox broadcast, that it is the role of militia groups to do that? And he is wondering why they are awfully quiet?

The final part of the judge’s interview is fascinating if only because he provides a superb expression of the re-election of Barack Obama as a kind of end-of-the-world scenario where there will be financial armageddon and the folks in west Texas will have to rely on themselves and their neighborly spirit.

After finishing the whole interview, I really can imagine Judge Head sitting down every day to pray and feeling honestly conflicted—wanting to pray for the president of the United States, but wondering how God could have allowed this man to be president. Hoping for the best, but supporting a tax hike to order up extra experienced police just in case they have to “get rid of the guy.” Perhaps I am reading too much into his comments, and I sure wish I could interview him, but at one point, it almost seems that he is implying that God is pulling down the US and that Barack Obama’s presidency is proof of the fact.

Watching both of these videos a few times over I am struck by the conviction Judge Head has that Barack Obama is an alien leader. If you believe this, then it is not a stretch to think that he would lead UN troops to attack America. Of course, at the level of mythology, I can’t help thinking that the judge is telling a different story, a parable of the marginalization of rural life and the fears that people like himself have of “others”—urban, educated, immigrant, and ethnically different—changing America. But that would be a different post.

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