Debarkle Second Chapter 5: Dramatis Personae — Vox Day

A curious fact about Vox Day is that in his list of the 10 greatest novels, his number two pick is Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco[1]. Not only that, it is a novel he has mentioned several times and Eco is one of his favourite authors and one he has made the effort to read in Italian. He has a particular reason for liking it more than Eco’s other novels:

“Perhaps my subscription to the conspiracy theory of history is one reason I rate Foucault’s Pendulum so highly, but I stand firmly by my high regard for Eco.”

https://web.archive.org/web/20210216174524/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/10/top-10-novels-list.html

If you haven’t read the book, it is a long and complex work. Central to the story is a group of editors at an Italian publishing house who cynically create a conspiracy theory (lumping in the Templars, the Holy Grail etc) using a computer to spew out random, unconnected claims but then get caught up in their own deception. By then end of this saga I’m calling Debarkle, Vox Day would have made himself the chief editor of his own publishing house and would be heavily promoting a conspiracy theory sourced from random statements on an anonymous web forum. On the way Vox Day will promote extreme ideas in particular about women, race and immigration.

Like the proceeding chapter, this chapter will follow Vox up to around the mid-2000s. From there, the rest of the story (as far as it is relevant) will be carried in the main chapters as various characters react to events. I will be drawing on three main sources and any unreferenced statement will be either my opinion or drawn from one of these:

A general content warning applies through out. Day has expressed many views that I know readers will find confronting and disturbing.

Vox Day was born in 1968, making him just under a year older than John Scalzi. He claims ancestors who fought in the US Revolutionary War[2] and a great-grandfather who was involved with the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa[3] as well as Native American ancestry.

Day’s full name is Theodore Robert Beale and his father, Robert Beale was the former CEO of a computer hardware company specialising in networking and communication[4]. In 2006, Robert Beale was indicted for tax evasion after adopting a tax-protestor ideology. He was convicted in 2008 with the added complication of some of his supporters planning to kidnap and run their own trial of the judge.

Day grew up in Minnesota and attended the private Christian school, Minnehaha Academy for his school years and then went on to study at the private liberal arts college Bucknell University in Pennsylvania where he studied Japanese, history and economics. Perhaps growing up with a father who was in a technical field but Day personally having less capability in STEM fields and more in the creative arts and humanities, led to Day feeling the need to show proof of his intelligence. Some time in 1988, Vox Day met Donald Trump.[5]?

In the early 1990s Day put his energies into two creative fields. Firstly he helped form the techno band Psykosonik. The band was not without some success with some charting singles[6]. The bands lyrics would touch on religion, technology and dystopian themes.

“Digital disbeliever, there’s a storm in the world tonight
Digital disbeliever, now it’s time for you to come inside
Well, you can find the power, it’s behind your eyes
Touch the chalice to your skull and enter paradise”

https://genius.com/Psykosonik-silicon-jesus-lyrics [7]

Day’s second venture was a video game company called Fenris Wolf . Not unlike, Psykosonik, Day’s video game company enjoyed some moderate success. However, the company closed in 1999 after a legal dispute with its retail publisher GT Interactive Software. Beale moved on to other things including a Christian fantasy called Eternal Warriors: War in Heaven Book 1[8] under the name Theodore Beale (sequels followed in 2002 and 2006).

Day’s other venture was as a columnist, first reviewing video games for a Minnesotan newspaper, much later (2008) as a book reviewer at the fantasy fanzine Black Gate[9] as well as on his own blog. However, the high profile gig for Vox (under that name) was with World Net Daily.

World Net Daily is one of a multitude of conservative news/opinion websites that began in the late 1990s[10]. Fuelled initially by a mix of paleo-conservatism and opposition to President Bill Clinton, the Southern Poverty Law Centre would later describe WND as:

“WorldNetDaily is an online publication founded and run by Joseph Farah that claims to pursue truth, justice and liberty. But in fact, its pages are devoted to manipulative fear-mongering and outright fabrications designed to further the paranoid, gay-hating, conspiratorial and apocalyptic visions of Farah and his hand-picked contributors from the fringes of the far-right and fundamentalist worlds.”

https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/worldnetdaily [11]

Vox Day’s dad, tax protestor Robert Beale, was an investor and board member of WND[12]. Initially, Day’s WND column was a tech/IT column. His posts from August 2001 covered new compact memory cards for cameras and the utility of USB ports for your computer [13]. Day’s next column was scheduled for September 14.

“In response to a number of questions inspired by last week’s column, we were working on a piece related to PC security, specifically the sort offered to one’s e-mail communications by various encryption technologies, when we were interrupted by the horrifying events of Tuesday. The fatal hijackings and subsequent media response has been difficult to dismiss from our mind, so we have tabled the usual technology review for a week in favor of some reflections on these recent events.”

https://www.wnd.com/2001/09/10850/ [14]

The thrust of the article was mainly a right-libertarian stance to the horrific terror attack, i.e. don’t rush into giving more power to the FBI and other agencies or curtail personal liberties of Americans. However, it was directly in favour of military retaliation, which was a broadly mainstream position.

By 2002 the prospect of war with Iraq was high. Vox Day was broadly in favour of attacking Iraq but more on the general principle of Islamophobia and contempt for France and Germany.

“Since we’re doing this war anyhow, I sincerely hope we do it without the blessing of the U.N. and the hapless gang of Euroweenies. And if we need a few extra troops to occupy Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and any other former colony we happen to scoop up in the process, let’s pull them out of Germany. If nothing else, it would be worth it just for the look of horror on French faces when they realize that Uncle Sam won’t be around to keep the Hun at their feet any longer.”

https://www.wnd.com/2002/09/15370/ content warning for Islamophobic pro-war comments[15]

I haven’t systematically surveyed all Vox Day’s early columns at WND but I believe that after August 2001, the column shifted primarily to political commentary and the tech stuff either dwindled or went entirely. The twin themes initially were anti-Islam and anti-women. Articles with provocative titles like “The Morality of Rape”[16] or “Maybe Bush is Hitler”[17] or “Why Women Can’t Think”[18].

Vox Day had aspirations to be taken seriously as a fantasy writer. He had not had positive experiences with organised fandom. He attended the 1997 Minnesota Science Fiction Society convention (aka Minicon) where the guests of honour included Algis Budrys, the founder of Tor books Tom Doherty, as well as two up-and-coming editors at Tor, Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Patrick Nielsen Hayden[20]. Day claims to have decided then to never associate with fandom, saying in 2015 about the experience:

“I turned my back on your freakish community and everything it stood for as soon as I had the opportunity to see it clearly for myself at Minicon in 1997. I dutifully did my panels and never went to another SF convention or attended another SF-related event ever again.”

https://web.archive.org/web/20201108160521/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2015/08/those-who-serve-and-know-not.html content warning for multiple issues [21]

However, there was another route for Vox Day into organised science fiction communities. Sometime in the early 2000’s he joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In 2004, he was selected to join the jury for the SFWA’s Nebula Awards…but that is another story.

Next time: we need to double back and look at the SFWA


Footnotes

Warning: many of the links are to blogs which feature far-right statements either in the content of the post or in the comment section, including transphobic, misogynistic, homophobic, racist and specifically anti-Semitic comments. Links are included for context and verification but I’m not recommending that people follow them.

49 thoughts on “Debarkle Second Chapter 5: Dramatis Personae — Vox Day

      1. I’m another fan of Foucault’s Pendulum. I think I remember liking it even better than The Name of the Rose.

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      2. True. What I liked most about FC was the way it absolutely skewered conspiracy theorists. My impression is that VD liked it because he thought it validated his worldview. 😀

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      3. Yes. He absolutely has misread the book. I know it is a book with some subtelties but to read it as an endorsement of conspiracy theories is difficutlt. Even so, I can see how somebody could just about read it that way — IF they never read anything else Eco wrote. Yet VD has read LOTS of Eco and loves Eco and has read his non-ficition and still thinks the book endorses his view of history rather than explaining why it is an utterly wrong headed way to see the world.

        I know lots of people who miss the satire in RoboCop, Fight Club or the film of Starship Troopers but Vox’s misreading of one of his all time fave books is extraordinary.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Keith Giffen created Lobo for DC as a satire of badass killer types. Readers embraced him as a bad-ass killer type and missed the point.
        My favorite example of missing the point is Stepford Wives. A book that’s obviously and clearly about misogyny becomes a book about how living in the suburbs turn you into a zombie.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. When we went to see the (not entirely successful) film, and reached the scene where one of the other monks says (iirc) “No matter what the cost, William of Baskerville must be proven right”, my wife turned to me and said, “Oh my god, Sean Connery is playing you“.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. I really liked it. So far it’s been the only Eco novel I’ve been able to finish.

        At some point I decided to read The Name of the Rose (I think after watching the movie on a flight to Europe). You used to see that book everywhere in used book stores, and I thought I could find a used copy pretty easily.

        Wrong! I looked through every used book store in town and couldn’t find the damn thing. By the time I bought a new copy, I didn’t have a lot of free time and still haven’t gotten around to it.

        Same with (on a completely unrelated note) Dorothy Dunnett. I may have been looking for both authors at the same time, in fact. I have at least read the Lymond chronicles, though, and although not genre I would say it was definitely worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s almost like you’ve proofread this? A few notes, though:
    – The sentence that begins “If you haven’t read the book” is one of those where you begin saying one thing and loose track. Probably add “, who create …” or maybe something else.

    – “Content warning for Islamphobic” – add an “o” in Islamophobic.

    – “where the guests of honour included Algis Burdy, as well as the founder of Tor books Tom Doherty as well as the two star editors at Tor, Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Patrick Nielsen Hayden[20]. ” – maybe an “as well as” to many?

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  2. This may be just a personal pet peeve, but… Robert Beale WAS a CEO, so he IS and remains a former CEO. Oh, and there’s a “c” in “indicted”, at least in that particular sense. (“Indite” is a verb as well. Mustn’t let it feel neglected. But it’s not the right verb in that context.)

    I read “Foucault’s Pendulum”. Still prefer “Name of the Rose”, though. Just a matter of personal taste.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d add “convicted and jailed” to make it clear. Sometimes people get convicted and get suspended sentences or house arrest or probation and whatnot, but Daddy B. went to the ol’ graybar hotel, Club Fed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would suggest “imprisoned” rather than “jailed”. Jail is where you are put temporarily pending trial. Prison is where you go after you are convicted.

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      2. but if I’m being British I should say gaoled 🙂

        …anyway, Robert Beale ending up in prison is likely to come up in later chapters about Vox and his movements.

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      3. Aaron is correct. Prison is for long term. And as all Teddy’s daddy’s scammage and convictions took place in ‘Merica, “prison” is the proper term in all ways.

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    1. Paul King, just so. As a longtime Board member of Bay Area Skeptics, I found Foucault’s Pendulum a lovely feast of weirdness, exploring conspiracy mindsets and their consequences, and overlaid with a winning sense of dry humour and humanity. Although I cherish both of Eco’s pop-lit novels, this one has always been special to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The French probably would have been happy to get rid of them — no more annoying GI tourists hopping the train and acting like it was still 1945 in Paris.

      I mean, the EU! And only 12 years after the Wall fell! Germany was still pretty busy reunifying itself, they weren’t about to try to take France.

      (Also in this period, Luftwaffe camo was much prettier than US camo, which is totally irrelevant, but still.)

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    2. Since France and Europe are both part of the EU and NATO and in the Schengen Zone, I sincerely doubt that.

      Though this whole “Oh, the evil Germans will attack everybody” thing is quite common in the US and not just in rightwing circles either. I remember being utterly infuriated that some US late night TV personality (I think it was Jay Leno, but it might have been someone else) insinuated that a reunified Germany would try to conquer all of Europe, even though it was the US who was preparing to go to war with Iraq over Kuwait at the time, while German market squares were full of anti-war protests.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re right about it being common. Right-wing and invariably wrong asshat Charles Krauthammer argued around the same time that reuniting Germany would be Europe’s worst nightmare.
        A very bad thriller of the late 1990s involving Hitler’s Alive as the big (and easily predictable) twist asserted that since Germans are uniquely vulnerable to fascism, this would be WW II all over again.

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  3. Cam, there might be one or two people who’ll read this who won’t get the joke in the chapter title. Another footnote might be in order. Because why not, footnotes are good fun. Or at least note that it is a joke, which will be explained later in chapter #N.

    Then it’s a cross-reference footnote, which is even better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One side interest of his column was arguing for creationism and against evolution, which is how I first became aware of him many, many years ago. It was an era when many online Born-Agains were trying to play William Jennings Bryan, minus the Social Gospel, but Beale stood out for three reasons–his coupling of absolute arrogance with terrible arguments was exceptional even for that class; his deep unpleasantness was already apparent; and his tendency to fill the comment section of his columns with sock puppets was a thing.

      Needless to say, all these traits have continued, and frequently increased tenfold. (How many of Castalia House’s authors are Beale wearing a different hat? We might never know.)

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Interestingly, I first came across Beale via his reviews in Black Gate. In fact, I referred to him as “Theo from Black Gate” for a long time.

        But then, I first came across Milo Yiannopoulos, when the tech website he edited back then started a crusade against self-published erotica, which caused W.H. Smith to kick all self-published books out of their online store and spooked Kobo into taking down all self-published books for a month. My booksales were impacted by that, even though I don’t write erotica, and so I often joke that I already hated Milo before the rest of the world did.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Creationism was one of many training grounds for the current situation (and Cam did mention PZ Myers earlier). It used most or all of the rhetorical tricks and bad faith arguments that alt-right used, but it spent a lot of time trying to pretend to be respectable (culminating in Intelligent Design and the Discovery Institute).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Fun Fact: Vox may have invented the escort mission in video games. (A mission where you have to make sure a non-player unit reaches its destination or survives for a period of time.) Some video game magazine (Computer Gaming World?) decided that one of the Rebel Moon games had the first example of an escort mission. Given how much most gamers hate escort missions, it comes as no surprise that he brags about it.

    Liked by 5 people

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