The Magazine

She's Come Undone

From Gore guru to pretty paranoid.

Oct 20, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 06 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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"I came to this reluctantly," she said at Borders, "because all of my friends run the mainstream media." She hasn't given up appearing on television, of course, but she has been forced to give up consuming her friends' efforts because they're simply not running the kind of amazing stories that Wolf is hearing every day from "ordinary citizens."

I heard from a citizen--but never read in the suburban press--that people he knew had opened their luggage after a flight to find letters from the Transportation Security Administration that said that they did not "appreciate" the reading material, critical of the administration in power at that time, that these Americans had carried in their
personal possessions.

Since Wolf heard this story secondhand from an unnamed "citizen," it's hard to corroborate. But there was a story in Seattle--covered by the local press and picked up by the news wires and CNN--that bears a striking similarity to Wolf's twice-told tale. The "letter" in the Seattle case was a single line scribbled in the margin of the standard TSA inspection notice. A screener had taken exception to some Iraq war protest signs in a man's luggage: "Don't appreciate your anti-American attitude!" the annotation read.

While Wolf would no doubt see a conspiracy of dissent-crushing TSA thugs taking orders from on high for the precise language of their notes, a simpler explanation might be that the TSA has attracted a freelance would-be censor, with a Sharpie in his pocket and no common sense, and that story migrated from the mainstream press to her ears, with slight mutations in tow.

The official response to the incident, by the way: "We do not condone our employees making any kind of political comments or personal comments to any travelers," TSA spokeswoman Heather Rosenker told Reuters. "That is not acceptable." But they would say that, wouldn't they?

Mostly, Wolf's paranoia is good fun--yuppies freaking out about letters in their luggage, and a little feminine hysteria paired with computer illiteracy--but sometimes she meddles in more serious matters.

"Seven soldiers wrote op-eds in the New York Times critical of the war, three are dead, one shot in the head," she writes, implying the worst. A quick Google search reveals that two of the dead soldiers, colleagues and coauthors, died in the same accident--an overturned cargo truck. The soldier shot in the head was another coauthor, hit while on a combat mission when the article was still being composed. He survived, mercifully, yet tells no tales of a conspiracy to murder his comrades in dissent.

Wolf's use of their stories, and the stories of dissidents living under truly oppressive regimes, to make her loopy case for creeping fascism in America is a little tougher to take.

Finally, there's Wolf's personal persecution, related between cheers at a recent rally in Washington. Wolf is no stranger to odd alliances; after the publication of The Beauty Myth in 1990, for instance, she made common cause against pornography with social conservatives at the height of the culture wars. But strange indeed is the path that takes Naomi Wolf to Rep. Ron Paul's door.

At a Ron Paul Revolution March this past July, Wolf told the crowd--composed mostly of people waving banners with legends like "Read Atlas Shrugged" and "Mises Saves"--this story:
"My daughter is 13 years old. She's in summer camp right now. She's writing me letters. I'm not getting her letters. I'm not getting half of my mail. And when my mail arrives, it's ripped wide open. I showed it to the Post Office and they said 'That's not possible.'"

When she retold the story at Borders last month, she mentioned that birthday party invitations for her daughter were now also being intercepted.

Explanation Number One: Thirteen-year-old girls are terrible correspondents and worse friends, and Wolf's daughter will be spending the next few months silently mortified that her white lies about letter writing and her social ostracism have taken the national stage as part of her mother's conspiracy theories. Explanation Number Two: The American secret police believe that vital information is contained in correspondence from teenage girls, and have confiscated all letters written in pink ink.

Your call.

While the enemies of freedom are almost unbelievably sly and ruthless in Wolf's universe, the ordinary citizen is also an intellectual and organizational powerhouse, waiting to be unleashed. One can't deny that there's a certain kind of egalitarianism here, twisted though it may be.