I have to admit, I haven’t really been paying that much attention to Robert David Steele lately. For a conspiracy theorist, he was always pretty boring.
He began to make a name for himself in the national news media in the 1990s. He was just another defense contractor, one of those people in the industry who journalists would call for a quick quote whenever they were staring down a deadline.
“Hackers are a major national resource,” he told one reporter in 1995. “Maybe hackers aren’t the poison, they’re the antidote.” (Reporters love counter-intuitive quotes.) In 1997, he told another one that “Space is a mess. No one regulates it.” After 9/11, in line with the times, he grew hawkish: “Against individual terrorism as well as criminal threats, you have to turn every citizen into prodigious consumer and collector of intelligence” [sic], he told the AP in 2002. It was a long-winded way of saying that if you see something, say something.
According to Steele’s bio, he was in the CIA’s clandestine service for “three consecutive and dangerous tours,” although I have no idea whether that is true or not. He also claimed to be the co-founder of the USMC’s intelligence unit, which has the awkward name Marine Corps Intelligence Activity.
I first discovered Steele’s The Open-Source Everything Manifesto when it was published in 2012. This book is the result of his falling in with a crowd of technolibertarians like Stewart Brand and John Perry Barlow. It is full of insights like: “The universe of Open-Source Everything can be visualized as a pyramid that ranges from concepts through practices and products to movements and consciousness.” It’s a utopian book, the result of what he calls a “conversion experience” from spook to “champion for public intelligence.” From a Reagan Republican to a cyber-utopian quoting Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Barbara Marx Hubbard. His book reads well, I guess, if you’re into a certain type of dorm room philosophy:
Integrity is how we enter into a “state of grace” and become “one with God,” however you choose to define and understand these broad terms. This manifesto defines “God” as an experience of collective solidarity that extends from the human realm to the universe as a whole.
Sustainability can only be achieved through mass collaboration and the achievement of panarchy — a constellation of co-equal hybrid systems of self-governance in which all individuals freely choose where they wish to be heard, and have full access to all relevant information.
Culture is the soul of the community, the “glue” that keeps the lessons of history alive, that demands clarity, that unifies diversity, that nurtures and demands integrity, and thus sustains the community.
I’m not drawn to dorm room philosophy, and I was pissed that I wasted $12 on the book.
Perhaps he decided that the Whole Earth Review crowd was a dead end, because over the next few years Steele started appearing on Alex Jones’s radio show and other, even kookier, outlets. He was a full-blown conspiracy theorist now, and his schtick was that he was the “adult” in the room. He wore a suit and tie, conveying the image of a sober, serious intelligence professional. But before long, even that mask began to slip: “We actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a twenty year ride, so that once they get to Mars, they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony,” Steele told Jones in 2017. He apparently wasn’t aware that a trip to the red planet can be made in well under a year.
In late July 2021, in the interval between rising COVID vaccination rates and the emergence of the Delta variant, I attended a rally in a public park in Beaver, Pennsylvania. Located forty miles northwest of Pittsburgh on a tributary of the Ohio River, Beaver County is a perpetual COVID hotspot. You might remember this trip from a previous edition of this newsletter:
I arrived to hear a local businesswoman screeching into the microphone: “Donald Trump is not going to save us; the storm is here!” This line received wild applause. “The storm,” of course, is a QAnon reference.
That evening I learned that if you have sex with your partner in the four weeks since they received the COVID vaccine, it will permanently alter your DNA. I also learned that mask mandates were the first step in the government declaring martial law.
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Robert David Steele spoke after a country musician and before an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. He had evolved yet again; now he was a God-fearing Christian patriot.
“I’ve always been suspicious of people who say they’ve found Jesus,” Steele told the assembled Beaverites from under the weight of his new cowboy hat. “So when I tell you I found Jesus in the heartland, you should be suspicious. I no longer curse.” Then he started crying: “I have an angel on my shoulder now. And that angel came to me in the heartland.”
The next ten minutes were a combination of self-aggrandizement, world salad, and claims like this one, that he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2017 but passed over because of the Deep State or something: “The Nobel Prize is a completely discredited prize that winners [sic] are actually decided by CIA and the KGB,” he revealed. “Which is why I will never win.”
Steele proclaimed that he was working with the NSA to take down the satano-pedophicratic Deep State. “We have every single email, text, game chat, and banking transaction, including all Cayman Islands banking transactions going back fifteen years for every traitor, every elite pedophile, every Wall Street white collar criminal,” he said, working himself up to a full-throated scream: “And every state, federal, and local official that has been bribed, blackmailed, or brainwashed into doing a screw job on you, they will not survive what is coming!”
I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea that Robert David Steele was going to round anybody up, “screw job” or no. But the crowd really seemed to love it.
After Steele’s speech, I wanted to ask him to autograph my copy of The Open-Source Everything Manifesto, but I realized that I’d left it in my car and didn’t feel like going back for it.
On August 17, Robert David Steele posted this final message to his blog, accompanied by a picture of him in the ICU with an oxygen mask on:
With love to all of you, I survived! I went in at 77 oxygenation. I’m up to 94. I will not take the vaccination, though I did test positive for whatever they’re calling “COVID” today, but the bottom line is that my lungs are not functioning.
The good news is that I will survive with a few days off. I should be back up and at least functional soon. This is been a near death experience, very much like a new [sic?] death experience the whole country is going through right now. We will never be the same because now we know that we’ve all been lied to about everything. But, now we also know that we can trust each other. I’m alive today because I had a network that put me into a good hospital in Florida.
He then signed off with a request for donations.
Steele thought he had COVID beat, but of course he didn’t. He also claimed that COVID didn’t exist, but of course it did. He died eleven days later, on August 28.
I never knew the man. One gets the impression that he had a message and a dream, that there was someone he wanted to become, but found it too difficult and instead opted for the instant gratification of the grift. His earlier writing, the technolibertarian babble, seems to be sincere. Completely off-base, but sincere. From there, it was a slippery slope to baldfaced lies of the most moronic kind. His final tragedy, death-by-COVID-denial, has become cliche by this point.
He made a living by telling suckers what they wanted to hear, and he died like a sucker.