Randolph Lewis, associate professor in American Studies, works to understand the real vulnerabilities shaping the anti-surveillance bravado of political media figures such as Alex Jones and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
The department of anthropology presented a talk Monday afternoon at the Student Activities Center led by Lewis and anthropology assistant professor Craig Campbell, regarding Jones and Paul.
Part of Campbell’s research involves studying photography as surveillance, especially in Soviet archives where Russians photographed and documented the indigenous peoples of Siberia beginning in the late 1800s.
“Even though Soviet communism claimed to be anti-colonial, it was in many ways extending a colonial project in Siberia,” Campbell said. “Production of photographs in a socialist colonial context is part of a violent scopic regime that objectifies, scrutinizes and ultimately disempowers those people it photographs.”
Campbell said surveillance as an extension and articulation of state power has been central to most theories of ethnographic and expeditionary photography, especially in the colonial context.
Lewis said concerns about surveillance looking into our intimate sphere is coming from Texas where Paul, a first-term U.S. senator, grew up. Lewis said Paul is an ally of Jones, who is a kind of dystopian, anti-totalitarian and liberty extremist who has produced more than 30 DVDs on political topics and garnered nearly three million listeners at his peak on 60 different radio stations in the country.
“I see them as Texas-based, gun-toting, whole-foods warriors,” Lewis said. “There’s a lot of military bravado and luster. They’re very passionate about the second amendment and they see themselves as rugged individualists.”
Lewis said their concerns regarding public exposure issues are part of a broader worldview in which they are really worried about purifying water, adopting silver as currency, nutrition supplements and non-genetically modified food. He said Jones and his followers accuse the TSA of hiring pedophiles who have been defrocked to run the scanner machines at airports.
Jones publicly speaks about the potential for domestic use of drones. Lewis says Jones is worried about drones that can take any random protester out of the street, and their abilities to look into people’s intimate spheres is a major violation.
“These are guys that are easy to dismiss,” Lewis said. “I would say Alex Jones is one of the most important political media figures in the country that most people have never heard of. His circle of Texas libertarians is maybe the most important zone of resistance to surveillance culture right now outside of [American Civil Liberties Union] and other more sober enterprises.”
Graduate student Paul Gansky said he thinks TSA is kind of part and parcel of a larger culture of fear around airplanes in general.
“There’s only going to be a certain kind of group that will be flying,” Gansky said, “and I think its just really odd that this is the technology that is freaking people out and it’s not other forms of surveillance that have been going on for a long time.”