It’s officially fall, we’re knee-deep in the final stretch of this apocalyptic election cycle, and for some reason I’ve built this entire edition of 1.5x Speed out of podcasts about anti-government extremists, true crime, Lovecraftian horror, and killer clowns. I guess it is Halloween times. Please, for the love of God, send me some cheerier recommendations. I’m begging you. Find me on Twitter or reach me over email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s get to it.
Two Minutes Past Nine
In some places across America, it might not take you very much effort to find white men armed to the teeth and dressed for war. You might find them antagonizing Black Lives Matter marches or as “security detail” at anti-mask protests, typically draped with American flags. Just this past weekend, right down the street from where I live, you would’ve found men carrying AR-15s flanking a group of unmasked white people carrying pro-Trump signs. There has been a surge of the militia energy throughout this country lately, and while its increased prominence in the public sphere is perhaps a recent development, the roots of this phenomenon run very deep.
Two recent podcasts offer solid insight into this very American extremism. BBC Radio 4’s Two Minutes Past Nine is one of them, and it provides a steady look at how the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, an act of domestic terrorism that killed at least 168 people, continues to loom large over the contemporary expressions of anti-government movements. Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the attack, is both a symbol and a map, and as the podcast systematically illustrates, the things that shaped him — anger, racism, conspiratorial thinking, a military background misplaced in civilian life, the shadow of Ruby Ridge and Waco — are the same things that shape American-flag-wearing, gun-toting, anti-mask agitators of today. It’s an extremism that effectively doubles as a distinctly American religion.
Two Minutes Past Nine is refreshing for the sobriety of its presentation. It doesn’t really worry about you losing the plot, instead trusting the natural importance of the subject. (Another plus: The podcast is efficient; each episode comes in at around 15 minutes, and I can’t praise this design decision enough.) This narrative confidence is due in no small part to the team: It’s primarily led by Leah Sottile, the journalist specializing in American extremism who hosted last year’s Bundyville: The Remnant, which I thought was one of the best podcasts of 2019. She’s backed up by Georgia Catt, who produced and co-wrote The Missing Cryptoqueen, a compelling audio documentary — about a big ol’ scam! — from the BBC that also came out last year.
No Compromise, a new NPR podcast series, makes for a natural companion and complement to Two Minutes Past Nine. Led by Lisa Hagen and Chris Haxel, the series dives into the story of a gun-rights movement that’s even more extreme than the National Rifle Association, a subject that directly overlaps with Sottile and Catt’s production in many obvious ways. Both examine the same core ideology, the same identity around gun ownership, the same violent antipathy toward state and modern society. Yet No Compromise is a little more focused in its scope, given that Hagen and Haxel’s principal subject is a specific group of leaders: the Dorr brothers, part evangelists and part con men, fomenting populist anger for the purposes of amassing a bigger following.
No Compromise is compelling, but I do have some issues with it. The podcast has some real problems with tone control, insisting on a certain folksy “We’re just trying to understand you!” vibe that can, at times, paper over the very real danger that this ideology and these people represent. There is a point in the first episode when one of the hosts talks to a young man at a rally who expresses some belief in the violent overthrow of government — a moment the show seems like it doesn’t really know how to process — which is followed, later in the episode, by what is essentially an extended dad joke deployed as a way to describe the amorphous reach of the Dorr brothers. Those kinds of choices are a little hard for me to square, and perhaps it speaks to the show’s white viewpoint, but I really can’t help feeling some sort of way as a person of color living in a deep-red gun-happy state. (Sottile and Catt’s approach is decidedly more effective, always maintaining a sharpened sense of situational sobriety. This shit is scary stuff, and they neither overplay it nor underplay it.)
The tone control gets a little better the further in you get with No Compromise, which is great because the story it’s trying to tell is such an interesting one. Ultimately, the series shakes out to be a study of how social media directly abets and accelerates extreme communities online, which is really key to grokking how the anti-government movement principally functions these days. It’s also a study of how these movements tend to be led by grifters and scammers looking to take advantage of those vulnerable to manipulation. That always seems to be the heart of this sort of thing. In light of that, Sottile’s decision to partner up with the co-writer of The Missing Cryptoqueen feels like a stroke of genius.
• I’m eager to dig into A Wilderness of Error, Marc Smerling’s documentary series on FX that sorta-kinda continues the work of Errol Morris’s 2012 book of the same name. The show has a companion podcast, Morally Indefensible, which serves as a useful primer if you’re unfamiliar with the underlying subject: the 1979 conviction of Jeffrey MacDonald for the murder of his wife and children.
• Texas Monthly has a history of publishing great magazine journalism, but it has yet to figure out an approach to narrative audio. Not that it hasn’t tried. In 2018, it published Underdog, a documentary series on what would become the failed Beto O’Rourke Senate run, which I enjoyed but thought could have been so much better. This week, the publication is trying again, this time with the time-tested true-crime approach. The show is called Tom Brown’s Body, and I’m interested to see if it works.
• Death, Sex & Money is doing a miniseries on how the pandemic has turned the lives of athletes across the country upside down. Look, I’m sold.
• Considering that we’re rolling into Halloween season, quick shout-out to Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked. That show is mostly available on Luminary, but they’ve got a few episodes available to everyone. Also worth checking out: The No Sleep Podcast, which keeps its creepies free for all listeners.
Reader Pick: Old Gods of Appalachia
“Old Gods of Appalachia is a horror storytelling podcast that is based on the unholy synergy of Lovecraftian horror and the desolate beauty (and hardscrabble ethic) of Appalachia. Stylistically, the podcast mixes narrative storytelling and voice acting with immersive sound design. I personally love this story because it captures the spirit of Appalachia in a way that makes me nostalgic … in addition to keeping me jumping at shadows! I love the interactions between the regular folk, the witches, the haints, and the landscape they are all rooted in. The podcast also has a great community, and the creators clearly put significant effort into connecting with their community, including those who are not on Patreon.” —Eli L.
And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at email@example.com.