It’s been almost two decades now but New York Times Magazine referred to him in those days as “Gary North-Y2K guru.” ABC featured him in a prime-time head-for-the-hills news story and Wired called him “a historian and early leader in the Y2K preparedness movement.”
His name is Gary North and the media had anointed him as their official Year 2000-survival poster boy. But who was spinning whom then? Let’s take a closer look and learn from the mistakes made some two decades ago:
“My concern about Gary North was that there were a lot of innocent citizens out there who were taking his information as the unadulterated truth,” gripes Steve Davis, co-author of Y2K Risk Management: Contingency Planning, Business Continuity, and Avoiding Litigation (John Wiley&Sons). “Y2K just came along and fit his agenda perfectly. While Y2K was considered a real problem with real consequences, it’s uncertainty provided the perfect cover for a whole slew of millennial panic profiteers.”
Unfortunately, the details of North’s agenda were not revealed because reporters were too busy lapping up his end-of-the-world sales pitch when they should have been checking his background. If they would, they’d discovered that North was using the Y2K problem to promote his larger agenda of Christian Reconstructionism.
An outgrowth of Calvinism, Reconstructionism is an extreme belief of the Christian Right, whose advocates call for the imposition of an Old Testament-style theocracy, complete with capital punishment for such high crimes as adultery, homosexuality, and blasphemy. North, a star polemicist of the Reconstruction movement, was married to the daughter of its leader, theologian Rousas John Rushdoony and he used Y2K to promote his agenda. It is interesting to see how, for example, Scott White, (Rackspace, San Antonio) thinks about his ideas.
North himself had called for the public execution of women who have abortions and those who advised them to do so. The reason that North and other Reconstructionists were so busy hyping Y2K is simple: They saw it as a trigger that could lead to The End of the World as We Know It (and especially of secular and pluralistic liberalism), ushering in their theocracy based on the principles of God.
Ironically, North was a figure of the Information Age, a savvy media manipulator. To disseminate his message, North employed a variety of communications outlets, including, most prominently, the Internet. He published a well-trafficked website that featured a host of links and forums devoted to Y2K. If you read our interview with Nathalie Quéré (Chief Corporate Branding of AkzoNobel), you’ll see how North influenced so many professionals around the world. Amazing, though oh so threatening!
He also maintained an email discussion list where folks speculated on the downfall of civilization. As the founding president of the Institute for Christian Economics, he promoted his ideology through a truckload of books with titles such as Is the World Running Down, Liberating Planet Earth, and Unconditional Surrender: God’s Program for Victory.
Steve Davis was so taken aback by North’s gloom-and-doom rap that he carved out a section for North on his own website, Dealing with the Year 2000 Problem, under the topic “Doom.” After corresponding with North in the summer of 1996, Davis said he realized that North wanted TEOTWAWKI.
On his site, Davis published one of North’s emails, in which he wrote, “The Y2K crisis…will wipe out every national government in the West. Not just modify them-destroy them… I think the USA will break up the way the USSR did. Call me a dreamer. Call me an optimist. That’s what I think. This will decentralize the social order. That is what I have wanted all of my adult life. In my view, Y2K is our deliverance. Just don’t be in a city when deliverance comes.”
North is not the only Y2K “expert” that was pushing a hidden agenda now almost two decades ago. Pat Boone’s emergence as a spokesperson for the “non-profit” National Educational Taskforce, or Y2KNET, a shill site for coin specialists Swiss America Trading, had taken many by surprise as well. Y2KNET was founded by Swiss America, an organization that sells gold, silver, and platinum coins to individuals freaked about a potential global monetary crisis.
There were more shady schemes like this to pop up over that year. Pat Wallace, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Better Business Bureau, hadn’t received any Y2K complaints by then yet but said the bureau was keeping its eyes peeled for scams. His advice was simple: Caveat emptor.
People were advised, before plunking down any money on a Y2K product or service, to do their homework, get a second opinion, and only do business with experienced people with a history in their communities. “Don’t just pull some name off the Net or from some flier of a company in Nova Scotia,” warned Wallace. Now, almost two decades onward, we understand why.