On the advice of my physician, I do not watch or listen to Glenn Beck, preferring to follow his exploits via the serial bouts of hysteria he inspires in his fans. So it was news to me to learn that he spends a lot of time hawking the works of the late W. Cleon Skousen, an extremely sketchy right-wing character who lived on the far fringes of the conservative movement and of Mormonism.

In a fascinating piece on the subject in Salon today, Alexander Zaitchick explores Beck's near-apostolic advocacy of Skousen's work, which serves as a sort of intellectual framework for the highly paranoid worldview of the Tea Party movement that Beck has done so much to promote. In his very colorful career, which earned him a big fat "dangerous extremist" file with his former employers at the FBI, Skousen gained most notice in the early 60s as a fellow traveler and stout defender of the John Birch Society (after Birch founder Robert Welch had been read out of the conservative movement for contending that Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist).

As Sarah Posner alertly reminds us at TAPPED, Beck's not the only Skousen fan high in the ranks of contemporary conservatism. Mitt Romney has spoken of the old crank fondly as well, which led to a sort of warning from National Review's Mark Hemingway back in 2007:

Who is Cleon Skousen you might ask? In answering that question, it’s hard to even know where to begin. Skousen was by turns an FBI employee, the police chief of Salt Lake City, a Brigham Young University professor, consigliore to former secretary of agriculture and Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson and, well, all-around nutjob.

Of course he was also a prolific writer and likely brilliant, but Skousen is not an association a presidential candidate should loudly trumpet.

Thanks to Beck, one of Skousen's books, The 5,000 Year Leap, has become a runaway bestseller, which suggests that a lot of Tea Party folk have read it and given it to friends and family. Next time someone tells you the Tea Party movement is composed of average Americans who are simply worried at the terrible things Barack Obama's trying to do to their country, keep in mind they are being influenced by the works of someone who thought America was being plunged into socialist tyranny by the Eisenhower administration.

This is cross-posted from The Democratic Strategist, where Ed Kilgore is Managing Editor.