"He wanted to watch it all the time," a teenage friend of Loughner's told the Arizona Republic. "It was cool at first. But then it got weird. It was all he wanted to do."
"Zeitgeist" has three parts. The first tells us that Christianity is a myth, and that religion in general conditions us to believe other myths. The second tells us that the most powerful of those other myths is 9/11 -- we call it an act of terrorism when it fact it was an inside job perpetrated by the U.S. government. And the third part tells us the real powers behind 9/11 and the other myths are central bankers. They're making the myths for money, while we're just being duped.
"Christianity, along with all other related theologies, is an historical fraud," the narration begins. "Zeitgeist" posits a sort of Zodiac-based foundation for all faiths and gives us insights like, "Jesus' solar Piscean personification will end when the sun enters the Age of Aquarius."
But religion is much more than astrological musings. "It empowers the political establishment who have been using the myth to manipulate and control societies," the movie claims. "The religious myth ... serves as the psychological soil upon which other myths can flourish." And anyone who questions the myth will pay a price. "The keepers of the faith won't enter into debate with [critics]," the narrator says. "They ignore them or denounce them as blasphemers."
At that moment, "Zeitgeist" turns to -- of all people -- Washington pundit Tucker Carlson to pivot from the Christianity myth to the Sept. 11 myth. Interviewing a 9/11 skeptic on MSNBC in 2006, Carlson said, "It is wrong, blasphemous, and sinful for you to suggest, imply, or help other people come to the conclusion that the U.S. government killed 3,000 of its own citizens."
To the makers of "Zeitgeist," that is an "Aha!" moment: a skeptic being literally denounced as a blasphemer. From there, the movie recounts standard 9/11 truther stuff, like claiming plane crashes alone could not have brought down the World Trade Center towers.
But why was it done? "Sept. 11 was the jump-start for a hegemonic agenda enabling the possibility of constant global warfare," the movie asserts. It was a pretext, staged "to launch two unprovoked illegal wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"However, 9/11 was a pretext for another war as well," it continues. "The war against you. The Patriot Act, homeland security, the military tribunals act and other legislation are all completely designed to destroy your civil liberties and protect those in power." From there, "Zeitgeist" cuts from a video clip of Adolf Hitler to -- surely you saw this coming -- George W. Bush.
But even Hitler and Bush aren't the real villains of "Zeitgeist." The third and final part of the documentary is titled "Don't Mind the Men Behind the Curtain." Those men are central bankers and currency manipulators, the "invisible government" that controls our lives.
In the early 20th century, according to "Zeitgeist," "ruthless banking interests" held a secret meeting to create the Federal Reserve system. The goal, beyond enriching themselves, was to debase American currency and reduce the United States to the "slavery" of ever-increasing debt. Anyone who has even sampled kooky speculations about the Fed will recognize this as very old stuff, repackaged with amateurish digital effects.
In the end, "Zeitgeist" tells us we must break free of the slavery. "If the people ever realize the truth," the narrator says, "the entire manufactured zeitgeist ... will collapse like a house of cards."
Is all this left or right? Parts of "Zeitgeist," complete with depictions of Fox News as a government propaganda organ, resemble some paranoid, far-left, anti-Bush tracts of 2004-2007. Other parts resemble far-right paranoia from many years ago. But the more important question is what effect the picture had on Jared Loughner.
At a time when Loughner was increasingly unable to control his own mind, he apparently welcomed "Zeitgeist's" message that there were sinister forces out there trying to control it for him. The meaning of "Zeitgeist's" role in the Tucson violence is not that Loughner's motive was political. It's that the movie's insane incoherence proved to be an awful stimulant for one dangerously incoherent mind.
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.