Saturday, April 03, 2010
THEM: Adventures With Extremists
I’ve just finished reading Jon Ronson’s THEM: Adventures with Extremists which provides an interesting and often humourous survey of how the New World Order looked to conspiracy theorists pre-9/11 - the book was published in October 2001 but was the culmination of five years of research which sometimes included living with those he terms extremists. For Ronson, extremists are merely those who have been called extremists by others. It’s a vague definition of the term and it applies to disparite groups from Islamic fundamentalists to Ku Klux Klan members to ex-sports commentators, but the one thing that they have in common is that they believe a shadowy, secret elite group rule the world. Ronson’s book is his journey to find out the nature of that group and, if possible the secret room they rule from.
Some conspiracy theorists may be a bit skeptical and wonder if he really is doing that or if he isn’t actually trying to convince himself and his readers that no such elite group and no such room exists, but if that is his aim he certainly appears to have a few doubts a long the way.
In a very similar fashion to Louis Theroux he seems to get on well with his subjects and usually portrays them sympathetically even if they portray themselves as parodies of nutters. In the first chapter he meets the Islamic fundamentalist Omar Bakri Mohammed, who cheerfully tells Ronson that he’ll burn in Hell and keeps threatening him with sixty lashes only to burst out laughing and say that it’s just a joke. When Ronson manages to arrange a visit to Omar Bakri’s secret Jihadi training camp (in Crawley!) Omar suddenly announces to those present, “Here I am with an infidel. Jon is a Jew!” This is met with an audible gasp. Ronson attempts to break the resulting stunned silence with a plea, “Surely it is better to be a Jew than an atheist?” – “No, it isn’t.” is the reply.
Omar Bakri’s organization, Al Muhajiroun, was a breakaway group from Hizb-ut-Tahrir and is portrayed mostly as inept and clownish. They attempt to release a thousand black balloons in Trafalgar Square with postcards urging Jihad but the messages are too heavy for the balloons, anchoring them to the ground. Interestingly there is a cameo appearance by a young disciple of Omar going only by the name of Anjem. This, of course, is Anjem Choudary, who was one of the founders of Al Muhajiroun and later the very vocal spokesman of Islam4UK.
Another before-they-were-famous appearance is by larger-than-life Texan conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose radio show InfoWars was already being listened to by millions of people in the States but who hadn’t made it big internationally...
Ronson is visiting a family called the Weavers who had been the victims of a massive Federal police operation at their remote cabin in a place called Ruby Ridge in Idaho in which two members of the family (14 year old Sammy and his mother Vicki) as well as the pet dog were shot dead in a military-style assault involving hundreds of officers. The incident was so shocking in its brutality and size, especially when a similar siege followed at Waco, Texas that the Weavers’ home became something of a shrine to anti-government groups of various stripes. The Weavers themselves had been tarred as white supremacists as Randy Weaver had been friends with a member of a group called Aryan Nations and had been the victim of a police sting (or entrapment) which precipitated the siege. The Weavers had always denied they were white supremacists but they had believed in the New World Order and lived in isolation to escape their totalitarian clutches. The raid on their cabin convinced them and many others that the New World Order had come after them (one of those people who later visited was Timothy McVeigh who went on to destroy the bomb the Murrah Building in Oklahoma killing 168 people).
Alex Jones agrees with the Weaver family that the New World Order is conducting events such as these but says that they’re not only responsible for attacks targeting isolationists and religious cults such as at Ruby Ridge and at Waco but also the Oklahoma bombing itself and Ramzi Yusef’s bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Ronson queries Jones on this who then shows his formula for just about any event was employed back then too:
“That’s not even debatable!” He roared, “Well, I guess you could debate Oklahoma City. But the World Trade Center is not even debatable. Clinton’s Reichstag. Horror!”
So the first World Trade Center bombing was “Clinton’s Reichstag”, 9/11 was “Bush’s Reichstag” and Joe Stack flying his plane into an IRS building in Texas may have been “Obama’s Reichstag”. It’s not even clear that the Reichstag fire was “Hitler’s Reichstag” but never mind that.
Jones sketches out for Ronson some of the structure of the New World Order which often seems like a very nebulous term if not a pat political slogan used by politicians to simply mean a vision for a better tomorrow!
“The Bilderbergers,” said Alex, “Are the Roman Senate. It’s a pyramid. They’re way up there. Below them you’ve got the IMF, the World Bank, the United Nations, then you’ve got us down here, the cattle, the human resources.”
“The Bilderbergers”, refers to the Bilderberg Group, which is a real group of politicians and business people who meet periodically in a five-star hotel somewhere in secret. This looks like a promising lead for Ronson who ends up in Portugal assisting a journalist called Jim Tucker infiltrate the latest Bilderberg meeting. While reading Ronson’s description of Tucker I was reminded of a set of articles written in a tongue-in-cheek style by Charlie Skelton about Bilderberg. Tucker is a big man who suffers from emphysema from having smoked too many cigarettes. Bilderberg is an obsession for Tucker who is so worried that he’s messing with the wrong people that he phones in a coded message every morning to a friend of his to let them know he’s still alive. Ronson seems to enjoy his company and some of the interesting stories he has to tell. As they watch some of the famous names pulling up to the Caesar Park Hotel, Tucker confides that Henry Kissinger – a perennial guest of Bilderberg, naturally – actually speaks with an American accent but puts on his European accent for show. He also points out that Margaret Thatcher is in fact one of the good guys that Bilderberg contrived to have removed because of her opposition to the European Union. Bilderberg are rampant globalists, you see, and they are steering the world toward a one-world government New World Order.
There are a few things, however, which somewhat perturb Ronson about Tucker and that is his penchant for off-colour jokes: “The amount of pills they make me take for my plumbing, anyone would think I was F.A.G Positive.” And lets on that the only problem he had with Abraham Lincoln was that he was an abolitionist!
Well, it soon turns out that the newspaper Jim Tucker writes for, the Spotlight, is a famously anti-semitic publication and indeed, it was published by the Liberty Lobby, a political body founded by a rabid anti-semite Willis Carto. The Spotlight was one of the most successful media for conspiracy theories, especially in the pre-Internet era and was once sued by E. Howard Hunt from the CIA for an article that accused him of being involved in the JFK assassination. Lawyer and JFK conspiracy theorist Mark Lane successfully defended the Spotlight however. Ronson is at first skeptical of the claims that Tucker is an anti-semite but in a visit to the offices of the Anti-Defamation League he is given a file on the Spotlight containing numerous Holocaust denial articles, tributes to neo-Nazi organizations and lists of books written in praise of Adolf Hitler by Spotlight editors. The Spotlight had toned itself down somewhat since its early days but really all it had done was to adopt code words such as “international bankers” and “international financiers” (in Michael Shermer’s book on Holocaust denial, Denying History, Holocaust deniers tend to use the term “traditional enemy” these days rather than saying Jews). The Spotlight has since folded and now given rise to a new “news” source called the American Free Press, which is as anti-semitic as its forerunner, and also features Jim Tucker’s writings as well as those of James Edwards, a broadcaster for the appropriately titled Political Cesspool, and Christopher Bollyn, a 9/11 Truther who believes that Israel was behind the attacks.
As many of these conspiracy theorists adopt code words for their anti-semitism the ADL has been very keen to search out even the most obscurely coded language. Ronson finds himself wondering if the ADL don’t end up going too far and becoming extremists themselves in their characterizations of some people. This really comes to a head when ex-goalkeeper, ex-sports commentator and ex-son-of-God, David Icke flies into Canada on a book tour to explain that the New World Order is in fact made up of 12-foot shape-shifting lizards. The ADL aren’t fooled and are sure that when David Icke says “shape-shifting lizards” he really means “Jews”.
Ronson follows David Icke on his travails around Vancouver in which radio station after radio station cancel his interviews at the last moment and book stores that had arranged for him to be there to sign his books suddenly retract the invitation. Icke comes across as the most sympathetic person in the whole saga as everyone else overreacts to his very presence and, no doubt, only confirm for him that the New World Order are thwarting him. It reaches its peak with a lemon meringue pie assault which backfires on the assailants.
But the ADL aren’t the only people who have a problem with David Icke. “DAVID ICKE IS A TURD IN A PUNCHBOWL!” According to Alex Jones. What does he mean by this?
“He talks about the global elite, the Bilderberg Group, these power structures which are all real, all true. Meat and potatoes! Something you can bite into! And then at the end of this he says, “By the way, they’re all blood-drinking lizards… Al Gore needs blood to drink. So does Prince Philip." He’s discrediting the whole thing. You’ve got a nice fruit punch. Icke takes a great big dump right in the middle of it, and now nobody’s going to drink out of that punchbowl. That’s his job, and he’s doing his job well.”
Towards the end of the book, Ronson finally manages to speak to a member of Bilderberg’s steering committee and founder member, Dennis Healey (an unlikely candidate for ruler of the world in my humble opinion, but who am I to say). Healey explains that really there isn’t that much to tell about the Bilderberg Group. But that it’s a club for influential people to meet other influential people. Well, of course he would say that and it doesn’t mean that important things aren’t being discussed away from prying eyes and ears. It certainly could be argued that a lot more transparency would be nice. But maybe the lack of secrecy would reveal the affairs of the Bilderberg Group to be terminally boring. But you can make up your own mind by reading Ronson's Guardian article about it here.
But while Ronson certainly makes some of the conspiracy theorists entertaining, he is keen to point out that there are dark sides to these ideas too. Some people such as the neo-Nazi nail-bomber David Copeland who set off a series of bombs in London targeting ethnic minorities and gay people and believe the world is in thrall to the Bilderberg Group and ZOG (Zionist Occupied Government). Since then there have been other attacks such as the deadly shooting of a guard at the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and at the Pentagon by similarly inclined conspiracy theorists.
The book concludes with a fantastic chapter on one of the most mysterious conspiracy theories at another of the suspected loci of the New World Order: Bohemian Grove in a redwood forest clearing in California. All kinds of occult rituals are supposed to occur there in a place where plans for world domination are hatched. David Icke warns Ronson that Bohemian Grove is a place where the reptilian bloodlines transform themselves back into giant lizards and that such people as Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Walter Cronkite and male members of the British Royal family abuse sex slaves who have been brainwashed through the CIA's MK-ULTRA programme. One of these victims who escaped - Cathy O'Brien - wrote a book called Trance Formation of America about her experiences. In order to infiltrate the Bohemian Grove, Ronson teams up again with Alex Jones and Jones’ producer Mike, because of Jones' apparent fearlessness. So, I was expecting some kind of death-defying adventure through the woods in which they would be flitting from redwood to redwood, avoiding bear traps and scaling electric fences. Instead, they get in by simply walking up the drive dressed in preppy khaki pants and sweaters draped across their shoulders. Apparently the key is to look Republican. But this is only after Alex Jones refuses to go in with Ronson, as he's unable to trust him.
Ronson discovers that instead of the rumoured Satanic rituals and plots to maintain world dominance there isn’t much more to the affair than a bunch of geriatric men guzzling champagne and watching a bizarre pyrotechnic display around a large stone owl shrine and then peeing against the trees. But that is not what Jones saw!
“These people point their fingers everyday. If you’re against the government you’re an extremist. You’re crazy. But this was a pagan ceremony worshipping the earth and engaging in human sacrifice.”
But another conclusion comes from one of Ronson’s sources within Bilderberg who says that neither Bilderberg nor Bohemian Grove attract the calibre that they used to with the older members simply getting older and the prospective newcomers uninterested:
“Let’s face it. Nobody rules the world any more. The markets rule the world. Maybe that’s why your conspiracy theorists make up all those crazy things. Because the truth is so much more frightening. Nobody rules the world.”