FWD [forteana] Theroux on Ronson

From: Terry W. Colvin (fortean1@mindspring.com)
Date: Sat Aug 18 2001 - 10:54:13 MDT

Stranger than fiction

Are 12ft lizards running the world? Louis Theroux investigates Them:
Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson

Saturday April 7, 2001
The Guardian

Them: Adventures with Extremists
Jon Ronson
352pp, Picador, 16.99

There is a version of history that holds that the world is secretly run by a
shadowy cabal of predominantly Jewish international financiers and
politicians who meet several times a year to decide which wars to start,
which countries to bankrupt, which gun-owners to oppress, and so on. This
view, which has been around at least since the late 19th century, when it
was popularised in a hugely influential piece of anti-semitic propaganda,
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion , exists in various versions - with
"Jews" occasionally being replaced by "Bilderbergers", "New World Order",
"Illuminati" or "12ft lizard creatures". Though undoubtedly nutty, its
paranoid and exciting "top secret" flavour has meant it continues to appeal
to a motley crew of self-styled "researchers" and evangelists on the fringes
of society, including Ku Klux Klansmen, militias, certain fundamentalist
Muslims and an ex-Coventry goalkeeper called David Icke.
For Them: Adventures with Extremists , reporter and documentary film-maker
Jon Ronson spent several years in the company of a few of these
fringe-dwellers, in an attempt to understand their mindset and to see to
what - if any - extent their fears were founded in fact. The resulting book
is a funny and compulsively readable picaresque adventure through a paranoid
shadow world, with Ronson playing Sancho Panza to a cast of obsessives.
Ronson has a deft, ironic touch and a brilliant way with scene-setting and
direct speech - much of the action is so neat and pacy it reads almost like
a novel - and it is one of the book's great merits that it never takes
itself too seriously. Conspiracy investigators tend to be incompetent and
petty in direct proportion to the delusional grandeur of their ambitions,
something Ronson is not slow to pick up on. "I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE UP TO!" one
investigator screams at his colleague. "Make a big show of shouting down the
phone! Steal the limelight! And then Jon will write about you !"
In one of the book's funniest chapters, Ronson accompanies an
ultra-right-wing conspiracy investigator named Big Jim Tucker as he attempts
to infiltrate a meeting of the Bilderberg Group (a semi-secret council of
international industrialists and statesmen, and a favourite bugbear of the
paranoid fringe). They end up being chased by scary-looking security
personnel in dark glasses and Ronson panics, trying to get the British
Embassy to rescue him. "I am essentially a humorous journalist," he pleads
down the phone. "I am a humorous journalist out of my depth."
But Ronson also has a point to make about the way beliefs in general tend to
demonise "them", where "them" might be diabolical Jews, 12ft lizards, or
indeed the weirdos who believe in diabolical Jews and 12ft lizards. Exhibit
A in the fringe-dwellers' case for the existence of a shadowy all-powerful
cabal is the true-life story of the Weavers, a family with admittedly
far-out religious views who, yes, consorted with neo-Nazis and who moved to
the remotest corner of northern Idaho to be as far as possible from the
"Zionist Occupational Government". Vicki Weaver and her son Sammy were shot
in cold blood by federal marshals in a paramilitary-style raid. Conspiracy
theorists have ever since argued that this is proof that the world is indeed
run by a secret oligarchy; Ronson's compelling case is that what happened
was made possible because the Weavers were repeatedly described in the media
as "white supremacists" and therefore in some way worthy of extermination.
Another chapter examines the strange history of David Icke, the footballer
turned BBC commentator turned Green Party spokesman turned self-proclaimed
son of God. Ronson finds Icke on a lecture tour of Canada, pursuing his new
calling as an investigator of the secret elite of lizard shape-shifters (the
Queen and Ted Heath are among those under suspicion) who run the world.
Icke's "theory" is basically The Protocols of the Elders of Zion with a new
cast and a few script changes. Not surprisingly, Icke has come under
suspicion of anti-semitism; as his tour progresses he finds his readings
heavily picketed and his radio interviews cancelled. Icke vehemently
repudiates the accusations, and reading Ronson's account it is difficult not
to conclude that, while we are right to be on our guard against paranoid
anti-semitism, we should also be on our guard against the paranoid excesses
of anti-anti-semitism. Not only might it be unfair to Icke, but by implying
that he is so dangerous that he has to be censored, the watchdogs are giving
a patina of seriousness to ideas that are - let's face it - very, very
As the book progresses, what emerges is the degree to which the real-life
Bilderberg Group and the researchers who campaign against it are negatives
of each other. Intentionally or not, the alleged bodies of world domination
do create suspicion and resentment with their cloak-and-dagger mentality,
their self-importance and their alarmism. It is no surprise to learn that
some Bilderbergers quite like the idea that they are secretly running the
world: it flatters their vanity. Towards the end of his investigation,
Ronson finds himself referred to approvingly on the internet and in
underground newspapers by fringe researchers and New World Order believers.
He suggests he has passed through the looking glass and is now "one of
them". I think this is going a little far. If pressed, and for all its
flaws, I'd say I'm on the side of the existing international
liberal-democratic system and against the notion that lizards might be
running the world, and I suspect Ronson feels the same way. Still, it is to
his great credit that he's given "them" such a fair-minded - and
entertaining - evaluation.

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1@mindspring.com >
     Alternate: < terry_colvin@hotmail.com >
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