Them: Adventures With Extremists

by Jon Ronson

Hardcover, 2002

Call number

322.4 RON



Simon & Schuster (2002), 336 pages


*Britain's funniest and most insightful satirist investigates the world of 'them' and 'us'* "Them: Adventures with Extremists" is a romp into the heart of darkness involving 12-foot lizard-men, PR-conscious Ku Klux Klansmen, Ian Paisley, Hollywood limousines, the legend of Ruby Ridge, Noam Chomsky, a harem of kidnapped sex slaves, David Icke, and Nicolae Ceausescu's shoes. While Jon Ronson attempts to locate the secret room, he is chased by men in dark glasses, unmasked as a Jew in the middle of a Jihad training camp, and witnesses CEOs and leading politicians undertake a bizarre pagan owl ritual in the forests of Northern California. He also learns some alarming things about the looking-glass world of them and us. Are the extremists right? Or has he become one of Them?.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bragan
Journalist Jon Ronson hangs out with and introduces his readers to a variety of "extremists," from an Islamic Jihadist living in a semi-detached house in London, to a Klansman desperately trying to improve the Klan's PR, to David Icke, who believes that the world is controlled by a secret cabal of alien lizard people. (Or possibly Jews. But he probably really does mean lizards.) Actually, the one thing most of these people have in common is a belief that the world is controlled by some secret group that meets in a room somewhere to pull society's strings, so Ronson also sets out to explore this supposed conspiracy and find that room, if it exists. The result is... interesting.

Ronson comes across as a very laid-back guy with a great, low-key sense of humor, and while he does offer us his perceptions of the people he's profiling, he mostly tries to keep his judgments to himself (one notable outburst towards the end aside). Generally, these people and their beliefs come across simultaneously as amusingly wacky in ways that are impossible to take seriously, but also as disturbing or even dangerous... and just occasionally, you can't help wondering if some of them might have a tiny germ of a point in there somewhere, buried in among all the crazy. It's entertaining, but also rather unsettling, and all the more so because it can actually be difficult to tell just who's worth laughing at and who is actually worrying.
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LibraryThing member JenneB
Crazy fascinating. He makes all the extremists sound like lovable bumbling fools...until they all of a sudden reveal themselves to be batshit insane.
LibraryThing member dtw42
I'm not sure what to make of that. Ronson spends time with a bunch of people each of whom has their own take on the "New World Order/Bilderberger" conspiracy theory. Some of them think it's all controlled by the Jews, some of them think it's all controlled by international financiers and politicians (which, depending on who you ask, might or might not be code for the Jews) and one of them [Icke, ahem] thinks it's all controlled by giant alien lizards (which, depending on who you ask, might or might not be code for the Jews).
Each of the conspiracists comes across somewhere on the spectrum between "deluded dimwit" and "stark raving nutjob", but most of them exhibit traits of being nice pleasant people - so long as YOU are the right sort of person for them to be talking to. Hence Ronson does a lot of hedging about his own Jewish-but-lapsed background around some of them, for purposes of personal safety.
When you start off from a decidedly anti-conspiracy viewpoint (i.e., that's it's all a load of old cobblers) the final chapter throws your mind off kilter somewhat as he seems to find out that at least SOME of it is real by attending and personally witnessing the closing evening of a Bilderberg summer retreat in which the great and the good sit around watching a woodland staging of a mock-ancient dramatic piece featuring giant owl figures and burning effigies that could be interpreted as either sinister or juvenile.
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LibraryThing member EAG
Meh. Not half as interesting as you would think. I was expecting far more from Ronson, who authored the equally bizarre The Men Who Stare at Goats. Rather than getting up close and personal with truly scary groups who see evidence of global domination conspiracies everywhere, he opts for cheap laughs instead. I guess Ronson finds it easier to write amusing little vignettes of inept British Muslim radicals, warm and cuddly KKK leaders, misguided and misunderstood militia men, and delusional anti-semites who think Zionists descended from giant alien lizards (!!!) than take a more critical look at the fundamentalist political/religious/racist ideologies that drive them. And while there's nothing wrong with such humorous reporting in and of itself, it may give one the mistaken impression that "they" are essentially harmless eccentrics. Rather than castigating the Jewish Defense League and other such civil libertarian NGOs for occasionally overexaggerating the dangers posed by such individuals, Ronson could have better served his audience by reminding them that the Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh, the Branch Davidians at Waco and other fringe dwellers are cut from the same cloth.… (more)
LibraryThing member MiaCulpa
Ronson introduces us to a range of people who all think that some small evil group are in a room somewhere running the world for their own evil benefit. It's just the composition of the evildoers that change; from Muslims, Jews and Catholics to old rich white men to, inevitably, Giant Green Lizards (including Kris Kristofferson; I knew no mere human could have written "Me and Bobby McGee").

Ronson seems to have a lot of luck finding these people to interview, although I guess you make your own luck and Ronson has become the go-to chap for those peddling conspiracy theories.
As with all Ronson books, "Them" is a must read if you want to mix your laughter with a heady dose of "wtf?"
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LibraryThing member seldombites
This was certainly an interesting and enlightening read. From the dangerous to the harmless to the just plain wacky, Jon Ronson gives a humourous insight into those the world call 'extremist'. By spending time with these people and quoting their own words and deeds, Jon shows that that not all 'extremists' are as extreme as they are portrayed, and sometimes those who do the accusing are, themselves, 'extreme'. This book is definitely worth the read.… (more)
LibraryThing member pdxburley
I went to Powell's and was too cheap to purchase a new hardcover copy of "Men who stare at goats" so I purchased a cheap remaindered copy of this instead.

I was pretty pleased with my purchase. Having heard his voice on 'This American Life' I was able to hear him read it to me.

Jon hangs out with various infamous extremists and contrasts the differences between what their lives are like and how they are portrayed in the press. Most have very disturbing and objectionable viewpoints but knowing they are basically incompetent is comforting.

Perhaps I will reserver the goats book at the library.
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LibraryThing member lunaverse
Them takes us on tour of the world's extreme conspiracy theorists, to see what they have in common.

As an armchair conspiracy theorist myself (who wishes the REALLY crazy ones would stop ruining the credibility of real conspiracies), I found this a fun look at some really wacky people.

The author takes us to David Icke, who believes the world is being run by giant green lizards. We go to the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, who thinks David Icke is anti-semitic (giant lizard is code for Jew). We go to a branch of the KKK who sees itself as the kinder, gentler KKK. We follow the author as (himself a Jew) almost gets killed in an Aryan camp. We follow him as he sneaks into the world-dominating Builderberg Groups secret camp and video tapes a ritual.

This book neither contributed nor detracted from my belief that conspiracies may exist. It did give me a better understanding of conspiracy theories, and the kooks behind them. It was also very fun to read.
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LibraryThing member vivaval
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book; the subject matter has the potential to be very disturbing. But I was pleasantly surprised to find it quite readable. Ronson's writing is often light-hearted, but this is no lightweight book. There is plenty to think about here.
LibraryThing member roblong
Good fun, took it on a weekend break and it was great for a holiday read. Basically a book version of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends (Theroux is a fan). Not going to change your life, but it's always worth taking time to boggle at how bonkers significant numbers of our fellow men and women are.
LibraryThing member taniwha
In these troubled times, this is a much needed humanisation of those considered to be extremists.
LibraryThing member cwflatt
Interesting book about extremist although I believe he only made it to the least radical of radical estremist. It was interesting they all seem to believe the same "World Domination Consiperacy" They all don't play well with others and just want the whole world to think the same as they do.
LibraryThing member snarkhunt
Nearly perfect. I came to this book after hearing the author read the first chapter on public radio's "This American Life". Jon has a funny way of flatly and simply reporting the statements and circumstances surrounding the big conspiracies.
Yes, the leaders of the world do get together to worship a stone owl in the woods, but no, they aren't plotting all that much. It's a trip through cynicism and paranoia and is surprisingly laffy all the way.… (more)
LibraryThing member Miro
The title of Ronson's book "Them" immediately begs the question of who is "Us".

He shows the many fault lines in capitalist western multicultural societies and follows the various "us and thems" of the modern world, particularly the labelled extremists, opposing a supposed New World Order.

The book plays for laughs in the practical hassles of being an extremist, such as Omar Bakri's helium filled black Jihad balloons that wouldn't take off from Trafalgar Square (cards too heavy) or Klansmen struggling not to say the "N" word, but at the same time it morphs into a reflection on the injustices inflicted by both sides, particularly in the last chapter, "A Clearing in the Forest". He infiltrates the Bohemian Grove Bilderberg meeting with a group of right wing conspiracy theorists and sees the same strange things that they do but rightly insists that it is just the burning of "Dull Care" so that some old executives can better enjoy their summer holiday. Reading anything more into it risks the fabrications that led to the Ruby Ridge (Randy Weaver) tragedy.

As you would expect, there is a strong Jewish theme in the book which Ronson deals with quite fairly. There isn't of course any organised Jewish policy to take over the world but its interesting that he never says, " As an English person I felt that ...." (he was born in England and has an English passport), but he does frequently say, " As a Jewish person I ....." which shows which identity is uppermost in his mind and which doesn't hold out much hope the disappearance of us and them thinking.

Multiculturalism encourages "us" and "them" ideas rather than a general national and cultural loyalty which may be why multicultural societies have a tendency to collapse. Ronson Illustrates the fault lines but obviously has little interest in a higher loyalty at the national level.
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LibraryThing member RandyStafford
With an open mind and some charming naivete, Ronson went on an expedition to find not only those who obsess about the secret masters of the world but, just maybe, the masters themselves.

Like others who have actually done honest fieldwork amongst these political exotica, Ronson meets a lot of kind, polite, and charming people -- as long as you happen to be the right race or creed. Many are reasonable and tolerant too -- at least when they don't have any power to realize their visions.

From the vast zoo of modern conspiracy theory, Ronson mostly concentrates on the ZOG/Bilderberg/Trilateralist/Satanist clade which is usually associated with the right wing. But his years of research turn up some surprises.

In pre-September 11th London, Ronson hangs out with Omar Bakri, self-described as Osama bin Laden's man in London. In America, we meet Thom Robb, Grand Wizard of some Klan sect in a world rife with internecine sniping, egomaniacs, and FBI informers. His claim to fame? He wants his disciples to follow his self-help program -- oh, and stop using the "N-word". With Jim Tucker, reporter for the notorious and defunct _Spotlight_ newspaper, he attempts to infiltrate the annual meeting of the legendary Bilderberg Group. Then there's ex-British sportscaster David Icke who insists that, when he talks about a conspiracy of world ruling reptilian space alien Illuminati, he really means space aliens and not Jews.

And Ronson doesn't find extremism just among the conspiracy mongerers. The infamous actions of the U.S. government at Ruby Ridge are recounted as well as the press' general inability to see a distinction important to the Weavers and their supporters -- racial separatism as opposed to racial supremacy. The Anti-Defamation League comes across as far too ready to see anti-Semitism and pass its faulty judgements to a gullible media. Canadian activists try to stop Icke from public speaking -- all in the name of racial tolerance. And when Ronson actually interviews a founding member, Denis Healey, of the Bilderbergs on their history and activities, suspicions are not entirely allayed.

Ronson makes few outright comments and judgements on his subjects, provides no grand summing up of his findings and that may be the book's biggest flaw. The closest he gets is the concluding statement that nobody really controls anything. The book is more reportage than analysis. But that reporting is done with a sharp eye for the humorous and sinister. Bakri tells of what a future Islamic London will be like -- and is chided at a meeting of fellow jihadists about his inept fishing. Who is the man following Tucker and Ronson in Portugal during the Bilderberg meeting? Hollywood, a claimed nexus of the Grand Jewish Conspiracy, comes off as petty, apolitical, and a place of insincere boutique faith as Ronson follows Tony Kaye, director of American History X, around. Klansmen argue the merits of silk or cotton robes. Ronson infiltrates the Bohemian Grove -- attended by U. S. presidents and vice-presidents -- and finds a rather silly, decades old frat boy ritual that just doesn't have the same drawing power it used to among the up-and-coming junior world ruler set. And more than once, Ronson, a Jew, finds himself guiltily associating with anti-Semites.

To be sure, some of the books chapters seem extraneous. An auction of Nicolae Ceausescu's relics adds nothing. Neither does a chapter on Ian Paisley taken from an early newspaper article.

Ronson's book reminded me of Phillip Finch's God Guts And Guns which went among the American radical right and the works of Laird Wilcox about American political extremists. Its humor and willingness to consider outre theories like David Icke's reminded me of Alex Heard's Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels In End-Time America, the work of Ronson's fellow Englishman Louis Theroux, and the pages of _The Fortean Times_.

Anybody interested in strange beliefs, conspiracy theories, or political extremism should read this book.
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LibraryThing member fulner
While I do not necessarily share the same conclusions as the author, its definitely a good read. Being in Libertarian circles, I have heard terms like "Ruby Ridge" for years but, perhaps because I was too young, I never knew what happened. His mere descriptions of the events that happened that faithful day and the interview with her children are enough in and of itself.

A skeptic starts searching to prove their is no secret world order. He spends time with a radical emum, who tried to show himself as a bad guy, but then tries to convince the author to tell everyone he's a big clown.

Tries to Convince Alex Jones that his freaking paranoid, and asks some great questions. Regardless of which side you are on the "trust the official story" line, this is a good read.
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LibraryThing member les121
Although it ends rather abruptly, Them is a fascinating, hilarious, and thought-provoking read. Jon Ronson is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite nonfiction writers.
LibraryThing member ohernaes
Ronson's travels with religious and other extremists. He does a good job of appearing to take them seriously.

Like other parties comprised of individuals, the conspiracy theorists have challenges controlling loose cannons - here is Alex Jones complaining about David Icke: "He talks about the global elite, the Bilderberg Group, these power structures which are all real, all true. Mean and potatoes! Something you can bite into! And then at the end of this he says, 'By the way, the're all blood-drinking lizards.'"

Chraracteristically, Jones goes on to suggest that Icke's is part of the conspiracy and on purpose discredits him and other who have grasped the truth. I was amused to learn from Wikipedia that a couple of academics had suggested that Icke was engaged in "Swiftian satire," however as I read on (still on Wikipedia), it became clear that they did not think it was satire employed to discredit conspiracy theorists, rather to open people's eyes... But what do I know, maybe that was satire?
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LibraryThing member dmarsh451
This book was full of answers(1) to questions I can't bear to admit I've asked myself. Ronson interviews, hangs out, and even lightly conspires with different sectors of the population who see themselves as victims of 'Them'. The details of the world conspiracy differ. It depends whether you're a white supremacist, or an anti-semite against the world lizard conspiracy (yes, real lizards, not metaphorical lizards), or a survivalist Christian with white-supremacist ties. The divisions go on and on, but what Ronson noticed was that they all seemed to agree at some point, that everything pointed to the Bilderburg Group and their Bohemian Grove ritual fire in front of the giant stone owl. Think Burning Man with Henry Kissinger.
Ronson is very good at laying back in that way that allows people to express themselves, or maybe these sorts of people do that easily. He almost makes it look easy, and now that I've finished the book, I wonder that he never got hurt questioning so many obsessed, volatile paranoids. He certainly handled a lot more guns than he was used to.
I think he did us a service by writing about 'Them' because 'Them' are out there driving around, buying burgers, waiting for those moments when they know they are in the right company so they can remove their human suits and go lizard.

(1) "I've put some cardboard into my hood to line it," said Pat, "to stop it from collapsing in the rain."
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LibraryThing member CaroPi
Ronson writes about extremist putting himself in the most neutral way as possible. as the book unfold itself he uncovers some myths of conspiracy theories in a pretty good way. His writing just keep you going till the end. Highly recommended
LibraryThing member dcunning11235
Does a good job of humanizing the (mostly American) fringe, including revealing facts about 'Ruby Ridge' that I never knew, while not loosing sight of that fact that these people are weird, very weird, and that's just for starters. Ronson succeeds in revealing how e.g. Alex Jones' world view might make sense to him and his followers --in other words, they are not 'just crazy'-- while not loosing sight of the fact that they are, well, a bit crazy (in the colloquial sense.)… (more)
LibraryThing member tsutton
Journalist Jon Ronson investigates various extremist groups and finds a common element - they all believe that a secret, select group of individuals meet periodically to choose world leaders, sway economic policy,and otherwise rule the world. To discover if this group does exist, Ronson meets with everyone from the Weaver family of Ruby Ridge fame, Omar Bakri Mohammed, who supports the Taliban from his home in England, to KKK Grand Wizard Thom Robb, and the even stranger David Ickes. To his surprise, not only does this group actually exist...but they grant him an interview...

As hard as it is to believe sometimes, the people Ronson interviews in this book are real! Ronson does a good job showing off the personalities of these characters so you can really get a sense of what they believe and how strongly they believe it. It was, at times, a bit redundant, but I suppose that is to be expected, considering how similar the belief systems these groups are. And his interview with the alleged "One World Government" group is hysterical.

This book was filled with some pretty interesting information, and it was written with a humorous touch, so if you enjoy reading about conspiracy theories and the nuts that believe them, this could be the book for you.
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LibraryThing member eclecticdodo
Investigative journalist Jon Ronson began researching alleged extremists and fanatics of various political persuasions. However, he soon realised they all share a common belief - in a shadowy elite who secretly control the world in a massive and murderous conspiracy. It starts off seeming pretty fantastical but soon he is being followed by unmarked cars and finding other suspicious goings on. He sets out to find out who this elite group are, whether they are as sinister as they sound, and what should or can be done about it. Along the way he meets a lot of very powerful, very arrogant people, not to mention the paranoid and outright dangerous.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lirmac
Frightening and hilarious at the same time, Them is probably funnier than Ronson's later books, but less cohesive as a work. Chapters such as those on Tony Kaye and Ian Paisley, while excellent in themselves, seem to fall outside the central thesis.
LibraryThing member Kate_JJM
I love Jon Ronson. Excellent selection of nutters in here.




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