*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?.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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."
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.