Today’s the day: the definitive book on Ron Paul, Ron Paul’s Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, is out – and I’ll host a talk with the author, Brian Doherty (as well as audience members representing various factions of the libertarian movement) live and in person at the Dionysium THIS THURSDAY, MAY 17 (8pm) at 2 Havemeyer St. in Williamsburg (on the second floor, right above the future site of the bar Muchmore’s). First subway stop in on the L (Bedford Ave.), you cowardly Manhattanites (then just walk three blocks east, entering the building through the N. 9th St. side door).
I. RON PAUL
This is a big week for Paul, who has made public his plan to, in essence, give up on beating Romney in the popular vote and just see how many convention delegates he can wrangle. Ironically, given that Paul has flirted with conspiracy theorists, it’s tempting to conspiracy-theorize about what his real plan is: Actually try to get enough delegates to take over the GOP convention in August? Play nice to keep his son Rand in the GOP’s good graces (maybe even get him on the ticket, which would please me greatly)? Play not so nice in order to get Rand on the ticket? Get out of the way so libertarians can migrate to newly-minted Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson?
Even Newt Gingrich now says Mitt Romney should start imitating Ron Paul, who represents real, historic, seismic political change.
But one person who is back on cue to say Paul is done and good riddens and furthermore don’t read Brian’s book is (my fellow Phillips Foundation fellow) Jamie Kirchick, who has been periodically re-revealing to the world, at critical junctures, that Paul decades ago produced newsletters with a few racist or conspiracist passages – and who plainly has lost any ability to see Paul, or even the broader libertarian movement he represents, through any other lens.
But for the sake of argument, let’s ask: What’s so terrible about conspiracy theories?
Don’t get me wrong, I am a rationalist, skeptic, and man who notoriously has little patience for assertions made without evidence (including the claims that there is a God, that government reduces poverty, or that U.S. military intervention abroad is usually worth it). But given that every candidate, alas, has (or purports to have) beliefs that are unproven or irrational (Jeremiah Wright, Mormonism, Keynes, etc., etc.), shouldn’t we perhaps stop judging such things merely by how “taboo” they are and instead ask what the likely real-world consequences are?
Paul warning about the international elites gathering at the Bilderberg conferences (as they in fact do) may sound odd, for instance, but we should be far less frightened of Paul than of, say, an average politician who claims that the Department of Commerce is a useful thing, even though the latter claim sounds too boring to be dubbed “crazy.”
II. ALEX JONES
Paul (like my ex-boss Judge Andrew Napolitano) has been criticized for appearing on the show hosted by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (who is, like Paul, aproduct of Texas – but also, like the Dionysium events, a product of notoriously weird Austin, TX). But even Jones has his uses. Who else dares to interview someone portraying G.I. Joe villain Cobra Commander and, ridiculous as it may seem, underscore the point that real government can be as authoritarian as this villain?
(Fans of conspiracy theories and G.I. Joe should be thrilled next month, by the way, since the impending sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation depicts Cobra Commander as a literal reptile man who uses his shapeshifting powers to become president of the U.S. and institute fascist rule. As you may know, one conspiracy theory widely believed these days, though not by Paul, is that alien reptile-men are controlling the planet – and the Moon – and can occasionally be glimpsed in various odd but routine video glitches from TV shows, which now festoon YouTube and mesmerize paranoid schizophrenics everywhere, many of them fans of conspiracy theorist, lecturer, former sportscaster, and ardent reptile-resister David Icke.)
One thing that put Jones on the map a few years ago was getting the first sneaked footage of the Bohemian Grove ceremonies that government and business leaders attend in California. It looks like just a big, miscellaneous conference/vacation outing to me, but as a result of Jones’s investigation of the faux-pagan ceremonies and his subsequent outrage over them, there are online clips – note that I am not claiming they’re worth watching – of a less-polished-sounding Jones circa 2000 outside then-Gov. Bush’s Austin office with a bullhorn, ranting about Bush mimicking ancient Babylonian/Druidical human sacrifice rituals – which is technically true, I should add...but then, we did faux-Native American ceremonies when I was in Boy Scouts, and that does not mean I will sell you down the river to Aquila the Eagle Spirit someday (most likely). Jones seems to take the silly ceremonies pretty literally.
Perhaps the funniest – but again basically harmless, maybe even healthy – side effect of Jones’s crusade is that there is footage of him back then confronting one Grove attender on the street to ask him what it all means, and that attender is the man God seemingly created to play the role of shifty-seeming accused person, namely: David Gergen.
(He’s also the man who briefly slightly increased my fear that the Clintons might actually have murdered Vince Foster, when he unexpectedly ended a Larry King interview in the mid-90s by nervously pulling out a written, legalistic statement about how if he had any knowledge of inappropriate behavior during his time at the White House it was not behavior that, to the degree he was aware of it at all, rose to the level of criminality necessitating a report to the police – or words to that effect – looking jowly and unhappy the whole time, as he is wont to do.)
Anyway, a very angry-sounding Gergen basically handed a then-amateurish conspiracy-videographer a gift-wrapped documentary climax by freaking out and saying repeatedly to Jones: “I disrespect you” for sneaking into the Grove ceremonies without permission, knowing full well that what goes on there is meant to remain secret, how dare you, etc.
And it’s incidents like that, I suppose, that caused Jones to go from being a gung-ho conservative (wary of defense cuts) to being a man who believes the whole system has to come down, from the bioengineering schemes of the Bilderbergers to the child-molestation rituals of the Boy Scouts, if there is still time.
III. BILLY CORGAN
In the meantime, Jones has even interviewed an eager Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins at length about such matters (h/t Daniel Velez). Interestingly, Corgan says in the interview that he longs for the freedom-loving anarchic impulses in both Occupy and Tea Party to grow – while explicitly denouncing wealth redistribution, defending his own millions, and even praising Ron Paul and Ayn Rand (albeit with the fitting caveat that he worries Ayn Rand might be one of the Illuminati).
Sounds kooky, but, hey, conservatives, it helped give him the courage to argue with Al Gore and question the shaky global warming narrative (“you’d think I was skinning babies alive,” Corgan says of reactions to his global warming skepticism).
Corgan says that as a Gen Xer he’s keen to help worried and confused millennials understand what freedom is. He overhears people asking about the Federal Reserve in restaurants lately thanks to people like Ron Paul and the late Aaron Russo criticizing it, and he thinks we’re closer to rigorous debate than ever before, near a tipping point in public consciousness. He says happiness and freedom are not what we’re being taught to think they are: “It isn’t like these jerk-offs writing these articles ‘The Constitution doesn’t work anymore.’ You start to see those articles popping up. ‘The Constitution’s outdated.’ The Constitution’s not outdated...So [we need] a return to constitutional values, emphasis on liberty and freedom, not being afraid of innovation, new ideas, rigorous debate.”
He and Jones both worry about hipness – such as the anti-Kony crusade – being the new veil for impending military or other governmental action, and that’s not so crazy. Tactical paranoia of this sort (to coin a phrase) may have its positive uses in a world that really is, after all, ruled by pervasive authoritarian regimes.
Hey, it’s better than the anti-capitalist brand of paranoia touted by a respectful academy when it takes the form of French literary theory, such as Deleuze and Guattari’s book Anti-Oedipus. They think ideology is like marking on a giant metaphorical egg that controls our minds – and they get cited with respect constantly in literary journals. Gotta admit the expansive, polycentric cover of their book A Thousand Plateaus always looked intriguing to me, but I suspect it’s not a celebration of diversity and freedom within free markets.
IV. SANDER HICKS AND THE 9/11 TRUTHERS
This month Obama, far from singing the Internationale, spent May Day justifiably celebrating the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden (as Bush surely would have) – and we’ll all likely be further celebrating that event in movie theatres on December 21, 2012 (coincidentally the day the most pessimistic and mystical conspiracy theorists have been anticipating as the end of the world), when Kathryn Bigelow’s movie about the raid on bin Laden comes out (too late to give Obama an election boost, which must irk him at least a little).
I have to admit that when bin Laden was killed, I was curious how my leftist 9/11 conspiracy theorist friend (yes, I have one) Sander Hicks would react. After all, Obama was Sander’s fellow leftist, but wasn’t he now confirming Bush’s story about who the culprit in the 9/11 attacks was – and how to deal with him? Within days, Sander began reporting his theory that Obama has always been a tool of the CIA. Sander sums up his latest thoughts on the issue – and how it became a spiritual transformation for him – in his new, second book on the subject (out today), the spectacularly-titled Slingshot to the Juggernaut: Total Resistance to Secrecy and War Is Total Love for the Truth.
Like the folks at Popular Mechanics and Skeptical Inquirer, I am unpersuaded that any of the admittedly weird, free-associative connections that can be traced between various nations’ – and stateless movements’ – intelligence branches add up to the qualitatively very different claim that the U.S. wanted to blow up the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon (a messy and stupid-seeming hypothetical strategic move if ever there was one), though Sander does provide some useful reminders of how oddly entangled those forces are.
(The allies and foes sometimes blur together enough to make it sound like that scene in JFK where Joe Pesci starts freaking out and ranting about people switching sides and everything being impossible to keep track of – inevitably, some of these intelligence and military types know each other, like ostensible foes who meet at the Gridiron Dinner – or Marvel and DC staffers.)
In fact, by the free-associative method – one might perhaps call it tendency of mind – favored by the conspiracy theorists (this guy knew this other guy who used to work for a holding company that once employed this other guy who back when he was in the military, etc., etc.), you could argue that I am part of the conspiracy.
I mean, hey, I just talked to a former Rumsfeld staffer last week, I went to a music performance by Elliott Abrams’ daughter-in-law-to-be (who tracks potential terror groups for the NYPD) shortly before that, and I’ve previously described the disillusioning encounter I once had on the street with then-unemployed William Kristol colleague Ellen Bork (who, for a globe-manipulating conspirator, also devoted a lot of time to blogging about how peeved she was at the company that sold her a bad mattress a few years ago).
I even told a Cheney speechwriter once that he should start watching 24! (So I practically created Gitmo!) I was briefly romantically involved with an NIH scientist, now converted to Mormonism, who was a bit obsessed with an ex-boyfriend of hers, an ex-boyfriend who’s (A) been accused of indirect ties to terror-supporting groups and (B) worked for the Bush White House!! (That’s her in the photo when we dressed gaudily on a wacky trip to Vegas.) Do I need to connect the dots here, people?!?
But then, it’s a small world. In fact, Sander (who, in his capacity as a carpenter, built the odd Occupy shrine/altar that was down at Zuccotti, by the way) is himself the son of a World Bank economist, an economist one of whose closest friends seems to work for the CIA – and warned Sander not to make himself a target!
Not that such ironies – or any number of absurd claims by Truthers – make the hawks and neocons correct about everything, either. See, I’m increasingly resigned to the view that every faction is a bit nuts (without necessarily calling them equals, I should add). Many of them deserve each other.
And some of these connections seem to cancel each other out. I noted my neocon-sounding ones above, but I’m also friends with a campaign worker for congressional candidate Karen Kwiatkowski, who the Truthers tend to admire for criticizing her ex-bosses at the Pentagon. (In fact, I think I recall knowing someone who worked on a movie with Kevin Bacon. Seriously.)
Hell, my libertarian friend Danny Panzella, who shot the David Friedman video from the event I hosted at (still beloved) Lolita Bar a couple months ago and who plans to do the same for our Thursday talk with Brian Doherty, is sufficiently immersed in the world of conspiracy theories that he even crops up in one scene in Slingshot to the Juggernaut (I think he expressed sympathy for the metaphorical value of the theory about reptile-men once – and recently invited people to NYC Rally Against Water Fluoridation, which is the sort of unscientific cause I spent eight years debunking when I was working at ACSH).
Still: who besides me isn’t wrong about something?
V. A Gathering of Suspects Worthy of The Thin Man
I recently saw Hicks talk about his book at a Buddhist Zendo, since he’s into that too now, along with punk, Gandhi, Christianity, and, crucially, Alcoholics Anonymous (he said one realization from his spiritual journey was that he had to stop smoking pot daily). There were only fourteen people at this book-launch event total, including me and the author, but, as I realized at one point, even in that tiny sample were conspiracy-like connections, if one were inclined to see things in that spider-web-like way.
Seated to my left (and coughing frequently) was former St. Martin’s Press editor Jim Fitzgerald, who put the book Generation X on the map back when I briefly worked there – and gave my age cohort its name – for he is now Sander’s agent (and other things as well, presumably). Seated to my right was, yes, Mitch Verter, left-anarchist and former member of the Brown University Leo Buscaglia Society, which, when I was an undergrad, went around hugging strangers to spread peace and love, or something.
I don’t know that I learned much about 9/11 that night, but for the record, if I had to guess the craziest and most unorthodox-sounding things about that tragic day (I mean the attacks, not the book event) that are nonetheless true, I might go with: (A) Flight 93 shot down by the U.S. (quite understandably, under the circumstances) and (B) mild White House interference with investigators due to reluctance to have the extent of wealthy Saudi involvement in the attack detailed. (I mean, they were Saudi terrorists. You hear so little about Saudi Arabia, considering. Fascinating place, Saudi Arabia.)
One amusing wrinkle in all this weirdness is that the Truthers are now stalking Cass Sunstein, the law prof and Obama regulatory czar, since he unwisely wrote an article about how the government could undermine conspiracy theorists and now pretends not to remember the piece.
Hicks’s book ends – in a tone similar to some things said by me, Andrew Breitbart, and Gavin McInnes, whatever that tells you – with the desire to infuse a new hybrid political/philosophical movement with the anarchic spirit of punk rock, transcending old right/left boundaries. Well, he also ends by noting his guilt-wracked decision to donate $5,000 to the GOP in order to meet Cheney – who is sort of punk rock himself, at least when he says things like “Go fuck yourself!” right there on the floor of Congress (that line should probably be broadcast in combat as psy ops to frighten the enemy).
As an atheist, I get very worried once anything becomes a spiritual crusade, of course. My libertarian colleague Austin Petersen – himself a veteran of the Ron Paul campaign – has launched a Non-Religious Right page on Facebook, so the syncretic impulse can take different forms, thank goodness.
Oh, and just in case after all these odd tangents, you still think (like Seth MacFarlane, judging by the most recent Family Guy) that the recent Tea Party/libertarian wave of activism is just typical Bushites in funny hats, note pieces like this one from Wall Street Journal about Tea Party activists working with the ACLU, which I think is no small thing – and if you want to feel what it’s like to distrust the establishment, note how negative the Journal sounds about it all. Authoritarianism will naturally breed both rebellion and paranoia. I say focus on getting rid of the authoritarianism and the rest will take care of itself.
Have I mentioned that the Kochs donated $20 million to the ACLU to combat the PATRIOT ACT, by the way? There are more than “two sides” at work in the world, thank goodness. Stick that in your preconceptions and adjust your conspiracy theories accordingly. Or buy Ron Paul’s Revolution and join us at 2 Havemeyer St. on Thursday to make sense of all of this once and for all.