on October 23, 2003
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_, 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.
on May 6, 2004
This is a book that makes me wish I could give 'half stars'. Because it really is a three and a half star book. Oh well. As to the text itself, I found the style to be enjoyable to read, very dialogue centered, with lots of wry construction. The content of the book is an interesting journey into the world of those who think like nobody else. That the author is able to expose himself to such diametrically opposed viewpoints with such aplomb is a good life lesson for us all: would that we were all able to see beyond the rhetoric and see the 'others' as what they are: people. It is a little disarming to see that there are those who would give this book such low ratings (mainly due to blatant subscription to the worldview being exposed within the book), kind of lending credence to the idea that people believe what they want, regardless of any evidence. If you're not convinced that a secret New World Order runs the world, be sure to pick this book up for a light, entertaining read.
on May 27, 2004
Jon's account of visiting with extremists of various sorts is engaging in the sense that he makes you wish you had the time to do what he did in writing the book. His style is glib and easy to read, which keeps the book flowing along. While the book seems to be written for humor, Jon also manages to make the folks he meet seem less scary because of how silly they all are. In a strangely comforting way, you find that many bullies really are cowards - and that's not a bad thing. Overall, a fun, easy read.
on April 1, 2003
As any subtle, understated dryly comedic book about a serious topic should end, THEM sneaks a moral of the story into the last few pages of the book. "Let's face it," says the author's source, "nobody rules the world anymore. The markets rule the world. Maybe that's why your conspiracy theorists make up all those crazy things. Because the truth is much more frightening. Nobody rules the world. Nobody controls anything."
THEM is ostensibly about people who passionately believe the exact opposite. Jon Ronson discovered the common thread linking diverse extremists ranging from Klan members to British Islamic radicals to plain old conspiracy theorists is the belief that the world is controlled by a small group of globalist elites who meet in secret conferences. While the extremists differ over whether these elites are Jews, Catholics or giant, shape-shifting lizards (really!) they agree that this secretive group is all-powerful.
Ronson humorously (but oddly, respectfully) demonstrates how the extremists have real evidence to support their views. When rich people get together, they often do weird things in groups and places with mysterious sounding names like the Bilderberg Group and Bohemian Grove. Just like everyone else, they have their rituals, which can seem very strange to outsiders. Their secretiveness ("we're not secret, just private" one of "them" counters) is the greatest fodder of all for the conspiracy theorists. But beyond that, many of the conspiracy theorists are chased, censored, or called things worse than they actually are. Ronson demonstrates that from their perspective, the world really does seem out to get them.
But some of the theories are just ridiculously funny. The highlight of the book is a self-anointed profit David Icke who professes the lizard theory. But Ronson takes pains not to heap it on - not to exaggerate the ridiculousness. In so doing, he actually paints somewhat sympathetic portraits of some scary individuals. He paints less sympathetic portraits of those who over-react to the extremists.
Although THEM was published in 2002, it probably couldn't have actually been written since September 11th, 2001. The seemingly harmless, blustering made-for-TV extremists of Ronson's book come off as much less funny today. Still, Ronson's book sheds some light on how some people try to make sense out of our increasingly complex world. He does it in a fast moving, good-humored way. Perhaps for these reasons, THEM is more relevant now than ever.
on October 7, 2002
British journalist Ronson has written a witty and fast-reading "lite" tour inside the world of various political and ideological extremists. While the emphasis is very much on individuals rather than organized groups, he takes us into lions' dens from Richard Butler's White Power compound in Idaho to an Islamic fundamentalist "training camp" in rural England, to the legendary (and sophomoric) annual Bohemian Grove gathering in Northern California. Some of the chapters seem shoehorned into the overall theme, such as the brief one where he witnesses a mysterious "Mr. Ru RU" buying up the remnants of the Ceaucescu's personal effects at an auction in Romania. Another rather weak chapter is that in which he hangs out with weirdo director Tony Kaye ("American History X") for a day and sort of halfheartedly explores the notion that Jews control Hollywood.
More interesting are his investigations of the "Bilderberg Group"-a sort of loose affiliation of powerful politicians and financiers who meet in secret (or private, depending on your point of view) once a year. I'd actually never heard of them before, but they seem to be a New World Order version of the legendary Trilateral Commission. Also interesting are his brief encounters with Dr. Ian Paisley, and footballer turned believer in alien lizards David Icke. These are entertaining but have the flaw of being little more than expanded magazine articles.
The strongest (and timeliest) parts are his longtime relationship with the self-described "Bin Laden's man in London", who is portrayed as nothing so much as a ridiculous buffoon- albeit an inflammatory one. Another bit of buffoonery occurs when he hangs out with the new PC leader of the KKK, his archival, and some rabid right-wing radio guys. However, amidst all the chuckling at the idiosyncrasies of these guys, there are two very poignant pieces when Ronson meets up with Randy Weaver and his eighteen-year-old daughter some ten years after the "Siege of Ruby Ridge". These will have Americans seething at the arrogance and ineptitude of government law officers run amok. By the end of the book, the reader is unlikely to have learned a great deal, but it does provide a few humorous glimpses into the mindsets of those on the fringes.
on June 5, 2002
In this clever spin through weirdo land, nice Jewish Brit humor journalist Jon Ronson uses his modest charm to ingratiate himself into the lives of some pathetic characters so that he might write about them. The underlying theme is something like the benign madness of conspiracy theorists.
The first "them" is Omar Bakri Mohammed, "The Semi-Detached Ayatollah," who billed himself as Osama bin Laden's man in the U.K. He comes off looking like a charmingly pathetic, on the dole, sweet old man who just happens to have this rude habit of declaring jihads on non-Muslim people.
Next Ronson takes us to "Ruby Ridge" Idaho so we can meet the gun-totin' separatists and their Aryan Nation buddies. They come across as the victims of an FBI riot. Next we meet Big Jim Tucker who writes for a daffy underground journal called The Spotlight that is fascinated with "The Secret Rulers of the World," sometimes known as the Bilderbergers. Ronson gets way into the Bilderbergers, who allegedly include such Illuminati as Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, Umberto Agnelli, the Rothchilds, etc., chasing after them to Portugal and northern California, where he ease-drops on their "bizarre pagan owl ritual," ultimately seeing their antics as the high jinks of good old college boys who haven't totally grown up.
There's a romp through the jungle (while eating rat) with Dr. Ian Paisley, the anti-Papist from Ireland who comes across as a stern preacher man maniacally spreading God's word to the ignorant masses. Ronson also has some fun with David Icke, who is accused of being anti-Semitic, but is really anti-lizard. After some personal involvement, Ronson finds that Icke is just a guy who sincerely believes that the New World Order is controlled by the likes of George and George W. Bush, the Queen Mother, Al Gore, Kris Kristofferson, etc., who are 12-foot lizards that have cross-bred with humans.
In the middle chapters there are encounters with the Klu Klux Klan, two versions. There's Jeff Berry, Imperial Wizard of the American Knights of the Klu Klux Klan, who behaves like your sensible Klansman, hating everybody who's not white and Christian; and then there's Thom Robb, Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Klu Klux Klan, who doesn't truck with using the "n-word" and kisses black babies as he tries to nouveau-spin the Klan's image. Ronson also visits Tony Kaye, a Hollywood director whose limo has "JEWISH" as a vanity plate. Ronson makes him look blindly self-centered while recalling that "The $50,000 distribution costs of Birth of a Nation (1915) [a film making the KKK look good] were put up...by the twenty-eight-year-old movie novice Louis B. Mayer." Ronson adds, "So Jewish Hollywood was funded, in part, by the heroic positive images of the Klansmen in Birth of a Nation." He also checks in with the Anti-Defamation League in New York and makes them look a little on the prejudicial side since they continue to insist that "lizards" is a code word for "Jews."
There is definitely something to be said for taking the edge off the horror of hate-mongers by turning them into objects of humor. Ronson is clever and he is funny. There's a nice running irony throughout because he is Jewish. The fact that he was able to befriend people who hate Jews is to his credit. What Ronson seems to be saying is that laughter is a good defense against hate, something like "laughter is the best medicine," and I'm sure that's true to some extent. I can't imagine however that Osama bin Laden, for example, has much of a sense of humor.
An interesting sideline here is the realization that newspapers headlines and CNN sound bytes fail to paint a realistic picture of what extremists are like. Ronson, within the limits of his intent, does that. He makes them human, and in that way partially disarms them, recalling to my mind the old saying, "No man is a hero to his valet." Maybe for his next gig, Ronson could find and visit bin Laden's four wives and record their bickering and their (inevitably) less than heroic apprehension of the jihad warrior. I'm sure it would make for some good laughs.
on May 25, 2002
Ronson provides an interesting and entertaining look at the perceptions of a variety of "extremists." From Omar Bakri, a London based Islamic extremist, to Randy Weaver in the Pacific Northwest, Ronson enables us to the view the world as these people do. Ronson also shows that in some cases, some of these "nuts" are actually on to something. Rather than writing these people off as lunatics, Ronson actually takes the time to develop an understanding of their world view. While more often than not, the views of these extremists manage to bubble to the surface, Ronson provides a remarkably balanced view of their perception of the world and how the world perceives them. Additionally, Ronson shows that there really is a Bilderburger group, that really does meet in secret, what they really do is left up to the reader to decide. The only problem with this book is that it is at times disjointed, as if various parts of it were slapped together to make one larger work. Nonetheless, this is a provacative and entertaining book that is well worth your money.
on May 20, 2002
Jon Ronson writes a captivating tale here, explaining how he tried time and again without success to get "Bilderbergers" to answer his calls and letters. [He has heard that they -- "them" -- are the ones who rule the earth.]
Now these Bildies, who include David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, and maybe ninety percent of the Big Media players -- to mention a few -- never reply. But Jon learns that they'll have their annual secret meeting 2000 in Portugal. He finds that "only one newspaper in Portugal, indeed only one in the world, as far as I could determine, was reporting the Bilderberg story." That was the "Portugal Weekly News," published and edited by Paul Luckman.
I can tell Jon how Editor Luckman got this story. And I only report it because it proves that a little nobody from Long Island, NY, can have an impact on this "secret cabal." When I learned that the Bilderbergers would meet at the "Caesar Park" resort, I input "Portugal Newspapers" into my computer search, and then sent a short story to several of them. Paul was the only one taking me up on it, and he did a lot of checking. The guy deserves a Freedom Medal or some such. Though receiving veiled threats, he fully reported the meeting.**
Jon Ronson might deserve a medal too, for -- as he explains in THEM -- trying to sneak into the meeting with indefatigible Jim Tucker of the late "SPOTLIGHT," superseded now by the improved "AMERICAN FREE PRESS." BUT Mr. Ronson throws it all over by cowtowing to Denis Healey, the British Bilderberger who assures our author that they're just a group of businessmen and financiers helping aspiring young fellows along their way....This is not to say that Ronson does not provide much to chew on -- especially the Randy Weaver story, how the Gov't sharpshooters shot Randy's son in the back and wife in the face -- and got away wiht it. Ronson not only goes to the scene (Ruby Ridge, Idaho), but interviews Randy's daughter Rachel and racist "Aryan Nation" characters in the area.
But Ronson does injustice to "conspiracy theorists" in reporting on lizards, Ku Klux Klan, and the Bohemian Grove owl-worshippers. The fact that the Kissingers, Rockefellers, Clintons, and Joseph Liebermans meet in secret every year with no mention in Big Media, is enough without bringing lizards and owls into the mix.
** When the Bilderbergers snuck off to an secluded island in Sweden the next year, I tried the same gambit for Swedish newspapers. Not a one, far as I know, carried the story -- or even dared ask about it.
on May 5, 2002
If I had told you on September 10, 2001 that a guy in the middle east thought that revenge for the Crusades was a justifiable reason to kill 3,000 people in New York you would probably shake your head and chuckle. It's that kind of wry sensibility that permeates Jon Ronson's excellent Them: Adventures with Extremists.
Ronson is a British journalist who has taken up the task of immersing himself inside groups of extremists, people who believe that the world is under the control of faceless men who seek to destroy them and their way of life. He opens with an Islamist living in England who seeks to turn Britannia into a muslim state, and rails against the sexually charged pictures on pantyhose packaging - declaring that when England is a Muslim state pantyhose will still be sold but without the pictures. It will simply say "pantyhose".
That sort of wry, British humor permeates the book as Ronson makes you almost sympathetic to the distorted world view of his subjects. You wince as he talks to the Klansman who is trying hard to convince his followers to stop using racial epithets so they can be portrayed as "kinder and gentler". There is also an interesting sub-story going on as Ronson discovers that Jews are the central points of these myriad conspiracies and while he is also Jewish he begins to wonder if groups like the Anti-Defamation League really exists as a front for this multinational "one world" group. He looks within himself to find out whether he has unwittingly joined into the conspiracy.
It's one of the funniest books I've ever read and is a great read, made a little bittersweet now that we know how extremists can leap from quirky sideshows to truly dangerous men.
on February 21, 2002
At the heart of British humor journalist Jon Ronson's "Them: Adventures with Extremists" lies the question: Is the world being controlled by a clandestine organization of global elitists who convene once a year at an undisclosed location to form their nefarious plans for planetary takeover? Ronson sets out to find the answer by way of hanging around, and sometimes befriending, various extremist groups across the globe all sharing the common belief that there exists a New World Order secretly running things behind the scenes. Who this secret group is composed of, where and when they gather, and how they manipulate the international arena is widely disputed. Some say they are global capitalists and politicians, others say that the Jews are behind it all. Many believe that this organization goes by the name of the Bilderberg Group. Some say that the group regularly engages in satanic rituals involving human sacrifice and depraved sex acts, while still others believe that the Bilderberg Group is Satan himself. One thing that cannot be denied however is that, whether you believe them or not, those wacky extremists can spin a pretty darn entertaining conspiracy theory.
Ronson's globetrotting escapades take us from his London home base, where he reluctantly spends a good deal of time chauffeuring Islamic Fundamentalist Omar Bakri around on his daily errands; to Romania, where he is treated to the delightfully decadent company of the mysterious Mr. Ru Ru. In the United States, Ronson encounters the likes of Ruby Ridge survivor Randy Weaver, militant right-wing radio talk show host Alex Jones, and Thom Robb, Grand Wizard of a new breed of kinder, gentler Ku Klux Klan. In Vancouver, he witnesses the swift and ruthless mechanics of character assassination as the Anti-Racist Action does everything in its power to publicly humiliate former professional soccer player David Icke, now an author and public speaker who believes that the world's rulers are descended from giant lizards from outer space. Eventually his journey takes him to a quiet vacation resort in Portugal, where Ronson and fringe journalist Jim Tucker believe they have finally discovered the secret meeting place of the Bilderberg Group, only to be chased away by men in dark glasses before they can get close enough to verify their suspicions.
Ronson's account of his adventures with this colorful and bizarre group of radical personalities is truly a case of truth being stranger than fiction. If one has any doubt as to the authenticity of the characters or events described here, one only needs to turn to the Web to find the proof. Omar Bakri made headlines recently for claiming himself to be "bin Laden's man in Great Britain", David Icke really did write a book about giant lizards conspiring against mankind, and on Alex Jones' website one can see the infamous footage from the "Bohemian Grove" incident in glorious streaming video. Written with a wonderful sense of wit and irony, the conversations and scenarios Ronson describes in "Them" would be funnier if they weren't so unsettling. It's scary enough knowing there are folks out there who take the rantings of the lunatic fringe very seriously, it's even scarier to think there's a possibility that they could be onto something. Ronson himself admits having a difficult time remaining objective in light of all the "evidence" presented to him, despite his attempts to find an alternative, rational explanation. And when, in the book's chilling closing chapter, he finally manages to infiltrate a secret pagan owl ceremony in the forests of Northern California attended by some of the world's leading politicians and CEOs, we have to admit that maybe the extremists did have just cause to be alarmed, and so perhaps should we.