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 April 6, 2004
As a confirmed bibliophile I buy on average 5 books a week (mainly second hand, mainly for reference purposes). I generally skim over the content before filing them for future reference. This is the only book that I have ever bought which I was hooked right into and compelled to read it from cover to cover. At every opportunity I was catching up with Ronson's latest escapade. Having enjoyed his t.v. series I didn't think that this book would add much to it. It not only adds to it but explains the background & context for much of want went on in Ronson's hilarious tv programmes. The difference with the book is that it is much more unsettling. We get a deeper clearer picture of "Them" and come to realise what a strange and somewhat disturbing place the world is. For this reason alone (apart from Ronson's excellent writing and sharp wit) this book is a must read - in particular for those with no inkling about conspiracy theories! Outstanding.
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 July 6, 2003
... If this book is never made into a Hollywood movie, it will be a very sad thing! ... Why? ... It's because this book is VERY funny - and we all NEED a good dose of what's funny right now. I'm not kidding. I'm very serious. Neither am I making fun of this EXCELLENT book or downplaying the serious intent of its basic thrust: exposing the common, bumbling, humorous humanity of all of these "bad guys" and "boogymen" out there that run rampant in the world of conspiracy theorists. Jon Ronson should be given both the Johnny Carson medal for Humor (if there is one!) as well as the Sherlock Holmes medal for Private Investigation (if there is one) - because he scores a perfect 4.0 on both counts! This book is GREAT!
... WHY is this book GREAT? It's great because Jon Ronson actually DID what 99 percent of us out here have only been talking about. He actually penetrated into the CORE of many of these conspiracy and anti-conspiracy (depending on your point of view) groups, met with many of their leaders, and lived to write about what he learned in order to uncover many of the hidden, inner details and/or unknown attitudes and mindsets of many of the members of these various groups. You simply cannot help falling in love with this colorful cast of characters. I mean, they're all REAL PEOPLE!!! Some of these people are very powerful worldly figures, both in and out of politics, and it is no laughing matter to say that in some cases even MILLIONS of people are influenced by what some of these powerful individuals do and say. ... Jon Ronson is a VERY funny man. He's also a very brave man - and a tenacious researcher!
... Well, as Don Juan says: "Power has a way of finding power," and as my friend David says: "Money goes to money." ... Personally, I believe that power likes to control things in order to STAY in power - and that all of this has nothing to do with DEMOCRACY at all. It has to do with CONSUMERISM - and any threats to consumerism, from the left, the right, or the middle. If there is ANY group out there that does not want to PLAY BALL and go along with CONSUMERISM, then that group is a threat to global, capitalistic consumerism. This is exactly why the psychedelics are outlawed everywhere - because they are the greatest threat to consumerism in this world, as professor David Lenson of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst rightly states in his scholarly, sociological book, ON DRUGS. There is NOTHING about Islam that prevents it from being democratic if it wanted to. There is also nothing un-American about Christian separatists. What both these groups - and more - have in common is NOT a hatred for freedom or democracy. What they all have in common is a fear of LOSING our freedoms and democracy, and strong resistance to playing ball with global elite (whoever they are as the flavor of the decade!) who want nothing more than to spread the gospel of CONSUMERISM across the globe, because it makes them all richer by minimizing responsibilities and maximizing profits - at the expense of human rights, national sovereignty, and the health of the biosphere. ... THIS is the serious undertone of this book. In the interest of balance and humorous saving grace, Jon Ronson has exposed this whole mess in a way that is a real FUN read. ... BRAVO! ... YOWZA! - The Aeolian Kid
on June 20, 2003
Camp-Jihad is but one of the destinations that Jon Ronson visits in his quest to see the world through the eyes of the agitated fringe -- to look at "our world" by moving into theirs, standing alongside "them while they glared back at us." And, exactly, who are they doing the glaring? There is Omar Bakri Mohammed, waging his own "holy war" against Britain, urging a fatwa on Rushdie, and releasing statements on behalf of Osama bin Laden; David Ickes, who may or may not be referring to Jews when he talks about lizards, but who clearly does attract anti-semitic followers; Thom Robb, trying to create his version of a "politically correct," 21st century Klan; Dr. Ian Paisley, screaming in Ronson's ears that "Germany is calling"; Mr. Ru Ru, disappointed at the quality of Ceausecu's goods on auction, but buying them anyway to make Romanians happy....; and so on. Each of the "families" Ronson visits are, like Tolstoy's unhappy families, weird for reasons unique to them, but all are connected by their fear, hatred and obsession with the coming "New World Order," represented by the "Bilderberg group," that select cluster of global elites allegedly conspiring to establish a world mega-state. Jon Ronson's guided tour of some of society's more eccentric sects makes for addictive reading. Them is, with the exception of a few parts (the interviews on Randy Weaver's death are especially disconcerting), a book as entertaining as it is informative. Read Them. Trust me, they're reading about you....
on April 5, 2003
This is a great book. The writing is smooth and the content is funny. It is Gonzo journalism of the Hunter S. Thompson type - a journalist inserts himself into the story and let's it ride. Ronson is a Jewish British chap who spent time with various "extremists" who believe that the world is being controlled by a secret group.
Ronson hangs out with Big Jim Tucker of The Spotlight as the two try to infiltrate the Bilderburger group and then successfully infiltrates The Bohemian Grove with Alex Jones. For those who don't know what that it is, it is an annual party of some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the United States who gather to let it all hang out - they get drunk and sacrafice an animal. 5 years ago, Alan Greenspan arrived at the grove by stepping off a lear jet with Malcom Forbes. He was wearing a hat with the words capitalist tool on them.
Ronson spends time with a KKK self-help guru who says it is time to stop using the N word, Omar Mohammed - the self-proclaimed "Bin Laden's man in Britian who unmasks Ronson as a Jew at a Jihad camp, Harold Ickes who claimes that lizards rule the world, and a man name Mr. Ru Ru.
And there is a poignant chapter with Randy Weaver and his family from Ruby Ridge.
Ronson lets all of these characters speek for themselves and they hilariously put their egos on display. A fun book. There is a reason why there are so many reviews of it here.
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.