“Read a Damn Book – 149: Them – Adventures with Extremists”
I first discovered Jon Ronson while listening to an episode of my favorite podcast, MonsterTalk. Ronson was discussing his book, The Psychopath Test, and I was amused (and slightly creeped out) by the discussion. Ronson, while serious, had a sense of humor about the topic that I found appealing. (Definitely a “gallows humor” approach.) A few years later, MonsterTalk had Ronson back, this time to discuss a little bit of his book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed---but the primary topic of the episode was a guy named David Icke. Ronson claimed that Icke believed that giant, shape-changing, blood drinking, lizard people had taken control of the governments of the world… I knew, from the moment I heard this, I was going to have to read Ronson’s book where this all comes to light, Them – Adventures with Extremists.
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Jon Ronson – Them – Adventures with Extremists (2002)
Before we dive, head first, into this book, I should probably mention my disposition on topics like these. I LOVE conspiracy theories and strange, paranormal stories---I’ve been reading about them since I was a kid in the mid-1970s---but I don’t BELIEVE them. I’m fascinated by ghost stories and U.F.O. encounters and strange theories, but I’m (unfortunately) a skeptic. I listen to science based podcasts, like Skeptoid and The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and I read books by people like Michael Shermer (founding editor of Skeptic Magazine.) When friends tell me ghost stories, I try to figure out what MIGHT be an alternative explanation---and when I take a photo that has a spooky figure in it, I try to figure out how it got there! (I’m one of THOSE jerks…)
So going into this book, I didn’t believe that any shadowy cabal of sinister folks rules the world. (I think the rulers of the world are out in the open about it---mega-corporations that make tons of money, enriching a few people, while the rest of us enjoy the fruits of our serf-dom: fancy sneakers, electronic gadgets, ridiculously expensive fruits and vegetables, and a high likelihood that we’ll die in [relatively] the same socio-economic class we were born in---with a few noteworthy exceptions [superstar athletes, rock stars, actors, and lucky entrepreneurs who come up with the right idea at the right time.] These are the outliers---who can sometimes ascend to “Ruling Class.”)
But, enough about me and my beliefs. Let’s talk EXTREMISTS…
What this book is about---and I don’t want to spoil too much---is Ronson, a British journalist of Jewish descent, interviewing and spending time with folks that the “media” has labeled “extremists.” (Ronson is painfully aware of the fact that, as a journalist, he is PART of the sinister “media” that some people believe manipulates and controls the masses.) Remember, Ronson is Jewish---but he interviews members of the K.K.K., the Aryan Nations, Muslims at a Jihad training facility, members of the “super-secret” Bilderberg group, as well as survivors of the Ruby Ridge stand-off, radio and internet personality, Alex Jones, and the aforementioned David Icke (who thinks lizards rules the world.)
What’s interesting to me is how some of these folks come across as PEOPLE, not the monsters one would expect. David Icke is portrayed in a fairly favorable light---he’s just a guy trying to share his beliefs with the world (although SOME of the people who have worked for him are, undoubtedly, anti-Semitic.) Randy Weaver and his daughter, Rachel, two survivors of the multi-day stand-off between a family and the “authorities” known as the “Ruby Ridge” incident, (which left a twelve-year-old boy dead and a mother who had been holding a baby shot in the head by a sniper), come across as victims of a situation that escalated ridiculously quickly, but was “branded” as a stand-off between the authorities and a dangerous group of armed militia members. They seemed like decent people---if you can get past the fact that they occasionally spent time at an Aryan Nations compound…
What’s unsettling about this book is the moral ambiguity. Ronson is frequently put (or puts himself) into compromised situations. Does he help the Muslim fundamentalist, who called him to ask for a ride to the print shop, to make copies of anti-Jewish propaganda? Does David Icke’s message, which some interpret as CODE, really suggesting that Icke and his followers believe a JEWISH CONSPIRACY is controlling the world, deserve to be shared with the world, despite the fact that the Anti-Defamation League has spoken out against him? Ronson takes risks in these stories---he goes to the Aryan Nation’s compound to talk to the leader (and IMMEDIATELY regrets this decision); he is unmask as a Jew right in the middle of a Jihad training facility, where fundamentalists are preparing for a war against the State of Isreal; he’s followed by someone in dark glasses after trying to get information about the Bilderberg group at a hotel in Portugal; he infiltrates a secret, occult ceremony in the woods of northern California with Alex Jones (of all people) where wealthy and powerful men worship a giant stone Owl statue…
That last bit is probably the most telling of all the events in this book. Although Ronson goes out of his way not to judge the folks he interviews (some are definitely more aggressive and frightening than others), he does, finally, have a yelling contest with Alex Jones over the ceremony that they witnessed. (They snuck in separately but saw each other at the event.) Where Jones sees absolute proof of a Satanic conspiracy, a CULT that has taken over businesses, politics, the media, and all the powerful organizations around the world, Ronson (who witnessed the same, exact ceremony) saw old men reliving their college frat days of hokey pageantry and juvenile theatrics. (But maybe Ronson is just ONE OF THEM! He wonders this himself, from time to time, in the book…)
Interpretation, ambiguity, coincidence… Ronson plays up these elements in each of these encounters, and at times the book reads like a spy-thriller, although it might just be a comedy of errors. Ronson’s writing style is very easy to read, and his tone is fairly light-hearted and humorous---until he gut punches you with a bit of actual horror or a sinister phrase that suddenly casts doubt on everything we’ve so far been told. Personally, I love the book---and I will definitely read more by Ronson---but I can see where someone might be bothered, both by the humanizing of people who we SHOULD think of as horrible AND by the ruthless way that he refuses to answer basic questions, like “Is there really a secret conspiracy? A sinister group of insiders who rule the world?”
Almost every person that Ronson talks to in this book thinks SOMEONE ELSE is secretly in control: the Jews, the Catholics, the Bilderbergs, the lizard people… It’s always THEM, and they’re out to get US---the good, hardworking, righteous folks---and we are being manipulated, plotted against, and essentially (or eventually) enslaved...
I should mention that there are some gory descriptions in this book, some bad language, and some disturbing ideas, so I wouldn’t really recommend this one for the kiddies or for people who are bothered by racist language. While the primary tone of this book is humorous---that’s Ronson’s voice---what he’s talking about is VERY dark stuff: racism, dehumanization, discrimination, and control. It’s a disturbing book if one really stops to think about it, and even though it came out almost twenty years ago, it somehow seems EXTREMELY relevant today…
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
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