In an an article called “Space Weather: Its Effect on Human Health,” Pittsburgh-area “conspiracy entrepreneur” Ben Davidson proposes that the sun somehow directly affects human behavior — causing spikes in things like “infant mortality, suicide, traffic accidents, [and] crime rates” (presumably similar to the way that the full moon creates werewolves). The article perfectly encapsulates the two sides of Davidson. On one hand, he sees himself as fair-minded, rational, scientific. On the other hand, he churns out content like “Space Weather,” which draws its inspiration from a discredited paper by an early Soviet-era scientist and poet named Alexander Tchijevsky.
These days, Tchijevsky is probably best known for claiming to correlate solar activity to things like cholera epidemics, social unrest, and the revolutions in Russia, Germany, and Austria. As the historian Michael Hagemeister points out, Tchijevsky’s big idea “shows obvious connections with astrology and the occult fascination with prophecy.” In other words, his work was as influenced by then-fashionable occult ideas as it was by the science of the day. And similarly, I’d have to guess that whatever it is that attracts people to occult ideas in the first place has also brought Ben Davidson and many others to inhabit the twilight world of conspiracy theory.
Among other things, the word “occult” means “hidden.” By claiming to report on the true nature of reality — by exposing the “truth” behind climate change and the upcoming solar cataclysm — Ben Davidson has done pretty well for himself. Hell, some day he might give Alex Jones a run for his money. You can read my profile of the guy on The Kernel.
While you’re at it, check out my article on the Flat Earth Movement. When it was published recently, the thing caused a great deal of excitement among people who deny the spherical nature of our planet, but regular (non-flat earth) people can enjoy the story as well.
I recently got around to reading the book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen.
Area 51 provides an in-depth look at the famous military base in Nevada, based largely on recently declassified government documents and interviews with members of Roadrunners Internationale, an association for personnel who worked on the development of once secret U-2, YF-12 and A-12 aircraft. When the book is at its best, it is exploring what it takes to develop something like the A-12. Almost a space shuttle, the aircraft was used by the CIA to gather surveillance over the Soviet Union, Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea in the 1960s. And this isn’t just a history lesson — these programs, as well as the nuclear program (which the book also discusses in detail) are the origins of the current security state.
Brian Dunning is the host of Skeptoid, a podcast that looks at the pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and plain ol’ nuttiness that infects popular culture. Each episode of Skeptoid is like an object lesson in critical thinking, and the subjects that the show covers — from Nikola Tesla to the Flat Earthers — are interesting in their own right.
I spoke with Dunning earlier this month. The following are some highlights from our conversation.
It’s June, and you know what that means — Bilderberg season!
Every year around this time, a selection of national and corporate leaders (and some of their biggest fans) get together for a no-holds-barred talk about running the world (and, some fear, running us). Among the participants at the 2015 Bilderberg conference in Austria:
- Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg
- Eric Schmidt (of Google fame)
- Henry Kissinger (of “war criminal” fame)
- Ben van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell
- BlackRock VC Philipp Hildebrand
…and public officials from a number of countries, including the US, UK, France, and Turkey.
It’s called Bilderberg because its first meeting was at the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands. And for years now, conspiracy theorists have speculated that the 150 (or so) attendees of the meeting are the real, secret rulers of the world.
(While Bilderberg is definitely a key conspiracy meme, there are also level-headed journalists out there that have examined the event, and whose work is worth checking out. This includes Jon Ronson, who has a chapter in his book Them devoted to the Bilderberg Group on his website, and Charlie Skelton, who is currently on the scene in Austria, where he’s updating his BilderBlog daily. And just this morning, Mark Ames at PandoDaily gave us a report on the Silicon Valley contingent that made the trip this year.)
Without belaboring the history of the annual meeting (because, who cares?) the thing is an opportunity for representatives of various countries in North America and Europe to discuss the issues of the day. This year, topics including cybersecurity and the American elections are on the table. Of course, the attendees deserve close scrutiny; but they always deserve close scrutiny, whether they all go on vacation together or not.
I suppose it’s only natural that people would freak out when word of the U.S. Army’s imminent Jade Helm training exercises started making the rounds. Hell, if you’re going to assume the worst whenever some part of the government announces — well, anything — I can certainly understand the impulse.
The whole affair began with a slideshow put together by the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) called “Request To Conduct Realistic Military Training (RMT) JADE HELM 15.” [PDF] Although this document would be of little interest to most Americans, it immediately set off red flags among internet conspiracy theorists and those who love them. That’s because the terms “training” and “drill” mean “the opposite of training” and “martial law” in conspiracy-talk. For instance, one popular conspiracy theory posits that the Boston Marathon bombing never happened, that it was a hoax, some sort of drill conducted in order to justify the continued expansion of the nation’s “police state infrastructure.” The same has been said about the Oklahoma City Bombing, the civil unrest in Ferguson, and the 9/11 attacks on New York, the Pentagon, and a field outside of Pittsburgh. This rush towards enslavement, it is claimed, will culminate later this month with the Jade Helm plot to establish martial law in the southwest.
(And it’s not just the government that’s in on it. Apparently, Walmart is somehow involved.)
In the 8th grade I became a transhumanist, of sorts. This was the result of a run-in with a book by Timothy Leary called Neuropolitique, which one of my friends from a local BBS let me borrow. It was a catalyst, even if no one in my circle of friends could pronounce the title. This was right at the very end of the Cold War. For the last class of kids to have nightmares about swift and terrible nuclear destruction at the hands of the Soviets, the overall message of the book — that every shitty thing the human race was then experiencing was leading up to our eventual evolution into some smart, sexy, space-faring species — was exciting and inspiring.
If you want the maximum bang for your book-buying buck, you could do worse than Peter Levenda. Aside from his probable authorship of the Necronomicon, Levenda has written something like a dozen books on occult history. His most ambitious work, Sinister Forces, is a three-volume set that details the dark side of the American story, from whatever happened to those pre-Colombian American civilizations to CIA mind control experimentation and beyond. Ultimately, Sinister Forces is an examination of America’s failure to acknowledge the existence of evil — and it does this through a relentless deluge of conspiracist high weirdness. The books are fascinating, and they’ve earned kudos from fellow authors Jim Hougan (who called it “one of the darkest and most provocative books that you are ever likely to read”) and Norman Mailer.
I interviewed Levenda a while back about these sinister forces, and about his book The Dark Lord: H.P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic. The transcript was edited for space and clarity, mostly because I had a fever when I did the interview, and really I wasn’t making all that much sense. This didn’t seem to bother Levenda, however. He’s able to be erudite and well-spoken with very little prompting.
For many years I sincerely believed that an extraterrestrial threat existed and that it was the most important driving force behind world events. I was wrong and for that I most deeply and humbly apologize.
— Bill Cooper
The conspiracist M. William Cooper (but you can call him Bill) was born in 1943. According to his bio, he was a Vietnam-era veteran of both the Navy and the Air Force, and later some sort of photographer, before making a name for himself in the “UFOlogist” counterculture of the 1980s with extraordinary tales of extraterrestrial races, secret human populations on the moon, and his predilection for championing known hoaxes (such as the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion) as documentary evidence of a worldwide global conspiracy of the rich and powerful intent on enslaving every last one of us. Cooper even had a term for you and I, the everyday schlubs who refuse to see the truth in his message and join him on his crusade. We were mere “sheeple,” he’d say — a portmanteau of ‘sheep’ and ‘people’ — “cattle by choice and by consent.”
I’ve been absorbed with a couple-few projects this last week or so, which explains the long gap since I last sent out a newsletter. One of ’em concerned a certain “golden couple” — artists Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan — whose rather steep, rather quick rise to fame (of a sort) ended in their suicides way back in the heady days of late spring / early summer 2007.
Coincidentally (synchronistically?) Gawker’s Black Bag site chose to run a story about them (written by Andy Cush) last week, while I was researching all this. And it’s quite good, so I suggest you check it out. At the end, they were in a real dark place. You might call ’em “stone cold paranoids,” even if they weren’t 9/11 truthers and fans of the arch-conspiracy creep Alex Jones.
Their story was most famously told by Nancy Jo Sales in Vanity Fair, and that story is definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of long-form nonfiction or suicides. Or Scientology. As Cush’s story illuminates, there are at least a couple possible Scientology tie-ins here: one that features Beck, and one that features a Vanity Fair editor named John Connolly who might or might not have been working for the church.
Item! A certain website has apparently gone off the rails (further off the rails?) in its attempts to crack the alleged conspiracy behind the Boston Marathon Bombing. One of the current obsessions of this publication, according to an insider who wishes to remain anonymous, is the recent courtroom revelation that after triggering the explosions that killed three and wounded almost 260 people, the Tsarnaev brothers went to a local Whole Foods to buy milk.
Questions loom ominously: Was this an attempt to establish an alibi? And why did they choose Whole Foods, of all places?
In the hope that I might save these beleaguered conspiracists some trouble, I’d like go ahead and point out the mind blowing connections that lay below the surface of the Boston-Whole Foods-New York-9/11 conspiracy matrix.