This is the ultimate narrative I’ve always wanted to write—something that brings together my own life with politics, metaphysics, internet culture, and just general weirdness. This a journey that began in the aftermath of 9/11, and traveled through my experiences working for major entertainment conglomerates, through the 2012 “Mayan Apocalypse,” through news of whistleblowers and mass shootings, through various meme fads, through hurricanes and tsunamis, through the mainstreaming of “conspiracy culture,” through the possible death of “conspiracy culture,” through the election of Donald J. Trump, and leaving us right at the edge of a new era of AI and the new space economy.
In this installment, I’m introduced to two seminal pieces of mid-Aughts fringe culture: both referencing 1999’s The Matrix.
I. THE START OF THE RABBIT HOLE
It was 2005, four years after 9/11. I was out of a job, extremely ill, and George W. Bush was still president of the United States of America.
Things really sucked.
Enter: the world of Conspiracy Culture!
It started with my roommate coming home from jury duty one day with a pile of books a fellow juror lent him—all written by a man named “David Icke” (pronounced by my roommate as “David Icky”).
Self-published, thick, and with titles like Children of the Matrix (2001) and Alice In Wonderland And The World Trade Center Disaster (2002), they instantly smacked of “illicit fringe contraband” to me. But as I had nothing else to do at the moment, I started digging into them.
Within the first ten pages of Icke’s Alice In Wonderland book, he had run through a dizzying blitzkrieg of metatheory, starting with ancient Atlantis and Lemuria, moving through Babylon, the Royal Family, the Illuminati, bloodlines, the French Freemasons, Queen Semiramis, the back of the U.S. dollar bill, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Knights Templar, the death of Princess Diana, and, of course, George W. Bush.
These disparate topics were connected by Icke without very much in the way of “lead in” or transition. Just a rapid-fire increasingly large web of connections. Boom! Boom! Boom!
There was such a sense of confidence on the part of Icke in terms of what he wrote. It was rarely “this could have happened,” or “this part is murky, but I think this…”—rather, there was such an aura of authority and self-evidence to it. And this, almost always, is more appealing to the masses than a more “measured” approach.
In the end, most people just want to know what the fuck happened. And Icke provided that in spades. His was a grand metatheory that explained EVERYTHING. Not just all the mysteries and unanswered questions from the annals of history—but why exactly your life sucked ass at this very moment!
INTERLUDE: THE SIX DIFFERENT TYPES OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES
One of the reasons I wrote this series is because I’m often asked: “how could people possibly believe in crazy conspiracy theories?” This is a pretty loaded question, in my opinion. It would seem that if you believe in something called A Crazy Conspiracy Theory™ , you would ergo be utterly mad yourself.
Outright Batshit Insane Conspiracy Theory:
The Outright Batshit Insane Conspiracy Theory is mostly created in a murky mind-carnival of mental illness. Little-to-no sourcing, stating outlandish accusations as absolute dogmatic fact. Scant collective folkloric value; the conspiracy is often extremely personal to the theorist, steeped in a complex system of symbols and mythology only understandable to him or her. Despite the often quite fantastic, improbable, and outright batshit insane nature of this conspiracy theory, it is possible for the theorist to can gain followers who “see it” too.
Borderline Insane Conspiracy Theory:
This one has elements from the Outright Batshit Insane Conspiracy Theory, but has also managed to create a more coherent narrative with broader folkloric appeal. Practicioners will “hybridize” their original theory with more mainstream concepts; the more successful the theorist is in doing this, the better him or her can “sell” the extremely batshit insane stuff. Still ultimately standing by the theory as absolute dogmatic fact, these theories paradoxically have the greatest chance of gaining mass appeal.
Moderate Conspiracy Theory:
These are 75% or more mainstream concepts, with just “overtones” of more fringe beliefs that may come out a few times in the course of an entire book or lecture. So basically, the Moderate Conspiracy Theorist maintains a reputation of being a “legit” mainstream pundit or philosopher or celebrity, but also has one pinky-toe in the more extreme stuff. While such a theorist can enjoy a degree of popularity and social acceptance with this method, he or she can also be in mortal danger of being “exposed” by one irate person or another, who will dig up a more “Borderline Insane” quote he or she made 7 years ago and create a Buzzfeed article on it.
Playful Conspiracy Theory:
Playful Conspiracy Theories are often created or indulged in for the lulz and/or sheer grinning schadenfreudean JOY of it. These include LARPers, creators of ironic fake religions, and unemployed comic book editors. The Playful Conspiracy Theorist believes that he or she can “put the theory away” anytime they want to, as it’s just ultimately an intellectual exercise; they really want to believe that.
Propaganda Conspiracy Theory:
A Propaganda Conspiracy Theory is tripe purposely thought up by evil fucks in order to manipulate Useful Idiots to carry out shitty things. The only true ideology such theorists cotton to is “whatever works.”
A Fact is something that might sound like a conspiracy theory, but is actually backed up with heavy sourcing/research data and is reasonably real. It still retains the “conspiracy” element because it literally concerns an actual conspiracy carried out by two or more people that is historically documented. The best way to discredit Fact is to lump it in with the previous 5 types of conspiracy theories.
II. THE ICKE METHOD
The extent to which Icke’s books have been foundational to the contemporary “fringe” crowd cannot be overstated. Though much of what he wrote was culled from other sources—he was the dude who synthesized it all, ingeniously pairing it up with rather effective “new agey” insights on individuality and self-actualization.
A representative example of Icke’s work is the chapter in Alice In Wonderland And The World Trade Center Disaster on George Bush senior. A good portion of it is very dense with well-researched and sourced material on the tangled web of elder Bush’s political and business relationships. Compared to the first chapter (containing all that “metatheory” info I mentioned), which only had 7 footnotes, this one had a whopping 60.
The majority of information in this chapter alone—just the stuff sourced from “reputable” places—would have been enough to establish some shady stuff in Bush’s background.
But Icke didn’t stop there.
Because he decided to end the chapter describing how Bush made the rectum bleed of one of his alleged MKUltra sex-slaves.
I was going to give the exact quotes from the end of that chapter, but they are so…extreme I feel like I’m going to get in trouble for just repeating them. Basically, Icke calls Bush a child abuser. That is the…”Reader’s Digest” version of it.
It’s very jarring to read what at first seems like this investigative essay on Bush—maybe something you’d read in The Washington Post or Rolling Stone—and then have it shift gears so dramatically in this fashion without any sort of context or preparation or segue for it whatsoever. This technique (if indeed it’s a conscious technique at all, which I don’t believe; I believe honestly this is just how Icke writes) in itself sort of puts you in an “altered state” when reading this material, especially over 400 pages of it.
But this is a very particular style of conspiracy narrative that will slowly seep into the mainstream media by the time we get to the present era. I mean, this is sort of like the Fox News playbook at this point.
As for Icke himself…I don’t think he set out to purposely create this (if you will excuse the pun) matrix of propaganda. I think what you see of Icke is what you get. I think he is incredibly trusting of the people he interviews, probably to a fault. I think he honestly believes he is both doing good work and is not an Anti-Semite (as has been charged by a number of persons and groups). The fact that so many (so many) out-and-out Anti-Semites quote his material and use it as foundations for their own work is a very problematic situation that I wish he would address more.
Icke’s one of the very few from that pool of fringe media who didn’t, and doesn’t, support Trump; of course, he says that’s because the president is really “a Zionist.” Maybe this has hurt his cachet; maybe it allows him to grab that more left-leaning hippie anti-vaxxer contingent who felt left behind by the Trump stuff (and are probably more into that “I Am Me I Am Free” stuff anyway).
The point is, his influence would be HUGE in the years after the mid-Aughts, not only his style of writing but just the iconography he popularized. This includes the idea of the shapeshifting “reptilian,” the use of the term “sheeple,” and, of course, the codifying of The Matrix as a conspiracy allegory.
III. THE MATRIXNESS INTENSIFIES
The other media I encountered in 2005 that made a big impression on me was a “fan” video (I can’t find it on YouTube anymore) compiling all these scenes from movies & TV shows “foreshadowing” 9/11. It was edited to the instrumental piece “Clubbed To Death” from The Matrix soundtrack.
The piece ends with some sort of message about “remembering 9/11” and something along the lines of “wake up” or “fight the power” or something like that. It was clearly created in such a way that it tied in with the 9/11 conspiracy theories of the time.
I cannot tell you how effective and creepy this little cobbled together video was. There was just something about all those all too familiar images of destruction mixed with pop-culture icons and that dirge-like, yet urgent, music.
People ask me…how did we get here, in this world where conspiracies seem to be a part of mainstream politics and media? Why do people believe in crazy conspiracy theories?
How did Trump get elected?