Jon Ronson has spent the last five years investigating
the world of conspiracy theorists. He's visited the American
militia movement in white separatist strongholds, jihad training
camps, witnessed Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, Masonic rituals
in secret groves and been chased while trying to infiltrate
a clandestine meeting of politicians and businessmen called
'The Bilderberg Group'. He also spent time with ex-sports
commentator David Icke who believes a bloodline of lizards
rules the world.
In between all this he was also living in North
London with his family and writing humorous articles for The
I caught up with Jon Ronson before he gave a
reading from his new book at the Off The Shelf literature
festival in Sheffield.
Tom Stafford: How did you get started adventuring
Jon Ronson: A commissioning editor at Channel
Four knew my work doing gentle portraits of eccentrics. It
was his idea to put me together with Omar [Bakri Mohammed,
the London-based bin Laden supporter]. He thought it would
be interesting to treat an Islamic fundamentalist in the same
way you'd treat any other local curiosity, as a gentle absurdity.
I did Omar and then a year or two later I did Ian Paisley.
I had a Damascus moment when i realised that
all these extremists believed in the secret room [the room
from which the secret rulers of the New World Order, a shadowy
cabal of bankers and/or jews and/or lizards, pull the strings].
So that put in my head the idea of doing a travel book, to
go and actually try to find the secret room.
TS: Do you find your own sense of self-slipping,
mixing with all these people with weird beliefs? How do you
keep from getting swept away?
JR: Well I do think I have a precarious sense
of self anyway, but I'm also sane enough to notice when it's
slipping. But I suppose on a day to day basis it's being a
father, so one moment you're at jihad training camp, the next
you're at legoland. The worst time in the five years I was
writing the book were when the two things melted into one.
Like when I thought my car was being bugged. Because I had
two lives; the normal life and the extremist life and once
in a while the two lives would blend. Sometimes in funny ways.
The day my baby was born I had a phone call from the Ku Klux
Klan saying 'we're all praying for you', not realising that
they were praying for a mixed race child (the way they'd see
But more frighteningly there was when I thought
that the Bilderberg group or MI5 or somebody was checking
me out but I was back in my everyday life back in Islington
TS: When doing the book did you intentionally
decide to be non confrontational?
JR: Well, I'm like that anyway, but I'd say
it was making a point, that I wasn't going to go in as a representative
of our people, with a line I was going to push like American
news reporters or someone like Donald Macintyre. So there's
an element of intention there. It's how I am anyway, but i
was fully aware that I'd be making a point. And that I would
be more like sponge, you know I'd just allow myself to be
open to their ideas, to sort of suspend my reality.
TS: I think it works really well
JR: I think it does. It's funny, when I was
with the Klan one time. We're were in Michigan, we checked
into a motel and there was a documentary about the Klan. but
a different Klan, a rival Klan. So I'm with one Klan watching
another. And you know normally they have cut-aways to noddies
[shots of people nodding in agreement filmed separately],
in this one they cut away to sort of sort of shaky-head stern
shots, and I thought it was ludicrous. Because it was like
'let's go in a attack the Klan'. What's the point of that?
All he was doing was making the viewers feel good about the
fact that they weren't white supremacists themselves. It just
seemed like a completely banal and pointless exercise.
TS: I was reading that chapter on the train
and in that you say that the local media often send non-whites
to interview the Klan
JR: Yeah, so you can see that it's easy for
them to think that there's a sort of conspiracy in the media!
TS: I think there's a really strong reinforcement
effect, where they think everyone is out to get them -
JR: - and everyone comes out to get them! Absolutely.
I think in a way that's what the book is about. Both with
Ruby Ridge where they got them in a very profound way [the
home of a Idaho family that was killed by the FBI], but also
in little ways all the time. We fulfil our stereotypes, constantly.
The power elites of the western world, act just like the 'shadowy
cabal'. That's my favourite subtext of the book.
TS: Do you think there's a connection between
what the New World Order conspiracists think and what the
anti-globiser's think? If you read someone like Noam Chomsky
or John Pilger - who's new book is called 'the New Rulers
of the World' - they go on about how the world is organised
to benefit an elite few, starting wars and suppressing any
JR: Absolutely. But when I was writing the book
I really didn't realise that, and it was only when I started
doing readings when the book first came out, and the audience
would be full of anti-globalists who were there to support
the book and putting me next to Naomi Klein or Noreena Hertz.
To this day you'll often see the book in those sections. Or
"If you like this book try The Silent Takeover or Noam
Chomsky". And that took me completely by surprise, but
it was a pleasant surprise. But also
and I was thinking
about this just the other day
the conclusion I came to
was that books like "No Logo" talk about the implications
of globalisation on people's society and people's money and,
without even realising it, my book talks about the implication
on people's heads and people's imagination. So maybe there
is that connection. But when I realised that the conspiracy
theories on the right were very similar to conspiracy theories
on the left, they just called it by different names, that
was a big revelation to me. I had no idea that that was the
case. And it sort of comes over in the book, but I comes over
without me even realising it at the time when I was writing
And of course the far right are desperate to
get into bed with the far left. Aryan Nations sent their contingent
to Seattle to protest along side the [left.]
And I guess the reason they [leftists anti-racist
anti-globalisers] hated David Icke was because he was spoiling
it for them. I think one of the said to me "now the WTO
can say 'if you're against us you believe in 12 foot lizards".
But David Icke pisses off everyone in that world. The people
on the extreme right also hate him because he's cleaning up
with his lizard theory.
TS: I can't see why!
j: People love it! I wouldn't be surprised if
David Icke sold more books than Noam Chomsky. If Noam Chomsky
spoke in Los Angeles for instance 500 people would turn up.
David Icke can get 2000 people in.
TS: Incredible. There's also this bizarre
business with code words. [mimicking an anti-racist] "When
he says he lizards he means Jews" But, maybe when he
says lizards he really means lizards.
JR: Yeah, and when he says "no, I really
do mean lizards" they say "ah well that's code as
well" But the other day I was on David Icke's website
and there was a link to The International Jew. Which is THE
worst anti-Semitic book, it's really vicious. So I thought,
well maybe he does mean Jews when he says lizards.
TS: So you've resolved the ambiguity you
JR: yeah, I'm beginning to. I wouldn't sanction
a link to the International Jew on JonRonson.com. I was quite
shocked. It seemed like he was throwing up his hands and saying
'ok, no more pretence.'
TS: Do you think there is a reason why people
end up believing those kind of things? Is it that they are
ill, different from everyone else - or is it that they are
the same as everyone else and they believe X and we believe
JR: When I was being chased by the Bilderberg
group what was so amazing to me was just how easy for me it
was to cross the line into the whirlpool of paranoia. I remembering
thinking to myself 'Christ, a few more car chases like this
and I'll be believing in 12 foot lizards.' So I think part
of it is circumstance and some of it is down to bad luck.
And I do think David Icke's path - and this is complete conjecture
on my part - I that he had really bad arthritis and I think
he had some kind of psychotic reaction to his medication and
that's what made him believe that he was the son of god, and
then he was on Wogan and gets laughed out of Britain. And
that's what led him to believing that there were conspiracies
against him; because you think everyone's out to get you,
and then suddenly everyone is out to get you and so that led
him down that path that goes on and on and on, which led him
to the (to him) entirely rational conclusion that 12 foot
lizards rule the world.
TS faced with two world views: conspiracy vs. cock-up,
which would you choose?
JR: as liberal I would say a bit of both. It's
half cock-up and half conspiracy. I mean look at my street.
I know this is a really bourgeois outlook, but my street used
to be full of little, interesting, independent shops, and
now it's full of chains. Basically my street is now a kind
of out of town strip mall that you'd find in Michigan. With
the same chains, it's got Borders and Starbucks. And I use
Borders and Starbucks all the time myself. But at the same
time, how can that not be a conspiracy? Maybe capitalism is
a conspiracy. On my street specifically, the council have
put up all the rents to what the chains can pay. It's just
a random example, but is that a conspiracy between politics
and big business? It is isn't it?
TS: But no one planned it
JR: I think Starbucks planned it. They've got
a deliberate policy of crowding out independent coffee shops.
And they're a relatively benign example.
But as Dennis Healy said "that's not a
conspiracy, that's the way things are done" I put that
line in the book thinking that the subtext of that is Dennis
Healy is admitting there is a conspiracy. But i don't really
know what i think about globalisation yet. Maybe there is
no globalisation, is there anything happening that hasn't
happened before? How many of these things are disparate facts,
and how many are trends? I don't really know what i think.
TS: Complex stuff! Thanks a lot for talking
the Shelf festival continues around Sheffield until November
Read extracts from Jon Ronson's work at JonRonson.com
Them is available in paperback and hardback from Amazon
Photographs copyright Chris
Saunders Many thanks to him for letting us use them