"Them" began as a book about different kinds of extremists, but after Jon had got to know some of them - Islamic fundamentalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen - he found that they had one oddly similar belief: that a tiny, shadowy elite rule the world from a secret room.
In "Them," Jon sets out, with the help of the extremists, to locate that room. The journey is as creepy as it is comic and, along the way, Jon is chased by men in dark glasses, unmasked as a Jew in the middle of a Jihad training camp, and witnesses international CEOs and politicians participate in a bizarre pagan ritual in the forests of northern California.
"Them" is a fascinating and entertaining exploration of extremism, in which Jon learns some alarming things about the looking-glass world of "them" and "us'. Are the extremists on to something? Or has Jon become one of THEM?
Jon Ronson is a writer and documentary filmmaker. His work includes the international bestsellers Them: Adventures With Extremists and The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was adapted into a major motion picture starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges.
A contributor to The Guardian, Ronson is the author of the columns "Human Zoo" and "Out of the Ordinary". He writes and presents the BBC Radio 4 series, Jon Ronson On...
For Channel 4, Jon has made a number of films including the five-part series Secret Rulers of the World and Tottenham Ayatollah. His most recent documentaries are Reverend Death (Channel 4), Citizen Kubrick (More4) and Robbie Williams and Jon Ronson Journey to the Other Side (Radio 4).
In the US, he is a contributor to Public Radio International's This American Life.
What is the Bilderberg Group? Is it a self-interested but vaguely benevolent private club composed of international movers & shakers who come together annually to discuss "government and politics, finance, industry, labour, education and communications"? Or is it a nefarious group of power brokers and nation breakers - the Secret Rulers of the World?
Who is David Icke? Goofy New Age conspiracy nut who believes our leaders actually belong to 1 of 16 sinister alien-reptile species? Or a misunderstood questioner of the powers that be?
Who is Ku Klux Klansman Thom Robb? Who is Omar Bakri Muhammad? Who is Ian Paisley? What really happened on Ruby Ridge?
But most important to me as a reader... who is Jon Ronson?
Is Jon Ronson a semi-comic journalist, author, and documentarian who has made a career out of puncturing various blowhards - in particular self-important politicians and freaky cult-style leaders? Is Jon Ronson a passive milquetoast who quivers in fear at the slightest threat? Is he an obnoxiously "neutral" and unusually self-absorbed member of the press corps... the sort of ruthlessly clueless reporter who would forget about pulling a kid out of burning car just so that he could take some cool snaps... the kind of hopelessly naive person who pretends that no one is truly capable of enacting evil - after all, you just gotta look under the surface and we're all just silly, harmless humans who couldn't hurt a fly, right? Or is Jon Ronson simply an adorable wet kitty cat?
This collection of anecdotes focusing on the "human elements" of various controversial figures and groups - with a brief but poignant (and ultimately infuriating) stop-off into the world of Ruby Ridge - is fast-paced and consistently amusing. I really appreciated the humanization of the assorted extremists - it fit right into my cynical-but-basically-humanistic perspective. People ARE funny. And even villains are people too, right? They have their little human foibles. No person is all bad or all good and everyone has their personal context and everyone is three-dimensional blah blah blah.
This has been a surprisingly popular book for a couple groups of friends. So let me talk about them for a little bit. These friends are: semi college educated & college educated & college - yeah right; work with their hands (so to speak), or not - but not office drones either; somewhat anti-intellectual; staunchly pro-human rights; semi hard-drinkin' family men... the kind of assortment of social work & blue collar & non-corporate, hates-all-politicians kind of guys who form a surprisingly large portion of the Democratic Party's backbone. Factor in youths spent in various alternate subcultures and you have in some ways an ideal audience for this novel. In an engagingly sardonic and self-effacing style, the book reveals who the assholes are and how fucked up governments are and points out the hypocrisy of certain extremists - fun stuff. Heads nod in agreement, including mine. And under all the mild snark and comfy irony is an almost sweetly idealistic theme of "people are just people". Awww, shucks.
Unlike my friends, I'm a Queer White Collar Nerd. But I doubt that that has anything to do with my different reaction. My friends are not naive (and, I should add, they are awesome), so maybe I'm just more of a prick. Whatever the reason may be, I didn't enjoy this as much as everyone else did. I really wonder why. This book annoyed me, sometimes even disgusted or angered me - but not because of Them's various subjects. JON RONSON was the problem. Oops, almost forgot my meaningless Venn Diagram:
Anyway, I enjoyed it enough to give it 2 stars. It was fun. Cute even, at times. People and their little foibles, amused sigh. Crazy people sure are crazy, good grief! And yet they're human too, my goodness! Funny crazy humans!
Eyeroll. I have some questions for you, Jon Ronson:
- What is your problem with being a Jew? My God man, have some fucking pride! I'll give you this: you acknowledge your unseemly hypocrisy in buddying up with various creeps who base their careers on demonizing jewish folks and who actually fund groups whose intent is to Kill Jews. Yes, you acknowledge that practising dishonesty by omission made you feel bad. But you continued to do it! At one point you fantasize about sabatoging an effort calling for the decimation of your people. All you had to do was throw away some horrifically offensive flyers. And yet you do nothing, not the slightest thing, you just wish you could do something, and then you move on with a shrug. I'm sorry, but I'm just not cool with that. Have some courage. I don't respect wusses just because they admit that they are being a wuss. Fine, thanks for being honest - but you are still a wuss. Am I supposed to be charmed by your sheepish confessions and your continual lack of backbone?
- Do you really think the Bilderberg Group is simply an overhyped bunch of harmless (albeit security-happy and obnoxiously exclusive) businessmen? Do you truly think they have had no impact whatsoever on the various events that have happened on the world stage? Are you that stunningly naive? Do you actually work for the Bilderberg Group?
- Don't you believe in checking out someone's background before you go a-spyin' with him in Spain? I'll give the Good Ole Boy in question his props: he didn't seem like a complete idiot. But you didn't bother to check out the rag he edits first? You are surprised that his small-town rag published some virulently racist articles? As a journalist, you didn't think it was necessary to check out his actual work before going on a super secret spy mission with him? Do you think that just because someone is garrulous and down-to-earth that they can't be capable of doing things that are incredibly wrong?
- Why didn't you mention that you had filmed a documentary on Ian Paisley prior to meeting him? You paint this scary blowhard as oh so mean to poor wittle Jon Ronson - Paisley's monstrous rudeness just comes out of nowhere. Don't you think it was at all necessary to declare your past history with the gent in question? That chapter functioned as a near hit piece... why? Sweet revenge for past insults?
- Do you think that writing a narrative, reporting a story, being a documentarian... somehow lets you off the hook when it comes to basic decency? I hate frickin' excuses, and in particular I hate excuses that are trying to let someone off the hook out of doing the right thing. Case in point: you are aware that some jackasses are planning to physically and publicly humiliate a guy who you know is not a bad guy, who is not a racist or anti-semite or whatever... you know that what the jackasses are planning to do is completely unjust... the guy bares his soul to you, including all about his greatest fear: public humiliation, ON THE WAY TO WHERE THE PUBLIC ATTACK IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN... and you do nothing. Journalistic integrity, I suppose, right? Must not interfere, right? Fuck off! So it didn't turn out how the jackasses wanted it to turn out. So what? It could have - and you did nothing. I really wanted to kick your ass after that sequence.
- Do you truly believe that the Fourth Estate is unbiased and objective? In your quest to understand extremists and extremism, to show the human inside the monster, to show the basic foolishness of man... have you forgotten that people actually die for their beliefs...that words and actions sometimes have meaning? Your chapter on Ruby Ridge was the only place I found genuine anger... are you afraid of anger? Are you afraid of being disgusted by people who do truly disgusting things? Is the world and all of its woes and all of its angry violent people and all of its blood and slaughter simply amusing and interesting topics to snort and smirk over? Are there truly no stakes?
- Do you believe such passive engagement with the world is capable of delivering any kind of real truth? Well, at least the kind of truth that I can understand. "Objectivity"... Neutrality. Goddamn I hate that bullshit. Feh! Grow up, man. No one is truly neutral. Everything is subjective.
I could have been riveted by this book if it had had the strength to have an actual opinion. This isn't a history book, it is not clinical research or a community needs assessment - it is a personal narrative. Personal Narrative. And so No Opinions = Bullshit. Be real, don't be afraid to have some opinions or to get a little hardcore. To be yourself. To be angry that there are a bunch of fucked-up things going on in the world, all the time, throughout time. I'd much rather have that pissed-off messiness than this determinedly amusing, blandly pleasant, roll over & die softcore truthiness.
This is real gonzo journalism, Jon got in there and got down and dirty and didn't always reveal that he was Jewish. (Most extremists and conspiracy theorists have a strong hatred and fear of Jews or 12' shape-shifting lizards - which are possibly the same thing). The book is a little uneven and some of his adventures are more interesting than others. I suspect some of his columns have been added in to pad out the book.
What is quite interesting is that there is some truth in all the conspiracy theories but the extremists are so off-base they miss it completely. For example, the Bilderberg group who are supposed to be a bunch of Jews secretly running the world was founded by a group of people in 1954, none of them Jewish and one of them German royalty and a member of the Nazi party!
It is a cliche to say that you can't judge a book by its cover, but we all do. First impressions count tremendously. However, some of the people with the nastiest philosophies in the book are, otherwise, quite nice people, and others, perhaps more harmless or perhaps seemingly genial and helpful to the author, are real low-down, sly and skunky assholes.
If you've ever wanted to know about conspiracy theories, if you want to know if there really is a ruling elite and if you wonder that my comment about 12' shape-shifting lizards was a bit off-base, then get hold of the book and read the last few chapters. Shape-shifting lizards have nothing on the reality of those who cross-dress, sacrifice to giant owls, pee ritually in public and are certainly the ruling elite of the US. And its all on video. Mind-boggling.
Recommended to anyone wanting to understand American and global politics and anyone who has ever wondered about conspiracy theories and who wants to be amazed, amused and perhaps even a little worried too.
Jon Ronson is an entertaining tour guide on any trip, but I was especially excited to hear this collection of stories about extremists. I say "hear" because Ronson is one of those authors whose voice and delivery are so distinctive (David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Barack Obama and Carl Sagan come to mind) that you end up simulating their voices in your head, so you might as well have them do it for you. As ever, Ronson insinuates himself with strange people in strange situations, and relates his sharp observations and the answers to his probing, seemingly straightforward questions. He has a way of noticing the little human foibles that simultaneously make his subjects relatable and deflate their self-importance. Ronson is able to do this because he is a journalist, and a thread amongst extremists is that, while they may be leery of journalists, they also want very, very much to be heard and understood, and trust that their good intention will be borne out with exposure.
Not only is Ronson a journalist, he's Jewish. Practicing or not (he's not), this comes to be a liability: extremism and Antisemitism are highly comorbid. He never offers his heritage up front, but it's often asked of him or suspected. The Islamic militant Omar Bakri Mohammed lets Ronson follow him around, makes occasional laughing references to having him flogged, and even presses him into taxi service and running errands. It isn't until they are in the middle of a Jihadist training camp that Bakri reveals to all assembled that he knows Ronson is Jewish. A group of Ku Klux Klan members carefully examine the profile of his nose, and he tries to shift the conversation to his Britishness and Anglican influence. Gun-toting survivors of the Ruby Ridge siege tell him, straight-faced, that "the Hebrews are not Jews". Dr. Ian Paisley, an Irish Protestant minister, can barely contain his racist taunts after grilling Ronson about just how Jewish he is. One chapter debates whether, when David Icke talks about the reptilians who rule the world, he is referring to Jews or actual space lizards. When chasing the Bilderberg Group (a chapter that truly surprised me), there's some understandable confusion about who is really running the world. A similar dilemma arises when Ronson meets with Hollywood director Tony Kaye in his limousine with the license plate "JEW1SH". It's not the organizing principle of the book, but it's hilarious just how often it comes up.
My favorite moment is when Ronson, being chased in Portugal by the Bilderbergs, calls for backup in a panic: "I'm a humorous journalist out of my depth!" The real centerpiece is Ronson's infiltration, along with his invited "guest" Alex Jones, of the elite Bohemian Grove gathering in the Northern Californian woods. It's an evening of assumed identities, secret maps, burning owl effigies, peeing in the forest, and... Dick Cheney. That alone is worth the price of admission for a book that is entertaining and educational good fun.
An entertaining look at the world of people who believe that the world is run by a small group of evil people hidden away someplace. A lot of the people in the book come across like absurd wing-nuts, in a more lovable way than I imagine they are in real life.
Of course my one problem is that this book doesn't even touch upon the real dangers facing the world. While the Bilderburg Group and crazy Owl / Druid sacrifices are being done by people like Kissinger and Bush, and yes some of them are in fact giant lizard people from another dimension, and yes there is also a secret cabal of elderly Jews who are in fact also meeting and plotting for one purpose or another, and also yes all of the above mentioned enjoy killing children either by eating them, mutilating them and putting their foreskins into unleavened bread, or just burning them inside a giant owl statue in Northern California, or just raping them because as a giant lizard person you want to shove your enormous lizard cock into small children.... yes all of this is true, it's in books and I'm not about to say anything under my jurisdiction in the bookstore could possibly be insane or wrong. So yes that is all true, but even someone who is normally a rational beacon of truth like David Icke misses out on the real root of the problem, all of these groups of men and lizards are really controlled by miniature little people who live on the moon and who (like black helicopters) can fly into your ear if they want and make you do anything they want, and their own raison d'etre, is to personally fuck up MY life. I call them Moon Jews, and they are one of the tribes of Israel, and they are the real problem of the world. They do all kinds of things, like if you are playing pool and you make a shot that should be easy but your ball somehow turns at the last moment, well that is them doing that. A miracle card coming on the river in poker that makes you lose a big pot? Yep put there by them. Can't find your keys in the morning? That's them too. They do all of this, and they control these evil evil men and lizards. Why? Because they find it funny, and that is all that matters to them. They are funny little people and they live on the moon, but can teleport anywhere they want instantly.
So my Jon Ronson binge read carries on as they ae an easy and engaging read when you are busy.
This volume, one of Jon's earlier books, sees him hanging out with various extremists. Is it anything new to read now? Not really. But at the time of publication it may have been. Now it is easily trumped by Louis Theroux documentaries and Will Storr's Heretics: Adventures With The Enemies Of Science.
The book didn't alter any of my opinions at all. Conspiracy nuts are conspiracy nuts. But I did learn more about the elite few who are running our world and surprise, surprise, they aren't really. They are just being preppie dickheads in a forest.
There is the typical Ronson humour here, but it is watered down. This volume seems cheaper and flimsier than his later books (not physically). But maybe it is just me hitting the end of a binge and the novelty is wearing off. But still a fun read, just not as good as his later stuff.
This book was full of answers(1) to questions I can't bear to admit I've asked myself. Ronson interviews, hangs out, and even lightly conspires with different sectors of the population who see themselves as victims of 'Them'. The details of the world conspiracy differ. It depends whether you're a white supremacist, or an anti-semite against the world lizard conspiracy (yes, real lizards, not metaphorical lizards), or a survivalist Christian with white-supremacist ties. The divisions go on and on, but what Ronson noticed was that they all seemed to agree at some point, that everything pointed to the Bilderburg Group and their Bohemian Grove ritual fire in front of the giant stone owl. Think Burning Man with Henry Kissinger. Ronson is very good at laying back in that way that allows people to express themselves, or maybe these sorts of people do that easily. He almost makes it look easy, and now that I've finished the book, I wonder that he never got hurt questioning so many obsessed, volatile paranoids. He certainly handled a lot more guns than he was used to. I think he did us a service by writing about 'Them' because 'Them' are out there driving around, buying burgers, waiting for those moments when they know they are in the right company so they can remove their human suits and go lizard.
(1) "I've put some cardboard into my hood to line it," said Pat, "to stop it from collapsing in the rain."
I mean, duh, we all know the Bilderberg isn't running the world (as Wikileaks has proved by publishing their most boring meeting recordings ever), but then who is?
Why is there no data of China's military spending? How come the average age in Russia is so much higher than the rest of the world? Is Glenn Beck a lizard? Who's controlling the chupacabra? Is Hollywood a Jewish conspiracy? Is that why Michael Bay keeps doing sequels? Is the Transformer actually a symbol of satanic worship? Is there why there's always the word 'moon' in those movies? Is Justin Bieber going to be bring forth the second rapture? What am I reading? Is Ronson behind all this? Is he actually a prop by Obama to divert our attention from Area 51? What happened to the last piece of chocolate mud cake in my fridge? Did the secret service hypnotise my dogs into eating it after they were planted with surveillance laser things with red blinking light?
A bit dated, but great nevertheless. I'm not sure if this predates or is contemporary of Louis Theroux, but it's along the same lines. Dead pan journalist meets a bunch of nutters. I'd better not reveal too much in this review though as I think I can see a 12 foot lizard hovvering around outside in a black helicopter
This is a fabulous romp through various extremist groups. Ronson writes with flair about his encounters with various Islamic, right-wing, and left-wing whackos. The most humorous are his encounter with David Icke, the UFO conspiracist. David Icke thinks that the world has been taken over by shape-shifting reptilian aliens. The Anti-defamation League thought that it was code for Jews. Icke gets detained by Canadian border officials, when he tried to enter the country to attend a UFO conference. The officials interrogate him to determine if he is an Anti-semite or not. They conclude that when he says shape-shifting aliens, shape-shifting aliens is what he meant and let him go.
I don't know how you are keeping your head up in the cacophonous hell-vortex that is American politics in the year of our lord two thousand seventeen, but the way I am doing it is by getting all my news from one Wonkette, a gloriously foul-mouthed political site that brings an hourly dose of shrewd political analysis served up with a healthy patina of cursing and a fervent dedication to dick jokes. Here are a few recent favorites:
This is relevant, and here's why. I am obsessed with Wonkette, and Wonkette is obsessed, among many, many, many other things, with ragey conspiracy loon Alex Jones, so I've become a little obsessed with him too. (While we're on the subject, please see the Vice series of supercuts where you can watch, for example, Alex screaming, Alex facepalming, and Alex apologizing. My god, this fucking guy.)
And at some point, someone (probably Wonkette) mentioned that once upon a time, Jon Ronson, whom I love, wrote a book about hanging out with Alex Jones, whom I despise, and well, I ordered it so fast my computer spun.
About the book itself: Unfortunately it's not all that great. I mean it's fine, it's Jon Ronson bein' Jon Ronson, all wry and British and meek and clever, but the thing about this book is that it was published in 2001. Before September 11th. Before Breitbart. Before any of the many swirling howling fantods that have converged to bring us to our current moment of apocalyptic terror had really begun to percolate. So not only does it feel staggeringly dated and, I guess, innocent? It almost seems like a full-on mockery of what matters.
Like, watching Jon buddy up with Ku Klux Klanners, and express his distrust of the Anti-Defamation League, and hang out laughingly with former dictators, and joke around with conspiracy theorists like David Icke and, yup, Alex Jones... well, it's not cute and it's not clever and it's not edgy. It's downright appalling.
Not that I am suggesting that Jon does not currently understand the hellscape of this world and the part played in it by the alt-right and the Pizzagate-ers and the Kellyanne Conways and the white supremacists and our myriad other homegrown terrorists — I'm sure he does now. But he didn't then, because none of us did.
So my respect for Jon is undiminished by this book, and my schadenfreudian contempt for Alex Jones is too. But I am so emotionally and intellectually bruised by just being alive today, by bearing witness to the catastrophic nightmare that our country is convulsed within at the moment, that I just cannot, with any of this, or any of anything, really. Except Wonkette, I guess.
Dick jokes for all! As we whistle while the world fuckin burns.
I’ve only ever read half of another Jon Ronson novel, but I knew from a few pages in that I preferred that half to this whole novel. That’s not the say this one wasn’t entertaining, but the witty and awkward Jon we met in The Psychopath Test didn’t seem to translate into this book quite as well.
I really wanted to love this book but it didn’t grab me quite as much as I’d hoped. I found the plot of conspiracy theorists and the Bilderberg Group really intriguing, but it didn’t actually work so well on paper. Personally, I found the stories in this novel felt disjointed and random, where I was expecting an easy flow of stories to tell a bigger story.
Some of the characters Jon meets felt far more interesting to me than others, and so that translated into the chapters. One could hold my attention and I would read it through all in one go, others felt lacklustre and slow, so I would put the book down and splash around in the pool instead. Maybe it was just the surroundings I was in, and maybe even the fact I had read The Boy on the Bridge just before this book, but I couldn’t seem to focus my attention on this.
Don’t get me wrong, the plot was really interesting and I did learn lots of new things about conspiracy theories that I hadn’t know before. I even did some of my own research on the Bilderberg Group afterwards (I found out that The Bilderberg Group actually came to Watford when I was a child and lived there, and the whole city centre was shut down!), so the topic was something that worked for me. Plus, there were definitely some funny moments and I did get a chuckle out of a few of the scenarios and conversations that Jon got himself into.
In the end, I think I thought this book was going to be something else? I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t exactly what I got. My mum did say to me that she felt this was his weakest book, so I’ve got more to look forward to with his other work… of which I will be giving a shot!
Can I please have a half star system????? Or a 10 star system????? Yeah, I know. Then I'd have to back and re-rate every book I've rated and probably update all the reviews. It would be a hassle, but then I wouldn't have to struggle with some of these ratings.
I'd give this one 2.5 stars. In most cases when I reach a 2 star rating it means I've pretty much decided I don't like the book, but it has something that requires I not give it the bottom of the well, 1 star. Maybe the prose has been good, or maybe it was a great idea that just crashed and burned in the execution.
Well, here, the book isn't hard to read. It will probably hold your interest (if not your thought processes) throughout. The problem is, it really doesn't go anywhere.
I have been for years interested in conspiracy theories. I've known (and know) people who buy into them entirely. I've had arguments with at least one that I had to leave at "well, we'll just have to agree to disagree." as this person believes so strongly in well, what they believe.
The problem here is that Mr. Ronson's approach to book writing and reporting (basically following subjects around, recording what they do and say and what is done and said around them) doesn't boil down to anything here. He meets and interacts with several individuals and groups all of whom believe strongly in (or at least say they do) different conspiracies. Many...no, all of these tend to be contradictory theories. Mr. Ronson doesn't really make any effort to differentiate (aside from what appears to be his semi-meltdown at the end of it all), though he does play it a bit (and only a bit) for laughs. You never get a feel as to how he feels, what he thinks over all. Well, except that he ends about where he began...wondering who's screwed up and has the wrong view. "Him or them?"
We meet Islamic believers who believe they are facing an anti-Islamic conspiracy. We meet white supremacists and white separatists. These are not the same but from outside they are often confused and lumped in with Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups and the KKK. There are New age groups who believe that all religions need to be done away. There is at least one new age group (hated or at least shunned by other new age groups) who believe the world is ruled by a race of giant reptiles who can appear human. (This group is lead by David Icke and other New age conspiracy as well as conspiracy theorists in general believe he's giving them a ll a bad name. They generally hold he's crazy or a part of the conspiracy simply trying to hurt the "movement"). There are theorists who believe in a cabal of old white men (the Bilderbergers or another group). Then there are those who still hold to the Jewish conspiracy.
One of the problems in running anything down here is/was that racism tended to take center stage. Either as an actual fact or as a charge thrown at individuals or groups. Is this group antisemitic? Are they racist? was what this or that person said actually "a code word"?
All in all an interesting read if picked up as a diversion. If you really want to find out something about conspiracy theories and theorists, look elsewhere.
"One thing you quickly learn about the extremists is that they really don't like being called extremists. In fact they often tell me that we are the real extremists. They say that the Western liberal cosmopolitan establishment is itself a fanatical, depraved belief system. I like it when they say this because it makes me feel as if I have a belief system."
Džon Ronson je podjednako lud koliko je i hrabar. Napisano sa strašnim smislom za humor, Ronson ovde „izveštava“ kako je pričao sa neo-nacistima, islamskim ekstremistima, ljudima koji veruju u guštere vanzemaljce itd itd, i uočio da svi oni veruju u jednu malu kliku ljudi koji odredjuju planetarne sudbe iz jedne male zamračene prostorije u sred ničeg. Posmatranja su mu neretko inteligentna, uvek smešna, a umeju i da ostave bez teksta. Sve u svemu, jako dobra knjižica za usputno čitanje.
I truly enjoyed reading this book. I heard about it from Coast to Coast AM when Mr. Ronson was interviewed by George Noory. He described the incident from the book where he ended up at an extremist camp surrounded by Islamic extremists working toward the Islamification of Britain. When they discover he is Jewish the response is intriguing. The whole book is well worth a read. I still pick it up to read random chapters even now!
This was a good book to read at the end of 2016, a year in which previously outlandish and extreme views became mainstream (Brexit) and the role of facts in political discourse became hazy.
Published back in 2001, it’s Ronson’s first book, and some of the chapters - particularly those researched and written before 9/11 - seem to come from a halcyon and innocent time. Imagine a time when Omar Bakri and Anjem Choudhary could be considered by anyone as nothing more than mischievous buffoons. Or a time when someone could poke fun at Thomas Robb, hapless leader of the KKK, as he tries to ‘rebrand’ the organisation for the 21st Century. It’s strange and sobering to think how much the world has changed in seventeen short years.
Ronson follows several unusual characters, including Thomas Robb, David Icke, and the late Ian Paisley, ostensibly aiming to establish whether they really are as crazy as some people make out.
Much of the book centres around his hunt for the truth about the Bilderberg Group. Nowadays the existence of this elite group seems to be a given, but apparently back in the late 1990s this wasn’t the case. Jon goes around with the late Jim Tucker, who at the time was dismissed by many as a crackpot because of his obssession with outing the shady group of hyper-powerful individuals who met each year in a secret location and pulled all kinds of internationl strings. Well in retrospect… it turns out he was right. In fact, what really struck me when reading this was the fact that the Bilderbergers have pulled off an incredible trick. Now the group seems to be pretty much out in the open, but (and this would have Jim Tucker turning in his grave) apparently no-one gives a damn. Perhaps we are all too distracted by Buzzfeed listicles and Netflix…. Or perhaps the mainstream media are being suspiciously quiet...God, I’m starting to sound like one of Them.
Jon Ronson hangs out with various people who have one thing in common - they believe that the world is controlled by a shadowy cabal of powerful people (many of them Jews) who decide the fate of the world. According to this grand conspiracy theory, the "secret rulers" engineer the elections of heads of state, start and end wars, have people assassinated, etc.
The title Them has a dual meaning. It refers to the people who believe in this world conspiracy and those who supposedly are its members. Ronson hangs out with KKK leaders, an Islamic jihadist, and neo-Nazis, and various apocalypse watchers. He is tailed by mysterious men in sunglasses, and he crashes a weird annual "pagan owl ritual" attended by powerful men in government and business. Ronson is constantly asking himself whether the paranoia of his companions is starting to rub off on him. As for the owl thing, it is pretty bizarre, but it mainly seems like a gathering for aging frat boys.
The beauty of this book is that it shows how different people can interpret the same sets of facts in radically different ways. The supposed members of this ruling elite seem suspicious, but Ronson admits that, seen from another perspective, his own behavior is akin to a stalker. But then he thinks that even paranoiacs have enemies. It is a conundrum that Ronson never bothers to resolve.
This is ultimately a rather disappointing book. My review comes after a second reading a decade and a half from its first reading. The first third was better than I remembered and the last two thirds much worse.
Taken together, it is a series of picaresque adventures by a rather slippery Jewish journalist dealing with 'extremists' who are treated comically, albeit at times with grudging respect. There is no analysis, no context, just entertaining vignettes with, admittedly, a few laugh-out-loud moments.
The problem here is that extremism is a category that means a very wide range of opinions, some of which are no longer very funny (Islamism) and others are perhaps a little unfairly treated in the context of the book.
Ronson himself is surprisingly fair-minded even if he wears his Jewishness on his sleeve a little too much. This is when he is the 'cosmopolitan' self-regarding liberal trying to be fair but coming down on the side of reason in a way that sets an ideological agenda regardless of intent.
The first third is good not only because he cleverly humanises a rather silly man in Omar Bakri Mohammed (rather as he points up the essential authoritarian narcissism of Ian Paisley in a later vignette) but because he takes us into the heart of the New World Order conspiracy theory.
The standard response to NWO conspiracy theory is that it is the territory of half-educated half-wits and that there is no conspiracy. There probably isn't it in the way that most believers believe - the ruling order is not that clever as we see from disaster after disaster in recent years.
What he manages to do though is show how, regardless of the association with the radical right (here a non-Jew makes the sign of the cross to ward off the evil), the belief in the NWO is not quite as irrational as it may seem set against the brutal actions of 'federales' and elite secrecy.
All that is happening is that people with no information are filling the gaps to make sense of their own lives. There does happen to be a Bilderberg Group, it does happen to have an agenda, it does seem to intimidate and Randy Weaver's boy and wife were killed by thugs.
The reality is probably infinitely more complex than the conspiracy theorists may like but the facts are in Ronson's book - that the Federal Government thought it could get away with murder and that when your Government thinks that, you think defensively about why that might be.
If you want to know what your Government is capable of, just study history and, in Britain, the draft of the Cold War Emergency Powers Bill. Most Government is good and honest but some is not and when people see that is not, they start to ask why and for whose benefit.
Looking back over a decade and a half, some of the humour in the book now looks complacent and not only about Omar Bakri Mohammed. It is arguable that the irresistible rise of Arturo Trump was sown in the dumb brutality of the FBI on Ruby Ridge and its stupid attempted cover up.
It looks even more complacent as the black community finds itself reacting against a run of brutal police acts that have been normal practice in some American cities for too long and from which white liberals have averted their eyes for too long - as they have done to the gulag in their midst.
To be fair, Ronson was not to know how history was to pan out. He, in turn, is fair in his clever knife job on the pseudo-liberalism of the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai Brith and on the manipulative censorship operation against David Icke by the usual suspects in Toronto.
White liberals come out of this book as badly as racist loons in many ways but Ronson does not take his advantage and run with it. He wants to amuse and not inform and it is interesting to see his books stacked up today as easy-reads in Charing Cross station's WH Smith.
Perhaps it is unfair of me to ask too much of a jobbing London journalist who has to feed the meter like the rest of us but this is not a good way of educating the general public about political reality - in laughing about populism, it feeds populism by the back door.
Still, as an entertainment with a few insights and some laughs, I would not want to deter you from it. Just take the whole thing with a pinch of salt when making judgments about those on whom he reports - either good or bad.
In Them, Jon Ronson’s second book, the author dives deep into the world of conspiracy theories and extremists. His subjects include Islamic fundamentalists, racist groups like the KKK and Aryan Nations, Bilderberg crusaders like Jim Tucker, paranoid talk radio personalities, and even a man convinced that the rulers of the world are truly giant lizards in disguise.
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.
I thought Them was frequently clever and often ironic, but never laugh-out-loud funny. The book gets off to a rocky start with a profile of Omar Muhammad, a loathsome Islamic fundamentalist living in England. Omar’s only source of income appears to be government welfare, yet he spends his days preaching a message of hate and gathering money to build bombs with which to kill Israelis. After the 2005 London bombings he fled the country and he has been linked to Al-Queda. Suffice to say I did not find him to be “infuriatingly likeable” as the book’s blurb advertised, and if Them had spent the whole time attempting to humanize nutcases like Omar this would have been a long 300 pages.
Thankfully, things pick up when Ronson moves on to different subjects. He is careful to show both sides of the war between the “extremists” and the “mainstream,” which keeps the book interesting. Randy Weaver had ties to Aryan Nations, but the heavy-handed government response was out of all proportion to any of his crimes. Jim Tucker, labeled as a conspiracy theorist, was actually on to something with his Bilderberg crusade – but the extreme, even anti-Semitic viewpoints of the paper he published in undermined his credibility. David Icke, the man who believes the world is run by giant lizards, is unfairly branded as an anti-Semite – he really does believe in exactly what he preaches. And the KKK...well, it’s hard to put a positive spin on the KKK.
Virtually all of Ronson’s subject’s believe in some sort of small, ultra-powerful group that really runs the world, like the Bilderberg Group. This group is a real thing (the question is not whether it exists, rather what precisely it exists to do), and towards the end of the book Ronson actually infiltrates its operations to a degree. Overall, Them provides an entertaining (and occasionally humanizing) look at the people who live on the fringes of polite society. Some of them are crazy, while some of them are much more rational than you’d think, but all are treated fairly by the author. If this subject interests you, this book is a good, not-too-heavy read. 3 stars, recommended.
I heard about this book on an episode of This American Life and I thought I'd give it a try.
This book is... interesting to say the least.
It reads like fiction, and the ideas put forward are so ridiculous that you can't help but think that it is, indeed, fiction.
First off, the author is a Jew. Not such a big deal until you discover that he hangs out with the Ku Klux Clan, Neo-Nazis, and goes to a Jihad training camp, just to name a few.
It is eye opening to see that the people that Ronson writes about aren't serious all the time. A good chunk of the book involves Omar Bakri Mohammed, the man considered by many to be Bin Laden's man in England. Most of what this guy says to the author are jokes. Not exactly what you would expect.
As I said, some of the ideas are out there to say the least, but when you think about the fact that most of these ideas are from the brains of conspiracy theorists who think that the people who run the world are descendants of 12-foot-tall lizard aliens, things all of a sudden make a little more sense.
It is a fun read, and as I said, it really lets you know how the "crazies" think.
"Them" consists of journalist Jon Ronson's encounters with extremists of various stripes - a British Muslim extremist, a KKK leader, several believers of complex conspiracies and others.
I loved how a subject is treated with a deceptively light touch by Ronson. The book is certainly quite humorous in spots though there are also several uncomfortable, even tense sequences, especially when some of the extremists learn or suspect of the author's own Jewish heritage.
Most of the extremists are egotistical and yet many are also quite concerned that they appear in a 'good light' to Ronson, and therefore the public. It never fails though that the seemingly 'genial' extremist will burst into racist diatribe or in some other way reveal their true nature.
In the beginning of this book, I had to check a couple of times to make sure that it was really non-fiction, as Jon Ronson's tales of extremists have some almost unbelievable passages. A very satisfying and enjoyable read.
Very twisty book as the author spends time with a Muslim Extremist, Ruby Ridge survivors, at Waco, with Alex Jones, the Klan, Aryan Nation, the IRA, and a few others getting into their headspace & ideas. Some seem crazy, some crazy like a fox, but many share their own conspiracy theories with Ronson and he attempts to track down the secret room full of "rulers of the world" that quite a few of these groups fear. Read by the author on audio which I fully recommend.
Side Note: This book was published not long before 9/11, I often found myself wondered as I listened to it if his focus would have been different or if he would have even attempted this after 9/11.
This book would have been a lot more amusing if I'd read it when it came out rather than this year, when it seems the conspiracy theorists are gaining the upper hand. That said, it's a fascinating look at the ways in which extremist thought intersects across the political spectrum. Or is that what 'they' want us to think? Hmm.
Anyway, I'm glad I read this, but I think I need something really grounding to read today. Like, I don't know, The Lord of the Rings or something.
Like all of Jon Ronson's books, I really enjoyed this. I definitely learned about some new (& crazy) people and situations, and it was also interesting hearing how he described other events I was more familiar with (like contrasting his interviews from people that were at Ruby Ridge with the way it was interpreted by the dad from Educated). I love his sense of humor and the way he finds himself in such a bizarre series of situations, told in a hilarious and sometimes self deprecating way.
I've read similar books to this one - Evan Wright's Hella Nation, Louis Theroux's The Call of the Weird. I notice Theroux's blurb is prominent on the cover, perhaps to pre-empt the obvious comparison. Theroux credits Ronson as an inspiration, which is a mixed blessing: he copied Ronson's schtick, yet ended up better known for it.
Their subjects are the same: survivalists, conspiracy wonks, Neo-Nazis. Ronson goes a step further, spending over a year in the company of Islamic Extremist Omar Bakri, following him to the photocopier at Office World to failed summits in Birmingham.
Along the way Bakri tries to 'shake the world' by filling a major London venue and proclaiming the inevitable triumph of Islam (cancelled: couldn't raise the deposit) and charity collecting using novelty coke bottles. You may, rightly, laugh, but it's the comic details that tell.
What links these portraits is a common belief that a shadowy, all-powerful group is secretly controlling everything (hotels are a popular venue for summits). It never seems odd to anyone that an all-powerful cabal lets them go on blowing their secrets to anybody who’ll listen.
For David Icke, the cabal is a secret race of humanoid lizards. Unlike Bakri, there is no element of playing a part - Icke sincerely believes it to the point of screaming at receptionists (destroyers of freedom). That Icke thinks this is normal behaviour is as nauseating as his self-pity. ('Oh no, there's no conspiracy, no cover-up, no suppression, ladies and gentlemen of the world.') Note the similarity between Icke's thinking and the garden-variety religious fanatic’s: everything from a leaking tap to a power cut is a sign the believers are in the right. The less said about Alex Jones the better, though I wish that Ronson, writing in 2001, had troubled to piss in his coffee.
It might help the tabloid newspapers if they covered Bakri and co. as clowns and bunglers, not evil supervillains. You can't help wondering, reading this book, that evil is more self-deluding and pathetic than diabolical.
Again @jonronson proves why he's one of my favorite writers. THEM is a fascinating journey in conspiracies--what is real and what is fantasy--and the people who believe them. Of all his books this is most draining. The dogma that the people featured in the book is depressing. It is mentality taxing to wrap your head around belief systems that more complex than the simple truth in most cases.
Jon Ronson has the most lovely written style. He is one of just a handful of writers I am aware of who knows how to be sly. He achieves his considerable results by underplaying, understating, and refusing always the easy option of mockery or condemnation. His subjects are some of the most colourfully insane characters you will ever read in fiction - except that they are, almost unbelievably, real. This book is a marvel, an eye-opener, an education. And he contrives to be funny, without really ever being funny, but just allowing the innate funniness of these individuals to express itself naturally.
What is most surprising though is that, as the book develops, he finds himself uncertain as to who the crazies really are. The world he is describing is one in which one group of deranged individuals is confronted by another, equally demented group, and he is forced to confront his own inability to decide between 'Them and Them'. The Truth is elusive, complicated, far more nuanced than it at first appears, and he is torn between conflicting versions of lunacy. At one point he says 'Thank God I didn't believe in the secret rulers of the world. Imagine what the secret rulers of the world might do to me if I did.' My favourite quote, though, is from Islamic 'teacher' Omar Bakri: 'Be careful from homosexuality! It is not good for your tummy!' Subtle, bewildering and wildly funny.
Jon Ronsen is a British Journalist/Documentary maker rather like Louis Theroux.
In Them: Adventures with Extremists Jon investigates the KKK, David Icke and the shadowy Bilderberg group. This was a fascinating book, stamped with Jon's gently mocking style of writing.
We meet the Grand Wizard of the KKK will not let his members say the N word or wear the hood or robes during meetings. David Icke who was humiliated on the Terry Wogan chat show for claiming the royal family are lizards. The most interesting part was the paranoid conspiracy theorists he meets when trying to enter a bizarre owl ritual.
Jon also spends time with hate cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed. Jon described him as a jolly, convivial man who watched The Lion King everyday with his baby boy.
Chillingly Them was originally published in the UK on 28/06/11 three months before the 09/11 attacks. Since then Omar lives abroad and not allowed to return to the UK.
This was an interesting read but did not do anything to debunk or provide evidence of these conspiracies.
I read this when it was first published in 2001 (I was 17) and thought it was fantastic. Reading it again in 2009 (aged 25), I feel a little bit different. On one hand, Jon Ronson is a very good writer; his style is simultaneously hilarious and poignant, and he lampoons his subjects in an affectionate matter while making some very salient points about the dangers of both paranoia and complacency. On the other, I feel that some of the topics covered don't sit very well with the generally humorous tone; in particular, Ronson's experiences with Muslim extremist Omar Bakri and various members of the Ku Klux Klan lead to some genuinely disturbing encounters, and I'm not sure that portraying those involved as amusing, almost farcical characters is the right approach. However, the book is still worth a look and acts as a very readable and accessible primer for anyone interested in the truth behind conspiracy theories about the 'secret rulers of the world'.
Fascinating, and weird. I loved it. I had never heard of most of the 'new world order' conspiracy stuff (or of any of these people, except Randy Weaver), and I really appreciated how the author avoided making any of his own judgments about the people he was writing about/interviewing - there's a lot of 'then this happened, and then this person said this' and I found that much more effective in highlighting the craziness than sensationalizing it and putting his own spin on it would have been (and sometimes leaves the people who are supposedly 'mainstream' look just as nutty as the conspiracy theorists). He just lays out what happened and leaves you to think about it. The phrase that sums up the book for me was 'I believed I was right, but who knows? Perhaps Alex and Mike's interpretation was equally correct.' I think that pinpoints the divide that defines the subjects as extremists - the inability to accept that others might believe differently than you and you need to live with that.