Them: Adventures with Extremists

Them: Adventures with Extremists

3.4 15
by Jon Ronson

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A wide variety of extremist groups -- Islamic fundamentalists, neo-Nazis -- share the oddly similar belief that a tiny shadowy elite rule the world from a secret room. In Them, journalist Jon Ronson has joined the extremists to track down the fabled secret room.

As a journalist and a Jew, Ronson was often considered one of "Them" but he had no idea ifSee more details below


A wide variety of extremist groups -- Islamic fundamentalists, neo-Nazis -- share the oddly similar belief that a tiny shadowy elite rule the world from a secret room. In Them, journalist Jon Ronson has joined the extremists to track down the fabled secret room.

As a journalist and a Jew, Ronson was often considered one of "Them" but he had no idea if their meetings actually took place. Was he just not invited? Them takes us across three continents and into the secret room. Along the way he meets Omar Bakri Mohammed, considered one of the most dangerous men in Great Britain, PR-savvy Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Thom Robb, and the survivors of Ruby Ridge. He is chased by men in dark glasses and unmasked as a Jew in the middle of a Jihad training camp. In the forests of northern California he even witnesses CEOs and leading politicians -- like Dick Cheney and George Bush -- undertake a bizarre owl ritual.

Ronson's investigations, by turns creepy and comical, reveal some alarming things about the looking-glass world of "us" and "them." Them is a deep and fascinating look at the lives and minds of extremists. Are the extremists onto something? Or is Jon Ronson becoming one of them?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
U.K. journalist Ronson offers a look into the world of political, cultural and religious "extremists" who dwell at the edges of popular culture and the conspiracy theorists who love them. His only criteria for groups' inclusion as extremists is "that they have been called extremists by others," which may explain why the Anti-Defamation League is profiled along with the modern-day KKK, radical Northern Ireland Protestant spokesperson Dr. Ian Paisley and a former BBC sportscaster who believes the world is ruled by a race of alien lizards. The best as well as most timely and unsettling of these essays follows Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical Islamic militant, on his often bumbling effort to organize British Muslims into a jihad. (Bakri was arrested after September 11.) Ronson's journalism is motivated less out of a duty to inform the public than a desire to satisfy his own curiosity. At the heart of the book is Ronson's quest to find the Bilderberg Group, a secret cabal said to meet once a year to set the agenda of the "New World Order." Fortunately for the reader, his efforts lead somewhere: an informant tracks Bilderberg to a golf resort in Portugal; later, a prominent British politician and Bilderberg founder discusses it on the record. Once viewed up close through Ronson's light, ironic point of view, these "extremists" appear much less scary than their public images would suggest. It is how he reveals the all-too-real machinations of Western society's radical fringe and its various minions that makes this enjoyable work rather remarkable. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
British journalist and filmmaker Ronson spent the last five years with extremists: religious fundamentalists in Great Britain, Texas, and Cameroon; white supremacists in Arkansas, Michigan, and Idaho; and New World Order conspiracy chasers in Portugal and California. Despite their differences, all seem to believe that the world is controlled by an elite group known as "them." Although one may not find, say, the Ku Klux Klan funny on the surface, Ronson, well known for his "Human Zoo" column in the Guardian, makes each essay engaging by pointing out the irony of it all and accentuating the characters' foibles. He also presents their humanity the same humanity they would deny to others. Yet between the lines of satire, the extremists are unmasked for what they really are. They come off, above all, as mundane. This book was accompanied in Britain by a five-part TV documentary, The Secret Rulers of the World. Recommended for all academic and public libraries. Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A picaresque journey into the wonderland of delusional fanatics, often scary, yet wildly funny. Ronson, a British journalist and documentary filmmaker (Channel 4's The Secret Rulers of the World) explores the world of religious and political extremists, from Omar Bakri Mohammed, a hapless militant Islamic fundamentalist cheerfully trying to organize a jihad in North London, to David Icke, ranting that the world is run by a global elite descended from a race of extraterrestrial 12-foot lizards. (The response to Icke of the Anti-Defamation League, ever alert for anti-Semitism disguised by code words, suggests that paranoia is not confined to the lunatic fringes.) Most encounters, such as with an Arkansas Ku Klux Klan leader who eschews use of the "N" word (in public), or with Dr. Ian Paisley preaching his conspiracy theories in Cameroon, read like a comic novel, as the deadpan Ronson lets his subjects skewer themselves with their own words. Less laughable is his visit with Randy Weaver's daughter Rachel, which leads him to conclude that the killings at Ruby Ridge were made possible by the demonization of the Weavers as white supremacists. A subsequent brief meeting with skinheads at the Aryan Nation in Idaho is one of the most chilling episodes here. From his wanderings among extremists, Ronson learns that their most consistent belief is that the world is run by a cabal of international financiers and politicians, mostly Jews, known as the Bilderberg group, who periodically gather in a secret room to determine the planet's fate. Ronson's mission, to track down the secret rulers of the world and discover who they are and what they actually do, is the stuff of high comedy, and what he findsis about as sinister as a frat party. Ronson's eye for the telling detail and his gift for capturing hilarious dialogue make this an entertaining read, but laughs aside, this is serious and thought-provoking stuff, and likely to nettle left, right, and some in the middle too.
From the Publisher
Jonathan Yardley The Washington Post Unlikely though it certainly will seem to most readers at this difficult hour...Jon Ronson has managed to write a hugely amusing book about the lunatic fringe.

Ron Rosenbaum The New York Times Book Review Often entertaining, more often disturbing...[Ronson] has gotten closer to these people than any journalist I can think of.

The Boston Globe A tremendous and discomfiting achievement.

Esquire A remarkable book.

The Nation I've never read such a delightful book on such a serious and important topic.

The San Diego Union-Tribune It takes a funny man to see the humor in all the conspiracy theories that float hatefully across the land, and Jon Ronson is a funny man. It takes a brave man to chase that humor right into the belly of the beast, and Jon Ronson is a brave man too.

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Simon & Schuster
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In the hours that followed the heartbreaking attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., politicians and pundits offered their lists of suspects. There was Osama bin Laden, of course, and Islamic fundamentalists in general. The subject of chapter one of Them, Omar Bakri Mohammed, has often referred to himself as bin Laden's man in London. He has claimed to have sent as many as seven hundred of his British followers abroad to Jihad training camps, including bin Laden's in Afghanistan. On September 13, 2001, Omar Bakri was quoted in the London Daily Mail as saying, "When I first heard about it, there was some initial delight about such an attack. I received a phone call and said, 'Oh, wow, the United States has come under attack.' It was exciting."

Omar Bakri was subsequently arrested by the British police for making inflammatory statements, including calling for a fatwa against President Musharraf of Pakistan for supporting American action against the Taliban. As I write this, the home secretary, David Blunket, is considering prosecuting or deporting Omar Bakri.

I telephoned Omar Bakri on the evening of his arrest. I expected to find him in defiant mood. But he seemed scared.

"This is so terrible," he said. "The police say they may deport me. Why are people linking me with bin Laden? I do not know the man. I have never met him. Why do people say I am bin Laden's man in Great Britain?"

"Because you have been calling yourself bin Laden's man in Great Britain for years," I said.

"Oh Jon," said Omar. "I need you more than ever now. You know I am harmless, don't you? You know I am just a clown. You know I am laughable, don't you?"

"I don't know," I said.

"Oh Jon," said Omar. "Why don't people believe me when I tell them that I am just a harmless clown?"

For Omar Bakri, and for Osama bin Laden, the war is not between governments. It is between civilizations. They considered the financial traders who worked inside the twin towers to be the foot soldiers, conscious or otherwise, of the New World Order, an internationalist Western conspiracy conducted by a tiny, secretive elite, whose ultimate aim is to destroy all opposition, implement a planetary takeover, and establish themselves as a World Government.

All that lust for oil, said Omar Bakri, that nefarious pact between the U.S. and the Zionists, all that foreign policy, were just fragments of a greater conspiracy. So Omar Bakri and Osama bin Laden are conspiracy theorists. They are believers in a shadowy elite who meet in secret and plot the carve up of our planet. This is a book about that conspiracy theory — about the secret rulers of the world, and about those people who believe in them. Other politicians and journalists, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, cautioned against a rush to judgement. American militias and far-right wingers, they said, had long expressed their hatred of the New World Order they imagined the workers inside the twin towers served.

In other parts of our world, different theories were offered. Many anti-New World Order conspiracy theorists, naturally, blamed the secret elite themselves. This is what they do, they said. They create chaos, and from the ashes of this chaos will rise their terrible World Government. Some conspiracy theorist gurus (like David Icke, the subject of chapter six) believe that this shadowy elite, this Illuminati, deliberately leave little esoteric clues, symbols that prove their guilt if one knows how to read them. But the best David Icke has so far come up with is the date: September 11. 911. The telephone number of the emergency services.

This book began its life as a series of profiles of extremist leaders, but it quickly became something stranger. My plan had been to spend time with those people who had been described as the political and religious monsters of the Western world — Islamic fundamentalists, neo-Nazis, etc. I wanted to join them as they went about their everyday lives. I thought that perhaps an interesting way to look at our world would be to move into theirs and stand alongside them while they glared back at us.

And this is what I did with them for a while. But then I found that they had one belief in common: that a tiny elite rules the world from inside a secret room. It is they who start the wars, I was told, elect and cast out the heads of state, control Hollywood and the markets and the flow of capital, operate a harem of underage kidnapped sex slaves, transform themselves into twelve-foot lizards when nobody is looking, and destroy the credibility of any investigator who gets too close to the truth.

I asked them specifics. Did they know the whereabouts of the secret room? But their details were sketchy. Sometimes, they said, these elitists meet in hotels and rule the world from there. Every summer, they added, they team up with presidents and prime ministers to attend a Satanic summer camp where they dress in robes and burn effigies at the foot of a giant stone owl.

I took it upon myself to try to settle the matter. If there really was a secret room, it would have to be somewhere. And if it was somewhere, it could be found. And so I set about trying to find it.

This turned out to be a hazardous journey. I was chased by men in dark glasses, surveilled from behind trees, and — unlikely as it might sound right now — I managed to witness robed international CEOs participate in a bizarre pagan owl-burning ritual in the forests of northern California.

One night, in the midst of my quest to find the secret room, I was back in London playing poker with another Jewish journalist, John Diamond. He asked me what I was up to. I ranted about how the extremists were onto something, how they were leading me to a kind of truth, and so on.

John, who suffered from throat cancer and consequently needed to write everything down, immediately found a blank page in his notepad and furiously scribbled, "You are sounding like one of THEM."

The word THEM was written with such force that it scored through the paper. Was John right? Had I become one of them? Whatever, I would have liked to express my gratitude to him for giving me the idea for the book's title, but he died shortly before its publication.

A question I've been asked is by what criteria I have defined the people within this book as extremists. The answer is, I haven't. My only criterion is that they have been called extremists by others.

One thing you quickly learn about them 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.

Jon Ronson

September 2001

Copyright © 2002 by Jon Ronson

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