Why do so many people appear to believe that ‘secret’ forces are at work in the world, or that there is no ‘truth’ in the versions of the past written by academic historians? I have often pondered such questions in my research on the role and worrying popularity of conspiracy theory. A new book on the 9/11 attacks has merely reinforced my frustration at the way certain individuals cynically exploit the gullibility of some of the general public.
The new book, entitled The Trigger: The Lie That Changed the World, appeared earlier this month, penned by the former footballer and Green activist David Icke (pictured). In many ways, arch conspiracist Mr. Icke has become one of Britain’s most familiar and leading advocates of ‘alternative’ history. Unsurprisingly, his (to my mind very distasteful) new study of the events of 9/11, published on September 11th, claims to reveal the ‘truth’ about the terror attacks in 2001. Icke’s publicity for the book also asserts that it is ‘one of the most controversial books ever written’. Really?
Let’s remind ourselves about Icke’s background and ideas. Icke (b. 1952) is infamous for his claims that ‘interdimensional reptilian aliens’ operate behind the scenes, brainwashing and controlling the world’s governing elites and shaping history for particular ends; apparently the aliens even count people such as Queen Elizabeth II as one of their number. According to Icke, our very thought-processes are ultimately controlled by an international network of Freemasons, Jesuits and secretive bankers, who employ subliminal messages transmitted by TV and the internet to create ‘mind-controlled’ robots of us all. We are all ‘victims’ of this, many of us simply unable to see what is really happening.
Icke has now written about 20 books pushing such ideas. Depressingly, however, Icke’s series of epic books remain best-sellers, and his special annual talk-tours regularly attract large and eager audiences.
Icke’s obsession with ‘reptiles’ was the result of a more coded language that he subsequently adopted when there was an outcry over one of his earliest books. In The Robots Rebellion (1994), Icke had made uncritical use of that classic Czarist anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion (1903), which claims that the world is subject to manipulation and control by a secret ‘cabal’ of Jewish elders who meet annually. In the second edition of Robots Rebellion, this material was carefully edited out, but Icke’s general claim of a grand conspiracy at work across the globe remained. His books and sell-out talks have repeated this thesis ever since, in ever more elaborate ways.
In my view, Icke is one of the latest writers in a long tradition of conspiracy theory. Such ‘historical researchers’ (as they often style themselves) have regularly claimed that we are all subject to ‘puppet masters’ pulling the strings behind the scenes, or that things have never happened in the past in quite the way that we perhaps assume or think or are told. A classic example was the arch-conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed historian Nesta Webster (1876-1960), who was popular with interwar fascists and still remains – even today – an inspiration for elements of the extreme and ‘alt’ Right.
Moreover, when you delve into the longer-term history of conspiracy theory, one quickly becomes aware that ‘conspiracism’ has a long and ugly history in itself, with roots that can be traced right back to at least the time of the French Revolution, and to extravagant ideas about Freemasons and the Illuminati. Importantly, conspiracism has not just been confined to the Right, but has also been employed at times by parts of the political Left, a fact that has so painfully re-emerged in recent times in Britain.
In fact, conspiracy theory is very much alive and well today and has a huge presence on the internet and in many parts of the globe. And the events of 9/11 still appear to have a big appeal to conspiracy theorists in this respect. This is because they have a huge potential audience. Pollsters have found, for example, that large numbers of people across the world still refuse to believe that the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001 were carried out by Arabs, while equally significant numbers hold the view that it was an ‘inside job’ conducted by the CIA or ‘Zionists’.
In relation to this, recent years have seen the rise, especially in America, Britain, Australia and elsewhere, of a loose movement titled the ‘9-11 Truth Movement’, a network of people who simply refuse to accept scientific fact, empirical evidence, or ‘mainstream’ history. They proclaim they are in pursuit of ‘real’ history instead.
David Icke’s new book very much taps into this highly dubious perspective on the past. Icke claims that the ‘official version’ of 9/11 does not stand up to scrutiny, and that the Twin Towers were destroyed, not by terrorists, but via ‘controlled demolition’. In other words, it was an ‘inside job’. Furthermore, the events of 9/11 were engineered by the faceless ‘elites’ who really control the world’s governments behind the scenes.
Anything by Icke should be treated with great scepticism, and The Trigger is the latest in a long line of highly questionable and, frankly, dangerous versions of the past penned by this irresponsible man. Be warned.
Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University
(All images: Wikimedia Commons)