Beyond the Lunatic Fringe- Wall Street Journal book review " Among The Truthers" by Jonathan Kay

By Sonny Bunch - Book Review - "Among The Truthers" By Jonathan Kay
The most disheartening aspect of the 2012 election cycle (so far) has been Donald Trump's effort to press the "birther" argument, claiming that President Barack Obama may not have been born in Hawaii in 1961 but somewhere else—Kenya, perhaps. A survey in February recorded that 51% of GOP primary voters believed Mr. Obama to be a non-native son. In a victory for common sense, support for the position plummeted with the recent release of Mr. Obama's long-form birth certificate.

Liberals should avoid crowing too loudly, though, since they have their own share of nutters. In 2007, pollster John Zogby asked Democratic voters about the terrorist attacks of 9/11; 42% of respondents said that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney either allowed the attacks to happen or deliberately caused the attacks to happen, presumably for political gain or to reap a financial windfall by waging a war for oil in the Middle East.

To Jonathan Kay, Birthers and Truthers are flipsides of the same coin. "Like an earthquake, 9/11 produced a great fissure through the heart of America's political center," he writes in "Among the Truthers." "It is not just politics that separates these two camps, but the very manner by which they answer fundamental questions about the world."

A Canadian who is an editor and columnist at the National Post, Mr. Kay decided to criss-cross America and meet Truthers of all stripes. He visits the fire-breathing libertarian talk show host Alex Jones, best known today as the man who taught Charlie Sheen to be wary of "Vatican assassins." He chats with "investigative journalist" Michael Ruppert, the man who claimed, in the early 1990s, that the CIA was selling crack in the inner cities to fund wars in Central America. Mr. Kay meets crunchier types too, like Ken Jenkins, a video editor who, with his psychedelic posters and lava lamps, "embodies the sixties soul of the 9/11 Truth Movement's older members." And Mr. Kay patiently listens to Richard Gage, a San Francisco-based architect who claims that explosives brought down the World Trade Center.

Reporting without mockery, Mr. Kay has a knack for making even the silliest conspiracist sound sympathetic. Still, it is odd to read such fevered imaginings. One Truther, a freelance writer, claims that media organizations are working with the military-industrial complex to suppress what really happened on 9/11. The "Left media," too: The Nation magazine, he says, has "significant ties to the Central Intelligence Agency." Another Truther, a mathematician, believes that no one hijacked the 9/11 planes. According to his theory, as summarized by Mr. Kay, "the passengers of the four planes were killed using sarin gas, and the planes were flown into their targets by government-programmed computers."
Among the Truthers

By Jonathan Kay
HarperCollins, 340 pages, $27.99

But Mr. Kay wants to do more than draw a portrait of the Truther movement. He wants to understand where conspiracy theories come from and why scholars and intellectuals haven't debunked them more forthrightly. "Most researchers," Mr. Kay says, "seem hesitant to suggest that any view of the world—no matter how preposterous—is unambiguously wrong." He argues that academic theories such as deconstruction, aimed at unmasking the instability of language, have "replaced the historian's once-unquestioned goal of objective truth." Little wonder that "Scholars for 9/11 Truth"—one of the many Truther organizations aimed at proving the Bush-Cheney plot—picked up so many members so quickly and why the organization contains far more liberal-arts professors than scientists.

Where Mr. Kay goes too far is in blaming political correctness for the madness of Trutherism. The left-liberal orthodoxy behind so many speech codes, he writes, "has left behind a toxic ideological residue on our intellectual coastline: a vague but powerful baseline belief among educated liberals that mainstream society is divided into victims and oppressors—and that the latter are largely white, male, straight, middle-aged men who look a lot like George W. Bush." Certainly a hatred of Mr. Bush and anyone who shares his outlook is a kind of cliché among media and academic elites, but it doesn't usually translate into conspiracy theory. And Mr. Kay's argument here does nothing to explain Birthers, unless we are to see them as a reaction to a politically correct mainstream culture.

To prevent conspiracy theories from flourishing, Mr. Kay urges that we arm students with "the intellectual tools that not only permit them to identify established conspiracist creeds, but also allow them to identify the common features that bind all conspiratorial ideologies." Sounds like a good idea, but conspiracy theories will probably survive all attempts to thwart them. After Mr. Obama released his birth certificate in April, Forgers came forward to claim that it was a photo-shopped fake. Mr. Trump has yet to join their cause.
—Mr. Bunch is a writer in Washington.

9/11- Jonathan Kay's "Among the Truthers" Excerpts from Raymond Geisler's Unbought and Unbossed interview with Kay- CHLY FM 101.7 Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

A bunch of shit

same kinda defaming as ever. Make reflections: Aren't the silly Anticonspirtationists the ones with an ideology, who press every info in their belief system agenda? And ignore the rest?

Not a single truther I know of started as one. Kay and Bunch debunked. Ouch.

I was waiting for the host

To ask him what is own conclusion was.

If he has gone into depth to anylse the truth movement, he should be aware of the isssues that have created the truth mevement...

He stated at the beginning that he wanted to Debunk the theories.... We all know what thay are but is he willing to stipulate how he cas come to his conclusion and what his thoughts are on key elements such as the thermitic residue, freefall acceleration etc etc.

Sounds like he was taking that interview with his tail between his legs... LOL

!!!??? Screw Loose Change ???!!!

Kay gives several caveats at the start of his book -one of them he says he will not debate 9/11 issues because there are already many reputable sites he lists that debunks 9/11 truth - "among the debunkers" - "Screw Loose Change"

"good Grief Jon- your the Editor of Canada's top business National newspaper ... are you not ashamed lowering your standards by referencing as a credible debunker "Screw Loose Change?" A blog most regard as a "supermarket tabloid like - 9/11 trash talk blog"
STOP THE PRESS - RE-WRITE- TOP CANADIAN Editor experiences nuclear melt-down of credibility !

Kay in his new book likes adding quotes, so I'll add - For every credibility gap there is a gullibility gap. Richard Cobden

I believe the Cobden

quote is incorrect.

There appears to a correct version: "For every credibility gap there is a gullibility fill" by Richard Clopton, but I can find no reliable sources for either. (Unsourced quote sites are not reliable sources)

They just might want to inform themselves

that their own longtime WSJ contributor Paul Craig Roberts agrees with us about 9/11.

Kay on TVO May13th. 2011

An Ipsos Reid poll published in the National Post tells us that only 32% of Canadian journalists and only 25% of our national politicians are regarded as “highly trustworthy”.

"You've studied them"

as we were apes in the cage.

Oh, I would have cut Kay into pieces throughout the air, if I was allowed to debate this...
Can't await some hard arguments to debunk this "anti-conspirational ideologist" with his closed minded view, where there is no place to share the same room of "believes".

The Debate withKay on TVO

National Post Managing Editor - Author- Jonathan Kay "Among the Truthers"
Author, Media Critic- Barry Zwicker
Architect and Engineers founder AIA Richard Gage
Publisher Paul Zarembka

The Protocols of Jonathan Kay

The Protocols of Jonathan Kay

Posted by admin on May 13, 2011 · Leave a Comment

among-the-truthersAMONG THE TRUTHERS
By Jonathan Kay
Harper Collins
368 pages, $32.99 hardcover, $25.99 ebook

Reviewed by Frank Moher-

On the evening of Saturday, June 26, 2010, Jonathan Kay headed out on his bike into the streets of Toronto to see what was up with the G20. What he saw, he wrote early the next morning in the National Post, convinced him of “”the extraordinary professionalism of the police patrolling Toronto this week.” The city was intact: tourists thronged Yonge Street, a band played on the corner. He toodled west along Queen, where he found a line of police staring down protestors. But: “There wasn’t any violence — at least none that I saw.”

Er, not so much.

We know now, of course, that the police were engaged in widespread brutality and violations of civil liberties all over Toronto that day. But Jonathan Kay didn’t see any of it and, so, of course, the police acted with “extraordinary professionalism.” Or perhaps he would argue that a little head-bashing and snatch-and-grabbery is not really violence, as in, you know, violence, and the police and state agree with him, and so that is that. We don’t really know what Kay was thinking in the wake of the G20, as he didn’t blog much about it after that, except to call Toronto a “city of wimps.”

And so we come to Mr. Kay’s latest item of “reporting,” a book titled Among the Truthers: A Journey into the Growing Conspiracist Underground of 9/11 Truthers, Birthers, Armageddonites, Vaccine Hysterics, Hollywood Know-Nothings and Internet Addicts. All the tropes evidenced in his G20 coverage are present here, too: perception peddled as reality, ad hominens, and a firm conviction that anyone who sees things differently than he does must be a nut. Kay, Managing Editor of Comment at the Post, bills himself on his twitter feed as an “Engineer-turned-lawyer-turned-journalist-turned-book-writing-guy.” But while he is indubitably a journalist and a book-writing-guy, he is not a reporter; he is an editorialist, and remains so here.

I should mention that I am referred to in passing in the book, which identifies me, bizarrely, as a “poet.” (I have worked in theatre and journalism for some 35 years, but the last poem I wrote, other than this piece of doggerel, was in high school.) It also lumps me in with the rest of its specimens as a “Truther,” which is more arguable, though I don’t identify myself as such, not only because the term is subject to the sort of mish-mashing Kay gives it here, but because it strikes me as pompous (kind of like calling oneself a “pro-lifer”). In any event, if I am a Truther, I’m a pretty bad one: I don’t think George Bush or Dick Cheney or anyone in the White House hatched the plot, I do think an airplane flew into the Pentagon, I’m agnostic about what brought down World Trade Centers 1 and 2 (though not so much 7), I regard Alex Jones as a highly unreliable (if entertaining) source of information, and I think Ron Paul would be a disaster as president. If the Truther movement issued membership cards, I’d probably be required to turn mine in.

I also wrote for the National Post for 11 years (including a piece with Jonathan Kay as editor). It was their itchy-trigger-finger syndrome when, in a book review, I alluded to the suspicious stock trading that preceded 9/11, that caused me to stop doing so.

What I certainly am is a sceptic — about the official version of 9/11 as well as much else I am told, whether by government or others who have a stake in a story. That, to me, is what is involved in being a journalist. But Jonathan Kay tells us that too much of that sort of thing can get out of hand. “Voltaire understood that man cannot survive on skepticism alone,” he writes, in the sermonly conclusion to his book — “that society requires some creed or overarching national project that transcends mere intellect.”

One thing that can be said for Among the Truthers — it certainly transcends “mere intellect.”

Kay’s tactic here is the same one used by Michael Shermer of the seriously missnamed Skeptics Society, which is, as the subtitle indicates, to mix up the 9/11 truth movement with The Protocols of Zion, holocaust denial, birtherism, moon hoaxism, etc., into one big wacky ball of racism and lunacy. And his method is as dishonest as Shermer’s as well. Thus, in his interviews, he emphasizes figures he can most easily characterize as charming but quaint, such as Ken Jenkins, a “Bay area flower child” who “embodies the sixties soul of the 9/11 truth movement’s older members.” Or, where he does speak with Truthers who are more immediately credible, he makes short work of their bona fides before reverting to the book’s default mode — a sort of bland superciliousness. Thus Barrie Zwicker, a journalist of longer standing and quite a bit more distinction than Kay, becomes “an amiable crank,” of interest mostly because he insisted on conducting his own counter-interview when they met, complete with “a chess clock to regulate our usage of time.” And David Ray Griffin, who has spent not two but eight years studying his subject and published 11 books about it, is also, simply, a “crank.”

Kay never addresses the arguments of his interlocutors, because, he tells us late in the book, a New York City editor warned him that “Debunking books don’t sell.” Instead, he refers the reader to various of those books, and sites. This is defensible on editorial grounds; were he to get into his own reasons for rejecting 9/11 Truth theories, the book would be even weightier than it is. But it is also a convenience; it means Kay never has to address what he calls the “anomalies” in the official story of that day. We never learn why his interviewees are so head-shakingly wrong — they just are.

He does, though, fall back on some of the easier explanations for why so-called conspiracism has thrived since the Kennedy assassination: the world is too complex, conspiracy believers can’t deal with its chaos, and so they develop over-arching narratives to make its unpredictability more palatable. All of which is nonsense; the notion that one could take comfort from the idea that Kennedy was killed by a cabal, still unidentified to this day, or that somebody blew up the World Trade Centre towers (and got away with it), is sillier even than the most exotic conspiracy theories. But there’s more where that came from. Kay is a proponent of the “If I Write It, Maybe It’ll Become True” school of prose. As I got deeper into his book, with its explanation that conspiracism is the result of “middle-aged ennui” (or that, as an alleged “poet,” my day job requires me to “weave a self-invented reality”; I wish), I began to find Among the Truthers as ludicrously entertaining as any Alex Jones broadcast.

Kay does offer an interesting history of conspiracy movements (though this leaves him in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge that some are legitimate; again, we never find out what makes one plot real and another not). And he is right that, for some adherents, 9/11 Truth evolves into a kind of religion. The comfort believers find in it, however, comes not from a simplifying explanation of the world, but from a group of shared verities, repeated over and over in incantatory fashion. Mind you, this could also describe the editorial pages of the National Post.

Less harmless than Kay’s pop-psychologizing is his zeal to eradicate ideas other than his own. Having concluded that “any effort to engage committed theorists in reasoned debate is a waste of time” — because, of course, they refuse to come around to his way of seeing things — he offers, in his final chapter, a proposal to jonathan-kayshame them out of their wrong-thinking, by “applying the same self-critical, self-aware mindset that has served to stigmatize racism, overt anti-Semitism, and related forms of bigotry in recent decades.” What he has in mind are first-year university courses using an “anticonspiracist curriculum” to teach students “to recognize the patterns of conspiracist thought.” In other words, if you can’t beat ‘em, kill their young.

Well, okay. Sounds like an interesting course. Of course, the problem is that if it were taught in any way other than Jonathan Kay, dreamer-upper, envisions — if, say, discussion as to the merits as well as the vagaries of the 9/11 Truth movement were allowed — then Jonathan Kay, National Post writer, would no doubt take off after it. Kay got his start on this beat when, as he reminds us, he discovered that a Liberal candidate in the 2008 federal election had six years earlier reported on some of the findings of various independent researchers into 9/11. He immediately employed the Post in a successful campaign to have her turfed as a candidate. More recently he’s been trying to work the same voodoo on a student at the University of Lethbridge. For all that Kay affects to be really, really interested in 9/11 Truth as a sociological movement, and to really, really want to understand its actors, Among the Truthers is of a piece with his daily journalism. He isn’t out to understand them; he’s out for their scalps.

Six months after the G20, Jonathan Kay had a bit of a rethink. “A few weeks ago,” he wrote in his Post blog, “I thought the police response to the G20 protests was yesterday’s news — and I never really reconsidered the opinion I formed at the time of the event, based on what I saw with my own eyes.” But then the Toronto Star got on the case of Adam Nobody, the G20 peaceful protestor tackled and beaten by cops, and lo-and-behold: “. . . it’s now clear that there was some thuggish police behavior that that went on.”

“Thuggish.” So it’s a start.

We can hope that someday some mainstream publication gets on the case of 9/11, thus allowing Jonathan Kay to reconsider that also. We can hope, as he approaches midlife ennui, that he decides it’s okay after all to have heretical thoughts — or, at least, to let others have them. We can hope that he learns to use YouTube. Meantime, we can be reasonably sure Among the Truthers will have little impact, except to buttress the beliefs of the orthodox in the same way he claims (quite rightly) that the outpourings of the Truth movement reinforce its gnosticism. It’s a Battle of the Bibles, whether Kay accepts their equivalency or not, and, Brother, it’s not going to be settled in my lifetime.

But while debunking books may not succeed, neither do books that aren’t better at peddling their hortatory wares than this one. I would have liked to read an insightful study of conspiracy movements. Among the Truthers, on the other hand, is a failed salvo, that might just as well have been titled The Protocols of All Those People Who Make Me Think Twice.

Thanks for the review. Now I

Thanks for the review (and the one above ^ ) Now I know I don't need to read the book. :)

Jonathan Kay is the comments editor of the National Post. For those who don't know, the National Post, despite its purchase of the Financial Post several years ago, does not have the same reputation as The Globe and Mail. Although it strives for credibility, it tends toward more sensationalist content. Most thinking Canadians read the Globe. (although I'm not sure that's saying much.)

Kay is another of that breed who seem to resent the loss of automatic privilege ever since critical theory took hold in liberal arts education. It doesn't surprise me to see an attack on "political correctness", and a longing for the good ol' days of the good ol', plain, "objective truth", before academic analysis began into how truth is constructed.

What's weird, as the reviewer points out, is his attempt to mush it all together, including Birthers into the mix, with 9/11 research. I've seen similar attempts by other half-baked "debunkers", like Shermer, who clearly don't have a real grasp of the problems being examined, content instead merely to smear and ridicule.

Like many others of this ilk, I don't think Kay will be taken seriously.