Arguably the most famous—and certainly the most infamous—person who appears on-screen in Thrive is David Icke. As probably the most well-known conspiracy theorist in the world, Mr. Icke is quite naturally a lightning rod of controversy and a divisive figure who evokes strong emotions both pro and con. This article will attempt to answer the question, “Who is David Icke?”, and also make some attempt at evaluating why he appears in Thrive, what he says while on screen, and why his inclusion in the film is one of the key issues to understanding the message Thrive is trying to get across to its audience.
What Does David Icke Say in Thrive?
An extended interview with David Icke, intercut with various material, forms much of the middle section of Thrive. Although the interview with Mr. Icke proper begins at 53:48 of the film, his face first flashes on the screen at 6:55, in the credits sequence. I believe the appearance of Mr. Icke’s image early in the film is very important, as I’ll get to later.
Mr. Icke’s interview is used in Thrive mainly to explain Foster Gamble’s opinion of banking and also to bolster his claims that a “Global Domination Agenda” is trying to control the world. When Mr. Icke first appears (excluding the credits sequence), a title card identifies him as “David Icke—Researcher, Author, The Biggest Secret.” He asserts, beginning about 54:00, that people “ask few questions” about the inner workings of banking. He goes on to state that, when you take out a loan, you begin paying interest on money that (supposedly) does not exist. This is a lead-in to Mr. Gamble’s critique of fractional reserve lending.
At about 1:05:00 of the film, Mr. Icke appears again, explaining how he thinks bankers “rig” business cycles and deliberately cause depressions. At 1:18:03 he stops talking about banking and says something to the effect of, “The greatest prison people live in is the fear of what others will think. One result of the ridicule I went through is that I stepped out of the fear of what other people thought.”
Mr. Icke then talks about how social norms dictate thinking and how peer pressure stigmatizes those who don’t think “normally.” At 1:19:10 he explicitly mentions the “Illuminati,” which is his term for what Mr. Gamble calls the “Global Domination Elite.” For the next several minutes he talks about this GDE and their supposed agenda. He refers to a “problem-reaction-solution” paradigm, suggesting that the GDE causes problems in the world deliberately so they can solve them. At 1:28:30 Mr. Icke specifically mentions the September 11 attacks as an example of this, clearly indicating that he thinks 9/11 was rigged.
David Icke: A Biographical Profile
David Icke was born in Leicester, UK in 1952, the son of a British World War II hero. He did not do well in school, but was talent-scouted by a football (we call it soccer in the U.S.) team, Coventry City. He also played for Hereford United. Early onset of arthritis ruled out a football career, and Mr. Icke retired from the sport in 1973. During the 1970s and 1980s he was a print and television journalist. He also began to dabble in politics, and after 1988 became one of the spokesmen for the UK Green Party.
About 1990, Mr. Icke began to get heavily into New Age ideas, evidently while searching for alternative cures to the pain of his arthritis. In early 1991 he claims to have had a spiritual experience at a pre-Columbian burial site in Peru. Not long after he returned to the UK, he resigned from the Green Party. At this point in his life he began wearing only clothes that were turquoise colored, believing it channeled positive energy. He also began making bizarre doomsday predictions, such as a prognostication that Great Britain would crumble into the sea as a result of earthquakes. (There is no significant seismic activity in Britain). Mr. Icke later recanted these predictions, admitting they were “nonsense.”
What really projected Mr. Icke into the public eye was an April 1991 interview with BBC personality Terry Wogan. You can see a video of the interview here. In the interview, Mr. Icke continued to make strange apocalyptic predictions. He also claimed, or at least implied, that he was the Son of God—later Mr. Icke said this was misinterpreted. The studio audience present at the interview laughed. The BBC brass cringed; many thought the show went too far. Fifteen years later, Mr. Wogan admitted that he was too hard on Mr. Icke during this interview. Certainly the interview had a devastating effect—Mr. Icke said he was afraid to walk down the street for fear of public derision, and he dropped out of sight for several years.
In 1999, Mr. Icke came out with his most famous book, The Biggest Secret, the book with which he is identified on-screen in Thrive. This book established the central tenet of Mr. Icke’s philosophy: that the world is run by a race of reptilian aliens that can change their shape and appear to be human, and that the world’s political, economic and social systems are a colossal conspiracy by these evil aliens to enslave mankind. These aliens are supposedly from the constellation Draco, but also from another dimension. Over his various series of books and lectures, Mr. Icke has expounded on this theory, weaving a complicated science-fiction history of the world wherein these aliens have been breeding humans since ancient times. People whom Mr. Icke thinks are secretly reptilian shape-shifting aliens from Draco include Bill Clinton, the late Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, President George W. Bush (of course), and, for whatever reason, Hollywood actor and former country star Kris Kristofferson.
Mr. Icke has not changed this basic narrative in 13 years. Indeed, he’s still out there today, giving lectures all over the world and getting paid handsomely for it. According to one estimate, he may make as much as £300,000 (about $475,000) for one appearance in the UK.
Is There Any Evidence to Support David Icke’s Theories?
There is not a single shred of evidence anywhere in the world to suggest that (1) shape-shifting reptilian aliens from the constellation Draco actually exist; (2) various world leaders, celebrities and country-western stars are actually reptilian shape-shifting aliens from the constellation Draco; or (3) that there is a such thing as an “Illuminati,” a “New World Order” or a “Global Domination Agenda.” On this blog, I have already debunked the Global Domination Agenda and demonstrated why we can be certain that it does not exist. All of the so-called “evidence” produced by Mr. Icke and/or his supporters falls along exactly the same lines as the discussion in that article about why evidence proffered by Illuminati/NWO/GDA believers does not, in fact, prove the existence of this group or their supposed agenda. Mr. Icke’s theories are total fantasy.
A favorite activity of believers in Mr. Icke’s fantastic delusional scenarios is to scrutinize videos on YouTube of world leaders suspected of being reptilians for “evidence” of them changing from their human into their reptilian form. Sometimes believers will seize upon a glitch or anomaly in the video, often lasting only split seconds, and trumpet it as “proof” that the person is “changing into a reptile in front of our eyes!” Often the culprit will be a bulging vein in the person’s neck, a common retinal flash (red-eye), or a pixellation error in the streaming video which the believer insists makes the person look like they have “lizard eyes.” For some reason, former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush are favorite targets for this ludicrous accusation. Here is an example of a video which reptilian believers cite as total vindication of Mr. Icke’s claims.
As you can see, it’s a pretty boring interview by the former presidents, and despite the frenzied claims of the subtitles, neither of them change into reptiles, nor anything even remotely close.
I challenge any believer of Mr. Icke’s theories to explain how and why this video proves (I) that reptilian shape-shifting aliens exist; (II) that these aliens come from Draco; (III) that these aliens rule the world, or (IV) that President Clinton and President Bush are said reptilian aliens.
To those supporters of Mr. Icke who will invariably say, “But you haven’t proved that what he says isn’t true,” I will reply, I don’t have to. It’s Mr. Icke’s burden to prove that what he says is true. The burden of proof never shifts to skeptics to disprove conspiracy theories. I am not suggesting that we reject David Icke’s theories about reptilian shape-shifting aliens because they sound crazy. I’m suggesting that we reject them because there is no evidence to support them, and because, as if this is not enough reason to reject them, they have another very serious and troubling problem.
What Do David Icke’s Theories Really Mean?
The problem with Mr. Icke’s false assertions is that they are essentially science-fiction redresses of the old “Jewish world conspiracy” theories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with reptilian shape-shifting aliens from Draco standing in for Jews. Mr. Icke even believes in the authenticity of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery that was proven false almost a century ago. Of course, in Mr. Icke’s mythology, it was not the Jews who wrote about their plans of world domination in the Protocols, but aliens.
Michael Barkun, an academic researcher who studies comparative religion, wrote a book called A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). Dr. Barkun is the leading scholarly expert on conspiracy theorists in the United States today. On page 104, in a chapter where Dr. Barkun describes the conspiracist ideology of Mr. Icke, he says:
“This set of nested conspiracies [described by David Icke] achieves its goals through control of the ‘world financial system’ and its mastery of ‘mind control’ techniques. Its goal is a ‘plan that, according to Icke, had been laid out in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Although Icke is careful to suggest…that the Illuminati rather than the Jews wrote The Protocols, this is the first of a number of instances in which Icke moves into the dangerous terrain of anti-Semitism.”
The reason that aliens became stand-ins for Jews has to do with the evolution of conspiracy theory during the 1980s and 1990s, when right-wing militia conspiracy milieu (think Timothy McVeigh) became intertwined with the UFO/alien subculture. Dr. Barkun states, on page 144:
“This type of speculation projects terrestrial racial categories onto creatures from outer space….Such racial classificatory schemata are common among those who argue for multiple types of alien visitors. Even among writers who most unambiguously reject anti-Semitism, the alien racial types disquietingly appear to reproduce old stereotypes. The evil Grays are dwarfish with grotesque features—not unlike stereotypes of the short, swarthy, hook-nosed Jew of European anti-Semitic folklore. They are contrasted to the tall, virtuous Nordics or Aryans. Although there is little to suggest that those who employ such terms do so to make direct parallels to earthbound categories, the images seem clearly to be refracted versions of older racial anti-Semitism.”
This is useful background, but it isn’t really about Mr. Icke per se. However, Dr. Barkun does get there, after discussing how conspiracists like David Icke are inconsistent about proclaiming to not be anti-Semitic while advancing clearly anti-Semitic theories:
“David Icke also seeks to have it both ways, simultaneously claiming to be offended at the thought that anyone might find him anti-Semitic and hinting at the dark activities of Jewish elites. He protests that the charge of anti-Semitism is merely a ruse to silence truth seekers, a tactic of the shadowy ‘Global Elite,’ who ‘denounce anyone who gets closer to the truth as an anti-Semite.’ According to Icke, the Anti-Defamation League is the conspiracy’s tool for silencing ‘researchers who are getting too close to the truth about the global conspiracy.’…
The more strongly Icke is condemned for anti-Semitism, the stranger are his protestations of innocence. He attacks alleged exploiters of the Jewish people, including B’nai B’rith, which he identifies as the Rothschilds’ ‘intelligence arm,’ used to ‘defame and destroy legitimate researchers with the label anti-Semitic.’ It was supposedly the Rothschilds who brought Hitler to power, created Zionism, and ‘control the State of Israel.’…Icke and other UFO anti-Semites obsess about ‘Jewish bankers.’ They are alleged to be the international wire-pullers behind countless episodes of national collapse and international turmoil. The old names, such as Rothschild and the firm of Kuhn, Loeb, continually recur. Given this penchant for recycling old themes, it is scarcely surprising that that hoary forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, exerts an abiding fascination.”
Wait, What Does This Have to Do With Thrive?
The anti-Semitic echoes of David Icke’s theories present a very difficult problem. Thrive‘s treatment of Mr. Icke illustrates the extremely delicate dance that one must do when confronted with this material. If you believe at least some of what David Icke is saying, how do you separate what you like and agree with from the ugly anti-Semitic stuff, and how do you prevent the negative press surrounding Mr. Icke from totally overshadowing everything else? Furthermore, how do you do this when Mr. Icke’s theories specifically posit that it’s a grand over-arching superconspiracy, meaning that he sees no separation or compartmentalization of one part of the superconspiracy from another? Thrive never solves this conundrum, which is why Mr. Icke’s appearance in the film seems so forced and awkward.
It is very evident, from the sections of Dr. Barkun’s book that I’ve excerpted above, that Thrive is at the very least sympathetic to key elements of the grand conspiracy views of Mr. Icke, even if it doesn’t come out and specifically endorse reptilian shape-shifting aliens from Draco, and even if the film denounces anti-Semitism (which it does). Indeed, aside from the aliens themselves, Thrive traffics in a lot of other things that feed into David Icke’s theory. Foster Gamble rages at the Rothschilds and Rockefellers several times in the movie. Immediately after addressing anti-Semitism, the film brushes the issue off with an accusation that the “central bankers funded both sides of World War II,” quite a transparent evasion. And, of course, much of the core ideology that Thrive wants its viewers to adopt relates to the notion of “evil bankers” supposedly in control of the world. And, of course, one of the major messages of the film is the idea of a “Global Domination Agenda.” All of these ideas lie at the very heart of Mr. Icke’s ideology. What David Icke adds, that Thrive isn’t willing to sign on to, is what he thinks stitches them all together: those pesky reptilian shape-shifting aliens from Draco.
Just to be absolutely clear: I am not suggesting that Foster Gamble is anti-Semitic. I don’t believe he is. He makes clear, at 1:13:56 of the film, that he’s not calling this a “Jewish Agenda,” and I don’t think he’s implying that it is. I think, in fact, that Mr. Gamble is probably genuinely ignorant of how closely Mr. Icke’s ideology mimics the toxic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But this point itself demonstrates how insidious David Icke’s theories really are. By candy-coating anti-Semitism in a science-fiction shell, most people who swallow it don’t realize they’ve just ingested a dose of bigotry. This deception is all the more tragic precisely because I think Mr. Gamble is a nice man who believes in equality, dislikes racial prejudice and who genuinely wants the world to be a better place. But, as I explained in a previous blog, his good intentions shouldn’t isolate him from criticism for advancing the negative effects that this sort of ideology has on public discourse and the world at large.
What Is David Icke Doing in Thrive, Anyway? Why Did the Filmmakers Choose Him?
Even some Thrive defenders who have commented on this blog have been brave enough to concede that, saddled as he is with baggage that is utterly poisonous, public relations-wise, inviting Mr. Icke to elucidate key messages of Thrive was probably not the smartest move. The mere appearance of David Icke in any public forum causes people to bolt for the lifeboats—such as a notorious speaking tour in Canada where various Jewish groups lobbied, successfully in some cases, to have his speeches canceled. Why, then, would the makers of Thrive choose to court controversy by inviting him into the movie? Couldn’t they have gotten someone less controversial to expound the opinions Mr. Icke talks about in his appearances in the film?
The answer, I believe, is that the makers of Thrive specifically wanted to market their movie to Mr. Icke’s fans. Let’s face it, in the conspiracy theorist underground, David Icke is a rock star. He’s known all over the world. In the United States, the only conspiracy theorist with more immediate name recognition is Alex Jones. If you get David Icke to channel your message for you, his followers will automatically accept it, because they think he’s an oracle and uniquely gifted to explain what’s going on in the world, and you also make $5 a pop from them for downloading the movie starring their hero. Furthermore, David Icke is well-known in New Age circles. If you’re making a movie about conspiracy theories which you want to sell to a New Age audience, you want access to David Icke’s fans, don’t you?
This argument is strengthened if you look at what Mr. Icke says—and doesn’t say—in Thrive. He talks about banking, about social controls, and about the “problem-reaction-solution” paradigm. Virtually any believer in the Global Domination Agenda, or anyone who shares Mr. Gamble’s views on banking, could have talked about these exact same ideas, in almost exactly the same words. If the three topics Mr. Icke talks about in the movie could have been easily covered with a less controversial and less polarizing figure, wouldn’t Foster Gamble and the makers of the film have chosen to go with someone else who didn’t have the millstone of reptilian shape-shifting aliens and accusations of anti-Semitism hanging around their necks? Wouldn’t that have been the rational choice, from a public relations standpoint?
The fact that they did not make that choice means that must be something particular to Mr. Icke that the filmmakers wanted to take advantage of. It’s probably his popularity and the audience he brings to the table, but we can’t be sure. Nevertheless, the makers of Thrive must have felt either that the controversy surrounding Mr. Icke could only help them publicize the movie, or else they felt (or perhaps felt in addition) that the baggage associated with David Icke would be outweighed in the long run by the advantages they thought they would gain by connecting with his audience of New Agers and conspiracy theorists.
I wrote in an article over at the sister blog that Thrive has three main sections which are closely intertwined with each other. The first seeks to “earn its chops” among the intended New Age audience by pushing as many traditional hot buttons for New Agers as possible: ancient astronauts, alt-med cures, zero-point energy, UFOs, crop circles, etc. The second part downloads the conspiracy theory narratives. The third part proposes a solution for these awful conspiracies, somewhat tautologically: New Age beliefs and libertarian political ideas.
David Icke’s appearance in the movie impacts both the first and second parts. He is unique as a figure who (I) has cachet in New Age circles, (II) has cachet among conspiracy theorists, and (III) commands the attention of a large-scale audience that Mr. Gamble probably couldn’t reach on his own. The appearance of David Icke’s head on the screen in the credit sequence is a key signal being telegraphed to the audience: “Hey, look, we’ve got one of your oracles, David Icke, in this movie. We know you’ll want to pay attention to what he says!” By putting David Icke in the film, the makers have bought an admission ticket to access the worldviews of two of their target audiences: New Agers and believers in conspiracy theories, two populations which, as I’ve argued before, are exhibiting increasing overlap and crossover.
From this standpoint, then, David Icke is not only a key participant in the film, but possibly the most important participant. Nassim Haramein has a fan base of his own, but the movie could get along fine without him, more or less; Adam Trombly, Stephen Greer and others interviewed are generally not well known outside of the specific niches that their issues occupy, and few people had heard of Foster Gamble before Thrive. It’s clear that David Icke is the key personality. Regardless of what he says on-screen, without him Thrive has a much more limited reach.
If Icke is So Key, Why Doesn’t He Talk About Reptilian Shape-Shifting Aliens? After All, Isn’t That What He’s Known For?
I think there are two possible answers to this question. The first is, perhaps Mr. Gamble didn’t feel comfortable going there because he doesn’t literally believe it. Even many conspiracy theorists have a hard time swallowing David Icke’s bizarre theories. Icke himself has said, quoted on page 106 of Dr. Bokun’s book: “Some of the most fierce abuse that I’ve had since [The Biggest Secret] came out has not been from the public, actually, it’s been from some other conspiracy researchers who can’t get their head around anything beyond the physical.” (A rather telling statement—is Mr. Icke admitting here that his reptilian shape-shifting aliens aren’t actually real?)
The second reason may be that the makers of Thrive wanted to try to preserve, as much as practical without diluting their message, the possibility that the movie might have some crossover appeal to non-New Age, non-conspiracy audiences. If Mr. Icke gets up there and starts blathering about lizard men from the constellation Draco, you’re going to turn off a lot of people pretty much instantly. Perhaps, in exercising some restraint on the views Mr. Icke presented on-screen, Thrive evinces some minimal standards on how far into the realm of conspiracy esoterica is too far to venture without totally losing the audience in the process.
David Icke is a person, popular in New Age and conspiracy theorist circles, who espouses an elaborate belief system so bizarre, so implausible, and so far-removed from reality that it is incapable of being accepted in any rational frame of mind. The fact that this worldview lacks a single shred of evidence to support it should underscore precisely how far-removed from reality it is. The fact that it so eerily resembles crude anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from yesteryear, with a modern sci-fi twist imported from UFO mythology, should make the theories of Mr. Icke even more radioactive. But, despite all these strikes against it, there are people out there who not only believe that reptilian shape-shifting aliens are trying to control the world simply because Mr. Icke has told them this is the case, but these people are willing to pay to see him espouse these theories in sufficient numbers to provide him with a comfortable living going around the world lecturing about how awful reptilian shape-shifting aliens are. It is these people to whom I believe the makers of Thrive were trying to sell their film, and Mr. Icke’s presence in the movie represents the opening of that commercial and ideological gate.
David Icke is not a credible source. His inclusion in Thrive is another of many reasons why this movie and its messages should be treated with extreme caution and subjected to the most rigorous factual scrutiny—a level of scrutiny which, as I think this blog has demonstrated on numerous occasions, it cannot hope to meet.
I posted an article today at my other much more long-established (and less well known) blog, the Muertos Blog, entitled The Conspiracy World is Changing: Are You Ready For It? Follow that link to read it in full. I decided to post it there because the subject matter of that article goes well beyond Thrive, thus exceeding the scope of this blog; however, as Thrive and its place in the seedy world of conspiracy theories are an important example of the effect I want to discuss in that article, I thought I would do a quick post here mentioning it and directing interested readers to it.
My main argument in that article is stated thusly:
“The best and most concise way I can put it is this: conspiracy theorists do not want, today in 2012, what they used to want ten, five or even three years ago. The endgame for them—the “finish line,” if you will—is no longer to convince significant numbers of people in the mainstream that Conspiracy Theory X or Y is factually true. Nowadays, conspiracy theories are being used as a vehicle to advance other ideas, usually a set of ideological or even religious principles. The factual veracity of conspiracy material is no longer as important as it once was. Consequently, debunkers of conspiracy theories—who are focused on what is factual, rational and supportable in objective terms—are going to find themselves increasingly outclassed in this new environment.”
I believe Thrive demonstrates this effect in a very profound way. We are now moving toward a world in which the factual veracity of conspiracy theories is being questioned less and less often, as believers in conspiracies are herded with increasing fervor toward predetermined, pre-packaged ideological conclusions. The article over at the Muertos Blog goes into great detail about how we got there (hint: Zeitgeist was the unwitting trailblazer), and most of the Thrive material is at the end. I stress that context is important, which is why I strongly suggest reading the full article, but here is an excerpt of my discussion on Thrive and what this blog has taught me about conspiracy thinking as it exists today:
“I’ve already noticed this trend on the Thrive Debunked blog. Although the majority of people who post comments on the blog are Thrive fans who are angry that anyone would criticize the movie, a surprisingly few number of them seem to be angry because they think the facts are something different than what I demonstrate they are. Indeed, most of them seem to be angry because they say that by criticizingThrive I’m preventing the world from becoming a better place by not acceptingThrive and its messages as true. This is why so many comments take a tack similar to, “you’re missing the point” or “the movie isn’t meant to be debunked.” When the movie is attacked, its fans instinctively leap to the defense of its ideology, whereas leaping to the defense of its facts seems to be a secondary consideration.”
For those who may be interested in a wider view of how Thrive fits into a broader context of conspiracy thinking and New Age belief systems, I hope this article gives you some food for thought. As always, thanks for reading.
This blog has not dealt much with Thrive’s political ideology. That has been by design. The main focus of this blog is to evaluate Thrive from a factual standpoint: are its assertions and underlying assumptions accurate as a matter of objective fact? Discussions of politics are mostly beyond the scope of this inquiry. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Thrive has a strong political undercurrent, and the orientation of that undercurrent is strongly libertarian. Foster Gamble, creator of Thrive, has endorsed Ron Paul for President in 2012. Furthermore, some of the “solutions” proposed by Gamble in Thrive, and on the associated website, are similar to libertarian planks.
This week, the Praxis Peace Institute, a progressive think tank founded by musician and longtime political activist Georgia Kelly, issued a 56-page pamphlet entitled Deconstructing Libertarianism: A Critique Prompted by the Film Thrive. Because several readers of this blog have directed me to the pamphlet, I thought I would do a brief article on it. It’s impossible to avoid touching the political implications of the film in an article like this, but I do want to stress that, regardless of my personal political beliefs, my primary arguments with the film are factual, not political.
Praxis Institute’s Critique of Thrive: The Basics
You can see the Praxis pamphlet here (note, clicking that link will begin a download of the pamphlet itself in .PDF format). As suggested by the title, the main purpose of the pamphlet is to address libertarian philosophy and explain why, from the point of view of a political progressive, it doesn’t work. Georgia Kelly is the editor of the pamphlet. She came into conflict with Foster Gamble and Thrive back in December when she posted a sharply critical review of the film on Huffington Post. In the pamphlet, she and other writers from the Praxis Peace Institute deliver a double-barreled blast against the film and its political agenda, analyzing many of the assumptions and philosophies behind libertarian thought.
Ms. Kelly states in the introduction why Thrive prompted her to issue this pamphlet:
“Through discussions of the content in the film and the written material on the Thrive website, we realized that many people viewing the film would not readily perceive the libertarian political agenda behind the film. Because many people are confused about libertarianism and its impact on the current political landscape, we felt it important to plumb this political philosophy, particularly during an election year. The articles written in this booklet cover a range of topics that deconstruct libertarianism and place it in the context of our current political environment.”
A bit later, in an article within the pamphlet entitled “Deconstructing the Political Agenda Behind Thrive,” Ms. Kelly writes:
“The website’s “Liberty” page (in the “Solutions” section) is a real shocker. Peppered with quotes from Ayn Rand, Ron Paul and Stefan Molyneux, the page even includes an attack on democracy. Gamble lumps democracy in with bigotry, imperialism, socialism, and fascism, and claims all of these — including democracy! — violate the “intrinsic freedom of others.”
The pamphlet proceeds through several articles written by various authors critiquing the ideological assumptions behind Thrive in much the same terms that Ms. Kelly uses. For example, in an article by Ben Boyce entitled “Challenging the Hidden Political Underbelly of Thrive,” this criticism is given:
“Make no mistake, the actual policy solutions in the documentary constituted the norm in the first Gilded Age of ‘laissez faire’ capitalism, that is, the McKinley Era at the end of the 19th century, for which the libertarian/conservative movements seem to still pine. That was a time when there were minimal taxes on corporations, no worker’s rights, no pesky EPA environmental regulations, no minimum wage, no social safety net to prevent families from tumbling precipitously from marginal employment and insecure housing to abject penury and homelessness. Everywhere in the world where the libertarian ideology has been put in practice, this condition of mass immiseration and concentration of wealth in the hands of the 1% has been a consistent historical fact. This ideology has been tried and failed.”
Another contributor, Gus diZerega, argues:
“[M]y problem with Thrive is the movie’s failure to adequately understand the principles it itself advocates in order for us to create a more humane and sustainable society. It presents one dimension of a problem that is multi-dimensional. The core insight lacking in libertarian thinking is the failure to grasp the centrality of relationships as constitutive of individuals, and to recognize that relationships are the key to understanding property rights and just politics.”
My Take on the Praxis Critique
Having read the Praxis critique, I think it’s self-evident that it is primarily a political document. Its purpose is to criticize the underpinnings of libertarian political thought that surface in Thrive and its milieu as opposed to really critiquing the movie point-by-point. Indeed, while I think the Praxis pamphlet is a very useful tool in evaluating the political agenda of the film, I’m somewhat disappointed by Praxis’s lack of engagement with factual matters asserted in the movie. There is very little discussion of conspiracy theories at all or their relationship to libertarian thought. I think this is a missed opportunity, and could have opened an interesting discussion on the role that conspiratorial thinking plays in political movements both historically and in contemporary society.
Case in point: the Federal Reserve. Mr. Gamble leaves no doubt that he absolutely detests the Federal Reserve, as most libertarians do; he blasts it as a tool of the “Global Domination Elite” to control the money system and hence the world. As a matter of economic policy, what the Federal Reserve does and should do is certainly a legitimate political issue, but aside from that, it is an absolute magnet for conspiracy theories. (Don’t ask me to opine at length on the Federal Reserve. I hate talking about it because it’s intensely boring. For a very good debunking of most of the popular FR conspiracy theories, go here). Mr. Gamble’s hatred of the Federal Reserve may be ideologically oriented, proceeding from libertarian thought, but I suspect at least part of his animosity may also stem from his obvious belief in Federal Reserve-related conspiracy theories. Here we have a prime example of a libertarian political goal—“End the Fed!,” as politicians like Ron Paul like to sloganize—that is being advanced through the spread of paranoid conspiracy theories. I would have liked Praxis to address how, from a progressive political standpoint, this could best be handled. How do you separate legitimate and rational political motivations from illegitimate and irrational belief in conspiracy theories? The pamphlet doesn’t go there. Indeed there are only a few perfunctory mentions of the Federal Reserve at all.
The conflation of conspiracy theories with politics is a dangerous trend and one of the main reasons why I push back against conspiratorial thinking. It is well known, for example, how an undercurrent of anti-Semitic conspiracy thinking in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided a fertile breeding ground for the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Those theories are still with us—in fact David Icke, one of the chief talking heads in Thrive, pushes a thinly-veiled science fiction redress of these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories with his ludicrous “shape-shifting reptilian alien overlords” theories that, while they do not refer specifically to Jews, are eerily similar in tone and function to those traditional anti-Jewish theories. Conspiracy theories corrode the ability of people to think rationally about real political solutions. The rise of fringe candidates, like Ron Paul, spouting bizarre philosophies and openly employing racist and conspiratorial language to motivate supporters, is a disturbing effect of this tendency. I would like to know what the Praxis Institute thinks we ought to do about this trend.
Personally, I oppose libertarianism as a political philosophy. I don’t like its emphasis on so-called “free market” principles, its hostility toward taxation and responsible government, and its demonization of any form of collective societal action toward social justice. However, my political beliefs are small issue to Thrive, and are not the primary motivation, or even a significant motivation, for me to push back against the film on this blog. Even if Thrive’s politics were squarely in agreement with my own I would object to its use of conspiracy theories and conspiratorial thinking to advance its aims. Georgia Kelly and the Praxis Peace Institute seem to care much more about Foster Gamble’s politics than I do. That’s not a criticism at all; different viewers of the film will have different approaches in reacting to it. Nevertheless, in their critique of Thrive from a political standpoint, I would have liked to have seen more emphasis placed on the ethical dimensions of using demonstrably false conspiracy theories to advance whatever agendas—be they political, social or religious—lay at the heart of this deceptive film.
Foster Gamble’s Response to Ms. Kelly’s Original Huffington Post Article
What does Foster Gamble have to say to Georgia Kelly? To my knowledge he has not (so far) come out with a response to the Praxis pamphlet itself, but he did respond to her original Huffington Post article, an expanded version of which forms the basis of the first chapter of the pamphlet. Here’s how Mr. Gamble responds:
“Georgia Kelly, founder of the Praxis Peace Institute in Marin County, has posted a fearful review of THRIVE on the Huffington Post. Ms. Kelly has been active in Liberal Democrat politics, and she mistakenly assumes that I am a covert Right-winger, and then goes about attacking that position and me. Her supposition is not true, so she seems to end up missing both the value of THRIVE and critical insights that can inform breakthrough solutions strategies to help humanity escape our lethal situation and flourish…
Ms. Kelly has mislabeled me as “right wing” and started lobbing word grenades over a self-created ideological fence. What I want to explore is “What is just” and “What works?” So I challenge Ms. Kelly and any who are interested in this conversation to answer the most fundamental moral question I know of:
Just exactly when, for you, is it OK for one human being to take your property — be it your body, your wages, or your privacy — against your will and under the threat of violence?
That is what mandatory taxation is…”
This is only a tiny portion of Mr. Gamble’s response, and I encourage you to read the rest for yourself. It’s lengthy, and deals mostly with ideas of political philosophy, which seems to be the primary battlefield on which Ms. Kelly wishes to engage Thrive. I do not find, anywhere in Mr. Gamble’s blog, anything that addresses the factual problems with the film. As Ms. Kelly on Huffington and Praxis Peace Institute in their pamphlet did not focus on factual issues, I see the debate between them and Mr. Gamble on ideological matters to be essentially a political argument, and thus only tangentially relevant to the issues raised on this blog.
Speaking only for myself, I would rather engage Thrive in the arena of what is provable fact as opposed to what is desirable public policy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own opinions on political philosophy or public policy, nor does it mean that I whole-heartedly endorse (or condemn) either the political agenda of Thrive or of the Praxis Peace Institute. My political opinions are not very relevant to the matters I created this blog in order to explore. In short, I’ve read the Praxis Peace Institute pamphlet. I agree with some of it, I disagree with other parts of it, but, while it’s certainly an interesting take on the Thrive phenomenon, if your main interest in the film is (as mine is) whether it is a credible source of factual information about what’s happening in the world around us, the political argument is largely irrelevant to that concern. Let’s certainly be aware of Thrive’s political agenda, but I for one don’t intend to make political disagreements with the film or its makers a significant point of contention. I’m willing to let others, like Georgia Kelly and her friends at Praxis Peace Institute, do that, and I wish them all the best in doing so. The movie has enough problems simply stating what it thinks is factual truth before it even gets to the realm of politics and policy.
This blog will deal with the claims made in a very small portion of the movie Thrive—small, but important. One of the key claims Foster Gamble makes in the film is the claim that there is a “Global Domination Agenda” where a small elite is plotting to take over the world. As I have already demonstrated, that claim is completely false. One of the pieces of “evidence” that Mr. Gamble employs to reach this finish line is the idea that this “Global Domination Elite” (“GDE” for short) uses what he calls “false flag attacks” as pretexts to start wars and/or institute policies that supposedly advance this imaginary conspiracy. In doing so, Mr. Gamble makes some pretty serious distortions of a few particular events in U.S. history. As American history is my professional field, I feel particularly obligated to set the record straight as to the misleading information and false conclusions invited by Mr. Gamble in Thrive.
What Does Thrive Say About “False Flag” Attacks?
At 1:30:00 (+/- a few seconds) in Thrive, Mr. Gamble asserts that “it is a documented fact that we entered the Vietnam War under false pretenses.” He is talking about the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, an attack by North Vietnamese forces on U.S. warships which caused President Lyndon Johnson to ask Congress for a resolution broadly authorizing expanded use of military force in Vietnam. A few moments later, Robert McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense under Johnson, is shown on the screen acknowledging that the attack on a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin did not actually take place.
At 1:30:44, after Mr. Gamble mentions that George W. Bush used the idea of weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) in Iraq to build support for the 2003 invasion, he states, “Tactics such as this are sometimes referred to as ‘false flag’ operations.”
At 1:30:56, Gamble makes the following assertion:
“A growing number of people believe that 9/11 was a ‘false flag’ operation by the global elite as a means of taking over Middle Eastern oil and dismantling U.S. constitutional protections.”
As he says this, on the screen the collapse of World Trade Center 7 is shown. The title on the screen reads, “Building 7, World Trade Center—September 11, 2001—(not hit by any plane).”
In about one minute of screen time, Mr. Gamble has committed a number of serious historical, logical and factual errors. This article will demonstrate three principal factual conclusions: (1) that Mr. Gamble is absolutely wrong, as a matter of historical fact, to claim that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a “false flag” operation; (2) that belief in “9/11 was an inside job” conspiracy theories is not growing, but in fact shrinking; and (3) the conclusion that Mr. Gamble invites, but does not expressly state, regarding September 11—specifically regarding WTC7, that it was part of a “false flag” operation—is incorrect. Additionally, this article will demonstrate why the whole idea of “false flag” operations, as conceived of by conspiracy theorists, is extremely unrealistic and in fact pretty silly.
What Is a “False Flag” Attack?
If you hear the term “false flag” in ordinary conversation, chances are pretty good you’re talking to a conspiracy theorist. As conspiracy theorists often do, they have taken a fairly obscure term—this one from the world of military and intelligence strategy—and colored its meaning into something not quite the same as its original meaning. Just for the sake of defining the term, I’ll quote the Wikipedia definition:
“False flag (aka Black Flag) operations are covert operations designed to deceive the public in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities. The name is derived from the military concept of flying false colors; that is flying the flag of a country other than one’s own. False flag operations are not limited to war and counter-insurgency operations, and can be used in peace-time.”
Historically, false flag operations have been confined to fairly small-scale military maneuvers, especially in naval warfare. Did you see the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which involves British Navy ships in the Napoleonic era? There is a scene in that film where a British warship disguises itself as a whaling vessel from Brazil so as to lure an enemy French ship into close quarters, whereupon the British standard is suddenly raised and the attack begins. This is a type of false flag operation in its proper context.
When conspiracy theorists talk about “false flags,” what they mean is a tragic event, usually a very large-scale attack or other act of war or aggression, which is entirely staged by a government or elite group as a means to blame a totally innocent party and thus create a cause to retaliate against that innocent party. It’s the same thing in spirit, but not in scope. False flag operations in real life tend to be small and limited in scale. To conspiracy theorists, however, there is no practical limit to the events that can be staged successfully. Indeed the term “false flag” itself is often used as shorthand to allege a conspiracy behind something.
Why Is The Gulf of Tonkin Incident Not a “False Flag”?
Mr. Gamble states boldly that “it is a documented fact that we entered the war under false pretenses.” It’s very clear that he’s alleging that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a false flag attack. But it wasn’t. The reality is complicated, and considerably different than Mr. Gamble’s conspiracist shorthand.
First, and most importantly, he does not tell the audience that what is referred to as the “Gulf of Tonkin incident” was actually two incidents. There were two alleged attacks on U.S. warships by North Vietnamese patrol boats on two separate occasions in early August 1964. One such attack clearly and definitely occurred. In fact it has been admitted by Vietnamese officials. The second attack did not occur. This is the attack that Robert McNamara is speaking of in his brief clip shown in Thrive, which is taken out of context.
Because we know for a fact that one attack definitely occurred, this automatically disqualifies the Gulf of Tonkin incident as being a “false flag.” However, the second attack—the one that did not happen—doesn’t satisfy the definition either. It didn’t happen, but it wasn’t staged. Gamble clearly wants you to believe that elements of the imaginary “Global Domination Agenda” staged the incident in order to give the U.S. a pretext to go into Vietnam. That’s not what happened. Whatever did happen in the Gulf of Tonkin that night was misperceived by U.S. military personnel as an attack. They made a mistake; but that’s different than staging an attack.
What Happened in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964?
The United States had been supporting the government of South Vietnam since 1954, when a complicated cease-fire ended France’s war there (much of Southeast Asia had long been a colony of the French). This accord separated Vietnam into two countries, North Vietnam which was Communist, and South Vietnam which was pro-Western. American military and intelligence forces, euphemistically called “advisers,” were in the country beginning in the late 1950s, helping the South Vietnamese resist the civil war going on within its borders to unify all of Vietnam under Communist rule. Inch by inch the United States was being pulled in to a more active role, but by August 1964 there were no U.S. combat troops directly engaged in warfare with the Vietnamese.
On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, cruising in the Gulf of Tonkin on a mission to collect intelligence about North Vietnamese military activity, fell under attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats. The U.S. returned fire and sank one of the boats. Part of the reason this small battle occurred was because North Vietnam claimed a zone of up to twelve miles from its coasts were its territorial waters, and this claim was not recognized by the United States. Historically, there is no question that the August 2 attack did occur. The only question was who in North Vietnam’s military had ordered it and whether they had authority of the government to do so.
In 1998, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara—the exact person who a brief clip of appears in Thrive—and other U.S. officials, in an effort to repair relations with Vietnam (which ultimately was unified under Communist rule in 1975), went to Vietnam to talk about the war with officials who had been in command of the North Vietnamese government at that time. These fascinating discussions were recorded and became the basis of a book by Robert S. McNamara, James G. Blight, and Robert K. Bringham called Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (New York: Public Affairs, 1999). On page 203 of this book, McNamara and his opposite numbers from Vietnam discuss the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Here was the record of the exchange about the first attack:
“Robert McNamara: The first question I have is: was there an attack on the Maddox on August 2, 1964? The answer to that is almost surely ‘yes.’ I say this because I have a fragment of a North Vietnamese shell that I took off the deck of the Maddox, so I think there had to be an attack. But I’d like this on the record. I see my Vietnamese colleagues nodding agreement. Okay, we’ll accept that.”
“Gen. Nguyen Dinh Uoc: Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap said that one of the responsibilities of the Vietnamese navy in Thanh Hoa was to guard against any vessels violating the national waters of Vietnam. And if there were violations, the navy had the right to attack in order to protect those waters. That was the general policy adopted by the central authority to defend the country’s sea coast, at the time. It was not a decision made centrally. That is the answer.”
“Robert McNamara: Thank you for a very clear answer. It points to something that we certainly did not understand or anticipate at the time…There was a far greater decentralization of authority and command with respect to the North Vietnamese military than we understood at the time…”
So you see here that even the North Vietnamese admit that the August 2 attack did in fact take place. This is proof positive that Foster Gamble (A) is wrong that the Gulf of Tonkin was a “false flag,” because it is clear that an attack did take place; and (B) that he took the McNamara quote out of context. Before I explain where the McNamara quote comes from, let’s look at the second part of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Two days after the August 2 incident, the USS Maddox and another ship, the USS Turner Joy, claimed that they were under attack again. Technicians aboard these ships saw radar blips and there were also visual sightings of what people interpreted as patrol boats headed toward the U.S. ships. In fact, they misinterpreted what they saw. I will quote from another book, Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), where it states on page 203-04:
“Several participants in the incident who contend that there really was a PT boat attack on the night of August 4 have summarized for the author the reasons for their belief. John Barry firmly believes that his ship actually was attacked by torpedo boats…Ensign Douglas Smith was completely convinced, on the basis of what he could see on his radar screen, that the Turner Joy was under PT boat attack. Despite contrary evidence of which he has become aware since, he is still inclined to believe in the reality of the attack…The evidence of the radar screen returns was convincing then, as it is now…
When the documentary evidence is added, the weight of the evidence is overwhelming: no attack occurred. There exist rational explanations of how all the evidence of an attack could exist without there having been an attack.”
The captain of the Maddox cabled Washington that his ship was under attack. Not long after he began to send cables hedging on this conclusion and suggesting that perhaps the second attack had not, in fact, occurred. McNamara did not tell President Lyndon Johnson that the Maddox commander was changing his mind. When Johnson made the decision to seek Congressional authority to strike back, on the basis that U.S. forces had been attacked, he did not know that the August 4 attack was in serious question.
In 2003, Robert McNamara gave a lengthy interview to filmmaker Errol Morris. This interview became the basis of a documentary film called Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara. It is from this film that the brief clip of McNamara that appears in Thrive is taken. (I hope Mr. Gamble got the appropriate clearances to use it). In the specific clip that is used in Thrive, McNamara, who died in July 2009, is clearly talking about the August 4 attack. To my knowledge, at no time did he ever hold the opinion that the August 2 attack did not take place.
It is important to view the questions about the August 4 attack in their proper context. The brief and misleading presentation of the Gulf of Tonkin issue in Thrive clearly invites the reader to jump to the conclusion that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was some sort of deliberate fabrication. Indeed, the characterization of the event as a “false flag” attack requires that interpretation. But, as we’ve seen here, the August 2 attack did occur, and the August 4 attack, which did not occur, was a result of mistake, not fabrication. There is not a single shred of evidence anywhere that the apparent August 4 attack on the USS Maddox was a deliberate and knowing fabrication. Thus, it is impossible that it could have been a “false flag.”
Did the Gulf of Tonkin Incident Really “Get us into Vietnam?”
Historically speaking, the answer to this question is clearly no. By August 1964 the United States was already deeply involved in Vietnam. It is therefore a mischaracterization of history to assert that the Gulf of Tonkin incident caused the United States to enter the Vietnam war. It simply didn’t happen that way.
While obviously the point of this section of Thrive is not to engage in any sort of deep historical analysis, again the conclusion that Mr. Gamble invites with his words, and his selective presentation of the issues, is telling. Look at his exact words again: “It is a documented fact that we entered the Vietnam War under false pretenses.” It is not a documented fact, because it simply isn’t true. He’s playing games with the idea of when and under what circumstances the U.S. “entered the Vietnam War.”
I will again quote the Moise book, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. In the preface, Moise states:
“The incorrect report of August 4 did not really “cause” the outbreak of large-scale war in Vietnam. By August 1964, Washington and Hanoi were already on a collision course. The level of combat in South Vietnam, and the level of outside support on both sides, were increasing; meanwhile the United States was sponsoring a program of covert operations against North Vietnam…If reports from the Gulf of Tonkin had not caused President Johnson to order airstrikes against North Vietnam in August 1964, something else would have done so within a few months.
“[T]he Tonkin Gulf incidents—the real one of August 2 for which the United States did not retaliate, and the imaginary one of August 4 that provoked the airstrikes and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution—deserve careful attention.”
This analysis is absolutely supported by all historical data regarding the United States’s entry into the Vietnam War. If you go to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., you’ll see two dates on the wall—1959 and 1975, the prior being the first year in which a U.S. serviceman died in Vietnam, and the latter being the last year in which that occurred. Those are, incidentally, also the dates by which the U.S. government, for purposes of veterans benefits and classification, defines the “Vietnam conflict.” It is true that a sustained long-term air campaign (“Rolling Thunder”) and large-scale infusion of American ground forces into Vietnam did not occur until 1965, after LBJ asked for, and received from Congress, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. But it is totally false to state or imply that the war began in the Gulf of Tonkin. If it did, what war did the Americans who died between 1959 and 1965, and whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam War Memorial, die in?
By his misleading use of the term “false flag,” Foster Gamble seems to want you to conclude that the Gulf of Tonkin incident alone took the United States and North Vietnam from peaceful coexistence to open armed conflict, and that, if the Gulf of Tonkin incident hadn’t happened, or if the truth about the August 4 attack had been known, the Vietnam War would not have occurred. This conclusion is ludicrous and is totally at odds with every bit of historical knowledge we have about the war. It simply isn’t true.
Okay, So the Gulf of Tonkin Wasn’t a False Flag. Does That Mean the Vietnam War was Perfectly OK?
No. That is not the argument at all. The issue is whether the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a “false flag.” It was not. The legitimacy or morality of American involvement in Vietnam is a totally different question.
Because I’m sure I’ll be asked about it, I’ll state that, personally and as a historian, I do not believe the Vietnam War should ever have been fought. I have not been able to find in the historical record anything that I regard as a convincing argument having been made by proponents of the war, such as John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson or Robert McNamara, as to why U.S. national interests at stake in Vietnam justified the terrible price of that conflict. I believe the U.S. government sorely misjudged both the stakes and the likely consequences of the war, and compounded the damage by making one disastrous decision after another. That’s what I think about Vietnam. But was it started by a “Global Domination Elite” with a “false flag” in the Gulf of Tonkin? Absolutely not.
Is the Number of People who Believe 9/11 Was a “False Flag” Growing?
Let’s move on to the subject of 9/11. Mr. Gamble is curiously circumspect about 9/11, as we’ll see in the next section, but let’s look briefly at what he specifically says: “A growing number of people believe that 9/11 was a ‘false flag’ operation by the global elite as a means of taking over Middle Eastern oil and dismantling U.S. constitutional protections.”
This statement is utterly false. Although most 9/11 conspiracy theorists refuse to accept it, fewer people believe that 9/11 was an “inside job” now than did four, five, or six years ago. An interesting article from Slate.com charts the rise and fall of 9/11 conspiracy beliefs:
“[I]n the immediate aftermath of 9/11, only a tiny segment of the American population, 8 percent according to one poll in early 2002, was inclined to believe that their government was lying to them about what happened that day….
Although most Americans still believed that the Bush administration was “mostly telling the truth,” by early 2004 16 percent of the population believed it was “mostly lying” about how much it knew prior to the attacks—double the number from the same CBS poll two years prior…By mid-2006, one in three respondents would tell pollsters that they believed the government either orchestrated the attacks or allowed them to happen in order to go to war in the Middle East…
By 2009, with the first-ever African-American president having taken office, the number of Americans who said that Bush let 9/11 happen in order to go to war in the Middle East was at 14 percent. (Because the wording of questions about responsibility for 9/11 has changed over the years, getting a consistent measure of the public’s view is difficult)…. In another poll in 2010, only 12 percent of Americans said they did not believe Osama Bin Laden had carried out the 9/11 attacks.”
Did you follow that? Belief in conspiracy theories started out at 8% in 2002, doubled to 16% in 2004, exploded to 33% in 2006, then slumped to 14% and was still falling as of 2010. If you follow the links in the above quote you can see the raw poll data upon which this summary is based. Any way you slice it, you’ll see that 9/11 conspiracy theories are becoming less popular, not more.
It is very clear: Foster Gamble is simply wrong when he says “a growing number of people” believe that 9/11 was a “false flag” operation. In fact, the reverse is true: a shrinking number of people believe that 9/11 was a “false flag” operation.
Was September 11 a “False Flag” Operation?
Mr. Gamble is curiously circumspect about the subject of 9/11. He doesn’t specifically state in Thrive that “9/11 was an inside job.” All he says specifically is that “a growing number of people” believe that it is, a statement which, as you’ll see above, is incorrect. But let’s not kid ourselves. Thrive is aimed at conspiracy theorists. Among such people, the delusional belief that 9/11 was an “inside job” is an axiom. If Mr. Gamble does not believe that it was, I challenge him to come out and say unequivocally, without reservation, that he believes that 9/11 was done by Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorists without the foreknowledge or assistance of the U.S. (or Israeli) government.
Clearly Mr. Gamble invites you to make the conclusion that 9/11 was an “inside job.” While he makes his incorrect statement about the numbers of people who believe it is, on the screen we see World Trade Center 7 crumbling. 9/11 conspiracy theorists continually point to WTC7, a skyscraper that collapsed several hours after the main WTC towers fell, as “evidence” that it was a conspiracy. I’ll give Thrive a very rare point for factual accuracy when I note that the caption flashed on the screen at this part of the movie, stating that WTC7 was not hit by a plane, is correct. It was not hit by a plane. However, that doesn’t mean that September 11 was a “false flag.”
At my other blog, I have written extensively about September 11 conspiracy theories and why they’re false. You can peruse examples here, here and here. I won’t rehash all the material debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories in this article. If you need convincing that 9/11 was not an inside job, I suggest you consult this website, or this one, which has a page devoted specifically to explaining why WTC7 does not indicate conspiracy, or you can go to an article I created in 2010 setting out very carefully what we know about 9/11 and why we know it was not an “inside job.” In a nutshell, WTC7 collapsed because it was severely damaged structurally, and set on fire, by debris that struck it when WTC1 and WTC2 collapsed earlier in the day. Uncontrolled fires raged for hours in the building and authorities knew well ahead of time that it was going to collapse. Here is a recent news article incorporating footage that graphically shows how bad the damage was in WTC7. It is very clear that September 11 was not an “inside job.”
So, Mr. Gamble is 0 for 3. He is wrong when he says the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a “false flag.” He is wrong when he says that a growing number of people believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories. He is also wrong when he invites the audience of Thrive to draw the conclusion that 9/11 was a “false flag.”
“False Flags” in General: They’re a Lot Rarer Than You Think.
For the most part, I’m annoyed when conspiracy theorists like Mr. Gamble assume that certain events must be “false flag” attacks. They always—always–jump to this conclusion without investigating the evidence behind a particular event. They also ignore the fact that, in real life, “false flag” attacks are exceptionally rare. I can think of only one that makes any sort of fit with the concept as Mr. Gamble describes it, and ironically he doesn’t even mention it in Thrive. On August 31, 1939, the day before the beginning of World War II, Nazi commandos attacked a German radio station on the frontier between Germany and Poland, and planted false evidence to make it look like Poles had done it. This is known as the “Gleiwitz Incident.” However, even at that, it wasn’t very consequential. By that time Hitler had been railing at Poland for months, with his usual demand being the return of a piece of Polish territory, known as the Danzig Corridor, to Germany. Had the Gleiwitz Incident not occurred at all, the war would have begun the next day just as scheduled. Furthermore, the Gleiwitz Incident failed to fool very many people in the first place. Virtually no one outside of Germany believed it, and as for belief within Germany, Hitler, being an absolute dictator, did not require public support to launch his war against Poland in the first place. Gleiwitz simply didn’t matter very much—far from being the global game-changer of the kind Mr. Gamble imagines happened in 1964 in Vietnam, or suggests happened in 2001.
Only one other alleged “false flag” even bears mentioning. Whenever you hear the words “false flag,” conspiracy theorists trot out another tired trope—that being “Operation Northwoods.” This was a memo drawn up within the U.S. intelligence community in 1962 suggesting that acts of terror be committed against U.S. interests abroad and blamed on Fidel Castro, so as to galvanize public opinion for an invasion of Cuba. The document was declassified in 1998. What conspiracy theorists forget is that this document, and the scenario it suggests, was so outlandish and outrageous that President John F. Kennedy, to whom it was presented, was aghast at the suggestion and rejected it out of hand. Not only was “Operation Northwoods” never attempted, Kennedy fired the guy who proposed it. Sadly for conspiracy theorists, this document does not help make their case that “false flag” operations are common.
When I hear conspiracy theorists complain that “false flag” attacks are used to justify American action against terrorists abroad, I sometimes present them with a list of terrorist attacks that have occurred in the past 30 or so years and then ask them to identify which ones they are willing to believe as really having occurred—i.e., as not “false flags.” For example, conspiracy theorists love to talk about 9/11 and the 2005 “7/7” London Underground massacre as being “false flags.”
However, what about lesser-known acts of terrorism? What about the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in the summer of 1985, in which a U.S. Navy diver was murdered and his body thrown on an airport runway? Or the hijacking of the cruise liner Achille Lauro, also in 1985, where an elderly American passenger in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer, was murdered and thrown overboard? Or, at the very end of the year, the machine-gun massacres at airport ticket counters in the Vienna and Rome airports? These are three terrorist incidents that occurred in 1985 alone. Which of these three are “false flag” attacks? All of them? One of them? Two? If any of them were “fals flags,” where is the evidence that they were faked?
When I ask questions like this, conspiracy theorists usually confess that they’ve never heard of these incidents so they can’t opine whether they are “false flags” or not. Some will add a naked and uninformed conjecture that they probably are, because most conspiracy theorists are reluctant to concede that terrorism really exists.
The reality is this: “false flag” attacks are extremely rare, they are of limited size and scale, they are difficult and dangerous to pull off, and even the ones that do occur (like the Gleiwitz attack) are rarely convincing or consequential. The scale and scope of “false flag” activity imagined by Mr. Gamble and other conspiracy theorists is simply the stuff of fantasy.
Thrive is wrong about “false flag” attacks. Period.
More than two months after its release, Thrive is still struggling to command any significant positive attention in mainstream circles. As I pointed out not long ago, the film has placed itself in a difficult niche: by its reliance on conspiracy theories it becomes toxic to the mainstream, but even many hard-core conspiracy theorists do not trust it because of Foster Gamble’s corporate associations and the ridiculous delusions that its imagery, especially its promotional poster, is “NWO occult symbolism.”
The film’s search for mainstream acceptance was dealt yet another blow a few weeks ago with a scathing review posted on the award-winning UK green/sustainability blog Transition Culture, one of the most widely read environmental blogs in Britain. TC’s founder, Rob Hopkins, lectures and blogs about topics regarding peak oil and the transition from our current unsustainable energy practices to more locally-oriented and eco-friendly solutions. Far from being a sympathetic audience to Thrive, Mr. Hopkins savaged the film, and for many of the same reasons I criticize it on this blog: its factual inaccuracies, its promotion of conspiracy theories, and its pandering to New Age sensibilities largely divorced from positive real-world solutions to the problems it purports to respond to.
“What do you do when you are the heir to the Proctor and Gamble fortune and you have spent years surrounding yourself with new agey thinking and conspiracy theories? You make a film like ‘Thrive‘, the latest conspiracy theory movie that is popping up all over the place. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have asked me “have you seen ‘Thrive’?” Well I have now, and, to be frank, it’s dangerous tosh which deserves little other than our derision. It is also a very useful opportunity to look at a worldview which, according to Georgia Kelly writing at Huffington Post, masks “a reactionary, libertarian political agenda that stands in jarring contrast with the soothing tone of the presentation”.
Mr. Hopkins is especially critical of Thrive maker Foster Gamble’s questionable approach to evidence and reasoning. He writes:
“Visually the film is like some kind of Star Trek fan movie crossed with a National Geographic wildlife film, and is largely built around Gamble’s own years of ‘research’ into the question of what it is that “stops life on earth from thriving”. A reasonable question to ask, but his approach can hardly be called ‘research’ due to the low standards he accepts as ‘evidence’ and his all-round lack of critical analysis. His research, such as it is, is cherry-picked to deepen and support his established worldview, rather than the worldview being built from a careful analysis of the evidence. As we’ll see, this is a dangerous foundation.”
Taking the film’s major arguments in turn, Mr. Hopkins reaches largely the same conclusions that we have here at Thrive Debunked. Regarding free energy machines, Mr. Hopkins raises precisely the same point that our contributors have repeatedly raised, most notably in an article involving Adam Trombly:
“[A]ll we are offered as evidence is some grainy film of machines that could be anything doing anything, and some smart computer graphics of spinning torus shapes. If this amazing breakthrough that would rewrite science and win Nobel Prizes for anyone involved were actually a reality, and if you were going to spend huge amounts to make a film to argue for their existence which you would then put out into the public arena, surely you would get a working model of such a device into the studio with some impartial scientists to verify it in operation? If they actually exist, and actually work, then this wouldn’t be a big challenge surely?”
A lot of Thrive supporters have come to this blog to argue that “free energy” is real. I almost always have the same point: show me the evidence! And Adam Trombly’s website, or a YouTube video supposedly depicting “free energy” machines, does not constitute evidence. By evidence I mean, show the machine to somebody reputable who can replicate it and verify that it actually works. This is precisely the point that Transition Culture is making.
Mr. Hopkins then takes Thrive to task for training a fire hose of conspiracy nonsense directly at the audience:
“Then we are bombarded with the full range of conspiracy thinking. 9/11 was an inside job, there is a conspiracy to suppress natural medicines, “Big Brother’s not coming, it’s already here”, we are one step away from a “military dictatorship”, a climate treaty in Copenhagen would have been “a tax base for tyranny”, there are ‘chemtrails’ in the sky to deliberately poison us, there is a deliberate attempt to reduce the world’s population underway, there is only a cancer epidemic because all the cures have been suppressed, etc, etc…
Gamble wheels out the classic conspiracy theorists’ gambit, “could I be wrong? Perhaps. But what if I’m not?” No, you are wrong. And even if you were right, you have presented us with so little evidence to back up you claims that you would have no way of knowing whether you were right or not.”
This again strongly supports the point we’ve been making here. The main function of Thrive, as I recently detailed toward the end of this entry, seems to be to account for the reason why New Age concepts such as “free energy” have not transformed the world into a magical utopia. The reason? Evil conspirators are preventing it from happening. Conspiracy theories are not the whole game for Thrive, but they’re a major part of it.
Mr. Hopkins’s ultimate indictment of Thrive has also been echoed on this blog: that the movie diverts attention from real issues, such as anthropogenic climate change, and instead urges its audience to hate imaginary bogeymen and focus its actions on bringing them down. He says:
“‘Thrive’ is dangerous because it invites us to put our faith for the future in a fantasy. A fantasy that free energy is possible, a fantasy that the only thing that is preventing us from creating a benign and enlightened society is a handful of powerful families….
It’s not about ‘free energy’, it’s about learning to appreciate what a precious thing energy is and learning to live well with less of it. It’s not about ‘no involuntary taxation’, it’s about taxes that disincentivise the things that are narrowing our future options, and incentivising the things we need to get in place urgently. It’s not about ‘no government’, it’s about truly democratic government using its considerable powers to build resilience, decarbonise society, shift the collective focus. The few countries in the world that are actually seriously engaging with the climate issue are those with stronger government, not weaker government.”
I agree completely with these statements. I believe anthropogenic climate change is the most serious issue facing the world today. The makers of Thrive don’t even believe that anthropogenic climate change is happening! How can they even pretend to address this problem when they refuse to accept that it exists? “Free energy” is not the answer, because “free energy” does not exist. Better energy is the answer, and we know that exists because many people, companies and government agencies in numerous countries are out there developing it right now. We will not kick the fossil fuel habit overnight, but we need to begin a transition to cleaner, more renewable energy. This technology will not drop out of the sky, handed to us on a silver platter from bug-eyed aliens. It will be human beings—research labs, some corporate, some private, universities and think tanks, as well as NGOs—that create these solutions. Given the serious lack of faith that Foster Gamble and the other makers of the film seem to have in the ability of human beings to accomplish great things, I remain skeptical that Thrive offers any real solutions. It is, in short, part of the problem, not part of the solution.
I recommend reading the full review.