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“Follow the Money”–Debunked!

By SlayerX3

One of the central passages of Thrive is a section often referred to as “Follow the Money,” which Thrive fans treat as some sort of slogan. This section contains Foster Gamble and others’ views on fractional reserve banking, the Federal Reserve, the economic crisis, and conspiracy theories related to these. This article debunks those ideas.

Fraction Reserve Banking


Before the Wikipedia bashing begins, I’m using Wikipedia for two reasons: (1) Simplicity, and (2) it works well for summaries of information, even though I will provide further sources and more detailed information links than Wikipedia can provide.

PS: This part of the movie is incredibly complicated for anyone involved here to deal with, as given that most people don’t understand how economy and politics work by themselves, much less together, unless you’re well-versed in mathematics, economics or political science. Comments that simply complain about how wrong or rigged the actual political and economic systems are will be seen basically as an opinion and not fact.

It also doesn’t help that for the makers of Thrive the current economic system is a scam/conspiracy created by a powerful Financial Elite to perpetuate their own power. Arguing the existence of this conspiracy (Thrive mostly uses misinterpretations and opinions that they exist instead of verifiable facts) feels like beating a dead horse, thanks to our good old friend Confirmation Bias.

When they begin talking about Fractional Reserve Banking, Foster Gamble and and David Icke get a few things right at the beginning. They are right about how saving deposits are used by banks for loans and financing, but the film cuts short the explanation of why this happens and the economic reasons to use fractional reserve banking. Instead of explaining the real reasons behind this, the movie simply dismisses it by saying “it creates money out of nowhere.”

What is Fractional Reserve Banking?

Fractional Reserve Banking (FRB) is a form of banking where the deposits made on the bank are separated in two parts. The first is the amount the bank is allowed to loan and the second is the part the banks is obligated to keep as a reserve. This amount is dictated by the central bank of the country where the bank is operating.

Does it really “create money out of nowhere?”

The answer will depend of which kind of money you’re talking about. If you’re referring to printed money, it can’t “create money out of nowhere,” as the values being loaned and being circulated haven’t been made or printed yet.

If you’re talking about value: yes it can create more value since there is more money circulating than there is physical printed money.

This is much better explained by the links I’ll provide.

Why do banks work with FRB and how come they don’t “run out of money”?

Because it is fluid, FRB allows banks to generate profit and still provide access to people or business to acquire money for whatever reasons they need it–for example, to buy a house or start a business. FRB guarantees there will be money circulating for investments, consumer goods and to accommodate a growing and active economy.

[Muertos comment: this is not a new invention. If we did not have FRB in some form, our economy would be stuck in the early 19th century. The whole concept of modern banking, historically, developed as a means to permit sufficient capital to be accumulated to fund large-scale projects, both public and private. Without something like FRB, we would not have public works projects like dams, sewer systems or transportation, and we would not have privately-funded industries such as computers and information technology, because it simply wouldn’t be possible to get enough capital together to even begin to pay for these things. This is the historical reality that critics of FRB refuse to understand.]

The influx of savings deposits and payments on loans that they make usually are enough for most banks to be secure they will have the money needed to honor the withdrawals, as there are more people making payments and saving deposits than there are people making withdrawals of their own savings and assets.

What if there are more people making more withdrawals than the bank has money on reserve?

Remember the credit crisis that started in 2008 and is still kicking? One of the reasons why it went from bad to worse and from worse to a total disaster was because of this–people making more withdrawals than banks had in reserve. In times of economic crisis, if there is a doubt that the banks will be able to honor the deposits made on them, this leads to people and investors to withdraw all their assets within the bank in a really short amount of time, before other depositors can withdraw their share. This creates a cascade effect that can possibly (almost certainly) cause a bank run. This forces the bank to call in its short term loans, draw upon credit lines with other banks or ask for last resort rescue loans from the central bank.

Okay, but how this is bad for people?

In time of a stable economy this not bad for financially responsible people, those who take out loans that are smaller than their average yearly income and can make sure that the accumulated interest won’t surpass all their earnings during the intended financing period. Take for example financing the purchase of a house with a 10 year mortgage plan. It is, however, extremely dangerous for people who to borrow who are in unstable financial situations (like no job security, health problems, addictions) or do not measure how much interest they’re incurring compared to how much they earn, or people who simply don’t care about the long term consequences of their lack of foresight (I can’t miss the chance to throw this jab at the American reader).

In times of instability, however, irresponsible borrowing (and lending) can hit hard even the responsible people hard. This is what happened in 2008.

Gamble continues with a story telling how the fractional reserve banking system was born.

Setting aside Mr. Gamble’s implications of how it is used to create money on the backs of people (which is an arguable question), if you want to know how central banks and fractional reserve banking came to be, look for the history of the  Bank of Amsterdam.

Here are some links that further explain what FRB is and how it came about: (Khan Academy on FRB, quite educational I must add, as long as you avoid the comments section). (look for the download link)

Later Gamble states how FRB is used to create a population that is tied to their debts to the bank.

Then Thrive provides us with this quote: “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning” – Henry Ford, 1922

The quote appears to be completely fake. Although it is commonly cited on conspiracy theorist, 9/11 Truth and “End the Fed” websites, there is no source and no context linking it to Henry Ford. Not even the dates that Ford supposedly said it are consistent.

[Muertos comment: conspiracy theorists love to use fake quotes, and this is not the only fake quote in Thrive–there’s a quote by Henry Kissinger that is equally false. The problem with these quotes is that, once it gets out there and conspiracy theorists decide they like it, a quote gets repeated all over the place on all sorts of conspiracy theorist websites–thus creating the erroneous impression that, because the quote appears so often, it must be true and accurate. If you don’t believe that this happens all the time, just think back on all the things comedian George Carlin is supposed to have said–only a small fraction of them are actually real Carlin quotes, and as he is dead, he can’t dispute that he didn’t say them.

When conspiracy theorists are challenged on fake quotes, many of them will say something like, “Well, you can’t prove that he didn’t say it!” That, of course, is asinine. You can’t just make up any crap you like, put it in someone’s mouth and then challenge people to prove they didn’t say it. But, sadly, this is how conspiracy theorists think. Quotes about banking are particularly attractive to conspiracy theorists because they love the idea of respected figures from history having supposedly “warned” us about the dangers that they (conspiracy theorists) insist are right around the corner.]

After the fake Henry Ford quote, Gamble resumes his rant on how we have become debt slaves of a financial elite who has rigged the system to their benefit.

Take this as you will, but you’ll become a debt slave if you decide to acquire (too much) debt in the first place. For many this seems unavoidable.

[Muertos comment: the term “debt slave” bothers me because it’s misleading. Suppose you have a good job and a family. You take out a 30-year mortgage at a reasonable interest rate in order to buy a bigger house to raise your kids in. You can easily make the payments and your house increases in equity in the meantime. Are you still a “debt slave” for the next 30 years? If you decide to sell the house you pay off the mortgage, and can take the equity and invest in a bigger house elsewhere. How is this “slavery”? And what’s the alternative–live in a smaller, crappier place and try to raise your kids there, where you don’t have room for them? Why is taking advantage of the opportunities that debt creates necessarily a bad thing? Thrive doesn’t see distinctions along these lines. In its ideology, all debt is bad.]

Catherine Austin Fitts

From Muertos’s article debunking the trailer:

Catherine Austin Fitts was Assistant Secretary for Housing in 1989-90 under the first George Bush. She is also a Wall Street banker. She currently works for an investment advisory firm called Solari, Inc.”

Ms. Fitts, along with Mr. Gamble, keeps reaffirming how FRB is used to print more money and enslave more people through debt. Later she makes a comparison with ordinary people counterfeiting money being a crime, while the [central] banks printing money being called “increasing the money supply” as if there’s no distinction here. There is a distinction. I don’t know, maybe it’s related to the fact that central banks are trusted institutions, and they are an effective way to control interest rates and the amount of money being circulated so as to make sure hyperinflation or hyper-deflation do not take place. Yes, said measures can fail, but it’s certainly not the same as “printing money” just for the hell of it.

Gamble then cites the gathering of the “secret” Morgans and Rockefellers on Jekyll Island, where (he says) the draft of the Federal Reserve was created.

First he fails to mention that a central banking system was already in place in Europe–especially in Germany–long before the bankers and politicians in US were considering using a central banking system. Second, politicians in US were already studying alternatives to the US Treasury bonds and lack of liquidity and access to credit, mostly in response to the Panic of 1907.

After this Gamble beings talking about the creation of the Fed and the Internal Revenue Service in the same year, “forcing us to pay for the politicians’ debt”, and introduces the viewer to G. Edward Griffin and his book.

G. Edward Griffin

Writer of “The Creature from Jekyll Island” which is about the creation the Fed, Griffin is a critic of the current banking system and advocates private currency as being “real money.” Needless to say, his ideas are quite popular amongst libertarian circles.

(If you want to know how bad this idea of “real money” is, just imagine going to the state next to yours just to find out that the private currency of your local bank, backed by a commodity like silver or gold, is worthless because the other state operates at different standards or doesn’t accept your currency. Or, worse yet, imagine if the bank goes bankrupt, all your assets in said bank are gone, and there is no central bank or institution to guarantee the bank will have the resources to honor its deposits).

[Muertos comment: we had precisely this problem in the Great Depression, which resulted in an entity called the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation–an agency that makes sure that you, as a bank depositor, will be able to retrieve your money from that bank (up to $250,000, I think) even if the bank fails. Where would the money come from if the FDIC had to make you whole after your bank fails? It would come from a fund administered by the federal government. Doesn’t sound so bad when you think about it like that, does it?]

Griffin goes on about how the central banks are cartels that work with governments and have the legal power to create money out of nothing when the government needs it.

I think the “out of nothing” part of the money is not entirely nothing. There seems to be a massive misconception that when a central bank prints more currency, it’s simply creating more money out of nothing. First, it doesn’t happen this way. Even though the money is not backed by a scarce commodity (like gold), the value attributed to it is related to how trusted and reliable the country’s central bank is. Printing more money without the generation of wealth decreases the value of the money. This is why you can trade one US Dollar for 10,000 Zimbabwe Dollars, and the same reason why the Zimbabwe 1000 Dollar bill is worth less than the paper it’s printed on. Printing more money without generation of wealth will lead to inflation and the loss of value for the currency.

[Muertos comment: this has been proven time and time again historically, such as in the U.S. when “greenbacks” were printed to help finance the Civil War. It didn’t work then either.]

The central banks are not only able to create more money. They are also capable of removing money from circulation when needed. For example, during Christmas the US Federal Reserve prints more money to assure all the withdraws will be possible, and then they remove the extra bills from circulation afterwards.

When this happens, the fiat currency doesn’t lose its value because it is just a representation of the wealth that already does exist, even though most of this wealth is in form of data like the amount you have in your bank or how much all your declared belongs are worth. It doesn’t mean it’s worthless. It’s a representation. It’s not wealth itself.

Let’s put this way. The amount of wealth in dollars is X and the amount of printed paper money is Y. Because most of the wealth being traded, stored or transferred is in the form of savings, credits, stocks, checks and representations other than printed fiat currency, X will be always higher than Y, but when people are making withdrawals, collecting their payments or selling things, more money will begin to circulate from hand to hand. Since there is more money in data form than there is in the form of printed money, the Central Banks print the money and send bills to the local banks to make sure they are capable of handling all the money being moved and spent. This will make Y approach the amount of X, but if the amount of Y being printed and in circulation is  getting closer to the amount of X, there is a chance that Y will surpass X. This will lead to the devaluation of the currency on which X and Y operate, leading to inflation.

To put it in even more simple terms: when you print currency to represent wealth, you’re not creating money out of nowhere. When you print more currency than you have wealth, you’re lowering the value of the money. The amount of wealth is still the same but the value of the currency changes.

Bill Still on the Federal Reserve

Bill Still is another Libertarian film producer, highly critical of the monetary system in US.  He is also seeking the nomination from the Libertarian Party for the 2012 elections.

During his short appearance in Thrive, Mr. Still claims that the Fed is a privately-owned bank made to look like a government bank. To get his point across he says the Federal Reserve, instead of being on the blue government pages in the Washington DC area phone books, is on the white pages. He thinks this is evidence!

Since I don’t live in the US and I didn’t look at a phone book from the DC area during my short but pleasant stay in US, I have to say that was a really bad choice for evidence.

[Muertos comment: there are a lot of stupid assertions in Thrive, but this one has got to be in the top five most ridiculous things in the entire movie. I can’t believe Mr. Gamble let this one through–it’s simply insulting to the intelligence.]

Alan Greenspan on the government’s relations with the Federal Reserve

At 1:00:02 of the movie there is a short video clip in which Alan Greenspan claims that the Federal Reserve doesn’t take direct orders from the president or the Congress. This is used to show the Fed as a rogue agency that answers to no one.

This is totally wrong. Mr. Greenspan’s quote is taken out of context.

For starters, all members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, are handpicked by the president and approved by Senate vote. They are required by law to have a “fair representation of the financial, agricultural, industrial, and commercial interests and geographical divisions of the country.” This means they have to be scholars in economics, politics and above all they must represent the economic interests of the nation, not the interests of the Congress and not of the president. They are accountable for their actions which can lead to members of the board not being nominated again as well the formal and informal relationships of the board members with the president and the Congress.

There is a really good reason why the central banks usually don’t answer directly the executive chief in office and the Congress: if they did, politicians could use these banks for political gain and directly affect the economy. We need an independent Federal Reserve.

A brief study of history, especially looking at some South American countries and African countries, will show that when the politicians can control the decisions of the central banks and therefore dictate the course of the economy, the results are not pretty. More often than not this is completely disastrous for the country.

Even though the title of the linked video and the comment section of the youtube page follow the same line of thought of the people featured in Thrive, I’d like the viewer to see the part beginning at 8:00 where Greenspan remembers that the actions taken by the Fed would hurt G.H.W. Bush’s reelection. Just think about that for a few minutes. What if Bush was able to change the decisions of the Fed for his own political gain? What would that do to the economy of the United States? This could potentially harm the economy more than it was already harmed in 1992 (which at that time was in a deep recession). This is why the Congress and the president don’t have much say in the decisions of the Fed, but the Fed is still accountable for its decisions. The people on the Federal Reserve Board were chosen by the president and approved by the Senate in the first place, making them accountable for their actions inside the Federal Reserve.

Here are some documents containing detailed explanations of the relations of the Federal Reserve with other branches of the US Government. As you will see, it’s far from an unaccountable rogue entity.

“Economic parasite”

After this, Mr. Gamble and Ms. Fitts give us analogies on how the bankers use their data on the economy to benefit themselves at expense of others. I won’t argue much with that because it is happening, but not for the reasons  Gamble & friends would you like to believe.

FBI Raid

Since it is Mr. Gamble talking about the FBI raiding her (Ms. Fitts’s) company not her saying it, and nowhere in her company’s website or her bio mentions the said raid, I’m skeptical that it even happened. I also tried to look for news articles mentioning this raid hoping to see something like the paper shot Gamble gave us on the screen, but the only places I saw any mention of it were 9/11 Truth websites and a few truthers’ blogs without any external links or sources to this event beyond what their word for it.

[Muertos comment: always be skeptical of anything that appears on 9/11 Truth websites and nowhere else. 9/11 Truthers are notoriously incapable of getting almost anything right.]

Unless Ms. Fitts herself can come forward and explain in her own words what happened, or if someone can provide me a reliable link or newsfeed with info validating Mr. Gamble’s characterization of what happened, I’ll keep my sense of disbelief about the big government suppressing her findings, specially someone with credentials and political reach like her. (Blogs or forums do not count as reliable source; I’m talking about newspaper articles or public data).

[Muertos comment: given the fact that ten people who appear in Thrive have signed a letter repudiating the film and saying the movie was misrepresented to them, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if what Ms. Fitts would say about what happened would differ significantly from the way Mr. Gamble puts it in the film.]

The Dollar and the Sub-prime crisis:

Gamble begins this part with a moot point about the devaluation of the dollar, showing it from 1913 to 2010.

Remember when I discussed the matter of currency in circulation vs. the real value of wealth? Well, this is what happened: when the Federal Reserve came into being, having a regular universally recognized currency made trade easier both on the internal market as well the international market. It made the US economy more open to these markets, generating more trade, and as result more currency started to circulate. To compensate for the new amount of money circulating and more people earning more money, prices rose, because people where consuming more. This effect is called “demand-pull inflation.” This is regarded as the good kind of inflation because it shows that the country is THRIVING.

This doesn’t make people poor. If the prices are rising, so are peoples’ wages. Even if products have higher prices they still hold the same value. (The kind of inflation that rises both price and value is called “cost-push inflation,” and this happens due to the increase of production cost or scarcity. This is the bad kind of inflation).

But why doesn’t the currency return to its original value after a while? This happens because of an economic effect called “built-in inflation,” where past experiences dictate how the wages and prices will rise. Workers expect inflation to pinch in the future, so they start asking for higher wages to compensate. As a result, companies start raising the price of their products so they don’t lose their profit margins. Because this builds over time it becomes something like a change of currency or a hard economic crisis, where money is being hoarded and trading comes to a halt.

Even if you look to Mr. Gamble’s graph you’ll notice the periods when the dollar’s value rose were in the interwar period and during WWII, when US was still suffering from the 1929 stock crash that brought the US economy to its knees, and during WWII where all the US economy was focused on the war effort instead of producing consumer goods and trading. After those periods were over, trading resumed and, as expected, the value of the dollar declined as more currency began circulating again.

Wealth Gap

Same case as the “economic parasite” claim: the gap in wealth is a big problem, but Thrive has the wrong take on what is the cause.

No, I don’t have a magic bullet solution for wealth disparity. No one does. I do, however, support several policies involving fiscal responsibility, fair taxation, better public health and education plans, transparency from both government and corporate business and not reelecting the same politicians with histories of corruption and incompetence.

Bankers and crisis

Gamble tries to correlate the stock crash of 1929 and the Great Depression to the creation of the Fed. Logically correlation does not equal causation. If you take a look at what happened, the stock crash of 1929 was caused by reckless investments on high risk and speculative shares. With the investments boom more people where buying shares and raising market prices. This would only become viable if the stock market kept rising at a quick rate. If the rise wasn’t fast enough, halted or went into a downturn, those shares would lose their value. This was combined with the massive loans stock brokers were making to investors (called “margin”). The investor only had to pay 50% of the share value and the broker would complete the rest with his own money. Thousands of people taking loans to purchase more shares didn’t help as it was creating a massive economic bubble. As expected, once the stock market faced a downturn, mass panic selling followed, forcing the share’s values down creating a cycle where investors had to sell their shares to pay their brokers and avoid losing too much money with shares that by this time had lost all their value.

[Muertos comment: the causes of the Great Depression are still highly controversial today. There is no one clear answer, but what you’ve identified is clearly part of the problem–any basic book on the crash will make this case. It’s also not limited to 1929. I was working in the financial sector during the “dot com bust” of 2000-2001, and much the same thing happened–shares were grossly overvalued, and there was too much credit attached to financial speculation. When dot coms started to post less than impressive profit numbers, the whole thing collapsed. Something similar happened in 2008, except instead of stocks it was financial products tied to real estate.]

It is also worth remembering that the both people buying and selling the shares are normal people, prone to make mistakes, get nervous or act on impulse. This means one bad rumor in a highly volatile place such as the stock market can cause many stocks’ value to plummet. Do this on a large scale and you can get yourself a nice big crisis on your hands. (this is a TL;DR version of the previous link)

I also would like to have access to this “research” Mr. Gamble claims did on the “major banks” moving their money away from the stock market before the crash, because I’m not able to find any reliable link or article showing that this in fact happened.

The 2008’s credit bubble crisis

This is the only thing preventing me to copy paste the debunking of Zeitgeist here and calling it a day.

But where do I start? First Foster Gamble and David Icke and their “research” (really, I’d like to see the data Gamble uses to make his statements) want to lead the viewer to believe the 2008 economic crash was a ploy engineered by the major banks to consolidate their power by breaking smaller business and seizing their assets.

But there are a few problems with this. For one those assets (mostly houses) have become worthless, and the bail outs are not even close to the amount lost by the banks during the crisis. Plus, why create an economic crisis in the first place? The last thing you want, if you’re a banker or an industrialist, is an economic crisis where people stop spending and the economy stagnates.

So what happened in the 2008’s subprime crisis?

It was caused by a combination of lack of foresight, greed, high interest rates, high risk investments and a complete lack of regulations for the financial sector (I can hear from here all the libertarians shrieking in horror after reading this).

Putting it in layman’s terms, before the 2008 crisis the housing sector in United States was one of the most attractive investments for a few reasons. First, the continuous rise of housing prices and the demand for new houses, and second the too low interest rates from the Federal Reserve that were not attractive to the investors anymore (they were around 1% during 2008).

Okay, what was the banks’ deal then?

They were buying the mortgages from lenders and then reselling them to investors looking for investments with better rates. The banks would proceed to lend more money, mostly from other major banks and from central banks, to acquire more mortgages. Then the banks would generate massive profits from all the homeowners paying their mortgages.

So far so good. But for them there was a problem: since this was one relatively safe and high profit deal, the banks wanted more people paying more mortgages on the rising housing prices.

When a financing company sold the mortgages for the banks, if the homeowner went into default the bank would get the house. This was attractive for the bank because the housing prices were rising at the time. This meant that when the mortgage broker sells the house at a new higher price, the lenders and the banks would make a better profit with the new mortgage payers.

Okay, but where do the problems begin?

The number of AAA home buyers (meaning, reliable and financially responsible people) buying houses was too low to sustain the kind of profits they wanted to make selling and flipping mortgages. So, not wanting to miss the opportunity of selling the houses at higher prices and collecting the higher mortgages, the banks and lenders started selling the houses to subprime families (non reliable people) that they knew would go into default in a matter of time so they could resell the house again and again. Major profits were made this way. The lender would sell the mortgage for the banks and then the bank would sell it to an investor willing to take the risk.

With this happening soon the number of houses going into default was increasing. The number of houses being placed on the market for sale was also rising, but the number of people looking for a house was not. Actually most of the people who could afford a house already had one and with the subprime families simply not paying, this was starting to drive the housing prices down. To make things worse, the people who could afford their high mortgages simply started abandoning their houses because now they were worth a fraction of what they used to be worth, and yet their mortgage was the same.

This left the banks with a lot of houses, but with no one paying for them. The banks borrowed massive amounts of money to buy those mortgages, and the lenders had a lot of houses with people who were going into default, and the investors had a lot of high risk deals that have become worthless. The investors were not able to sell the risk to anyone because by this time everyone noticed that things were not going as planned and stopped buying or selling, essentially freezing the banking and the financing market, bankrupting the banks, the investors and the lenders.

And the banks owned a lot of money they couldn’t pay back, usually to other large banks either in US or Europe, thus dragging those banks down into the crisis with them.

This is the simple explanation, but there are other factors that contributed to the crisis. For example, easy credit (it stimulated not only banks to borrow huge sums of money but also common folk), predatory lending (lending deals so long and prone to change that people were deceived into deals that aren’t what they are advertised) and underwriting (banks with mortgages that didn’t meet proper standards and selling them to other banks and investors) and deregulation of the banking industry (this made easier for banks and financing companies to pull their stunts without the government being able to interfere).

This showed that the banking system had serious problems both ethically and financially, but the reality is much less Machiavellian (and boring) than Gamble would you like to believe.

Back to the movie. We have Mr. Gamble explaining the crisis using a fish hook analogy to show how the financial elites consolidate their power. I’d bother to explain who this logic is wrong if I didn’t do it already above.

Again the banks won’t make major profit from a lot of houses with devaluated prices and with their credibility shot.

Gentlemen! Behold the links! (a friendly video explanation about how the crisis came to be)

“Give me control over a nation’s money and I care not who makes her laws.”–Baron Mayer Amschel Rothschild

I can’t find this quote in any history source or website. The only result that purported to show where it came from besides attributing it to Amschel Rothschild is from The Creature of Jekyll Island.

And it featured in America: Freedom to Fascism.

Too bad Mayer Amschel Rothschild died in 1812, virtually a hundred years before the quote started making its first appearances during the early 20th century.

[Google Books link discussing the quote]

Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

There isn’t much to talk about the BIS and the IMF. The BIS acts like a hub for central banks to organize themselves, regularize the sector and push for transparency on the business. The IMF is a bank responsible for money lending programs enjoyed by its contributors. It is infamous for cases of sheer incompetence due to lack of touch with the reality of the countries they were lending money to or how the assistance programs are perceived by the local population.  Depending on who you ask or which country you’re talking about, the IMF can be either seen as a major tool for the development of a country or just a means for the developed and industrialized nations to explore the undeveloped ones.

Like the Federal Reserve and other “major banks,” Gamble also claims they are controlled by the financial elite.


As with much else in Thrive, the “Follow the Money” section is long on rhetoric and short on identifiable facts. There are oversimplifications, important concepts left out, quotes whose truth can’t be identified, and a lot of distortions. This section isn’t done very much better than any other section in Thrive.

As difficult as this subject is, hopefully this analysis gives you something to work with as you evaluate the claims made by the movie.

Who Is David Icke?

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.

A Post at the Sister Blog: Thrive Demonstrates How the Conspiracy World is Changing.

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.

Progressive Think Tank Slams Thrive’s Political Agenda

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.

Should We Give Thrive a Pass on Facts, And Instead Praise its “Message?”

As stated here, the purpose of this blog is to bring to light the many errors, distortions, and inaccuracies contained in the conspiracy theory documentary Thrive. My objections to Thrive are primarily fact-based. It presents many claims as fact which are simply untrue: for example, that crop circles are of extraterrestrial origin, that Adam Trombly has invented a working “free energy” device, and that an insular group of conspirators control the world. These things are not true, and many other claims the movie makes aren’t true either.

A common thread in many of the comments I’ve received on this blog, however, has been to take me to task for focusing on the factual veracity of claims made in Thrive. According to certain commenters, the factual accuracy of the film and its claims aren’t the point, and instead of debunking them, I should be praising what some people view as the movie’s “positive message.” This article will evaluate that assertion critically, or at least as critically as an essentially faith-based proposition can be evaluated.

Should we give Thrive a pass on its purported facts, or some of its purported facts, in favor of praising either its overall “message” or the good intentions of its creators, such as Foster Gamble? I would clearly answer no to this question, but it’s equally clear that many fans of the film would unhesitatingly answer yes. This difference in approach illustrates some interesting things about the movie itself and the audience at which it is aimed.

Do Facts Matter?

On the face of it this question seems silly. Of course they do. Facts always matter. Without ascertaining what’s fact and what’s not, the world is unnavigable. However, it appears that, when one delves into the strange New Age netherworld of the sorts of subjects covered in Thrive—UFOs, magical energy devices, ancient astronauts, and conspiracy theories—facts become a whole lot less important, at least to the people who believe in these things.

Let’s take, for example, Adam Trombly’s “free energy” machine. An early article on this blog presented the facts that, not only is there no evidence that Trombly’s machine works, but the principle by which it supposedly operates violates the laws of physics. In the comments on that and other pages, however, some defenders of Thrive don’t seem to be very troubled by this. Believers in “free energy” devices, when confronted with facts demonstrating that a particular machine has not been proven to work, will often start arguing about possibilities and potentials of unlimited energy devices, sometimes citing examples of other particular machines—whose operations have not been proven either. You can see examples of this sort of argumentation in the comments to that page. To them, therefore, what seems to be important is that a person believes in the possibility of “free energy.” When you come at it from that tack, whether Trombly’s specific machine does or does not work suddenly recedes in importance. The factual question of whether it does or doesn’t work is no longer the key issue you’re arguing about.

But what does this say about Thrive? It seems safe to conclude that Foster Gamble believes strongly in “free energy” devices, and promoting that belief to the public seems to be one of the key objectives of Thrive. One would assume, therefore, that Adam Trombly and his device are, if not the best and most compelling example of “free energy” devices that Gamble could find, at least a representative example. Even if Gamble, in preparation for making the movie, interviewed 50 inventors of so-called “free energy” devices and only Trombly was willing to sign up to appear on camera, it wouldn’t make sense that Gamble would put him in the movie if his specific device wasn’t capable of illustrating the point Gamble wants to make about “free energy.” Seen in that light, isn’t the failure of Trombly’s case to persuade us that “free energy” devices are real extremely damaging to Gamble’s argument in general?

Don’t misunderstand what I’m arguing here. One failed example is not an excuse to trash an entire idea. If you can show me a working example of a “free energy” device whose operation is clearly and publicly verified by reputable scientific sources—a “free energy” device whose operation and functioning are unmistakable, explainable by science and capable of being reproduced—I will concede that “free energy” exists, and the fact that Trombly failed to build such a device is irrelevant. But what I am saying is that if Trombly is the best example of this phenomenon that Thrive can offer us, and that example fails to make its case, doesn’t that diminish the ability of the movie Thrive to persuade us that its arguments are credible?

Again, just to be clear: the point I’m making is that, by using Adam Trombly as a (presumably) representative example of “free energy,” Thrive turns out to be not very persuasive that “free energy” exists. This may be just because Trombly is a bad example, in which case the makers of Thrive chose him poorly; or it may be because there’s nothing to “free energy” to begin with, in which case the makers of Thrive are asserting something they either know is false or ought to know if they had done proper research into the matter. Either way it seems inescapable that Thrive’s competence and credibility as a source diminishes as soon as you realize that the claims the movie makes about Trombly and his machine don’t pan out.

To at least some defenders of the movie, however, this analysis doesn’t follow at all. To them it doesn’t really matter whether Trombly is a good example or a bad one—they wish to believe that “free energy” exists, and the fact that the specific inventor showcased in Thrive has not created a working “free energy” machine is not permitted to impeach this conclusion. This is purely faith-based, result-driven reasoning.

I’m using the Trombly case as an example here, but it is by no means the only example. It would be one thing if it was the only unpersuasive example. But it isn’t. If you pile the numerous errors, distortions and unwarranted conclusions in Thrive atop one another, it quickly becomes clear that the movie as a whole has an extremely serious problem with basic factual credibility on multiple levels.

Should We Cherry-Pick the Claims in Thrive, Believe Some and Leave Others Alone?

Another thread that comes through in some of the pro-Thrive comments suggests that viewers are approaching it as a sort of cafeteria smorgasbord where you’re expected to take one or more claims it makes at face value while dismissing, or ignoring, others. The movie offers so many conspiracy theories and New Age perspectives, changing gears so rapidly, that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. The problem is compounded when one looks at the Thrive Movement website, especially its section on the “Global Domination Agenda,” and sees links to a bunch of other conspiracy theories that the movie didn’t have time to cover, as well as mentions of conspiracy theorists, like Alex Jones, who themselves espouse particular conspiracy theories not specifically mentioned in the film. It’s difficult to accept that anybody could believe the literal truth of all of the conspiracy theories mentioned in Thrive or referenced, directly or indirectly, on the website, but, as I have long experience dealing with conspiracy theorists, I know that it is (unfortunately) possible, perhaps even likely.

A good example of the “cherry-picking” approach concerns David Icke. As most people familiar with the conspiracy underground know, Icke, perhaps the most well-known conspiracy theorist in the world, is instantly identified with his bizarre theories that the world is secretly run by evil reptilian shape-shifting aliens. These theories are science-fiction redresses of the old anti-Semitic “Jewish world conspiracy” theories that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with aliens standing in for Jews. Icke appears in Thrive—in fact, although he isn’t interviewed until later in the movie, his face flashes on screen within the first seven minutes of the film—but does not talk about reptilian aliens on-screen. One of my strongest objections to Thrive is that Icke is involved in it and quoted as a reliable source about anything, even though he doesn’t push his reptilian alien crap in this specific film. Pro-Thrive readers of this blog have taken me to task for this. According to them, I’m supposed to overlook the fact that Icke believes in reptilian shape-shifting aliens and instead focus on positive things he says in Thrive. (Like what? The false claims of a “Global Domination Agenda”?)

I remain unconvinced that Foster Gamble put Icke on-screen just because he had something supposedly worthwhile to say that is unconnected to his reptilian alien delusions, as some Thrive fans have asserted. For one thing, Icke’s entire worldview stems from this delusion. If you read his writings it’s difficult to find anything he talks about that isn’t connected in some way to his elaborate sci-fi conspiracy mythology. For another thing, David Icke’s associations are so toxic that there’s no chance anyone who is not already predisposed to accept, or at least consider, Icke’s ideology could overlook them. The fact that David Icke appears in this movie at all is a not-very-subtle bid to market Thrive and its conclusions to Icke’s core audience, whom Gamble is obviously interested in reaching. Thus, don’t tell me that the fact that Icke believes in evil reptilians from outer space is somehow irrelevant to what he’s doing in this movie. Whether Foster Gamble himself believes in evil reptilians from outer space is not the point—he probably doesn’t (I certainly hope he doesn’t!)—but if you want to reach conspiracy theorists who dwell at that advanced level of fantasy, you can do no better than to utilize David Icke as a mouthpiece.

Again, as with the Trombly issue, if Icke was the only unreliable or questionable source in the movie, it might be easier to look past his presence and simply chalk up Gamble’s invitation for Icke to appear as a fluke in the “bad call, Ripley!” category. But in Thrive you don’t just get David Icke. You get Nassim Haramein, touted as a reliable source on ancient history but who plays fast and loose with the facts; you get Steven Greer, whose claim to fame is pushing the-gubbermint-is-covering-up-UFOs conspiracy theories; you get Edgar Mitchell, a former astronaut known for making outlandish conspiracy-oriented claims that NASA has officially denied; you get Deepak Chopra, well-known in New Age and alt-med circles; the list goes on and on. Inviting people to your movie to espouse controversial opinions is fine, and I have no problem with that. But these people are asserting as matters of fact many things which are demonstrably false. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. But nobody has a right to their own facts.

Good Intentions?

Okay. So Foster Gamble is wrong about crop circles, free energy, the Global Domination Agenda, the Rockefellers, alt-med cures, Nicola Tesla, UFO suppression, alien astronauts, and countless other things. One can certainly argue that he made a couple of poor decisions, credibility-wise, by giving the floor to Adam Trombly, whose claims cannot be verified, and David Icke, whose claims are something out of bad science fiction. Should Mr. Gamble’s good intentions in making Thrive insulate him from criticism on these points?

I’m sure Foster Gamble is a nice guy. On-screen he comes across as extremely personable. Before he made this movie he was widely associated with a campaign to ban (or reduce) industrial pesticide spraying—which I regard as a good cause and effort well spent. I’m quite sure he honestly wants to see the world improve and to see people lead better lives. I’m also quite sure he works very hard and puts a lot of effort into activities that he believes advances these goals.

Here’s the thing: so do I. However, I do not hear defenders of the Thrive movie arguing that my good intentions should insulate me from criticism for doing what I do on this blog.

Indeed, who doesn’t have good intentions? Who honestly doesn’t think the world can and should be improved, that people should live longer and more fulfilling lives, and that social justice should prevail? It’s not as if it’s so unusual to find a person as well-intentioned as Foster Gamble that a person with such intentions suddenly becomes immune from criticism on the basis of factual inaccuracies or logic errors, especially in a media piece that is, as Thrive purports to be, a documentary supposedly telling the truth about “how things really are.”

Personally, I devote a great deal of money and time to volunteer and charity activities. I believe strongly, for instance, in providing better access to education, especially higher education. I’m out there working on my ideas to “save the world” just as hard as Foster Gamble is working on his. What sort of special privileges or immunities do I believe this entitles me to? Absolutely none at all.

Here’s something else to keep in mind: peoples’ ideas for improving the world can, and usually do, conflict with one another. I believe that conspiracy theories impair peoples’ ability to think rationally and thus participate meaningfully in public discourse. Therefore, refuting conspiracy theories and promoting the facts is something I feel is a strong social good. I would venture to say Foster Gamble would disagree. He seems to believe that promoting conspiracy theories is a social good, or otherwise he wouldn’t have made Thrive in the first place. I do not question Gamble’s good intentions. But it’s a simple fact that Gamble’s activities in promoting conspiracy theories directly conflict with my own efforts to refute them. He has money to burn and an audience of millions, so he’ll probably make a lot more headway on his goal that I will on mine, but that doesn’t change that I think Foster Gamble is wrong. Am I not allowed to assert that view because I also believe that, however wrong he is, he at least is acting out of good intentions and pure motives?

What Is the “Point” of Thrive, Anyway?

Here we get to the real issue: why was Thrive created, what is its ultimate “message,” and who is it aimed at?

When I first began this blog I was reluctant to speculate too much as to Foster Gamble and the other makers’ motives in creating the movie, because those motives are extremely unclear. After studying the film and reaction to it for the past two and a half months, however, I believe we can make a reasonable hypothesis as to why this film was created and what it’s ultimately trying to say.

I’ve recently had a fascinating conversation over email with an academic, who happens to be an expert on conspiracy theories and New Age mythology. This person, whose credentials are impressive, is not a “debunker” as I am—he studies the phenomenon of conspiracy theories and why people believe them, whereas my study of them (and I do not study them in an academic realm) focuses on ascertaining their factual veracity. After my conversation with this person regarding Thrive, which helped me to see the larger context in which the movie operates, I think I understand the point of the film much better than I did in November. This topic is worth expanding upon and will probably be the subject of a self-contained article.

The upshot of my conversation with the expert was that Thrive was created as a means to explain, at least partially, the failure of New Age concepts—which have been around and popular since at least the ‘70s—to result in the transformative change that many New Age believers insisted would flow from the implementation of their ideas. Here is what he had to say on the subject (he asked that his identifying information not be disclosed on this blog, but he gave me permission to post his words): 

“I suspect that what’s going on is that New Age, now entering its third generation, has developed a theodicy. Now, this is a theological term, but it essentially means an explanation of the existence of evil – why bad things happen to good people. For some of those in the New Age milieu – Foster Gamble, David Icke, Whitley Strieber, Duncan Rhodes and others, all incidentally in middle age and with a long term involvement in the New Age milieu – an explanation is needed as to why, if we’ve entered the Age of Aquarius, is the world less peaceful, equal and progressive than ever? Conspiracy theories offer such a theodicy – the New Age hasn’t happened because evil people prevented it from happening.” 

Once you start to consider Thrive from this angle, everything falls into place. It suddenly makes sense why Thrive carefully strokes the various tropes of New Age belief systems: UFOs, ancient astronauts, alt-med miracle cures, benevolent aliens and magical free energy machines. It also makes sense why, once the movie has proclaimed its sympathy with these themes, it turns on a fire hose of conspiracy craziness, theory after theory thrown willy-nilly at the audience in an attempt to make one or more of them stick. The movie’s point, therefore, is this: “The reason that our New Age beliefs haven’t transformed the world is because the evil conspirators are thwarting us.”

This also explains why Thrive’s supporters aren’t generally swayed by factual arguments or applications of logic and critical thinking. The point is not to establish literal, verifiable truth (though the film seems, on the surface, to want to do this as well). The point is to validate an essentially spiritual belief system. At its core, then, seen from this angle, Thrive is basically a religious text. A Thrive supporter is no more likely to abandon his support for the film, when presented evidence that crop circles are terrestrial in origin or the Global Domination Agenda does not exist, than a Mormon is to leave the Church of Latter-Day Saints when told that there is no archaeological evidence that the Nephites and Lamanites actually existed.

That Thrive supporters take the movie this way—whether they are consciously aware of it or not—is borne out by comments like this one, which seems to equate criticism of the movie with some sort of assault on the primacy of the human spirit:

“Thrive is not out to get anyone other than the people that Gamble feels are responsible for the situation we find ourselves in today. I believe that all Thrive is trying to do is show people the power they have, which to me is amazing because all I see everywhere are reminders of how I need to better myself or change who I am because its not good enough. I don’t feel the need to back up any claims with links or anything of that nature because you can’t cite the claim I have which is this; Every human being has the capability of being amazing no matter what but there are people who try very hard to keep us unaware of this….I just love the movie Thrive because it gives me hope. All I want is for as many people to be inspired by this movie the way I was because it is too hard for me to see and hear about so many people living with so little while we enjoy the benefits of their destruction.”

So Thrive, then, is probably intended to be accepted on spiritual and philosophical terms—not factual ones.

That means that unless I’m ready to give battle on the supposed spiritual basis of Thrive, I need to delete this blog immediately, right? Not quite.

There’s Just One Problem…Thrive Purports to be a Documentary. 

Unfortunately Thrive doesn’t wear its intentions on its sleeve. On the face of it, it appears to be a documentary—a movie intended to state what the facts actually are. The fact that I had to talk to an academic expert on conspiracy theories and New Age beliefs to realize that it is not really a documentary demonstrates this. It also leaves the movie and its makes with the same fundamental problem that drew me to begin debunking it in the first place: the things that it says are facts are not, in fact, true. 

Appreciating the New Age context in which many supporters of Thrive perceive the movie is one thing. However, it doesn’t change that the movie is still out there claiming to be a documentary and telling people that the Rockefellers control their food supply and that evil oil companies are suppressing extraterrestrial technology. So long as statements of fantasy such as these are continued to be passed off as objective fact, attacking Thrive on the basis of its factual accuracy is, in my view, entirely fair game. To argue otherwise is to argue, effectively, either that (i) facts don’t matter; (ii) Foster Gamble’s good intentions in making the film should immunize him from criticism about its assertions; or (iii) that the purported “goodness” of the movie’s overall message outweighs the transgressions it makes against the truth. This article, I feel, has already effectively refuted (i) and (ii). Point (iii) makes me uneasy because it’s essentially an “ends justify the means” argument, which is always dangerous. 

Regardless of whether Foster Gamble would himself agree that the purported factual assertions in the movie should be taken with a “grain of salt”—and it would be very problematic if he did state that unequivocally—there’s no question that some people out there do believe everything Thrive says. I can state that, between comments received on this blog and replies directed to me on Twitter, I have, since beginning this blog, seen an example of an assertion of the direct factual accuracy of every major claim made in the film. Granted, this is spread among many different commenters, but if each individual claim in the movie is believed to be literal fact by at least one person, that still adds up to a lot of people believing in a lot of untrue claims. This is the problem with movies that play fast and loose with the facts masquerading as documentaries. It’s deceptive. If you’re trying to tell people the way things really are, here on Earth in our real world, by doing so you owe at least a moral duty to tell these things accurately, and that means doing diligent research to make sure the claims you want to make are really true. Given the ease with which I and the other contributors to this blog have debunked many of its claims, I’m left with serious doubts that Mr. Gamble and the others responsible for Thrive have done the research they should have done before passing off these claims as true. 

Should we give Thrive a pass on its facts and instead praise its motives or its message? So long as its makers offer it as a factual documentary, no, we shouldn’t. It’s just that simple.

JREF Reviews Thrive!

Kyle Hill, who is associated with the James Randi Educational Foundation, recently posted an article reviewing the Thrive movie. The full article, which I eagerly recommend, is here.

The article begins:

I recently started doing my skeptical due diligence with a link on Facebook that was connected to the newest conspiracy theory movie, “Thrive”, released just last week on 11/11/11 (you can watch the trailer here). If you are unfamiliar with it, this movie is basically Zeitgeist 2.0. It talks about ancient codes “burned into atomic structures”, huge energy company conspiracies and free energy technology, as well as the standard Federal Reserve, Rockefeller, and economic policy rants. Supporting these claims are people like David Icke, world-renowned conspiracy theorist who believes that a secret reptilian race controls the world, and our old friend Mr. Chopra. The movie also proffers that the Illuminati (useless conspiracy placeholder) are covering up free energy technology (which contradict the laws of physics) which was given to us by aliens who make coded crop circles, and have crashed on Earth numerous times, which the government covers up. When you align all of the claims that this movie purports to be true, it is hard not to think it is some kind of joke.

I won’t go into the specifics here, suffice it to say that there is a lot of Chopra, crop circles, aliens, Illuminati, world-bank, new world order, federal reserve, reptilian overlord kind of gibberish in it. I’m just sad to see actual scientists hoodwinked into giving statements that they did not know would be taken out of context for this so-called “research.”

If you don’t know, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) is an organization established by former world-class magician James Randi, who has devoted a significant portion of his life to promoting skepticism and critical thinking. Randi is probably best known for exposing the tricks of phony psychics, most notably an Israeli man called Uri Geller who claimed he could bend spoons with his mind. For many years Randi had an open challenge that anyone who could replicate psychic powers under controlled scientific conditions would win $1 million from JREF. No one won.

Today, JREF is known as a gathering place for others who believe in Randi’s ideas of skepticism and critical thinking. The JREF web forums are probably the most significant gathering of debunkers on the Internet in the English-speaking world. Conspiracy theorists hate JREF because the skeptics there frequently demolish the very theories to which conspiracy believers are most committed.

JREF’s article on Thrive echoes many of the sentiments stated on this blog. I again recommend reading the full article. Toward the end, however, Mr. Hill offers this warning for debunkers of Thrive, which is probably good to take to heart:

What can skeptics do to counter-act such arguments? In my experience, these are typically intelligent people who have put their efforts into theories that only could be true, without relying on evidence or skepticism to sort through them. Getting a conspiracy theorist to converse on rational terms is then the objective, supplanting the seed of skeptical doubt the ultimate goal. However, if you run up against the kind of opposition that I have, perhaps you should jettison and try to promote critical thinking to people not so entrenched. Charging headlong into the lion’s den is admirable, but dangerously unproductive.

I think this is sage advice. I’m posting material on this blog to rebut the errors and misconceptions in the film, but I am stopping short of charging full-bore into conspiracist forums to force this information upon Thrive believers. It’s been my experience that conspiracy theorists reform only if they want to, and their journey out of the darkness of conspiracy thinking can only be self-motivated. Thus, while I’m happy to post my information here, I’m not on a “crusade” to convert believers in the film.

As an aside I will also remark that, while there’s no way to tell quantitatively, it appears that Thrive is not making a particularly profound impact, even in the conspiracy underground. Certainly conspiracy theorists like it, but now two weeks after its release I don’t see much evidence of it “going viral” in the same way that, say, Zeitgeist or Loose Change did. I think this is very good news, if it can be borne out by some sort of quantitative analysis.

Part 3 of the Debunking of the Full-Length Thrive Movie.

This is Part III of the first debunking done on the full-length Thrive movie. There will be additional debunking material that is more detailed, both on the full movie and on various individual aspects of it, posted later. This debunking is not by me, but by gabrieltech (SlayerX3), a contributor to this blog. If you missed Part I, here it is, and here is Part II.


Free Energy suppression: “Follow the Money.”

The Oil & Energy Empires:

Summarizing this part, Gamble states that the power, money and influence of major energy and oil corporations like Standard Oil, BP, Texaco, Exxon Mobil and specially the Rockefellers have been suppressing alternative free energy sources to protect their profits.

I don’t think they need to suppress something that doesn’t work.

[Muertos comment: Gamble’s assertion that free energy is being “suppressed” is based on a handful of extremely spurious “examples.” As described in Part II of the debunking, the claims that various “free energy” scientists have had their labs ransacked or have even been murdered do not stand up to scrutiny. In short, there is no evidence of suppression at all. Everything in the Thrive movie about is unsourced, anecdotal, or unrelated–for example, the murder of Eugene Mallove, which in fact had nothing to do with his energy work.]

The green revolution:

Gamble states that with the power acquired from the Rockefeller Oil Empire and the creation of oil based fertilizers and pesticides, Rockefeller also controls our food as well.

He later talks about the 1960’s and 1970’s green revolution and his disappointment towards it, saying it used massive amounts  of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides yet it wasn’t able to end world hunger and the US farmers received billions of dollars in subsides.

Hunger claim:

It’s commonly accepted among the economist and humanitarian groups that the world hunger is not caused by the insufficient production of food, but by improper food distribution caused by poverty, governmental policies and military conflict and more recently climate change. These are the main reasons why the African continent and South Asian countries and the like are plagued by hunger: the population is barred access to food due to economic disparity, policies that benefit the nation’s elites and war. Blaming the industrial food production method for the world hunger is another one of Gamble’s attempts to make the viewer think that industrial groups are the sole agents responsible for the hunger problem.

Link: Does the world produce enough food to feed everyone?

Production cost and subsides:

For starters, industrial fertilizers are cheaper and more efficient (not less harmful, but that is arguable) in producing crops with higher yield per acre. The issue with those is not the chemical themselves but the manner they are being used, which sometimes leads to over fertilizing and scorching the ground. There is also a tendency to use massive amounts of land to grow crops, which tends to reduce the yield when compared to smaller crops (that is a management issue, not a technological one), yet the cost of production is very low when compared to all organic farms and crops, while the yields are higher per acre when compared to the latter.

Gamble cites the subsides paid to US farmers as evidence of inefficiency, yet this doesn’t explain why crops and farms in South America, Asia, Africa and Europe who use the same techniques are economically viable and profitable. There are somewhat obvious reasons why the US farmers receive subsides from the US government, and I’m sure Mr. Gamble missed them on purpose.

  • First, they receive the subsides because there is a bill that permits US agricultural producers to receive monetary help regardless of need or not. This bill predates the Great Depression started by the 1929 stock market crash in order to stabilize prices and elevate the crops’ value.
  • Second, the US farms are in direct competition with other emerging nations’ agricultural industries, most notably from the BRIC block (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Several factors ranging from geographical advantages to currency exchange rates give some countries, especially Brazil and India, a major edge in food exportation to US and Europe. Not only US but the EU also uses subsides to shield their local producers from cheaper products coming from developing nations.

It’s also worth mentioning that the World Trade Organization along with the G8 and G20 discuss on a regular basis the subsides from US and EU producers. This is a matter of competition rather than alleged inefficiency (not really the type that Gamble implies).,_Conservation,_and_Energy_Act_of_2008

Family Farming:

More than anything else the fall of the family farmer is tied to income. Mostly outside US, especially in developing countries, rural workers migrate to cities in the search for better job opportunities, with the well-paying jobs being localized in urban areas. This leaves little room for family farming to sustain, well a family.

Inside US is another story, and is more tied to the higher industrial demand where larger farms have a better ability to deliver and supply the commercial demand.

Loss of bio diversity and environmental harm:

A broken clock is right twice a day. Do I really need to explain that predatory human action in nature does almost every kind of harm?

On a note, since agro toxics tend to remain in the superficial skin of vegetables, a simple wash is able to remove most of the harmful chemicals. Also on the production line food does receive baths and other processes to remove harmful chemicals (the ethical companies do that at least).

Vandana Shiva:

A prominent figure in ecoactivism and ecofeminism, and perhaps one of the most respectable people to feature in Thrive, even though I don’t agree with most of her views. She discusses the use of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) and Free Trade Treaties.

First definition of GMOs: “is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species.”

The top 5 users of GMO crops are (by area, in millions of Hectares, data from 2006): USA (54.6), Argentina (18.0) Brazil (11.5) Canada (6.1) China (3.5) and Paraguay (2.0).

The debate on the use of GMOs is very controversial from the scientific, economic and sociological point of views, with discussions about the safety, gains, access and health benefits and dangers related to the use of GMOs.

Shiva focuses in the social repercussions of the GMOs in Thrive, mostly because of the seed patenting, sterile seeds and exclusion of impoverished producers.

There’s an uproar against the seed patenting among environmentalists. Quoting Shiva “patenting seed and patenting life as a way of control, declaring seeds to be private property”.

The main issue is that GMOs do not occur naturally in nature and are products of extensive research and genetic manipulation to modify or enhance living organisms such as plants and add or remove traits. Currently only major companies and well-funded research agencies are able to create GMO seeds. This excludes the majority of the small producers because they don’t have enough capital to purchase these type of seeds and because they would be at a serious disadvantage when competing with the producers that purchased GMOs.

Patenting is a way to ensure other companies don’t copy the designed GMOs and trade them as their own. This is a very common practice in business and industry to avoid intellectual theft, but the impact in common producers is that they can’t trade the GMO seeds they acquired, as this would be considered theft. This brings us to another practice.

The “Terminator” control mechanisms–this is a control mechanism that has several purposes. The Terminator seeds only generate plants whose seeds are sterile. This is done first to avoid cross pollinating, and second to prevent spreading of GMOs in foreign environments.

Another and less noble practice depends solely on ethics as the producer would be tied to the GMO supplier forever. The producer wouldn’t be able to harvest new seeds from his current crop and will be forced to acquire directly from his supplier. From a social point of view this is horrible since  it ties small producers to major groups and doesn’t give them much freedom to handle their own affairs.

The third practice is intended to prevent further generations of GMO seeds from being sold by farmers. This generates two main disadvantages for the company that designed and produced the GMO: (1) they can’t control the spread and cross breeding of their product (since this could generate undesired effects, the legal and public relations fallout could be enormous) and (2) their product would be spread without granting them the royalties associated with their patents.

It’s easy to see why Shiva doesn’t sympathize with GMOs as she aims for what she believes is best for the impoverished population, and those technologies when used unethically could cause great harm to people.

(I was really disappointed when I found out the Terminator technology wasn’t about kill bots!)

Free Trade Treaties:

Shiva points out that free trade treaties exclude common people, but this happens by design as free trade treaties allow major producers to export and import products and goods without many drawbacks from taxes, tariffs and bureaucracies.

Since major companies have the resources to organize, administrate and supply higher demands along with transporting their products, they receive the upper hand in free trade treaties.

The impact of this is that smaller producers and traders can’t compete with major groups and lose both internal and external markets to cheaper products. Although free trade treaties can benefit economies from a global point of view, they tend to ruin local economies that aren’t properly shielded or adapted to compete with the new economic environment. (This is the case when some governments and union groups adopt subsides or other protectionist measures to prevent this scenario from happening).

Quote: “Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.” – Henry Kissinger.

I couldn’t find any paper, interview, video, press conference or anything that had evidence or source claiming or showing that Henry Kissinger actually said that, but it’s quite common in end the Fed and other anti-capitalism sites and forums.

And it was surprisingly similar to George Orwell’s 1984 Ingsoc slogans.

[Muertos comment: it is very common in conspiracy theorist circles for a completely made-up quote, usually from a distrusted figure like Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzesinski, George H.W. Bush, etc. to gain the appearance of being true simply by the number of times it is quoted by like-minded conspiracy theorist websites. This is particularly frustrating when you try to argue with a conspiracy theorist that there is no proof the person actually said this, and the theorist responds with a dozen examples of unreliable sites all quoting each other and containing the unsourced and false quote. The quote also does not have to be totally false; sometimes it can be a partially true quote that is taken out of context, such as George H.W. Bush’s 1991 speech including the unfortunate words “New World Order” (unfortunate because it saddles us debunkers for the rest of time to listen to conspiracy theorists telling us how this supposedly proves the “New World Order” exists, even though it does not, and even though Bush was talking about something completely different. That will likely be the subject of another blog post.]

After Henry’s (mis)quoting, Gamble reaffirms that elite banking groups and their corporations control energy and food.

Patterns of control:

[A full debunking of this section is coming in the future.]

National Education Association:

I wasn’t able to tie the foundation of the NEA either with the Rockefeller family or with the Carnegie and Ford families, but those entities did invest and donated money to the NEA, especially because they were lobbying for bills that provided tax cuts to companies that invested in philanthropic projects and foundations. And during the 1920 and 1930s USA had a dire need for more qualified workers and access to a trained workforce was crucial for companies to expand.

But the point is simple: there is no conclusive evidence that those companies control the NEA.

John Taylor Gatto:

Gatto is a former professor and writer. He claims that compulsory schooling indoctrinates children and leaves them more susceptible to authority. He also defends homeschooling.

Gamble states that the education system was set to create a docile, consumer and obedient workforce.

I guess it’s not working.

The American Medical Association:

[A full debunking of this section is coming in the future.]

John Robbins:,

Robbins is the author of several books on health and food including the award winning Diet for a New America. In his brief appearance he points out how the material distributed to doctors and medical school students on the subject of nutrition are from food industries that profit from unhealthy eating habits. He mentions the National Dairy Council, Beef USA and the American Sugar Association.

I can’t properly comment on this since I have no easy access to medical school curriculum material.

[Muertos comment: this is the type of claim that can never really be substantiated. Unless Robbins or Gamble specifically identify the material they’re talking about, we have no way of checking it. This is an insidious way of sneaking an un-verifiable claim into the movie.]

Soon after this part of the film, Deepak Chopra states that the pharmaceutical corporations make profits using the AMA and other medical centers to promote their products by selling from doctors and physicians to their patients.

Deepak Chopra:

An Indian physician, Deepak Chopra is known for many of his self-help books, new age spiritualism and alternate medicine.

He is a critic of the current system of medicine in the western world, and his ideas revolve around the use of quantum mysticism and spirituality to improve health and cure diseases.

Author note: I admit that a clean state of mind does help and can improve your health, but finding a licensed doctor for a more objective diagnosis is crucial. Personally I think that alternate medicine is as good as a placebo but don’t let people undermine modern doctors and medicine in favor for exotic, esoteric and alternative treatments. Those can cost lives.

Gamble then talks how the cure for diseases has been suppressed the same way free energy has, and then he introduces the viewer to the “well documented example” of Royal Raymond Rife.

R. Royal Raymond Rife:

Yet another inventor who was more of a scam artist than a scientist, Dr. Rife became famous for his “cancer curing machine” using electromagnetism that he claimed was able not only to cure cancer but other infectious diseases. This was during the 1930s when electricity and magnetism were still being studied. During that time many inventors and scam artists used those to sell miracle machines using buzz words and techno babble to convince people of its properties, but this time Rife got the cake.

After other scientists failed to reproduce the same results using Rife’s technique and machines, the scientific community started to reject Rife’s devices and ideas on cancer. Rife blamed the rejection of his devices on a conspiracy that consisted of accusations that the AMA and other medical organizations were behind the failures.

After the accusations of medical fraud, Rife’s lab was destroyed in a fire, probably arson by Rife himself to prevent investigations of his lab from revealing him as a complete fraud.

Today and then, Rife is considered nothing more than a scam artist and his devices are regarded as nothing but pseudoscience by the scientific community.

During the 1980s several scam artist started using Rife-based machines to sell miracle cures, once again causing health problems for those who tried to treat serious diseases, like cancer, with them.

Kimberly C. Gamble later makes an emotional appeal using the cancer history in her family. Then she proceeds to make links between cancer treatment patents by corporations and the suppression of alternative cancer treatments that worked and which didn’t leave the patient tied to the treatment, citing Rene Cassie, Max Gerson and Hoxsey therapy as examples.

Rene Cassie:

Cassie is a Canadian nurse who is claimed to have found herbs from whose tea can cure and prevent cancer. During the 1970’s up until now, several medical laboratories tested the efficiency of her ESSIAC tea and concluded it isn’t effective at curing cancer and in some cases it stimulated the cancer growth.

Cassie was prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. Many of the people who were treated and “cured” from cancer using ESSIAC were found not to have had cancer at all but were misdiagnosed instead.

ESSIAC can’t be sold as a treatment for cancer but it can be sold as food supplement.

Max Gerson:

Gerson is a german physician that created the Gerson therapy. It consists of special diets aimed to relieve the body from toxic residues. He made several claims that his method cured cancer during the 1950s but medical tests proved no direct relation to his therapy and curing cancer.

Quoting Wikipedia:

“Gerson’s therapy required the patient to consume a vegetarian diet and to drink a 250-milliliter (8-ounce) glass of fresh organic juices every waking hour. Coffee and castor oil enemas were among several types of prescribed enemas, and some patients were given hydrogen peroxide orally and rectally. Rectal ozone was also applied. Dietary supplements include vitamin C and iodine. The diet prohibited the drinking of water and consumption of berries and nuts, as well as use of aluminium vessels or utensils.”

If you read the last two sentences it’s easy to see why his therapy was found to be dangerous and even deadly, as it can lead to dehydration, infections and other health problems.

Hoxsey therapy:

Another therapy involving the use of herbal formulas to treat and cure cancer. So far this therapy has been proven to be more harmful than helpful.

As the peer review of Hoxsey treatments showed, there was no evidence of the effectiveness of his therapy. He also had issues with the AMA, which he claimed was persecuting him.

Ironically he used his own therapy to treat his prostate cancer. Due to the failure of his own treatment he had to rely on conventional surgery to remove his cancer!


[More debunking of Thrive to come!]