This blog, originally published June 20, 2012, was updated June 22 and again July 16. Scroll to the end for the updates.
A bizarre little drama is going on right now in the world of crop circles. A fake video designed to bolster belief in the supposed paranormal origin of crop circles has been making the rounds on the Internet, igniting both indignant recriminations and spirited defenses. This matter may seem extraneous to issues involved in Thrive—until you realize that the fake video controversy directly concerns a website called BLTResearch.com, which is one of the Thrive movie’s go-to sources for the crop circle nonsense that appears so prominently in the first part of the film.
Just a brief recap. In Thrive, Foster Gamble makes the assertion that crop circles are made by extraterrestrials visiting Earth, and that these circles contain mathematical, engineering and possibly spiritual messages from the aliens for the benefit of humanity. Specifically, Mr. Gamble claims the aliens are trying to tell us about this “torus” shape, which Thrive says is the answer to all the world’s problems because it can give us free energy, if only those evil Global Domination Agenda people would quit meddling with it. Crop circles, therefore, are a key part of Thrive’s message.
Crop circles have also proven, much to my surprise, to be the single most controversial subject we’ve ever covered on Thrive Debunked. To date we’ve had more comments and more angry buzzing about the debunking of crop circles article than any other in the history of this blog—more than free energy, more than David Icke, and more than the Global Domination Agenda. Clearly, I struck a nerve; this alone merits revisitation of the issue.
What’s the Controversy?
Here is what happened. A Dutch crop circle enthusiast named Robbert van den Broeke, who also claims to be a psychic who can predict when crop circles form, recently said that he made contact with the spirits of two dead people. One of them was Pat Delgado, a British researcher of crop circles; the other was Dave Chorley, the notorious British prankster who, with his partner Doug Bower, made hundreds of crop circles in English grain fields and then confessed in 1991 to having done so. To “support” this bizarre claim of contact from beyond the grave, Mr. van den Broeke produced a video which he said captured spectral images of Mr. Delgado and Mr. Chorley. The video is here. Prepare to be underwhelmed. All it shows is Mr. van den Broeke sitting in a chair looking like he’s nodding off to sleep. The disembodied, semi-transparent blue heads of Mr. Delgado and Mr. Chorley appear near his head, float around a bit, and disappear. That’s it. There’s more supernatural fireworks in your average episode of Bewitched.
These claims, and clips from the video, were made public on BLTResearch.com by its main contributor, Nancy Talbott. Here is the link to the page where Ms. Talbott explains this “miraculous” visitation from beyond the grave.
What did Pat Delgado and Dave Chorley supposedly say to Robbert van den Broeke while their Photoshopped—er, I mean disembodied spirits were floating around his head? Oh, some New Agey stuff about the spiritual power of crop circles and how important they are, etc., etc. According to Ms. Talbott here’s how this little séance went down:
“Delgado’s image, which appears to be the same one throughout the video clip, moves about slightly during its brief appearance (about a minute long), sometimes brighter and more distinct, sometimes less so. While Pat’s face was present Robbert “heard” him say that he was still “energetically” very involved with the circle phenomenon, not only in the UK but also elsewhere in the world. He also expressed gratitude for all of the circle enthusiasts who continue to search for the truth and who realize the “cosmic” nature of the consciousness which is involved.”
And with regards to Dave Chorley, the key bit is here:
“Chorley’s “consciousness” then communicated his awareness (now that he is “in the afterlife”) of how important it is that people respect the loving force behind the crop circles. Chorley also expressed sincere regret that while he was on earth he had gone to the media and said that crop circles were “just a joke”, and that he and Doug had said they made them all.”
There you have it. Chorley himself (supposedly) tells the true believers that he was wrong, and crop circles really do have a paranormal origin! Wow! Isn’t this amazing! And there’s no proof of any of this except what Robbert van den Broek says these spirits told him! But who needs proof anyway?
Another British crop circle researcher, Colin Andrews—who worked with Pat Delgado before the latter died in 2009—came out with a statement denouncing the fake video. That statement is here. Mr. Andrews’s report contained a statement from Pat Delgado’s family. Understandably they’re quite upset that his image has been used in this way. Their statement reads:
“It is the considered opinions of the family of Pat Delgado and his close friend and researcher Colin Andrews that the alleged messages and photographic images purportedly produced by the special powers of Robbert van den Broeke were created by trickery. This trickery involving images of Pat Delgado, a beloved husband, father, grandad and best friend is a disgrace, which reaches a new low with the unscientific extreme elements of the crop circle research field. No attempts have been made to discuss these images or communications with the Delgado family before posting them on the Internet nor it would seem have any transparent evaluations been made by the various camera manufactures or professional magicians etc. If they have, his family would like the courtesy of seeing them. Pat Delgado’s family were deeply involved with his work and are appalled at the adoption of his voice and putting at risk his high integrity by people who never even met him. Playing with the reputation of Pat is outrageous, despicable and unacceptable.”
Mr. Andrews also stated that a fellow named Roger Wibberley has investigated the video and concluded that the images of Mr. Delgado and Mr. Chorley were lifted from a video interview done with them in 1991, freely available on YouTube. If you go to Colin Andrews’s page you can see comparisons of the van den Broeke séance video with the real 1991 interview. In a nutshell, the Robbert van den Broeke video is a crude fake.
Who Is Robbert van den Broeke?
Robbert van den Broeke lives in Holland and has been involved for some time with various claims involving the paranormal, extraterrestrials and crop circles. In 2005 he went on Dutch TV telling a woman whose husband just died that the husband had lived a past life and died in the 1820s—a claim whose details were easily disproven with a perfunctory Google search on the man van den Broeke claimed the husband had been. Mr. van den Broeke has also dabbled in “spirit photography” before, claiming to have photographed aliens. This information on Mr. van den Broeke is available here.
Mr. van den Broeke’s main claim to fame, however, is his assertion that he can “predict” when crop circles appear. For this alleged “ability” he is thought of as an important person among those who believe that crop circles are not made by human beings. What they fail to realize, however, is that most of the crop circles Mr. van den Broeke claims to have “predicted” appear in his backyard. Convenient, yes? But could (perish the thought!) Robbert van den Broeke actually be making these crop circles himself, in precisely the way that I demonstrated in my original crop circle article that all such circles have been made by human beings? Believers in paranormal origin of crop circles shriek bloody murder at the mere suggestion that human beings are the exclusive creators of crop circles. Therefore, the conclusion of simple logic—that Mr. van den Broeke is most likely creating these crop circles himself, or that he’s at least somehow involved with or has knowledge of the human beings who create them—is absolutely verboten among believers in the paranormal origin of crop circles.
So, here we have a fake psychic who has been exposed for his trickery before, who’s attempted to claim “spiritual photography” before, who now suddenly comes up with a video where another dead person appears and preaches the party line to paranormal crop circle believers. In a rational world this article would end right here, because it’s patently obvious that Mr. van den Broeke’s video is fake. But, in an eerie demonstration of the same sort of Bizarro-world thinking permeates the Thrive universe, we (unfortunately) can’t stop here because the true believers won’t let us.
The Punch Line: True Crop Circle Believers Think the Video is Real! (Or, At Least They Won’t Say It’s Fake).
When I first heard about this story I scoffed and dismissed it as a prank—just a fake video that went viral in the crop circle underground, and not worthy of any serious response. However, I’ve been absolutely astonished that various people who claim to be bigwigs in crop circle “research” are asserting that the video is real—or at the very least, they are unwilling to say that it’s an obvious fake!
Nancy Talbott herself, the driving force behind BLTResearch.com, certainly invites her readers to jump to the conclusion that the video is real. She engages in a lot of mumbo-jumbo about time stamps in the fake video, which she suggests is evidence of perhaps some sort of weird effects on the fabric of time. (She never mentions the possibility that discrepancies with time stamps could be evidence of digital manipulation).
Ms. Talbott has been getting support from another prominent paranormal crop circle believer, Suzanne Taylor. Ms. Taylor is the creator of a film called What on Earth? which is a documentary about crop circles. You can buy it for $19.99 on her website. She has also been a frequent commenter here on Thrive Debunked, where she opposes Thrive in general, but is generally hostile to any material expressing doubt that crop circles have a paranormal origin. Here’s what Ms. Taylor has to say on her blog about the video:
“Colin claims not only that Nancy’s report about the appearance of the late Pat Delgado, an early circle researcher, on Robbert’s digital and video cameras, is “trickery,” but that she and Robbert have offended Pat’s relatives. Colin provides no substantiation for the trickery claim, and I am skeptical about Pat’s relatives contacting Colin and not Nancy. Also, In the videotape posted in the report (link above), you will see how touched Robbert is at recognizing Pat’s face and how much regard he feels for him, and if any Delgado family member saw the BLT report it’s hard to believe they would have felt that Pat had been mistreated.”
Ms. Taylor seems to have missed the part where Colin Andrews did provide substantiation for the claim that the video is fake, in demonstrating that the images of Mr. Delgado and Mr. Chorley who appear in the video are obviously taken from the 1991 BBC interview. But you don’t even need this level of proof. We’re talking about a video that purports to show images of dead people from beyond the grave. The basic threshold of proof to demonstrate that something like that is possible anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances has obviously not been met here, to say nothing about the succeeding question of whether this particular video purporting to show video of dead people is real or fake. As for the offense given to Mr. Delgado’s family, I would ask Ms. Taylor if she really thinks any member of the family would be thrilled at seeing how the image of their dead loved one has been misappropriated, especially for a highly partisan purpose.
Incidentally, a new blog (not by me) has gone up just recently devoted to debunking Suzanne Taylor’s claims about crop circles and those in her movie What On Earth? You can find that blog here. Debunking Ms. Taylor’s film is beyond the scope of this blog. For the record I have not seen her movie, nor do I plan to.
There is a clear division in the world of crop circle research. The main issue appears to be to what extent it is permissible to admit that crop circles are made by humans as opposed to being of paranormal origin. (Note: it’s not a totally binary universe. Virtually all believers in the paranormal origin of crop circles concede that at least some circles are made by humans; however, there are ferocious disagreements among circle researchers as to what percentage are clearly of human origin and which ones are supposedly paranormal). The issue of the Robbert van den Broeke video seems to have inflamed this division.
What Does This Have to Do With Thrive?
Much of Thrive’s supposed research on the subject of crop circles relies upon the BLTResearch.com site. If you go to Thrive’s silly “fact checking” section and expand the various crop circle topics, you’ll see links to BLTResearch.com material. For example, this one:
“Fact: The electromagnetic field over the area where the crop has been laid down to create the image, is often electro-statically charged. Some of these areas are littered with strange magnetic particles.
In the early 1990s a unique discovery was made while studying a crop circle in England. Plants in the formation were coated with fused particles of iron oxides (hematite and magnetite). Since this discovery, soil sampling is regularly undertaken at crop circle sites. Traces of melted magnetic material, adhered to soil grains, have regularly been identified.”
The link in that last sentence leads to BLTResearch. Incidentally, the “magnetic particles” crap was debunked long ago. I explained in my original crop circle article how this is easily done by humans, specifically to fool paranormal believers.
Ironically, Thrive also uses Colin Andrews as a source—in a way that, in fact, impugns rather than supports the paranormal origin of crop circles. The Thrive fact check website states:
“Fact: 5,000 crop circles have appeared in over 30 countries, most of them inEngland.
This is a conservative estimate. Crop Circles, authored by Colin Andrews with Stephen J. Spignesi, is a reference guide on the subject and answers many commonly asked questions in the field. This work states that more than 11,000 crop circles have been reported in over 30 countries and that they occur mostly in England. Colin Andrews is a former engineer with the British Government and is widely accepted as an authority on crop circle phenomenon. Stephen J. Spignesi is a New York Times best-selling author.
Both of these sources confirm that England is where most crop circles are made.
Hillary Mayell. “Crop Circles” Artworks or Alien Signs?” National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/08/0801_020801_cropcircles.html
Stephen J. Spignesi and Colin Andrews. Crop Circles: Signs of Contact.FranklinLakes: Career Press, 2003. (178).
Stephen J. Spignesi and Colin Andrews. Crop Circles: Signs of Contact.FranklinLakes: Career Press, 2003. (75).”
Again as argued in our previous article, the fact that the vast majority of crop circles appear in England is itself a strike against the paranormal origin theory. Chorleyand Bower lived in Englandand did most of their work there; even today, most of the people who learned from them, or deliberately imitated them, are also from England. A question I posed in my original article which no Thrive fan has answered is: if crop circles are caused by UFOs, and most crop circles appear inEngland, how come most UFO sightings are not also inEngland?
Also, take a look at the National Geographic article cited on the Thrive website. It is hardly supportive of the paranormal origin theory. That article contains an interesting summary of the crop circle phenomena:
“Adamantly opposing the crop-circle-as-art-form position are the “croppies”—researchers of the paranormal and scientists seeking to explain the formations as work that could not possibly be the result of human efforts.
The phenomenon has spawned its own science: cereology. Some believers are merely curious, open to the existence of paranormal activity and willing to consider the possibility that at least some of the circles were created by extraterrestrial forces. At the extreme end are what Lundberg calls the “Hezbollah” of believers.
Exchanges between acknowledged circle makers and cereologists can be vitriolic in the extreme. But in a curious way, the two groups need one another.
The believers propel and sustain interest in the work, beating the drums of extraterrestrial activity on Earth and keeping crop formations in the news. They can also be quite vocal in their denunciations of the admitted artists, charging that they are con men, liars, and agents in government disinformation campaigns.
Lundberg’s group has been vilified as Team Satan; its members have received stacks of hate mail, and over the years there have been attacks on their cars and property.
Skeptics in the media (including this author) are also considered dupes, either too ignorant or narrow-minded to understand an other-worldly phenomenon or active participants in a government conspiracy to keep the masses uninformed.”
That is exactly the charge that has been made against me, and this blog, ad nauseam. I’ve received literally hundreds of comments and a handful of emails claiming I am “closed-minded,” or I’m suppressing some sort of cosmic human truth, or that I’m a disinformation agent paid by the government. The National Geographic article was written in 2002. The “croppies” phenomenon is still alive and well ten years later.
What Does The Fake Video Mean For Thrive and its Fans?
The fact that BLTResearch.com supports the fake Robbert van den Broeke video can only boomerang negatively for Thrive. BLTResearch.com’s credibility by being associated with the fake video is obviously badly damaged. In addition to having to explain away the uncomfortable associations of David Icke’s anti-Semitic “reptilian” conspiracy theories, Thrive advocates who seek to indoctrinate rational people will now have to face hard questions about whether the folks whose opinions on crop circles that they rely on have truly gone around the bend in proffering crude ghost videos as real. Thrive has already declined precipitously in popularity and public visibility since April, when 10 people who were interviewed in the film publicly dissociated themselves from it and its rampant conspiracy-mongering and Libertarian proselytizing. Being tangentially associated with a fracas over a faked ghost video just makes the film look even more kooky and fringe, which can hardly be the image Foster Gamble wants to project.
I also think this episode demonstrates how bizarre and extreme the crop circle underground has become. I mean, step back a moment and look at what’s going on here. Believers in the paranormal origin of crop circles are so desperate to reinforce their message that they’re willing to fake the image of a noted human creator of crop circles—Dave Chorley—on video so they can put words in his mouth explaining away the actions he took in life and begging believers not to credit them. Do they really think this is going to convince a lot of people that they’re right? Evidently they do. And this expectation may not be that farfetched; Suzanne Taylor, whose posts on this blog appear to be rational (however much I may disagree with them), is getting behind the video, as are others.
I might also add that the video doesn’t show anything of substance anyway. It’s just two disembodied heads floating above some guy sitting in a chair. There’s absolutely no substantiation for Mr. van den Broeke’s claim about what these spirits supposedly said to him. On that, the croppies demand that you take him at his word.
Conclusion: “Stop Throwing Daggers!”
My experience in debunking Thrive has taught me a great deal about crop circles, and more importantly, about the sort of thinking behind belief in the paranormal origin of crop circles. As Thrive itself has declined in popularity, the attention that continues to be given to my debunking of crop circles has demonstrated to me that this is one of the woo beliefs whose adherents are most allergic to rational explanation. Believers in the paranormal origin of crop circles will simply never accept any other possibility, under any circumstances, regardless of how much evidence is marshaled against it. Trying to refute this belief is like trying to use empirical evidence to disprove the divinity of Christ: it’s just not going to make any impression on believers no matter how hard you try. Crop circles are very much a religious belief system.
But Thrive demonstrates how this strong, defensive and self-reinforcing belief system can be manipulated to serve other ends. Taken in isolation, I think belief in the paranormal origins of crop circles is generally pretty harmless. Unfortunately, the belief is easily channeled into belief in truly harmful and dangerous ideas, such as conspiracy theories. In researching this article I was struck by a comment posted on Suzanne Taylor’s blog. There, a commenter—obviously a firm believer in the Robbert van den Broeke video—detailed her correspondence with Colin Andrews, denouncing him for criticizing the video and BLTResearch.com. This except was particularly interesting:
“I wouldn`t have known about your [Colin Andrews’s] posting about the BLT research team at all if it hadn`t been for a person who has heard me talking about crop circles to whom I referred to the work of early reseachers and to the science papers on plant and soil analysis. This person was a sceptic and a debunker, and with a flurry of self-righteousness sent me your posting as proof that the whole phenomenon was a farce, particularly all the paranormal aspects.
No matter who`s throwing the daggers, I say, “Cut it out!”
People such as yourself and Nancy and Robbert have valuable pieces of the puzzle. Anyone who is a researcher of crop circles knows what he or she is up against to stand for their truth and contribution. But they still make their stands despite all the ridicule from the media and the public at large, despite deliberate government subterfuge and harassment.”
This passage demonstrates how an “us vs. them” mentality prevails in the world of crop circles. Those who stand in the way of the awesome truths of crop circles—the “skeptics and debunkers” with their “self-righteous” insistence on such unreasonable things as facts and logic—are aiding and abetting “government subterfuge and harassment” and must be opposed at any cost. This is exactly the same “us vs. them” mentality that Thrive advances, particularly with its harping on extremely harmful Global Domination Agenda conspiracy theories.
This goes far beyond appreciation of the beautiful and fascinating designs created in fields of wheat by enterprising individuals with strings, boards and a working knowledge of geometry. This is an irrational belief system with the capacity to override all tenets of critical thinking and rational discourse. In the grand scheme of things, crop circles, though breathtaking and intriguing, are not very important. At least they shouldn’t be. They certainly shouldn’t be the basis of this sort of obsessive and potentially self-destructive belief system.
If two disembodied heads floating above some random guy in a YouTube video can convince you of extraterrestrial visitation and crop circles, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
Update I, 22 June 2012
Not surprisingly, crop circle aficionados Nancy Talbott and Suzanne Taylor are none too happy about this article, and are rallying their supporters to vilify me for daring to question the Robbert van den Broeke video. Both seem to have doubled down and decided to circle the wagons about the authenticity of the video and the trustworthiness of Mr. van den Broeke.
Suzanne Taylor promptly put up an article on her blog claiming that she’s being unfairly “attacked” for her support of the fake video. In this article she published correspondence between herself and Ms. Talbott. Ms. Talbott’s view:
“When you stand up publicly for what you believe is the truth–as you did in this case (and which you chose to do on your own based on what I see as solid reasons for your trust)–this is the kind of baloney you ALWAYS get if the facts themselves are (a) beyond some of your readers’ capabilities to grasp, or (b) the truth scares them, (c) they’re mentally impaired, or finally (d) they’re debunkers. [Egotism and arrogance may involve all of these problems.]”
Evidently in Ms. Talbott’s view, a “debunker” is a singularly low form of life, a base defiler standing in the way of realizing profound human truths that are supposed to result from accepting claims such as these on faith. Her evident contempt for people who demand facts and evidence before believing in bizarre paranormal claims like Robbert van den Broeke’s is an eerie echo of the tone with which numerous Thrive fans have commented on this blog over the past few months when their conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific babble is challenged.
“I have written in laborious detail all of the info anyone with either the basic intelligence and/or the degree of courage needed to understand the situation should require. And the only suggestion I can make to any of these people is that they READ the details. If they refuse to do this, or if they choose to dismiss me as stupid or a liar, there’s really nothing more I can do.”
Of course, Ms. Talbott ignores the fact that Colin Andrews and I have read the details. In fact, it’s the written details, even more than the fake video itself, that I object to–the suggestion that Dave Chorley has come back from the grave to repent and tell the world he’s sorry for claiming that he and Doug Brower made all the crop circles. Ms. Talbott seems to believe, erroneously, that it’s just the video itself that we’re objecting to; in fact, if you take the video away, the case gets even more egregious and offensive, considering that the fake Robbert van den Broeke video was offered in support of the statements about Pat Delgado and Dave Chorley.
Ms. Taylor was not satisfied with this response from Nancy Talbott. She writes:
“Well and good, but there is voluminous material on Nancy’s site, and I didn’t see this being an effective response when indeed there is a very effective rebuttal to all the daggers. I finally got Nancy to relent and to give some bullets of information, all of which can be found on her site, that counter the assaults.”
The information that “counters the assaults” is here. Basically it’s a laundry list of empty and unsupported claims that Robbert van den Broeke has previously captured “spirits” on camera and video. Ms. Talbott PUNCTUATES these SUPPOSED PIECES of EVIDENCE with a VERY ANNOYING and POINTLESS USE of the CAPS LOCK KEY. Such as:
“7. In 2007, out in a crop circle field in broad daylight, Robbert took 60+ photos of MY OWN BROTHER who had died just two months earlier, USING MY CAMERA for the very first time that summer, and WITH ME STANDING RIGHT WITH HIM THE WHOLE TIME AND WATCHING EVERYTHING HE DID.
9. In 2008, using the highly-respected American parapsycholgist DR. WILLIAM ROLL’s BRAND NEW CAMERA, Robbert obtained multiple images of three different men–with Dr. Roll and me standing right there watching. None of us know who any of these men were.
10. Robbert got his first computer in July of 2006. He did not begin to learn how to use it until the winter of 2006 and still does not know how to do very many things with it. It DOES NOT HAVE PHOTOSHOP OR ANY SIMILAR PROGRAM ON IT AND NEVER HAS HAD.”
These points don’t substantiate Robbert van den Broeke’s video, and in fact what they do is illustrate a pattern of deceptive practices with which the latest Delgado-Chorley video is, unfortunately, consistent. Witness this article debunking Mr. van den Broeke’s past attempts at paranormal photography, specifically, his claims to have captured UFOs and aliens inside his own house, including an “alien” that turned out to be a photo of a Papua New Guinea tribesman that ran in Reader’s Digest. According to this article, BLTResearch.com and Nancy Talbott have also been implicated in these hoaxes.
“The previous photos were these:
Reported here, and which were also captured by Robbert van den Broeke. It’s quite obvious how they were captured, especially if you remember that Broeke also managed to photograph aliens in his own house:
Try not to laugh, but those are the alien photos captured by Broeke. Of course, explaining the joke takes away its fun, but in any case, Royce Myers of Ufowatchdog also captured aliens.With a plastic spoon.
Broeke has even been caught in his same old technique. For instance, he allegedly captured this other alien in his house, which turned out to be a photo of a Mud-man, a native from New Guinea, published in Reader’s Digest.
Above, center, is the alien that Broeke photographed. Left is the original photo published in Reader’s Digest, and right is the photo blurred to highlight the exact match. The exposé comes from the Dutch Skeptics.
So, you can see how the alleged medium and friend of aliens, orbs and crop circles simply places cutouts in front of the camera. And you may have recognized that these recent spaceships he photographed near the Dutch crop circles, along with people from the DCCA and Nancy Talbott, from BLT Research, which claims to be “Crop Circle Science”, are just cutouts of photos originally from Billy Meier.
There is some distortion, as the cutouts may bend, and the photo I showed above is probably not the exact same photo Broeke may have cut out, but I hope it shows what is going on.
In one of the photos the cutout is glowing while the background is dark: the camera flash was triggered, probably automatically since it was dark, and the cutout near the camera reflected back the light. The fact it’s glowing is actually evidence that this “spaceship” was something small and near the camera to reflect the flash. The light from a flash only works within a few meters, beyond that it’s simply too diffused. Lame, lame hoax.”
This is the man whom Ms. Talbott and Ms. Taylor want you to believe is genuine, who supposedly got images of dead people on video, and whom you aren’t allowed to call out as a hoaxster without being accused of viciously “attacking” those who perpetuate these hoaxes.
There is more–much more–about Dutch pseudo-psychic Robbert van den Broeke, but as I feel I’ve already beaten this horse to death, I don’t think there’s much utility in presenting it. Anyone reading this article in a rational frame of mind can tell instantly that his video is a scam and a hoax. We need not belabor the point.
Also, note on Ms. Taylor’s page another tactic used by crop circle believers. The page is festooned with a colorful banner reading “MAKE LOVE NOT WAR.” Got that? Anyone who criticizes crop circles as being belligerent, aggressive and not standing up for “peace.” I can’t imagine a more shallowly manipulative tactic.
I’m particularly amused by some of the commenters on Ms. Taylor’s blog, especially one fellow named Odin Townley, who evidently thinks my outlook would be improved if I had been beaten more often as a child.
“These hit-and-run thugs obviously never got the spankings they deserved as kids.”
Yes, great message! Beat your children to prevent them from growing up to be debunkers! How’s that for “MAKE LOVE NOT WAR,” eh?
Incidentally, Colin Andrews has linked this article to his own page on the Robbert van den Broeke fake. Mr. Andrews is on record as stating that he doesn’t agree with everything on this blog, and indeed has found some things in Thrive that he likes, but his comment on my article is that it is “well researched, fair, balanced and is well written.”
Update II, 16 July 2012.
I couldn’t believe that a controversy over something so obviously fake could become such a huge issue, but Nancy Talbott and Robbert van den Broeke just won’t let this one go. Mr. van den Broeke recently fired back with even more ridiculous lunacy, now claiming that he’s receiving messages from beyond the grave criticizing Colin Andrews who dares to criticize him.
Nancy Talbott parrots these increasingly outlandish claims with (evidently) a straight face. Here she is ripping into Mr. Andrews on her site:
“For some time now Colin Andrews has been publicly expressing increasing negativity and animosity toward various crop circle enthusiasts and, recently, has irresponsibly accused both me and my friend, Dutch medium Robbert van den Broeke (whom he has never met or spoken with) of behaving deceitfully and with malice — taking no apparent responsibility himself for the distress these unproven and idiosyncratic comments may be causing all of us who sincerely care about the crop circle phenomenon and what it may mean.”
Yes, you read that right. Her friend, the obviously fake psychic who is appropriating dead people’s images and turning them into videos to support ludicrous claims of contacting people from beyond the grave, is now the victim, and the evil debunkers like Colin Andrews are the enemy. Why? Because we dare to tell the truth about crop circles–that they are made by human beings, not by extraterrestrials or paranormal forces.
Here’s the next clanger in Robbert van den Broeke’s bizarre rebuttal:
“Here is the exact message given to Robbert which he was “instructed” to make public immediately so that Colin Andrews and the people who care about the circle phenomenon would all hear it.
David and Paul [David Kingston and Paul Vigay, the latest spirits he said he’s contacted] said, first, that they “love the energies” creating the crop circles and that they “do not support the attacks by Colin on Robbert’s and Nancy’s integrity” and, further, that they “stand by both Robbert and Nancy’s work” and know Robbert and I must continue our efforts to help keep “the spiritual truth of the circles alive.”
They went on to say that, in the past, Colin stood “more in the light,” but that he has now allowed himself to be influenced by “negative dimensions and there is darkness all around him.” They stated they were watching Colin and what he is doing and see that he is “not functioning in accordance with his inner truth”, that he is not listening to his intuitions — but is “standing in his ego now because he thinks he will get more attention this way.” “He is not being truthful to his deepest self.”
Does anybody really believe this load of crap? I mean, we’ve dealt with some pretty far-out-there stuff on this blog, considering just how low into the woo gutter Thrive goes, but how can anyone possibly take Robbert van den Broeke seriously?
Colin Andrews posted this on his own website. He too sounds incredulous that anyone could even pretend to believe the claims of Robbert van den Broeke.
“Let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. In May Robbert posted images of Pat Delgado and Dave Chorley with messages that were substantially different from their own voice. I admit to having an emotional reaction to seeing my mate used in such a manner which compelled me to join the Delgado family in repudiating the claim. I am sure I could have been less emotional, and yet, extraordinary claims require, if not extraordinary proof, at least some proof of their veracity. Surely it is up to Robbert to prove his claim, not me to prove it isn’t true. I have attempted on several occasions to talk directly with Robbert, as Nancy well knows, and have been rebuffed. It appears one must agree with Nancy Talbott or be labeled as negative.
I admit to a very sick feeling in my stomach when I think of my friend’s families having their loved ones used in such a dispute. Even after death these people are not exempt from the crop circle bickering; only now their voice can be used in any way possible with no shred of evidence to verify it. Yes, it hurts and makes me want the truth and if that is egotistical and negative, so be it.”
The readers of this blog should be reminded that it is Nancy Talbott and her “research” that serve as the main basis for Foster Gamble’s conclusions in Thrive about crop circles. If anyone has any doubt left that BLTResearch.com has been totally and utterly discredited by the Robbert van den Broeke scandal, this bizarre episode should dispel that doubt.
Although the main objective of Thrive is informational—to disseminate conspiracy theories and promote right-wing libertarian political ideology—it cannot be ignored that Thrive’s makers and a lot of its supporters say they want to take action. On this very blog Foster Gamble, creator of Thrive, has dismissed the utility of discussing the factual errors and distortions in his film, in favor of “creating solutions.” Unfortunately, the “solutions” that Thrive fans say they want are aimed overwhelmingly at exposing and combating the various conspiracy theories that the film asserts exist. This is the central tragedy of conspiracy thinking—that it diverts people’s energies and attentions away from solving real problems in the real world, and instead motivates them to solve fake problems endemic to the fantasy world in which conspiracy theorists dwell.
This article will discuss the phenomena of what I call “conspiracy activism.” Thrive is not the first conspiracy movie to spark an activist response. Mr. Gamble’s film exists in the context of a conspiracist underground that has, in recent years, been rapidly transformed by the Internet, and is continuing to evolve quickly. I wrote about this in an article over at my other blog, which I also publicized on this one. You can consider this article to be sort of a companion piece to that one.
What Is The “Thrive Movement” And What Is It Actually Doing?
Before we get to the topic of conspiracy activism in general, let’s look at what “solutions” the Thrive people are promoting. There is no “Thrive Movement” to speak of in any real sense. Foster Gamble is not, so far as I can tell, attempting to exert any sort of real control over the activities or direction of the film’s fans, and I’ve seen no evidence that the fans of the movie are trying to organize themselves.
Clicking the “Solutions” tab on the Thrive website unleashes a dizzying avalanche of propaganda. The vast majority of it is right-wing libertarian propaganda, such as the “Liberty” page which assaults the reader with political diatribes studded with quotes from libertarian deities like Stefan Molyneux, Ron Paul and Ayn Rand. Although Thrive’s political agenda is a serious issue, we and others have dealt with it before. The key message is “vote for libertarians,” and thus we’ll leave the film’s political advocacy at that.
More interesting are the “Critical Mass Actions” tabs. Here the Thrive people have listed twelve specific campaigns they’re promoting, with icons where you (as an Internet user) can “sign up” or else embed the icon itself on another site. If you click the icons so sign up, it produces a box where you fill in your email info and hit submit. Almost all of the links included in the “Critical Mass Actions” sections are to websites or online petitions. Of these twelve campaigns, two are anti-Federal Reserve; three are related to protesting GMO food; two relate to “free energy” devices; two are protests of “chemtrails,” a conspiracy theory promoted by the film; one is anti-nuclear power; one is “protect Internet freedom”; and one protests resource extraction on Native American lands.
The Federal Reserve is what Thrive identifies as the linchpin of a worldwide conspiracy theory to enslave the globe through the use of deceptive currency practices. We debunked the film’s money conspiracy theories here. “Free energy” does not exist, as we have also demonstrated. “Chemtrails” have not been debunked on this site, but they’ve been amply debunked elsewhere; it’s abundantly clear that “chemtrails” are a total fantasy. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to oppose GMO foods, but Thrive couches its criticism of such foods in expressly conspiratorial terms; they think it’s some weird kind of plot aimed at killing people with poisons in the food.
These issues account for nine of the twelve “Critical Mass Actions.” Of the twelve, only three—anti-nuclear power, protecting Internet freedom, and protesting resource extraction on Native American lands—are not somehow addressing the conspiracy theories the film promotes.
Ironically, it is one of these three non-conspiratorial solutions—the Internet freedom icon—that had the most people (5,547 on the day I checked) signed up.
When it comes to what these “Critical Mass Actions” actually are, the website is extremely vague. Here’s what it says when you click on a question about “how do you know when an action reaches critical mass?”
“As actions gain momentum and the most popular ones become apparent we will set a target number for “critical mass.” We will keep in touch via email to make sure you know when we’re approaching critical mass. What determines an effective “critical mass” will vary according to the nature of the action to be taken. The critical mass number will be announced as far in advance as possible and will be determined by what would create significant impact and assure optimal security for participants.”
That’s it. You’ll get an email once they decide how many people they need. In the meantime, it’s a lot of Internet petitions and “getting the word out.” That’s what the Thrive Movement is doing—that, and organizing local screenings of the film itself. The act of promoting Thrive is itself treated as a form of activism to which fans should aspire.
Is This Real Activism?
No. The “solutions” offered on Thrive’s website are ineffective in changing anything in the real world for two reasons: first, the vast majority of them are aimed at ameliorating conspiracy theories that don’t exist; and second, even for the non-conspiratorial goals, there is no actual real-world activity being proposed. Thrive’s brand of activism is a complete chimera.
Take chemtrails, for example. We know for a fact that chemtrails do not exist. The elaborate narrative that conspiracy theorists construct—that a “Global Domination Elite” is spraying chemicals into the sky to sicken and kill people deliberately—is simply fantasy. Yet, Mr. Gamble wants to “Expose Chemtrails With a Mass Protest at NOAA Offices.” Even assuming that legions of Thrive fans get organized and storm NOAA’s headquarters, what effect is this going to have? NOAA can’t do anything because there’s nothing to do anything about. Chemtrails do not exist. This is a “solution” that, even if it’s pulled off, will accomplish exactly zero, except wasting the time of the people involved.
As to the second criticism, it’s difficult to see how these “Critical Mass Actions” will have any effect regardless of the goals they’re aimed at. Take for example the critical mass action about stopping the environmental poisoning of Native American communities—which is a goal I think most people would agree with, and is one of the few that isn’t specifically directed at a conspiracy theory. Here’s what Foster Gamble wants you to click to sign up for:
“In the US, indigenous lands are being exploited and targeted by big business for resource extraction, nuclear dumping, and more. There are proposals for coal, oil, gold and copper mines, coal bed methane, natural gas “fracking,” and nuclear storage that threaten these communities and the environment. This is a chance to stand up for Native American rights and show that we are committed not just to apologizing for past wrongs, but ending the violations that continue to this day.”
Okay…but how? What does this actually mean?
What are the Thrive fans going to do? There’s no protest march planned. There’s no letter-writing campaign. There’s no attempt to introduce legislation or lobby lawmakers. There’s no fundraiser. There’s no outreach to any of the Native American communities impacted by resource extraction. There’s not even a link to an online petition, as there is for the “End the Fed” suggestion. There is exactly…nothing.
You click on, sign up and get an email. That’s it.
In the meantime—or, should I say, in the real world—if you care about resource extraction harming Native American communities, there are real people doing real things to try to stop this. In less than five minutes of searching online I came across this site for the Wolf River Protection Fund which is seeking to buy key lands to protect the watersheds and wetlands related to Native American communities in Wisconsin. One of the tribes associated with this fund recently celebrated a huge victory by buying out—yes, actually buying out—a mining company that was planning to mine near their lands. That’s activism. Not just clicking on a website—but actually sending your dollars to an organization that is taking action to make a real-world impact. And yes, the Wolf River Protection Fund does take donations.
Thrive isn’t doing anything even close to this.
So If They’re Not Making a Difference In the Real World, What Are They Doing?
They’re promoting conspiracy theories and related ideology—in Thrive’s case, right-wing libertarian ideology. The promotion of the ideology is the ultimate point of the activism.
This is understandable, if you analyze the thought processes of Thrive’s makers and fans from the standpoint of their conspiracy beliefs. They believe that all or most of the world’s problems stem from actions taken in secret by groups of shadowy conspirators. How best to combat these actions? Expose the secrets and shine a light on the conspirators. Then, it is presumed, the nefarious activity will end, and things will get better.
Seen from this standpoint, the act of exposure is the most important action. Therefore, most of a conspiracy theorist’s preferred “solutions” for solving problems start and end from a “get the word out” type paradigm. Indeed, most of the nine conspiracy-oriented Critical Mass Action suggestions on the Thrive website are aimed at information exposure or gaining visibility for something. This is classic conspiracy activism.
Why Do Conspiracy Theorists Engage in Conspiracy Activism?
It used to be that conspiracy theorists weren’t activists. There were certainly groups of them, and there have been conspiracy-related newsletters—especially related to the JFK assassination—circulating for decades. But traditionally they didn’t try to reach out to the mainstream or get others to join them.
That changed with 9/11. The purveyors of conspiracy theories related to the 9/11 attacks—especially Richard Gage and David Ray Griffin—changed the stakes in the mid-2000s by waging concerted, energized campaigns to try to increase the exposure of their conspiracy theories and encourage people to believe in them. Ultimately their success was only temporary; as I pointed out in an earlier blog here, contrary to something Foster Gamble says in Thrive, fewer people believe that “9/11 was an inside job” today than have so believed at any time since 9/11 itself. However, the conspiracy activism of 9/11 Truthers upped the ante and set a new paradigm, vastly aided by the rise of the Internet: if you believe in conspiracy theories, now you’re expected to go out there in public and try to get others to believe in them as well.
As the conspiracy world has changed, and (as I argued in February) conspiracy theorists have gone from defining “victory” as increasing the numbers who believe their theories to selling prepackaged ideologies, the activism component remains. Now what conspiracy theorists are selling are the ideologies, not the theories, but they’re still self-motivated to try to proselytize in exactly the same was Richard Gage and David Ray Griffin did with their nonsense 9/11 theories. I argued in the February blog that it was Zeitgeist: The Movie and its conspiracy-activist offshoot, the Zeitgeist Movement, that cemented this development into the basic blueprint of future conspiracy endeavors.
As there are many instructive lessons for evaluating Thrive inherent in the Zeitgeist story, let’s turn to that next.
Why Conspiracy Activism is Pointless: The Example of the Zeitgeist Movement.
One of the first statements I ever made about Thrive was that it appeared to be “Zeitgeist 2.0.” Clearly the movie imitates a lot of features of Peter Joseph’s notoriously fact-free 2007 Internet conspiracy film Zeitgeist, and even the suggestion of a “Thrive Movement,” aping the Zeitgeist Movement, indicates a kindred spirit.
The Zeitgeist Movement, founded in 2008 by Peter Joseph, attempted to capitalize on the interest generated among conspiracy theorists from the first Zeitgeist film to sell a neo-Utopian ideology called the Venus Project, which resembles late-stage Marxism except with computers and technology in the role of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The problem with the Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus Project, however, was that support for the non-conspiratorial (but deeply flawed) “Resource Based Economy” paradigm was built entirely on the backs of conspiracist beliefs and the popularity of Zeitgeist: The Movie. Most fans joined the Zeitgeist Movement because they were attracted by the conspiracy explanations; to the extent the movement’s leaders could motivate them to care about the Venus Project and a Resource Based Economy for its own sake, it was mainly presented as a “cure” for all those horrible conspiracies. As a result, “get the word out” type activist projects meant to promote the Venus Project and Resource Based Economy became increasingly conflated with promoting the Zeitgeist movies and its conspiracy worldview.
The Zeitgeist Movement imploded in April 2011 when the Venus Project side of the organization divorced itself from the group as a result of a dispute over donations. Since then the Zeitgeist Movement has dwindled to an insignificant core of high-commitment fans who do little more than post occasional comments on blogs or YouTube videos. (Zeitgeist Movement supporters constantly show up on the Thrive website comments, still valiantly trying to sell their Resource Based Economy shtick. Few Thrive fans are buying). The Zeitgeist Movement’s attempts at conspiracy activism could never effectively outpace the reach of the films themselves. Unlike the Thrive Movement, the Zeitgeist Movement did have a central, engaged, hands-on leader who directed the group; in fact that was one of its downfalls, because Peter Joseph’s inept leadership of the group transformed it into something very much like a cult surrounding him personally and his films.
The failure of the Zeitgeist Movement can teach Thrive fans an important lesson: that conspiracy activism is inherently self-limiting. Five years after its release, Zeitgeist: The Movie is now old news. Most conspiracy theorists have seen it. The sequels which completed the Resource Based Economy narrative could barely achieve a tiny fraction of the impact that the first film had, because the second and third Zeitgeist films dealt much less with conspiracy theories. Essentially, when Zeitgeist stopped talking about conspiracy theories, the Internet stopped listening. With the market of potential converts already saturated, the Zeitgeist Movement sputtered into oblivion. Once you “get the word out” about your pet conspiracy theories or the ideology you’re promoting by using conspiracy theories, where do you go from there? Zeitgeist couldn’t answer this question. It’s unlikely Thrive will be able to either.
Does Clicking Links, Watching Videos and Signing Online Petitions Really Help?
There’s another more fundamental reason why Thrive’s conspiracy activism will have no real-world impact other than to “get the word out” about what they think the world is like. Most of the consumers of this material, especially those who are heavy Internet users, aren’t really willing to do more than click links, watch videos and sign online petitions. Very, very few of them will actually be motivated to go out of their homes and do something in the real (non-cyber) world. This is just a fact of life. If you put a website up about any cause, however well-intentioned, the more you actually have to do to take action on it, the fewer people you’ll have who will make the effort. People click “like” buttons and share links because it’s easy and they can do it in the flash of an eye. Only the truly devoted will be motivated to get in their cars and go to a preplanned event; fewer still will do that if it will cost them money. This is a self-limiting factor of Internet activism.
The problem is even worse when the main audience you’re preaching to consists of conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theorists are notoriously lazy. Few of them, for example, can even be motivated enough by their beliefs even to pick up a book and read it. To them, videos on the Internet are just as good as books, and they require much less effort to comprehend. Most conspiracy theorists have virtually no awareness of the depth of knowledge the world contains beyond the Internet or how to access that knowledge. Many of them live their lives in an online bubble; if it’s not happening on the web, it’s not worth knowing about. If this is the crowd you’re trying to draw activists from, the chances of finding supporters who are high-commitment enough to meet in person, put together a viable plan of action on something and see it through to the end are much reduced.
That’s not to say that this doesn’t happen. In the heyday of 9/11 Truth theories, for example, hundreds of Truthers would gather at Ground Zero in New York City and harass people by shouting conspiracy garbage at them through bullhorns. But what did they do beyond that? Note that even this real-world activity is just another species of “getting the word out,” albeit in an extremely destructive, annoying and disagreeable way that turned off and angered far more people than it attracted. Even the 9/11 Truth organizations, like the ridiculous “Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth”—clearly an organization created by the most high-commitment supporters of the conspiracy theory—continue to focus their efforts on “getting the word out” as opposed to actually doing anything. In the very, very few instances where they do try something other than “getting the word out”—like filing a lawsuit, as one group of 9/11 Truthers attempted—they always meet with spectacular failure.
Activism in the real world is hard. It takes money, time, effort and competent people to guide the activity toward any real goal. Conspiracy theorists are mostly kids. They don’t have a lot of money. What time they have they usually spent on the Internet. Exerting real-world effort happens in a few rare cases, but not very often. Competent people who can actually think something through and put something together are about as rare in this subculture as blue diamonds.
As a result, conspiracy theorists rationalize. They lower the bar and define what they are willing to do as “activism.” Thus, the sort of low-intensity effort that they can get many people to do—clicking “like” buttons, sharing links, watching videos and signing online petitions—becomes, in their minds, a substitute for real-world activism. In an endeavor where “getting the word out” has already been defined as the major goal, getting 10,000 people to click a “like” button becomes the equivalent of a smashing victory for right and justice.
Conclusion: Do You Really Want to Help?
This article has demonstrated why conspiracy activism is pointless and counterproductive. I can hear the shouts from angry Thrive fans now: “Why don’t you stop blogging and do something that actually helps?” (This assumes that I do nothing but write blogs all day—obviously an incorrect assumption).
What can you do to make the world a better place instead of watching Internet conspiracy videos or wasting time on the Thrive website (or this one)?
Here’s something you can do: give blood. This is one of the easiest things you can do, and one which has a huge real-world impact—you can literally save someone’s life. Here’s a website where you can type in your zip code and find out where to go in your area to give blood.
Here’s something you can do: become a tutor for adult literacy. You can find organizations that do this all over the country. Here’s just one example, from Florida.
Here’s something you can do: get a group of people together and assemble care packages of medical supplies for AIDS sufferers in Africa. This has been a hugely successful program. It also has real-world impacts. Here’s how to get involved.
Here’s something you can do: donate money to the American Indian College Fund. This fund helps people from America’s least-college-educated demographic get access to higher education. This helps real people in the real world. Here’s how to donate:
There you go. Stop watching Internet conspiracy movies and go do some good in the world. You have no excuse now.
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:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nH2-37rTA8U (Khan Academy on FRB, quite educational I must add, as long as you avoid the comments section).
http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/wpawuwpma/0203005.htm (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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
http://stocks.fundamentalfinance.com/stock-market-crash-of-1929.php (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!
http://crisisofcredit.com/ (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.
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.