Today, November 11, 2012, is the one-year anniversary of the initial release of the conspiracy theory movie Thrive. The film’s first birthday is, I think, an appropriate time to evaluate the film’s impact on the conspiracy underground and its continuing viability, as well as an assessment of our own efforts on this blog to correct and rebut the film. You might say that this article is a “postmortem” of Thrive, and that characterization wouldn’t be inaccurate. If the movie was intended to create a “new paradigm” or “wake people up,” it seems clear that Thrive has failed to do this on any significant scale. The main argument of this article is that, one year on, Thrive is “thriving” no more.
Thrive’s Declining Popularity: The Empirical Proof.
There is no doubt that Thrive is declining in popularity, and the numbers prove it. According to the website traffic analyzer Alexa.com (you can find stats here) the movie’s main website, thrivemovement.com, has been receiving markedly less traffic over the past several months than it did during either of the months it peaked—in November 2011, when Thrive was released, and April 2012, when Foster Gamble and Clear Compass Media made it available for free as opposed to a $5 fee. Alexa.com shows jagged spikes in the website’s popularity week by week (which is measured in terms of traffic ranking within the Internet as a whole), but each spike is successively smaller, the last one being barely a quarter of the website’s all-time interest spike.
On the day I checked, thrivemovement.com had gone down by 27.38% in “reach” over the past three months alone. That means that the site today is reaching 27.38% fewer people now than it was just three months ago. These stats change day by day, so if you check you will probably see a slightly different number.
The statistics on this blog match this trend almost exactly. Interest in Thrive Debunked has proven, over the past year, to be an extremely keen indicator of interest in the movie itself (I’ll explain why that is later in the article). The daily high for page views in the past year was April 13, 2012. Since then, this blog receives barely a quarter—on a good day—of the number of daily page views than it did on that day. The pattern of traffic on this blog mirrors almost exactly the ebb and flow of traffic for thrivemovement.com, with spikes of ever-decreasing intensity followed by prolonged valleys.
Furthermore, there has been much less comment traffic on this blog in the past few months than there was, say, before July 1. I used to receive as many as ten or more comments a day from various people either pro- or anti-Thrive (mostly pro). Now, days go by without any new comments being posted at all.
Speaking solely in terms of web traffic, Thrive Debunked is like a pilotfish on a whale. Wherever the whale goes, it goes along for the ride. The trajectory is down, down, down across the board. The numbers prove it beyond any doubt.
Why is Thrive Declining?
The answers as to why the movie is declining are less clear, but here I offer a few hypotheses.
1. The movie didn’t contribute anything substantially new—at least nothing that its fans could latch onto as new.
For all of its bluster and bravado about a “new paradigm,” Thrive contributed very little to the conspiracy theory underground that was fundamentally new. All that was new was the packaging, which is a shiny object that can only hope to distract the masses for a limited time. Ancient aliens? Been around since 1968. Crop circles? Old news. Money conspiracies? Lyndon LaRouche was doing that in the 80s. “Global Domination Agenda”? Every Alex Jones radio show since 1998 has been about that. Far right-wing Libertarian political propaganda? Ron Paul was peddling that folderol in 2007; now, after two spectacularly embarrassing failures at running for president, he has (mercifully) been put out to pasture, and his sycophantic fan base is finally fading away.
Substantively, the only truly novel idea contributed by Thrive was the obsession with the “torus” shape. (Of course the idea existed long before, but had never been injected into the conspiracy underground before). This proved to be a non-starter among conspiracy theorists, who revel in gloom, apocalypse and disaster. If it can’t oppress you, take away your freedoms, abduct you, give you an anal probe or blow up the World Trade Center, conspiracy theorists probably won’t be interested in it. So scratch the “torus” idea.
Conceptually and structurally, Thrive did make a significant contribution—that being the continued meld of conspiracy theory ideology and New Age sensibility, a toxic mixture that some academic researchers are beginning to term “conspirituality.” Essentially, Thrive is a document evincing the embryonic creation of a new quasi-religious belief system. But this alone won’t sustain its popularity among conspiracy theorists. If Thrive does go down in history it will be because of its contribution to conspirituality, but this is not an accomplishment that conspiracy theorists can sink their teeth into, because most of them vehemently deny that their belief system even is religious in nature. So, appealing though conspirituality is on a subconscious level, that alone is not going to sustain interest in Thrive.
2. The “Thrive Movement” is largely illusory and is not driving continued interest in the movie.
Another reason why the movie has failed to sustain and increase its reach is that there’s no real organization behind it that’s continuing to push it. We’ve blogged before about how ineffectual, illusory and ephemeral are the “solutions” proposed by the movie—they are mainly talking points aimed at ending the conspiracy theories that the movie insists are out there, but because of course these conspiracy theories do not really exist, the movie’s “solutions” are cures in desperate search of a disease. Beyond that, though, the “Thrive Movement” that you see touted (somewhat disingenuously) on the website does not exist in any real sense. Yes, there are small ad-hoc groups of the movie’s fans that have met on an informal basis in various parts of the country. But a mass movement to motivate action based on the movie’s principles? If such a thing exists, it’s keeping an awfully low profile–which can hardly be what fans of the movie want.
Here is one place where Thrive failed to live up to the predecessor it hoped to imitate, the Zeitgeist Movement, which was similarly a fan club of approbation for the infamous (and roundly debunked) 2007 conspiracy theory movie Zeitgeist: The Movie. As we all know, the Zeitgeist experience was the blueprint for Thrive. Although the Zeitgeist Movement imploded in 2011 and has now shriveled to a tiny burned-out nub of high-commitment supporters who have been largely forgotten by the outside world, between 2008 and 2011 at least there was an organization—centrally directed, and under the leadership of the film’s director and his close associates—out there pushing Zeitgeist: The Movie and its tiresome preachy sequels. Thrive has no such organization behind it. The effort that Foster Gamble has exerted to rally fans of the film around a set of action points has been minimal, and no one else has (so far as I know) stepped up to exert any sort of leadership role in this capacity. Without the benefit of a “street team” out there flogging it, Thrive must sink or swim on its own merit. You can see from the numbers that Thrive is not doing well in swimming against the current.
3. Some conspiracy theorists distrust Thrive, thus limiting its reach even within its own target demographic.
Debunkers and other followers of rational, reality-based belief systems aren’t the only detractors of Thrive. Many conspiracy theorists are deeply distrustful of it, for two main reasons: (1) Foster Gamble’s familial connection to the Proctor & Gamble company, and (2) the film’s promotional poster, depicting a woman taking off a blindfold, which especially paranoid conspiracy nutters think is “Illuminati propaganda.” Thrive has been pilloried in the conspiracy underground for these two characteristics. As a result, the many hard-core, incorrigible, detached-from-reality conspiracy nuts—whom you would expect to be Thrive’s core constituency—reject the film out of hand for these very reasons.
This is a battle that Foster Gamble and Thrive can’t possibly win. It does absolutely no good for Foster Gamble to protest that he has nothing to do with his Proctor & Gamble relatives, because no one will believe him anyway. Conspiracy theorists are notoriously intransigent and will accept anything on faith, however bizarre or improbable, so long as it feeds into their paranoid delusions. Even the suggestion that Foster Gamble is an “Illuminati stooge” is, in the conspiracy underground, tantamount to an immutable sentence of guilty.
The controversy over the poster is even more ludicrous. Any image, anywhere, in any context of a person showing one eye is automatically construed by hard-core conspiracy lunatics as “proof” of “Illuminati symbolism.” No amount of remonstration on the part of Foster Gamble or the Thrive crew could possibly alter this. Therefore, Thrive and its makers are—in the zero-evidence-needed universe of hard-core conspiracy lunatics—guilty right out of the starting gate, and Thrive is viewed as dangerous “disinformation.” This is doubly ironic because many people who accept Thrive as gospel truth accuse rationally-based critics—such as myself and fellow contributor SlayerX3—of being “paid disinformation agents” for even daring to criticize the movie.
Thus, Thrive has a self-limiting factor even within its own target audience. The most paranoid and delusional of conspiracy theorists preach against the film because they think it’s part of a conspiracy, whilst debunkers pile on because it promotes conspiracy theories. In this sense Thrive embodies the worst of both worlds. There is no escape from this vicious circle. If Thrive can’t even unite conspiracy theorists across the wide spectrum of their beliefs, it has absolutely no hope of doing so in the mainstream world where conspiracy thinking is generally not accepted.
4. Thrive cannot make any inroads among mainstream (non-conspiracy, non-New Age) audiences.
This is the most important reason Thrive is declining: it simply can’t attract any mainstream attention, which means its potential fan base is limited to its core constituencies of conspiracy theorists and New Age adherents—at least the ones who don’t distrust it because of Gamble’s familial connection or the image on the poster. The reasons for Thrive’s inability to break through to the mainstream is the subject of the next section.
Preventing Mainstream Acceptance: The Repudiators (and the Debunkers).
Without any doubt the single most important event in the history of Thrive was the signing of a letter, by ten of the people interviewed in the film, repudiating it and stating that they were misled as to the film’s contents. If you’ve read this blog, you know all about the “repudiators” (and if you don’t, start here). This event was “game over” for Thrive. Almost single-handedly, the repudiation—orchestrated most vocally by John Robbins—ended any chance the movie ever had of gaining credibility in mainstream circles.
Now, wherever Thrive is shown or even mentioned, the story of the repudiation follows it. Although the repudiation is not generally a deal-breaker for conspiracy theorists and New Agers who like the movie, it certainly is a deal-breaker for anyone else out there who might otherwise have been attracted to the movie’s message or themes but who wasn’t already a conspiracy theorist or New Age adherent. The explanation Thrive’s makers give for the repudiation—that Robbins and company were part of a “disinformation” campaign against the film—is totally incredible and unlikely to satisfy anyone. It’s tough to interest mainstream media in hard-core conspiracy material anyway, but the repudiation is the kiss of death for Thrive. It simply can’t be explained away, ignored or rationalized. Robbins and company acted out of principle. That’s extremely persuasive.
The Thrive Debunked blog has arguably played a role in preventing Thrive from expanding its fanbase into the mainstream, but probably only a small one. I’ve said many times before that the repudiation, and especially the beautiful essay by John Robbins on why he did it, were far more effective in preventing gullible people from falling for Thrive’s nonsense than anything I or my contributors have done. What I believe we and other debunkers who have spoken against the movie have done is to make it very easy for rational people seeking information on the film to see just how wrong the film and its assertions are. The target audience for this blog has always been people who are curious about the movie, who might have some interest in the subjects it covers, but who are cautious enough to investigate the film before believing what it says. Although that universe of people is quite small compared either to the conspiracy fans who love the film or the vast mainstream who realize from the get-go that it’s not worth their time, this blog has been extremely successful at reaching that target audience. On that front, this blog has been a huge success.
The Cycle of Thrive Discovery—And Rejection.
This blog has become an integral part of the public conversation about Thrive. I know because WordPress tracks the “incoming” traffic to this blog and logs the pages that link to it. The vast majority of “incoming” links follow exactly the same pattern. Here’s how it works:
1. A conspiracy theorist or New Ager discovers the film, watches it online, loves it, and makes a post about it on a web forum or in a chatroom. Almost always this initial post praises the film and recommends it to others, like, “There’s this great movie that shows us how our world really works! Everyone should see it!”
2. A few other conspiracy theorists reply, expressing agreement with the film and thanking the original poster who brought it to their attention. Often, some type of discussion about the film’s specific theories (usually “free energy” or the “Global Domination Agenda”) results.
3. Another poster makes a negative comment on Thrive and says something like, “That movie is crap” or “Don’t be fooled by this nonsense.” This is the poster who will almost always post a link to Thrive Debunked.
4. The original poster returns, defending the movie (usually in a shrill, angry and indignant tone), denouncing this blog and calling me a “paid disinformation agent.” Then the original poster will add a bunch of links to other conspiracy theorist material that supposedly “validates” Thrive.
5. The pro-Thrive and anti-Thrive forum posters argue amongst themselves for a few more posts.
6. The original topic goes fallow and is forgotten as the posters move on to something else.
This pattern repeats day after day, all over the Internet, in country after country. (If you want a recent example of this effect, go here). What is clear from this cycle of discovery and rejection is that Thrive has no staying power. It’s a shiny toy that attracts the temporary attention of conspiracy theorists, and then after it’s been debunked and the requisite “paid disinformation agent” accusations have been vomited up against the doubters of the film, the conspiracy nuts lose interest and move on to the next shiny toy. This demonstrates that, even among conspiracy theorists, Thrive operates at a highly superficial level. It generates very little sustained contemplation, thoughtful discussion or even self-reflection. It’s bubble-gum candy, intellectual junk food. To be sure this is as much the fault of the defective mentality of the conspiracy theorist underground—which vociferously discourages any attempt at intellectual analysis—as it is the failure of Thrive, but it’s telling that there’s so little “there” there behind most public discussions of the film.
But Isn’t The Film Valuable Because It Gets People Talking About Important Issues in Our World?
This argument presupposes that Thrive is ethically neutral–that if it is not true, its untruth is harmless, but if (by wild coincidence) the filmmakers happen to aim a wayward arrow at some real-world issue that needs addressing, Thrive is a net positive because it’s directed at least some energy toward addressing that issue. That’s not the case, because the great deal of damage that its untrue and disingenuous depictions of societal issues cause far outweighs any marginal benefit the film might have by “accidentally” aiming at a valid target.
Let me give you an example. The dependence of industrialized societies on fossil fuels is a crucial issue in our world that must be solved, before anthropogenic climate change renders our environment uninhabitable or hostile. Thrive implicitly does accept the premise that dependence on fossil fuel is bad. However, Thrive’s proposed solution is to rely on “free energy” machines, built from plans given to us by aliens, which will miraculously liberate us from all our energy problems. This is a false solution. Even a fan of the film who is motivated to take action to advance a solution to fossil fuel dependence will have his or her energy diverted in a completely useless direction: advocacy for “free energy” machines that do not exist.
In order to turn this hypothetical Thrive fan into an activist working toward real solutions to energy problems–for example, political lobbying for greater public investment in R&D to develop solar, wind, or geothermal energy–will require reeducating the person to realize that “free energy” is a falsehood and that Thrive has misled them. If they’re already interested in working toward energy independence, it’s likely that whatever stimulus sets them on a more productive path could have interested them in the real solution at the get-go, which means the fact that Thrive turned them on to the issue of fossil fuel reliance is totally irrelevant. In fact, Thrive in this example has been counterproductive, because it wasted the would-be activist’s (and society’s) time by encouraging him to tilt uselessly at the windmills of imaginary “free energy” machines. This is not a net positive.
Even this hypothetical example is extremely speculative because it’s not likely that Thrive will interest people “by accident” in genuine issues and genuine solutions anyway. The issues Thrive cares most passionately about are the conspiracy theories. Consequently, what little “activism” it can hope to ignite will almost invariably be directed at ending these horrible conspiracies. That is not a net good for society. It’s a net negative, because conspiracy thinking is part of the problem and is not a solution to anything.
The Final Truth—The One Thrive Fans Will Never, Ever Admit.
There’s a line in Michael Jackson’s song “Beat It” that goes, “No one wants to be defeated.” Conspiracy theorists are more ferociously resistant to admitting failure and defeat than just about anyone else. In fact, they’re so resistant to the notion that their theories are failing to “wake people up” that they will engage in the most egregious contortions of reality to avoid accepting that the mainstream world either treats them as irrelevant wingnuts or incurable lunatics. Consequently, I predict that Thrive fans who choose to comment on this article will never, ever admit that Thrive is losing, rather than gaining, viewers, and that instead of “waking people up” it’s falling quite quickly into well-deserved obscurity.
Conspiracy theorists love to assert that more and more people are joining their side. They love to say things like, “The worm is turning!” or “We’re gaining critical mass!” Bizarrely, they persist in these delusions even long after the party is over, after it becomes painfully obvious that the mainstream world has passed them by.
Take, for instance, 9/11 Truthers. Right now, the conspiracy theory that maintains “9/11 was an inside job” is less popular now than it has been at any time since the attacks of September 11 happened. I proved this in this article, refuting the absolutely false assertion made by Foster Gamble in Thrive that “a growing number of people” believe in this delusion. In fact, based on poll data, the numbers of people who believe in “9/11 was an inside job” theories is shrinking, not growing. But Truthers will never admit this. To them, the conspiracy theory has to be gaining converts every day. The lack of evidence that Trutherism is becoming more popular is treated as irrelevant, or (more typically) that news of its supposedly growing popularity is suppressed. Truthers will never—never—admit that mainstream society rejected this conspiracy delusion long ago and moved on.
In fact, I’ve had 9/11 Truthers try to tell me that the reason nobody talks about 9/11 conspiracy theories much anymore is because they (the Truthers) have already won—they think the vast majority of the public considers 9/11 a closed issue, having concluded that it was a conspiracy, so there’s no need to debate it anymore! They’re right on one score—there is no need to debate it—but for precisely the opposite reason: mainstream public opinion long ago tossed 9/11 conspiracy theories on the dustbin of history, and trying to gain new adherents to the theory is like trying to sell tickets to the Titanic after the ship has already gone down.
There’s one more powerful piece of evidence indicating that the mainstream world has forgotten about Thrive, and that’s here: the very interesting discussion that took place behind the scenes at Wikipedia over whether Thrive was “notable” enough to warrant an entry in the database. Despite the frenzied efforts of Thrive partisans, the Wikipedia gatekeepers decided that Thrive wasn’t even worth their time. There is no Wikipedia page on Thrive. Nor will there be. It’s not suppression; it’s not propaganda; it’s not the “Global Domination Agenda” paying Wikipedia to snub them. It’s much simpler than that: no one cares.
One Wikipedia editor summed up the argument against Thrive with these very telling statements, which ultimately won the debate:
“This page [the one on Thrive that was eventually deleted] reeks of promotion and has the barest credentials. I must agree with nominator that page created by a known sock puppet of an indef-blocked socker [translation: a known conspiracy theorist troll] should be subject to close scrutiny. [An anti-Thrive Wikipedia user] makes the valid points above this film has no wide interest and zero sources other than blogs…”
This is the truth. No one cares anymore. No one should care. Thrive is dead. John Robbins and the other nine repudiators ended the Thrive phenomenon, if indeed there ever was one. Game over.
This is my final article for Thrive Debunked. After seven years in the arena, I have retired from actively debunking conspiracy theories, and Thrive marks the final chapter in that journey. My contributors and I have, in the past year, successfully refuted every major assertion made in the film. There’s nothing of substance left standing of Thrive. Our work is completed. Thrive has been completely debunked. Even if it wasn’t, John Robbins and the repudiators have rendered further effort in deconstructing the film largely pointless, because it’s clear that the film is not going to have any real resonance in the future beyond the realm of conspiracy theorists and New Agers who already know about it.
But, like a dead oil tanker that continues to leak toxins into the environment decades after the main oil spill has been contained, Thrive will continue to infect a small, steady trickle of viewers with its conspiracy poison, whether its new victims are young people who are just entering the dark and nihilistic world of paranoia, or other potential fans who simply haven’t heard about the movie before. For that reason, this blog will remain up for at least a while. It’s already helped a lot of people, and can continue to do some good, even if it is no longer actively updated.
The conspiracy theorists out there will invariably interpret this as some sort of victory, or perhaps further “proof” that I am a “paid disinformation agent”—maybe my CIA/Project Vigilance masters have stopped paying me, or transferred me to another assignment!—but there’s nothing I can do about that. Conspiracy nutters will make that accusation anyway, regardless of how stupid it is. I am not a “paid disinformation agent,” of course, but the fact that paranoiacs continue to believe that I am gives me no grief at all. I have nothing to prove to conspiracy theorists. This blog wasn’t meant for them anyway; it was meant to reach people who are still capable of rational thought.
What I feel most toward fans of Thrive is not anger or even pity, but sadness. What could have been great hope, promise and energy of a generation of young people who want to change the world has been squandered, bastardized and ultimately wasted by sad obsessions with bizarre conspiracy theories that can do nothing—absolutely nothing—to move our society forward or address the problems within it. This is the tragedy of conspiracy thinking. It is a tragedy upon which I can no longer dwell, and with Thrive now debunked, I no longer have to.
I want to thank the contributors to this blog (SlayerX3 chief among them, though he’s by no means the only one), as well as those behind the scenes who helped me research, fact-check, and keep ahead of developments I wouldn’t have heard about otherwise. I want to thank the readers (you know who you are) who respond tirelessly in the comments, slamming down the endless assaults of idiocy and irrationality spouted by Thrive’s more militant fans. If by some miracle of fate Thrive’s fortunes do turn around—or if Foster Gamble decides to make a Thrive 2, perish the thought—I will be looking to you to carry on my work, and to defend rationality, sanity and reason against the endless waves of woo, bullshit, paranoia and propaganda in which our world is sadly awash. Thanks for a job well done.
Foster Gamble or his fans may not think so, but I, for one, am thriving quite well.
Thanks for reading.
I received an interesting email recently from a reader of Thrive Debunked who often forwards me leads and information. The subject was a conversation about me and this blog that recently went on between someone who has frequently commented on this blog (sometimes in support, but often in opposition) and another person who is evidently a filmmaker of some stature. The filmmaker, whose name I do not know, claimed to have done an analysis of me by reading Thrive Debunked. Just for fun I thought I’d present it here, as I find it both very amusing and very sad, and unfortunately typical of the conspiracy mindset behind Thrive. I’ll also offer some comments on the analysis by SlayerX3, the other frequent contributor to this blog.
I should state before we begin that who this person is doesn’t matter to me. I could not be less interested in their identity. It’s the content of the analysis that is interesting here.
The “Disinformation” Trope—Again.
“Muertos is a very interesting character. I’ve gone through a good bit of that site. I just want you to know that, in my considered opinion, this is all what it looks like: purposeful and intentional disinformation. This is NOT the efforts of a few intelligent skeptics who are determined that the public know the “truth”. This is a strategically mounted, carefully conceived and administered campaign to shift public opinion away from having a sincere interest in these topics.
Who would want to do such a thing is not a conversation for email, as far as I am concerned. Too complex, murky, and too detailed to write about. I just wanted you to know that disinformation has been a topic of interest of mine for a long, long time. There are reasons my films generally withstand certain kinds of scrutiny, in that I’ve always had a bit of a natural style and methodology that results in well-knit story structure and coherence.
But what’s going on now with Robbert (and with Foster and Thrive), is a step or two beyond the usual “civil vigilantism for the truth”. There’s something happening with guys like “Muertos” (who I suspect is probably more of a team than an individual) that calls for being very, very careful. One thing to notice about this “guy” is that he is very, very well informed about what it is he goes after- and I mean down to the history, the players, the real detailed nuances — and yet all he has to offer is dissention, ridicule and disbelief.”
This person evidently believes, as many readers of this blog do, that I’m a “paid disinformation agent.” This is a classic fallacy of conspiracy theorist thinking. Conspiracy theorists live in a shuttered universe, intentionally separated from any sources of information that would challenge their belief system. In this closed universe, no one could or would disagree with their conspiracy conclusions honestly, rationally or on their own. The only way they would ever disagree with conspiracy theories is if they’re being paid and/or criticizing conspiracy theories as part of some ideological, political or economic campaign. That’s what the term “disinformation” means in this context.
Repeating once again that I’m a totally ordinary private citizen, that I am one person working alone, and that I’m not being paid or directed by any government, agency, cartel, business interest, activist group, or any person at all to write Thrive Debunked is as pointless now as it ever was. Fans of Thrive who choose to accept this film’s misguided premises as their primary belief system will never accept that I’m not “working for someone.” I find it amusing that the accusation continues to be made, and repeated among my critics as if it is settled truth. It’s simply ridiculous.
Thrive fans aren’t the first conspiracy believers to accuse me of being a “paid disinformation agent,” nor the first to accuse me of being more than one person or having some sort of staff. In August 2011, a few months before Thrive came out, Peter Joseph Merola, the leader of the Zeitgeist Movement and creator of the conspiracy film series Zeitgeist (itself a major progenitor of Thrive), made the same accusations against me on his forum. I wrote an article about that incident on my other blog. Most amusing to me is the idea that I have a “staff.” I take it as a backhanded compliment. If people look at my blog and think it’s impossible that one guy can do all of this in his spare time, I suppose I must be pretty good at blogging!
I also take as a compliment the analyzer’s warning that I’m “very, very well informed about what it is he goes after- and I mean down to the history, the players, the real detailed nuances.” Yes, I am. A lot of research goes into the articles here. For various articles on Thrive Debunked, I have read numerous books, reviewed Congressional hearing testimony, conducted my own independent interviews, consulted newspaper archives, and emailed scientific experts to make sure my facts are right. This is, in fact, the difference between what I do and what Thrive does. I’d like to think this is a mark of quality. Thrive Debunked is listed on Rationalwiki.org’s page about the Thrive movie. It is also now a go-to source on the Debunkatron, a clearinghouse of conspiracy theory and woo belief debunkings. You don’t get listed on these sites by offering shoddy, poorly-researched material and just shouting opinions, which is what many angry Thrive fans accuse me of doing.
As for offering only “dissention, ridicule and disbelief,” this is, of course, false. I offer facts, evidence, and logical reasoning. Just to name a few at random, I offered the fact, backed by eyewitness testimony and historical data, that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was not a “false flag” operation. That fact had the effect of directly refuting Foster Gamble’s claim in Thrive about the Gulf of Tonkin affair. I offered the fact, backed by scientific evidence, that St. Sofia in Istanbul was constructed in the 530s (A.D.) using a process of earthquake-proof cement that was unknown to modern engineers until 2002—thus demonstrating that questions of ancient engineering do not indicate, as Thrive would have you believe, that certain structures must have been created by aliens. Most controversially on this blog, I offered the fact that crop circles of flawless geometric precision can be and are made by human beings in a short period of time with a few simple tools—a fact you can verify with your own eyes by watching it being done in the YouTube video embedded on that page.
Thrive fans do not like facts such as these, because they impugn the film’s conclusions. I have no control over what the facts are. As I’m fond of saying to conspiracy theorists, don’t blame the facts if they lead to a conclusion you don’t like.
So, What’s My Motivation?
The analysis goes on:
“Plus, (from what I can tell) he’s also not someone like Peter Sorenson, or Colin himself, having been a former true believer who for some reason became disillusioned. No, this guy “Muertos” appears to be a total independent, and a newbie at that. So, what’s his motivation? Why put so much effort into researching and debunking people and topics that you fundamentally don’t have any true regard for? There’s a disconnect here that deserves some attention, I think.
And the way he operates is 100% political — you can see that in the construction of the language he utilizes. There is certainly no real room in his approach for any sort of “open discussion” on the “possibilities” of what is real. So my question is: “what’s really going on here?”
“Colin” is Colin Andrews, a crop circle researcher who recently exposed the fraudulent video being supported by Nancy Talbott of BLTResearch.com, which is Thrive’s main source for the false claims made about crop circles at the beginning of the film. I’m not sure I understand the distinction the analyzer is making between “true believers” and “independents.” It is true, however, that the vast majority of high-commitment conspiracy theorist debunkers are former conspiracy theorists themselves. In fact, I am one of them. I used to believe very fervently that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a government/CIA/Mafia conspiracy, and I also used to believe that TWA Flight 800, which exploded overLong Island in July 1996, was secretly shot down by the U.S. Navy. It was my recovery from this sort of conspiracy thinking that motivated me to try to prevent others from falling into it.
I am also not a “newbie.” I’ve been debunking conspiracy theories for over seven years. Although Thrive only came out a few months ago, I have a great deal of experience in researching and refuting conspiracy theories, from “9/11 Truth” to JFK, to cults, MLM scams and other forms of what I call organized deception.
I strongly dislike conspiracy theories. They are harmful to society, corrosive to democracy, and inimical to rational and critical thinking. This is my motivation for speaking out against them. Nothing more, nothing less. (If you need a fuller explanation for this, see this article). Anyone who knows me knows that I do nothing by halves. If I committed myself to refuting the movie Thrive, it makes no sense that I would not try to do it as competently, completely, and persuasively as I possibly can. Otherwise I just wouldn’t do it. I find it bizarre that critics use the amount of effort I put into this blog to try to “prove” that I must be a “paid disinformation agent,” because no “real” person would put so much effort into refuting something they don’t like. That argument is ridiculous and ignores the powerful motivations that ordinary people find to speak out against things that they think are harmful.
My model in matters of debunking is a fellow named Mark Roberts. In 2005, Mr. Roberts committed to refuting and debunking the asinine conspiracy theorist film Loose Change, which claimed that “9/11 was an inside job.” Mark Roberts, who was known as Gravy on the JREF Forum, put together a website that is absolutely magnificent in its accuracy, its breadth of coverage, and its total refutation of the lies and errors contained in Loose Change. Who is Mark Roberts? He’s not a “paid disinformation agent.” He runs a tour service in New York City. He’s a totally normal guy. He achieved with Loose Change far more than I have with Thrive. But if you need proof that ordinary people really do get motivated enough to push back against conspiracy movies that are hurting people, all you need do is look at Mark Roberts’s website.
As for whether I am “open” to “possibilities,” I am open to anything—so long as the evidence demonstrates it is true. With regard to free energy, for example, I’ve stated many times that, although I believe free energy is impossible and a sham, if someone were to produce a free energy machine and demonstrate that it does what is claimed of it—in a public forum, and in a way where reputable scientists can verify and duplicate the machine’s operation—I will take down everything I’ve ever said about free energy. But Thrive fans can’t present that evidence. Nor can they present evidence for any of the other weird claims they make. Until and unless that evidence appears, it is entirely rational and justifiable for me to denounce these claims as false.
I would like to ask the person who wrote this analysis—what’s so unreasonable about asking for evidence?
“Disinfo” Again. There’s Something Going On!
“Something is definitely going on in my opinion, and there are few of us who are even aware of it, let alone oriented towards finding a way to deal with it. It’s a very dicey situation, and long-term, I feel. Someone is trying to “manage history” here, and we are in the crosshairs, so to speak. Your manner of reply, which is very similar to what Foster has attempted, has a lot of limitations in terms of really countering these initial disinformation salvos. Too much detail (for one thing), and not enough “sizzle”, and NO clout.
Disinfo is a very interesting game (and one I am not adept in — I just have an long-standing interest in it). It plays, of course, upon the lowest common denominator, upon common fears, and upon reinforcing existing and limited worldviews. Easy to do if you know the techniques, I would think. Effectively countering it is a separate and unique process, I believe — and one I have tremendous interest in.”
Ooh, look at that! I’m trying to “manage history!” That term is silly. All I’m trying to do is present the facts, and educate people about the factual and logical deficiencies of the claims in Thrive. Is this “managing history?” What does that even mean?
As for this person’s interest in “disinformation,” I’d be glad to enlighten him/her. Whoever wrote this analysis is welcome to ask me any question they want about how much I’m being paid to write this blog ($0.00), who’s paying me (no one), what agenda I’m serving (none), how I do my research, or how I come up with subjects to cover. Seriously. I’ll totally honor this person’s anonymity if they like. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If they are so interested in “disinformation,” I offer myself as a resource to explore that interest.
The upshot of these last two paragraphs is another backhanded compliment. The person who wrote this is throwing up his or her hands and conceding that they know of no way to counter the hideous “disinformation” I’m spewing with my evil blog. That is not surprising; the facts speak for themselves. Conspiracy theorists, when confronted with facts they can’t deny, usually run away from them. That’s what’s happening in this case, except it’s not “disinformation” at all—it’s fact.
So yes, there is “something going on”: someone out there is viewing this blog through a very paranoid mindset, and seeing a number of things that simply aren’t there. Even to make the allegation that I’m some sort of “disinformation agent” betrays a level of paranoia that I frankly find very difficult to fathom. Another thing I have often told conspiracy theorists is that I don’t quite understand how their paranoid fantasy world works, but however it does, I’m glad I don’t live there.
SlayerX3’s Response to the Analysis
[SlayerX3 is a contributor and author of several articles on this blog including the three full-length debunkings, and the fine “Follow The Money” Debunked article. I do not pay him, I don’t direct what he writes, and he’s not working for anyone. Like me, he does this in his spare time and out of his own motivations.]
It is indeed a clear headed analysis but it also stumbles on the same problem when skeptics debunk or criticize events or theories: we eventually end up being either called “naysayers,” or worse, “disinformation agents.”
Topics like these are complicated to deal not with their subjects—since these are relatively easy to prove and show why they are wrong—but with the people who believe in them. Challenging an idea is easy. People can change or even shape ideas to correct fallacies and mistakes, but beliefs aren’t that easy [to change]. Since they have become rooted in people’s minds, challenging them will be always met with degrees of hostility or denial, along with other justifications by the believers to reinforce their beliefs but without addressing the questions that challenge those beliefs (such as the classic reasoning of, “If they are attacking me that means I’m right,” or “You are being paid to disagree with me”).
It is true some of those areas are far from being something we’d care about if there weren’t people trying to pass it as if those “happenings” were 100% true. I do not care if people believe in UFOs or Jewish shape-shifting reptilians, but I do care if people start spreading their version of a “truth” that doesn’t have any connection with reality, or a twisted interpretation of real-life facts to convey their own beliefs and convince other people to share them in a quasi cult-like manner. (It is worth it to cite groups like Desteni as an example of what can go extremely wrong with those beliefs).
Personally, I think the greatest motivation debunkers have is to force engagement with facts, in my case correcting the erroneous interpretation of physics and the pseudo-science in Thrive. Debunkers in general don’t have an agenda behind them besides showing where the mistakes and misinterpretations are.
[The analysis] mentions that we try to “manage history,” but this argument could be thrown back at them the same way they are throwing it at us. Movies like Loose Change and Zeitgeist attempted doing so for their own agenda, like the cuts in the 9/11 footage to insinuate the attacks were done by cruise missiles instead of planes (the Pentagon case in Loose Change) or to re-write history with false facts and misinterpretation of religions (the “Christ conspiracy” falsehood in Zeitgeist). The “disinformation” accusations are not something we take so lightly. When we debunk we’re not just saying “no, it didn’t happen like this PERIOD”—we focus on a more objective approach by doing research about the subject, showing from where and how we took the data werre using and taking a look at both sides before we reach any conclusions. And, more importantly, we never cease asking questions.
The difference is when we [debunkers] ask questions and look for answers, once we find one that is consistent with facts and reality we drawn our conclusions. Something I’ve noticed about conspiracy theorists is that no matter how much we prove their beliefs wrong and answer their questions, they keep asking questions until someone gives the answers they want to hear. (It doesn’t matter if this someone is telling the truth or not).
Perhaps the questioning is what really scares people in conspiracy theory circles, not the followers but the people responsible for spreading and making the [conspiracy] content. [The analysis] said we have a political agenda, which may or may not be true, I don’t in my case. But so do the creators of those movies, whether be it for money (Like Zeitgeist’s Peter Joseph Merola), to push a political agenda (Thrive’s Gamble) or simply for fame (I think David Icke fits). Debunkers, both professional and amateur, are seen as a threat by those people, a stone wall between their beliefs and the people they feel they need to reach to accomplish these goals.
The phrase “Disinfo is a very interesting game (and one I am not adept in — I just have an long-standing interest in it). It plays, of course, upon the lowest common denominator, upon common fears, and upon reinforcing existing and limited worldviews” left me in awe a bit, since this is exactly what conspiracy theorists prey on. 9/11 conspiracy theories preyed on the broken sense of security among Americans; Zeitgeist and Thrive prey on the inequality and poverty problems around the world, blaming them on conspiracy groups and elites. The Protocol of the Elders of Zion (which David Icke refuses to say is fake) preys on hatred against the Jewish population. And it is clear these thoughts can be dangerous. They can either shift the attention to the wrong place or instigate hatred against a particular group of people.
There is an observation that should be reinforced about debunkers, the same one I stated in the beginning of this text: debunkers are called “disinformation agents” because we ask questions that will bring inconsistencies, fallacies and mistakes to the surface, and not only ask these questions but find views and facts to verify if the statements made by conspiracy theorists are factual or not. Since conspiracy theories tend not to be factual we’ve yet to find facts and evidence supporting conspiracy theories.
Remember the founding base of debunkers is skepticism. We won’t believe something outright without definitive proof.
One thing that never ceases to astonish me about believers in conspiracy theories is how incapable they are of accepting disagreement. The movie Thrive, packed to the gills with conspiracy theories, naturally attracts a lot of these types. If the comments I’ve received on this blog are any indication, there are a lot of Thrive fans out there who believe that no one could disagree with the movie or refute its messages without being paid to do so–in short, many of them believe I’m a “paid disinformation agent.”
The accusation is so ludicrous it’s almost funny. The idea that anybody, much less the government, would actually pay me to write blogs about Internet conspiracy movies is prima facie evidence of not only paranoia so severe as to constitute delusion, but also profound ignorance of how the world actually works. The accusations would be funny if they weren’t so sad. Here is a scattering of some of the comments I’ve received to this effect:
“We are awake Mr. goverment disinfo man, and we are staring you in the face. Your emperor has no clothes.” (link)
“No individual without some vested interest and agenda would go through all this effort about a recent documentary. There is no way some random dude who watched Thrive would make a blog like this.” (link)
“In Thrive, they talk about the corruption of the FDA, and drug companies, so, debunk this you government troll.” (link)
[In response to a statement where I clearly assert I’m not being paid by anyone to write this blog:] “Highly doubt the above statements after reading through your website..” (link)
These accusations aren’t new to me. I’ve been accused of being a “paid disinformation agent” since I first started debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, seven years ago. A fervent conspiracy theorist on my old MySpace blog (defunct now for years) accused me of working for the CIA. Last summer, an “authority” no less lofty than Peter Joseph Merola, the leader of the now largely-defunct Zeitgeist Movement (which heavily promoted conspiracy theories), made the accusation. It was made against me again by Douglas Mallette, another prominent member of the Zeitgeist Movement, back in January. Not a single person has ever produced a single shred of evidence that I’m paid by anyone to write these blogs. That’s not surprising–there is no evidence, because I’m not paid. That should go without saying, but surprisingly, many people think otherwise.
The traditional narrative in conspiracy theorist circles usually involves a long-defunct government program called COINTELPRO–Counter Intelligence Program–whereby the FBI sent agent provocateurs to infiltrate, and keep tabs on, political organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. COINTELPRO has been defunct since 1971, but this doesn’t stop conspiracy theorists from claiming–again, without a single shred of evidence–that the program is supposedly still active. Conspiracy theorists also like to cite “Project Vigilance,” an abortive idea floated by the military in the early 2000s to encourage civilian bloggers to post articles supportive of the Iraq War. If this project ever got off the ground, it never made it very far; certainly, now that the Iraq War is over, there is no evidence that “Project Vigilance” exists in any coordinated or meaningful sense.
This is all beside the point, however. Even if COINTELPRO or Project Vigilance did actually exist, I’m certainly not a part of either one, nor have I ever been; I’m also not a part of any other program, going by any name (or no name), sponsored by anyone, any agency, any business interest, or anyone anywhere. I answer to no one; I’m not paid, directed or encouraged by anyone to write this blog or my other blog. I’m a private citizen and I’m simply angry that a film with as many factual inaccuracies and conspiracy theories as Thrive has attained the level of popularity that it has. It’s really not too hard to understand this motivation, and it certainly requires no monetary reward for me to advance it.
Nevertheless, there are readers of this blog who will never, under any circumstances, accept even the bare possibility that I’m not a “paid disinformation agent” working for somebody to discredit Thrive. Although I do not know for sure, it’s even remotely possible that Foster Gamble himself might suspect I’m being paid by the government to write this blog; I know that he has referred to critics of Thrive as “government trolls,” though I do not know whether he meant me specifically. What is undeniable is that many Thrive fans believe I am a “paid disinformation agent,” and even if I was interested in convincing them that I am not–which, in fact, does not really interest me very much–no amount of evidence, or lack of evidence, would ever convince them.
I’m curious, however, exactly how many Thrive fans hold this view and how prevalent it is. Consequently, at the bottom of this page you’ll find a poll where you can vote as to whether you think I’m a “paid disinformation agent” or not. I don’t expect the results of this poll to really be accurate–after all, probably the most paranoid of Thrive fans would be afraid that I could somehow log the IP addresses of everyone who votes “yes” and put them on some sort of black list. Nonetheless, just for grins, I’m putting up the poll anyway.
Am I really a “paid disinformation agent”? Here’s your chance to register your opinion! As they say in various corrupt precincts, vote early and vote often! I’ll do an update on this blog once significant numbers of results come in. In the meantime, run the anti-spyware software on your computer frequently. I may be logging your keystrokes and uploading them to the CIA central database in Quantico!
I posted an article today at my other much more long-established (and less well known) blog, the Muertos Blog, entitled The Conspiracy World is Changing: Are You Ready For It? Follow that link to read it in full. I decided to post it there because the subject matter of that article goes well beyond Thrive, thus exceeding the scope of this blog; however, as Thrive and its place in the seedy world of conspiracy theories are an important example of the effect I want to discuss in that article, I thought I would do a quick post here mentioning it and directing interested readers to it.
My main argument in that article is stated thusly:
“The best and most concise way I can put it is this: conspiracy theorists do not want, today in 2012, what they used to want ten, five or even three years ago. The endgame for them—the “finish line,” if you will—is no longer to convince significant numbers of people in the mainstream that Conspiracy Theory X or Y is factually true. Nowadays, conspiracy theories are being used as a vehicle to advance other ideas, usually a set of ideological or even religious principles. The factual veracity of conspiracy material is no longer as important as it once was. Consequently, debunkers of conspiracy theories—who are focused on what is factual, rational and supportable in objective terms—are going to find themselves increasingly outclassed in this new environment.”
I believe Thrive demonstrates this effect in a very profound way. We are now moving toward a world in which the factual veracity of conspiracy theories is being questioned less and less often, as believers in conspiracies are herded with increasing fervor toward predetermined, pre-packaged ideological conclusions. The article over at the Muertos Blog goes into great detail about how we got there (hint: Zeitgeist was the unwitting trailblazer), and most of the Thrive material is at the end. I stress that context is important, which is why I strongly suggest reading the full article, but here is an excerpt of my discussion on Thrive and what this blog has taught me about conspiracy thinking as it exists today:
“I’ve already noticed this trend on the Thrive Debunked blog. Although the majority of people who post comments on the blog are Thrive fans who are angry that anyone would criticize the movie, a surprisingly few number of them seem to be angry because they think the facts are something different than what I demonstrate they are. Indeed, most of them seem to be angry because they say that by criticizingThrive I’m preventing the world from becoming a better place by not acceptingThrive and its messages as true. This is why so many comments take a tack similar to, “you’re missing the point” or “the movie isn’t meant to be debunked.” When the movie is attacked, its fans instinctively leap to the defense of its ideology, whereas leaping to the defense of its facts seems to be a secondary consideration.”
For those who may be interested in a wider view of how Thrive fits into a broader context of conspiracy thinking and New Age belief systems, I hope this article gives you some food for thought. As always, thanks for reading.
This blog will deal with the claims made in a very small portion of the movie Thrive—small, but important. One of the key claims Foster Gamble makes in the film is the claim that there is a “Global Domination Agenda” where a small elite is plotting to take over the world. As I have already demonstrated, that claim is completely false. One of the pieces of “evidence” that Mr. Gamble employs to reach this finish line is the idea that this “Global Domination Elite” (“GDE” for short) uses what he calls “false flag attacks” as pretexts to start wars and/or institute policies that supposedly advance this imaginary conspiracy. In doing so, Mr. Gamble makes some pretty serious distortions of a few particular events in U.S. history. As American history is my professional field, I feel particularly obligated to set the record straight as to the misleading information and false conclusions invited by Mr. Gamble in Thrive.
What Does Thrive Say About “False Flag” Attacks?
At 1:30:00 (+/- a few seconds) in Thrive, Mr. Gamble asserts that “it is a documented fact that we entered the Vietnam War under false pretenses.” He is talking about the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, an attack by North Vietnamese forces on U.S. warships which caused President Lyndon Johnson to ask Congress for a resolution broadly authorizing expanded use of military force in Vietnam. A few moments later, Robert McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense under Johnson, is shown on the screen acknowledging that the attack on a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin did not actually take place.
At 1:30:44, after Mr. Gamble mentions that George W. Bush used the idea of weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) in Iraq to build support for the 2003 invasion, he states, “Tactics such as this are sometimes referred to as ‘false flag’ operations.”
At 1:30:56, Gamble makes the following assertion:
“A growing number of people believe that 9/11 was a ‘false flag’ operation by the global elite as a means of taking over Middle Eastern oil and dismantling U.S. constitutional protections.”
As he says this, on the screen the collapse of World Trade Center 7 is shown. The title on the screen reads, “Building 7, World Trade Center—September 11, 2001—(not hit by any plane).”
In about one minute of screen time, Mr. Gamble has committed a number of serious historical, logical and factual errors. This article will demonstrate three principal factual conclusions: (1) that Mr. Gamble is absolutely wrong, as a matter of historical fact, to claim that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a “false flag” operation; (2) that belief in “9/11 was an inside job” conspiracy theories is not growing, but in fact shrinking; and (3) the conclusion that Mr. Gamble invites, but does not expressly state, regarding September 11—specifically regarding WTC7, that it was part of a “false flag” operation—is incorrect. Additionally, this article will demonstrate why the whole idea of “false flag” operations, as conceived of by conspiracy theorists, is extremely unrealistic and in fact pretty silly.
What Is a “False Flag” Attack?
If you hear the term “false flag” in ordinary conversation, chances are pretty good you’re talking to a conspiracy theorist. As conspiracy theorists often do, they have taken a fairly obscure term—this one from the world of military and intelligence strategy—and colored its meaning into something not quite the same as its original meaning. Just for the sake of defining the term, I’ll quote the Wikipedia definition:
“False flag (aka Black Flag) operations are covert operations designed to deceive the public in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities. The name is derived from the military concept of flying false colors; that is flying the flag of a country other than one’s own. False flag operations are not limited to war and counter-insurgency operations, and can be used in peace-time.”
Historically, false flag operations have been confined to fairly small-scale military maneuvers, especially in naval warfare. Did you see the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which involves British Navy ships in the Napoleonic era? There is a scene in that film where a British warship disguises itself as a whaling vessel from Brazil so as to lure an enemy French ship into close quarters, whereupon the British standard is suddenly raised and the attack begins. This is a type of false flag operation in its proper context.
When conspiracy theorists talk about “false flags,” what they mean is a tragic event, usually a very large-scale attack or other act of war or aggression, which is entirely staged by a government or elite group as a means to blame a totally innocent party and thus create a cause to retaliate against that innocent party. It’s the same thing in spirit, but not in scope. False flag operations in real life tend to be small and limited in scale. To conspiracy theorists, however, there is no practical limit to the events that can be staged successfully. Indeed the term “false flag” itself is often used as shorthand to allege a conspiracy behind something.
Why Is The Gulf of Tonkin Incident Not a “False Flag”?
Mr. Gamble states boldly that “it is a documented fact that we entered the war under false pretenses.” It’s very clear that he’s alleging that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a false flag attack. But it wasn’t. The reality is complicated, and considerably different than Mr. Gamble’s conspiracist shorthand.
First, and most importantly, he does not tell the audience that what is referred to as the “Gulf of Tonkin incident” was actually two incidents. There were two alleged attacks on U.S. warships by North Vietnamese patrol boats on two separate occasions in early August 1964. One such attack clearly and definitely occurred. In fact it has been admitted by Vietnamese officials. The second attack did not occur. This is the attack that Robert McNamara is speaking of in his brief clip shown in Thrive, which is taken out of context.
Because we know for a fact that one attack definitely occurred, this automatically disqualifies the Gulf of Tonkin incident as being a “false flag.” However, the second attack—the one that did not happen—doesn’t satisfy the definition either. It didn’t happen, but it wasn’t staged. Gamble clearly wants you to believe that elements of the imaginary “Global Domination Agenda” staged the incident in order to give the U.S. a pretext to go into Vietnam. That’s not what happened. Whatever did happen in the Gulf of Tonkin that night was misperceived by U.S. military personnel as an attack. They made a mistake; but that’s different than staging an attack.
What Happened in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964?
The United States had been supporting the government of South Vietnam since 1954, when a complicated cease-fire ended France’s war there (much of Southeast Asia had long been a colony of the French). This accord separated Vietnam into two countries, North Vietnam which was Communist, and South Vietnam which was pro-Western. American military and intelligence forces, euphemistically called “advisers,” were in the country beginning in the late 1950s, helping the South Vietnamese resist the civil war going on within its borders to unify all of Vietnam under Communist rule. Inch by inch the United States was being pulled in to a more active role, but by August 1964 there were no U.S. combat troops directly engaged in warfare with the Vietnamese.
On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, cruising in the Gulf of Tonkin on a mission to collect intelligence about North Vietnamese military activity, fell under attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats. The U.S. returned fire and sank one of the boats. Part of the reason this small battle occurred was because North Vietnam claimed a zone of up to twelve miles from its coasts were its territorial waters, and this claim was not recognized by the United States. Historically, there is no question that the August 2 attack did occur. The only question was who in North Vietnam’s military had ordered it and whether they had authority of the government to do so.
In 1998, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara—the exact person who a brief clip of appears in Thrive—and other U.S. officials, in an effort to repair relations with Vietnam (which ultimately was unified under Communist rule in 1975), went to Vietnam to talk about the war with officials who had been in command of the North Vietnamese government at that time. These fascinating discussions were recorded and became the basis of a book by Robert S. McNamara, James G. Blight, and Robert K. Bringham called Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (New York: Public Affairs, 1999). On page 203 of this book, McNamara and his opposite numbers from Vietnam discuss the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Here was the record of the exchange about the first attack:
“Robert McNamara: The first question I have is: was there an attack on the Maddox on August 2, 1964? The answer to that is almost surely ‘yes.’ I say this because I have a fragment of a North Vietnamese shell that I took off the deck of the Maddox, so I think there had to be an attack. But I’d like this on the record. I see my Vietnamese colleagues nodding agreement. Okay, we’ll accept that.”
“Gen. Nguyen Dinh Uoc: Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap said that one of the responsibilities of the Vietnamese navy in Thanh Hoa was to guard against any vessels violating the national waters of Vietnam. And if there were violations, the navy had the right to attack in order to protect those waters. That was the general policy adopted by the central authority to defend the country’s sea coast, at the time. It was not a decision made centrally. That is the answer.”
“Robert McNamara: Thank you for a very clear answer. It points to something that we certainly did not understand or anticipate at the time…There was a far greater decentralization of authority and command with respect to the North Vietnamese military than we understood at the time…”
So you see here that even the North Vietnamese admit that the August 2 attack did in fact take place. This is proof positive that Foster Gamble (A) is wrong that the Gulf of Tonkin was a “false flag,” because it is clear that an attack did take place; and (B) that he took the McNamara quote out of context. Before I explain where the McNamara quote comes from, let’s look at the second part of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Two days after the August 2 incident, the USS Maddox and another ship, the USS Turner Joy, claimed that they were under attack again. Technicians aboard these ships saw radar blips and there were also visual sightings of what people interpreted as patrol boats headed toward the U.S. ships. In fact, they misinterpreted what they saw. I will quote from another book, Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), where it states on page 203-04:
“Several participants in the incident who contend that there really was a PT boat attack on the night of August 4 have summarized for the author the reasons for their belief. John Barry firmly believes that his ship actually was attacked by torpedo boats…Ensign Douglas Smith was completely convinced, on the basis of what he could see on his radar screen, that the Turner Joy was under PT boat attack. Despite contrary evidence of which he has become aware since, he is still inclined to believe in the reality of the attack…The evidence of the radar screen returns was convincing then, as it is now…
When the documentary evidence is added, the weight of the evidence is overwhelming: no attack occurred. There exist rational explanations of how all the evidence of an attack could exist without there having been an attack.”
The captain of the Maddox cabled Washington that his ship was under attack. Not long after he began to send cables hedging on this conclusion and suggesting that perhaps the second attack had not, in fact, occurred. McNamara did not tell President Lyndon Johnson that the Maddox commander was changing his mind. When Johnson made the decision to seek Congressional authority to strike back, on the basis that U.S. forces had been attacked, he did not know that the August 4 attack was in serious question.
In 2003, Robert McNamara gave a lengthy interview to filmmaker Errol Morris. This interview became the basis of a documentary film called Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara. It is from this film that the brief clip of McNamara that appears in Thrive is taken. (I hope Mr. Gamble got the appropriate clearances to use it). In the specific clip that is used in Thrive, McNamara, who died in July 2009, is clearly talking about the August 4 attack. To my knowledge, at no time did he ever hold the opinion that the August 2 attack did not take place.
It is important to view the questions about the August 4 attack in their proper context. The brief and misleading presentation of the Gulf of Tonkin issue in Thrive clearly invites the reader to jump to the conclusion that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was some sort of deliberate fabrication. Indeed, the characterization of the event as a “false flag” attack requires that interpretation. But, as we’ve seen here, the August 2 attack did occur, and the August 4 attack, which did not occur, was a result of mistake, not fabrication. There is not a single shred of evidence anywhere that the apparent August 4 attack on the USS Maddox was a deliberate and knowing fabrication. Thus, it is impossible that it could have been a “false flag.”
Did the Gulf of Tonkin Incident Really “Get us into Vietnam?”
Historically speaking, the answer to this question is clearly no. By August 1964 the United States was already deeply involved in Vietnam. It is therefore a mischaracterization of history to assert that the Gulf of Tonkin incident caused the United States to enter the Vietnam war. It simply didn’t happen that way.
While obviously the point of this section of Thrive is not to engage in any sort of deep historical analysis, again the conclusion that Mr. Gamble invites with his words, and his selective presentation of the issues, is telling. Look at his exact words again: “It is a documented fact that we entered the Vietnam War under false pretenses.” It is not a documented fact, because it simply isn’t true. He’s playing games with the idea of when and under what circumstances the U.S. “entered the Vietnam War.”
I will again quote the Moise book, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. In the preface, Moise states:
“The incorrect report of August 4 did not really “cause” the outbreak of large-scale war in Vietnam. By August 1964, Washington and Hanoi were already on a collision course. The level of combat in South Vietnam, and the level of outside support on both sides, were increasing; meanwhile the United States was sponsoring a program of covert operations against North Vietnam…If reports from the Gulf of Tonkin had not caused President Johnson to order airstrikes against North Vietnam in August 1964, something else would have done so within a few months.
“[T]he Tonkin Gulf incidents—the real one of August 2 for which the United States did not retaliate, and the imaginary one of August 4 that provoked the airstrikes and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution—deserve careful attention.”
This analysis is absolutely supported by all historical data regarding the United States’s entry into the Vietnam War. If you go to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., you’ll see two dates on the wall—1959 and 1975, the prior being the first year in which a U.S. serviceman died in Vietnam, and the latter being the last year in which that occurred. Those are, incidentally, also the dates by which the U.S. government, for purposes of veterans benefits and classification, defines the “Vietnam conflict.” It is true that a sustained long-term air campaign (“Rolling Thunder”) and large-scale infusion of American ground forces into Vietnam did not occur until 1965, after LBJ asked for, and received from Congress, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. But it is totally false to state or imply that the war began in the Gulf of Tonkin. If it did, what war did the Americans who died between 1959 and 1965, and whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam War Memorial, die in?
By his misleading use of the term “false flag,” Foster Gamble seems to want you to conclude that the Gulf of Tonkin incident alone took the United States and North Vietnam from peaceful coexistence to open armed conflict, and that, if the Gulf of Tonkin incident hadn’t happened, or if the truth about the August 4 attack had been known, the Vietnam War would not have occurred. This conclusion is ludicrous and is totally at odds with every bit of historical knowledge we have about the war. It simply isn’t true.
Okay, So the Gulf of Tonkin Wasn’t a False Flag. Does That Mean the Vietnam War was Perfectly OK?
No. That is not the argument at all. The issue is whether the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a “false flag.” It was not. The legitimacy or morality of American involvement in Vietnam is a totally different question.
Because I’m sure I’ll be asked about it, I’ll state that, personally and as a historian, I do not believe the Vietnam War should ever have been fought. I have not been able to find in the historical record anything that I regard as a convincing argument having been made by proponents of the war, such as John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson or Robert McNamara, as to why U.S. national interests at stake in Vietnam justified the terrible price of that conflict. I believe the U.S. government sorely misjudged both the stakes and the likely consequences of the war, and compounded the damage by making one disastrous decision after another. That’s what I think about Vietnam. But was it started by a “Global Domination Elite” with a “false flag” in the Gulf of Tonkin? Absolutely not.
Is the Number of People who Believe 9/11 Was a “False Flag” Growing?
Let’s move on to the subject of 9/11. Mr. Gamble is curiously circumspect about 9/11, as we’ll see in the next section, but let’s look briefly at what he specifically says: “A growing number of people believe that 9/11 was a ‘false flag’ operation by the global elite as a means of taking over Middle Eastern oil and dismantling U.S. constitutional protections.”
This statement is utterly false. Although most 9/11 conspiracy theorists refuse to accept it, fewer people believe that 9/11 was an “inside job” now than did four, five, or six years ago. An interesting article from Slate.com charts the rise and fall of 9/11 conspiracy beliefs:
“[I]n the immediate aftermath of 9/11, only a tiny segment of the American population, 8 percent according to one poll in early 2002, was inclined to believe that their government was lying to them about what happened that day….
Although most Americans still believed that the Bush administration was “mostly telling the truth,” by early 2004 16 percent of the population believed it was “mostly lying” about how much it knew prior to the attacks—double the number from the same CBS poll two years prior…By mid-2006, one in three respondents would tell pollsters that they believed the government either orchestrated the attacks or allowed them to happen in order to go to war in the Middle East…
By 2009, with the first-ever African-American president having taken office, the number of Americans who said that Bush let 9/11 happen in order to go to war in the Middle East was at 14 percent. (Because the wording of questions about responsibility for 9/11 has changed over the years, getting a consistent measure of the public’s view is difficult)…. In another poll in 2010, only 12 percent of Americans said they did not believe Osama Bin Laden had carried out the 9/11 attacks.”
Did you follow that? Belief in conspiracy theories started out at 8% in 2002, doubled to 16% in 2004, exploded to 33% in 2006, then slumped to 14% and was still falling as of 2010. If you follow the links in the above quote you can see the raw poll data upon which this summary is based. Any way you slice it, you’ll see that 9/11 conspiracy theories are becoming less popular, not more.
It is very clear: Foster Gamble is simply wrong when he says “a growing number of people” believe that 9/11 was a “false flag” operation. In fact, the reverse is true: a shrinking number of people believe that 9/11 was a “false flag” operation.
Was September 11 a “False Flag” Operation?
Mr. Gamble is curiously circumspect about the subject of 9/11. He doesn’t specifically state in Thrive that “9/11 was an inside job.” All he says specifically is that “a growing number of people” believe that it is, a statement which, as you’ll see above, is incorrect. But let’s not kid ourselves. Thrive is aimed at conspiracy theorists. Among such people, the delusional belief that 9/11 was an “inside job” is an axiom. If Mr. Gamble does not believe that it was, I challenge him to come out and say unequivocally, without reservation, that he believes that 9/11 was done by Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorists without the foreknowledge or assistance of the U.S. (or Israeli) government.
Clearly Mr. Gamble invites you to make the conclusion that 9/11 was an “inside job.” While he makes his incorrect statement about the numbers of people who believe it is, on the screen we see World Trade Center 7 crumbling. 9/11 conspiracy theorists continually point to WTC7, a skyscraper that collapsed several hours after the main WTC towers fell, as “evidence” that it was a conspiracy. I’ll give Thrive a very rare point for factual accuracy when I note that the caption flashed on the screen at this part of the movie, stating that WTC7 was not hit by a plane, is correct. It was not hit by a plane. However, that doesn’t mean that September 11 was a “false flag.”
At my other blog, I have written extensively about September 11 conspiracy theories and why they’re false. You can peruse examples here, here and here. I won’t rehash all the material debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories in this article. If you need convincing that 9/11 was not an inside job, I suggest you consult this website, or this one, which has a page devoted specifically to explaining why WTC7 does not indicate conspiracy, or you can go to an article I created in 2010 setting out very carefully what we know about 9/11 and why we know it was not an “inside job.” In a nutshell, WTC7 collapsed because it was severely damaged structurally, and set on fire, by debris that struck it when WTC1 and WTC2 collapsed earlier in the day. Uncontrolled fires raged for hours in the building and authorities knew well ahead of time that it was going to collapse. Here is a recent news article incorporating footage that graphically shows how bad the damage was in WTC7. It is very clear that September 11 was not an “inside job.”
So, Mr. Gamble is 0 for 3. He is wrong when he says the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a “false flag.” He is wrong when he says that a growing number of people believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories. He is also wrong when he invites the audience of Thrive to draw the conclusion that 9/11 was a “false flag.”
“False Flags” in General: They’re a Lot Rarer Than You Think.
For the most part, I’m annoyed when conspiracy theorists like Mr. Gamble assume that certain events must be “false flag” attacks. They always—always–jump to this conclusion without investigating the evidence behind a particular event. They also ignore the fact that, in real life, “false flag” attacks are exceptionally rare. I can think of only one that makes any sort of fit with the concept as Mr. Gamble describes it, and ironically he doesn’t even mention it in Thrive. On August 31, 1939, the day before the beginning of World War II, Nazi commandos attacked a German radio station on the frontier between Germany and Poland, and planted false evidence to make it look like Poles had done it. This is known as the “Gleiwitz Incident.” However, even at that, it wasn’t very consequential. By that time Hitler had been railing at Poland for months, with his usual demand being the return of a piece of Polish territory, known as the Danzig Corridor, to Germany. Had the Gleiwitz Incident not occurred at all, the war would have begun the next day just as scheduled. Furthermore, the Gleiwitz Incident failed to fool very many people in the first place. Virtually no one outside of Germany believed it, and as for belief within Germany, Hitler, being an absolute dictator, did not require public support to launch his war against Poland in the first place. Gleiwitz simply didn’t matter very much—far from being the global game-changer of the kind Mr. Gamble imagines happened in 1964 in Vietnam, or suggests happened in 2001.
Only one other alleged “false flag” even bears mentioning. Whenever you hear the words “false flag,” conspiracy theorists trot out another tired trope—that being “Operation Northwoods.” This was a memo drawn up within the U.S. intelligence community in 1962 suggesting that acts of terror be committed against U.S. interests abroad and blamed on Fidel Castro, so as to galvanize public opinion for an invasion of Cuba. The document was declassified in 1998. What conspiracy theorists forget is that this document, and the scenario it suggests, was so outlandish and outrageous that President John F. Kennedy, to whom it was presented, was aghast at the suggestion and rejected it out of hand. Not only was “Operation Northwoods” never attempted, Kennedy fired the guy who proposed it. Sadly for conspiracy theorists, this document does not help make their case that “false flag” operations are common.
When I hear conspiracy theorists complain that “false flag” attacks are used to justify American action against terrorists abroad, I sometimes present them with a list of terrorist attacks that have occurred in the past 30 or so years and then ask them to identify which ones they are willing to believe as really having occurred—i.e., as not “false flags.” For example, conspiracy theorists love to talk about 9/11 and the 2005 “7/7” London Underground massacre as being “false flags.”
However, what about lesser-known acts of terrorism? What about the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in the summer of 1985, in which a U.S. Navy diver was murdered and his body thrown on an airport runway? Or the hijacking of the cruise liner Achille Lauro, also in 1985, where an elderly American passenger in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer, was murdered and thrown overboard? Or, at the very end of the year, the machine-gun massacres at airport ticket counters in the Vienna and Rome airports? These are three terrorist incidents that occurred in 1985 alone. Which of these three are “false flag” attacks? All of them? One of them? Two? If any of them were “fals flags,” where is the evidence that they were faked?
When I ask questions like this, conspiracy theorists usually confess that they’ve never heard of these incidents so they can’t opine whether they are “false flags” or not. Some will add a naked and uninformed conjecture that they probably are, because most conspiracy theorists are reluctant to concede that terrorism really exists.
The reality is this: “false flag” attacks are extremely rare, they are of limited size and scale, they are difficult and dangerous to pull off, and even the ones that do occur (like the Gleiwitz attack) are rarely convincing or consequential. The scale and scope of “false flag” activity imagined by Mr. Gamble and other conspiracy theorists is simply the stuff of fantasy.
Thrive is wrong about “false flag” attacks. Period.