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.
A podcast called “Life, The Universe and Everything Else,” a program put on by the Winnipeg Skeptics association, has turned its sights on Thrive. I spent the morning listening to the podcast, and I recommend it very highly. You can play it from your computer here. The host of the show is Gem Newman (founder of Winnipeg Skeptics, computer science expert), and the guests include Gary Barbon, Mark Forkheim, Robert Shindler, Richelle McCullough and Greg Christiansen. You can see information on who these people are, and what their backgrounds are, here.
The Winnipeg Skeptics are a group of skeptics and critical thinkers who apply fact, logic and critical thinking to wild claims made on the Internet. Just as this blog has done since the beginning, the Skeptics have exhaustively examined Thrive and their review is, needless to say, highly negative. While they find some things to praise in the film, they are extremely critical of the film’s shoddy research, its trafficking in bizarre and divisive conspiracy theories, its promotion of far right-wing Libertarian propaganda, and its reductive and harmful worldview that obscures real problems of income inequality, political corruption and environmental degradation.
Thrive Debunked is mentioned prominently in the episode and I’m proud to say this site was used as a significant source to fact-check and analyze the film. You’ll see links to various articles here on the blog page discussing the episode.
At one point, Mr. Newman reads verbatim from the statement made by John Robbins repudiating Thrive and criticizing its conspiracy worldview—a statement published on this blog with Mr. Robbins’s permission.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, very little on the podcast will be news to you. But it is noteworthy that whenever anyone approaches Thrive with a desire to check its facts and think through its conclusions, they invariably conclude that it is faulty, false and dangerous. We can therefore add the Winnipeg Skeptics’ review to the lengthening list of similar reviews catalogued on this site, such as JREF’s, Transition Culture’s and the Praxis Institute’s.
Do give the podcast a listen. It’s very well-done.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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.
Kyle Hill, who is associated with the James Randi Educational Foundation, recently posted an article reviewing the Thrive movie. The full article, which I eagerly recommend, is here.
The article begins:
I recently started doing my skeptical due diligence with a link on Facebook that was connected to the newest conspiracy theory movie, “Thrive”, released just last week on 11/11/11 (you can watch the trailer here). If you are unfamiliar with it, this movie is basically Zeitgeist 2.0. It talks about ancient codes “burned into atomic structures”, huge energy company conspiracies and free energy technology, as well as the standard Federal Reserve, Rockefeller, and economic policy rants. Supporting these claims are people like David Icke, world-renowned conspiracy theorist who believes that a secret reptilian race controls the world, and our old friend Mr. Chopra. The movie also proffers that the Illuminati (useless conspiracy placeholder) are covering up free energy technology (which contradict the laws of physics) which was given to us by aliens who make coded crop circles, and have crashed on Earth numerous times, which the government covers up. When you align all of the claims that this movie purports to be true, it is hard not to think it is some kind of joke.
I won’t go into the specifics here, suffice it to say that there is a lot of Chopra, crop circles, aliens, Illuminati, world-bank, new world order, federal reserve, reptilian overlord kind of gibberish in it. I’m just sad to see actual scientists hoodwinked into giving statements that they did not know would be taken out of context for this so-called “research.”
If you don’t know, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) is an organization established by former world-class magician James Randi, who has devoted a significant portion of his life to promoting skepticism and critical thinking. Randi is probably best known for exposing the tricks of phony psychics, most notably an Israeli man called Uri Geller who claimed he could bend spoons with his mind. For many years Randi had an open challenge that anyone who could replicate psychic powers under controlled scientific conditions would win $1 million from JREF. No one won.
Today, JREF is known as a gathering place for others who believe in Randi’s ideas of skepticism and critical thinking. The JREF web forums are probably the most significant gathering of debunkers on the Internet in the English-speaking world. Conspiracy theorists hate JREF because the skeptics there frequently demolish the very theories to which conspiracy believers are most committed.
JREF’s article on Thrive echoes many of the sentiments stated on this blog. I again recommend reading the full article. Toward the end, however, Mr. Hill offers this warning for debunkers of Thrive, which is probably good to take to heart:
What can skeptics do to counter-act such arguments? In my experience, these are typically intelligent people who have put their efforts into theories that only could be true, without relying on evidence or skepticism to sort through them. Getting a conspiracy theorist to converse on rational terms is then the objective, supplanting the seed of skeptical doubt the ultimate goal. However, if you run up against the kind of opposition that I have, perhaps you should jettison and try to promote critical thinking to people not so entrenched. Charging headlong into the lion’s den is admirable, but dangerously unproductive.
I think this is sage advice. I’m posting material on this blog to rebut the errors and misconceptions in the film, but I am stopping short of charging full-bore into conspiracist forums to force this information upon Thrive believers. It’s been my experience that conspiracy theorists reform only if they want to, and their journey out of the darkness of conspiracy thinking can only be self-motivated. Thus, while I’m happy to post my information here, I’m not on a “crusade” to convert believers in the film.
As an aside I will also remark that, while there’s no way to tell quantitatively, it appears that Thrive is not making a particularly profound impact, even in the conspiracy underground. Certainly conspiracy theorists like it, but now two weeks after its release I don’t see much evidence of it “going viral” in the same way that, say, Zeitgeist or Loose Change did. I think this is very good news, if it can be borne out by some sort of quantitative analysis.