Throwing Thrive Under the Bus: Progressives Interviewed in the Film Distance Themselves From Its “Dangerously Misguided” Ideas. (UPDATED!)
This blog, originally published April 12, 2012, was updated April 13, 2012. Scroll to the end for the update.
It seems that the honeymoon the public has had with Thrive as a result of the film’s release free on the web has already come to a crashing halt. Yesterday, nine of the people interviewed in Thrive—John Robbins, Deepak Chopra, Paul Hawken, Elisabet Sahtouris, Duane Elgin, Vandana Shiva, Edgar Mitchell, Amy Goodman and John Perkins—issued a public statement denouncing the film and stressing their profound disagreement with it. They also claim that Foster Gamble and the makers of the film misrepresented it when securing their participation. This is potentially an extremely serious development for Foster Gamble and Clear Compass Media, whose film is already under heavy attack from anti-conspiracy skeptics, progressive political thinkers, and environmentalists.
Who Said What?
An article in the Santa Cruz News (online) by reporter Eric Johnson quotes portions of the statement as well as remarks by John Robbins. Mr. Robbins is an environmentalist, an advocate for sustainability and a health/fitness author best known for his book Diet for a New America, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He lives in the Santa Cruz, California area and knows Thrive makers Foster and Kimberly Gamble personally. According to the article, Mr. Robbins was invited to an advance screening of Thrive at Mr. Gamble’s house. Here’s how he describes what he saw there:
“Robbins, who makes a brief appearance in the film, says he was “overwhelmed” by what he saw.
“There were parts I liked, but there were other parts that I just detested,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to be rude—we were there with our families—so I just didn’t say anything.”
According to the Santa Cruz Weekly News article, Mr. Robbins told the reporter that Foster Gamble didn’t tell them about the real contents of the film beforehand. They didn’t know what was in it until it came out publicly. Additionally, Paul Hawken and Elizabeth Sahtouris told the news outlet that Mr. Gamble had actively misrepresented the film.
Just this evening, John Robbins posted a comment on my blog which included the full text of the statement signed by himself and the six other interviewees who have denounced Thrive. Here is the text of the statement as it was presented to me:
“We are a group of people who were interviewed for and appear in the movie Thrive, and who hereby publicly disassociate ourselves from the film.
Thrive is a very different film from what we were led to expect when we agreed to be interviewed. We are dismayed that we were not given a chance to know its content until the time of its public release. We are equally dismayed that our participation is being used to give credibility to ideas and agendas that we see as dangerously misguided.
We stand by what each of us said when we were interviewed. But we have grave disagreements with some of the film’s content and feel the need to make this public statement to avoid the appearance that our presence in the film constitutes any kind of endorsement.
Signatories (in alphabetical order)
I am not surprised by this move. Since at least December I’ve been hearing rumors that numerous interviewees in Thrive were upset at how the movie came out and appalled that their words and images appear in it. This clearly indicated that there were problems with how the makers of the film presented the project when they went to secure these commentators’ interviews. However, at the time I had no hard knowledge that these rumors were true, so I didn’t feel comfortable publicizing them. I expected that eventually one or more of the interviewees would go public. Now they have.
Why now? It’s clearly because of the recent free release of the film, which seems to have boosted its popularity. The Santa Cruz Weekly article states that the nine who disavowed the movie had hoped Thrive would simply go away. It didn’t, and has become “something of a Web cult phenomenon.” Because of the popularity of the movie, they decided to go public at this time.
Why Am I Not Surprised?
There is a clear division among the people interviewed in Thrive. Some of them are people who have severe problems commanding credibility in the mainstream—David Icke, Adam Trombly and Nassim Haramein all fall into that category. However, there are also others interviewed in the film who do not appear to be conspiracy theorists, pseudoscientists or otherwise makers of wild and unproven claims. That doesn’t mean I agree with them on everything they have to say; however, I suspected from the very get-go that these people weren’t being told the full story of what Thrive was about before they agreed to appear in the film.
I will direct the readers to a passage in my very first article about Thrive, which was a debunking of the trailer, even before I’d seen the full film. Here’s what I had to say about Elisabet Sahtouris, Paul Hawken, and Amy Goodman:
“Dr. Sahtouris is the first person in this movie [at the time I meant the trailer] who actually has a real, verifiable Ph.D…. She lectures on evolution of humanity and how to create a better future. Given that she, like Catherine Fitts, sounds completely sane, I suspect that her inclusion in this movie is somewhat unwitting. Another clue that tells me this is that she appears to believe in global warming. While global warming isn’t mentioned in the Thrive trailer, I would lay odds that most of Thrive’s target audience believes that global warming is a hoax. Most conspiracy theorists do. I do not think Dr. Sahtouris is a conspiracy theorist….
Paul Hawken is a California businessman and environmentalist. He advocates for socially and environmentally responsible business practices (and I certainly agree with that). He hosted a 17-part series on PBS about running socially responsible businesses. Again, another sane person who makes me wonder if he was told he was going to be in the same movie as David Icke and Adam Trombly…
Democracy Now! is a radio program on the Pacifica radio network, dedicated to progressive causes. I’ve never listened to the show, but browsing their material there seems to be a lot of stuff I agree with. Amy Goodman was arrested along with two other reporters at the 2008 Republican National Convention despite having committed no crime. The charges were eventually dropped.
As with several other respectable names here (Fitts, Hawken, Sahtouris, williams) I wonder what she is doing in a conspiracy theory movie.”
In fact, it is noteworthy that Mr. Robbins is most upset about the very same aspect of Thrive that most upsets me—its inclusion of David Icke. According to the Santa Cruz article, he was especially concerned with the inclusion in the film of Mr. Icke as well as G. Edward Griffin, both of whom are detailed on the Thrive website. The Santa Cruz Weekly article reports that Griffin is associated with the ultra-right-wing John Birch Society. As for David Icke, whose claim to fame is obviously (as I pointed out in my own piece on him) the conspiracy theory that the world is controlled by a race of shape-shifting reptilian aliens from the constellation Draco, the Weekly article raises exactly the same concerns about the anti-Semitic aspects of Mr. Icke’s theories as I’ve noted on this blog.
Furthermore, Mr. Robbins told the Santa Cruz Weekly that Foster Gamble has taken a lot of inspiration from the work of Eustace Mullins. Mullins is, in Mr. Robbins’s words, “the most anti-Semitic public figure in U.S. history.” The article mentions that Eustace Mullins is the author of a book called Adolf Hitler: An Appreciation. The mere title of that book should tell you what it’s about–and in this case the cover of the book is quite a good advertisement for what you’ll find inside. In that book Mullins rails against “Jewish international bankers” and alleges a plot by them for world domination. Near the end of the article, Mr. Robbins is quoted as saying, “Foster is extremely naïve about the political consequences of his film.”
I’ve stated on more than one occasion that I think the main problem with Foster Gamble is that he is naïve. I don’t think he’s a racist and I don’t think he’s a bad person. I’ve even begun to question whether I think his commitment to conspiracy theorist ideology runs very deep. But what I hear Mr. Robbins saying here is exactly what I’ve been thinking for the past five months.
What Does This Mean For Thrive?
In my view, the statement issued yesterday, and the public dissociation of nine prominent people interviewed in the film from the finished product, is devastating. If Foster Gamble and the makers of Thrive had to misrepresent the film in order to sell it to the people they wanted to appear in it, as the nine undersigned allege, what does that say about the validity of the film and its message as a whole?
Thrive’s credibility has already suffered so many blows that very little of it remains. The inclusion of David Icke as a reliable source was just the tip of the iceberg. This very blog exposed further questions of credibility, when I published statements by inventor David Farnsworth who claims that the “free energy” device shown in Thrive and attributed to Adam Trombly was not in fact invented by Trombly, and does not do what the film says it does. The implication of that crisis is that, if Mr. Farnsworth’s claims are true, Foster Gamble seems not to have done a very good job in checking his sources and vetting the people who appear in Thrive. Yesterday’s allegation complicates further the question of how this film was made and what was said to the people who participated in it.
I’m curious if Foster Gamble will respond to the statement and if so, what he has to say about how the film was made and what was told to Mr. Robbins and the others who signed the statement.
There will probably be further developments regarding this story in the future. I’ll update this article as events warrant.
Update: 13 April 2012
John Robbins posted a comment on this article today in which he states that Adam Trombly has also signed the repudiation of the film.
I’m trying to learn more about this, especially Mr. Trombly’s reasons for doing so. If he has indeed walked away from Thrive, this represents the most significant defection yet–and an even more serious blow to the Thrive organization.
In a note posted on the movie’s official Facebook account, an unnamed spokesman said that Foster and Kimberly Gamble are traveling and will respond more fully later, but they didn’t knowingly misrepresent the film. The response quotes the disclaimer on the film that says they (the filmmakers) don’t agree with everything the people in the movie say. Presumably that works both ways.
I look forward to hearing what more the Thrive people have to say. But if even someone as closely identified with the film as Adam Trombly has been (up until this point) is scrambling for a life preserver, I’d venture a guess that Thrive is starting to resemble a sinking ship.
Arguably the most famous—and certainly the most infamous—person who appears on-screen in Thrive is David Icke. As probably the most well-known conspiracy theorist in the world, Mr. Icke is quite naturally a lightning rod of controversy and a divisive figure who evokes strong emotions both pro and con. This article will attempt to answer the question, “Who is David Icke?”, and also make some attempt at evaluating why he appears in Thrive, what he says while on screen, and why his inclusion in the film is one of the key issues to understanding the message Thrive is trying to get across to its audience.
What Does David Icke Say in Thrive?
An extended interview with David Icke, intercut with various material, forms much of the middle section of Thrive. Although the interview with Mr. Icke proper begins at 53:48 of the film, his face first flashes on the screen at 6:55, in the credits sequence. I believe the appearance of Mr. Icke’s image early in the film is very important, as I’ll get to later.
Mr. Icke’s interview is used in Thrive mainly to explain Foster Gamble’s opinion of banking and also to bolster his claims that a “Global Domination Agenda” is trying to control the world. When Mr. Icke first appears (excluding the credits sequence), a title card identifies him as “David Icke—Researcher, Author, The Biggest Secret.” He asserts, beginning about 54:00, that people “ask few questions” about the inner workings of banking. He goes on to state that, when you take out a loan, you begin paying interest on money that (supposedly) does not exist. This is a lead-in to Mr. Gamble’s critique of fractional reserve lending.
At about 1:05:00 of the film, Mr. Icke appears again, explaining how he thinks bankers “rig” business cycles and deliberately cause depressions. At 1:18:03 he stops talking about banking and says something to the effect of, “The greatest prison people live in is the fear of what others will think. One result of the ridicule I went through is that I stepped out of the fear of what other people thought.”
Mr. Icke then talks about how social norms dictate thinking and how peer pressure stigmatizes those who don’t think “normally.” At 1:19:10 he explicitly mentions the “Illuminati,” which is his term for what Mr. Gamble calls the “Global Domination Elite.” For the next several minutes he talks about this GDE and their supposed agenda. He refers to a “problem-reaction-solution” paradigm, suggesting that the GDE causes problems in the world deliberately so they can solve them. At 1:28:30 Mr. Icke specifically mentions the September 11 attacks as an example of this, clearly indicating that he thinks 9/11 was rigged.
David Icke: A Biographical Profile
David Icke was born in Leicester, UK in 1952, the son of a British World War II hero. He did not do well in school, but was talent-scouted by a football (we call it soccer in the U.S.) team, Coventry City. He also played for Hereford United. Early onset of arthritis ruled out a football career, and Mr. Icke retired from the sport in 1973. During the 1970s and 1980s he was a print and television journalist. He also began to dabble in politics, and after 1988 became one of the spokesmen for the UK Green Party.
About 1990, Mr. Icke began to get heavily into New Age ideas, evidently while searching for alternative cures to the pain of his arthritis. In early 1991 he claims to have had a spiritual experience at a pre-Columbian burial site in Peru. Not long after he returned to the UK, he resigned from the Green Party. At this point in his life he began wearing only clothes that were turquoise colored, believing it channeled positive energy. He also began making bizarre doomsday predictions, such as a prognostication that Great Britain would crumble into the sea as a result of earthquakes. (There is no significant seismic activity in Britain). Mr. Icke later recanted these predictions, admitting they were “nonsense.”
What really projected Mr. Icke into the public eye was an April 1991 interview with BBC personality Terry Wogan. You can see a video of the interview here. In the interview, Mr. Icke continued to make strange apocalyptic predictions. He also claimed, or at least implied, that he was the Son of God—later Mr. Icke said this was misinterpreted. The studio audience present at the interview laughed. The BBC brass cringed; many thought the show went too far. Fifteen years later, Mr. Wogan admitted that he was too hard on Mr. Icke during this interview. Certainly the interview had a devastating effect—Mr. Icke said he was afraid to walk down the street for fear of public derision, and he dropped out of sight for several years.
In 1999, Mr. Icke came out with his most famous book, The Biggest Secret, the book with which he is identified on-screen in Thrive. This book established the central tenet of Mr. Icke’s philosophy: that the world is run by a race of reptilian aliens that can change their shape and appear to be human, and that the world’s political, economic and social systems are a colossal conspiracy by these evil aliens to enslave mankind. These aliens are supposedly from the constellation Draco, but also from another dimension. Over his various series of books and lectures, Mr. Icke has expounded on this theory, weaving a complicated science-fiction history of the world wherein these aliens have been breeding humans since ancient times. People whom Mr. Icke thinks are secretly reptilian shape-shifting aliens from Draco include Bill Clinton, the late Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, President George W. Bush (of course), and, for whatever reason, Hollywood actor and former country star Kris Kristofferson.
Mr. Icke has not changed this basic narrative in 13 years. Indeed, he’s still out there today, giving lectures all over the world and getting paid handsomely for it. According to one estimate, he may make as much as £300,000 (about $475,000) for one appearance in the UK.
Is There Any Evidence to Support David Icke’s Theories?
There is not a single shred of evidence anywhere in the world to suggest that (1) shape-shifting reptilian aliens from the constellation Draco actually exist; (2) various world leaders, celebrities and country-western stars are actually reptilian shape-shifting aliens from the constellation Draco; or (3) that there is a such thing as an “Illuminati,” a “New World Order” or a “Global Domination Agenda.” On this blog, I have already debunked the Global Domination Agenda and demonstrated why we can be certain that it does not exist. All of the so-called “evidence” produced by Mr. Icke and/or his supporters falls along exactly the same lines as the discussion in that article about why evidence proffered by Illuminati/NWO/GDA believers does not, in fact, prove the existence of this group or their supposed agenda. Mr. Icke’s theories are total fantasy.
A favorite activity of believers in Mr. Icke’s fantastic delusional scenarios is to scrutinize videos on YouTube of world leaders suspected of being reptilians for “evidence” of them changing from their human into their reptilian form. Sometimes believers will seize upon a glitch or anomaly in the video, often lasting only split seconds, and trumpet it as “proof” that the person is “changing into a reptile in front of our eyes!” Often the culprit will be a bulging vein in the person’s neck, a common retinal flash (red-eye), or a pixellation error in the streaming video which the believer insists makes the person look like they have “lizard eyes.” For some reason, former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush are favorite targets for this ludicrous accusation. Here is an example of a video which reptilian believers cite as total vindication of Mr. Icke’s claims.
As you can see, it’s a pretty boring interview by the former presidents, and despite the frenzied claims of the subtitles, neither of them change into reptiles, nor anything even remotely close.
I challenge any believer of Mr. Icke’s theories to explain how and why this video proves (I) that reptilian shape-shifting aliens exist; (II) that these aliens come from Draco; (III) that these aliens rule the world, or (IV) that President Clinton and President Bush are said reptilian aliens.
To those supporters of Mr. Icke who will invariably say, “But you haven’t proved that what he says isn’t true,” I will reply, I don’t have to. It’s Mr. Icke’s burden to prove that what he says is true. The burden of proof never shifts to skeptics to disprove conspiracy theories. I am not suggesting that we reject David Icke’s theories about reptilian shape-shifting aliens because they sound crazy. I’m suggesting that we reject them because there is no evidence to support them, and because, as if this is not enough reason to reject them, they have another very serious and troubling problem.
What Do David Icke’s Theories Really Mean?
The problem with Mr. Icke’s false assertions is that they are essentially science-fiction redresses of the old “Jewish world conspiracy” theories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with reptilian shape-shifting aliens from Draco standing in for Jews. Mr. Icke even believes in the authenticity of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery that was proven false almost a century ago. Of course, in Mr. Icke’s mythology, it was not the Jews who wrote about their plans of world domination in the Protocols, but aliens.
Michael Barkun, an academic researcher who studies comparative religion, wrote a book called A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). Dr. Barkun is the leading scholarly expert on conspiracy theorists in the United States today. On page 104, in a chapter where Dr. Barkun describes the conspiracist ideology of Mr. Icke, he says:
“This set of nested conspiracies [described by David Icke] achieves its goals through control of the ‘world financial system’ and its mastery of ‘mind control’ techniques. Its goal is a ‘plan that, according to Icke, had been laid out in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Although Icke is careful to suggest…that the Illuminati rather than the Jews wrote The Protocols, this is the first of a number of instances in which Icke moves into the dangerous terrain of anti-Semitism.”
The reason that aliens became stand-ins for Jews has to do with the evolution of conspiracy theory during the 1980s and 1990s, when right-wing militia conspiracy milieu (think Timothy McVeigh) became intertwined with the UFO/alien subculture. Dr. Barkun states, on page 144:
“This type of speculation projects terrestrial racial categories onto creatures from outer space….Such racial classificatory schemata are common among those who argue for multiple types of alien visitors. Even among writers who most unambiguously reject anti-Semitism, the alien racial types disquietingly appear to reproduce old stereotypes. The evil Grays are dwarfish with grotesque features—not unlike stereotypes of the short, swarthy, hook-nosed Jew of European anti-Semitic folklore. They are contrasted to the tall, virtuous Nordics or Aryans. Although there is little to suggest that those who employ such terms do so to make direct parallels to earthbound categories, the images seem clearly to be refracted versions of older racial anti-Semitism.”
This is useful background, but it isn’t really about Mr. Icke per se. However, Dr. Barkun does get there, after discussing how conspiracists like David Icke are inconsistent about proclaiming to not be anti-Semitic while advancing clearly anti-Semitic theories:
“David Icke also seeks to have it both ways, simultaneously claiming to be offended at the thought that anyone might find him anti-Semitic and hinting at the dark activities of Jewish elites. He protests that the charge of anti-Semitism is merely a ruse to silence truth seekers, a tactic of the shadowy ‘Global Elite,’ who ‘denounce anyone who gets closer to the truth as an anti-Semite.’ According to Icke, the Anti-Defamation League is the conspiracy’s tool for silencing ‘researchers who are getting too close to the truth about the global conspiracy.’…
The more strongly Icke is condemned for anti-Semitism, the stranger are his protestations of innocence. He attacks alleged exploiters of the Jewish people, including B’nai B’rith, which he identifies as the Rothschilds’ ‘intelligence arm,’ used to ‘defame and destroy legitimate researchers with the label anti-Semitic.’ It was supposedly the Rothschilds who brought Hitler to power, created Zionism, and ‘control the State of Israel.’…Icke and other UFO anti-Semites obsess about ‘Jewish bankers.’ They are alleged to be the international wire-pullers behind countless episodes of national collapse and international turmoil. The old names, such as Rothschild and the firm of Kuhn, Loeb, continually recur. Given this penchant for recycling old themes, it is scarcely surprising that that hoary forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, exerts an abiding fascination.”
Wait, What Does This Have to Do With Thrive?
The anti-Semitic echoes of David Icke’s theories present a very difficult problem. Thrive‘s treatment of Mr. Icke illustrates the extremely delicate dance that one must do when confronted with this material. If you believe at least some of what David Icke is saying, how do you separate what you like and agree with from the ugly anti-Semitic stuff, and how do you prevent the negative press surrounding Mr. Icke from totally overshadowing everything else? Furthermore, how do you do this when Mr. Icke’s theories specifically posit that it’s a grand over-arching superconspiracy, meaning that he sees no separation or compartmentalization of one part of the superconspiracy from another? Thrive never solves this conundrum, which is why Mr. Icke’s appearance in the film seems so forced and awkward.
It is very evident, from the sections of Dr. Barkun’s book that I’ve excerpted above, that Thrive is at the very least sympathetic to key elements of the grand conspiracy views of Mr. Icke, even if it doesn’t come out and specifically endorse reptilian shape-shifting aliens from Draco, and even if the film denounces anti-Semitism (which it does). Indeed, aside from the aliens themselves, Thrive traffics in a lot of other things that feed into David Icke’s theory. Foster Gamble rages at the Rothschilds and Rockefellers several times in the movie. Immediately after addressing anti-Semitism, the film brushes the issue off with an accusation that the “central bankers funded both sides of World War II,” quite a transparent evasion. And, of course, much of the core ideology that Thrive wants its viewers to adopt relates to the notion of “evil bankers” supposedly in control of the world. And, of course, one of the major messages of the film is the idea of a “Global Domination Agenda.” All of these ideas lie at the very heart of Mr. Icke’s ideology. What David Icke adds, that Thrive isn’t willing to sign on to, is what he thinks stitches them all together: those pesky reptilian shape-shifting aliens from Draco.
Just to be absolutely clear: I am not suggesting that Foster Gamble is anti-Semitic. I don’t believe he is. He makes clear, at 1:13:56 of the film, that he’s not calling this a “Jewish Agenda,” and I don’t think he’s implying that it is. I think, in fact, that Mr. Gamble is probably genuinely ignorant of how closely Mr. Icke’s ideology mimics the toxic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But this point itself demonstrates how insidious David Icke’s theories really are. By candy-coating anti-Semitism in a science-fiction shell, most people who swallow it don’t realize they’ve just ingested a dose of bigotry. This deception is all the more tragic precisely because I think Mr. Gamble is a nice man who believes in equality, dislikes racial prejudice and who genuinely wants the world to be a better place. But, as I explained in a previous blog, his good intentions shouldn’t isolate him from criticism for advancing the negative effects that this sort of ideology has on public discourse and the world at large.
What Is David Icke Doing in Thrive, Anyway? Why Did the Filmmakers Choose Him?
Even some Thrive defenders who have commented on this blog have been brave enough to concede that, saddled as he is with baggage that is utterly poisonous, public relations-wise, inviting Mr. Icke to elucidate key messages of Thrive was probably not the smartest move. The mere appearance of David Icke in any public forum causes people to bolt for the lifeboats—such as a notorious speaking tour in Canada where various Jewish groups lobbied, successfully in some cases, to have his speeches canceled. Why, then, would the makers of Thrive choose to court controversy by inviting him into the movie? Couldn’t they have gotten someone less controversial to expound the opinions Mr. Icke talks about in his appearances in the film?
The answer, I believe, is that the makers of Thrive specifically wanted to market their movie to Mr. Icke’s fans. Let’s face it, in the conspiracy theorist underground, David Icke is a rock star. He’s known all over the world. In the United States, the only conspiracy theorist with more immediate name recognition is Alex Jones. If you get David Icke to channel your message for you, his followers will automatically accept it, because they think he’s an oracle and uniquely gifted to explain what’s going on in the world, and you also make $5 a pop from them for downloading the movie starring their hero. Furthermore, David Icke is well-known in New Age circles. If you’re making a movie about conspiracy theories which you want to sell to a New Age audience, you want access to David Icke’s fans, don’t you?
This argument is strengthened if you look at what Mr. Icke says—and doesn’t say—in Thrive. He talks about banking, about social controls, and about the “problem-reaction-solution” paradigm. Virtually any believer in the Global Domination Agenda, or anyone who shares Mr. Gamble’s views on banking, could have talked about these exact same ideas, in almost exactly the same words. If the three topics Mr. Icke talks about in the movie could have been easily covered with a less controversial and less polarizing figure, wouldn’t Foster Gamble and the makers of the film have chosen to go with someone else who didn’t have the millstone of reptilian shape-shifting aliens and accusations of anti-Semitism hanging around their necks? Wouldn’t that have been the rational choice, from a public relations standpoint?
The fact that they did not make that choice means that must be something particular to Mr. Icke that the filmmakers wanted to take advantage of. It’s probably his popularity and the audience he brings to the table, but we can’t be sure. Nevertheless, the makers of Thrive must have felt either that the controversy surrounding Mr. Icke could only help them publicize the movie, or else they felt (or perhaps felt in addition) that the baggage associated with David Icke would be outweighed in the long run by the advantages they thought they would gain by connecting with his audience of New Agers and conspiracy theorists.
I wrote in an article over at the sister blog that Thrive has three main sections which are closely intertwined with each other. The first seeks to “earn its chops” among the intended New Age audience by pushing as many traditional hot buttons for New Agers as possible: ancient astronauts, alt-med cures, zero-point energy, UFOs, crop circles, etc. The second part downloads the conspiracy theory narratives. The third part proposes a solution for these awful conspiracies, somewhat tautologically: New Age beliefs and libertarian political ideas.
David Icke’s appearance in the movie impacts both the first and second parts. He is unique as a figure who (I) has cachet in New Age circles, (II) has cachet among conspiracy theorists, and (III) commands the attention of a large-scale audience that Mr. Gamble probably couldn’t reach on his own. The appearance of David Icke’s head on the screen in the credit sequence is a key signal being telegraphed to the audience: “Hey, look, we’ve got one of your oracles, David Icke, in this movie. We know you’ll want to pay attention to what he says!” By putting David Icke in the film, the makers have bought an admission ticket to access the worldviews of two of their target audiences: New Agers and believers in conspiracy theories, two populations which, as I’ve argued before, are exhibiting increasing overlap and crossover.
From this standpoint, then, David Icke is not only a key participant in the film, but possibly the most important participant. Nassim Haramein has a fan base of his own, but the movie could get along fine without him, more or less; Adam Trombly, Stephen Greer and others interviewed are generally not well known outside of the specific niches that their issues occupy, and few people had heard of Foster Gamble before Thrive. It’s clear that David Icke is the key personality. Regardless of what he says on-screen, without him Thrive has a much more limited reach.
If Icke is So Key, Why Doesn’t He Talk About Reptilian Shape-Shifting Aliens? After All, Isn’t That What He’s Known For?
I think there are two possible answers to this question. The first is, perhaps Mr. Gamble didn’t feel comfortable going there because he doesn’t literally believe it. Even many conspiracy theorists have a hard time swallowing David Icke’s bizarre theories. Icke himself has said, quoted on page 106 of Dr. Bokun’s book: “Some of the most fierce abuse that I’ve had since [The Biggest Secret] came out has not been from the public, actually, it’s been from some other conspiracy researchers who can’t get their head around anything beyond the physical.” (A rather telling statement—is Mr. Icke admitting here that his reptilian shape-shifting aliens aren’t actually real?)
The second reason may be that the makers of Thrive wanted to try to preserve, as much as practical without diluting their message, the possibility that the movie might have some crossover appeal to non-New Age, non-conspiracy audiences. If Mr. Icke gets up there and starts blathering about lizard men from the constellation Draco, you’re going to turn off a lot of people pretty much instantly. Perhaps, in exercising some restraint on the views Mr. Icke presented on-screen, Thrive evinces some minimal standards on how far into the realm of conspiracy esoterica is too far to venture without totally losing the audience in the process.
David Icke is a person, popular in New Age and conspiracy theorist circles, who espouses an elaborate belief system so bizarre, so implausible, and so far-removed from reality that it is incapable of being accepted in any rational frame of mind. The fact that this worldview lacks a single shred of evidence to support it should underscore precisely how far-removed from reality it is. The fact that it so eerily resembles crude anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from yesteryear, with a modern sci-fi twist imported from UFO mythology, should make the theories of Mr. Icke even more radioactive. But, despite all these strikes against it, there are people out there who not only believe that reptilian shape-shifting aliens are trying to control the world simply because Mr. Icke has told them this is the case, but these people are willing to pay to see him espouse these theories in sufficient numbers to provide him with a comfortable living going around the world lecturing about how awful reptilian shape-shifting aliens are. It is these people to whom I believe the makers of Thrive were trying to sell their film, and Mr. Icke’s presence in the movie represents the opening of that commercial and ideological gate.
David Icke is not a credible source. His inclusion in Thrive is another of many reasons why this movie and its messages should be treated with extreme caution and subjected to the most rigorous factual scrutiny—a level of scrutiny which, as I think this blog has demonstrated on numerous occasions, it cannot hope to meet.
This blog has not dealt much with Thrive’s political ideology. That has been by design. The main focus of this blog is to evaluate Thrive from a factual standpoint: are its assertions and underlying assumptions accurate as a matter of objective fact? Discussions of politics are mostly beyond the scope of this inquiry. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Thrive has a strong political undercurrent, and the orientation of that undercurrent is strongly libertarian. Foster Gamble, creator of Thrive, has endorsed Ron Paul for President in 2012. Furthermore, some of the “solutions” proposed by Gamble in Thrive, and on the associated website, are similar to libertarian planks.
This week, the Praxis Peace Institute, a progressive think tank founded by musician and longtime political activist Georgia Kelly, issued a 56-page pamphlet entitled Deconstructing Libertarianism: A Critique Prompted by the Film Thrive. Because several readers of this blog have directed me to the pamphlet, I thought I would do a brief article on it. It’s impossible to avoid touching the political implications of the film in an article like this, but I do want to stress that, regardless of my personal political beliefs, my primary arguments with the film are factual, not political.
Praxis Institute’s Critique of Thrive: The Basics
You can see the Praxis pamphlet here (note, clicking that link will begin a download of the pamphlet itself in .PDF format). As suggested by the title, the main purpose of the pamphlet is to address libertarian philosophy and explain why, from the point of view of a political progressive, it doesn’t work. Georgia Kelly is the editor of the pamphlet. She came into conflict with Foster Gamble and Thrive back in December when she posted a sharply critical review of the film on Huffington Post. In the pamphlet, she and other writers from the Praxis Peace Institute deliver a double-barreled blast against the film and its political agenda, analyzing many of the assumptions and philosophies behind libertarian thought.
Ms. Kelly states in the introduction why Thrive prompted her to issue this pamphlet:
“Through discussions of the content in the film and the written material on the Thrive website, we realized that many people viewing the film would not readily perceive the libertarian political agenda behind the film. Because many people are confused about libertarianism and its impact on the current political landscape, we felt it important to plumb this political philosophy, particularly during an election year. The articles written in this booklet cover a range of topics that deconstruct libertarianism and place it in the context of our current political environment.”
A bit later, in an article within the pamphlet entitled “Deconstructing the Political Agenda Behind Thrive,” Ms. Kelly writes:
“The website’s “Liberty” page (in the “Solutions” section) is a real shocker. Peppered with quotes from Ayn Rand, Ron Paul and Stefan Molyneux, the page even includes an attack on democracy. Gamble lumps democracy in with bigotry, imperialism, socialism, and fascism, and claims all of these — including democracy! — violate the “intrinsic freedom of others.”
The pamphlet proceeds through several articles written by various authors critiquing the ideological assumptions behind Thrive in much the same terms that Ms. Kelly uses. For example, in an article by Ben Boyce entitled “Challenging the Hidden Political Underbelly of Thrive,” this criticism is given:
“Make no mistake, the actual policy solutions in the documentary constituted the norm in the first Gilded Age of ‘laissez faire’ capitalism, that is, the McKinley Era at the end of the 19th century, for which the libertarian/conservative movements seem to still pine. That was a time when there were minimal taxes on corporations, no worker’s rights, no pesky EPA environmental regulations, no minimum wage, no social safety net to prevent families from tumbling precipitously from marginal employment and insecure housing to abject penury and homelessness. Everywhere in the world where the libertarian ideology has been put in practice, this condition of mass immiseration and concentration of wealth in the hands of the 1% has been a consistent historical fact. This ideology has been tried and failed.”
Another contributor, Gus diZerega, argues:
“[M]y problem with Thrive is the movie’s failure to adequately understand the principles it itself advocates in order for us to create a more humane and sustainable society. It presents one dimension of a problem that is multi-dimensional. The core insight lacking in libertarian thinking is the failure to grasp the centrality of relationships as constitutive of individuals, and to recognize that relationships are the key to understanding property rights and just politics.”
My Take on the Praxis Critique
Having read the Praxis critique, I think it’s self-evident that it is primarily a political document. Its purpose is to criticize the underpinnings of libertarian political thought that surface in Thrive and its milieu as opposed to really critiquing the movie point-by-point. Indeed, while I think the Praxis pamphlet is a very useful tool in evaluating the political agenda of the film, I’m somewhat disappointed by Praxis’s lack of engagement with factual matters asserted in the movie. There is very little discussion of conspiracy theories at all or their relationship to libertarian thought. I think this is a missed opportunity, and could have opened an interesting discussion on the role that conspiratorial thinking plays in political movements both historically and in contemporary society.
Case in point: the Federal Reserve. Mr. Gamble leaves no doubt that he absolutely detests the Federal Reserve, as most libertarians do; he blasts it as a tool of the “Global Domination Elite” to control the money system and hence the world. As a matter of economic policy, what the Federal Reserve does and should do is certainly a legitimate political issue, but aside from that, it is an absolute magnet for conspiracy theories. (Don’t ask me to opine at length on the Federal Reserve. I hate talking about it because it’s intensely boring. For a very good debunking of most of the popular FR conspiracy theories, go here). Mr. Gamble’s hatred of the Federal Reserve may be ideologically oriented, proceeding from libertarian thought, but I suspect at least part of his animosity may also stem from his obvious belief in Federal Reserve-related conspiracy theories. Here we have a prime example of a libertarian political goal—“End the Fed!,” as politicians like Ron Paul like to sloganize—that is being advanced through the spread of paranoid conspiracy theories. I would have liked Praxis to address how, from a progressive political standpoint, this could best be handled. How do you separate legitimate and rational political motivations from illegitimate and irrational belief in conspiracy theories? The pamphlet doesn’t go there. Indeed there are only a few perfunctory mentions of the Federal Reserve at all.
The conflation of conspiracy theories with politics is a dangerous trend and one of the main reasons why I push back against conspiratorial thinking. It is well known, for example, how an undercurrent of anti-Semitic conspiracy thinking in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided a fertile breeding ground for the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Those theories are still with us—in fact David Icke, one of the chief talking heads in Thrive, pushes a thinly-veiled science fiction redress of these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories with his ludicrous “shape-shifting reptilian alien overlords” theories that, while they do not refer specifically to Jews, are eerily similar in tone and function to those traditional anti-Jewish theories. Conspiracy theories corrode the ability of people to think rationally about real political solutions. The rise of fringe candidates, like Ron Paul, spouting bizarre philosophies and openly employing racist and conspiratorial language to motivate supporters, is a disturbing effect of this tendency. I would like to know what the Praxis Institute thinks we ought to do about this trend.
Personally, I oppose libertarianism as a political philosophy. I don’t like its emphasis on so-called “free market” principles, its hostility toward taxation and responsible government, and its demonization of any form of collective societal action toward social justice. However, my political beliefs are small issue to Thrive, and are not the primary motivation, or even a significant motivation, for me to push back against the film on this blog. Even if Thrive’s politics were squarely in agreement with my own I would object to its use of conspiracy theories and conspiratorial thinking to advance its aims. Georgia Kelly and the Praxis Peace Institute seem to care much more about Foster Gamble’s politics than I do. That’s not a criticism at all; different viewers of the film will have different approaches in reacting to it. Nevertheless, in their critique of Thrive from a political standpoint, I would have liked to have seen more emphasis placed on the ethical dimensions of using demonstrably false conspiracy theories to advance whatever agendas—be they political, social or religious—lay at the heart of this deceptive film.
Foster Gamble’s Response to Ms. Kelly’s Original Huffington Post Article
What does Foster Gamble have to say to Georgia Kelly? To my knowledge he has not (so far) come out with a response to the Praxis pamphlet itself, but he did respond to her original Huffington Post article, an expanded version of which forms the basis of the first chapter of the pamphlet. Here’s how Mr. Gamble responds:
“Georgia Kelly, founder of the Praxis Peace Institute in Marin County, has posted a fearful review of THRIVE on the Huffington Post. Ms. Kelly has been active in Liberal Democrat politics, and she mistakenly assumes that I am a covert Right-winger, and then goes about attacking that position and me. Her supposition is not true, so she seems to end up missing both the value of THRIVE and critical insights that can inform breakthrough solutions strategies to help humanity escape our lethal situation and flourish…
Ms. Kelly has mislabeled me as “right wing” and started lobbing word grenades over a self-created ideological fence. What I want to explore is “What is just” and “What works?” So I challenge Ms. Kelly and any who are interested in this conversation to answer the most fundamental moral question I know of:
Just exactly when, for you, is it OK for one human being to take your property — be it your body, your wages, or your privacy — against your will and under the threat of violence?
That is what mandatory taxation is…”
This is only a tiny portion of Mr. Gamble’s response, and I encourage you to read the rest for yourself. It’s lengthy, and deals mostly with ideas of political philosophy, which seems to be the primary battlefield on which Ms. Kelly wishes to engage Thrive. I do not find, anywhere in Mr. Gamble’s blog, anything that addresses the factual problems with the film. As Ms. Kelly on Huffington and Praxis Peace Institute in their pamphlet did not focus on factual issues, I see the debate between them and Mr. Gamble on ideological matters to be essentially a political argument, and thus only tangentially relevant to the issues raised on this blog.
Speaking only for myself, I would rather engage Thrive in the arena of what is provable fact as opposed to what is desirable public policy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own opinions on political philosophy or public policy, nor does it mean that I whole-heartedly endorse (or condemn) either the political agenda of Thrive or of the Praxis Peace Institute. My political opinions are not very relevant to the matters I created this blog in order to explore. In short, I’ve read the Praxis Peace Institute pamphlet. I agree with some of it, I disagree with other parts of it, but, while it’s certainly an interesting take on the Thrive phenomenon, if your main interest in the film is (as mine is) whether it is a credible source of factual information about what’s happening in the world around us, the political argument is largely irrelevant to that concern. Let’s certainly be aware of Thrive’s political agenda, but I for one don’t intend to make political disagreements with the film or its makers a significant point of contention. I’m willing to let others, like Georgia Kelly and her friends at Praxis Peace Institute, do that, and I wish them all the best in doing so. The movie has enough problems simply stating what it thinks is factual truth before it even gets to the realm of politics and policy.