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The Protocols of Jonathan Kay

911-truthers-jonathan-kay
May 14, 2011
Category: RELATED

Book Review

AMONG THE TRUTHERS
By Jonathan Kay
Harper Collins

On the evening of Saturday, June 26, 2010, Jonathan Kay headed out on his bike into the streets of Toronto to see what was up with the G20. What he saw, he wrote early the next morning in the National Post, convinced him of “”the extraordinary professionalism of the police patrolling Toronto this week.” The city was intact: tourists thronged Yonge Street, a band played on the corner. He toodled west along Queen, where he found a line of police staring down protestors. But: “There wasn’t any violence — at least none that I saw.”

Er, not so much.

We know now, of course, that the police were engaged in widespread brutality and violations of civil liberties all over Toronto that day. But Jonathan Kay didn’t see any of it and, so, of course, the police acted with “extraordinary professionalism.” Or perhaps he would argue that a little head-bashing and snatch-and-grabbery is not really violence, as in, you know, violence, and the police and state agree with him, and so that is that.

We don’t really know what Kay was thinking in the wake of the G20, as he didn’t blog much about it after that, except to call Toronto a “city of wimps.”

And so we come to Mr. Kay’s latest item of “reporting,” a book titled Among the Truthers: A Journey into the Growing Conspiracist Underground of 9/11 Truthers, Birthers, Armageddonites, Vaccine Hysterics, Hollywood Know-Nothings and Internet Addicts. All the tropes evidenced in his G20 coverage are present here, too: perception peddled as reality, ad hominens, and a firm conviction that anyone who sees things differently than he does must be a nut. Kay, Managing Editor of Comment at the Post, bills himself on his twitter feed as an “Engineer-turned-lawyer-turned-journalist-turned-book-writing-guy.” But while he is indubitably a journalist and a book-writing-guy, he is not a reporter; he is an editorialist, and remains so here.

I should mention that I am referred to in passing in the book, which identifies me, bizarrely, as a “poet.” (I have worked in theatre and journalism for some 35 years, but the last poem I wrote, other than this piece of doggerel, was in high school.) It also lumps me in with the rest of its specimens as a “Truther,” which is more arguable, though I don’t identify myself as such, not only because the term is subject to the sort of mish-mashing Kay gives it here, but because it strikes me as pompous (kind of like calling oneself a “pro-lifer”). In any event, if I am a Truther, I’m a pretty bad one: I don’t think George Bush or Dick Cheney or anyone in the White House hatched the plot, I do think an airplane flew into the Pentagon, I’m agnostic about what brought down World Trade Centers 1 and 2 (though not so much 7), I regard Alex Jones as a highly unreliable (if entertaining) source of information, and I think Ron Paul would be a disaster as president. If the Truther movement issued membership cards, I’d probably be required to turn mine in.

I also wrote for the National Post for 11 years (including a piece with Jonathan Kay as editor). It was their itchy-trigger-finger syndrome when, in a book review, I alluded to the suspicious stock trading that preceded 9/11, that caused me to stop doing so.

What I certainly am is a sceptic — about the official version of 9/11 as well as much else I am told, whether by government or others who have a stake in a story. That, to me, is what is involved in being a journalist. But Jonathan Kay tells us that too much of that sort of thing can get out of hand. “Voltaire understood that man cannot survive on skepticism alone,” he writes, in the sermonly conclusion to his book — “that society requires some creed or overarching national project that transcends mere intellect.”

One thing that can be said for Among the Truthers — it certainly transcends “mere intellect.”

Kay’s tactic here is the same one used by Michael Shermer of the seriously missnamed Skeptics Society, which is, as the subtitle indicates, to mix up the 9/11 truth movement with The Protocols of Zion, holocaust denial, birtherism, moon hoaxism, etc., into one big wacky ball of racism and lunacy. And his method is as dishonest as Shermer’s as well. Thus, in his interviews, he emphasizes figures he can most easily characterize as charming but quaint, such as Ken Jenkins, a “Bay area flower child” who “embodies the sixties soul of the 9/11 truth movement’s older members.” Or, where he does speak with Truthers who are more immediately credible, he makes short work of their bona fides before reverting to the book’s default mode — a sort of bland superciliousness. Thus Barrie Zwicker, a journalist of longer standing and quite a bit more distinction than Kay, becomes “an amiable crank,” of interest mostly because he insisted on conducting his own counter-interview when they met, complete with “a chess clock to regulate our usage of time.” And David Ray Griffin, who has spent not two but eight years studying his subject and published 11 books about it, is also, simply, a “crank.”

Kay never addresses the arguments of his interlocutors, because, he tells us late in the book, a New York City editor warned him that “Debunking books don’t sell.” Instead, he refers the reader to various of those books, and sites. This is defensible on editorial grounds; were he to get into his own reasons for rejecting 9/11 Truth theories, the book would be even weightier than it is. But it is also a convenience; it means Kay never has to address what he calls the “anomalies” in the official story of that day. We never learn why his interviewees are so head-shakingly wrong — they just are.

He does, though, fall back on some of the easier explanations for why so-called conspiracism has thrived since the Kennedy assassination: the world is too complex, conspiracy believers can’t deal with its chaos, and so they develop over-arching narratives to make its unpredictability more palatable. All of which is nonsense; the notion that one could take comfort from the idea that Kennedy was killed by a cabal, still unidentified to this day, or that somebody blew up the World Trade Centre towers (and got away with it), is sillier even than the most exotic conspiracy theories. But there’s more where that came from. Kay is a proponent of the “If I Write It, Maybe It’ll Become True” school of prose. As I got deeper into his book, with its explanation that conspiracism is the result of “middle-aged ennui” (or that, as an alleged “poet,” my day job requires me to “weave a self-invented reality”; I wish), I began to find Among the Truthers as ludicrously entertaining as any Alex Jones broadcast.

Kay does offer an interesting history of conspiracy movements (though this leaves him in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge that some are legitimate; again, we never find out what makes one plot real and another not). And he is right that, for some adherents, 9/11 Truth evolves into a kind of religion. The comfort believers find in it, however, comes not from a simplifying explanation of the world, but from a group of shared verities, repeated over and over in incantatory fashion. Mind you, this could also describe the editorial pages of the National Post.

Less harmless than Kay’s pop-psychologizing is his zeal to eradicate ideas other than his own. Having concluded that “any effort to engage committed theorists in reasoned debate is a waste of time” — because, of course, they refuse to come around to his way of seeing things — he offers, in his final chapter, a proposal to shame them out of their wrong-thinking, by “applying the same self-critical, self-aware mindset that has served to stigmatize racism, overt anti-Semitism, and related forms of bigotry in recent decades.” What he has in mind are first-year university courses using an “anticonspiracist curriculum” to teach students “to recognize the patterns of conspiracist thought.” In other words, if you can’t beat ‘em, kill their young.

Well, okay. Sounds like an interesting course. Of course, the problem is that if it were taught in any way other than Jonathan Kay, dreamer-upper, envisions — if, say, discussion as to the merits as well as the vagaries of the 9/11 Truth movement were allowed — then Jonathan Kay, National Post writer, would no doubt take off after it. Kay got his start on this beat when, as he reminds us, he discovered that a Liberal candidate in the 2008 federal election had six years earlier reported on some of the findings of various independent researchers into 9/11. He immediately employed the Post in a successful campaign to have her turfed as a candidate. More recently he’s been trying to work the same voodoo on a student at the University of Lethbridge. For all that Kay affects to be really, really interested in 9/11 Truth as a sociological movement, and to really, really want to understand its actors, Among the Truthers is of a piece with his daily journalism. He isn’t out to understand them; he’s out for their scalps.

Six months after the G20, Jonathan Kay had a bit of a rethink. “A few weeks ago,” he wrote in his Post blog, “I thought the police response to the G20 protests was yesterday’s news — and I never really reconsidered the opinion I formed at the time of the event, based on what I saw with my own eyes.” But then the Toronto Star got on the case of Adam Nobody, the G20 peaceful protestor tackled and beaten by cops, and lo-and-behold: “. . . it’s now clear that there was some thuggish police behavior that that went on.”

“Thuggish.” So it’s a start.

We can hope that someday some mainstream publication gets on the case of 9/11, thus allowing Jonathan Kay to reconsider that also. We can hope, as he approaches midlife ennui, that he decides it’s okay after all to have heretical thoughts — or, at least, to let others have them. We can hope that he learns to use YouTube. Meantime, we can be reasonably sure Among the Truthers will have little impact, except to buttress the beliefs of the orthodox in the same way he claims (quite rightly) that the outpourings of the Truth movement reinforce its gnosticism. It’s a Battle of the Bibles, whether Kay accepts their equivalency or not, and, Brother, it’s not going to be settled in my lifetime.

But while debunking books may not succeed, neither do books that aren’t better at peddling their hortatory wares than this one. I would have liked to read an insightful study of conspiracy movements. Among the Truthers, on the other hand, is a failed salvo, that might just as well have been titled The Protocols of All Those People Who Make Me Think Twice.

  1. Julian says:

    Last line of the article:

    “Among the Truthers, on the other hand, is a failed salvo, that might just as well have been titled The Protocols of All Those People Who Make Me Think Twice.”

    That’s really heavy. We’ve been the focus of some of the most brazen propaganda in recent times and few have spoken up simply on the principles of journalistic integrity.

    “I don’t think George Bush or Dick Cheney or anyone in the White House hatched the plot, I do think an airplane flew into the Pentagon, I’m agnostic about what brought down World Trade Centers 1 and 2 (though not so much 7), I regard Alex Jones as a highly unreliable (if entertaining) source of information, and I think Ron Paul would be a disaster as president. If the Truther movement issued membership cards, I’d probably be required to turn mine in.”

    NO!!! NO. no … Dude!!! We’re out here. We understand.

    Frank Moher appears to me to have a practical attitude toward the 9/11 truth movement. Like many smart people he assumes official corruption but wouldn’t want to associate himself with the mess that is this movement. I empathize. (Perhaps he doesn’t understand that so much of that mess is intentional and that the few holding the fort decided to jump in anyway for the sake of history.)

    I think this review serves as an excellent example of the fact that many support what we are doing but wouldn’t want to associate with what this movement has become. Moher even clearly identifies the sore spots. Assigning blame, the Pentagon, Alex Jones, and right-wing hucksterism.

    I think he’s got a good point, but I do hope he’ll learn that there are also those involved that don’t fit his mold. A few that see the problems but can’t let go of why this matters to them.

  2. Jon Gold says:

    Excerpt from Kay’s book:

    During my interviews in the New York City area, I met a variety of Truthers who fell into the damaged-survivor category: emotionally traumatized parents, children, siblings, or spouses of 9/11 victims, including one genuinely pitiful middle-aged protester who carries a sign featuring a picture of a handsome young man alongside the words “The NWO [New World Order] murdered my cousin Bradley Van Hoorn.”

    Other Truthers in this category include some of the “Jersey Girls” whose activism helped spur the creation of the independent 9/11 Commission; Manny Badillo, a leading New York City-based Truther whose uncle and mentor, Joseph Sgroi, died on 9/11; and Bob McIlvaine, a former Philadelphia schoolteacher who became a spokesmen for the Truth movement after losing a son in the North Tower.

    Damaged survivors are particularly effective as recruiters for conspiracist movements because the spectacle of their grief short-circuits our intellectual faculties – much the same way that graphic testimony from a crime victim can sway a jury to convict an innocent defendant. “When I saw Bob [McIIvaine] cry at the commission hearings in New York in 2004, it broke my heart,” Pennsylvania-based 911blogger.com founder Jon Gold told me when I asked him what drove his activism. “The anger I felt when I saw we were lied to was enormous. I couldn’t imagine how much extra pain must have been felt by those who actually lost people. I believe they deserve better.”

    All of which to say: It is not just because Jenny McCarthy is attractive and famous that she is permitted to promote nonsense medical theories on national television. It is also because she has experienced suffering, a subject that usually can be counted on to arouse the interest of American television viewers, even as it blunts their critical faculties. – [pages 164-165]

    I never thought stating my support for those who need it most, would be used against me.

  3. Jon Gold says:

    Just sent this to him… I notice in your book you try to portray my sympathy for the families that lost someone that day, that are still seeking justice, as a bad thing. Never in a million years did I think my support for those who needed it most would ever be used against me. You are disgraceful, and a hack.

  4. Jon Gold says:

    His response…

    Thats not at all what I did. And its bizarre that you would characterize what I wrote that way. But I wont bother arguing with you, besides this brief statement.

    My response…

    Stating that “the spectacle of their grief short-circuits our intellectual faculties” is an insult. I was involved in this cause long before I saw Bob McIlvaine cry. I hope that you never have to see a loved one brutally murdered, and watch each investigation into that murder have its own version of corruption and compromise.

    You completely ignored the real story. That this was started by the families.. that each investigation had its own version of compromise and corruption… that there are too many unanswered questions… that there are indications of criminality, etc… and so on. Instead… you focused primarily on the nuts… the weakest links… you latched every conspiracy theory known to man onto 9/11… portrayed us as psychologically unstable… used ad hominem attacks… and you ignored incriminating information and people.

    You are disgraceful and a hack. There’s some truth for you.

  5. Marianna says:

    I think it’s “bizarre” that this supposed professional “journalist” would be so weirdly insensitive as to characterize
    (“judge”) family members as being “damaged-survivors.” Pardon me for psychoanalyzing HIM (as he psychoanalyzed Gage, Zarembka and Zwicker on The Agenda last week), but it appears to me that he (like comedian Jon Stewart), doesn’t have enough breadth of emotional maturity himself to separate the buffonnery he sees in the “survivors” he’s describing, from his own buffonish discomfort with their pain — perhaps the “spectacle of their grief” shortcircuits his own emotional faculties. If he can’t comprehend what family members and survivors have gone through, and continue to go through, what the hell is he doing writing about it (except energetically skirting the issue within himself)?

    And — this guy calls himself a journalist?? What J-school did he go to that he’s blind to the REAL story? To at the very least the very real human interest story in all of this — which would mean NOT mocking the victims, who are average, normal human beings, whose average, normal lives were blown to smithereens 10 years ago, through no doing of their own, who have had no satisfaction and no resolution, since. Not mocking the victims, not assigning pathologies to them, but TAKING THEM AND THEIR CONCERNS SERIOUSLY — THAT’s a story worth writing.

    Based on the quote above, the review and The Agenda interview, I can’t take Kay seriously, and will not be bothered with his book. Jon Gold is right — this appears to be the weak attempt of a hack reporter out to make a buck no matter who he steamrolls.

    • Julian says:

      Sadly, this could be nothing more than satisfying a demand for a small niche. Steve Alten took advantage of the 9/11 truth movement and this guy is taking advantage of 9/11 truth debunkers. He doesn’t care at all about either side. He just knows there’s money in it. Demand creating supply.

      Either that or he’s covert for some right-wing think tank and saying whatever he’s told. Either way, it’s failure.

      Here’s the problem. People that write this sort of thing are most often quite clearly too intelligent to NOT know they are being dishonest. If they DO know they are being dishonest, that opens up a whole host of possible motivations and I don’t care to speculate. But I do sense shadiness.

      Whatever. His mommy should be ashamed of him. Epic fail!

  6. xxWesxx says:

    Having an education in Media Studies, I have not only learned about the use of propaganda, but also the entire study on the theory of it, as well as other media strategy. One of the easiest ways to convey your message is to attach it to human emotions that can begin to wear down the rational ‘roadblock’ many people have set up to prevent them from being dooped into something against their will. Your use of Jonathan Kay’s article in the National Post about his experience with (although you conveniently portray it to be as though Kay reported on all the actions, not just what he witnessed) the police actions of the G20 summit; is nothing short of this tactic. Here you portray Kay as dishonest by painting a picture of him as someone who is okay with police brutality, prior to just focus on the book you are claiming to critique.

    Furthermore; one can also note your lack of experience with Canada, the place in which Kay was reporting on in your statement about the police and state agreeing with him.

    Of course, seeing as I am neither supporting your opinion of 9/11 “Truth” nor your opinion on a book that criticizes the mental and psychological impacts that lead someone to believe in such conspiracies (as that is all they really are), I hardly believe this will remain on your site for long anyways. Nonetheless, I do know from personal experience as well as education in the field of media studies and psychology, that conspirators, even those of the 9/11 “Truth” movement are actually not confident in their beliefs as they attempt to appear; and so I am writing this to let you know that there are in fact people who do have a rational ability to see through your charade and are not falling victim to your propagandist attempt to persuade an easily manipulative populist mind of what you have come to mask your insecurities about living in a world in which you are not in total control, and will not fall for your conspiracies.

    If you are uncertain of how propaganda works still; allow me to demonstrate an obvious attempted piece of propaganda. When attempting to critique a book that serves to prevent irrational thought from taking over your movement of 9/11, before discussing the book you state:

    “We know now, of course, that the police were engaged in widespread brutality and violations of civil liberties all over Toronto that day. But Jonathan Kay didn’t see any of it and, so, of course, the police acted with “extraordinary professionalism.” Or perhaps he would argue that a little head-bashing and snatch-and-grabbery is not really violence, as in, you know, violence, and the police and state agree with him, and so that is that.”

  7. remo says:

    If I am ever ‘uncertain how propaganda works still’, I can assure the writer wessx I will not be asking his/her advice on the matter, having just read his/her synopsis so triple clever it let the BIG ONE go right on bye-bye.
    Or maybe meant to.

    However, Mr. KAY needs introducing as a neocon apologist of the FDD school, and as such is unlikely to be swimming the pool actually LOOKING to investigate the anomalies. I am CERTAIN Mr. Woolsey or the infamous Pearle would pretty soon haul his miserable arse to account if he actually WROTE of the LIES the Official 911 conspiracy theory hangs its bloodied and tortured narrative on.

    The reviewer mentions Kay’s gathering the 911conspiracy together with all other ‘conspiracy theories’ which reminded me , written In the ‘Conspiracy Theorist’ Paper produced by Professor Sunstein and A.Vermule,
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585 .
    a paper, incidentally, mister Sunstein can’t remember writing:
    http://www.911blogger.com/news/2012-05-01/obama-information-czar-cass-sunstein-confronted-cognitive-infiltration-conspiracy-groups
    WHEREIN, after having slandered all ‘truthers’ as suffering an Auschwitzian “crippled Epistemology”, discussion is made of an actual TACTIC, snaring or netting 911 into the widest possible tangle of ALL conspiracy ‘theories’ -the ‘crazier’ the better – as means to MINIMINALIZE 911′s singular power., to subjugate and smear its investigative NEED by ASSOCIATION with all variety of madness, removing it as SINGULAR and ultimate event; just ‘one of many crazy theories we would all know about by now if true”.
    :a method of controlling the conversation.

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