There's us, and there's them. To the average working Joe, extremists and conspiracy theorists could easily fit into the "them" group. To the extremists and theorists themselves, however, "them" refers to a far more sinister group: The Bilderbergers.
In Them, award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker Jon Ronson cavorts with an assortment of extremists and activists — and the conspiracy theorists who love them — who reside on the political, sociological and religious fringe. For five years, the London newsman followed around, broke bread with and chauffeured a PR-savvy Ku Klux Klan leader who forbids his followers to use the "n-word;" survivors of the Ruby Ridge and Waco fiascos; Irish Protestant radical Ian Paisley; former BBC sportscaster David Ickes, who believes the world is secretly run by a group of semi-human, 12-foot-tall alien lizards; and the "Blind Sheik" Omar Bakri Mohammed, a bumbling Islamic militant who tried to spur British Muslims into a jihad (and who was arrested after the Sept. 11 attacks). Despite the subjects' disparities and agendas, they are all bound by one common belief: A cabal of CEOs, politicos and entertainment industry giants, collectively known as the Bilderberg Group, secretly decide the fate of the world during a yearly retreat at Northern California's Bohemian Grove.
While it's true some of the stories and situations in Them are a bit scary, even alarming, the author's lighthearted, wry wit and faux-naivete allows his subjects to skewer themselves through their own words and actions, making them seem more mundane and hypocritical than threatening. Ronson gets chased in Portugal by men in dark glasses, unmasked as a Jew at a Jihad training camp, and witnesses world leaders engaging in a bizarre Pagan ritual in the forests of California, but he seldom ever seems less than amused. And through Ronson's eye for detail and ability to capture comical dialogue, that amusement is passed on to the reader, even during moments of possible danger.
Whether you subscribe to the theory of a New World Order or not, it's ultimately Ronson's spot-on revelations of the machinations of Western Society's fringe-dwellers that makes Them a worthy read. Released stateside in January, Them was a 2001 bestseller in England, due in part to a five-part BBC documentary tie-in. But with America's love of all things conspiratorial, I hardly think Ronson will need that added boost here.