I've been reading Jon Ronson's 2001 book Them: Adventures with Extremists, and lemme tell ya, it's rare that a 16-year-old book which mostly depicts events in the 1990s feels prescient and vital, but well, that's exactly what this book does. Nearly all of Ronson's subjects in the book, who were then on the fringes of society, seem to predict the conspiracy-mongers and outright hate groups who have been emboldened and enabled by Donald Trump.
Ronson details how the government's mishandling of raids against militia members at Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas allowed professional paranoiacs such as Alex Jones to rise to prominence; explores how the far-right's obsession with secret world governments serve as a cloak for anti-semitic ideology; and watches in horror as white supremacists attempt an image makeover that leaves their members looking not unlike many of the prominent figures in the alt-right and white nationalist hordes that are all too visible today.
The book provides a lot of context for how the hell we got to where we are, and it's worth reading because if we know that context, it's all the more easier to find a way out of it. What binds this selection of writing together is that, much like Ronson's Them: Adventures with Extremists, each piece is spooky as hell. Even though you're probably going to be reading them on your phone, make sure to do so with the lights on.
"Dallas Killers Club"
Nicholson Baker for The Baffler
Man, remember how everybody got all hype about how all of the government's documents related to the JFK assassination were going to be declassified, but then the Trump administration only released the super boring ones? Well, we still don't definitively know everything about Kennedy's assassination, but as a concession you should read the hell out of Nicholson Baker's account of the killing.
"Matt Kibbe and the Rise of the Liberteens"
Rebecca McCarthy for The Awl
Oh jesus, it turns out that one of the guys responsible for the Tea Party is now trying to make libertarianism — or at least a version of libertarianism that serves the Republican Party's agenda — appear cool. It was probably inevitable that, just as socialism has become the default alternative for young lefties looking for an alternative to the mainstream Democratic party, some Republican would realize that more and more young conservatives are becoming libertarians and attempt to actively court them. It's also not surprising that, as proven by Rebecca McCarthy's portrait of professional right-wing astroturfer Matt Kibbe for The Awl, that they are embarrassingly bad at it.
"The Quaid Conspiracy"
Nancy Jo Sales for Vanity Fair
Here is something I did not know: that Randy Quaid and his wife Evi are convinced that a shadowy group of assassins called the Hollywood Star Whackers — who, they claim, also murdered Heath Ledger and David Carradine, plus gave Jeremy Piven mercury poisoning — are out to get them. Are Randy and Evi Quaid criminals? Are they on drugs? Has the bubble of Hollywood driven them totally bananas? Or is that just what the Hollywood Star Whackers want you to think so that they can keep whacking all the Hollywood stars? I would say "read the whole piece to find out," but you already know that the Hollywood Star Whackers do not exist, so instead you should read it because the story of Randy and Evi's descent from stardom to living out of a Prius is as fascinating as it is depressing.
Malcolm Gatskill for The London Review of Books
And, in what is by far the spookiest piece of writing I've read all week, it turns out that actual literal witch hunts are still a thing, and they are truly horrifying. Historically, points out Gatskill, witch hunts are a product of misogyny — an attempt at suppressing the notions of female agency and empowerment that men don't understand. In a bit of linguistic witchcraft of his own, Gatskill concludes, "We are, to an alarming extent, who we once were, which explains why witches past and present are made by us and live with us."
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