Conspiracy theorist Jim Marrs died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 73, according to an announcement his family posted to social media last night. Marrs had suspended updates to his website in June due to health issues, and his health had been in decline for several months. We are told not to speak ill of the dead, but it is difficult for me to find much else to say about him. He was, in private life, apparently loving and devoted to his family, but publicly, for decades Marrs promoted a noxious brew of rightwing conspiracies that danced around anti-Semitic themes, and he happily embraced ancient astronaut theories and wove them into a dark vision of a genocidal Obama government hellbent on mass liquidation of conservatives, a vision that never came to pass and whose predictive failure Marrs never acknowledged. Seriously, he used to claim that Obama and the Chinese and/or Russians were working together to launch a coup against white Americans.
Marrs probably reached the pinnacle of his influence early on, when his JFK conspiracy book Crossfire was said to be a major source of research for Oliver Stone’s film JFK, bringing to the mainstream some of Marrs’s ideas about the death of John Kennedy.
Twenty years ago, in 1997, Marrs moved from being a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist to a UFO conspiracy theorist when HarperCollins, then, as now, one of Rupert Murdoch’s companies, published Marrs’s Alien Agenda. The book was a New York Times bestseller, as were its sequels asserting a vast conspiracy of secret societies and conspiracies surrounding 9/11. His last major alien book, Our Occulted History (2013), recycled old ancient astronaut theory claims from Ancient Aliens and a number of previous ancient astronaut books and tied them to his previous antigovernment conspiracies. Though the book was suffused with ideas copied wholesale from Zecharia Sitchin, it also opened with a quotation from H. P. Lovecraft, to my dismay. His second to last book, Population Control (2015), asserted a vast genocidal conspiracy aimed at reducing the global population, a conspiracy of such stunning effectiveness that in Marrs’s lifetime global population has only tripled. In radio interviews in recent years, Marrs increasingly emphasized his belief that the Jewish Rothschild banking family are lizard people and that Jewish financiers secretly worship Nimrod, staples of old anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic conspiracies. It was never clear, though, whether Marrs understood the anti-Semitic origins of his conspiracy theories or whether he merely repeated old ideas uncritically. By the end, though, through influence from David Icke he had become obsessed with rooting out secret crypto-Jews who he believed ran the world, tracing this elite group back to “the Habsburgs and the Rothschilds [who] share the same Jewish ancestor,” thus explaining “how the Zionists could control Hitler and his Nazis as well as other monarchs.” His final book, The Illuminati, explicitly discussed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a blueprint of the Illuminati for world domination.
HarperCollins remained Marrs’s publisher until 2015, and that only made sense. (His final book was published by Visible Ink.) HarperCollins is part of the Murdoch empire, the same family that owns Fox News, and Marrs’s conspiracies are based on a particular nostalgic fantasy of lost midcentury Americana that animates much of the paranoid propaganda that the Murdoch media put out. In his last book, Marrs railed against liberal “global elites” who hate everyday Americans and want them to die in service of capital gains, and he waxed nostalgic for a fictitious 1950s when the U.S. was “predominantly a rural nation,” food was “fresh,” water didn’t have mind-controlling fluoride, and every (white) American was truly free. Marrs’s own interest in the JFK assassination seemed to stem from that nostalgia for his lost youth (he was just shy of 20 at the time of the assassination), when everything was nicer and better, before a magic bullet broke the spell and adult responsibilities descended. Marrs’s nostalgia for the idealized white bread sitcom America of Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver rhymed with the propaganda line of Fox News, and the spice of anti-Semitism and racism provided a noxious counterpoint that amplified the party line for millions of readers while staying under the radar. HarperCollins, like most publishers, has a broad and rich catalog of diverse viewpoints and perspectives, but the book Marrs published always seemed much darker, paranoid, and unscrupulous than most of HarperCollins’s output.
Conspiracy entertainer Alex Jones, on whose show Marrs sometimes appeared, marked Marrs’s death by calling him a “truth seeker” and a “friend.” Jimmy Church of Fade to Black eulogized Marrs, writing on Twitter that “He changed the world. Not many do … ever.” And yet Marrs left the world worse than he found it, popularizing antigovernment conspiracy theories, including Kennedy assassination conspiracies and supporting claims that 9/11 was an inside job. He led his audience down the garden path of conspiracy and promoted a paranoid world view that directly contributed to the rise of unreason in America and around the world.
This post was updated to correct the recent bibliography of Jim Marrs.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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