In keeping with my new (or at least summer-long) goal of giving Fridays over to sharing some of the excellent work others are doing, today I’d like to highlight a recent interview that Matthew R. X. Dentith and Josh Addison conducted on The Podcaster’s Guide to the Conspiracy this week. Their guest was none other than the legendary David Icke, fresh off his suitably looney tunes interview on the BBC’s The Week program last week. There he attempted to present himself as a rational critic of David Cameron and current British social and political policies, only to be undermined when the host stopped to remind him that he also believes that all of the actors in government are secret lizard people. (“There’s a whole backstory!” Icke protested.) The appearance there must have been fresh in his mind because he recycled some of the same material, almost word for word, in the podcast.
“The books I wrote in the 1990s are now being read on the television news in terms of world events,” Icke said verbatim twice in the podcast and at least once on the BBC. He’s very proud of that line, even though it is not, in any literal sense, true, and not in most figurative senses, either.
I can’t say I listen to enough David Icke to know how much of his current pseudo-rational posturing is recent and how much has always been part of his shtick. But here he paints himself as one of the first to realize that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and that the Bush and Blair governments were using the threat as a pretext for war. He claims he discovered this in 2003, which would put him anywhere from months to a year behind other critics of the rush to war. It’s rather clever, I suppose, that Icke is drawing on neoconservatives’ actual clandestine efforts to create a rationale for remaking the Middle East as a wedge to make the remainder of his conspiracy theories seem more reasonable. But still: Lizard people. Also: He alleges that a shadow government has used both Bush and Obama as a puppet for a single agenda.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like conspiracies have gotten small. Not in the sense that the claims are tiny but rather that they have a boring sameness to them. Icke’s “hidden hand” is the same as the various Freemason, Jewish, Templar, Catholic, occult world controllers. (Note: Icke doesn’t believe they are “all powerful” but rather merely manipulated by a “clever” interdimensional “force” that runs the world like the Matrix.) Perhaps it’s just that we live in the age of conspiracy theories, but Icke’s reflexive distrust of government is neither shocking, nor even interesting. Swap out a literal secret organization running the world for a nebulous “1%” of ultra-wealthy business owners who donate money and influence to politicians of every party, and you have, in essence, the consensus leftist critique of neoliberal government. Icke just wants to make the conspiracy both more intentional and more organized than his more respectable mainstream critics. Also: Lizard people.
Our hosts ask: Who are the hidden rulers of the world? Icke concedes that his ideas could sound “crazy,” and choosing not to repeat the mistake of engaging on lizard people like he did on the BBC, he instead talks around the question by arguing that individuals are too easy to manipulate and their perceptions are “downloaded” from a culture that creates a “sense of the normal.” Here I might have tried to get a rise out of him by asking how, if that is true, we can know that Icke isn’t the one manipulating perceptions through a blizzard or rhetoric and spurious connections. Unfortunately, our hosts let Icke filibuster—seriously, he goes on uninterrupted long past my tolerance for his low-information, empty staccato—and he essentially paints himself as the genius who can see through the false reality that his unnamed world controllers create through manipulating what we believe is normal.
In a limited sense, Icke has discovered the concept of ethnocentrism, mixed up with a bit of epistemological uncertainty about how we know what we know. It’s true that culture shapes our perceptions—schizophrenics around the world, for example, literally see and hear different types of hallucinations based on their culture—but imagine the sheer vastness of the conspiracy that would be needed not just to shape all humans’ cultural perceptions, but to also vary them by culture and protect them from the normal forces of natural selection that might deviate them from the conspirators’ preferred plan!
After a nearly 15-minute filibuster our hosts do ask, more or less, my question, viz.: How do you know the information you uncovered isn’t just disinformation? He doesn’t have an answer for that, and indeed admits that he simply accepts information at face value. “I don’t dismiss it.” If enough material piles up on the same subject, he then concludes that it must be true. He is a true heir to Charles Fort.
Then, finally, more than 42 minutes into the 76-minute show Icke mentions lizard people! Sadly, though, he mentions this only in terms of alleging that the person who revealed the lizard conspiracy in Buckingham Palace in 1998 also told him that Jimmy Saville, the BBC presenter, was a pedophile and interested in necrophilia, thus proving by the transitive property of fringe history that the lizard conspiracy must be real because Saville was exposed as a pedophile. (The logical fallacy should be obvious, especially if one believes in a paranoid world of disinformation and conspiracy.) The cynic in me would have stopped him there to ask why, if he knew this in 1998, he did nothing and said nothing until after Saville had been exposed. Icke volunteered to answer the question: He said he was afraid of being sued and didn’t have a source. Why not go to the police? He does not say. I would have replied: Show us, at least, your notes or tapes from 1998. After all, by your own admission, we can’t trust anything people say because we can’t know who the real lizards are.
Icke then claims that he is not a human being but “pure awareness” that moves through “this reality” as an observer in the flesh and experiences of David Icke. He alleges that he does not identify with his body and therefore looks forward to escaping the flesh to exist as “pure awareness”; therefore, he says that he does not fear consequences because he is merely an observer outside of matter. He is merely riding in the body of Icke.
Listening to such an extended among of blather from Icke is interesting, at least, in terms of seeing his bizarre mishmash of philosophies and how they reveal his true concerns, which are less about lizards and mysterious forces and more about wanting to exercise more control over one’s life and environment. The cynic might tie that to Icke volunteering to share how much his life was shaped by the fact that his body refused to cooperate with his plans to be a footballer. His career ended at 21 when he suffered a series of injuries, and it’s clear that the event impacted him for decades to come. Is this perhaps why he prefers to reject his own body, because it rejected him? Does the fact that he failed to achieve his dreams play into the way that Icke imagines a cosmic conspiracy to suppress and oppress others from achieving great things without the permission of some unseen outside force?
It’s a bit of a shame that Dentith and Addison weren’t a bit more aggressive in challenging Icke, or at least cutting off his ceaseless filibusters to squeeze in questions on a broader range of topics. As we saw on the BBC, when challenged Icke can become testier and much more entertaining than when he thinks he’s holding court as a philosopher-king.
In the end, I was struck by how Icke’s conspiracy theories are bizarrely parochial. He barely mentioned anything outside of the United Kingdom, and his vision of a vast global conspiracy is, like too many episodes of Doctor Who, confined to London and its outskirts despite allegedly having consequences across time and space.
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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