On the advice of Jeb J. Card, I bought a copy of Michael Barkun’s A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (U California, 2006). It’s a little outside my usual area of research since it focuses on post-World War II right wing conspiracy theories and their intersection with the UFO movement, but it is certainly a fascinating read. Barkun, who put together his book in the same years when I was writing The Cult of Alien Gods (2005), came to the same conclusion that H. P. Lovecraft and his circle at Weird Tales provided the inspiration for many of ufology’s claims, particularly—via Robert E. Howard—the persistent idea that there is a cult conspiracy of lizard or serpent people secretly running the world. Although ultimately derived from Theosophy, such claims transferred to what would become ufology when Ray Palmer introduced them from the fiction of Lovecraft and Howard via his rewrites of the Shaver Mystery stories in Amazing Stories in the 1940s.
What I didn’t know until I started reading the book was how a special strain of ufology I discussed in my Jason and the Argonauts through the Ages connects to some very serious terrorist activity. It’s all fun and games until you start to examine the real world consequences of extreme beliefs.
In Jason and the Argonauts I discuss the so-called JASON Group, a scientific advisory group established by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960 under the name Project Sunrise. One of the group’s original members had a wife named Mildred Goldberger who thought that the name seemed rather generic and bland. Instead, she proposed changing it to that of the epic hero Jason so that his quest for the Golden Fleece could stand for the quest for scientific knowledge.
Here is where the facts end and conspiracy begins.
The right-wing ufologist Milton William Cooper saw in the JASON Group a unit of a hidden JASON Society, whose namesake he believed had been chosen as a cypher for the Illuminati. This is a rather convoluted claim, and it relates to his belief in the so-called Brotherhood of the Serpent, which is an ancient astronaut belief proposed by William Bramley in Gods of Eden in 1989 (as the “Brotherhood of the Snake”), modeled on Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophical Brotherhood of the Serpent (via Howard and the Shaver Mystery), which was an interpretation of Gnostic Ophites by way of John Bathurst Deane’s nineteenth-century claims of a universal serpent cult. Bramley’s version fed into anti-Semitism when the pseudonymous Jan Van Helsing identified the evil serpent cult with what he saw as bloodsucking Jews, and in 1993 David Icke added the serpent cult to his reconstruction of anti-Semitism as the Reptilians.
For Cooper, who derived his understanding of history from the occultist Manly P. Hall, the Serpent was also the Dragon, and Jason was the hero who achieved the Golden Fleece by conquering a dragon. Therefore, the JASON Society represents the achievement of light (= Illuminati) in the form of the Golden Fleece:
The JASON Society, or JASON Scholars, takes its name from the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, and it is a branch of the Order of the Quest, one of the highest degrees in the Illuminati. The golden fleece takes on the role of truth to JASON members. Jason represents the search for the truth. Therefore the name JASON Society denotes a group of men who are engaged in a search for the truth. The name Jason is spelled with capital letters when used as the name of the JASON Society. Lower-case letters are never used when referring to this secret group. The name may even have a deeper meaning, as the name "Jason" and the Golden Fleece appear throughout history in relation to various other secret societies. In these instances the story represents man (Jason) looking for himself (Golden Fleece).
These people are simultaneously also Illuminati, Skull and Bones, Freemasons, the Knights Templar, and, of course, the leaders of the Majestic-12, Eisenhower’s alleged task force interacting with extraterrestrials on behalf of humanity. In the 1990s Cooper further claimed that the JASON Group (allegedly a distinct civilian subsidiary of the Society) intended deliver a payload of plutonium to ignite the planet Jupiter and turn it into the star Lucifer, whose light and heat would stave off the next Ice Age. Yes, he believed that climate change—then called global warming—was a hoax designed to hide the truth about the oncoming age of ice.
This of course all fed into a broader conspiracy theory involving the Bush family, the New World Order, the Trilateral Commission, and all the usual right-wing conspiracy bugaboos familiar to conspiracy fans. Cooper alleged that George H. W. Bush authorized aliens to abduct and anally probe one out of every forty Americans, and the JASON Society was responsible for the Kennedy assassination, using the president’s chauffeur to kill him while Oswald distracted the crowd with gunfire.
Cooper died in 2001 when police shot him during a standoff prompted by complaints that he had been threatening passersby with a gun.
Barkun sees this as a fascinating combination of traditional millennialism, right wing politics, and left wing social concern. But in the opening of his Culture of Conspiracy he writes that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a regular listener to Cooper’s shortwave radio program and visited Cooper shortly before bombing the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. He had previously visited Area 51, and after the bombing, while on death row, he spent hours watching and re-watching the alien encounter movie Contact, based on the Carl Sagan novel. Sagan, in turn, had been fascinated by the Babylonian myth of Oannes (Uan-Adapa). In the 1960s he had speculated that this fish-man might be evidence of true alien contact, but he was unaware of the history of the myth, originating in the Seven Sages of apkallu, or that this in turn fed into the stories of the Watchers, who were—of course—the founders and/or model for the secret society that became the Brotherhood of the Serpent, the Illuminati, and the JASON Society in the hands of fringe theorists.
Choices made millennia ago echo down the centuries as ideas are reused and recycled to give a dubious historicity to extreme claims in every generation.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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