Ever heard of a Haarpicane? How about a Haarpiquake?
According to conspiracy theorist Nelson Thall, the recent tragedy visited upon Haiti was no mere earthquake. It was something more sinister. In his view, High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) technology destroyed the island. Why? Because it's a pawn in the ongoing battle between what he calls the Old World Order (loosely, the Anglo-American Empire) and the New World Order (loosely, the European Union and the Vatican).
George Freund, a colleague in the city's booming conspiracy brotherhood, stops short of attributing the Haitian quake to tectonic weaponry. But he notes that the country's "potential oil and mineral wealth make [it]plum for the picking," and that a bright plasma ball (doubtless caused by a HAARP weapon) was photographed on the eve of the quake in the skies over Haiti.
Mr. Thall, a.k.a. Lenny Bloom, and Mr. Freund are just two of a growing group of Torontonians who reject the "facts" they say we're spoon-fed, in favour of more unsettling truths.
They're not alone. As British writer David Aaronovitch observes in his new book, Voodoo Histories, the Western world now lives in an age of "fashionable conspiracism," its garments feverishly promoted via Internet forums, blogs and, increasingly, mainstream media. C oast-to-Coast - a late-night radio talk show - is syndicated on more than 500 North American stations. Conspiracy culture has even infiltrated TV prime time with Conspiracy Theory, courtesy of former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, and The Conspiracy Files from the BBC, erstwhile bastion of establishment thinking.
But conspiracy theory seems to be nowhere more fashionable than in Toronto.
Mr. Thall (as Bloom) and Mrs. Jane Steele host Shock Talk, a weekly Internet radio show. From the same downtown studios, Mr. Freund webcasts his own show ( Conspiracy Cafe), as does Timothy Spearman ( Shaking a Spear). They, too, cover the conspiracy waterfront, including "airplane chemtrails" (Western governments are secretly spraying us with toxins) and the veracity of Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship.
On Zoomer 740 AM Radio, Richard Syrett's Conspiracy Show serves up other main courses, from who really killed John and Bobby Kennedy (hint: not lone gunmen) to what actually caused the buildings of the World Trade Center to collapse on 9/11 (hint: not fires ignited by jet fuel). Mr. Syrett - dismissed from CFRB last January after running a segment on Mr. Obama's birth-certificate issue - also helms a new 26-episode TV series, The Conspiracy Show, which will soon be syndicated (with the radio version) in the U.S.
On air, Mr. Syrett tends to adopt a sober, just-curious approach to conspiracy theories, but if you want a true believer, Radio 640's Gary Bell is your man. The Spaceman, his nom de microphone, sallies forth rhetorically for three hours every Saturday night, specializing in arcane numerology and the shadowy backstage cabal known as the Illuminati. According to Mr. Bell, it runs the world.
If Toronto is, in fact, the urban hotbed of conspiracy theory, it may be explained by the same theory that accounts for why so many Canadian comedians were able to find success in the United States: We live close enough to the empire to understand it and critique it, but are never really part of it.
Local interest in his and other shows, says Mr. Freund, is growing steadily. The rise of the Internet has fundamentally changed the conspiracy landscape, creating a parallel nighttime world, "where you can talk about genuine issues and get around the reigning paradigm.
"Hearing the truth is often uncomfortable, but at least it helps you know when you're being lied to."
Mr. Thall says it was the 1963 Kennedy assassination that first stirred his interest in conspiracy studies - a de facto coup d'état from which he believes America has never really recovered. His instincts, he says, were later endorsed by Marshall McLuhan, for whom Mr. Thall worked as an archivist.
"Marshall was the original conspiracy theorist," he says. "I'm standing on his shoulders. He's the one who discovered that the West's arts and sciences are in the pockets of secret societies, like the Gnostics, Rosicrucians and Freemasons. JFK also warned against the nefarious power of secret societies."
Mr. Thall welcomes the democratization of access to alternative thinking, but sees a darker side - another conspiracy theory, if you will - to the popularization trend: the ruling establishment's campaign to muddy the conspiracy waters, "misleading audiences rather than following the truth. You don't get positions on TV like Jesse Ventura unless you're an agent provocateur."
Organizations such as CNN and Fox News, Mr. Thall maintains, are essentially "military psy-ops operations." He considers his own show, Shock Talk - and its companion website, cloakanddagger.de - "an antidote, a kind of civilian news agency. The owners of the system want to put us to sleep and we're trying to wake the people up."
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE
Those tempted to dismiss conspiracy theorists as paranoid fantasists might do well to consider some of the conspiracy theories that have turned out to be fact.
The Kennedy Assassination Only a minority of Americans now believe that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, killed President John F. Kennedy. Indeed, in 1979, the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations reported that Kennedy's death was probably the work of a conspiracy involving the mob and, potentially, the CIA. Its conclusion was based on acoustics gunshot evidence from Dealey Plaza, as well Jack Ruby's Mafia connections and Oswald's ties to various U.S. government agencies.
The Mafia The existence of organized crime syndicates was well known in the United States, but anyone claiming that some of America's most powerful politicians, judges, journalists and business executives were in thrall to the Cosa Nostra was ridiculed until Mafia informer Joe Valachi testified in Congress in 1963 to the full, insidious extent of its illegal activities.
The Manhattan Project Conspiracy deniers contend that the larger any conspiracy is, the harder the secret is to keep. But between 1942 and 1946, the U.S. government's plan to develop the first atomic bomb secretly employed 130,000 people, including Canadians and Britons, and operated multiple production and research sites. The government never acknowledged the program. It was never reported in the media, and it was only disclosed decades after the fact.