As a new right-wing made itself known by ham-fisted, 4chan-influenced trolling, the faux-respectable rantings of white nationalist Richard Spencer, the fever dream election of Donald Trump, his press secretary Sean Spicer on the Holocaust, and how at least Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons, the question of who possess a hatred of Jewish people took on new-old importance.
For many years, and not entirely baselessly, British conspiracy theorist and author David Icke has been accused of being anti-Semitic. Not because, like Spencer, he puts on blatantly white nationalist conferences and gets punched into meme stardom. No, Icke, 64, is best known as the person who popularized the notion—believed by four percent of respondents to a 2013 Public Policy Polling survey—that reptilian space aliens control much of our world. Reptilians are thought to be the true identities of prominent people including the British royal family, the Clintons, the Bushes, anyone named Rothschild, and, for some reason, country singer and actor Kris Kristofferson.
The Anti-Defamation League, however, has long thought that “reptilians” is a codeword for another sort of bloodline historically accused of impossible, devilish plots. And their suspicions are not without foundation.
Author and documentarian Jon Ronson has a long history with Icke, who appeared in Ronson’s book 2001 book Them: Adventures with Extremists and its companion documentary The Secret Rulers of the World. Ronson’s who I think of when I think of people who know kooks, so I invited the British transplant to New York City to sit outside Brooklyn’s Grand Prospect Hall while Icke goes on, and on, and on, to discuss the obvious questions which arise from this carnival of kook. One of these is whether Icke or his followers possess any particular vitriol against Jews or not.
He’s never been hostile to Ronson when he shadowed him, or in the years afterwards when they’ve encountered each other, even though Ronson is himself Jewish, and wasn’t entirely gentle in his portrayal of Icke or his fans. On the other hand, over pretzels and sodas, Ronson, 49, asks if I saw the anti-Semitic cartoon that was recently tweeted out on the Icke Twitter account. I didn’t. Ronson says it was fairly appalling, but he can’t find it, and I don’t either when I scroll through the tweets.
In his previous books, of which he has many (and they appear dense and tedious, to me, at least) Icke has suggested that he believes that the barnacle-like 1903 hoax work The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is real. He’s been accused of doubting the Holocaust (though, to be fair, he doubts everything else, including the moon and reality itself). Icke looks different now than he did in Ronson’s documentary. Stouter, his hair still in a hint of a gentleman’s mullet, but now pure white, the former soccer player and broadcaster has made his living peddling explanations for the whole universe for more than two decades. He seem either cheerful, or just more polished than he once did, even as he spends 12 hours mostly discussing how the world is in a terrible, wicked state. (The $60-$100 ticket price in the oddly posh Grand Prospect Hall probably keeps Icke in an upbeat mood.)
Icke’s views are best summed up by picturing someone sweeping the entire New Age/Occult and Conspiracy sections of your local Barnes and Noble onto the floor. There are not just aliens, but brainwashing, chemtrails, evil tones, and controlling frequencies, robotic copies of humanity. Something about the moon either not being real, or bad, or hollow. Transhumanism is going to kill us all. DARPA, Google, and robots are wicked. Pedophile rings are everywhere. Trans people are... fine (there comes Icke’s stilted hippie tolerance), yet somehow encouraging children to pick their own gender identity is an evil plot intended to sow confusion. Politicians are corrupt and controlling (he had to get one right).
Icke endlessly references other New Age and conspiracy theorists, picks quotes from scientists and science articles out of context, and then backs it up with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and characters in The Matrix and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. All of it is woven together into a ransom note of artful nonsense. The production has a hypnotic, albeit draining, quality in the moment, but afterwards, your notes are confusing and your head swims. What was that about Saturn and the Rockefellers? “Life is a tiny experience in a band of frequencies.” That’s good, right?
The audience appears bizarrely diverse in age, sex, and race. There are also a lot of men between the ages of 20 and 30 who are wearing crystals around their necks. Two brunette males, one with long hair, pass by me during one of Icke’s very necessary breaks in speaking. One says to the other with perfect earnestness something about “your vibrations...”
Icke’s ex-wife is here. So are both his sons. Her nametag has a subtle “Linda I,” but I eventually figure it out. She asks around to see if David can speak to me, but predicts that he’ll be tired by the end of his spiel. Four or five hours after I ask, I figure I’m at least as tired. At one point, a middle-aged bespectacled man who sounds to my ears exactly like Irish comedian Dylan Moran asks Linda if Icke is ever going to wrap this up. He has to leave, he says, speaking to us in a confidential tone. Can Linda tell him how it ends? She tries to dodge. He’s got to see how it all comes together. Every hour is necessary. Finally, she yields. “Love is the answer.” “Well, of course it is,” says the Irish fellow dryly, and he shifts off before Linda or I can get a name or occupation.
The table that Linda mans has a t-shirt which pictures Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and has the words “This choice is no choice.” Her and Icke’s towering son Jaymie is spotted wearing the shirt later. Icke can easily be filed with conspiracy king Alex Jones in the fringe section of life—and indeed, they both pop up in Ronson’s book and documentary series—but while Jones is full-on for Trump, and by virtue of that, has nearly become mainstream, Icke remains a space hippie. He continues to fill the void that Jones pre-Trump was supposed to—that is, trust no one on earth.
Trump, Jones, and Icke are bloviators and bullshit-mongers in their own way, but while Trump’s like a drunk man at a bar who’s backed you into a corner, and Jones always looks and sounds seconds away from a brain aneurysm, Icke comes off as a moderately funny, personable fellow at a cocktail party telling you what he does for a living. Still, if there’s anything more self-aggrandizing than believing you can fix every problem in America by passing the correct law, it might be charging 100 bucks for a 12-hour explainer on the universe and human existence.
Outside, I ask Ronson the most obvious question of all, what the hell is Icke’s deal? Prejudiced, crazy, conman, or some mixture? Ronson says he doesn’t think Icke is either. “Mental illness is categorized by how much distress it causes the person… And I don’t see David Icke as particularly distressed. He’s grossing $100,000 next door for one tour.”
Doesn’t that make him a charlatan then, I ask.
Ronson hesitates. Most of his work, from Them, to The Psychopath Test, to his recent dissection of the Internet at its worst, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, can be characterized as humanizing and sympathetic to nearly every person discussed, no matter how foolish or flawed, or occasionally criminal. Some people don’t like that about Ronson’s work. After all, Icke is making a lot of money with a lot of nonsense, and maybe that’s not such a great thing?
Maybe not, but Ronson has been deeper into the conspiracy world than I’ll ever be, and he still has a gooey spot for people like Icke. Ronson is right. Icke also doesn’t seem upset that he used to hear voices, thinks he was the son of God, and currently believes that the world is controlled by beams from Saturn. “I think everything David Icke says, he believes,” Ronson says. Perhaps, Ronson suggests, Icke is just “immersed” in his topic, the way Ronson has been in psychopathy, public shaming, conspiracy theories, and any other book subject. Icke, well, maybe “the thing he’s found is just—more nutty.”
Ronson, who authored a Kindle single on Jones, Trump, and the alt-right called The Elephant in the Room, says it’s clear that while Jones’ popularity fluctuates, and is now increasing because he’s hopped on the Trump train, Icke has kept a more constant, solid level of support since he first suggested that he might be Jesus, and really kicked it into high gear when he “learned” about the Reptilian space aliens. “Next door is not the Nuremberg rally,” says Ronson. “It’s a thousand spiritually anti-New World Order—it’s the same as it ever was. The only difference is that Trump is a fan of this [fringe] stuff, so he’s brought them into his campaign. But that’s different than saying there’s a huge groundswell of these people, there’s like loads more than there used to be. I think that’s a really important distinction.” Icke “has been more or less en vogue over the years,” says Ronson.
Two or three “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts float about the crowd. But on the whole, Ronson is correct that this doesn’t resemble the regular right, the alt-right, or even the more 1990s-paranoid militia types. Jones, for all of his flights of fancy about conspiracies he cannot prove, doesn’t go in for what Ronson dubs Icke’s “spirituality—energy, and vibrations, and you know, we actually have more than five senses, we have—nine senses, I don’t know how many senses.” Furthermore, Icke sums up the recent election with a disgusted, dismissive “which psychopath do you want in office—this one, or this one?”
The audience is here for the long haul, but they do seem more entranced by talk of the reptilians than by the bit about Saturn’s evil rays for which I spaced out. Ronson agrees that the 12-foot lizards are “a bit of a millstone around David’s neck,” rather how Trump’s most ardent fans waited with great excitement for him to mention the wall, and who is going to build it, sometimes with eyes glazed over in the interim.
Ronson’s Secret Rulers of the World segment on Icke spends a lot of time covering the goofy Canadian activists who think Icke is a prejudiced menace to their nation, and must be barred from speaking. The result is less-than-flattering towards them. However, Ronson remains agnostic on the prejudice question until he ends the documentary by relating how he overhears a member of Icke’s circle referring to one protester as “the fat Jew.”
Now, he says that Icke’s website once linked to The International Jew, a book that’s about as bad as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in terms of paranoid, fanciful hatred of that particular group. Ronson tells me, “Icke definitely attracts anti-Semites. I saw that with my own eyes…”
I see it as well.
Critiquing Israel as a country, or even feeling nervous about the concept of nationalistic Zionism does not make one anti-Semitic. And Icke probably does mean actual aliens, at least to a point. However, if you’re feeling particularly uncharitable, you might wonder if in his lecture, Icke calls religion “the greatest form of mind control ever invented” in order to dissuade people from thinking he’s got any particular vendetta against Jews.
The Icke fan I interview first is Ryan Disomma, and he doesn’t help allay these suspicions. The 27-year-old owner of a conspiracy/vegan/”uncensored truth” site called Revolution of the Mind where they “expose a lot of corruption with no actual agenda to it,” Disomma is uncertain about the reptilians, though humans clearly have a mysterious origin. He’s underwhelmed by Trump. Unless you have Rothschild and Rockefeller blood or impossible sums of money, the political process is all for show. When asked if Icke is prejudiced against Jews, Disomma dismisses it. “It’s just he’s generalizing a certain aspect of people. His level of understanding—he knows exactly who he’s talking about, whereas some of the general population takes it more literal and not so general, like he’s talking about. He’s exposing kind of what Hitler was exposing and going after, and stuff, it’s just some people’s understanding is not there yet.”
“Hitler was going after a bloodline that he knew was going to take over the world.”
After some journalistic stammering, I squeeze confirmation out of Disomma that neither he nor Icke actively like Hitler. “I don’t agree with [Hitler’s] methods, but that was his understanding, and his way of going about it,” says Disomma. Icke clearly doesn’t dig Hitler, since he just puts on conferences. So that’s... good.
The next several Icke fans don’t mention Hitler, which now feels like a disturbingly positive sign. Several think it’s important to be clear that disliking Zionists isn’t the same thing as disliking Jews. Most of them profess to be skeptical about at least parts of the whole Icke experience. However, they’ve stayed all day. And they think Icke is terrific. He’s waking people up, he’s saying what you aren’t supposed to say. He’s opening minds.
They’re 9/11 truthers. None of them have anything good to say about Trump.
Michelle F. is from Long Island. She sits down beside me on a bench outside the bathroom, and speaks before she notices the notebook which says it’s not safe to speak to me freely. She’s the only Icke fan not comfortable with sharing her full name, but is still willing to talk. It’s a family affair, coming to Icke, and it’s not the first time. “I believe everything he says,” she says casually, and then later says, “I am not saying he has 100 percent of the truth, but he’s lifted the veil on a few things.” She’s 68, black, and “worked 40 years in the mental health field.” She says Icke is rational. Not crazy. The Lizard People are either real space lizards, or they might just be people with an evil “lizard energy.” “[Icke is] not saying all Jews are Reptilians, he’s saying that the overlords, the people who created the state of Israel have an ulterior motive... They’re the same people who left millions of their compatriots to die in World War II. So are they anti-Semitic? I would say so.”
One exhausted man in a ball hat illustrated with a firearm and the words “come and take it” drove all night from Philly to see Icke, which is why he doesn’t trust himself to be coherent in an official interview. He and two other guys, one tall and mustached enthusiastically debate the use of force. “Come and take it” thinks that Icke’s peace and love is the answer bit will only go so far when they are trying to control us. Without any hate in his heart, he says, the next person who tries to take his rights, he’ll “put in the ground.” A cheerful, bearded sixtysomething is here with his wife and friends. He’s tired, but doesn’t mind checking out Icke and considering it all. A 37-year-old Canadian named Jonathan Davis gives me a hug. He says he was a trained scientist, but he knows that not everything can be explained by science. He came to New York City to work for peace for a non-specified NGO, but he was helping to welcome people to the Icke event.
The “seminar” finally ends with Icke’s positive vibes. The last hour could be a chipper corporate-Yogi retreat; the power of love and such, just as Linda Icke promised. Now it’s nearly 11 at night, and 15 or 20 loyal fans linger in front of the Grand Prospect Hall to see if Icke will come out. Jaymie appears and steers his dad firmly through the crowd, and towards a waiting cab. David takes a moment to hug a few people, and express his appreciation for their appreciation. He waves goodbye.
It’s sweet. They adore him, and he seems so genuine, just as Ronson said. And then my Uber arrives, and I have to go, just as a slender black woman and a brunette white guy giggle, and discuss the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as if it’s a factual book. The woman says she first read it 20 years ago. The man is passionate. Yes! That book! They have different rules for themselves, the Jews do. Different rules for themselves than for the rest of us.
—Lucy Steigerwald is an editor and writer for Young Voices. Follow her on Twitter: @lucystag