Synopses & Reviews
AN EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY THROUGH THE WORLD OF FRINGE-DWELLERS
Islamic fundamentalists, Ku Klux Klansmen, Christian separatists, and certain members of British Parliament would seem to have very little in common, but they do in fact share one crucial belief: that the world is secretly controlled by an elite group -- in a word, Them. This shadowy elite starts the wars, elects heads of state, sets the price of oil and the flow of capital, conducts bizarre secret rituals, and controls the media. This group is incredibly powerful and will destroy any investigator who gets too close to the truth.
Does this shadowy elite really exist? Jon Ronson wondered. As a journalist and a Jew, Ronson was often considered one of "Them," but he had no idea if their meetings actually took place and, if so, where. Was he the only one not invited?
Ronson decided to settle the matter himself, seeking out the supposed secret rulers of the world by way of those who seem to know most about them: the extremists. The result is a riveting journey around the globe. Along the way Ronson meets Omar Bakri Mohammed, once considered to be the most dangerous man in Great Britain. This powerful Muslim fundamentalist -- who tricks Jon into chauffeuring him around town because he doesn't have a car -- seems harmless enough until he takes Jon to Jihad training camp where Ronson is unmasked as a Jew.
Jon shoots guns with Ruby Ridge survivor Rachel Weaver and learns about black helicopters and the New World Order. While trying to monitor a meeting of the famous Bilderberg Group in Portugal, he is chased by men in dark glasses. With a group of other true believers, he breaks into the fabled Bohemian Grove in California and witnesses CEOs and politicians engaged in a bizarre pagan ritual. When he attends a KKK rally to interview a PR-conscious Grand Wizard who forbids use of the "N-word," Jon watches as Klan members confront a perpetual cross-burning problem: Do you raise it and then soak it or soak it and then raise it?
But the more Ronson tries to expose the emptiness of these conspiracies, the less and less he's certain that the extremists are crazy. In the end, Them is an eye-opening narrative of the looking-glass world of "us" and "them." Funny, chilling, and seamlessly told, it is an unforgettable glimpse into lives on the fringe.
"Them: Adventures With Extremists...suffers from a case of bad timing. Before Sept. 11, it would have been fine to joke about Omar Bakri Mohammed, one of England's most prominent Muslim fundamentalists....Most of us would have simply laughed when Ronson recounted how the supposedly fierce warrior couldn't be coaxed into dehooking a fish that he pulled from a country stream. But now...Ronson's light, uncritical approach feels misguided. The 'hip reporter visits wacky subculture' scheme may have worked for decades...but these days, it's hard not to wonder whether Muslim fundamentalism and the Klu Klux Klan deserve to be painted with Ronson's gonzo-like brush....[D]espite the book's apolitical, documentary approach or perhaps because of it Them raises important questions about the nature of public paranoia....The book could have used more probing analysis, more adversarial questions for the right-wing extremists....But Ronson's light romp through a world of paranoid but relatively harmless clowns is not without value. By reminding readers that the gap between 'us' and 'them' is far more slender than some would like to believe, Ronson's effort may end up becoming a useful antidote to today's frightened times." Damien Cave, Salon.com
"The best as well as most timely and unsettling of these essays follows Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical Islamic militant, on his often bumbling effort to organize British Muslims into a jihad. (Bakri was arrested after September 11.) Ronson's journalism is motivated less out of a duty to inform the public than a desire to satisfy his own curiosity. At the heart of the book is Ronson's quest to find the Bilderberg Group, a secret cabal said to meet once a year to set the agenda of the 'New World Order.' Fortunately for the reader, his efforts lead somewhere: an informant tracks Bilderberg to a golf resort in Portugal; later, a prominent British politician and Bilderberg founder discusses it on the record. Once viewed up close through Ronson's light, ironic point of view, these 'extremists' appear much less scary than their public images would suggest. It is how he reveals the all-too-real machinations of Western society's radical fringe and its various minions that makes this enjoyable work rather remarkable." Publishers Weekly
"Do you know the one about the 4,000 Jews who worked at the World Trade Center and got secret instructions to stay home on Sept. 11? What are we to think of people who naively believe in such vicious (and widespread) conspiracy theories? Are they merely silly dupes, or is there something more sinister in their stupidity? These are the kinds of uncomfortable questions Jon Ronson raises in his often entertaining, more often disturbing, book Them." Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Times Book Review
"Observing and traveling with various fringe groups, including Islamic militants, neo-Nazis, surviving Koresh followers, and a KKK faction, Ronson follows a trail of clues that eventually leads him to a gathering of the supposed elite Bilderbergers, who are every bit as bizarre (if not more so) as those who fear them. Undoubtedly one of the most provocative books to be published recently, Them is at times funny, other times unsettling, but always astonishing." Gavin Quinn, Booklist
"A picaresque journey into the wonderland of delusional fanatics, often scary, yet wildly funny....Most encounters, such as with an Arkansas Ku Klux Klan leader who eschews use of the 'N' word (in public), or with Dr. Ian Paisley preaching his conspiracy theories in Cameroon, read like a comic novel, as the deadpan Ronson lets his subjects skewer themselves with their own words. Less laughable is his visit with Randy Weaver's daughter Rachel, which leads him to conclude that the killings at Ruby Ridge were made possible by the demonization of the Weavers as white supremacists. A subsequent brief meeting with skinheads at the Aryan Nation in Idaho is one of the most chilling episodes here. From his wanderings among extremists, Ronson learns that their most consistent belief is that the world is run by a cabal of international financiers and politicians, mostly Jews, known as the Bilderberg group, who periodically gather in a secret room to determine the planet's fate. Ronson's mission, to track down the secret rulers of the world and discover who they are and what they actually do, is the stuff of high comedy, and what he finds is about as sinister as a frat party. Ronson's eye for the telling detail and his gift for capturing hilarious dialogue make this an entertaining read, but laughs aside, this is serious and thought-provoking stuff, and likely to nettle left, right, and some in the middle too." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Although one may not find, say, the Ku Klux Klan funny on the surface, Ronson, well known for his 'Human Zoo' column in the Guardian, makes each essay engaging by pointing out the irony of it all and accentuating the characters' foibles. He also presents their humanity the same humanity they would deny to others. Yet between the lines of satire, the extremists are unmasked for what they really are. They come off, above all, as mundane." Library Journal
"Jon Ronson is himself an extremist extremely funny, likable, and smart. He doesn't believe his subjects' loopy dogma, but his empathy has the curious effect that you come away cheered by the human capacity to like other people." Sarah Vowell, author of Take the Cannoli
About the Author
Jon Ronson is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. He lives in London.