This blog, originally published March 13, 2010, has been updated once (as of March 27, 2010), again (on May 19, 2010) and a third time (February 10, 2011). Scroll to the end for the updates.
For the last couple of months, my adventures in conspiracy-land have taken me to the frontier of an organization called "the Zeitgeist Movement," and led to the inevitable crossing-swords with those who support and promote it. Let me tell you, you're signing up for a huge can of worms the moment you start on Zeitgeist, because this movie has literally legions of rabid supporters, and they all think they're saving the world.
What is the Zeitgeist Movement? We'll get to that in a moment; first you have to understand what is Zeitgeist. Unless you've been living in a cave in Baluchistan with no access to the Internet since 2007, you've probably heard of Zeitgeist. It's an Internet film created and promoted by an ambitious young New Yorker named Peter Merola, who (for reasons that will be discussed later) calls himself "Peter Joseph." (Note: the evidence suggests that Merola is his name, and although he hasn't introduced himself as such, I'm not aware that he has denied it. If anyone can definitively state that it's not, please correct me; until then that's what I will call him). Merola's film, which is very slick and well-produced in Loose Change style, is very manipulative and has three parts which promote three main points:
1. Jesus never really existed, and Christianity is a lie artificially constructed from pieces of other ancient religions (most notably, sun worship).
2. The 9/11 attacks were a conspiracy "false flag" operation conceived and conducted by the Bush administration (or somebody) to justify war and curtailment of civil liberties.
3. A cabal of evil greedy "international bankers" controls the economy of the world, thus enslaving mankind in an artificial and exploitative system.
I'd provide you the link to watch Zeitgeist yourself, but trying to increase the visibility of this film is frankly unethical and certainly a crime against logic and common sense. It's so ubiquitous, though, that if you really want to watch it you can find it in less than a minute.
Despite the numerous and comprehensive debunkings of its theses and repeated demonstrations of its virtually complete lack of factual support, Zeitgeist: The Movie has been very popular. Its promoter, Peter Merola, claims on his website it's been viewed 100 million times. You can't swing a cat by its hind legs without finding someone who's seen--and most likely believed--the conspiracy folderol that's happily crammed down the audience's throat in Merola's little magnum opus.
According to a somewhat-high official in the Zeitgeist Movement, a certain Brenton Eccles (at least that's his handle on the Zeitgeist Movement forum), after he made the film Merola received numerous emails from viewers saying, "What do we do about these problems?" and his answer was invariably, "I don't know." Then someone mentioned to him the Venus Project.
The Venus Project is an old idea, having been cooked up about 1975 by a sometime designer (I could not verify that he's actually an architect, as many claim he is) called Jacque Fresco. Basically it's your standard issue '60s/'70s utopian idea: wouldn't it be great if all the Earth's resources were freely distributed to people according to their need. Does this sound like warmed-over Marxism? Well, whether it is or not is hotly debated--Fresco himself tries to distance himself from Communist ideology in Zeitgeist's disingenuous FAQ--but add to this the idea of computers controlling resource allocation, and you've got the Venus Project.
What does this have to do with conspiracist and 9/11 Truther Peter Merola? Well, exactly nothing, until Merola latched onto it as the answer to the world's problems. He made a second movie called Zeitgeist: Addendum which shills again the conspiracy theories from the first film, albeit at softer volume, but also adds an extended section delving into Mr. Fresco's theories. With this somewhat awkward marriage, Scientology had found its Tom Cruise. Merola and his friends started "the Zeitgeist Movement," which purports to be "the activist arm of the Venus Project," galvanizing the masses (mostly on the Internet) to make the resource-based economy brainchild of Jacque Fresco a reality.
Sounds great, right? Well, there's a bit of a problem. A couple of problems, actually. See, there's not very much fact in Zeitgeist: The Movie. But that didn't stop it from becoming extremely high-profile, due to the fact that upon its appearance it was denounced by Christians as a lie and sneered at by rational-thinking people who, quite rightly, look askance at 9/11 Trutherism. The Trutherism of Merola and Zeitgeist isn't even very good by Truthers' very elastic standards, having repeated in 2007 many of the silly conspiracy claims that were roundly debunked in 2005. Zeitgeist's 9/11 Truth ideology is several steps behind Loose Change's.
So, let's take Merola at his word that he's really about promoting the Venus Project, and all that ooky conspiracy stuff he was spouting in 2007 isn't really the movement. Merola himself makes this point on his own forum. His words, exactly, responding to one of his own followers who was surprised to learn that Jacque Fresco evidently does not believe in 9/11 conspiracy:
"It [9/11 conspiracy] doesn't matter. Fresco and I have never talked about it. The view isn't promoted in the movement either. The films are not the movement. I am not the movement...It is a big part of that FILM not THE MOVEMENT. The Movement is not the films. One day I might make a movie about Fishing... that doesnt mean the movement has anything to do with it, despite the name 'zeitgeist'."
Well yeah, it's all about that name, Zeitgeist, isn't it? The facts, according to Merola himself on the Zeitgeist website, are that 100,000,000 people have viewed Zeitgeist: The Movie. Yet the same website also claims that only 10,000,000 people have viewed Zeitgeist: Addendum, which also pushes the conspiracy claims but gives them considerably less prominence. Assuming for the sake of argument that Zeitgeist I can be considered a conspiracy film and Zeitgeist II cannot, by Merola's own figures his viewership dropped by 90% when he stopped talking about conspiracy theories as the main focus. (Incidentally, Zeitgeist: Addendum never repudiates the conspiracy theories; in fact it promotes them. There's a third Zeitgeist movie in the works. From the selfsame quote by Merola that I quoted above, he says: "Yes, 911 will be in the Directors cut - expanded," an unambiguous indication that he intends to continue hammering conspiracy theories in his films).
One of the Zeitgeist Movement's own members, on their own forum, had this to say to one of their members who questioned how good an idea it was to get so publicly in bed with 9/11 Truthers:
"So it [9/11 conspiracy theories] pulls in certain people just like it repells certain others, up until know I'd say the conspiracy has given us almost 400.000 in a year and a half. That's not bad, so for the time being, it's not a problem."
Not a problem. Yeah, right. Merola has purportedly stated that he's "moved beyond" 9/11 conspiracy theories, and he's now all about the Venus Project; but one of Zeitgeist Movement's own members suggested, on the forum, the idea that the movement change its name to distance itself from the unsavory connotations of being associated with a movie that pushes as its main points that Jesus never existed and 9/11 was an inside job. Here was Merola's response:
"As far as the 911 and religious "conspiracy theories" you denote- they are, despite the controversy, still highly relevant. However, we move forward. You will notice little time is spent on these issues. There are larger order issues and even if the Zeitgeist name was changed, the associations will be found by anyone who takes the time to track history. 911 is not taboo- nothing is taboo. If everyone simply didn't talk about ideas because they were afraid of what other's thought, society would be paralyzed...Changing the name of the Movement is the least of my concerns at this time."
English translation: the Zeitgeist movement is high publicity and a good recruiting tool, so they're better off keeping it rather than starting from scratch with a non-Truther-associated name.
It should be obvious to anyone reading this far what's going on here. Merola, who began his public life as a 9/11 Truther, had never heard of the Venus Project or Jacque Fresco before he started making movies. When he did hear about them, he latched on to them, and now the tail wags the dog. The Venus Project, which has been around for 35 years, has been virtually unknown until Merola came along with his Zeitgeist conspiracy movie. Now it has more visibility than it ever has in its existence, solely because of Merola's conspiracy film. Merola now has a delicate dance to do. Because the Venus Project is not ostensibly a conspiracy movement, he has to try to appeal to non-conspiracists who might agree with the goals the Venus Project espouses, while also placating the vast legions who've flocked to his banner precisely because they thought the Venus Project was a conspiracy movement.
What do Zeitgeisters themselves say about this apparent dichotomy? Here's what Brenton Eccles had to say on the Conspiracyscience forum:
"[E]very member is responsible for producing content. This is just Peter's content, and that's how in the long term (especially with others making films about The Venus Project) it will be seen...as I've also highlighted, regardless of whether the whole of ZI is wrong - the underlying philosophical (human value) implications still hold strong. Very strong. And that's what'll pull people in after watching that film."
Uhh, yeah. All of those conspiracy loons out there who lap up Zeitgeist with a spoon are going to say to themselves, "Yes, this film totally validates my paranoid world view, but I realize that it's just the personal opinion of that wacky Merola guy and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Zeitgeist Movement, which has the same name as this film, and who the producer/director of this film is the acknowledged leader of, and what I should really be getting out of this is the philosophical implications."
Actually they won't say "that wacky Merola guy" because Merola goes to considerable lengths to conceal his name. He calls himself "Peter Joseph," his first and middle names. Why does he conceal his last name? Hmm, maybe something to do with the fact that being one of the major public figures closely associated with 9/11 Trutherism and anti-religious conspiracy theories might have a depressing effect on one's future job prospects. Everybody who can surf the Internet can find "Peter Joseph" easily, but who the hell has ever heard of P.J. Merola? In fact I didn't even know that was "Peter Joseph's" real name until his true identity was exposed on this blog written by a former Zeitgeister who is now sharply critical of the movement that he considers a cult. When this blog came out the Zeitgeisters apparently did some quick damage control, hastily producing another Internet film--an extended interview with Merola--in which he deals with the name change business dismissively for about 10 seconds or so. Granted, I have published novels--fiction novels--under a pseudonym, Michael De Los Muertos, but I have never maintained publicly that that's my name; the whole thing was a satire on the black metal practice of creating scary-sounding pseudonyms. (Most of my books are published under my own name, Sean Munger). I have also never claimed to be the leader of a self-proclaimed Very Important Social Movement that seeks to revolutionize humanity. So why the desire for anonymity?
What is Merola's position in the Zeitgeist Movement, anyway? Is he their leader? Their high priest? Their guru? Despite his claims that "I am not the movement," Mr. Eccles certainly seems to think he is, remarking (again on the Conspiracyscience forum):
"[H]e's really serving as more of a director than a leader at this stage."
Leader, director, chairman...just a matter of semantics, no?
When approached about the factual errors and flat-out lies in Zeitgeist, Merola brushes them off. He has never once to anyone's knowledge acknowledged or corrected a factual error. Mr. Eccles, to his credit, does not try to defend the lunacy of the conspiracy theories in Zeitgeist. That doesn't mean he's done, though. Eccles, who I suspect (but do not know for sure) is speaking with some measure of official voice with input from others high-up in the Zeitgeist Movement, suggests that ooky conspiracy stuff be dealt with in the following manner:
"I certainly advocate showing it [Zeitgeist I] to conspiracy theorists, because, if you show them ZI and then follow with ZII you have an opportunity to reorient then away from those views as far as possible. So despite the huge problem of the first film, it can be (and has been by me) used in that way to move people away from caring about that nonsense."
That nonsense. Yeah, all that stuff that the movement's leader, Peter Merola, built his entire persona on. To my view this is an admission that the Zeitgeist Movement uses baseless conspiracy theories as bait to reel in the gullible. What I suspect happens less often than Eccles suggests, however, is the attempt to "move people away" from the beliefs that brought them into the movement in the first place. If reorienting conspiracy theorists is such a problem, why not stop baiting them in the first place, denounce the conspiracy theory in Zeitgeist: The Movie and Zeitgeist: Addendum and make it perfectly clear that the Venus Project is not a conspiracy movement? Well, you can see Merola's response to someone who suggested this, quoted above. He pretends it's not important enough to matter, as if he has more pressing things to do with his time...such as making a new conspiracy film that he admits will deal with 9/11 again and hit it even harder than he did in Zeitgeist: Addendum.
Just for the sake of argument, let's take these people at their word that the Zeitgeist Movement isn't really about conspiracy theories. What are they actually doing to foster their grand schemes of world utopia and computers designing our future for us? This is where it gets a little vague. I read the FAQ on the Zeitgeisters' web page--supposedly authored by Jacque Fresco (http://web.archive.org/web/20110320002330/http:
//www.thezeitgeistmovement.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28&Itemid=66) and found it, in addition to being carelessly written to the point of cut-and-pasting the same material verbatim several times, long on abstractions and short on action. When pressed on how the Zeitgeist Movement is actually addressing particular specific problems in society, Eccles said this:
"With a systems approach to society. This is not something new from The Venus Project. Sciensits [sic], anthropologists talk about this again and again and again. And by continually asking 'how would they tackle specific problems' really makes me laugh."
Yeah, that whole idea-into-action thing is really humorous. Nothing to waste our time on there. Grand scheme to reinvent the planet and turn society upside down, but when you get down to brass tacks, the only thing they can really agree on is that posting on an Internet message board is a good thing. There is talk of raising money for a big-budget movie to promote the Venus Project but that's another species of "getting the word out."
So, let's sum up. We have a movement started by a conspiracy theorist, which really isn't about conspiracies; it's led by the same conspiracy theorist, who is reluctant to attach his real name to the movement he purports to lead, and he's not even a leader but a "director"; and when it comes to taking action other than posting on an Internet forum we're told that we have to take "a systems approach," whatever that means. If you don't know what "a systems approach" is, well, you better run out and join the Zeitgeist Movement...but just don't give people the impression that the Zeitgeist Movement is about conspiracy theories, because it's really about Jacque Fresco, or Peter Merola, or a systems approach, or computers ruling the world, or...damn, I'm getting a headache. If anyone can figure out what it is that these people actually do, please let me know.
Is anyone getting the impression that the Zeitgeist Movement, to the extent it's not about conspiracy theories (which it is), is mainly a vehicle for Peter Merola to achieve Internet fame and notoriety? And what of the poor long-suffering Jacque Fresco, who's been flogging the Venus Project whale since 1975, but who got nowhere until a 9/11 Truther made a movie and decided to include his philosophy in its tepid sequel--which, I might underscore again, was seen by 90% fewer people than the first film which didn't even mention the Venus Project?
I could go on all day about the disingenuousness of the Zeitgeist Movement, but I think I've made my point. They're a bunch of Truthers posting on an Internet message board, and that's pretty much all they'll be, despite their grand schemes of redesigning human society. In fact, the conspiracy theorizing is probably going to drag them down; I mean, who but the tinfoil hat crowd credits anything a Truther says? To the extent there are valid ideas within the Venus Project-and there more than likely are-they'll be pulled to the bottom of the dustbin of history by virtue of being chained to the cinder block of conspiracism. That's pretty unfortunate, but that's how it seems to be going.
I originally posted this blog, and got largely the push-back I expected-namely, a few Zeitgeisters shilling their movement, questioning my motives in posting this article, and uniformly asking the question that Zeitgeisters are instructed to ask to critics: "Well, how would you fix the problems of the world, then?" All but the most arrogant of us would shrug and say, "I don't know," which is then an entree to shill the Venus Project, the thinking being, "Well, if all you can do is tear us down and can't provide any ideas of your own, then why not try the Venus Project and the resource-based economy? It's a better solution than you can come up with." Scroll down and read the comments to this blog for an example of this tactic.
Since this blog was written, however, Peter Merola, the 9/11 Truther who is the de facto leader of the Zeitgeist Movement, has made some interesting statements regarding the goals of the movement and its relationship to conspiracy theories-exactly the topic this blog is about. One of the longtime posters at the Zeitgeist Movement's forum, a fellow known simply as Ed, has been a supporter of the non-conspiracy aspects of the Venus Project, but has also been extremely vocal about how the conspiracy aspects undermine the credibility of the Zeitgeist Movement and are ultimately counter-productive. Ed has criticized Zeitgeist: The Movie and pointed out its many factual errors, only to be attacked by other forum members, many of whom are 9/11 Truthers (as is Merola himself). Today Merola had enough and banned Ed. He posted this message in explanation:
"Ed- since you obviously have no interest in discussing ANYTHING but your disapproval of the 911 info in Z1, coupled with your neurotic obsession with making sure everyone who comes in contact with you endures your narrow declaration that Z1 is some huge blight for the movement(when, in fact, it is the core generator of interest- still- to this day for the movement), I have come to the conclusion that your interest in the movement is more undermining than anything else. You are not really interested in what we are doing. You are interested in being right in regard to your assumption that you know everything about 911 and that is that- awaiting any debate you can latch onto."
These are Peter Merola's exact words-you can see the exchange here, if it hasn't been wiped clean from the forums (if it has, go http://img717.imageshack.us/img717/3554/zgmban.png"
>here for a screenshot). The key words here are, and I will bold them for emphasis, "[Y]our neurotic obsession with...your narrow declaration that Z1 [Zeitgeist I, the film that most explicitly shills the conspiracy garbage] is some huge blight for the movement (when, in fact, it is the core generator of interest-still-to this day for the movement..."
Yes, "the core generator of interest." Merola admits that his conspiracy movie is what brings people into the movement, and is the most important thing that brings people into the movement. This is exactly what I'm arguing in this blog, and it has been confirmed by Peter Merola's own words. Therefore, no one can accuse me of misinterpreting his motives or of putting words in his mouth. He has confirmed exactly what this blog says.
The tenacity with which he clings to the 9/11 and other conspiracy theories, and specifically his utter refusal to repudiate them despite overwhelming evidence that they are false,
can be interpreted in only one of two possible ways:
1. Mr. Merola believes that the theories are actually, factually true, in which case he is extremely misinformed, a poor scholar, a failure as a documentary filmmaker and/or largely disconnected from logic and reality, as most conspiracy theorists tend to be; or
2. Mr. Merola does not care whether his films are factually true or not, so long as they drive interest in his movement and generate membership to show up at meetings and post on his site.
Either way, there's a serious problem here, which can only lead a rational person to be extremely skeptical of the motives and efficacy of the Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus Project.
It's been almost a year since I posted this blog but it's still worth updating.
First, as many people are aware, the tragic shooting last month of Rep. Giffords and numerous others in Arizona by crazed madman Jared Lee Loughner brought some unwanted press attention on the Zeitgeist Movement. As it turns out, Loughner was heavily influenced by conspiracy-oriented programs-most notably Zeitgeist and Loose Change. In fact his former best friend stated that Loughner was virtually "obsessed" with Zeitgeist. Bizarrely, Zeitgeist Movement leader Peter Joseph Merola issued a statement threatening legal action against ABC News for reporting the Zeitgeist connection to Loughner.
This happened at the worst possible time for the Zeitgeist Movement, who have been trying to drum up support for their organization with-you guessed it-a new film, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward. It's a 2-hour, 41-minute commercial for the utopian ideology pushed by this movement, and in that sense isn't really anything new. Its release doesn't seem to have generated a lot of mainstream press interest (not surprising), so the Loughner connection will, unfortunately, probably remain Zeitgeist's claim to fame in the eyes of the mainstream media.
Brenton Eccles, mentioned prominently in the original blog and the updates, has gone back to the Zeitgeist Movement. After giving statements to the press that were highly negative of the Zeitgeist Movement, he quite suddenly recanted his past statements and tried to withdraw what he'd said to the press. Evidently he is now of the opinion that the Zeitgeist Movement is a worthwhile organization, and that the problems he had with them were his own fault.
Eccles is quoted in this article which characterizes the Zeitgeist Movement as an "Internet-based apocalyptic cult." His sudden change of heart is also referred to:
"At times, it even seems like the world's first Internet-based cult, with members who parrot the party line with cheerful, rote fidelity. In a phone conversation, Brenton Eccles, a former member from Melbourne, described how his involvement cut him off from reality. "It's very, very, very isolating," says Eccles, who was part of the communications team in the movement's Australia branch. "You're encouraged to kind of exit the real world. There's kind of this us-and-them attitude." A few days later, he sent me a document recanting most of his charges and claiming that his conflicts with the organization had in fact been his fault. This did not make it seem less cult-like."
The reasons for Brenton's abrupt about-face are unknown. It does indeed seem very bizarre.
In the last few months I've become a particular target of the Zeitgeist Movement. My name, for instance, appears on an "enemies list" compiled by the Movement's self-described official spokesperson; I've had blog posts and YouTube videos devoted to tearing down my arguments; and, most ominously, Merola himself recently mistook someone on YouTube for me and threatened that he was keeping a "file" on him (meaning me). The aggressive and reflexive push-back from Zeitgeisters has intensified in the last six months, and I'm by no means special.
Until recently I have resisted calling the Zeitgeist Movement a "cult," although I have said that I think it comes close. I'm now rethinking this position. Given the lengths they'll go to in order to silence their critics, the lockstep "rally around the cause" behavior of its adherents particularly with regard to criticism of their leader, and the creepy about-face by Brenton Eccles, I believe this organization has crossed the line into true cult territory. (There are cults that do not have the worship of a deity as their main tenet-many people, for instance, consider Amway/Quixtar to be a cult, and that's a business). I may write a future blog about this aspect, although it may take me a while to get around to it.