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The Truth About 9/11 Truth...And Debunking.

Author: Clock
Date: Jul 24, 2013 at 18:33

Once in a while you read something that puts a complicated subject into such clear and perfect perspective that it instantly becomes, by virtue of its cogency, virtually the last word on the subject. I had that experience recently with a paper by Ryan Mackey, a former debunker from the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) forums, on the subject of 9/11 conspiracy theories. I'm devoting a blog post specifically to bring this article to the attention of my readers because I believe it's that important and it deserves to be highlighted.

Mackey has written a paper called The Great Internet Conspiracy: The Role of Technology and Social Media in the 9/11 Truth Movement. Currently the paper is available as a .PDF file here.It's 83 pages long, including footnotes and sources. This paper should be required reading, both for the misguided souls out there who are still unfortunate enough to believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories, but also--and even more importantly--for those of us who have devoted considerable time and effort to refuting and debunking these theories. Mackey's paper shines a very interesting light on us, our motivations, and our actions, and it does so in a way I have not seen before.

Why Did 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Take Off?

Mackey's main point in the paper is to analyze how and why 9/11 conspiracy theories rose and eventually fell in the public consciousness. His main thesis is that the short-lived popularity of conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks was largely due to a "perfect storm" of converging factors, chief among them the changing role of the Internet in peoples' social lives and identities.

Some of the main related points that Mackey makes are:

He argues that "9/11 Truth" peaked in 2006 and has been on a steady decline since then. He backs this up with observations on how popular Truther activism has been since 2006 (not much), how many people are still out there talking about 9/11 conspiracy theories (not many), and what the general public's view of "Truthers" is today (most people think they're nuts, or simply ignore them).
He argues that the brief surge in popularity of "9/11 Truth" is not an effect of the content of the conspiracy theory. He gets there by analyzing 9/11 conspiracy theories in the context of other conspiracy theories that have been popular over the past 30 years, such as the "Apollo moon hoax" or Columbine school massacre conspiracies.
He argues that what made "9/11 Truth" seem to have more importance than it did was the activist nature of some of its purveyors--such as Richard Gage, whose tactics of taking the conspiracy theory to the public differ greatly from previous pre-9/11 conspiracy theorists who are mostly content with talking about conspiracy theories in small insular groups that don't reach out to others.
This is a key point. Mackey says:

So that is it in a nutshell - there we have the secret ingredient that distinguished the 9/11 conspiracy theories from others. It had somehow mutated from the traditional, imaginative, individual realm of personal fantasy into an aggressive strain of misguided activism. In so doing it had insulted the public and made itself look far more fearsome than it actually was. My Internet-based metric of "popularity" was detecting something different than I had expected. I was not measuring an increase in the number of conspiracy theorists or in their coherent mobilization behind a single cause. Instead, I was only finding the volume and rancor of the arguments between a few noisy Truthers and everyone else.

The reason for this misguided activism? Social media, says Mackey. The heyday of "9/11 Truth" was also the heyday of MySpace, the first real social networking site to take off. It was also the time when YouTube burst into the public consciousness. I've written before about how and why YouTube is uniquely attractive to conspiracy theorists.
The convergence of these factors, says Mackey, meant it was suddenly easy for misguided Truthers, most of whom are too lazy to go out and do any activism in the real world, to pretend to be activists by forwarding links to YouTube videos supportive of the conspiracy theory. This, combined with the ferocity of how Truthers argue with people who don't support their theories, made it look as if legions of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists were having a real impact on public consciousness--when in fact their decline had already begun.

Is The Truth Movement Dead? Yes.

The refreshing thing about Mackey's paper--and one that comes as welcome news to me, as it should to other debunkers--is its confirmation of what I think most of us have suspected for quite a while now: the 9/11 Truth movement is dead. By that I mean, it is not totally extinct, as you can see from a few hard-core dead-enders out there still preaching the faith, but it's basically "as dead as it's going to get." Mackey has this to say:

With its best days behind it, the Truth Movement is once again just another ordinary conspiracy theory. But there is no reason to assume it will totally disappear. Of the thirty popular conspiracy theories we examined earlier, almost all can still gather attention and spawn debate today, usually in strange corners of the internet such as the David Icke Forum or Above Top Secret. On rare occasions, they may even be seen in real life. I'm betting, however, you won't catch even a glimpse of the Truth Movement.

This is entirely consistent with my own observations. The websites that trafficked in 9/11 Truth in 2005/06 are now either gone or just about dead. Loose Change, which Mackey credits with being a huge boon to the Truth movement, is discredited now--including by its own creator Dylan Avery, who has disavowed most of it. Mark Roberts, the "Obi-Wan Kenobi of debunkers" who ran the single best website to debunk 9/11 conspiracy theories on the entire Internet, hasn't updated the site in almost three years. The ten-year anniversary of 9/11 saw virtually no organized activity by Truthers. Indeed, there is little reason to think that 9/11 Truth is going anywhere but into the dustbin of history.

Mackey is also right that it won't ever totally disappear. My latest, and possibly, last debunking effort is against a new Internet conspiracy theory film called Thrive, which mentions (in passing) 9/11 conspiracy theories. I still occasionally get angry responses from Truthers on Twitter who don't like when I say something that supports the "official story." But the chances of 9/11 Truth having a major resurgence are virtually nil. It's just not going to happen.

That is, frankly, a relief.

Is Debunking Worthwhile? Yes, and no.

Some of the most startling issues in Mackey's paper, at least to me, regard his views of debunkers--of which he admits he was (and possibly still is) one. Early in the paper he tackles the very thorny question about whether systematic opposition to 9/11 conspiracy theories--arguing with Truthers on the Internet, basically--has any real point. After concluding that a small portion of his time spent since 2005 pushing back against 9/11 conspiracy theories was worthwhile, Mackey says:

"The majority however was clearly wasted, or more accurately of no value beyond simple entertainment. Like many others, I would often self-justify my involvement with the notion that other readers, those with a less technical background who might be swayed by the Truth Movement, would read my comments and learn from them. Over the years I have received messages and e-mails from a few people who were convinced by my efforts, but only a very few - around ten. Many more (in the hundreds) were those who wrote simply because they too were irritated by Truthers, or engaged in their own arguments against Truthers, and found my contributions useful or amusing. And, of course, there were the Truthers themselves, numbering about forty, who wished only to argue with me on a private channel in addition to the public debate. Some even wrote just to issue vague threats about what would happen to "traitors" and "collaborators" once they achieved their Utopia. There were also a few who were so incoherent that I wondered how they'd managed to operate a computer in the first place. But that's all - a very small group indeed."

This also mirrors my own experience exactly. I do occasionally receive messages of thanks from former conspiracy theorists who have read my stuff and taken from it some useful information with which to change their worldview--such as the fellow who recently thanked me for helping him get out of the pro-conspiracist Zeitgeist Movement. But Mackey's observations about how few these really are, and especially about self-justifying, also ring true.

This may be something that debunkers don't really want to hear. I mean, we spend a lot of time pushing back against these idiotic theories, demonstrating why they're wrong and explaining why people shouldn't believe in them. It's sobering to have someone tell us that most of this time is wasted. But Mackey may have a point. Whether you agree with him or not, you have to admit it's worth serious consideration.

Who Are Debunkers? Why Do We Do What We Do?

Even more startling than Mackey's views on the usefulness of debunking, however, is his description of who debunkers are and why we do what we do. This may also be unpopular in the skeptic crowd, but it's worth taking a look at what he has to say:

"[T]he "debunkers" opposing the Truth Movement do not merely correct misinformation invented by Truthers, but go further, opposing the mindset and social mechanisms that gave the Truth Movement a place to form. The modern debunkers view the Truth Movement as a defective world view that somehow escaped summary judgment and gained acceptance on the Internet, defying the "system" of the Marketplace of Ideas and thereby requiring a systematic response. Unfortunately, a permanent solution is not actually achievable. There is no way to stamp out all Truthers, particularly not while preserving the spirit of open exchange the Internet supposedly represents.

As a result of this frustration, many debunkers have noticed a reactionary, obsessive behavior appearing in their ranks, one that occasionally manifests with fervor reminiscent of anti-Communism. And strangely, these incidents seem to be increasing, even though the Truth Movement is in full retreat. I uncovered signs of this myself in a small 2009 opinion poll on the JREF Forum, where a plurality of respondents indicated not just willingness, but actual desire, to continue arguing with Truthers to the bitter end."

Again, my own experience has confirmed absolutely what Mackey has said. I recognize this behavior even in myself. There is no question that I believe conspiracy theorists in general, and 9/11 Truthers in particular, have a defective worldview that should be stamped out if at all possible. If deconstructing this worldview is not possible--as I concede it is not--the next best thing is to relegate conspiracy theorists to a permanent status of marginalization, a lunatic fringe with such immediate negative associations that it can never, and will never, achieve any sort of mainstream acceptance. I've certainly directed a lot of effort toward this end, and I believe my efforts have been successful, at least to the limited extent that success is realistically possible in this realm.

In his (and our) defense, Mackey goes on to say:

But while this kind of determined retaliation is counter-productive, it is understandable. After all, if the free market of ideas seems to be failing, many will rush to shore it up. A Utopian Internet that only educates, never misleads, is certainly a worthy goal. It just isn't realistic.

This is also probably true. My own personal motivations for debunking do not stem from a "Utopian" vision of the Internet--I have always accepted, and still do, that the vast majority of the Internet is polluted with worthless crap, and in such an environment toxic mindsets such as conspiracy theories will undoubtedly flourish. I don't take a very philosophical approach to the Internet in general. However, one of my main motivations in debunking is to make sure that there is at least some factually accurate and logically supportable information out there next to the crap--to make sure that someone who Googles "Thrive movie" or "Zeitgeist Movement" at least gets some genuine information instead of propaganda spun to support a conspiracy theorist viewpoint. So, to this extent, I agree with Mackey's observation again.

One thing that should be made clear-and one thing that is in danger of being misinterpreted by conspiracy theorists-is the idea that agreement with Mackey's points regarding the pathology of debunkers implies that any arguments made by debunkers in that context are in any way invalid. Every criticism I have ever made about conspiracy theories, conspiracy movements or cults, or the conspiracy theory worldview is 100% correct so far as I know it, and one of the major tenets of skepticism is to approach things of this nature with facts that can be verified and reasoning that is logically sound. People's reasons for debunking may vary. Whatever they are, it does not affect the content of the arguments they have presented. This is what separates debunkers from conspiracy theorists. Debunkers employ true arguments and cogent reasoning to destroy conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theorists will not shirk at deploying demonstrably false arguments to support their views, because in their minds the end justifies the means. This point must be clearly understood in order for this evaluation of Mackey's thesis to make sense, but it's a point I suspect will be completely lost on conspiracy nuts.

Do We Have To Worry About Conspiracy Theories?

In the final sections of Mackey's paper, he makes a very interesting argument. He claims that in today's rapid-fire Internet environment, dominated by instant social media like Twitter, the rise and fall of a conspiracy theory which in 2005/06 might have taken years can instead now take weeks, days, or even hours. He gives two interesting examples: the Obama birth certificate conspiracy theory, and the supposition, promoted primarily by Truthers, that Osama bin Laden was not killed by U.S. forces on May 1, 2011.

About the first, Mackey says:

The Birther conspiracy theory...made the jump into the mainstream very quickly. Unlike the Truth Movement, it seems to have begun its runaway growth phase in only a matter of months, steeply increasing in popularity from mid-2009 through April 2011. It peaked with something like 30% of Americans believing the conspiracy theory (there is a lot of scatter in the polls), but then rapidly slipped to a stable support level of about 10%. Overall, this trajectory is comparable to the Truth Movement's popularity, except for the greatly accelerated leap into public view.

This behavior is consistent with our theory of Internet-fueled growth: Unlike the Truth Movement, the Birther conspiracy already had activists and an argumentative public, courtesy of an unusually contentious period in politics, and already had social media to spread its message. However, the type of information being discussed was much less engaging - one might spend hours poring over a .GIF image of an old birth certificate...but there just wasn't anything as shocking as 9/11 to be found this time. It thus comes as no surprise that it would enter the mainstream more quickly, attract a significant number of low-commitment supporters as before, and then dissipate once the conspiracists had exhausted their argument."

About the Osama bin Laden conspiracy theory--the "Deathers"-he says this:

We see a similar pattern in the Deather conspiracy theory, except here the timeline is compressed even further. This conspiracy theory exploded into the mainstream at the same speed as the news story it challenged, reaching the media almost instantly. One amusing note comes from David Wiegel of Slate, who referred to "Osama bin Trutherism" in an opinion piece on the very day bin Laden's death was announced. A few polls showed a sudden spike of believers, as high as 20% to 30% in various hastily-conducted media surveys, but after only a week it was clear that the conspiracy theory was already in decline. As Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling described it on 10 May 2011, only half-joking, "we've got more voters who think the President is the Anti-Christ than think Osama bin Laden is still alive.

From the standpoint of debunkers, I was on the front lines during the rise and fall of the "Deather" theory. Mackey points out that this theory was spread primarily by Twitter. I am a very heavy Twitter user. On the morning after bin Laden's death was announced, I was already responding to angry @ replies by conspiracy theorists--many of them undoubtedly Truthers--who had begun to argue that bin Laden wasn't really dead, or that the circumstances of his death were very different than reported, etc. Within 12 hours of the announcement of bin Laden's death, I was already armed with links to news stories and other sources that indicated the true circumstances behind bin Laden's death and especially his hasty burial at sea, and I was deploying them against the "Deathers" who used the same sort of spurious arguments that Truthers used to try to show that 9/11 was an inside job. However, I remember being surprised that "Deatherism" died out (no pun intended) within a week. Now it is extremely rare for me to be directly confronted with a bin Laden death conspiracy theory, on Twitter or anywhere else. This conspiracy theory is also dead.

Is there hope in these examples? Mackey seems to think so. The Internet now moves much faster than it did in 2005/06, and even much faster than in early 2009 when Orly Taitz was out there pushing her Birther garbage. Now, Mackey argues, it is possible to witness the entire life-cycle of a major conspiracy theory in a matter of days. His observations about how conspiracy theories peak among people with "low commitment" to them, and then fade to about a 10% support rate, is extremely interesting. 9/11 Truth is now at about this level, and most of us (debunkers) think 9/11 Truth is the biggest and baddest conspiracy theory on the block. If Birtherism and Deatherism can rise, peak and fade so quickly, do we need to be concerned about future conspiracy theories?

Are we ever going to get another conspiracy theory like 9/11? A theory that is prominent enough to create social movements and cults, like the Zeitgeist Movement? Hopefully an event like 9/11 will never happen again, but even if it does, there is some suggestion in Mackey's analysis that perhaps the conspiracy theories that would inevitably result from it might have much less public saturation and staying power than 9/11 theories. We can only hope.


9/11 conspiracy theories are utterly untrue. They are asinine, insulting, brain-corroding garbage. That is beyond question. In analyzing why these ridiculous theories took hold--among conspiracy theorists and debunkers alike--Mackey has given us, I think, some very valuable insights not only into the pathology of conspiracy theories, but into the minds of those who believe them and those who push back against them.

I am certainly what Mackey would consider a "high commitment" debunker, meaning, I feel it is particularly important to push back against conspiracy theories. I am also quite possibly a product of my times. I came to the debunking community in 2005, just about the time 9/11 Truth theories were exploding, and my first real forum of debunking was on MySpace, the first serious social networking website. MySpace, of course, is dead. No one goes there anymore. 9/11 Truth is virtually dead; almost no one believes it anymore. We now live in an age of Twitter, Google Plus and communications that move at a speed impossible to believe even in 2005. Perhaps, lurking behind Mackey's fascinating analysis, is an argument that exactly the thing that propagates conspiracy theories in the modern world--the Internet--can also serve as a limitation on their reach. I sincerely hope that is true.

Thanks for reading.

Deconstructing Desteni: A Critic Serves Me Word Salad.

Author: Clock
Date: Jul 01, 2013 at 10:22

This is a post from Clock's Muertos Blog on Skeptic Project. If you have any questions, check out the Disclaimer

By Muertos

As I mentioned in the update to my first blog about the conspiracy theory cult known as Desteni, I've recently attracted the negative attention of self-appointed Desteni spokesperson Darryl Thomas. On May 13, Darryl started a topic on the Desteni forums entitled "Deconstructing MUERTOS Every Day Project," where he refutes my first Desteni blog paragraph by paragraph. He also started a WordPress blog with this same title where he copies-and-pastes the same text as in the topic on the Desteni forums.

Darryl writes a great many words, but it's somewhat difficult to follow his main arguments because they aren't very concise. Mostly he throws a lot of colorful pejoratives my way--vapid, insipid, tiresome, trifling, sloppy, etc.--but his main points are lost in the word salad. To the extent I can discern a few main themes, Darryl appears to be asserting the following:

Desteni is not a cult.
My comparison of Desteni to Zeitgeist is unfair because Desteni opposes Zeitgeist too.
I have not investigated Desteni extensively and don't know what I'm talking about.
Desteni does not subscribe to conspiracy theories such as David Icke's reptilians.
I am a conspiracy theorist.
Desteni does not advocate "channeling," but rather an "Interdimensional Portal."
The Desteni I Process is not a multi-level-marketing pyramid scam.
Adolf Hitler wasn't such a bad guy.

If these arguments were coherently expressed, there might be grounds here for legitimate debate. Unfortunately, Darryl merely asserts these arguments as conclusions but doesn't do much to flesh them out. For example, in denying that Desteni is a cult, Darryl tries to set up the argument by citing the Oxford Dictionary definition of a cult, which has four main points, but then goes off on a tangent about Zeitgeist and never gets around to explaining why Desteni doesn't fit the definition. Similarly, when he claims I'm a conspiracy theorist, he just posits the accusation and moves on. (Incidentally, conspiracy theorists, who generally hate being called conspiracy theorists, will do anything to try to twist the definition of "conspiracy theorist" to fit whoever is criticizing them. For more on this issue, see this article and scroll down to point number 8).

A key point of Darryl's responses seem to revolve around making distinctions between things I argue about Desteni and what he claims Desteni really is. The problem is that he never makes the distinctions clear. For example, Darryl says I'm wrong to claim that Desteni believes in conspiracy theories involving reptilian overlords similar to those advanced by David Icke, but he doesn't establish why there's any meaningful difference between David Icke's imaginary reptilians and the imaginary reptilians that Desteni believes in. With regard to the "Interdimensional Portal," Darryl doesn't make clear what the difference is between this and "channeling"--the difference, if there is one at all, is totally semantic.

In short, there's very little of any substance in Darryl's responses. If I may go so far as to suggest a way to improve his supposed daily refutations of me, I would advise Darryl to start by making cogent, well-constructed arguments and sticking to the point. For example, if he wishes to argue that Desteni is not a cult, he should proceed point-by-point through a definition of what a cult is and demonstrate why Desteni does not meet those points. Incidentally, while there are many definitions of cults, I like the definition used by Operation Clambake which has five main points:

1. It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members.

2. It forms an elitist totalitarian society.

3. Its founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma.

4. It believes "the end justifies the means" in order to solicit funds and recruit people.

5. Its wealth does not benefit its members or society.

If Darryl wishes to argue that Desteni does not meet these five points, let him do so; or, conversely, if he wishes to challenge me to argue that these points do fit Desteni, that is an entirely reasonable basis for a rational debate. What he's posted, however, falls far short of this standard.

Incidentally, I don't believe Darryl is really that interested in "deconstructing" me "daily." Not only has the "Deconstructing MUERTOS Daily" blog not been updated in five days, but he's already moved on to "deconstructing" another Desteni critic in much the same rambling and incoherent manner. Darryl's response is the classic conspiracy theorist form of pseudo-argumentation: meaningless generalizations, conclusory statements not backed up with argument, and lack of any logical coherent structure. While he probably will respond to this blog, I doubt that his response will be much different than what he's already said.

Thanks for reading.

Desteni's Enemies List: An Inherent Contradiction.

Author: Clock
Date: Jul 01, 2013 at 10:07

By Muertos
(not by Clock)

So far I've posted two blogs about the strange South Africa-based conspiracy cult known as Desteni. After only two blogs, audio versions of which I posted on YouTube, I found my YouTube account listed in a topic on the Desteni forums entitled "Suggested Ban". The purpose of this list is obvious: these are users who the Desteni cult wants banned from YouTube for criticizing them. Plain and simple, it's an enemies list.

Desteni also has a Facebook enemies list. I'm not on it yet, but I expect I will be soon enough.

I was introduced to the phenomenon of conspiracy cults' enemies lists last fall, when my name suddenly appeared on a similar list maintained by the Zeitgeist Movement. (It's here). That list was largely the brainchild of former Zeitgeist spokesperson Neil Kiernan Stephenson, "VTV." VTV and other Zeitgeist boosters consistently denied that it was an enemies list--according to them the reason for the list was to warn Zeitgeist members about people who would try to friend them on Facebook and steal their personal information. Not only did I never do this, but I've never once attempted to "friend" a Zeitgeister on Facebook at any time. My only crime against the Zeitgeist Movement was speaking out against them, pushing back against their conspiracy theories, their ideology and their reflexive attacks against anyone who criticizes them.

I've wound up on Desteni's enemies list for doing far less than that. My residence on the Zeitgeist enemies list came almost eight months after I posted my first blog highlighting the primacy of conspiracy theory ideology to the Zeitgeist Movement. By contrast I've been publicly critical of Desteni for barely two weeks. Yet, not only is my YouTube channel listed on Desteni's roster of users they want to try to ban, but I am the specific subject of a topic on the Desteni forums where prominent spokesperson Darryl Thomas has announced that he intends to refute one paragraph of my anti-Desteni blogs each day.( The charge the Destenians level against me, predictably, is "hate speech." I challenge anyone to find a single example of "hate speech" as that term is defined by any jurisdiction where "hate speech" is prohibited by law. It's very clear that Desteni is totally and deliberately misunderstanding the concept of "hate speech" by construing it as encompassing any statement about their group that they don't agree with.

At least I have good company. Desteni's enemies list is literally hundreds of entries long and growing by the dozens every time it's updated. As I stated in my first blog about them, they are extremely aggressive in trying to silence their critics. Unlike Zeitgeist, who cloaks their enemies list in paragraph after paragraph of bold-faced disclaimers about why it's supposedly not an enemies list, Desteni makes no such attempts. They're very forthright about going after their critics, going so far as to have a stickied topic on their forum with instructions to cult members about how to get people banned from YouTube.

There are two points I want to make about enemies lists. The first is that the very existence of these lists is wholly incompatible with the notion of friendly movements based on social justice that preach prescriptions for a better and more harmonious world--which both Zeitgeist and Desteni profess to do. Destenians supposedly value doing "what's best for all" and insist that their program will help the entire earth enjoy newfound respect and the maximization of human potential. The very notion that a group with those professed goals would keep--much less make public--a list of enemies to be retaliated against for their viewpoints is totally inconsistent with the reasons these organizations say they exist. Simply put, any group preaching peace, love and a better world that also has an enemies list should be automatically suspect.

The second point is that enemies lists seem to be yet another hallmark of cults who seek to control what is said about them, and more importantly, what their own members hear. The paradigm example of a cult's enemies list is Scientology's practice of labeling detractors as "Suppressive Persons" or SP's. Most SP's are family members of current Scientology members who don't support the group and are likely to encourage their loved ones to leave--hence Scientology's doctrine of "Disconnection," where a cult member is ordered to sever all ties to the SP. Naturally this practice is believed to inure to the benefit of the cult member, who will no longer receive negative feedback from the critic.

Exactly the same dynamic is at work in both Zeitgeist and Desteni. Zeitgeist's enemies list is specifically promoted as being for the "protection" of cult members, with the transparent fiction of preventing evil trolls--the word Zeitgeist uses to refer to critics--from stealing members' personal information. Much of Desteni's advice to followers similarly seeks to minimize criticism--Destenians call it "backchat" and urge their followers not to pay attention to it, despite the obvious hypocrisy that they pay a great deal of attention to it. Desteni, however, also seems interested in lashing out at those non-members who criticize them. A common tactic is to pretend they're "protecting copyrighted material," which is why unfounded DMCA claims are a favorite tool of the Destenians to target materials, especially videos, that they don't like.

Two weeks ago, I venture to say no one in Desteni had ever heard of me. The fact that I have been targeted so swiftly and vehemently is itself, I believe, a piece of evidence that tends to indicate the controlling and authoritarian nature of this group. I'm taking precautions to make sure my blogs and videos will be mirrored and continue to be available, in the event that Desteni pursues their threats to ban me. Should they decide to make an attempt to silence me, rest assured that that attempt will fail. In the meantime, it's worth thinking about why a group that claims to be for the benefit of mankind goes on the attack so quickly and with such gusto. I propose that Desteni's attack is inherent in the nature of its organization and ideology. This is a group that cannot permit dissent, and which profits from the effort to push back against dissenters. It's easier to maintain cohesion within the group, after all, if its members can be united in the struggle against a common enemy.

Thanks for reading.

The Desteni Cult and Conspiracy Theories: Pandering to the Paranoid.

Author: Clock
Date: Jul 01, 2013 at 10:00

Written By Muertos
(Not by clock)

In this blog, I continue my investigation of the South Africa-based Internet cult known as Desteni. Specifically, in this blog I'll examine the degree to which Desteni espouses conspiracy theory ideology and uses conspiracy theories as a tool to recruit new members. In my analysis I'll examine six specific conspiracy theories as they relate to Desteni: reptilians; the "New World Order"; 9/11 Truth; HAARP; global warming denial; and anti-vaccination.

1. Reptilians ("Icketilians")

The conspiracy theory that seems to unite the majority of Desteni cult members is belief in reptilians. I spoke about this in my last blog. The basic idea is that a race of reptilian extraterrestrials secretly controls the world and has guided most of human history. I refer to these creatures as "Icketilians" because this theory was popularized by notorious British conspiracist David Icke in the 1990s, who created the theory as a science-fiction redress of the old "Jewish world conspiracy" theories from the early 20th century, with reptilian aliens standing in for Jews. These are also called "interdimensional reptoids" because supposedly they come from another dimension. Despite the fact that the entire idea is offensive and ludicrous, and there's never been a shred of evidence that these creatures actually exist, Desteni heavily promotes belief in reptilians. Here is Desteni leader Bernard Poolman ranting about "reptilian sleeper cells":

"They have placed sleepers into play to challenge any group that may in any way challenge the reptilian control and the control of the New World Order and the elite. And they will then claim to be anti-New World Order, anti-elite and anti-Zionist and all those things, but in fact they are just organic robots that act within their predesigned objective to stop any group from bringing about equality and what is best for all because that would break the control of the reptilian mind control."

Although we have here direct evidence of the cult's leader warning his followers about evil reptilians trying to control peoples' minds, Desteni does not endorse the work of David Icke wholesale. Here is Desteni spokesperson Sunette Spies espousing the cult's views on Icketilians:

"I initially studied David Icke's work, and was not satisfied with his presentation of [reptilians]. There was simply no proof. I mean, he suddenly made a big jump of assumption about Reptilians. And they were all bad....So whether the Reptilians are all bad or good, or whether they are aliens or whatever they are, I'm really not interested."

If you're familiar with the Icketilians theory, you know that one of the favorite things that believers in this conspiracy theory like to do is to watch videos on YouTube of celebrities and politicians--who are all secretly reptilians merely pretending to be human--and seize upon things such as eye movements, bulging veins or flaws in the low-quality videos as supposed "proof" that the person being observed is actually an alien. Here is an example, taken from the Desteni forums, of a conspiracy theorist doing exactly that (the embedded links are the "proof" videos the conspiracy theorist is referring to:

"These are some videos that make me think they [reptilians] exist... I cannot get past this ( neck at 2:55, 4:00... his very quick eye movement. ( throughout... :35 is a strange area... ( woman... just the first minute of the video (">"

The response by a more seasoned Desteni member:

"It's cool that you found Desteni through your interest in reptilians, but realize that this site is not about 'theory' on the reptilians but about a solution to this reality that is best for all. Within that the reptilians have shared perspectives through the portal which I suggest you check out if you havent already. You can search for them on youtube."

The "portal" being referred to is an "interdimensional portal." This is the portal through which Desteni members such as Sunette Spies claim to channel the spirits of various people and objects, including Hitler. This idea--minus the channeling--is borrowed from David Icke. In any event, it should be obvious from these examples that belief in reptilians is a key tenet of the Desteni cult, and that new members are attracted to the organization precisely because of this conspiracy theory.

Also notice another dynamic which is universal to cults that promote conspiracy theories: the cult itself is presented as the "cure" for the evils complained of by the conspiracy theorists--in this case, Desteni's way of life is explicitly advanced as the "solution" to the reptilians. I'll return to this point later.

2. Illuminati & "New World Order"

Closely related to the Icketilians is belief in the "Illuminati" and/or the "New World Order." In terms of sheer numbers who believe in it, this may be the most popular conspiracy theory in the English-speaking world (and a fair amount of the non-English speaking world as well). The theory has almost as many variations as it has adherents, but the basic gist is that a secret cabal called the "Illuminati" is planning to enslave the planet under a totalitarian one-world government. Naturally this hasn't happened yet, but conspiracy theorists insist that every action taken by almost any government or large corporation anywhere is a piece of the puzzle, and this grim totalitarian future, the "New World Order," must be resisted by all means necessary. Huckster Alex Jones, the most popular mouthpiece of conspiracy theories currently in the United States, has made his career pushing this ridiculous theory despite the absence of a single shred of evidence that the Illuminati or the New World Order actually exist.

Needless to say, Destenians believe in this too. Once again we have pronouncements from the leader, Poolman, clearly stating that the New World Order exists. Here he is warning his followers that marijuana is a tool of the New World Order. And yes, as with reptilians, the Desteni cult is viewed as the cure--Poolman explicitly says that his "Equal Money" system will end the Illuminati and forestall the New World Order.

Desteni followers internalize belief in this theory. Here is one follower expressing his fear of the Illuminati and their control:

"are we doomed to fall under this illuminati mind control or will we rise up and defend truth. Afterall is done, life will continue. Am i to remain obscure and declare freedom for myself?
Is part of the illuminati control to instill a feeling of undoubtable fear, and ultimate ruin unless one belongs to it[?]"

A more experienced member replies:

"There is nowhere to run to, Peter. The control is everywhere. The only thing you can do is to start working on yourself so you won't be effected by it and by others. That's why we offer the Structural Reesonance Alignment as a working tool to align self to be effective in this world."

So far as I can tell, belief in some form of the Illuminati and the New World Order is universal within this cult. If anyone can provide me with example of a Destenian who does not believe in this conspiracy theory, please let me know.

3. 9/11 Truth

Surprisingly, although conspiracy theories alleging that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were some sort of "inside job" is the sina qua non of modern conspiracy thinking, Desteni doesn't seem to hit "9/11 Truth" as hard as you might expect. They don't seem to talk about it that much. Perhaps their belief that September 11 was an "inside job" is so axiomatic as to be accepted without discussion--which is rather alarming. Nevertheless, I did find evidence that Destenians are 9/11 Truthers. Bernard Poolman seems to be. In a forum post, Poolman recommends to his followers a book called Shell Game by Steve Alten. Shell Game is a novel that uses the 9/11 conspiracy theory as its starting premise. One wonders why Poolman would advocate that his followers read this book if he didn't believe that 9/11 was an inside job.

Here is a quote from the Desteni forums which indicates followers believe in 9/11, and also illustrates how these conspiracy theories dovetail with each other in the minds of these paranoid people:

"After the demolition of the twin tower and the new project for the building there i came back to the excellent parts of [D]avid [Ic]ke's research, because in this field I think he is on the right track."

It should go without saying that David Icke, in addition to believing in interdimensional reptoids, also believes that September 11 was an "inside job."


HAARP is a conspiracy theory whose believers think that a giant machine, built and controlled by the U.S. government, can manipulate weather patterns and cause earthquakes and natural disasters anywhere in the world at any time. HAARP takes its acronym from an actual U.S. government research project that--naturally--was not even close to what the conspiracy believers say it was, and didn't work anyway. This doesn't stop HAARP believers from pointing the finger at the U.S. government for every major natural disaster that occurs, such as this Destenian did after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti:

"Yes -- I have seen some of the facts, and the Haiti earthquake does look like Haarp had something to do with it -- but you must consider the fact that you/all contribute to the existence of Haarp technology in the first place. The world currently is f*cked! Ask yourself: how and where am I currently supporting such a catastrophic result like Haarp or the haitian earthquake?"

One wonders what "facts" this person saw, because none of them actually indicate that the Haitian earthquake was anything other than what it appeared to be. The notion that governments or secret societies can cause earthquakes is total science fiction, but the Destenians seem to believe it.

5. Global Warming Denial

Few conspiracy theorists believe that anthropogenic global warming is real, despite the undeniable scientific evidence that it is. Although global warming denial can take a non-conspiratorial form, the idea that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax or some sort of scam is very easily co-opted into various other conspiratorial mindsets. Destenians, as you might expect, love this conspiracy theory too. Here is Sunette Spies again--official dogma of the Desteni cult--directly asserting that global warming is a conspiracy:

"We have discovered that global warming is not caused due to natural causes, or even chemically induced causes such as pollution, but that global warming is actually a man-made manifestation in and of this world. There are devices that are being utilized of Tesla technology that manifest a magnifying glass formation in the atmosphere of this world over certain specific allocations in this world, which is causing the effect thereof as the ice melting."

The theories of Nikola Tesla are favorites of conspiracy theorists. Tesla technology is often asserted as the mechanism behind the magical machines that conspiracy theorists believe in, such as HAARP, or some of the more extreme 9/11 Truthers who believe the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by secret beam weapons.

Here is another Destenian parroting global warming denial conspiracy theories:

"I know that "CO2 related global warming" is a scam being used for many agendas, and relates to the carbon taxes being planned for humans. To get this information I had to research and connect dots and sort through the conspiracy... yet does this behavior contribute to the power of the conspiracy itself and does it engender other conspiracies to exist?"

Gee, what do you think this Destenian believes about whether global warming denial engenders other supposed conspiracies? Conspiracy theories are like potato chips. You can't eat just one. Usually you end up swallowing the whole bag.

6. Anti-Vaccination

The final example involves anti-vaccination rhetoric. Anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists--"anti-vaxxers," for short--believe that vaccines are a sham created by drug companies and governments, usually either to make money for drug companies, or, in more extreme versions, to deliberately cause diseases either to kill people or to render them easier to control. Anti-vaxxer rhetoric is extremely dangerous because it directly results in the deaths of innocent people, usually children. It's tragic and simple: parents fall for conspiracy theories about vaccines, then refuse to get their children vaccinated, and the children die of diseases that could be easily prevented. For example, a recent measles outbreak in Minneapolis has been tied to irrational fears about measles vaccines causing autism--a fear that is totally without scientific basis. The sad effects of anti-vaxx rhetoric are a prime examples of how conspiracy theories can hurt people.

It shouldn't surprise you that Destenians buy into anti-vaxx theories. In this brief quote you'll see not only evidence of anti-vaxx belief, but also New World Order and anti-Semitic "Jewish world conspiracy" theories:

"So.... the "elite" seem to be going through with population reduction and this is just the first step I am sure. I read an article dealing with the swine bullsh*t and it was said that this whole scheme originated out of new york city -- David Rockefeller was mentioned as orchestrator, and obviously the JEWS had to be in on it too (Orthodox, jewish elite, own/run NYC). The public schools are now going to hold mandatory vaccanations..... my sister 'fortunately', is aware of the propaganda and will not allow jabbing... my brother, on the other hand, is of sheeple-type, and willing-lie shall comp-lie.


The word "sheeple" is a conspiracy theorist buzzword, used to refer to those who do not believe in conspiracy theories and are supposedly duped by the powers-that-be. The anti-Semitic aspects of Desteni's belief systems, clearly on display here, will be the subject of a future blog.

Why Does Desteni Use Conspiracy Theories?

These examples amply demonstrate that Desteni uses conspiracy theories very heavily in order to recruit and retain its members. This is not the only technique that the cult employs, but it's clearly an important one; the virtually universal belief in conspiracy theories by Desteni members, from cult leader Bernard Poolman down to the rank-and-file who post on the forums, shows that conspiracy theories are one of the cornerstones of this organization's belief system.

The question is worth asking: why would a cult rely on conspiracy theories to recruit and retain followers? I believe there are three main reasons.

First, conspiracy theories are very attractive to Internet-savvy young people who are interested in non-mainstream ideas. Years ago it used to be that conspiracy theorists were fringe geeks who traded newsletters by mail in a very loose-knit underground. With the Internet, belief in conspiracy theories has absolutely exploded, and the prevalence in these themes of distrust of government, media and other mainstream social institutions is tailor-made for disaffected and disillusioned young people--the key demographic of many cults.

Second, conspiracy theories attract people who think a certain way. All of these theories are profoundly illogical. In order to believe in nuttery like 9/11 Truth, HAARP or Icketilians, you must necessarily disregard common sense and logical thinking, and accept uncritically pieces of "evidence" that look and sound authoritative but are factually and rationally incorrect. These processes that conspiracy theories thrive in the absence of--critical thinking, rational inquiry, and insistence upon reliable evidence--are the exact same thought processes that would be required to recognize the characteristics of a destructive and manipulative cult. In short, conspiracy theories attract people who, by virtue of the way they think, are much more likely to fall for cults in the first place.

Third, as I stated earlier, cults that promote conspiracy theories universally advance themselves and their ideology as the "cure" or "solution" to the evils of these conspiratorial plots. If you're outraged that the Illluminati is cooking the books on global warming, tearing down the World Trade Center or putting bad things in vaccines, well, you can fix all that by joining the cult and advancing its ideology. Desteni's leader Bernard Poolman shamelessly and repeatedly emphasizes that Desteni is the answer to everything and will specifically end these conspiracies once and for all.

A Potential Objection to My Evidence

A potential criticism of this blog may be that some of the evidence I present for Desteni's involvement with conspiracy theories comes from their web forum. Someone could claim that characterizing Desteni's more or less "official" ideology by reference to what members say on their forum is unfair, or "guilt by association." In Desteni's case this criticism would be incorrect. The Desteni web forums are very heavily policed, and on the forum you can in fact find an explicit warning about expressing any form of opinion:


YOU WILL BE BANNED! We have made it very clear that this forum is not there for people to express and validate their opinions. The Desteni forum is there for people who would like to discuss the DESTENI MATERIAL and share their Self-Honesty Processes within the DESTENI MATERIAL."

If Desteni insists, therefore, that any opinions on their forum are verboten, and their forum contains numerous and repeated references to conspiracy theories, it stands to reason that the Destenians believe the conspiracy viewpoints expressed there are not opinions, but facts. Furthermore, the sheer volume of conspiracy material on Desteni's blogs indicates that this is not a benign gathering of people who come together for some other reason, and some of them happen to believe in conspiracy theories independently of their Desteni connections. I believe I have amply demonstrated that, far from being incidental, conspiracy thinking lies at the very heart of Desteni's belief system.

I will deal with other aspects of Destenian ideology in future blogs.

Thanks for reading.

Desteni: A Conspiracy Cult. (UPDATED!)

Author: Clock
Date: Jul 01, 2013 at 09:13

This blog, originally published May 6, 2011, was updated on May 14. Scroll to the end for the update.

By Muertos

If you've been a regular reader of my blog for a while you might be led to believe that the Zeitgeist Movement is the only cult out there that uses conspiracy theories as a recruitment tool. As much as I wish that was true, unfortunately it isn't. I'm writing today for the first time on another and even more disturbing cult which has recently come to my attention: an organization called "Desteni." And after having investigated this group for only a short time, let me tell you―if you think Zeitgeist is pretty far out there, you haven't seen anything yet. Desteni makes the Zeitgeist Movement look like the Rotary Club.

Desteni was founded in 2007 by a South African named Bernard Poolman. While I will be researching Poolman's background more fully, from what I've been able to gather so far he is evidently a former police officer, and he now runs a farm in rural South Africa. He communicates with the members of his group mostly through YouTube, where Poolman presents himself as some sort of bizarre horned creature. I won't show it to you because I plan to place an audio/video version of this blog on YouTube, and it seems the Destenians are extremely aggressive about flagging critical YouTube videos with false DMCA claims―a practice not unlike the one occasionally utilized by more militant Zeitgeisters. Just trust me on this, Poolman's avatar is like something out of an Umberto Eco novel.

Desteni seems to have something else in common with Zeitgeist. Poolman's group advocates something called the "Equal Money System." The exact nature of this is somewhat vague to me, but it appears to be a utopian idea aimed at guaranteeing everyone on earth a basic standard of living, and all sorts of benefits are supposed to result from the institution of this system―for example, war, poverty and greed will become a thing of the past. These are not unlike the promises supposed to come from Zeitgeist's "Resource Based Economy." In contrast with Zeitgeist, however, Poolman and Desteni advocate an entire elaborate system of New Age living. Poolman and his chief lieutenants cloak themselves in New Age rhetoric. For instance, there's a lot of talk about "channeling," a classic New Age concept. It gets a little scary when you realize who and what they're channeling, but we'll get to that in a moment.

Also like Zeitgeist, Desteni's ideology―to the extent it is coherent―is predicated on a worldview that depends heavily upon conspiracy theories. They just use different theories than Zeitgeisters do. A lot of Destenians seem to believe in theories similar to those advanced by world-class nutbar David Icke, who believes that the world is controlled by a race of reptilian shape-shifting aliens. The most visible spokesperson for Desteni, a woman named Sunette Spies--who has got to be one of the weirdest cult icons I've ever seen--frequently references reptilians in her bizarre videos. Additionally, on Desteni's forums you can find frequent references to "reptilians," and although they don't hit it as hard as, say, the Zeitgeist Movement advances 9/11 Truth theories, it is clear that "reptilian" conspiracy theories are an important factor driving interest in the cult. (Example here) . What's problematic about these "reptilian" conspiracy theories―aside from the fact that they are totally divorced from reality―is that many observers of the conspiracy underground have pointed out that Icke's theories are simply science-fiction redresses of "Jewish world conspiracy" theories popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in Europe. These theories held that Jews were an elite cabal of bankers and politicians intent on taking over the world. Substitute shape-shifting reptilian aliens for Jews and you've got David Icke's theories. The anti-semitic bent of reptilian conspiracy theories is very disturbing. Many Destenians also seem to be believers in the "Illuminati" and "New World Order" conspiracy theories.

It gets more disturbing when you realize who Poolman and his people claim to be channeling, if I may return to that concept. Given what I've said so far, if you had one guess as to who Poolman likes to channel, who would it be? Yup, you guessed it...Adolf Hitler.( Yes, Desteni openly advocates the rehabilitation of Hitler's public image, focusing on the occult aspects of Nazi ideology. Lots of other people, and a fair number of inanimate objects, have also evidently been channeled, everybody from L. Ron Hubbard to a gas pump. To date I've only seen a very few of these videos, but the ones I have seen are exactly as bizarre as you would imagine.

Behind the "Equal Money System" and the New Age rhetoric, however, Desteni appears to be what many cults are at their core―a business. The real purpose for the group's existence seems to be as a tool of financial enrichment of its founder, Bernard Poolman. From Desteni's website you're encouraged to buy a number of books, videos and especially "self-improvement courses" in how to improve your life―exactly the same thing that Scientology sells, and makes millions of dollars a year at. Indeed the financial aspect of the cult, exemplified by something called the "Desteni I Process," is very obviously a pyramid scheme. The website uses language like "Downline" and other terms borrowed wholesale from Amway, Quixtar and other pyramid and multi-level-marketing outfits. The price of participating in Desteni is steep. For starters you'll be paying 200 Euros―almost 300 U.S. dollars a month, and the website clearly states that there is no refund available at any time.In addition to the pyramid scheme, another part of the scam seems to be to attract followers to visit Poolman on his farm in South Africa. Naturally, followers have to pay for this privilege. It is not know what actually goes on at this farm, but I've seen statements that Poolman encourages his followers to use Ecstasy while under his supervision.

What is most disturbing to me, aside from the anti-Semitic aspects of this group, is the behavior of the members on their forum. Evidently Desteni members are encouraged to post their deepest, darkest secrets on the forum and on the blogs and YouTube channels they're heavily encouraged to create. This is part of a process called "self-forgiveness." These confessions range the gambit, everything from sexual fantasies to involvement with gangs. In addition to subjecting their lives and even their thoughts to the dictates of Desteni orthodoxy, I believe these confessions are intended to give the group's leader potential leverage over his followers. That these people, most of them young, are willing to post their darkest secrets online at their leader's behest is a huge red flag.

There's also an eerie sameness in the appearance of Desteni followers. Poolman encourages his members to shave their heads, for what reason I haven't yet been able to fathom. Sure enough, the avatars of Desteni members on their web forum and their appearance in YouTube videos display an awful lot of shaved heads. Here is the cult leader controlling even the appearance and grooming of his followers.

I've also come across a lot of stories of Desteni members being encouraged to isolate themselves from family members and friends who are not in the group. This is very similar to Scientology's practice of "disconnection." In short, Desteni exhibits all the characteristics of a destructive and dangerous cult.

I've only just begun to investigate the Desteni phenomenon. This blog is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of this cult, merely a statement of the features of it that have piqued my interest. Perhaps some of the things I've observed about this cult are wrong. Frankly, I hope they are, because this organization seems on the face of it like an especially pernicious group. The synthesis of conspiracy theories and a utopian ideology into a cult is nothing new―we saw that same pattern with the Zeitgeist Movement. Desteni, however, while being much smaller than Zeitgeist, seems to be far more extreme. How extreme are they? That's one of the questions I hope to answer.

It's likely I will be posting more blogs about Desteni as I continue my exploration of this very strange, but admittedly fascinating, conspiracy theorist cult.

Thanks for reading.

Update: May 14, 2011

This blog has caught the attention of the Destenians. There is now a topic open on their forum where its author, Darryl Thomas, promises to "deconstruct" my blog, one paragraph at a time, on an ongoing basis. (

Here's his rationale for doing so:

Even the title betrays his hopeless, towering ignorance on the subject he opines on. That's why I have to do this. I have to demolish the bogus thesis of "MUERTOS" in public, one paragraph at a time, once a day, every day, until we finally reach to the end of his tiresome, long-winded and insipid screed, by which time we will have torn to shreds all the point-by-point, all opinions made by "MUERTOS" and will have had a good laugh in the process.

All I can say is that he'd better pick up the pace. I'm posting a second blog on Desteni this very afternoon, which is considerably longer than this one, so he'd better get cracking!

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