Alex was raised by conspiracy theorists. This makes him different from most people who end up down the rabbit hole in that assuming nefarious plots were going on was never a surprise to him. Indeed, it was the default.
We talk about growing up in a conspiracy theory family, how his perceptions shifted when he went out into the real world, and how he ended up going even deeper down the rabbit hole before he finally found his way out.
Alex also read my book, Escaping the Rabbit Hole, and his reaction to my 9/11 debunking was rather surprising.
Johnny Orbital is a rare breed – a former genuine believer in the Flat Earth theory who is willing to talk about his experience. When I was writing my book Tales From the Rabbit Hole, I had to look far and wide for such a person. Even now, it’s rare to find people who once were flat-earth believers and now are not.
Johnny talks about how he got convinced of the Flat Earth, how he got out, and now, how (and why) he spends time helping people who are still down that particular rabbit hole.
DJ Thermal Detonator was heavily involved in the Los Angeles 9/11 Truth scene in the late 2000s. At that time, local activism centered around the We Are Change group. DJ attended meetings, helped out with a variety of things, and saw the shift of the organization into even more extreme theories, like Sandy Hook being faked, and chemtrails. He even helped Michael J. Murphy with his popular chemtrails film What In The World Are They Spraying” in 2010.
But the Shift into these more unusual theories in part led to both the disintegration of the local group, and to a change in DJ himself. Once going as far as totally believing the Chemtrail theory, as well as most of the mid-level 9/11 theories (controlled demolition, no plane hitting the Pentagon,) he eventually realized that most of them were without any foundation.
Now he focusses mostly on the people behind 9/11, working on a book exploring a complex web of connections, money, and related events.
We chat about the early days of 9/11 activism in Los Angeles, how it changed, and what he’s doing now.
Stian is someone who has been quite deeply involved in the 9/11 Truth community and the UFO community. He also just read my book: Escaping the Rabbit Hole, and has a few questions for me about my approach to debunking. We also cover the slippery slope of internet censorship, the sometimes useful role of conspiracy promoters, how to find common ground, and what I think about the Tic-Tac UFO.
0:00:49 – Defining the Term “Debunked”
0:08:27 – French Wikipedia’s Misleading Metabunk References, and “teams”
0:12:30 – I don’t have a monolithic following
0:13:41 – The term “conspiracy theorist” – a bad thing?
0:21:05 – The “explosives theory” of 9/11, can we separate that from the “conspiracy theory”?
0:23:25 – “Plausible” vs. “Probable”
0:25:14 – “False Balance” in chemtrails and 9/11
0:28:25 – Science by debate or by demonstration?
0:34:28 – Who decides what is science, and what can be discussed or debated?
0:36:05 – The “slippery slope” of content shaping, suppression, and censorship.
0:37:43 – Violent extremism as a rationale for YouTube suppressing conspiracy theories.
0:41:02 – Finding common ground with extremists, and the dangers of the marginalization of budding extremists
0:43:05 – Is the censorship of Alex Jones, on balance, a net positive thing?
0:45:03 – The role of second chances, redemption, and forgiveness.
0:46:49 – Evolution of conversational debunking approaches over time
0:48:23 – The evolution and future of 9/11 Truth
0:49:44 – The importance of opposing voices and allowing
0:51:30 – Are “chemtrails” people an important (or at least useful) voice?
0:57:58 – The role of mainstream media in communicating real and constructive news.
1:0028 – The military-industrial complex
1:01:39 – The importance of studying more mainstream topics as a foundation for discussion
1:09:41 – UFOs, the Nimitz “Tic-Tac” incident.
1:16:50 – The Navy UFO videos being “real”
1:18:34 – Greer and the Disclosure Project, Stian’s involvement in the Disclosure “cult”
1:22:02 – TTSA being Militaristic, the Army CRADA agreement and “Active Camouflage”
Phil is a former conspiracy theorist in Northern Ireland who got into conspiracy theories aged 18, around 14 years ago. Going to university exposed him to a variety of people and to new ways of thinking, which over the course of a year gradually pulled him out of the rabbit hole.
Now Phil has started a YouTube channel as “The Skeptic of the North” to share some of his thoughts on the topic, and specifically on the conversational method of discussing epistemology — how people know what they think they know. We discuss this subject and our mutual experiences talking to conspiracy theorists.
“Paradigm Shift” is the name used by a poster on Metabunk. Paradigm Shift had made many posts about 9/11, and the need, as he sees it, for a new investigation to look into the possibility of explosives being used to bring down the twin towers. Online discussions can be slow-moving and fractious, so I asked him to come on the podcast for a more detailed and direct conversation about what we believe, and why we believe it.
Paradigm Shift is a student in his mid-20s. The drum graphic is what he uses as an Avatar on Metabunk.
Willie was one of the first people that I interviewed for my book Escaping The Rabbit Hole. He’s a former believer in theories from 9/11 being an “inside job”, to chemtrails. His story forms the preface to ETRH, and sets the tone for the whole book. No matter how deep you are down the rabbit hole, or how long you’ve been down there, there’s always the possibility of escape.
We had this follow-up chat 2-years to the day after the first one and discuss his story, lesson learned, and what has changed since then.
Brad is an electrical engineer and an expert in mathematics. He also likes to consider that an idea might be true before rejecting it, no matter how extreme. This led him very briefly down the rabbit hole of checking to see if the earth was actually round like a ball, or might it possibly be flat. His strong grounding in mathematics very quickly put an end to that – but what about the people who don’t really understand the math? Is there hope for “flat earthers” who don’t really understand geometry?
Rory has an extensive series of videos on YouTube debunking Flat Earth, focusing on simple ways of demonstrating that there’s a curve. But he’s also got a very interesting life story as a traveler, both around the world and in a spiritual sense. This exploration has eventually given him a great perspective on why people believe in things when the evidence is against them, but at times led him to entertain a number of conspiracy theories and other esoteric beliefs. He’s still a little esoteric, but as he’s got older he’s become a bit more grounded. We talk about his journey from “bliss ninny” to “pain-in-the ass debunker”
Paul is a former promoter of the Planet X conspiracy theory, which is also known as the Nibiru cataclysm. Planet X (or Nibiru) is a supposed rogue planet that some people claim they can observe near the sun. Supposedly the existence of this planet is being covered up by the government because it’s about to cause the end of the world. There’s a wide variety of versions of this theory.
Paul discovered the Planet X theory back in 2013 and became very interested in it. He started posting lots of YouTube videos promoting the theory and warning of the impending apocalypse. He teamed up with two other people, and they created lots of YouTube content as a team. For a long time he simply ignored all attempts by “debunkers” to explain things to him, but eventually he recognized that the weight of the evidence was against him. This realization came about in large part due to the efforts of one debunker who posts on YouTube and Facebook as “Dazza the Cameraman.” Dazza would patiently and politely explain things to Paul.
Paul eventually lost his belief in Planet X and split with his YouTube partners, who immediately branded him a traitor, all of which was very difficult for him. He’s now moving on with his life and leaving conspiracy theories behind, but he contacted me because he wanted his story to be told.
“Paul” is not his real name, his voice is altered, and he does not appear in the YouTube version. While anonymity is difficult to keep on the internet, Paul did not want any more footage of himself out there that could be used directly against him, so he’s appearing here relatively incognito.
Dazza The Cameraman’s sites have lots of great debunking of Planet X, and Flat Earth:
Jim Lee used to be a fairly hardcore conspiracy theorist, deep into things like Chemtrails and doomsday comets. Now he’s less deep down the rabbit hole, but has managed to create one of his own. He’s convinced there’s something going on involving chemicals in the air or modifying contrails. Not exactly chemtrails, but still something nefarious. He spends a lot of time researching what it might be. He’s also concerned about the effects of potential future geoengineering, pollution, and nuclear leaks, and his large website Climate Viewer, is where he educates people on those issues, and other things he finds important.
Unfortunately a lot of people in the chemtrail community think of him as a supporter of the conventional chemtrail conspiracy theory, even though he thinks that’s implausible, and prefers his own version. He still uses the language of “chemtrails”, even though he will qualify it later in the article. I think he’s wrong about a secret geoengineering plot, but even if he was not, I think he’s not helping with pandering to the hardcore chemtrail folk.
Joe is someone I’ve known online for nearly ten years, back when he was a believer in the chemtrails conspiracy theory. Over a few years, I managed to talk him out of that one. He’s dabbled in a few other conspiracy theories since then, like JFK, 9/11, and Birtherism (Obama being supposedly born in Kenya), but didn’t really think they had much to them.
Joe is politically right wing, a Tea Party Republican who expressed some support for the Oregon militia standoff of 2016, and is very critical of what he sees as left-wing media bias regarding social issues like race and immigration. The conspiracy he currently thinks is real is that leftists and globalists like George Soros, combined with a “Deep State”, are attempting to use those social issues to manipulate society towards open borders and a one world government. This is not a fringe view, and variations of this belief are actually shared by a significant number of people.
Joe joking referred to himself as a “deplorable”, a term used by Hillary Clinton to refer to Trump supporters, and then adopted by those supporters as a badge of their perceived oppression by the liberal establishment. To a liberal like myself, Joe’s positions do seem rather disappointing and I disagree with most of his political and social beliefs. But, just like with the more extreme or eccentric conspiracy theorists, I think it’s important to keep the channels of communication open.
Dan used to be convinced that some kind of drastic collapse of society was just around the corner. He was prepared for this, stockpiling food and supplies, and watching all the lastest prepper/survivalist videos on YouTube, as well as making his own videos about what was going to happen. When Obama came to power he received and initially believed dire warnings that some kind of society “reset” was imminent. But then nothing happened, and he gradually realized that probably nothing was happening, and all the worrying about it was a waste of time and having a bad effect on his life. So he stopped, deleted all his videos, and stopped consuming conspiracy theories. He’s a lot happier now.
In this second part of my extended conversation with Stian Arnesen (first part here) we delve deeper into 9/11. Firstly we discuss the Alaska report on World Trade Center Building 7. This is a report by Prof. Leroy Hulsey ,paid for by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, a group that promotes the conspiracy theory that the World Trade Center was destroyed with pre-planted explosives. The report is intended to prove that fire alone could not be responsible for the collapse. Stian has been corresponding with various members of AE911Truth for a while, and has something of an inside perspective on what to expect.
Following on from this we discuss why it’s so hard to get serious scientists to look into the science behind conspiracy theory claims. I relate my experience with doing a study of scientist’s beliefs about Chemtrails.
In the second half of this episode Stian brings up a number of questions he still has about how the World Trade center collapsed the way it did. I try to explain.
In this first episode of Tales from the Rabbit Hole, I give a brief introduction and then talk to my first guest, Jon, an ex-conspiracy theorist
Tales from the Rabbit Hole is an interview-style podcast focusing on people whose lives have been affected by the conspiracy theory rabbit hole. Guests include both former and current believers in a variety of conspiracy theories, as well as debunkers, skeptics, and the investigators of those theories.
I’m Mick West, a debunker. I wrote the book Escaping the Rabbit Hole – How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories using Facts, Logic, and Respect. This book came from my experiences running Metabunk – a debunking Forum. Over the years I realized simply presenting corrections to people is not enough. We need effective communication, and we can’t do that if we don’t listen and talk with each other. I’m hoping this podcast will help bridge that gap.
EX CONSPIRACY THEORIST
My first guest is Jon, an ex conspiracy theorist who runs the Facebook Group “The Ex Conspiracy Theorist.” Jon talks about how he became a conspiracy theorist, and how it relates to his religious past as a Mormon. He discusses the things that initially convinced him, like Glenn Beck theories about Obama’s “Czars”, the “New World Order,” and how he came to realize those things were not what Alex Jones said they were.
Jon is now very active online on Facebook and his blog. Since we’ve recorded this he’s also started a Twitter account.
It’s a short first episode, and I hope to have Jon on again for a more extended conversation about his debunking work.