Them! Adventures With Extremists- Book Review

P1030365I fancied a non-fiction book and, let’s be honest, something that wouldn’t tax my brain too much.  I picked up ‘Them! Adventures with Extremists’ by Jon Ronson and thought it looked just the ticket.

I have to be honest I thought it was about people who believe in aliens, disappointingly it’s about religious extremism, which is less enjoyable. The book was written in 2001, and I didn’t realise that it was quite so old when I bought it.  This is the 2014 edition and Ronson commented that he was pleased it was originally published before the 9/11 attacks as racial extremism took a more serious turn after that.

In the first chapter, Ronson meets Omar Bakri Mohammed who was declaring a holy war on Britain and announced that he would not rest until he saw the Black Flag of Islam flying over Downing Street. Mohammed comes across as hapless, disorganised, mildly irritating, a bit casually racist and sexist, and happily taking advantage of the freedom of speech he has in the UK whilst trying to undermine our society.

I’ve always felt pleased that I wrote Them before 9/11, and as a result got to portray Omar as- to an extent- likeably absurd.  It’s possible that if I’d met him post-9/11 I’d have felt compelled to depict him in a harder way.

By 2014, Mohammed had been arrested from a hiding place in Lebanon for ‘contributing to the logic of terrorism’, whatever that means.  But, although Mohammed tells Ronson several times that none of his people would commit a crime, his former chauffeur had rammed a truck full of explosives into a Syrian prison.

Much of the book though is about whether these extremists are really paranoid racists or there really is a group of powerful and secret Jews who are running the world.   Ronson hears about the secretive Bilderberg group from pretty much everybody, which seems to be a exclusive think tank of politicians, financiers, broadcasters etc.  How influential the networking and decision making is that they do there is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t seem that it’s the ‘New World Order’ that Jim Tucker of Spotlight, Thom Robb of the KKK, or separatist Randy Weaver believe in.

Randy Weaver’s story is quite upsetting.  In 1982, he and his family moved away from the ‘tyranny of the impending world government’ and into a cabin in the woods, with their guns.  Occasionally, he would go drinking at the nearby Aryan Nations, a militant neo-nazi community.  His friend there wanted him to help him commit armed robbery, Randy said no.  But then his friend asked him to illegally saw off a couple of shotguns, he did and then found out his ‘friend’ was an undercover informant.

Weaver was arrested but failed to show up to court so some armed US Marshals staked out the cabin. The dog started barking, so the marshals shot the dog, so 14 year Sammy shot his gun randomly into the air hitting no one.  The Marshals shot him in the arm, Sammy turned to run back to the house and he was shot in the back and killed. A friend of Weaver’s shot back and a Marshal was killed.  The family retreated to the cabin which was then surrounded by police and the army.  Weaver stepped outside to see his son’s body and was shot in the arm, his wife screamed and was shot in the head whilst holding her their baby.  The family was trapped in the cabin for 8 days with her dead body.

The Jewish defence organisation, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith, argues that any references to a ‘New World Order’ is a code word for ‘International Jewish Conspiracy’.  And following the siege of Weaver’s cabin he was condemned by the media as a white supremacist who had been involved in the death of a US Marshall.  However, when he actually came to court Randy was only convicted of failing to attend court on the original firearms charge.  The three remaining children were all given $1 million in out of court settlements.

And there’s a lot about Ronson’s own Jewishness.  At times pretending he’s not Jewish when he’s talking to scary racist types.

I was probably the only Jew within a hundred miles or more, and I was doing my best to tone it down…I was consciously suppressing my hand gestures and attempting not to be overtly cosmopolitan.

As usual, with Ronson, it’s mainly a collection of things that he witnessed rather then a serious investigation of what was actually going on.  You also feel like he spends weeks with these people and they only get a chapter at most in the book. Anyway, he’s likeable enough, and the subjects he chooses are quite interesting.