It’s so easy to condemn a believer. Thanks to the advent of modern science and the birth of post-Kantian rationalism, most of us no longer live in a world in which we might battle a demon, request an audience with an angel, or receive a vision of another cosmos from God. While we have marked the decline of such claims as a signifier of progress, the early modernist in me remains a touch nostalgic for the good old days of Agrippan magic, Paracelsian medicine, and Fluddean cosmology. Indeed, I can hardly think of a better reason to lament the rise of the scientific metanarrative than my current inability to receive a cosmic vision. However, such astounding receptions of otherworldly knowledge have not entirely disappeared from the cultural landscape. Enter Atlanta’s TruthCon 2010.
There is perhaps no better environment in which to muse upon the transience of epistemology than the three-day Truth Convention, an event that provides an open forum for a host of paradialogues on alien visitations, secret societies, government cover-ups, transdimensional stargates, psychic healing, mastery over gravity (via magical means), the rise of the antichrist, and the channeling of ancient gods. At a cost of $100 per day—although slightly cheaper rates are available for those attending the entire convention—this is not an event for the mildly curious. On the contrary, TruthCon is a gathering of firmly entrenched believers in search of kindred spirits.
To the point: Am I one of these kindred spirits? Not exactly, I admit, though it is not my aim to rid the world of nontraditional communities. At Tech, I teach a course on the rhetoric of conspiracy culture, and I have spent many years researching the way in which conspiracists work both with and against the grain of popular culture, engaging in discourses that simultaneously resurrect the past and anticipate the future. Conspiracists embrace the languages of hope and fear in one fell swoop, and the world they inhabit is stunningly complex. It is this complexity that fascinates, as conspiracists’ aim to rebuild the world with which (for a wide range of reasons) they have become disenfranchised. Consequently, when attending an event like TruthCon, I aim for immersion, not conversion. I have no interest in convincing an attendee that s/he hasn’t been abducted by aliens. I am not equipped with the psychological training necessary to safely dismantle someone’s world.
Attending TruthCon is like being swept up in a conspiratorial whirlwind, and the event embraces far too many marvels and terrors to address in this short piece. I’m instead going to briefly discuss the most charismatic presenter that I witnessed during the event, Steven Greer. According to his bio, Greer is an emergency physician and “a former chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Caldwell Memorial Hospital in North Carolina.” While impressive, such earthly accolades do not earn Greer the right to appear at TruthCon as a keynote speaker,; Greer is also the founder of “The Disclosure Project,” an organization that aims to expose the Secret Government’s efforts to conceal the existence of extraterrestrial life. The Secret Government, as far as I can tell, is an international organization that dominates this planet and is comparable in scope to conspiracists’ encroaching fear of a militaristic New World Order. As a kind of public escapee of the Secret Government’s clutches, Greer’s account of his life’s mission is captivating stuff. In his talk, he discussed the Government’s plot to murder of some his close associates, a mysterious attempt to buy Greer’s silence with a two-billion dollar payoff (which Greer nobly refused), and his own close encounters with the citizens of the Andromeda Galaxy. Scoff if you must, but I attest that listening to Greer is more entertaining than watching Lost.
During his presentation, Greer’s rhetoric occasionally became inflammatory. When Greer exclaimed that the Secret Government would only be able to stop his investigation if they managed to successfully render him “feet up,” I felt a chill as I was reminded of the late William Cooper, a fellow ufologist who made similar pronouncements in the 1990s. In November of 2001, Cooper was killed in a shootout with Arizona police who sought his arrest on tax evasion charges. Cooper has become a martyr of the conspiracy movement, and, of course, theories abound regarding the ‘true’ cause of his ‘murder.’ I hope that Greer has no wish to emulate Cooper’s posthumous success, despite his alarming choice of words. I was much relieved when Greer ceased making such pronouncements and showed off some extremely blurry video of his many meetings with the Andromedans.
As the convention drew to a close, I realized that few of the speakers offered any sort of corroboration with their peers. I struggled to create a grand narrative that encompassed all of the contesting dialogues, and I failed miserably. If aliens have been visiting us since antiquity, why is it that we only acquired an FTL drive from alien emissaries (that’s “faster than light” for those of you who didn’t watch Battlestar Galactica) in the twentieth century? What does the New World Order have to do with the cabal of Chinese Jesuits who are awaiting the coming of the devil’s child? Did JFK really threaten to blow the whistle on UFOs? Did that upset the New World Order, the devil, or both? Who’s responsible for anything unusual I might find in my water supply, and why? Is the good water all being transported through a stargate? And what’s really going on at Bohemian Grove? (Even I think that place is just weird.)
More importantly, if the speakers at TruthCon are all vying for purchase on “the truth,” who’s to say that my interpretation is any better? I’d rather not play judge and jury, although I don’t wish to be naïve about the genealogy of conspiracism. It’s true—that is to say, I believe it is true—that conspiratorial rhetoric is often laden with hateful ideologies. Within the subculture of conspiracists, the forces of racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, gender discrimination, and class warfare remain, I am sorry to report, very much alive. My truth be told, I would prefer that we teleport these underlying ideologies to another universe. Nevertheless, I do not wish to suggest that every conspiracist has a secret agenda. Sometimes, someone just believes that they’ve been abducted by a twelve-foot tall lizard from the fifth dimension. And really, what’s the harm in believing that?
 To his credit, Steven Greer eschewed such stereotypes in his talk, sarcastically commenting on popular interpretations of “good ETs [that] look like white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. “