Some dismiss Icke as a media-hungry simpleton who got high while watching V: The Miniseries in the 1980s and mistook it for a newsreel. Others suspect that the lizards are a racist analogy for the Jews. Certainly Icke’s theory corresponds with classic tropes of the Neo-Nazi conspiracy genre: the world is controlled by an inter-related species through the money supply. But this is probably unfair. Icke has denounced anti-Semitism many times and there’s no hint of hate speech in his writings. Indeed, it is wrong to dismiss the Icke phenomenon out of hand. His books sell well and he’s had a big cultural impact. [The 2008 Minnesota race was so close that it went down to recounting individual spoiled ballots. On one of them, some wag had crossed out all the candidates’ names and written in their place “The Lizard People”.]
Conspiracy theories like Icke’s are usually a rational attempt to make sense out of a series of bizarre and frightening events. It is a fact that Western democratic governments have conspired against their citizens. The list of atrocities in America is shocking. The federal government’s assault on Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 and the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas in 1993 ended in the deaths of dozens of innocent citizens. In neither case was the government’s intention malign, but it was guilty of gross incompetence and bending the Constitution. Watergate, Gulf War Syndrome, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Chappaquiddick, the Kennedy assassination, all have raised questions about the honesty of federal agencies. What the conspiracy theorists do is to draw links between these individual violations of human rights to create a unifying theory. The principle is rational but the process and outcome are not. They bury genuine crimes beneath illegitimate or untested data, creating links between unconnected events, building pattern upon pattern of duplicities that kaleidoscope into a big mess of crazy. But it is wrong to dismiss as irrational or insane Icke’s desire to bring order to the universe, to make sense of the violent, corrupt, dumb things that governments do to their own people. Nor is retrospective conspiracy thinking limited to mad white people. The popular myth within the African-American community that AIDS was created by the government to control the black population developed in the 1970s in tandem with revelations that public health officials had denied treatment to black syphilis sufferers to examine the disease’s long term effects.
Moreover, Icke offers an unusual way of expressing a fear of impersonal forces that is common to all of us. If Icke is writing metaphorically about a world run by lizard men, then he is a genius (the corollary to that is that if he’s writing literally, then he’s a nut). The world is slipping beyond the control of the individual as technological, social, and economic change make larger structures of organization necessary and inescapable. The linkage of economies has rendered nation states a sham; the threat of terror demands a multilateral approach; human rights legislation defending the rights of grand minorities chips away at individual freedom of speech. While the internet has increased our access to information, it has also made the world seem smaller. Government agencies grow like bacteria swelling in a Petri dish. Before the Second World War, the British didn’t even have to own passports. Now the government gathers our DNA, eye scans, and tax records. The logic of the slow loss of control is horrible and overwhelming. The desire to find someone responsible for it is understandable.
But what is more terrifying than David Icke’s fantasies of evil reptilian kitten-eaters from another planet is that all of this is not planned. It is random. The War on Terror was started not by the President of the most powerful nation in the world but by a handful of amateur criminals. It is far more frightening to admit that all of the crazy stuff that happens is spontaneous rather than organized and rational. With a few notable exceptions, modern Western societies are not evil and well organized. They are mad and inept. If that was not true, then wouldn’t David Icke have been assassinated by now?