A skeptic on the Conspira-Sea Cruise: Day 1

Colin is currently on the ConspiraSea Cruise doing research for a book on irrational beliefs. He is emailing summaries of each day’s experiences to me for posting here on Violent Metaphors. This is the first day’s report. You can find day 2 here, day 3 here, day 4 here, day 5 (part 1) here, and day 5 (part 2) here –Jennifer

Welcome to the first daily update on the ConspiraSea Cruise! This is the first full day of the cruise and we’re well underway. (That is a boat joke. I will make more. None of them will be very funny. That is how boat jokes work.) I’m going to try to write an update for every day of the cruise, with some final and more polished observations after I’m home. These updates will be relatively short given how much is happening simply because there’s not that much time to write. It’s well after midnight now, and since we cross a time zone and lose an hour tonight I’m not expecting much sleep. That’s OK, this isn’t a vacation!


Economy Cabin
The ship is luxurious. The cabin is not.

If you aren’t familiar with the ConspiraSea Cruise, the organizers still have their promotional site up here. I’m sure they’ll take it down eventually though, so for archival purposes you can check out my GoFundMe page or our prior coverage at Violent Metaphors. And before we go any further, THANK YOU to all the GoFundMe supporters! Your interest in the culture of conspiracy theories not only made this trip possible, it’s inspirational as I continue to make slow but steady progress on my book about the dissemination of and debate over irrational ideas.

The seminar is being held on the Ruby Princess, which is basically a floating shopping mall and hotel. I’ve never been on a cruise ship before so I wasn’t prepared for just how huge this thing is. My Uber drove past the Battleship Iowa on the way to the terminal and as gigantic as that floating fortress is, the cruise ship looks to be two or three times bigger. We aren’t the only people on the boat, of course, just a drop in the giant bucket of tourists. We have “ConspiraSea Cruise” nametags and lanyards, and I get a little side-eye from people on the elevator.

After we boarded yesterday, our first event was an introduction session where all the speakers said hello and gave a little elevator pitch about their sessions. I think it’s appropriate for our first update to mirror the first session and introduce the cast of characters. Everyone gave a ten minute speech, some much less, so this is just a sampling of their ideas. It went quickly and I might have some details wrong, but we’ll meet most of these people again in more detailed sessions.


  • Sean David Morton: a “self-taught attorney in law” (I’m sure he said “in law,” rather than “at law,” and the distinction seemed important to him) with close ties to Art Bell. Says he’s “engaged with” and defeated the IRS, the SEC, and state and federal government. I’m skeptical of people who claim they win court cases but can’t give you citations to prove it; we’ll see if he can or not, I hope. During Sherri Tenpenny’s introduction later on he interjected to shout a bit about how Sesame Street is vile for having an autistic character, because it normalizes autism. He also made a point of saying that his kids are his property, to the extent that he has (or could have?) a commercial lien on them, to prevent mandatory vaccination. I hope I get to hear more about this later. Because as an attorney at law I’m pretty confident that no, you can’t own your kids, and no, you can’t get a valid commercial lien on them. Kids are human beings and can’t be owned.
  • Helen Sewell: an astrologer. Not much more to say about her, astrology isn’t really my thing. I will say that the next morning when one of the speakers had technical problems, someone in the audience shouted out an astrological explanation for the PowerPoint failure—something about a null moon, I think? Another woman shouted out, “No! The stars don’t control us, we control the stars!” They did not come to blows
  • Andy Thomas: crop circles. Someone else I don’t know much about, but I think I may have heard him on The Unexplained with Howard Hughes. And that’s an excellent podcast if you have any interest in conspiracy theory culture. Sort of a genteel, British version of Coast to Coast.
  • Sherri Kane and Leonard Horowitz: Wow. I had never heard of these two before this week. I’ll write more about them later, as they were today’s last session. Suffice to say that they explained that they would show how the octopus from Spectre (the icon of the evil organization from James Bond) was behind “controlled opposition,” or the cooption of conspiracy theorists by powerful interests to suppress conspiracy theories. And they explained that the frequency of 528 Hz is the cure to all our ills, for quantum and/or acoustic reasons. And that there are nine core creator frequencies from which the universe is constructed (Note from Jennifer: I highly recommend you listen to this episode of the Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast if you’re interested in a scientific takedown of claims about the effects of frequencies on us. And while you’re at it, check out the Exposing PseudoAstronomy blog, which is one of my very favorites). And that the Paris attacks were staged (although they do believe that people died there, which not all conspiracy theorists do). A very high-energy duet at any frequency. The next day, as we’ll discuss in a future update, they dished on some personal enemies in the alt-health world.Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. But of course it doesn’t mean they are, either.
    Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. But of course it doesn’t mean they are, either.


  • Laura Eisenhower: a “global alchemist” and President Eisenhower’s great-granddaughter. Which is the last time I’ll mention it, because it’s completely irrelevant, but they made a point of introducing her that way. She’s also a very energetic speaker, but I couldn’t really tell you what she was trying to communicate. Her ideology involves 12-stranded DNA, a 15-dimensional time matrix, ETs that cooperate with human government, ETs that don’t, multiple stargates, and much much much much more. These speeches only lasted about five minutes apiece, so she really booked. And as much as she covered, not one bit of it made sense to me. I’m hoping to ask her some questions later—chief among them, “How do you know?”
  • Andy Wakefield: no introduction needed, and he barely gave himself one. The hosts described him as a documentarian and filmmaker, and he did the same in his big speech this morning. He mentioned in Sunday’s introductions (and again this morning) that an MIT study showed that 1 in 2 children will be autistic by the end of the next few decades, which I strongly suggest is a linear extrapolation of the kind that no educated person would take seriously. (I do one pushup on Monday, two on Tuesday, four on Wednesday, eight on Thursday, etc. Will I do a thousand pushups a day by the end of next week? No, and 1 in 2 kids will not be autistic.)

    Andy Wakefield Lecture.jpg
    Andy Wakefield lecture. This is from the next morning, so you’ll see this photo again.
  • Winston Shrout: a self-professed expert in the law. I know a lot more about law than the other subjects being discussed here—I’m a Harvard Law grad and practiced complex commercial litigation before going into consulting—so I can say very firmly that this man has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. He’s constructed a bizarre fantasy world in which he’s a great legal genius, but somehow never manages to win big cases that would prove it. Listening to him speak saddened me, because people who believe his posturing can really hurt themselves by doing foolish and/or illegal things rather than actually addressing their problems. More on that when I discuss his first presentation, later on. For right now let’s just say that his own description of himself may explain why his ideas are so outlandish: he says he operates on the high 5th-dimensional plane, and that sometimes he goes as high as the low 6th dimension, so it’s hard for the rest of us on the 3rd dimension to understand him. He explained a couple of times that he’s never worked in this dimension before this lifetime, and seemed a bit put out to be here. Thanks for slumming with us, I guess?
    Winston Shrout Lecture.jpg
    Winston Shrout. Another shot from Monday’s sessions.


  • Sherri Tenpenny: Another famous anti-vaxer. She didn’t say much about herself, and I didn’t catch her presentation today. She’ll be speaking again later in the week, though.
  • Jerry Korn: a dowser and expert in removal of negative energies. He gave a nifty demonstration of the ideomotor phenomenon, “dowsing” the energies between two people. I’m not sure I’ll see any more of him; dowsing is an interesting irrationality, but there’s so much more to be seen here.
  • Michael Badnarik: One of the bigger fish in the boat, and a past Libertarian candidate for president. Didn’t say much at the first meeting, though, and I didn’t get a chance to see his later presentation.
  • Nick Begich: HAARP and mind control. As with Badnarik, he gave a quick intro and left the rest for his presentation, which I wasn’t able to hear. Hopefully I’ll catch a later session.
  • Jeffrey Smith: GMOs cause cancer and autism and infertility and leaky gut and fuzzy minds and inflammation and arthritis and every foulness in the world. I did catch his presentation this morning, so more on him in a bit.
  • Danion Brinkley: I’d never heard of him, but he gave one hell of an elevator pitch for his later sessions: “The idea that you will die is a conspiracy.”


So that was the introductory session. I’ve since heard Wakefield, Smith, Shrout, and the Horowitz/Kane duo do their first sessions. I’ll send in a description of them tomorrow, as it’s nearly 3 am here and I need to get some sleep before venturing back up into the 5th dimension with Mr. Shrout’s second session tomorrow.

The only other thing of note that happened Sunday, and today, and will continue happening throughout the week, are the dinners. Now I’m a fan of eating alone. I travel extensively for work and truly enjoy eating a meal with a book (although not as much as I enjoy the relatively rare dinner at home with my wife). But the point of this conference, for me at least, is to meet and talk to and understand the people who are here. Eating a meal with someone is a wonderful way to do that and one of the most educational parts of the conference so far.

But I won’t be writing detailed explanations of the dinners, or any other personal meetings. The speakers are speaking to an audience, and they want their voices heard far and wide. Dinner conversations are personal and I’ll respect the privacy of those small but important conversations. Suffice it to be said for now that even if a few people were a bit standoffish when I mentioned I’m a skeptic, most didn’t miss a beat and not a single person has been anything but open and friendly in the end. And that matters, because as we’ll discuss in the next post, this conference is revealing an enormous gap between the ideologies on display at the conference and the real outside world. Personal relationships and a broader sense of community are our best chance of bridging that gap. And what I’m learning here is that those are possible even when the people involved disagree enormously about the most important issues, like life and health and freedom.

So please, continue to be part of our community and leave your comments below. I’ll try to read them every day, but I might not be able to respond. Internet access is slow and expensive, and I need most of my allotted time for staying in touch with my day job and clients, so I’m rationing the minutes out. Even if writing online is tricky, though, reading comments is easy because I can load the page and log off—so please keep them coming! I’m very grateful for every single piece of encouragement, advice, criticism, and anything else you’ve got to say.

66 thoughts on “A skeptic on the Conspira-Sea Cruise: Day 1

  1. roramich January 26, 2016 / 8:08 am

    Kane and Horowitz: sounds like are nailing down the meta-conspiracy framework! One conspiracy to rule them all?

    • Douglas J E Barnes January 26, 2016 / 9:14 am

      I don’t know. I am pulling off 3 to 5 more pushups each day I do them. I would like to think that by years end, I will be able to do a set of over 1,000.

      • c0nc0rdance January 26, 2016 / 10:40 am

        Just try doubling the number you do each day (Day 1:1, Day 2:2, Day 3:4 etc). In 30 days, you’ll be up to a billion pushups, and by April, you’ll be doing 1,267,650,600,228,229,401,496,703,205,376 pushups per day. You’ll be so ripped!

      • JGC January 28, 2016 / 11:45 am

        That’s nothing. Spend a summer visiting a farm, starting just after the calves are born. Choose one calf, and every morning pick it up and set it down 5 times.

        By the end of the summer you’ll be able to lift an 1,100 pound angus cow effortlessly.

  2. Douglas J E Barnes January 26, 2016 / 9:13 am

    Do please thank Mr. Shrout for lowering himself to our dimension. (I personally am in the 4th, not the 3rd, because I believe time is a thing.)

    • Colin February 1, 2016 / 3:19 pm

      At the farewell panel he dropped a few more truth bombs:

      He is a delegate to the Galactic Round Table.
      He does a lot of work with fairies and elves.
      He asked one elf to move the Prime Meridian, for reasons having to do with international commerce.
      Because of his actions, the various Federal Reserve banks could not be rechartered. Therefore the Federal Reserve has been disbanded and is now defunct.

      People pay this man for legal advice.

      • JGC February 1, 2016 / 3:21 pm

        Delegate to the Galactic Round Table? Please! I’ve never seen him at any of the meetings.

        • gewisn February 4, 2016 / 9:25 pm

          What he calls the “Galactic Round Table” is actually a 14th dimension hypersphere.
          I know because I’m there, been there, will be there, all simultaneously.

          • JGC February 4, 2016 / 10:22 pm

            I haven’t been there yet myself, but I will be yesterday.

        • Anonymous February 28, 2016 / 10:46 am

          You made my day with that comment. Can’t stop smiling!

  3. Catherine January 26, 2016 / 10:06 am

    A quick note of encouragement and thanks Colin. My interest of course is in understanding the antivaxer issue but this is all a big help.

    Your observation that ‘Personal relationships and a broader sense of community are our best chance of bridging that gap.’ Thoughtful, smart, important.

    Thank you.

    • stm January 29, 2016 / 1:46 pm

      I’ll believe it when Colin has peer reviewed and double blind tested this approach.😉

      • Colin February 1, 2016 / 3:20 pm

        Actually, in all seriousness, there’s no way to know for sure it’s the most effective way. And it doesn’t prevent conflict. But I think it has fewer negative repercussions, succeed or fail.

  4. alangdundee January 26, 2016 / 10:28 am

    Looking forward to hearing about a demonstration of dowsing on a boat😀

    • JGC January 27, 2016 / 3:02 pm

      “Yup–there’s water that way. And that way. And over there on the port side. And beneath the keel…”

  5. Jennifer Raff January 26, 2016 / 11:12 am

    Hey guys, I know that we are all passionate about this subject, but if your comments contain threats (or suggestions of violence), they won’t make it past moderation. Let’s keep the discussion civil.

    This isn’t addressed to any of the commenters above, it’s an explanation to people whose comments aren’t showing up.

  6. Anonymous January 26, 2016 / 11:25 am

    Thanks! Good work. Have fun. Just a small thing, (and ought to be irrelevant), but try as I might I can’t figure out through what line of descent is Laura Pres. Eisenhower’s great-granddaughter. Please post if you get a chance to clarify.

    • brenhill2015 January 26, 2016 / 12:50 pm

      Never mind, it appears that Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan has a daughter named Laura.
      Have more fun!

      • Colin February 1, 2016 / 3:24 pm

        I only heard her speak for a total of about ten minutes, and sat at a dinner table with her (and a bunch of other people). But my impression was positive; her ideas are very unusual, but she seemed sweet and kind. I think she was one of those speakers who was there primarily to help people, not make money or build a following.

        And as far as I can recall, she never referred to Pres. Eisenhower at all. Other people did.

  7. Dena Alo-Colbeck January 26, 2016 / 12:40 pm

    Just for fun I looked up Sean David Morton. People who can’t cite to cases they have “won” raise my suspicions as well. Plus, I was curious about taking a lien on my kids and whether I could do that against future earnings. If he explains that better, please elaborate.

    I can tell you that Mr. Morton has definitely “engaged” with the SEC. They took a default judgment against him when he failed to answer complaints properly, instead filing “dozens of papers with the Court claiming, for instance, that the Commission is a private entity that has no jurisdiction over them, and that the staff attorneys working on the case do not exist.”

    The judgment was for over $11 million for erroneous stock market predictions. Might be why he is no longer marketing himself as “America’s Prophet.”

    If you wanted to ask him about it, the case is Securities and Exchange Commission v. Sean David Morton, Vajra Productions, LLC, 27 Investments, LLC, and Magic Eight Ball Distributing, Inc., defendants, and Melissa Morton and Prophecy Research Institute, relief defendants, Civil Action No. 10-CV-1720 (SDNY) (2013)

    Details here for later: http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2013/lr22619.htm

    and here: http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2010/lr21433.htm

  8. Mark Alsip January 26, 2016 / 2:28 pm

    I’m thrilled to have stumbled upon this blog and find there’s a skeptic on this cruise. Looking forward to reading future posts.

  9. Anthony January 26, 2016 / 5:07 pm

    Loving this already. can’t wait for the next installment

  10. fbonzo January 26, 2016 / 5:23 pm

    Kudos (and–if you will–support vibes) for putting your Levis where your anti-ant-irational stance is. Very much enjoyed the article & totally look forward to the continuing saga. FYI, I’m more of an anti-anti-anti-rationalist meself (as in Descartes has a lot to answer for) and so your comments are trebly interesting.

  11. Mark Gallagher January 26, 2016 / 6:15 pm

    I hope for Colin’s sake the ship’s captain hasn’t bought into that round earth nonsense.

  12. griftwriter January 26, 2016 / 9:41 pm

    Please, informally poll folks on their thoughts re the Moon Landing. I’m disappointed there’s no session on that.

    • Jennifer Raff January 26, 2016 / 9:42 pm

      Seconded. I’m really fascinated by that particular conspiracy theory.

      • Colin January 27, 2016 / 3:45 pm

        I’ll ask!

        • Colin February 1, 2016 / 4:11 pm

          I did not ask. After a while it was pretty obvious what I’d hear. One audience uncritically absorbed the pronouncement that the Vatican has just released funds to pay off all the mortgages in the United States; buying into the idea of a moon landing hoax would be entry-level stuff by comparison.

  13. Chemist January 27, 2016 / 12:52 pm

    I am curious as to whether any speakers are schedule to discuss chemtrails or flat earth (both seem to have been found there way into my twitter TL recently)?

    • Colin January 27, 2016 / 3:44 pm

      Dr. Tenpenny raised it yesterday at a panel discussion on the causes of autism. (Spoiler: it’s GMOs and vaccines.) She didn’t say chemtrails cause autism, just raised it as something those dumb scientists don’t take seriously.

      • Colin February 1, 2016 / 4:12 pm

        And some of the attendees were definitely into chem trails in a big way. Oddly never really came up as a topic with the presenters, at least that I saw.

        Nothing about flat earth. I’m divided on that one, can’t make up my mind how much of it is real and how much is just having fun.

        • Chemist February 1, 2016 / 4:18 pm

          I’m sure there are both aspects in abundance (seems flat earth claims are used as lures for trolls when people want to have a little fun.) No real way to figure out how much is serious or silliness.

        • Foghaze33 February 8, 2016 / 5:32 pm

          I’m in a flat earth debunking group and I can assure you they are very real. They think science is pseudoscience and everyone just believes NASA because they told us so. They do not realize how we can verify all this with science. They seem to think 2+2 equals anything because that is what we were told in school. They don’t understand what verifiable means. They seem to think it’s something they see with their eyes. They are not bright at all but very passionate about their flat earth. If you want to get in on the flat earth action let me know. You can see just how they really are. They are using all of Ptolemy’s work which was pretty convincing at the time but it didn’t explain a few things like the retrograde of the planets. Then Galileo came along. So they are ripping off all of Ptolemy’s work and spreading it to other scientifically illiterates.. Since it is evident these people didn’t do too well in the sciences and more than likely were close to failing, it doesn’t surprise me how they don’t understand just how accurate science is. They could verify it themselves but they don’t “get it” which makes it too hard for them. They prefer Youtube as a learning media. It is scary! I am legitimately scared for the future. The Chemtrailers carry the same anti-science beliefs. I’ve been studying the chemtrail conspirators for 10 years. If you need any help with that one let me know.

          • MrKettle February 10, 2016 / 3:51 pm

            Very interesting! I didn’t realize there were really any actual “Flat Earthers” still. What do they say if they see the round Earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse—the same thing all the early western scientists and philosophers said when they were confronted with this experience? (The Earth is a disc?)

            Thanks for pointing out that the capacity to engage in any flat earth mentality is not about the topic but about human nature. (Hence Colin’s wonderfully neutral approach.)

  14. Rosie Stone January 28, 2016 / 1:56 am

    Good for you!This is really interesting,and like others,can’t wait to hear more!

  15. arthur love January 31, 2016 / 6:39 am

    I admire you. I could not do this without punching the Paris deniers in the face. [i am not a violent man]

    • Colin February 1, 2016 / 4:13 pm

      These were not the worst Paris deniers I’ve heard. They at least acknowledge that people died. I didn’t personally hear any in-depth discussion of Sandy Hook, “crisis actors,” or even Holocaust deniers (but I know there were people there into all of those things, based on background conversations).

  16. veggiegen February 25, 2016 / 6:48 pm

    Ok, here I go….I got here from Jezebel or Gawker or one of those. I read their article & now I’m going to read your 5 days. Wish me luck🙂

  17. veggiegen May 6, 2016 / 1:23 pm

    Interesting read. And now I’m going to look around here & read some more of your articles. :oP

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