Troubled Waters: ConspiraSea Cruise Day 4(ish)

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 fourth day’s report. You can read Day 1 here, Day 2 here , Day 3 here, day 5 (part 1) here, day 5 (part 2) here , and an explanation for what he is doing here.  If you would like to give him questions or advice, please comment on this post–I’ll make sure he sees it. –Jennifer

When I started this project, many (many many) people warned me to be careful and that I might be in danger. I didn’t take that possibility seriously then, and I don’t take it seriously now—I personally have never felt unsafe at this conference. But I am not the only writer here. And the others, who unlike me are professional journalists, will tell their stories eventually. Until then I’d like to share the events of the last couple of days. This is a story about a long series events taking place at a confusing and busy event; it’s going to be long and busy and confusing at times. Sorry.  (Note: Colin emailed me two days’ worth of material in a single batch, and I split them up by day to make this post more manageable. You can read part 2 here.–Jennifer). You want clear and concise and comprehensible stories, read about a conference that doesn’t feature an antivaccine guru, a pistol-packing presidential candidate, a self-employed and self-declared “international judge” and an alchemist all on the same boat. What I’ve got is what they gave me.

First Things First: Clearing the Deck

When I say I’m not a professional journalist, I mean two things. First, I’m untrained. So I might relate the story roughly or even mangle a detail. I welcome corrections from any and all sources. Second, I’m unpaid. I receive no money for writing these pieces, with two and a half exceptions: first, supporters helped me by crowdfunding my ticket to the conference. These stories are part of what I promised them in return, but of course they didn’t and couldn’t demand any particular coverage. Second, we get some ad revenue when you visit Violent Metaphors. But there aren’t any strings attached to that, either, and the average traffic of the blog is too modest for it to make much money even with the occasional popular post. (I can verify this. Sigh. –Jennifer)

And two-and-a-half, I’m still working on a book that will draw from this research. It probably won’t make much money either. Such is life. (And I’m not complaining. I didn’t start this project to make money.)

Now it’s a good idea to disclose such things from time to time regardless, but here I have another reason to be clear:

Anna Merlan snapped this photo as she was being confronted by conspiracy theorists. Would you have thought to take your phone out and take a photo while this was happening to you? I wouldn’t–I’m learning a lot from the professionals.


I’d like to avoid this. And if it helps to disclose that I don’t work for Qatar or Ari (or even Rahm) Emmanuel—hang on, we’ll get there—then consider it done.

Thursday: Rough Seas

As I said, I’m not the only person here to write about the conference. Anna Merlan of Jezebel is here, as is a writer-photographer team representing another publication. I think there’s been at least one more, too, but I’m not certain. They arrived with minimal preconceived notions and a sincere willingness to listen and learn. That is to say, they probably didn’t believe that vaccines cause autism or that aliens built the pyramids before the conference, and I doubt they do now, but they’re obviously working diligently to understand and document those perspectives. Most of the people who have those beliefs are happy about that. But most is not all.

Thursday we had a dual session: in one room Michael Badnarik, the 2004 Libertarian presidential candidate, was talking about the Bill of Rights. In the other, Leonard Horowitz and Sherri Kane were screening their documentary about the Paris attacks. I chose to go see Badnarik, given my interest in the legal side of things. And Badnarik was great—we disagree about some pretty fundamental things, like whether the 14th Amendment makes everyone born in the United States a citizen (it does), but I respect that he didn’t give anyone bad advice. He just laid out his beliefs and invited discussion in a friendly and respectful way.

As much as I enjoyed debating the Constitution with Badnarik, I do regret missing the Paris attacks documentary. I’ve debated the law with lots of people for lots of years. I’ve never experienced anything like that. This sentence exists only to heighten the suspense—feel it build!

The documentary is online, so even though I missed it I could go watch it at any time. And I will once we’re ashore and bandwidth is cheap again. So I won’t describe it in any detail until then. Based on talking to people who were there—which is my source for all the things that happened while I was out of the room—it alleges the attacks involving the Bataclan Theater and the Eagles of Death Metal were a false flag orchestrated in whole or in part by Qatar and Ari Emmanuel. (His brother Rahm is the mayor of Chicago.) I don’t know what if any evidence exists for this. And honestly, I suspect the answer is “not very much.”

But the reporters were there to find out. The two writers and photographer I mentioned above all attended the screening, which Horowitz and Kane hosted in person. At Kane’s request Merlan stood up and introduced herself as a writer for Jezebel before the show, and Horowitz and Kane responded with an anecdote about ambushing Penn and Teller’s film crew. An awkward moment, but no big deal.

After the documentary Kane called the photographer up to the front of the room and berated her, objecting specifically that she was taking the wrong pictures. They seemed upset that the photographer took pictures of the parts of the movie referring to Horowitz and Kane’s “sponsors,” which I think are their own products—naturopathic nostrums, for the most part. Kane demanded to know why the photographer’s publication would be interested in this conference; I think I would have said, “Good lord, who wouldn’t be?”

I can only imagine how the photographer felt being called out, grilled, and berated in front of an audience for doing her job. And I should stress she’s doing a job that the speakers should want done. They’re here to share and explain their beliefs. They’re selling DVDs of the sessions. Horowitz and Kane were trying to drum up interest in their documentary! Attacking the media for giving it to them must have seemed as strange and hostile to their audience as it does to me, because many of the conspiracy theorists in the room stood up to defend her. Seeing a professional attacked for doing her job offended them just the same way it would offend you or me, and they’re here because they’re not shy about their beliefs in general—when they were offended, they spoke up about it. The result was a kind of mini-town hall meeting, with some crosstalk and shouting. The conference’s yoga instructor defended the journalists for example, as did the gentleman I dined with in Day One and mentioned again in Day Three.

I heard some of this commotion through the wall but didn’t make much of it; one expects a documentary about the Paris attacks being a false flag to contain a certain amount of yelling, and I assumed that’s what I was hearing. By the time I wandered over the fracas had blown over and people filtered back out to the ship. (Most of these events are happening in a bow conference room, just off the casino. Every time I go through there I look at the poker table and promise myself tonight, I’ll make time to play for one hour. But I haven’t had time, such is my devotion to you, dear readers. You’re killing me, dear readers.)

Sometime later that night, Merlan went to the ship’s internet café in the stern, or what sailors call the ship’s butt. There she ran into Horowitz and Kane, who have spoken with tremendous fierce energy about how they love to confront the media they think are attacking them—and they’re especially geared up to engage those they think are COINTELPRO plants. So perhaps it’s no surprise they showed up armed with a video camera and the firm suspicion that Merlan’s neither animal nor mineral.

I’d never met Merlan before the cruise, but when I heard she was from Jezebel it gave me certain preconceptions. Specifically that she’d be skeptical and straightforward, and not inclined to put up with bullshit. But I don’t think many of the people on this cruise really know what Jezebel is. A few of them seem to think it’s a harmless ladyblog for ladies who want to read about lady politics between pregnancies. I think they’re in for a surprise. But not necessarily an unpleasant one, given the positive impression the attendees are making generally.

It’s pretty common knowledge around here what happened next: Merlan and the Horowitz/Kane duo (they like to call themselves the “HoroKane,” but:  No) filmed each other and then . . . talked. Talked like people do. Granted, it started with an ambush and granted, it was a bizarre conversation. The circumstances would have been alarming to me.

How would you feel walking down this hallway knowing you might be ambushed by someone who thinks you are a CIA plant?

They suggested that the CIA hires young reporters without them even knowing it, and maybe that was her situation. They suggested that Gawker might be partly controlled by the Sheikh of Qatar, and that he’d be pulling her strings. But they also explained that they feel like they get smeared by the media a lot, and they listened when she told them she’s not a plant. They may have believed her too. At the end of the day, literally, they did what people on the boat are here to do: talk about ideas that are too bizarre to generate serious conversations in the outside world. It was a terrible way to have that conversation, but we can acknowledge that it ended well.

14 thoughts on “Troubled Waters: ConspiraSea Cruise Day 4(ish)

  1. mem_somerville (@mem_somerville) January 31, 2016 / 12:50 pm

    I was at a CDC meeting on vaccines once, accused of being a plant. For imaginative people, it always surprises me that they can’t imagine that some people just actually disagree with them on facts. They have to assume you are paid to do so.

    Is there any way around this? It’s just like a gate that slams down on any conversation. It’s why we can’t have nice convos.

    • Colin February 1, 2016 / 6:56 pm

      I think the reporter handled it as well as possible–she listened to them and talked to them. I’m tempted to say it didn’t work, since it didn’t prevent their later outburst, but on the other hand, who knows what would have happened if she’d blown up at them or stormed out or refused to engage with them?

  2. Chris February 6, 2016 / 4:10 pm

    Obviously the woman in the photo was filming the journalist. Do you think that big brave guy (sarcasm, see link) will include that film in their next “documentary”?

  3. Cotati February 25, 2016 / 3:44 pm

    “How would you feel walking down this hallway knowing you might be ambushed by someone who thinks you are a CIA plant?”

  4. Chris February 25, 2016 / 4:16 pm

    Now I see that those who requested the photo and their names be removed seem to have posted a photo and interesting comments about Colin and the three journalists. I guess it would be fair for you to put the picture back up.

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