By Stephanie Zacharek
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By Alan Scherstuhl
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By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
If conspiracy theory can be construed as one of the fastest-growing contemporary religions—a belief system that explains the unknown and gives shape and meaning to life—Alex Jones might well be its Moses. The partial subject of Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel's New World Order, the beefy, excitable Austin radio host and filmmaker dwells somewhere to the right of Rush and the left of Michael Moore. A fittingly paranoid presence in Richard Linklater's more dystopian movies, he's been quarantined by media gatekeepers to that fringe where moon-landing doubters trade panicky looks with flat-Earth proponents.
To an underground coast-to-coast audience, however—which devours (and spreads) his homemade j'accuse! exposés about global and national cover-ups as if they were tablets hot off God's press—Jones is the Last Honest Man. Nobody in the MSM has the balls to say this stuff, so he has to talk twice as loud. "You want us to back off?" Jones bellows into his mic, jolting the VU needle into the red so often it could work as a windshield wiper.
A facile but fascinating documentary about the world of 9/11 skeptics and world-domination doomsayers, New World Order stops well shy of endorsing Jones's arguments, the most incendiary of which is that 9/11 was a massive government-executed plot. But it gives his theories a more sympathetic, or less critical, airing than they've yet had (except among the converted). Neither a call to alarm nor a laugh-at-the-loonies yukfest, the doc charts a temperate middle course through its subjects' heated rhetoric.
Directors Meyer and Neel made the arresting 2006 documentary Darkon, about a Baltimore community of medieval role-players, and they've mastered the deadpan Errol Morris gambit of frame-the-oddball-in-his-natural-habitat—as when a chipper Christian couple strums a hymn while their TV plays 9/11 explosion footage. But you walk away from New World Order wishing they had taken their subjects' ideas seriously enough to give them the rigorous factual challenge they need, even if the result is that they're thrown away . . . or, God help us, confirmed.
The filmmakers connect the dots of deep-seated conspiracy belief from militia-friendly Idaho—where an ex-cop named Jack McLamb keeps vigil over those bedrocks of freedom, "the jury box, the ballot box, and then the cartridge box"—to post-Katrina New Orleans, where a baby-faced 9/11 truth convert named Seth Jackson pleads to passers-by that the Pentagon plane crash was a hoax. The latter provides the movie's most telling moment, arguing with a man who claims he's a Pentagon staffer—and who takes umbrage at Jackson telling him that the plane wreckage he walked past every day didn't exist. There's no hope of eventual consensus: They don't even occupy the same planes of reality.
The players in conspiracy theory may have changed—yesterday's Masons, Illuminati, and Elders of Zion are today's Bilderberg Group of moguls, whose hush-hush meeting Jones stakes out with gung-ho Jack Bauer zeal. But the underlying appeal remains the same: The powerful few secretly enslave the many, and the signs are everywhere for those who dare to look. Put another way: This crazy world makes sense after all.
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