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Are conspiracy theorists infiltrating the media?

Richard Syrett, producer and conspiracy theory talk show host with CFRB 1010 News Talk Radio.

DEBORAH BAIC/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Ever heard of a Haarpicane? How about a Haarpiquake?

According to conspiracy theorist Nelson Thall, the recent tragedy visited upon Haiti was no mere earthquake. It was something more sinister. In his view, High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) technology destroyed the island. Why? Because it's a pawn in the ongoing battle between what he calls the Old World Order (loosely, the Anglo-American Empire) and the New World Order (loosely, the European Union and the Vatican).

George Freund, a colleague in the city's booming conspiracy brotherhood, stops short of attributing the Haitian quake to tectonic weaponry. But he notes that the country's "potential oil and mineral wealth make [it]plum for the picking," and that a bright plasma ball (doubtless caused by a HAARP weapon) was photographed on the eve of the quake in the skies over Haiti.

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Mr. Thall, a.k.a. Lenny Bloom, and Mr. Freund are just two of a growing group of Torontonians who reject the "facts" they say we're spoon-fed, in favour of more unsettling truths.

They're not alone. As British writer David Aaronovitch observes in his new book, Voodoo Histories , the Western world now lives in an age of "fashionable conspiracism," its garments feverishly promoted via Internet forums, blogs and, increasingly, mainstream media. Coast-to-Coast - a late-night radio talk show - is syndicated on more than 500 North American stations. Conspiracy culture has even infiltrated TV prime time with Conspiracy Theory , courtesy of former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, and The Conspiracy Files from the BBC, erstwhile bastion of establishment thinking.

But conspiracy theory seems to be nowhere more fashionable than in Toronto.

Mr. Thall (as Bloom) and Mrs. Jane Steele host Shock Talk , a weekly Internet radio show. From the same downtown studios, Mr. Freund webcasts his own show ( Conspiracy Cafe), as does Timothy Spearman ( Shaking a Spear). They, too, cover the conspiracy waterfront, including "airplane chemtrails" (Western governments are secretly spraying us with toxins) and the veracity of Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship.

On Zoomer 740 AM Radio, Richard Syrett's Conspiracy Show serves up other main courses, from who really killed John and Bobby Kennedy (hint: not lone gunmen) to what actually caused the buildings of the World Trade Center to collapse on 9/11 (hint: not fires ignited by jet fuel). Mr. Syrett - dismissed from CFRB last January after running a segment on Mr. Obama's birth-certificate issue - also helms a new 26-episode TV series, The Conspiracy Show , which will soon be syndicated (with the radio version) in the U.S.

On air, Mr. Syrett tends to adopt a sober, just-curious approach to conspiracy theories, but if you want a true believer, AM 640's Gary Bell is your man. The Spaceman, his nom de microphone, sallies forth rhetorically for three hours every Saturday night, specializing in arcane numerology and the shadowy backstage cabal known as the Illuminati. According to Mr. Bell, it runs the world.

If Toronto is, in fact, the urban hotbed of conspiracy theory, it may be explained by the same theory that accounts for why so many Canadian comedians were able to find success in the United States: We live close enough to the empire to understand it and critique it, but are never really part of it.

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Local interest in his and other shows, says Mr. Freund, is growing steadily. The rise of the Internet has fundamentally changed the conspiracy landscape, creating a parallel nighttime world, "where you can talk about genuine issues and get around the reigning paradigm.

"Hearing the truth is often uncomfortable, but at least it helps you know when you're being lied to."

Mr. Thall says it was the 1963 Kennedy assassination that first stirred his interest in conspiracy studies - a de facto coup d'état from which he believes America has never really recovered. His instincts, he says, were later endorsed by Marshall McLuhan, for whom Mr. Thall worked as an archivist.

"Marshall was the original conspiracy theorist," he says. "I'm standing on his shoulders. He's the one who discovered that the West's arts and sciences are in the pockets of secret societies, like the Gnostics, Rosicrucians and Freemasons. JFK also warned against the nefarious power of secret societies."

Mr. Thall welcomes the democratization of access to alternative thinking, but sees a darker side - another conspiracy theory, if you will - to the popularization trend: the ruling establishment's campaign to muddy the conspiracy waters, "misleading audiences rather than following the truth. You don't get positions on TV like Jesse Ventura unless you're an agent provocateur."

Organizations such as CNN and Fox News, Mr. Thall maintains, are essentially "military psy-ops operations." He considers his own show, Shock Talk - and its companion website, - "an antidote, a kind of civilian news agency. The owners of the system want to put us to sleep and we're trying to wake the people up."

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Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, the name of the Toronto radio station AM 640 was incorrectly referred to as Radio 640. This version has been corrected.

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About the Author

Based in Toronto, Michael Posner has been with the Globe and Mail since 1997, writing for arts, news and features.Before that, he worked for Maclean's Magazine and the Financial Times of Canada, and has freelanced for Toronto Llfe, Chatelaine, Walrus, and Queen's Quarterly magazines. More


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