Paranoid Times

by by Rebekah Bergman

Under the aegis of the Providence Conspiracy League, Issue 1 of PARANOIA was Xeroxed on a $500 budget at Kinko’s in 1992. Since then, the tri-annual Conspiracy Reader has been listed by Playboy as a “Top 10 Zine” and received a Writer’s Digest Award of Merit in 2001. The magazine, described on the website as a “time capsule” of “alternative views and marginalized theories,” is transitioning to a longer annual book format this May. In a series of email interviews, pseudonymous co-founders Joan D’Arc and Al Hidell told the Independent about the history and future of their paranoia and ours.

The Independent: Was there a public demand for a conspiracy magazine in 1992?
Joan: Well, we thought there was, in order to counter the mainstream, but also to counter the leftists who had a problem with ‘boundaries’ in other words, who they could touch or what they could talk about. We were arched somewhere between the left and the right, somehow subsuming both of them and struggling to show people how the two polarities didn’t really exist, except where they were meant to divide and conquer and keep us arguing.

I: What was the mission of PARANOIA? Has it changed at all?
Al: I think our mission has always been to confuse and scare people by presenting alternative and even contradictory viewpoints, in a crafty mix of entertainment and enlightenment. We’ve broadened our subject matter over the years, but the mission has remained constant.
I: Was PARANOIA a response to any current events in the 1990s?
J: Initially, in 1992, we were responding to the Ruby Ridge event in Idaho, where the FBI and federal marshals had a violent confrontation with the Weaver family, culminating in the killing of Randy Weaver’s pregnant wife. This event was followed by the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 and the FBI siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco. These events sparked a huge outpouring of citizen paranoia, and we were there to take notes.
I: What does being paranoid mean to you? Would you describe yourself as paranoid?
J: Paranoia is side vision, the ability to see out the corners of your eye, and not allowing consensus reality to put blinders there. We are all beset by such blinders from our parents, teachers, media, church, and television, from the moment we’re born. I prefer to describe myself as a “conspiracy geek” but I’m not particularly opposed to the term “paranoid.” Paranoia is defined as “an unfounded or exaggerated distrust,” or the “belief that someone is plotting against them.” While I don’t believe someone is plotting against me personally, I do believe someone is plotting against the people of America. You have only to look at the recent Wall Street debacle to know that the rich people of this country aim to break our backs as they’re walking on them to get to the bank.
I: Why do the editors use pseudonyms?
J: To protect us from people who throw pies.
I: What motivates your writers to write conspiracy theories?
A: I think our writers are driven by the same forces that drive most writers—the desire to express and share their views of the world. They are passionate about their ideas, but they generally don’t fit the stereotype of the wild-eyed, rambling kook. We’re all rather boring and ordinary actually, although we still receive the occasional ream of dense, rambling, pages written in tiny, shaky handwriting.
I: What do you hope a reader gains from PARANOIA?
J: A third eye in their forehead that gets bigger and bigger with each issue.
I: In a note from the editors in Issue 1, Al wrote “PARANOIA is about the news they don’t print in Newsweek, the people they don’t cover in People. We’re an antidote to media coverage.” Has mainstream news coverage expanded or narrowed in the last 17 years?
A: The mainstream media has become slightly more accepting of conspiratorial viewpoints, but not by much. They’ve become more polarized towards the Right and Left, certainly. Under Bush, the liberal conspiracy theorists got more coverage. Now, under Obama, it’s those on the Right. But the point is, the mainstream media has become less relevant since 1992. People have access to more information sources now.
I: How have alternative news venues changed?
A: In 2009, you don’t have to publish a physical magazine anymore. Every conspiracy theorist can have their own website, their own blog, their own podcast, their own YouTube video, and their own print-on-demand book, all without having to spend thousands of dollars. So the barriers to the creation of alternative content have come way down, which is great. The Internet has also brought down the barriers to the distribution of alternative content, at least in theory. But even on the web, most of the top 15 news sites are still controlled by major media conglomerates.
I: How about society? In your opinion, are people today more complacent or more suspicious of mainstream news than they were in 1992?
A: I think people are definitely more suspicious and less trusting than in the ‘90s. But the suspicion and lack of trust is still largely along ideological lines. In other words, Fox News viewers tend to be very skeptical of MSNBC’s ‘liberal bias,’ while MSNBC news viewers don’t trust Fox News. It’s a kind of ideologically selective paranoia, which I guess is better than none at all.
I: Which theories do you find the most convincing?
J: The most well founded conspiracy theory revolves around the mystery and enigma of Lee Harvey Oswald, who in Issue 45 we call “Fortean Man.” Every single piece of his existence has been investigated in depth by conspiracy geeks the world over, and none of it fits. He seems to walk through walls like a shapeshifting media structure. The only thing that makes sense is the one thing he was able to state publicly with TV cameras rolling, “I am a patsy.”
I: What theories do you doubt?
J: I personally do not believe David Icke’s theory that the ruling elites of the planet, like the Queen Mum, are able to shapeshift into their reptilian-human extraterrestrial counterparts at sordid retreats like the Bohemian Grove. Not that I don’t believe the elites partake in occult rituals at such secretive locations, but if there are any reptilians around, I would say they’re masks.
REBEKAH BERGMAN B’11 watches you suspiciously from the third eye in the center of her forehead.