I want to believe

Jesse Ventura brings Conspiracy Theory to television, and the world will never be the same

Conspiracy theories get no respect. This seems somewhat unusual, considering that just about everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. Millions of Americans believe someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated JFK. An extraordinary number of otherwise sane individuals insist 9/11 was an inside job. This past week, I received separate e-mails from local folks requesting SN&R investigate the “chemtrails” crisscrossing Sacramento’s skies. I’d wager that a significant number of the readers who’ve actually made it this far into the column have indulged in one if not all three of the above fantasies.

The very best conspiracy theories always contain at least some element of truth. The ClimateGate controversy is a case in point. Some of the e-mails illegally hacked from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, when taken out of context, appear to confirm the belief held by anthropogenic global-warming skeptics that an international cabal of climatologists has colluded to perpetrate an elaborate hoax. However, as The Associated Press’ exhaustive examination of the ClimateGate e-mails demonstrated this week, nothing in the correspondences negates the innumerable peer-reviewed scientific studies that show anthropogenic global warming is occurring, with unpredictable and potentially catastrophic consequences.

Still, it makes for a good conspiracy theory. By “good,” I don’t mean to confer any value other than a particular plot’s worth as a conspiracy theory in itself. You can’t go public with this kind of stuff. For one thing, it’s not, in the strictest sense, true. Reputable journalists avoid such stories like Tiger Woods shuns fidelity. Disreputable journalists rely on editors to pull them back from the brink. It’s not all that unusual for journalistic careers to follow conspiracy theories down the rabbit hole.

That’s why I’m grateful for Jesse Ventura’s new series on TruTV, Conspiracy Theory. I’ve always been a fan of the former Navy SEAL, professional wrestler and governor of Minnesota. In terms of his new program, the best thing about Ventura is that he isn’t a journalist. He has no career to lose, so he can go where rational observers fear to tread.

The program debuted last week and airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Channel 30, if you’re a Comcast subscriber. I missed the first two episodes, but my sources tell me The Body came out swinging.

In the first episode, Ventura and his “team of expert investigators” traveled to Gakona, Alaska, where the Air Force Research Laboratory maintains the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, a system of powerful antennae. According to the program’s Web site, Ventura hoped to discover the answer to the long-asked question: “Is HAARP a communications research project or a doomsday weapon that can change the weather, shoot satellites out of orbit and trigger mind control across the globe?”

Ventura next tackled physicist Steven E. Jones’ theory that the World Trade Center was brought down by explosives planted by persons unknown. Jones claims that microscopic iron spheroids found in the 9/11 ashes prove the so-called controlled-demolition theory. To my knowledge, it’s the first time Jones has ever been given a quasi-mainstream (we are, after all, talking about cable here) forum to express his views. I’ve got issues with Jones’ theory, but perhaps Ventura will tackle my favorite far-fetched version of the 9/11 conspiracy in a future episode: that remote-controlled jetliners were used to bring the buildings down, in much the same way that Blackwater-directed drones currently plague northern Pakistan.

Of course, I’d never seriously consider such an outlandish and totally fabricated scenario in print, even though fly-by-wire technology for jetliners has existed for decades. That’s the thread of truth in this particular conspiracy theory. Latch on to that thread, and watch your professional life unravel. Conspiracy theorists, like conspiracy theories, get no respect.

It’s left up to the Jesse Venturas of the world to go where no one has gone before. In this week’s episode—which will be rebroadcast several times, check your local listings—he explores the belief by some skeptics that even though man-made global warming may be real, “People are using the issue to make billions of dollars, start a one-world government and control our lives, from the cars we drive to the foods we eat.”

Like all great conspiracy theories, there’s a nugget of truth to it. It’s entirely reasonable to be suspicious of the usual Wall Street suspects attending the United Nations climate-change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week. Eager to get a head start in the carbon-credit trading market, they’ll no doubt blow it up into yet another noxious financial bubble that will explode and rain economic hellfire down upon all of us.

I know Ventura is going to talk about carbon trading, but he’ll also be dipping into a realm that can only be called science fiction. According to the Conspiracy Theory Web site, “Ventura starts with Al Gore and goes far beyond as he uncovers the evidence that leads to one man thought to be behind the global-warming conspiracy.”

It sounds crazy, I know.

But if you made it this far, I know you’ll be watching.