Tune in here every Friday for Tea’s Weird Week.
Today starts my 3-day vacation, where I’ll be doing nothing but laying in a hammock drinking pina coladas. Just kidding. I will be doing some kicking back at the Moonlight Retreat, but I’ll also be taking a red pen to a couple manuscripts and leading a ghostlore workshop.
Being somewhat in vacation mode (and looking forward to fall), for today’s column I thought it would be appropriate to round up of some stories I’ve studied this summer. I’m working on finishing up a book about conspiracy theory (American Madness) and 2019 has been a helluva year for it. This summer in particular feels like the one where we collectively lost our damn minds. [I included links to further reading.]
Here’s my top 5 Summer of Conspiracy stories:
(1.) Storm Area 51: I wrote about the viral “Storm Area 51” event in this column a few weeks ago. Now there’s going to be a 3-day “Alien Stock” music fest, already drawing comparisons to the disastrous Fyre Festival. As I wrote before, I’ve been through the area and Rachel, the town the fest is happening in, has a population of 58 people, no infrastructure, no shelter, no nothing– the nearest gas station is 50 miles away! Not the best place for an EDM festival. [USA Today]
(2.) QAnon Vigilante: One of my editors sent this article to me and I’m surprised I haven’t seen it more in the news cycle. Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali, who was head of the Gambino crime family and spent most of his life avoiding death, had his ass capped by a vigilante conspiracy theorist named Anthony Comello, inspired by QAnon. I’ll be dissecting the story more in my book. [New York Times]
(3.) Flight of the Flat Earther. After aborting his mission last weekend, Flat Earther and rocketeer “Mad” Mike Hughes is set to blast 5,000 feet into the stratosphere in his homemade rocket tomorrow, which reads “Research Flat Earth” on the side and was funded by a hook-up dating app called Hud. The attempt will be filmed for an upcoming show called Homemade Astronauts for the Science Channel, which sounds fun. At first I was completely confused as to how launching 5,000 feet in the air could prove anything about Flat Earth as we have planes, hot air balloons, and hang gliders that can rise higher than that, but then I realized this is more about publicity. It’s not the journey, it’s how you get there. [Space.com]
(4.) V is for…Anti-vaxxer? This year’s San Diego Comic Con featured an appearance by a large group of protesters dressed as V, the character from V for Vendetta in a protest appearance made popular by Anonymous. A couple months earlier, the same (or similar) group protested outside of Disneyland for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, dressed as Star Wars characters. [respectfulinsolence.com]
(5.) Epstein Suicide Conspiracy. The most interesting news story of the last week for me was the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein. It was just crazy to see conspiracies explode and proliferate online within minutes of his death being reported. Because Epstein had some connection to both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, the theories were partisan– Trump had him rubbed out or the Clintons had him whacked (to fit the Clinton Body Count theory) or a Deep State cabal did. I even saw theories that Epstein made a getaway, leaving a dead hobo’s body in his place (a theory spread by the band Foster the People, among others, who tweeted “Epstein’s on a private plane to somewhere in the middle east getting prepped for plastic surgery right now”). [NBC News]
Alright, enough conspiracy– I’m off to the Moonlight Retreat. Have a good weekend!
My favorite barbershop is Jose’s. Sad to hear of namesake Jose Ortiz’s death. Here’s an “Off the Cuff” I wrote on him for the Shepherd Express back in 2008, after someone suggested I stop in and talk to him because he was an interesting person. Indeed he was.: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/off-the-cuff/barber-extraordinaire
My latest book is Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers. You can find it here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Tea reports on his weird week every Friday.
Every week is a little weird for me, but this week felt especially weird for everyone. The FaceApp (the one that makes you look old) is being called for investigation for it’s potential ties to Russian data mining, you can buy a drone-mounted flamethrower now, the trailer for the Cats movie is freaking people out, a five foot alligator (nicknamed “Chance the Snapper”) was caught in a lagoon in Chicago and in other weird alligator news, there was another story about flushed drugs creating “Alabama Meth-gators,”
But two other stories really grabbed my attention this week, both conspiracy related.
“Lets see them aliens.”
Wow, that Area 51 thing really blew up, huh? Started as a joke, the “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” Facebook event page now has over 1.5 million people saying they are “going” with more joining all the time. It’s produced a lot of hilarious memes, jokes, and genuine interest in the Area 51 story. A 2018 Netflix doc, Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers, is likely what helped inspired this.
As I watched the number of people saying they were going to the event rapidly rise, I suspected that although the majority were just in it for a laugh, by mathematics alone there had to be some people who actually will show up at the Area 51 site on September 20 (the event date) to try to pole vault over the fence wearing homemade body armor.
Forbes reports in an article titled “Some People are Taking ‘Storming Area 51’ More Seriously Than Others” that:
“Hotels and campsites in the area have reportedly received a boost in reservations because of the event, and the Air Force issued a stern warning to potential raiders.”
I’ve already been there (but not inside, I’m sad to say). I’m working on a book about conspiracy theory (out Aug. 2020 from Feral House) and in 2015 I joined the main subject of my book, a conspiracy theorist (among other things) named Richard McCaslin, in a trip down the Extraterrestrial Highway. We stopped at the Li’l Ale’ E’ Inn, and cruised by the perimeter of Area 51, which is a lot of desert and chain link fence. You’ll be able to read all about my desert adventure in the book, including the similarities between Richard and this “Raid Area 51” event.
Here’s a picture I took of the Extraterrestrial Highway sign. I was amused to see that a local bar’s “I Closed Wolski’s” sticker, an omnipresent sight here in Milwaukee, made it all the way down there (in the upper left corner of the sign).
As for attempting to raid Area 51, let me say that despite the event title, I’m pretty sure the base can stop you all, probably with a couple of well placed machine guns. So please just stick to making funny memes and keep yourself out of jail and free of bullet wounds.
Thanks to my friend Wendy who shared a link with me to an article titled “House orders Pentagon to say if it weaponized ticks and released them,” (and it’s been picked up by many news outlets over the last few days) which alleges that Lyme disease could have been part of an experiment to see how it could be spread in a military lab creation. It immediately reminded me of my conspiracy research. While working on the book, I’ve been studying programs that might sound like a conspiracy theory, but turned out to be true. Among the most bizarre were military attempts to weaponize bugs and bacteria in the 1950s.
These included the wonderfully titled Operation Big Itch, a 1954 deployment of cluster bombs filled with hundreds of thousands of fleas, dropped on a controlled testing site in Utah.
Operation Big Buzz was launched the following year, an experiment to see if 300,000 mosquitoes and dispersed from an airplane above Georgia. Further tests with mosquitoes in Georgia and Florida occurred 1956-58 including Operation Drop Kick and Operation May Day.
Another bizarre experiment was Operation Sea-Spray in 1950, in which the unsuspecting population of San Francisco was sprayed with bacteria, which led to at least 11 people getting serious urinary tract infections (one died) and was possibly responsible for heart valve infections and infections to intravenous drug users.
The catalyst for this recent inquiry to the Pentagon about ticks comes from a book published this year titled Bitten: The Secret History of Lime Disease and Biological Weapons by Kris Newby, which is now at the top of my “to read” list. I’m curious to see Newby’s research and if she lays out a compelling case. I’ll follow up in this column when I’m done reading it.
This Week’s Links
I had a great time leading a discussion with Linda S. Godfrey at Boswell Book Company for her new book I Know What I Saw. I wrote about the book for the Shepherd Express here: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/books/linda-s-godfrey-looks-for-monsters-in-i-know-what-i-saw/
Next tours I’m leading: Milwaukee Ghost Walks Third Ward tour tomorrow (7/20) and next Saturday, 7/27. CLICK HERE for tickets. I’m also doing the Cream City Tours Riverwest Pinball Wizards tour on 7/28, Facebook event HERE.
My new book Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers can be found here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow