2020, Books, Non-Fiction

American Madness (2020) by Tea Krulos

(Way) Before Pizzagate there was the Phantom Patriot’s raid on Bohemian Grove. I had never heard of this before I read this book and completely missed any news coverage of the story, if there was any. So I’m glad I read this alternately hilarious and saddening story of one man’s obsession with conspiracies and his attempt to do something about it.

On the whole, the story is well told. Krulos does an excellent job of humazing McCaslin and helping us understand how and why someone could get from just being interested in comics and superheroes as a child to actually breaking into private property to prevent imagined horrors. Krulos also does a pretty good job of trying to be objective, not just about McCaslin’s actions but about the kinds of things that McCaslin and others like him believe. He bends over backwards trying to present most of the conspiracy theories discussed in the book as “beliefs these people have” rather than “stupid things these people fall for” and he trusts the reader to know that these things aren’t real. I appreciate the effort on his part even though sometimes I think he might be overly kind.

My biggest issue with the book is the attempt to place McCaslin’s actions in context. I agree he was clearly a trail-blazer of a sort, in terms of people trying to take justice into their own hands with conspiratorial beliefs. And his decision to do so as a “Real Life Super Hero” also seems to make him an important figure in understanding this stuff. But much of Krulos’ accounting of the contemporary conspiracy scene is in so many other books about this stuff. Whole sections of the last third of the book could easily have been excised or condensed, as they are not directly about McCaslin – sometimes they aren’t even about Alex Jones or the others who inspired McCaslin near the end – and they are covered ad nauseum in discussions about the popularity of conspiracy theories in 21st century America, whether that’s in books or online. To me, this book is about McCaslin and that’s what makes it unique from the other books trying to understand the popularity of conspiracy theories. Every time it leaves him it starts to lose me.

But it’s very much worth your time if you’re interested in understanding people like this. And it’s pretty funny at times as well as pretty insightful about why people do the things they do.


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