Perhaps the most surprising revelation uncovered in New World Order, Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel’s look at conspiracy theorists, is just how downright boring the people who make up the underground anti-globalist movement truly are. The doc is less an expose than a classic case study of filmmakers asking all the wrong questions. From its unoriginal opening of JFK’s voice over the credits, warning newspapermen of the dangers of secrecy in society (before a cut to images from the Zapruder film), to filmmaker/radio host/showboat Alex Jones’s long, crazy, on-air rant that resembles an audition for The Exorcist, the directors have announced their intention not to dig too deep, but to merely reaffirm mainstream perceptions of New World Order theorists as disenfranchised crackpots.
Profiling such activists as Austin-based Jones (familiar to Richard Linklater fans from A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, a poster of which hangs prominently over his conspiracy chain bulletin board), “9/11 Truther” and Brooklynite Luke Rudowski, Katrina relief aid worker Seth Jackson, and Jack McLamb, a police officer-turned-separatist in a militia-based community, one aspect stands out above all the radical hyperbole: Much like the anti-abortion contingent, these anti-globalist leaders are all disaffected white men. (The most obvious parallel to Muslim conspiracy theorists—also rural blue-collar men—that would have given the doc some global context is, sadly, never drawn.) Instead of probing the question, “What is bringing all these ‘Ron Paul for president’ T-shirt-wearing dudes to this viewpoint?,” we get mysterious music over footage of white men clandestinely taking snapshots of other white men at the secretive Bilderberg conference. We get uninteresting talking-head interviews like the one in Rudowski’s bedroom, “9/11 Truth” ephemera covering a wall, and glimpses of the anti-globalists preaching on street corners. If the best the filmmakers can do to liven things up is a quick shot of Geraldo Rivera being harassed you know they’re in deep visual trouble. (That protests and rallies aren’t all that thrilling in and of themselves is something a director like Haskell Wexler understood innately, which is why he incorporated a fictional element into Medium Cool.)
Timucin Leflef, a Turkish-Irish filmmaker who adds some ethnic color to the true believers—and whose clips from his own sci-fi Orwellian fantasias are much more exciting than is the documentary he’s in—admits that he’s afraid of being targeted but, “I’ve got some weird chip in my ear saying, ‘You have to save the world!’” Indeed, all of the men seem to have a Superman complex, a preoccupation with society as damsel-in-distress. Many express the sentiment that the conspiracy connections they make render life “simple,” that living off the land in places like Idaho harkens back to a “simpler” time. Yet the directors never bother to delve into why these men need simple answers, and avoid complications at all costs. Is this how they make sense of a nonsensical world? Is this how they keep their very sanity?
To his credit, Jones unexpectedly and eloquently addresses the condescension toward the 9/11 Truthers as men who are afraid of chaos in the world with, “Why would I want to believe the government did this? That’s a thousand times scarier!” But the directors never follow up with the obvious point that Jones has no career outside of conspiracy. He’s every bit as invested in the New World Order theory as the “global elitists” he accuses allegedly are.