Ken McCarthy has expressed concern about my article Reconstructing Reality, and its characterization of his website and his writing as part of a body of conspiracy theories. I would like to give an extensive response to his brief, but thoughtful, remarks. I checked my notes and reviewed Mr. McCarthy’s online comments regarding Jonestown and Peoples Temple. I also examined what I had to say about his site.
Here is the paragraph I wrote with which Mr. McCarthy takes issue:
A search of the word “Jonestown” on google.com, came up with 55,400 hits on 22 January 2002. After eliminating all of the hits for the Jonestown, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi Chambers of Commerce, and hotel-motel guides; and after eliminating all of the sites devoted to the Brian Jonestown Massacre, a rock band; and after eliminating a number of anticult sites, that is sites devoted to alerting readers to the dangers of cults, and thus forming their own conspiracy category; there really are only a few conspiracy sites that continue to pop up under different headings or guises. These comprise a Crime Library article by Fiona Steel (number 12); Vankin and Whalen’s frequently reprinted article, “The Jonestown Massacre: CIA Mind Control Run Amok” (appearing as number 14, under www.conspire.com and as number 56 under former United Kingdom Green Party Leader David Icke’s “Mind Control Archives,” at www.davidicke.net); Scientology’s Freedom Magazine site, with information noted above (number 25); and Ken McCarthy’s brasscheck.com, which is devoted to exposing the “unholy alliance of media, government, and big business” (number 32)… [page 18]
I think that any fair-minded reader would agree that the above accurately summarizes the relevant content of his site. It is clear that Mr. McCarthy is objecting to my interpretation of his comments and including them in an article on conspiracy theories. I want to point out that I carefully defined “conspiracy” in the article in order to avoid the appearance of dismissing or ridiculing the writers and the works whom I was discussing:
The title of this article, “Reconstructing Reality,” may suggest that I have a clear and accurate picture of what the reality of Jonestown was. I do not. At issue here is not the truth or falsity of these conspiracy theories, but rather their nature and purpose in explicating the Jonestown tragedy. As David Brion Davis notes, “[T]he phenomenon of countersubversion might be studied as a special language or cultural form, apart from any preconceptions of its truth or falsity” (Davis xv). I plan to examine the phenomenon of conspiracism in light of Davis’ observation, rather than to refute any theory.
The word “conspiracy” works much the same way the word “cult” does to discredit advocates of a certain view or persuasion. Historians do not use the word “conspiracy” to describe accurate historical reports. On the contrary, they use it to indicate a lack of veracity and objectivity. I am not using the word “conspiracy” in this derogatory sense, but rather in a descriptive way to mark those views which depart from popular or scholarly explanations of what happened in Jonestown… [p. 11]
By this definition, Mr. McCarthy’s comments fall within the rubric of conspiracy theory because that is not a “popular or scholarly” explanation. (By popular, I mean an opinion held by the general public; I do not mean one that is favorable.)
I am providing links to Mr. McCarthy’s websites, including his discussion of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, so that readers may judge for themselves who is the more credible witness in this discussion.