If you wonder why people are planning to “Storm Area 51” or why there seems to be non-stop conspiracy theories these days, look no further than Willian “Bill” Cooper, author of Behold a Pale Horse, the underground bestseller beloved by everyone from Tim McVeigh to Tupac, the Wu-Tang Clan and the creators of The X-Files. As a Naval Intelligence officer privy to secret intelligence reports during Vietnam, he realized the Government was lying to the American people. This was a launching pad for Cooper’s creation of a paranoiac web of theories, embracing everything from Area 51 to 9/11. PKM speaks to Mark Jacobson about his book on Cooper, Pale Horse Rider, which attempts to unravel the enigma of Cooper and chart “The Rise of Conspiracy and the Fall of Trust in America.”
If Iggy Pop is the godfather of punk, then Milton William “Bill” Cooper (1943-2001), is the godfather of modern conspiracy. The former naval intelligence officer, alarmist radio commentator and tireless promoter of his paranoiac worldview did not look like a radical—he sort of resembled an even dumpier Sen. Joseph McCarthy—but he may have shaped American politics in 2019 more than any person living or dead.
“I think he was basically anti-fascist, far more liberal-minded than the broadcasters in his zone”
Cooper’s base of operations was The Hour of the Time, an anti-government program that he began broadcasting via shortwave radio (the internet of its day) in the late 1980s and on Internet bulletin boards. Cooper’s show raised its profile considerably by pushing the Clinton-Whitewater story, the New World Order, Freemasonry, the Illuminati and other secret societies, and the connection between the American government and extraterrestrials. In 1991, Cooper published Behold a Pale Horse, a book that, if there had been a viable internet at the time, may have “gone viral.” Instead, it became a cult hit, and one of the most widely read books in U.S. prisons, influencing the likes of Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols (the Oklahoma City bombers), the Wu-Tang Clan and The X-Files.
Cooper’s Behold a Pale Horse is name-checked in this Wu-Tang Clan song/video set in 2000 BC, “Gravel Pit”:
When tossing down a conspiracy theory gauntlet like Behold a Pale Horse, Cooper was wise to link its title to the Book of Revelation, the crazed coda to the New Testament. Allegedly written by a self-proclaimed “prophet” named John exiled on Patmos, an island off the coast of Asia Minor (now Turkey). The pale horse which Cooper asks us to behold is the first of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. By citing this, he too, like the crazed John of Patmos, is implying that he has the gift of prophecy. That is all one needs in America, land of religious hysterics, to lend oneself unassailable credentials as an expert on conspiracies.
How did Cooper, a former Naval Intelligence officer, Vietnam War vet, super patriot, and religious agnostic arrive at this destination? According to Mark Jacobson, in his Pale Horse Rider, Cooper was pushed there. While reading intelligence reports in Vietnam, he began to realize the federal government was lying to the American people. For example, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger would assure the American people that U.S. bombers were only dropping loads inside Vietnam and yet Cooper was privy to the actual intelligence reports, citing estimated casualty figures, of bombing runs in Cambodia and Laos.
“Truth is always in the hidden, isn’t it? That’s why people suspect there’s always conspiracies because the truth is being hidden from us.” – Mark Jacobson
Everywhere he looked after this, Cooper discovered deception and subterfuge on the part of his government. Riffling through the file cabinet of his boss, Admiral Bernard Clary, Cooper claimed to have found evidence of everything from secret meetings with Soviet agents to the existence of extraterrestrial wreckage at Area 51. That file cabinet was his Pandora’s box—once opened he could not get the demons back inside the drawer or out of his head. (Never mind that the chances of a no-name admiral having copies of top secret intelligence documents is approximately zero).
Deeply disillusioned, Cooper left the military in 1975. He moved to Oakland, where he worked as a diving instructor and began researching more deeply into the government’s secrets. He claimed that on two occasions during these years, he was forced off the road by a “black Cadillac limo” while riding his motorcycle in the Berkeley Hills, narrowly escaping death and injuring one leg so badly it had to be amputated. He was visited at home, he also claimed, by two men who told him that he better cease his research…or else.
Undaunted, Cooper launched his fledgling radio program and compiled his conspiracy theories—everything from the real cause of AIDs, UFOs and JFK’s death to 9/11 and his own death, in a shootout with federal agents at his home in Arizona two months after 9/11.
Here is Cooper propounding his outlandish theory that JFK was killed by the driver of the limousine that fateful November day in Dallas, 1963:
To Cooper, Dallas was just one tiny manifestation of a gigantic all-encompassing conspiracy dating back to the 12th century and the Illuminati, the secret society that he believed masterminded a world-wide conspiracy that had been in place since that time.
We now live in Bill Cooper’s world.
PKM spoke with Mark Jacobson to try to figure out how we got here.
PKM: Not all conspiracy theories are crackpot or wrong. Sometimes they prove to be correct, or at least reasonably close to the truth. What were some of the conspiracy theories that Cooper seemed to get right, or close enough to suggest he was onto something?
Mark Jacobson: To answer that I think Cooper was a brilliant primitive of the field. But there are several ways to be “right” about Conspiracy predictions.
One way is actual fact or something approaching it. Cooper scores big time when he “predicts” 9/11 saying “something” is going to happen that “they are going to blame on Osama bin Laden.” That is a matter of fact. Something happened, they blamed it on Osama. It is a little different when says in Behold a Pale Horse that excessive prescription of drugs like Ritalin is going to result in school shootings that will lead to government overreach on the Second Amendment. That also has elements of truth because it sounds true to many people. But it is still a speculation whether Dylan Klebold took Ritalin or not.
“The Kennedy assassination is the Gold Standard, nothing will ever top it.”
What Cooper excelled at was predicting what the conspiracy would be. He does a show on the day of 9/11 and in real time lays out most of the elements of what would become 9/11 Truth four years later. He predicted what people were likely to think about a cataclysmic event because he was ahead of the mind curve on what conspiracists were likely to think.
Here’s the audio of Bill Cooper’s broadcast on the day of 9/11 attacks, in which Cooper accurately predicts what exactly would happen in the wake of the attacks:
PKM: What would Cooper make of all this talk about a “deep state”?
Mark Jacobson: He talked about that a lot but always with a religious spin so it came in his secret societies work. The “deep state” is pretty tired stuff. Jack Newfield, no ring winger, often wrote about the “permanent government.”
PKM: You mention in the book that Cooper kind of predicted someone like Trump. Not by name but by description. How so?
Mark Jacobson: He believed that disregard of the Constitution would create the possibility for tyranny. The sense is he would have been horrified by Trump’s King George the Third act but knocking someone like that might have killed Cooper’s audience.
William Cooper Predicts Donald Trump:
PKM: How would you describe Cooper’s politics? He was libertarian, of course, but was he an absolutist in that regard?
Mark Jacobson: I guess you could call him a libertarian. He acted like a strict libertarian when he announced the platform of the Constitution Party with Aaron Russo that allowed abortion which is pretty amazing considering his evangelical listeners. I think he was basically anti-fascist, far more liberal-minded than the broadcasters in his zone
PKM: The JFK assassination really unleashed the conspiracy beast, didn’t it? That was the event that pulled the left wing into the conspiracy theory orbit with the right wingers, who’d been there all along.
Mark Jacobson: The Kennedy assassination is the Gold Standard, nothing will ever top it. The lack of the internet allowed the political conversation to develop organically over several years. It was truly bipartisan for a long time which was a good thing. Indeed, the lampooning of the Kennedy researcher is a typical anti- counterculture move like the stereotype of the stoned hippie.
PKM: Have you ever noticed how so many conspiracy theories just “coincidentally” line up with people’s political leanings?
Mark Jacobson: Conspiracy is like anything else, there is good conspiracy and bad conspiracy. A good conspiracy is like a mystery story, best served by a mysterious death. You see that in Epstein matter. Pizzagate had its lurid attractions but was too farfetched to go beyond the most nutty right believers. Epstein’s demise legitimatized Pizzagate in a way because it showed that the rich and powerful really were fucking underage kids.
PKM: From its inception, America was prone to conspiracy theories. For example, various out groups were singled out by the Puritans—the Quakers, Jesuits, heathen Indians, then all three together, then the witches, all the way up to, three centuries later, the Muslims and the Mexicans, etc. Why do you think Americans are so predisposed? Is this just human nature? Do all countries have their own conspiracies?
Mark Jacobson: If you look at the subject of conspiracy theories, you will see it’s a meme that runs through human history, it stays the same and the only changes is how it is adapted to fit the times.
Truth is always in the hidden, isn’t it? That’s why people suspect there’s always conspiracies because the truth is being hidden from us.
PKM: Do you ever worry personally about going down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theorizing?
Mark Jacobson: I don’t worry as long as I get to pick the rabbit hole. The trick is to know when the main vein has been played out
One rapper, William Cooper, has taken that name in homage to Cooper and has produced a number of compelling tracks and videos that deal with conspiracy theories about the government, including one called “Pale Horse Rider” that features a cameo by Mark Jacobson: