Tim Stanley — Telegraph.co.uk Sept 10, 2018
Milton William Cooper predicted 9/11. On June 28, 2001, the conspiracy theorist told listeners to his broadcast Hour of the Time that Osama bin Laden was about to be blamed for “a major attack” on a large city.
Cooper was easy to dismiss: he had also told the world that Eisenhower signed a peace treaty with aliens and JFK was shot by the Secret Service. He was 58, drunk and living alone up a hill in Arizona. But on this occasion, he was right. And in the days that followed the attack on the World Trade Centre, Cooper also warned that he price of intuition would be his own life: “They’re going to come up here in the middle of the night, and shoot me dead, right on my doorstep,” he said. On November 5, 2001, that, too, is exactly what happened.
Marc Jacobson’s new biography of Cooper – Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy, and the Fall of Trust in America – is a fascinating insight into what they call the “paranoid style” of US politics, the anti-state populism that you’ll find bubbling away at Trump rallies or in the fevered broadcasts of Alex Jones.
There have been countless conspiracy theories to explain American decline, from the Royal Family running the world to “9/11 was done with lasers” – Cooper’s talent was pulling several strands together into a coherent meta-narrative. It was enormously popular.
His 1991 book Behold a Pale Horse is believed to have sold around 300,000 copies, although this figure doesn’t cover how many have been borrowed, shared or stolen. Barnes and Noble stores only sell it behind the counter because it keeps getting pinched. It’s one of the most widely-read books in prison.
Cooper’s official story of his own life is that he was born in 1943 to a military family; he served in Vietnam, the air force and as a naval intelligence officer. At some point he was privy to an extraordinary document. It claimed that Eisenhower had lied in 1954 when he said he’d lost a tooth cap on some chicken and been rushed to a dentist: he was in fact taken to the desert to meet an extra-terrestrial ambassador called His Omnipotent Highness Crlll.
America and the aliens agreed to live in peace on a quid pro quo: Washington could have Crlll’s technology if Crlll could abduct the odd wide-eyed yokel and experiment on him. After John F Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he was told about the deal and threatened to expose it. So he was shot to death by his own driver in Texas, with what Cooper described as an “electrically operated, gas-powered assassin’s weapon built especially for the Central Intelligence Agency.” It “fired pellets of shellfish toxin.”
You can start to see Cooper’s appeal. When he went public with his theories in the late Eighties this softly-spoken ex-military man offered a unified theory of conspiracies that tied up aliens, Kennedy and the illuminati – the people who sweep everything under the carpet – in one happy bundle, and for a while he was a hit in the UFO community. But then Cooper pulled off a dramatic 180.
He decided that the alien visitation was actually a fake, a fraud concocted by the government in order to distract attention from what it was really up to and to make its critics look like crazy people. The conspiracy was itself a conspiracy. This leant a certain integrity to Cooper’s thinking: if he was willing, in effect, to admit previous error, perhaps he was honestly motivated by a search for the truth?
In fact, says Cooper’s biographer, “He was a world class fabulist, and I mean that in a complementary way.” Jacobson insists that a lot of Cooper’s backstory checks out – what’s revealing isn’t what’s in it but he chose to omit. “So, take his claim that he was only married once. He neglected to say he’d been married at least five times before.”
Cooper was a failure, a washout, a fundamentally tragic persona, and representative of a lot of men of his generation. He went to Vietnam believing in the mission – that the Communists were some great conspiracy that America had to beat. It didn’t take long to conclude that the war was being fought under false pretences. The real plotters were the warhawks back in Washington DC.
Indeed, given America’s self-inflicted wounds since 1945, it’s no wonder that it has generated so many wild theories about why things keep going wrong. You can read Behold a Pale Horse as the attempt by a mad person to make sense of madness. Jacobson points out when the Cold War ended in 1991, a lot of people who had believed the Reds were behind everything were de-anchored, and sucked up into UFO or anti-illuminati subcultures.
Anti-government militias flourished; neo-Nazis, too. Cooper was popular with those people, but his politics were hard to place and complicated by his suspicion that many conspiracy theories were actually a deep state plot.
For instance, like the neo-Nazis, he made a big play out of the Protocols of Zion – a notorious fraudulent document claiming to prove that Jews run the world. But, unlike the fascists, Cooper declared that the Protocols had been worded to inject anti-Semitism into politics and divert attention from the illuminati. Cooper thought racism was a control strategy.
Indeed, Jacobson’s own interest in Cooper was piqued by discovering that he has a big following among African-Americans. Cooper insisted that crack was created by the CIA to control the ghettos and Aids as a form of population control. Jacobson once stumbled across a rapper called Ol’ Dirty Bastard – “kind of the Ringo Starr of the Wu Tang Clan” – reading a copy of Behold A Pale Horse and asked him to explain the appeal. Said Bastard:
“In this world people are always trying to f**k you and William Cooper is the guy who tells you who is trying to f**k you. And when you’re someone like me, that’s very valuable information.”
But it really wasn’t. The problem with Cooper’s unified theory – aside from all compelling counter-evidence and its internal contradictions – was that it put too much faith in human ingenuity. Were the world a conspiracy, it might be run better. It’s not. The only real conspiracy is what Jonathan Swift called “a confederacy of dunces”, the cack-handed men and women who undermine Brexit, peace or the economy rarely through design and mostly by just being over-promoted idiots.
Cooper’s precognition of 9/11 is a case in point. Cooper was not the only one to suspect something big was about to go down: the CIA had been warning George W Bush of an imminent attack since spring 2001. He ignored them. Many conspiracy theorists make apparently good predictions simply because they’re paying attention to things the rest of us aren’t.
As for predicting his own death, Jacobson calls it not accident or fate but “suicide by cop”. Cooper was wanted by the federal government for tax evasion, and may have been dreaming of his own martyrdom – but the feds wouldn’t play ball. They just didn’t think he was worth going after. It was only after Cooper picked a fight with some powerful locals that the police finally acted.
They stormed his Arizona ranch and he was shot dead – conforming, in the minds of his followers, that he was right all along. In a final twist, it turned out that Cooper’s arrest attempt had been delayed for reasons of a possible security breach, but that if it had gone ahead as scheduled the date would’ve been a familiar one. September 11, 2001.
Pale Horse Rider by Mark Jacobson is published by Penguin on September 13. To order your copy for £19.99, call 0844 871 1514 or visit the online Telegraph Bookshop