March 31, 2020

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Alice Walker, David Icke and the New York Times: Studies in the Mainstreaming of Paranoia

Alice Walker, David Icke and the New York Times: Studies in the Mainstreaming of Paranoia.

Michael Barkun

The following essay was written by Michael Barkun, a colleague in millennial studies who’s written a book with extensive treatment of David Icke. He wrote a letter to the NYT about their Alice Walker interview which the NYT did not see fit to print. Here’s a more substantial treatment, he’s offered to the Augean Stables.

The New York Times Book Review each
week includes a one-page interview with a well-known author called “By the
Book.”  These interviews follow a formulaic routine and always include the
question, “Which books are on your nightstand?”  The subject of the December
16, 2018, interview,
 Alice Walker, the author of The Color
and many other works, included among her responses to the question
the following:

And the Truth Shall Set you Free, by David
Icke.  In Icke’s books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and
several others, to think about. A curious person’s dream come true.

Like many others, I was shocked by
Walker’s reading preference.  I had written extensively about David Icke
in my book, A
Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America
, and
knew that not only the book she mentioned but Icke’s many others were laced
with vicious anti-Semitism, along with bizarre ideas drawn from occultism and

The published reaction to her interview
came in two forms, one from the Times, the other from Walker

The Times’ initial reaction suggested that
it was taken aback and befuddled by “The many readers [who] have expressed
concern…”  Rather than let the controversy play out in the Book
’s letter column, on December 20th it devoted an
“Inside The Times” article – traditionally placed on page 2 – to an attempt to
explain what had happened.  “Readers were upset,” the Times wrote,
“that we didn’t add context to Ms. Walker’s endorsement of Mr. Icke…”  In
a lengthy Q-and-A format – ironically similar to that of the original Walker
interview – “Inside the Times” explained at somewhat tedious length that “By the
Book” interviews were in fact conducted by email and that they were only
minimally edited. 

A careful reading of the paper’s explanation suggests that no one handling the Walker interview had actually read Icke or knew anything about his ideas.  That surmise was reinforced by the next stage in the Times’ reaction, a long news story, two days later, on December 22nd, headlined, “Answering Backlash, Acclaimed Novelist Calls Anti-Semitic Author ‘Brave’.”  The article was a combined summary of criticisms of Walker from Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL and Walker’s defense from her own blog, to which I will turn shortly.

The Times finally managed
to publish letters related to the controversy in the Book Review issue
of January 6, 2019.  Considering the magnitude of readers’ response to the
original interview, it was odd that only two letters were published, the longer
of which came from Jonathan Greenblatt, whose views had already been reported
in the earlier article.  There was also a brief “editors [sic] reply” that
stated that “we do not investigate or assess the quality of the books that the
subjects choose to write about,” another oblique indication, perhaps, that
whoever vetted Walker’s interview did not have a clue who David Icke was or
what he wrote about.

Alice Walker herself responded at
 in her blog.  If those upset by her interview were
expecting an apology, they were to be sorely disappointed.  She asserted
that she did not find him either “anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish,” and that “the
attempt to smear David Icke and by association me” was because of her support
of the Palestinians, which includes her support of BDS.

Icke has always claimed that he is not
only not anti-Semitic but is a friend and defender of the Jews.  He can
adopt this posture because, like many anti-Semites, he uses the device of
dividing Jews into “good Jews” and “bad Jews.”  He places in the latter
category B’nai B’rith, the Rothschilds, Zionists, and virtually all Ashkenazic
Jews, allegedly the offspring of Asiatic Khazars. That division does not
leave many “good ones,” except,
of course, the anti-Zionists
. Walker seems to effortlessly buy into
that dubious division, posting a poem that asserts “Zionist Nazis are not the
” Thus, Icke can have it both ways, denying anti-Semitism while
filling his books with Holocaust denial, tributes to the Protocols of
the Elders of Zion
, and a host of other well-worn if delirious anti-Semitic

Icke is, of course, even better known for
an idea that has nothing to do directly with anti-Semitism – his claim that a
conspiracy seeking to take over the world is being master-minded by a race of
reptilians.  The short description of this strange idea is that reptilians
from a distant constellation arrived on Earth, live in underground caves and
tunnels, and have cross-bred with humans to create a sinister hybrid race of
reptilians who look like real human beings, the better to work their evil
designs.  Walker calls this “wonderful stuff.”

My guess is that the Times simply
got caught by a case of sloppy editing.  It is unlikely that the staff of
the Book Review is au courant with David Icke’s work, the more
so since most of his books are self-published.  He is very well known in
the occult community and in certain outer reaches of the UFO community, but
obscure elsewhere. Whether Walker’s reference to his work ought to have been
excised before publication is a censorship issue.  My own view is that it
should not have, if only to provide an indication of Walker’s real views.
However, a statement about Icke by the editors appended to the interview would
have provided essential context to the great majority of readers unfamiliar
with Icke, and would also have removed the impression that the Times was
somehow endorsing Icke’s work by allowing Walker to praise it.

Michael Barkun is Professor
Emeritus of Political Science in the Maxwell School at Syracuse
University.  His books include A Culture of Conspiracy:
Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America 
and Religion and
the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement

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