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Them: Adventures with Extremists    by Jon Ronson order for
by Jon Ronson
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2002 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Now here, let me tell you, is a writer committed to his craft. In researching this book about extremist groups, Ronson, the British documentarian and journalist, spent a long time with some very shady people. For example, he spent about a year with Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed ('bin Laden's man in London,' he called himself), the wanna-be demagogue who wants to turn Great Britain into an Islamic country. Ronson hung out in northwest Montana with Rachel Weaver, whose parents, Randy and Vicki, were killed at the famous 'Siege at Ruby Ridge.' He got tight with Thom Robb, the new leader of the Ku Klux Klan who wanted to give the Klan a warm and fuzzy public image (it's not about cross-burning anymore). And so forth.

You wouldn't think these various groups of interestingly unusual individuals would have much in common, but Ronson discovered a common thread, a premise that runs through these different ideologies: the world, everybody seems to believe, is run by a small group of powerful people. These shadowy folks orchestrate wars, manipulate elections, control Hollywood and stock markets, and - according to at least one particularly fascinating fellow - are really twelve-foot lizards from outer space.

This book, which was published in the United Kingdom in the spring of 2001 (before events in September made extremists rather less risible), is immensely entertaining. Ronson could have turned the people he writes about into stereotypical objects of ridicule - lord knows some of them are begging for it - but he doesn't. He treats these religious fanatics, bigots, racists, and paranoids with compassion - he listens to them, reports fairly what they say, what they believe, and allows us to draw our own conclusions.

A very, very enlightening little book.

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