You are not the kind of person who settles for easy answers.
You never swallowed the Warren Report. You think the Church Committee's investigation of the CIA lacked balls. You just know they pulled the plug on the Iran-Contra hearings and the Vince Foster affair before they got to the good stuff. You've sworn off cell phones, microwaves and bananas from Costa Rica because of what you found out about them on the Internet.
You are a vigilant driver, always on the lookout for smoked-glass Lincolns and Ryder trucks, plain white vans and black helicopters. You have a copy of every X Files ever aired.
So when the fax arrives from America's Tea Party 2000, promising to explain the Columbine Mind Control Cover-up, you jot down the time and place. Inquiring minds want to know. You go.
Elsewhere around town, the national media is setting up live remotes, hustling to deliver some anguished what-does-it-all-mean soul-searching on the occasion of the first anniversary of the murders at Columbine High School. But in the back room of a Denny's by the interstate, there are no cameras, no microphones -- just a small gathering of true believers determined to uncover what others must surely be trying to cover up. They meet over plates of turkey and mashed potatoes, tuna melts and apple pie.
What are they doing? Thinking the unthinkable. Positing the impossible. Asserting the asinine. The claims are hurled defiantly in the air, buzzing and roiling like a swarm of government-engineered killer bees:
"Eric Harris was under CIA mind control, and his father was under CIA mind control. Eric told people this before he ever moved to Colorado."
"Klebold's father was in the militia."
"This all started with the classes on death in the Jefferson County schools."
The conversation quickly expands to encompass Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, JonBenét Ramsey, the satanic ritual abuse of children and the evil treachery of the federal government -- which, as any true believer knows, isn't really a government at all but a private corporation controlled by the New World Order and in league with the Illuminati, the Luciferians and the Zionists.
Your head begins to ache.
The participants are all middle-aged or older. One bespectacled fellow introduces himself as a local distributor of The Spotlight, the Liberty Lobby's saber- rattling, Clinton-bashing, Holocaust-denying weekly newspaper. He adds, "I'm on the Anti-Defamation League's 'watch' list."
An octogenarian tax protester snorts, "People are just finding out about this stuff. I've known about it since the '40s."
Tonight's master of ceremonies is Doug Millar, who describes himself as "a full-time investigator of violent crimes against children." In 1999 Millar put together the first America's Tea Party (not to be confused with Glendale's political upstarts), a gathering of self-styled "experts" on various conspiracy topics, in Las Vegas. Ten days after he heard of the Columbine massacre, he decided to relocate to Denver to investigate the crime from his own obsessive perspective.
"I've talked to many NRA boardmembers about Columbine," Millar says, "and every one of them has told me that they also suspect that mind control was involved."
A relentless faxer, Millar has occasionally found an audience as a guest on talk-radio programs. But he hasn't stirred more than a whisper among the mainstream press -- or, as he likes to call it, "the Controlled Propaganda Media."
He drew a modest following to this year's Tea Party events by papering the city with fliers, promising a lineup of speakers that included well-known cranks and grumps such as IRS nemesis Bill Conklin (speaking on "Why No One Is Required to File Tax Returns") and perpetual Lakewood political candidate John Heckman. Former state legislator and militia enthusiast Charles Duke made a surprise appearance, but most of the speakers were as anonymous as the attendees, and at times the two were inseparable. ("YOU are invited to disagree with our speakers &/or be one very soon!" declares one flier.)
Conspiracies of all sorts are the bread and butter of America's Tea Party, and it figures that the most preposterous theories about Columbine became the centerpiece of this year's event. With the embattled Jefferson County Sheriff's Office still laboring to release its final report on the investigation a year after the shootings ("Stonewalled," April 13), victims' families alleging death by friendly fire and police coverups, and volumes of ill-informed speculation appearing in print, on television and in cyberspace, the tragedy has become a magnet for half-baked rumors, myths and pure drivel. Many of the wilder notions have found their way onto Millar's fliers and into Tea Party lore:
"Why are Jefferson County's coroner and [Jeffco] Sheriff [John] Stone claiming Dylan Klebold committed suicide, when he was left-handed but shot in the right side of his head?"
"Why won't the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms show the media and public the photos of CHS's roof damage by two bombs, with nearly a dozen rifle shells lying in a corner of one of them?"
"Students report they were shot at by a man on the roof dressed in black!"
"Why won't CNN rebroadcast its footage of a NATO vehicle and shields at CHS during the massacre?"
Millar's own theories about the massacre are abstruse and excruciating. They invoke a host of dubious sources -- an "eyewitness at a training class," a community college instructor who's talked with many Columbine students, an "investigator" who's followed the case from another state. They hark back to the CIA's infamous Cold War experiments on human subjects involving psychological warfare and LSD, a program that supposedly ended three decades ago but that Millar believes has only become more insidious and sophisticated. They also intertwine with his theories about the Ramsey and Polly Klaas murders. Pieces of the muddle can be found on his Web page (citizens.nettaxi. com/exposed), and if you have several days or weeks, he can show you a great deal more, but the whole loopy story comes down to this: Harris and Klebold, Millar says, were programmed by the United States government, which is really a corporation, to attack their school and kill their classmates and themselves.
You ponder this. You ask why the United States government, which is really a corporation, would want to do such a thing.
Millar seems distressed by your naiveté. He answers your question with a question. "Does the government want our guns?" he asks.
You ponder this, too. Angry parents are filing lawsuits against the sheriff's office and various elected officials, claiming that the government failed to protect their kids at Columbine. Yet here is a man saying that the government did exactly what it set out to do, with the kind of ruthless efficiency governments scarcely ever achieve.
You consider the alternatives. On one hand, a scenario of senseless death and horror, a slaughter devised and executed by two adolescents, prompted by nothing more than their own rage and madness. On the other, a government plot concocted by devious men in dark suits, designed to provoke mass hysteria and demands for gun control.
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One possibility offers no clear course of action, nothing but grief and loss. The other gives you an enemy to fight against, an enemy right out of a stinkeroo Mel Gibson movie.
Given a choice between horror and absurdity, you begin to see why some people would choose the latter. You begin to see why, in a country afflicted by spectacular eruptions of terror and bloodshed, absurdity might seem attractive, even plausible.
You thank Doug Millar for his insights and head for the door. Your head hurts worse than ever.