The Strange True Story of the Godfather of Conspiracy Theories

The Strange True Story of the Godfather of Conspiracy Theories
Photos of William Cooper and alien sketch via The Hour of the Time Photo collection. Photo of Ol’ Dirty Bastard by Scott Gries/Getty Images. Photo of Alex Jones via Wikimedia Commons. Image composite by Lia Kantrowitz

From Ol’ Dirty Bastard to Alex Jones and Donald Trump, William Cooper’s deranged ideas have been felt insanely far and wide.

     In the eyes of most conspiracy theorists, there’s always going to be an Osama Bin Laden or a Timothy McVeigh or a Lee Harvey Oswald, somebody who takes the blame for spectacular crimes or injustices while more nefarious forces remain in the
By Seth Ferranti

shadows. But in the last several years, a new wave of conspiracy theories—and adherents—have gained traction on the internet. From Alex Jones’s smearing of Sandy Hook families to lies about Parkland crisis actors to renewed chatter about lizard people secretly running the world to dangerous near-tragedies like PizzaGate and, most recently, QAnon types showing up at Trump rallies, ours is a moment rife with fresh paranoia. Yet even if the way false and toxic narratives take shape and spread may be changing, they all owe something to the forefather of modern conspiracy theorists, William Milton Cooper. Among other things, he was the author of Behold a Pale Horse, a strange book that was considered required reading when I first went inside the belly of the beast—a.k.a. federal prison—to serve a 25-year sentence for an LSD conviction in 1993.

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