A few weeks after the, shall we say, contentious 2016 primary, a former friend who I still somewhat interacted with on Facebook (and who was and maybe still is a dyed-in-the-wool Way Too Online Libertarian) started blasting me in the comment section of some post I made. He accused me of supporting weird, horrific stuff that made no sense just because I voted for Hillary Clinton.
Not being a patron of the Conservative Reddit Extended Universe, I had no idea what he was referring to. Pizzagate would not yet enter the national lexicon for another month.
At the time, I had no idea who William Cooper was. I had never read Behold a Pale Horse and if I’d heard of it five years ago, it wasn’t at the forefront of my knowledge. Yet after finishing this one, I have no doubt it influenced my former friend and thousands of others.
Donald Trump’s fear mongering brought these clowns from the fringe and gave them a seat at the table. But for a long (blissful) time, conspiracy theorists were laughed at.
I don’t want to say that Mark Jacobson “humanizes” William Cooper. It’s not that kind of book. But he does draw a straight line of how a man who served his country in some trying and changing times (Vietnam, Civil Rights Movement, Watergate) could come out on the other side irreparably damaged. His pain would be channeled into explaining everything…
as a battle of good versus evil.
Things such as the Kennedy assassination, World War II, 9/11 and others were just new fronts in a war that had begun at the dawn of time. A Manichean struggle of well-connected elites in secret societies and the peons (Cooper coined the ubiquitous term “sheeple”) they tried to control.
On the one hand, you can dismiss 99% of what Cooper is saying. Jacobson talks about the evolution of American conspiracy theories in great detail (sometimes a bit too great, which is one of the few weaknesses of the book) and one would have no problem chucking UFOs, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, etc. out the window.
But Jacobson also makes it clear: Cooper’s paranoia was well founded. He served in naval intelligence where he knew that Nixon was lying about bombing Cambodia and Laos. And he knew the weaknesses of the country, particularly its racism. I’d be the last person to call Bill Cooper racially enlightened but he was loud and adamant of how the government persecuted Black and indigenous folks.
Jacobson also covers, in great and wondrous detail, the impact Behold a Pale Horse had on rap culture. It’s something I never knew about or really considered, despite having heard the lyrics. But there’s an obvious reason as to why his cache would be legit: Cooper is white, he had access to secret info on why our government was lying. As ODB said about Cooper: Someone’s always trying to f—k you. Bill Cooper told me why. That meant something to me.
It’s a well-written, easily digestible book on how we as a country got to this moment (it ends with Trump’s election 15 years after Cooper’s death) through the eyes of a man who helped get us there.