It is all quite mad. In Them: Adventures with Extremists British journalist Jon Ronson follows a number of characters, including Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian living in London, whose loudly stated goal is a holy war on Britain, the country that shelters him.Omar, who calls himself Osama bin Laden's man in London, stands around on street corners handing out leaflets and shouting things like "Be careful from homosexuality. It is not good for your tummy," though that is the least of his imprecations. It makes him sound winsome, which he is not. During the time Ronson spends with him (the late 1990s), Omar collects money for terrorist groups, calls for fatwas (death threats) against infidels and would gladly see Britain made into an Islamic nation by force.He lives off welfare money given him by the British government and cheerfully admits he uses British political and civil rights in order to try and destroy them. He gloats over American deaths on Sept. 11, and only when the government threatens to deport him does he begin to backpedal and squeal to Ronson that, of course, everyone knows he's just a clown and not to be taken seriously.Omar is among the more potentially dangerous loose cannons popping off in Ronson's entertaining and disquieting book about extremists in the United States and Europe. They are a varied lot, united in nothing yet sharing a common belief in a conspiracy of "Them," an elite group that rules the world by meeting in a secret room somewhere to decide such monumental issues as when to start wars, who gets elected president or prime minister, and how to control global financial systems.The only thing more startling than that is: Could the extremists be right? Ronson travels down byways both creepy and comical that make him doubt, if not his sanity, then the extremists' lunacy.Take, for instance, the Bilderberg Group, universally dismissed as every extremist's favorite fantasy. If it's a fantasy, then why does Denis Healey, retired British Labor cabinet minister, heartily hail its existence and its goals – including the desire to eliminate extremist groups?Is it benign? Then why all the sinister cloak – if – not – exactly – dagger stuff that Ronson and another fellow are subjected to when they try to scout out Bilderberg's annual meeting in Portugal and watch, open – mouthed, as cars carrying "many of the world's most powerful people" roll past them to a meeting that no one will admit is taking place?Or take David Icke, a former sports journalist in Britain who has given himself over to the task of warning about a conspiracy to create a New World Order, with the additional information that its leaders are genetically descended from 12 – foot lizards. If he is so loony, why do so many establishment groups go to such lengths to demonize him and cancel his appearances?Are "they" doing it? What do "they" have to fear? Well into his book, Ronson writes, "My rationality had suffered a tremendous blow, and I now no longer knew what was possible and what was not."Despite his confusion, the author continues his journeys, traveling from Ruby Ridge to an auction of Nicolae Ceausescu's shoes. Ronson finally ends up in the forests of northern California, where he sneaks into an opulently appointed sylvan glade to observe putative leaders of the New World Order at play: scores of well – known politicians and wealthy businessmen, sometimes naked, prancing about, urinating on trees, and attending the ritual burning of an owl image. Whether it's sinister or simply sophomoric, Ronson wonders: The Branch Davidians were a cult and this is not?It is all quite mad. "Thank God I don't believe in the secret rulers of the world," Ronson says. "Imagine what the secret rulers of the world might do to me if I did!"
Roger K. Miller, a former newspaper book editor and columnist, is a marketing writer in Wisconsin.