Another sinister (in my view) example of conspiracy theorists' control on those willing to believe is Sean David Morton
, "legal and constitutional expert," financial analyst, Area 51 "expert, producer, and radio show host." (If he were here, reading over my shoulder, Sean David Morton would scream "Doctor! Sean David Morton" as a correction, even though he is by all accounts not
a doctor.) Upon disembarking the ship, Morton and his wife were arrested by the IRS on tax fraud charges
. If convicted, Morton could face a maximum sentencing of 650 years in prison. Despite not having a law degree, he has reportedly chosen to represent himself in his own trial.
Two days before he found himself shackled by the hands of the law, Morton told me about his psychic ability to "remotely view," well, anything — from where a friend might be on a college campus to the way the stock market would turn. What he failed to mention (or to predict), though, was a 2013 order by the SEC demanding he pay out $11.5 million in reparations for tax fraud. Looking back on my time with him, I zoom in on a moment with a particularly incensed Conspira Sea Cruise participant who cornered Morton for not giving her the specific, detailed advice she was looking for. The problem she needed help with? How to get out of debt without the government's interference.
I had a similar experience with a couple by the names of Len Horowitz and Sherri Kane, or, as their self-assigned conspiracy-celebrity-couple name goes, "The HoroKane." The pair lives in Hawaii, where they broadcast homespun documentaries about everything — from the beauty of the 582hz frequency (which they claim, through a series of perplexing diagrams, is the genesis of love and creation), to the Paris attacks (which they insist can reportedly be traced back to Qatar and Ari Emanuel). You can see the full hour-and-22-minute Paris effort here
. Horowitz and Kane have grown wary of the media, having been chastised for their beliefs in the past. Still, it came as a shock to me that the day after my sit-down lunch and interview with the couple, they approached me on the sundeck one more time. This time, a camera was in their
Horowitz looked excited to see me. He said he had been looking for me and wanted to discuss one of the questions I had asked him during our interview the previous day. The topic at hand was whether or not he felt like a messiah. He said I'd only asked him that question for one of two reasons: Either it was my true curiosity, and therefore a reflection of my own messiah complex; or I was sent by "True Ott.” True Ott, I later found out, is a fictitious-sounding nemesis of Horowitz and Kane, out to ruin them. Horowitz also told me that True Ott was 7'5" tall. I effectively convinced him that I knew no such man and that it was, instead, my journalistic instinct, more specifically, a genuine reaction to his previous answer, that inspired me to asked that question. Eventually, we settled into a calmer exchange. Horowitz dropped the camera and let us resume filming as he carried on with stories of FBI investigations and persecution. Though the encounter was intense, we left on good terms and later made plans to do karaoke.
What may not have ended so well, though, was the couple's later and more direct attack on a fellow journalist covering the conference. The photographer had been using flash during a screening of Horowitz and Kane's Paris attacks documentary screening, and the pair were growing increasingly unsettled by her presence. When the movie wrapped, Kane called the woman up in front of the crowd of theorists and conference participants and essentially berated her in front of the entire audience. Instead of garnering support from the crowd, though, the plan to embarrass the photographer backfired. What ensued was a very tense, very awkward town hall meeting. When I arrived on the scene, Dannion Brinkley, the "Big-Dog," well respected by his peers and audience alike, was walking out and shaking his head. Turns out, not all conspiracy theorists back each other in every situation.
For full disclosure, I wasn’t personally afraid at any point on the ship, but I understood why the targeted members of the media left the room totally rattled. And, after Susan Shumsky, the well-meaning organizer of this group (and other similar cruises) did her best to gently and genuinely calm the room and maintain the media’s right to be onboard (we had all paid for our tickets, after all) I gathered with her and a friend in her cabin for one last game of Scrabble. It was appropriate to spend the last hours of my time onboard with Shumsky, since I had met her as she stuffed schedules into gift bags and made name tags in an airport hotel room in L.A. the night before the ship departed. Shumsky has studied under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru of the Beatles and Deepak Chopra, and has lived in a RV, van, or trailer since 1989. She likes it better that way. She has a high, shaky voice but means business. She wears crystal hair clips for the boat’s dress-up nights. In her room, after the big blow-up, I could tell that Shumsky was shaken.
She said everyone meant well. I felt horrible for the woman who was publicly shamed by the theorists. But, there in her room, I felt bad for Shumsky, too, for having to watch everything she spent so long organizing fall apart. She won the Scrabble game, and the next morning before I took off, she assured me that all had been resolved. Still, the image of Horowitz and Kane coming towards me on the deck, their hands gripped so tightly on the mic, their eagerness for emphatic voice-raising, stuck with me.
When I got back to the office, a little seasick and a little shell-shocked, the number-one question I was asked was "So, are you crazy now?" The answer is no. What I said, instead, was that I now know more, in a way. Not that I have seen the light, have shifted worldviews, or have adopted any of these beliefs, but rather that I know more about what others believe, and I feel a bit more of the fabric of how and why conspiracy theorists operate. And, truth be told, it's a lot more similar to the way “non-conspiracy theorists” operate than one might think.
Onboard the Conspira Sea Cruise, I found myself face-to-face with a group of individuals whom much of society has deemed totally insane. I danced with them, played games with them, dined with them, made friends with them, and I even argued with them. The result was a better understanding of what it means to believe. And the chance to hold my own beliefs up against a group's beliefs — perhaps ironically, as these individuals do regularly in the outside world. It resulted in a more strong-willed empathy to defend the right for others to believe and evangelize what they hold to be true to them (as long as others aren't getting swindled, tricked, or hurt). And I came out of the experience with a better understanding of what it means to belong. I got to watch a group of unique and disparate minds find community in the unlikeliest of places: onboard a gigantic cruise ship, dwarfed by the sky and sea.