I don't care if you are a reptilian on another dimension, the Queen of England, George Bush, Henry Kissinger, whoever, your soul is pure love. (The Biggest Secret 468)
For the past fifteen years, David Icke (pronounced Ike) has been writing books that blend conspiracy theory and science fiction in ways that usually provoke pity or accusations of insanity. In some people, however, they provoke devotion and even a curious form of faith. In this article I'll look at Icke's writings and their relation to literary science fiction, specifically at what Icke's books can tell us about the boundaries of speculative fiction and the kind of belief speculative fiction writers ask of their readers. While I don't claim that Icke's works are fine literature, I do believe that he has something to teach all of us who from time to time find ourselves trying to convince the reader of the impossible. David Icke does not have all the answers. But he knows how to massage his readers' emotions in order to make them believe his stories until the world outside just disappears.
The work of David Icke first came to my attention while I was working for a small house renovation business in Brooklyn. Roberto was a heavyset man in his forties with squinty red eyes, full lips, and curly black hair. He had been a chef in Manhattan for many years but had fallen onto some bad times before he came to work at this company. At first, my relationship with him resembled the jocular friendships I enjoyed with other guys in the renovation business: we talked about the lifestyles of '80s hair-metal bands, memories of bar-room strutting, and speculation about the anatomy of women we glimpsed from the windows of the car. But things got weird whenever the topic veered towards the political—a fact thrown into stark relief by the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Before Katrina, Roberto had at times grumbled during political discussions. He used to mutter things like, "You're still not ready to face the truth." I never had any idea what he meant by these comments, so I paid little attention to them. Then, on one particular post-Katrina morning, some guys on the job were complaining that the government wasn't doing enough to help the victims of the storm. Roberto's discomfort grew more and more visible. His lips twitched and his eyes grew as wide as poker chips. "Don't you understand?" he finally blurted out. "The government made the hurricane on purpose. It's the same Brotherhood that's always been in charge. They're playing the same old game."
For a moment all of us were speechless. It had to be a joke. "What Brotherhood is that?" I asked, finally.
Roberto told me, "They're called the Anunnaki and they've been using humans as slaves for five thousand years." I sputtered and laughed but Roberto didn't laugh back. I don't know why I felt the need to debate him but for some reason I did. I said that, while I couldn't believe that the government had somehow created the hurricane, lax environmental standards had probably exacerbated it. He sneered as if I'd just told him I believed that the U.S. government existed primarily to escort kindergarteners across the street. Then he took a book out of his bag. It was David Icke's The Biggest Secret. "Read this," he said. "And then you'll understand."
I skimmed a few pages of the water-damaged tome and found the writing to be a heady combination of conspiracy theory, science fiction, and New Age philosophy. Many of the passages were almost unbelievably preposterous. But Roberto revered The Biggest Secret like it was the Bible, and after that conversation about Katrina, he became more and more open about what he believed. He behaved like a Copernicus surrounded by Ptolemaics, treating everyone else's views with extraordinary condescension. Once he asked me if I would be willing to believe that the human race was created by extraterrestrials. Having just completed a graduate-level course in human evolution, I said that I would not.
"I used to believe like you do," he said. "But I learned about something deeper. All those books you talk about, they're produced by the ones we call the Anunnaki. You'll see when you get older." He said all this in a sort of Leave It To Beaver fatherly tone, as if my skepticism towards David Icke was just another youthful phase, like motorcycles and rock music, which would fade as I grew into an adult with a good job and a professional haircut. Being twenty-eight years old, I didn't need a father figure, much less one who followed David Icke.
I never did make any real headway in communicating with Roberto. Another friend who started crashing on Roberto's couch had it much worse. He used to complain that Roberto kept him up until three or four o'clock in the morning every night with discussions about David Icke. I was glad I didn't have to go through that, but the situation had piqued my interest. David Icke was doing a lot of the same things that science-fiction writers did, and yet he was taking the imagination to a very different place. Besides, I thought, anyone who could make people believe what Roberto believed must know something that SF writers needed to know.
David Icke was born in Leicester, England, in 1952. He grew up in public housing and played professional soccer until arthritis in his hands forced him to seek other work. He then reported for a local newspaper before moving on to the BBC, where he was employed as a sports correspondent. Having participated in environmental campaigns to protect the ecosystem of the Isle of Wight, Icke later found a position as the national media spokesman for the Green Party of the United Kingdom. He kept that post from 1988 to 1990. In 1990, Icke published his first book, It Doesn't Have to Be Like This, a tract on Green politics. Interestingly, he was already anticipating that others would regard him as insane, even though he officially represented a major political party at the time:
The man who has written this book is completely out of his mind. Quite bonkers. . . . Do you know he actually believes that you can't go on taking more and more from the Earth every year and turning it into more and more pollution [sic]. What nonsense! (It Doesn't Have to Be Like This i)
This particular sensibility, a belief that one is speaking a truth so radically different from consensus reality that the masses will denounce its speaker as insane, was to become a prominent theme in Icke's later work. It also interfered with his relationship with the Green Party. The Party banned him from speaking at meetings in 1990 after he informed them of a prophecy he had received from a spirit medium. He resigned later that year, claiming that he left the group because of its infiltration by bankers and industrialists. Soon after that he began wearing only turquoise and claiming on television that he was "a channel for the Christ spirit. The title was given to [him] very recently by the Godhead."
Icke's writing, too, was changing. In I Am Me, I Am Free: The Robot's Guide to Freedom, he argued that each of us have an infinite consciousness that is prevented from realization by the shackles of social conformity. This book combines a free-spirited romantic individualism with the sort of crystal gazing, aura viewing, and vibration sensing one might expect from popular New Age philosophy. While occasionally disturbing, the book is humorous in its wide-eyed way. And yet, Icke was about to take that New Age sensibility in a new and more frightening direction, partly by combining it with images from science fiction.
Over the course of the 1990s, Icke's books grew more and more focused on what he described as vast conspiracies against humanity. Then, in 1999, he published The Biggest Secret: The Book That Will Change the World. Because it is the most science-fictional of all of Icke's works, I'll focus on it in some detail. (All quotations below are from The Biggest Secret.) The book begins with a breathless announcement that human society is on the brink of a momentous decision:
We can fling open the doors of the mental and emotional prisons which have confined the human race for thousands of years. Or we can allow the agents of that control to complete their agenda for the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical enslavement of every man, woman and child on the planet. (xiii)
So begins a text that is alternately appalling and amazing. The author goes on to postulate a race of reptilians that has controlled human society from its very beginning. These beings, which Icke calls by the Sumerian word "Anunnaki," infiltrate human society through interbreeding with humans and placing their crossbred offspring into roles of power in human society. The evidence he offers to support this claim, as the late conspiracy expert Bill Keith has pointed out, is hardly of academic quality. The evidence ranges from crackpot etymology (vampires are reptilians because "Dracula" sounds like "Draco" and so on) to references to books that have been repeatedly debunked by scientific experts. Keith characterizes Icke's scholarly methodology as "Believe every goddamn weird thing anybody, anywhere ever said."
The poor quality of Icke's scholarship should be obvious to any reader with a middle-school education, and yet his work resonates with many people. A closer investigation into Icke's vision of Anunnaki infiltration helps to explain the appeal his writings have for his small but loyal group of followers. For Icke, the story of human enslavement by reptilian forces begins about 450,000 years ago. Paraphrasing a translation of a Sumerian tablet by the controversial Orientalist Alexander Sitchin, Icke describes the arrival of the Anunnaki in Africa for the purpose of mining gold. At first, the Anunnaki roped their own working classes into laboring in these mines, but later they developed humanity as a slave race through genetic engineering (6). While the original purpose of humanity's creation involved the exploitation of human labor, Icke argues that the Anunnaki have other, darker uses for human beings. Throughout The Biggest Secret, Icke points to the bloodiest and most difficult chapters in human history and blames each one on Anunnaki scheming. Human sacrifice? Demanded by reptilian overlords (38). British colonialism? Designed to wipe out indigenous knowledge and replace it with propaganda and mind-control (129). The death of Princess Diana? A ritual sacrifice of a moon goddess who had criticized her husband's reptilian royal family (443). While there is often a practical end to these acts, such as eliminating a threat to Anunnaki power, Icke also sees the Anunnaki profiting directly from fear and pain:
The common theme of all research into the reptilians is that they are emotionless and without sentiment and, at the fourth dimensional level, they feed off the energy of low vibrational human emotions like fear, guilt, and aggression. . . . The more of these emotions that can be stimulated, the more energy the reptilians have to work with. Thus we have the encouragement of wars, human genocide, the mass slaughter of animals, sexual perversions [sic] which create highly charged negative energy, and black magic ritual and sacrifice which takes place on a scale that will stagger those who have not studied the subject. (38)
For Icke's readers, this powerful inhuman force meddling in human events and feeding off bad vibes suggests two points from which much of his appeal stems. The first point is that Icke is speaking, albeit in fantastic terms, to a conviction that many rational people hold. This is the belief that a small minority is calling the shots, that they don't have the interests of humanity's wider masses in mind, and that they somehow benefit from the suffering of those masses. This perspective, for what it's worth, resonates with many in the global south as well as in the wealthy nations of the world. Statistics about the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a global elite present solid economic evidence for these thoughts, while the politics of the recent years, including unpopular free trade agreements, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and apparently endless wars against already disadvantaged people add to the suspicion that society is being somehow "manipulated." This situation creates huge questions that only David Icke can answer. Paradoxically for a writer so paranoid, however, the answers he offers are essentially optimistic, especially on the issue of human nature. This is the second aspect of Icke's appeal, the notion that humanity is not to blame for any of its problems. Icke's work represents an escape hatch from Freud, Sartre, and Morgenthau, as well as all twentieth-century philosophy that paints humanity as weak or incorrigible and argues that spiritual perfection is impossible for the individual. Icke returns the hope of human perfectibility to his readers. He puts humanity firmly in the role of the suffering, abused, and innocent victim. This is why, despite Icke's frequent tone of frothing-at-the-mouth, his prose always retains a certain New Age buoyancy and humor. "Indeed, infinite power is within every individual," he writes, suggesting utopian possibilities if humanity could only throw off the reptilian yoke (xiii).
In the end, however, the dominant sense is one of creeping, almost Lovecraftian fear:
The reptilians operate a pincer movement on the human race. Their physical expression lives under the ground and interacts in the underground bases with human and human-reptile crossbreed scientists and military leaders. They also emerge to engage in some human abductions. . . . These genetic lines are manipulated into the positions of political, military, media, banking and business power and thus these positions are held by lower fourth dimensional reptilians hiding behind a human form or by mind-puppets of the same creatures. They operate through all races, but predominantly the white one. (27)
The paranoia of such passages, which can be found on almost every one of The Biggest Secret's 517 pages, taps into the powerful fear of elite manipulation that is rife among many different types of people in many different types of societies today. The work of University of Chicago anthropologists John L. and Jean Comaroff on the "occult economies" of post-apartheid South Africa offers an interesting counterpoint to the David Icke phenomenon. The Comaroffs offer statistics that demonstrate that the number of occult incidents in the rural north of South Africa have been rapidly increasing since the fall of the apartheid regime. They give the economic context, stressing that citizens of these poor regions were promised growth, liberty, and prosperity, but instead found unemployment as many companies fled the uncertainty of post-apartheid South Africa, taking advantage of the more flexible labor markets provided by globalization. Young men from these areas do not have the information to understand why there are no jobs or where their jobs could have gone. They accuse older factory owners of running their businesses with zombie labor and sometimes resort to elaborate murders to rid their societies of perceived practitioners of witchcraft.
The parallels between the worldviews of the followers of David Icke and the one that the Comaroffs have described in South Africa are striking. Not for a moment am I suggesting that people like Roberto are anywhere near as marginalized as rural blacks in that country. But the followers of Icke that I've known have often been members of minority groups, lonely and confused, and experiencing types of unemployment that are connected to shifts in the global economy. Like blacks in South Africa, they witness manifestations of incredibly complex problems that are difficult to understand from their vantage point. Unlike those South Africans, however, they don't have an indigenous system of folklore to provide an explanation. So they turn to David Icke, who weaves the warp of conspiracy theory with the woof of New Age and gilds it all with that system of folklore indigenous to the modern world, science fiction. In the end he creates a tapestry of belief that has a position on every issue and explains every atrocity, all while affirming the essential goodness of humanity. Incidentally, Icke has released a video of his conversations with Credo Mutwa, a Zulu leader from the same region that the Comaroffs' article discusses. In the video, Mutwa agrees with many of Icke's ideas, highlighting the essential symmetry between occult explanations of social change from opposite ends of the global spectrum of wealth and privilege.
While Icke's books are sometimes sold in catalogues specializing in SF, his relationship with science fiction is complex. For instance, he denounces George Lucas as an "operative with NASA and the National Security Agency," accusing him of producing Star Wars in order to cover up the true "UFO-extraterrestrial scene" (29). It's interesting that Icke, so interested in symbolism where it helps his argument, finds nothing compelling in the notion of "the Force," which bears some resemblance to his own interest in positive vibrations, or Lucas's depiction of an evil empire, which could stand in for the Anunnaki themselves. Perhaps the oppression of the Empire in Star Wars is not secretive enough for Icke, although elsewhere he compares an image of an oppressive figure in a supposedly Anunnaki mural inside the Denver airport to Darth Vader (35). But Icke is not always so dismissive of science fiction. In one stunning passage, he literally urges his readers to check out works of science fiction in order to help them visualize reptilian infiltration:
The film depicts the reptiles as being covered in some sort of latex skin, which is not how it works in reality, but the theme of the series is right on the button and a foretaste of things to come; unless we wake up fast. I highly recommend you think about watching the video of V to get a visual feel for the themes I am exposing in this book. (33)
Here, we see a science-fiction miniseries put to an uncommon use, shedding light on the aspects of Icke's writing that distinguish it from conventional SF. In the passage above, Icke is asking his readers to incorporate a science-fictional visual image into their mental vocabulary for use in understanding what the author claims is an exposé of true, real-world oppression. Presumably, the images from the film may prove helpful to Icke's point through either hermeneutics (spotting reptilians in everyday life) or paranoia (stimulating and heightening the sense of fear and persecution that Icke is aiming to create). But however the image is used, Icke's suggestion that his followers watch the film in order to understand his writings raises several questions—most importantly, what is SF? Icke openly borrows imagery from an SF film while informing the reader that Chris Christopherson and Mick Jagger are blood-drinking reptilians. It seems a betrayal of some unwritten law of the speculative game.
Readers expect to believe speculative fiction, but only to a degree. All of us have probably become exasperated with a book at one time or another for failing to convince us that the world it depicted could somehow, somewhen, somewhere, happen. Sometimes the problem is consistency—the book doesn't follow its own rules. Other times we find ourselves asking whether people would ever really feel a certain way or do a certain thing. Writers know this and constantly struggle with set-up and technique in order to make their world-building and their characters believable. But then, relative to Icke, writers of speculative fiction don't ask for that much—just a momentary suspension of disbelief that settles like a blanket over the head of a reader who always knows that the world outside remains intact, ordinary, and unchanged. Even in the case of writers who know their characters, have conversations with them, and miss them when they aren't around, we don't tend to cross the line and assert their objective existence. The imaginative territory of speculative fiction occupies a narrow strip of land between the sharp cliffs of disbelief—the reader who throws down the book in disgust—and the foggy seas of reading for truth—the reader who looks up, eyes crazed, and proclaims that the reptilians are really out there. To paraphrase the old X-Files slogan, the readers want to believe. But we ask them to believe just enough to identify with the characters, follow them through a speculative world, and come out again on the other side with their conceptions of reality essentially unchanged. Even in the most serious, cautionary SF, the author rarely claims that the situation being described is entirely true and dangerous at the time of writing. If the author does this, can we call her work speculative fiction?
Since my encounter with Roberto, I've encountered several believers of Icke's work in and around New York City. I've met them in vegetarian restaurants and yoga studios, in bookstores and at flea markets. Most of them seem to have started out with mainstream New Age thinkers like Deepak Chopra and then stumbled on to Icke's more disturbing visions from there. Once a man heard me talking about Icke and approached to see if I was a fellow believer. Other times, I spoke with a man or woman for a little while before they hushed their voices and popped the question: "Have you ever read anything by David Icke?" The easiest response to all of this is to dismiss Icke as a lunatic. However, the light he throws on the SF genre's project is too bright for us to dismiss him quite so easily. If science fiction and fantasy can be thought of as games in which the writer asks the reader to believe the impossible, Icke has beaten us in that game. His readers believe more fiction from him, and believe it more deeply, than has been the case for any science fiction writer since L. Ron Hubbard.
What Icke does so well, and what's allowed him to make a career out of the most implausible ranting and the shoddiest scholarship, is his intuitive grasp on emotions and images that are widely held throughout society but not often talked about. In Icke's case, these intuitions involve the idea that human society is being constantly manipulated by a powerful elite that has nothing in common with ordinary people and feeds off their despair. If a writer of speculative fiction could get hold of an emotional conviction as deeply held as that one, and use the tools of the genre to explore it as deeply as Icke does, the fictional possibilities of the project could be endless. This might also help to cure some of science fiction's tendency to cling too tightly to its traditional themes and images; in an age when our emotions about issues of terrorism, war, globalization, the collapse of the welfare state, climate change, and the fate of individual rights vis-à-vis the government are powerful and in constant flux, the speculative writer who wants to tap into the power of our emerging public mythology cannot help but write work that is fiercely contemporary.
Along with these advantages come a host of complications and problems, however. Perhaps the most obvious is the question of readership. While science fiction readers may not have a reputation as the most fashionable people around, as a group it seems fair to say that they are less marginalized than the average reader of David Icke. Speaking anecdotally, science fiction readers tend to be better educated, are more likely to be white, and are more likely to have a good job than the average reader of Icke's books. While exceptions abound, I believe they also tend to have faith in science and to be skeptical of the kind of aura-reading, hollow-earth-believing mumbo jumbo you find coming from Icke-ists. This is an issue, of course, but it amounts to a difference in what emotions to play upon. Certainly, a utopian novel like Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time succeeds in part by telling us about a society many believers in social justice and equality passionately wish could exist, and we're willing to forgo some problems of belief in order to travel there. Some political activists have even used that book in planning alternative gatherings and communities, which shows that its usefulness and appeal goes beyond that of an ordinary SF novel.
The other main problem is Icke's themes of conspiracy and fear. These have led him into some unpleasant political waters without being very interesting. I'm not suggesting that SF writers follow Icke in picking these up; there are plenty of other emotional formations lying beneath the surface of the current cultural sea, and most SF writers already use them in some way. The point is that writers who are working with difficult images and are having problems with the suspension of reader's belief might benefit from looking over David Icke's shoulder, because he demonstrates that readers will eagerly dismiss all sorts of disbelief as long as the author has a confident finger on their emotional pulse. The writer who understands the fears, hopes, and joys that people harbor, mostly in silence, will be able to do incredible things with speculative fiction if he or she addresses those feelings directly. David Icke does it, although unfortunately he puts this gift behind the most banal sort of project imaginable.
In a few words, it amounts to this: speak in fantastic terms about your real convictions. Can the SF community beat David Icke at his own game?
 This mini-biography is culled from three major sources: the Wikipedia page on Icke, Icke's own biography on his website, and an article called "From Green Messiah to New Age Nazi" in Left Green Perspectives, number 35.
 Unlike most of Icke's work, It Doesn't Have to Be Like This was not published by Icke's own publishing house. The book came out on Merlin's Green Print division, which publishes books on a variety of environmentalist topics.
 The film Men in Black also contains a moment in which Hollywood actors such as Sylvester Stallone are identified as aliens in disguise. While this story, interestingly, is almost exactly the same, the tone and context are very different and the film's finger-pointing feels like a joke while Icke is speaking literally.
 I have avoided the topic of Icke's unsavory relationship with the anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi Right in this piece for several reasons. First, this topic has been well covered by others (for instance, see Kalman and Murray, 1996, or the wikipedia page on Icke). Secondly, the near-exclusive focus on these controversial elements has made it difficult for scholars to take his work and its appeal seriously.
Comaroff, Jean and John L. "Occult economies and the violence of abstraction: notes from the South African postcolony." American Ethnologist 26(2):279-303.
Icke, David. The Biggest Secret: The Book That Will Change the World. London: Bridge of Love Publications. 1999.
Icke, David. It Doesn't Have to Be Like This. London: Green Print. 1990.
Kalman, Matthew and Murray, John. "From Green Messiah to New Age Nazi." Left Green Perspectives, n. 35, January 1996. http://www.social-ecology.org/lgp/issues/lgp35.html.
Keith, Bill. "The Biggest Secret: The Book that Will Change the World (Review)." http://www.konformist.com/1999/icke-keith.htm.
Offley, Will. "David Icke and the Politics of Madness: Where the New Age Meets the Third Reich." http://www.publiceye.org/Icke/IckeBackgrounder.htm.