posted on May, 30 2008 @ 05:56 AM
The coming of Above Top Secret
Imagine, if you will, the situation in the early years of the present century. The internet has spread FTs far and wide. There are many believers and
many more dabblers and interested parties. But finding these sites is often hard; they rarely link to each other, they don't show up on the first few
pages of search-engine results. And even when you do find them, they tend to raise more questions than they answer -- and where do you go, then, to
get the questions answered?
One day, a young man named Simon Gray was pondering these issues, and realized that the opportunity existed for a forum that brought FTists and their
theories together on neutral ground -- a forum where people interested in these subjects could meet each other and talk about the subjects that
interested them. It was a brilliant idea, even (as time has shown) a brilliant business idea. So he started such a forum, and named it Above Top
He built it, and they came. Boy, did they come. Droves of them. illuminatists, anti-Masonists, anti-Semitists, believers in the conspiracy of
international financiers, Pyramidologists, alien abductees, crop-circle circumnavigators, yeti hunters, UFO propulsion theorists, doubters of the
Second Law of Thermodynamics and people who believe their governments can control the weather, or even their minds. Soon they were all here, arguing
away furiously and having a wonderful time, watched over by a posse of moderators who enforced one of the strictest rule-sets of any internet forum.
Those strict rules, too, were probably Simon Gray's idea -- a very good idea. Given the kind of member ATS attracted in its early days, and the
degree of attachment some of them had to their beliefs and theories, strict policing was essential. Without it, the board would have fallen apart.
The board begins to change
When I first began visiting ATS, about a year before becoming a member, the early years were over and the membership profile had already begun to
change. But even back then, a substantial number of members were genuine FTs, people who were intimately familiar with their particular conspiracy
theory or belief system from years of earnest, obsessive study. These members dominated the board and its culture. Their posts were long, detailed,
full of quotes and external links. They argued with energy. They grew hot under the collar. Most of them are now gone -- long gone. Many of them are
banned. As I said, such people don't make good joiners.
There were also many sceptics and debunkers on the board. Some, such as the lamented marduk, were specialists in the debunking of one particular
theory or another. Others, like the esteemed Byrd (who is still with us, I think) were generalized sceptics. Such folk were essential members of the
ATS community. They were the steel against which the FTists' flint struck sparks, the whetstone against which they honed their arguments. Their
presence in the FT community was nothing new; they'd always been part of it, even back in the nineteenth century.
And ATS, as a forum, throve. But (I suspect) there was a problem. Hardcore FTists and their sceptic counterparts weren't that large or
materialistically-inclined as a community. Advertisers weren't that interested in them. Keeping the board running (not to mention making a living out
of it) wasn't easy.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gray and his early collaborators had been joined by two other board owners, whom we know as Skeptic Overlord and Springer. Together,
these three gentlemen assessed the demographic and economic realities of the situation, and realized that ATS needed to be opened up a little. With a
wider and more varied population of members and visitors, the board would become more attractive to advertisers, and would thrive economically as well
as in terms of its raison d'etre. They achieved the desired 'opening up' through a variety of means -- making the board prettier and more
user-friendly, inviting 'celebrity' FTists to set up their own subforums, adding new, more popular subjects for discussion, and in many other ways.
The results were sometimes dissuasive to the harcore FTists who made the board what it was in the early days, but there was still enough meaningful
discussion and debate to keep things interesting. A few of the more dedicated (or obsessive) members walked, but most stayed, and they were joined by
an enormous population of new members, making the site -- if the claim is to be believed -- one of the most popular on the internet.
And the Amigos saw what they had done, and it was good.
I don't mean this cynically. It was good. This was essentially the condition of the board when I joined in 2005. I thought it was great,
actually; that's why I joined.
The invasion of the Godly
As the years went by, I noticed the complexion of ATS changing. The old members didn't post so often, and when they did, their posts smacked of
fatigue and disillusion. Many threads were started decrying the 'new' ATS and mourning the old 'hardcore ATS' (though in truth, ATS was never
wholly hardcore). I wasn't too worried, because I wasn't a believer in FTs -- I'm one of those who comes to ATS for entertainment, or to let off
steam. But I was beginning to miss the old debates, their intensity and -- yes -- their intellectual depth.
Still, popular culture is my hobby. There remained, for me, enough to interest me on ATS, even as it changed, to keep me posting, to keep me a
Then, I noticed something weird happening in the Origins & Creationism Conspiracy forum. In there, a group of creationist members were clearly
organizing themselves into a team, or a caucus, or a movement. They acted in cohesion, working the threads as a group, backing one another up in
debates, posting encouraging messages on one another's profiles, making pincer attacks on atheist or agnostic posters, and working -- or so it seemed
to me -- to a well-thought-out agenda. They efficiently exploited all the benefits of cooperation and teamwork that genuine FTists can never enjoy,
because FTists aren't team players. And they were formidable, because of this; they could collectively bring more energy to a debate than any
individual ATS member could muster on his own. They could (and did) wear their opponents down through sheer weight of verbiage and opprobrium.
Then, they started moving out of the O&C forum. Some began posting in the Science & Technology forum, as well as in other places on ATS. And as they
did so, they began affecting the already-compromised standards of discussion and debate in those other forums for the worse.
[edit on 30-5-2008 by Astyanax]