Mark Jacobson’s Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy, and the Fall of Trust in America traces Cooper’s life and the unlikely spread of his book Behold a Pale Horse, released in 1991 by Melody O’Ryin Swanson, a New Age publisher who claims she’s never read it, despite its perennially strong sales. It’s a story of the incubation of the politics of conspiracy, a kind of prologue to our era of Birthers, Pizzagate, and QAnon ... Behold a Pale Horse attempts to connect this story to the world we now inhabit, one where belief has eclipsed truth, and paranoia has eclipsed trust.
Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy, and the Fall of Trust in America by Mark Jacobson is a worthwhile introduction to one of the most unique personalities in the world of conspiracy theories. In a business full of hucksters, paranoiacs, and would-be messiahs, Cooper is the prototype: the insider-turned-outsider, the radio show host behind a movement. Jacobson, an investigative journalist and contributing editor for New York magazine, creates a complex portrayal of Cooper that recognizes why he has become a mythic figure but doesn’t fall prey to the legend. Jacobson is clear that Cooper was physically abusive in his personal relationships and that his paranoid view of the world reached a dangerous fever pitch.
...intriguing if uneven ... he has missed an opportunity to take a deeper look at how, what and why we believe ... Readers wanting to find out are mainly left to navigate their own way through the fever swamps: Mr. Jacobson describes more than he explains, a flaw mitigated by his sharp eye and keen ear.
A notorious conspiracy theorist searches for the hidden plan behind world events and his own existence in this revealing, claustrophobic biography. Journalist Jacobson explores the bumpy life of William Cooper, an influential conspiracist ... Jacobson’s narrative is poker-faced about Cooper’s unorthodox beliefs but sympathetic towards the yearnings behind them and infused with colorful reportage on conspiracists. The result is a...portrait of a dark but potent strain in American culture.
As New York magazine contributing editor Jacobson writes, Cooper’s most widely read book, Behold a Pale Horse (1991), had existed on the edge of his consciousness for many years, as had Cooper’s radio show The Hour of the Time. Before Cooper died in a shootout with law enforcement agents at his Arizona home in 2001, Jacobson never thought to interview the conspiracist, who had developed a cult following. Eventually, though, for reasons Jacobson cannot pinpoint, he felt the call to research Cooper’s life and legacy ... Depending on the reader’s point of view on human nature, Cooper will come off as either sincere about the supposedly factual conspiracies he presented or be labeled a paranoid autodidact ... A temperamental man who drank heavily, assaulted at least some of his wives, lost contact with most of his children, Cooper emerges from these pages as a thoroughly unpleasant, unhappy man ... Despite Jacobson’s efforts to persuade us that Cooper’s ideas influence American politics and culture in meaningful ways, the biography seems like a lot of effort for little payoff.