Charlie Veitch was once one of Britain’s leading conspiracy theorists, a friend of David Icke and Alex Jones and a 9/11 ‘truther’. But when he had a change of heart, the threats began. He talks to Will Storr.
‘The poster boy for a mad movement’: Charlie Veitch Photo: Will Storr
By Will Storr
7:00AM BST 29 May 2013
On a June afternoon in the middle of New York’s Times Square, Charlie Veitch took out his phone, turned on the camera and began recording a statement about the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center.
“I was a real firm believer in the conspiracy that it was a controlled demolition,” he started. “That it was not in any way as the official story explained. But, this universe is truly one of smoke screens, illusions and wrong paths. If you are presented with new evidence, take it on, even if it contradicts what you or your group want to believe. You have to give the truth the greatest respect, and I do.”
To most people, it doesn’t sound like a particularly outrageous statement to make. In fact, the rest of the video was almost banal in its observations; that the destruction of the towers may actually have been caused by the two 767 passenger jets that flew into them. But to those who subscribed to Veitch’s YouTube channel, a channel he set up to promulgate conspiracy theories like the one he was now rejecting, it was tantamount to heresy.
“You sell out piece of s—. Rot in hell, Veitch,” ran one comment beneath the video. “This man is a pawn,” said another. “Your [sic] a f—ing pathetic slave,” shrilled a third. “What got ya? Money?” So runs what passes for debate on the internet. Veitch had expected a few spiteful comments from the so-called “Truth Movement”. What he had not expected was the size or the sheer force of the attack.
In the days after he uploaded his video, entitled No Emotional Attachment to 9/11 Theories, Veitch was disowned by his friends, issued with death threats and falsely accused of child abuse in an email sent to 15,000 of his followers. “I went from being Jesus to the devil,” he says now. “Or maybe Judas. I thought the term ‘Truth Movement’ meant that there’d be some search for truth. I was wrong. I was the new Stalin. The poster boy for a mad movement.”
Charlie Veitch, before his change of heart, protesting in New York’s Times Square
Charlie Veitch is not Jesus nor Judas nor the devil nor, even, Stalin. He’s currently an unemployed father-of-one who lives in a semi, in Salford, Greater Manchester, with his fiancée, Stacey. Baggily dressed and 6ft 5in, the 32-year-old looks like a student but carries himself like a philosopher, wielding aphorisms and gesticulating theatrically, as if conducting a symphony of his own sagacity.
Veitch is spellbound by ideas, but the problem is that he has two competing world views that he’s never been able to reconcile. Born in Rio de Janeiro to a Brazilian mother and a Scottish merchant seaman, Veitch inherited a Right-wing outlook from his father, a patriotic, working class Thatcherite. But his father also passed on a mistrust of authority.
“He told me, just because someone’s wearing a uniform or a fancy hat, it doesn’t mean they’re your boss,” he says.Veitch Snr was also responsible for Charlie’s peripatetic childhood.
Attending “a new school every six months”, he was bullied on many continents. “I was always birds— head, because I have a patch of white hair,” he says. At Edinburgh Academy, a private school he attended from 14, he fostered an antipathy towards “rugger buggers” who had rich fathers, became prefects and “got all the girls and all the attention”.
For a while, Veitch’s Right-wing opinions dominated his decision-making. He joined the Territorial Army and got a job in the City. But, the other narrative, of a world which pitched “second-rate citizens”, as he’d been at school, against the “rugger buggers” – the privileged elite and the heirs to power – was always there, slowly creeping up on him. And at six o’clock one morning, after a night out at a club, it pounced.
“I was absolutely spangled from the nightclub when my best friend said ‘Charlie, you know you’re Right-wing and you joined the Army? Well, they were lying to you.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘9/11; it wasn’t as you think.’ It was almost like an initiation into a cult, a religion. You’re being given special knowledge.”
His friend showed him the online documentary Terrorstorm: A History of Government Sponsored Terror, made by the American radio host Alex Jones. It parsed a new version of history, in which governments secretly organised terror attacks to spread fear and extend their matrices of control. From the Reichstag fire to the Gulf of Tonkin up to the present day, it writhed with apparently unassailable facts and sources.
Jones is a brilliantly effective propagandist who recently made headlines for his hostile showdown on US television with Piers Morgan, over gun control. His YouTube channel has had over 250 million views while his masterpiece, Terrorstorm, has been watched more than 7 million times.
US radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (Getty)
Shortly after watching it, Veitch was made redundant and, instead of looking for a new job, he used some of his £4,000 payout to buy a camcorder and a megaphone and began uploading short videos to YouTube. As the founder of what he called the Love Police, he was filmed performing quasi situationist stunts, such as standing outside McDonald’s with his megaphone berating customers (“Excuse me, sir. Next time I’d advise you to buy some real food for your son”). In more meditative moments, he’d explore his own spiritual, philosophical and conspiratorial notions. Veitch soon gathered subscribers by the tens of thousands.
And the bigger Love Police grew, the more radical Veitch became. He occupied Fortnum & Mason during the anti-capitalism rally and Millbank Tower during the student fees demonstrations. He was a witness to the death of Ian Tomlinson during the 2009 G20 summit, called for “chaos” in London, was arrested in Toronto, Edinburgh and London and invited to festivals around the world. “People were throwing money at me. I did a donation appeal and overnight I had £3,500 in my account,” he says.
Then, there were the women. “I could have anyone. And there’s a lot of cute activist girls in Holland and Denmark.” Thrillingly, he was courted by his heroes, Jones and David Icke, the former television sports presenter who believes humanity is being controlled by alien lizards.
“It was like being a struggling actor and Tom Cruise phones you,” he says. Jones invited him on to his internet show Prison Planet and praised his “great work”. Veitch interviewed Icke outside parliament just after the 2010 general election, and in return was sent a birthday present of a T-shirt and a book, signed, “To Charles, a great man doing great things. Love David”. Veitch was now a well-known figure in the conspiracy community. But, while some believers could be dismissed as harmless crackpots, there was a malevolent undercurrent to many of the theories.
In essence, the modern conspiracy narrative is the same as the one that has existed since at least the 19th century: that the few (often termed the “Illuminati”) control the many. This, of course, is the nucleus of the dangerous anti-Jewish myth. When he was an insider, did he experience anti-Semitism? His eyes open wide: “Loads. Loads. I was once accused of being a Jew because of my olive skin and my nose. They said, ‘We can’t trust him’.” And when they say the ‘Illuminati’ or ‘Reptiles’, do they actually mean Jews? “It’s slightly complicated but, mostly, yes,” he says.
The turning point came when Veitch accepted an invitation to appear in a BBC documentary, Conspiracy Road Trip , made to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Veitch was accompanied by four people, all of whom believed the many conspiracies surrounding the attack. Veitch was convinced that the Twin Towers had been brought down in a controlled explosion by the government, in cahoots with Mossad.
In an attempt to change his mind, the documentary crew took Veitch to meet experts including the chief air traffic controller on the day, demolition specialists and architects. At the start, Veitch was defiant. He showed a video, on a laptop, of the buildings collapsing, saying, “That’s a controlled demolition if ever I saw one.”
He publicly berated the film’s presenter, Andrew Maxwell: “You weren’t there, man. You just have this obedient psychology.” But the more experts he met, the more troubled Veitch became. Finally, when it was shown to him that the towers didn’t, in fact, collapse in a manner consistent with a controlled explosion, and how preposterous his notion was that teams of secret operatives had somehow planted thousands of high explosives in the buildings, he admitted defeat.
“This is hard, you know, because I’ve hung on to these ideas for years now,” he told Maxwell. “I’ve always hung out with people who say, ‘Yeah, conspiracy! 9/11 demolition!’ But now I’ve spoken to a guy who’s explained it. And it makes sense.”
Back in his hotel room, he phoned his girlfriend. “I don’t think 9/11 was an inside job,” confessed Veitch. For a moment, there was silence. “You’re probably just tired,” she said. But by the third day of filming Veitch was so excited by what he’d learnt he decided to post his thoughts on his YouTube channel. And that was when all hell broke loose.
“It was relentless,” he says. “A guy in Manchester set up a YouTube channel called ‘Kill Charlie Veitch’. It said, ‘Charlie, I hope you know I’m going to come and kill you. Enjoy your last few days. Goodbye.’ So many hate videos were posted – my face superimposed on a pig and someone’s killing the pig.” Another message featured images of his sister’s young children incorporated within a video of child pornography.
David Icke posted a message saying that Veitch would come to “deeply regret what he has done”, and emailed saying, “Don’t write to me. I don’t know you, mate.” Alex Jones posted a film in which he claimed he’d known “all along”, and that Veitch had “psychopath, sociopath eyes”. His mother called, devastated, believing the paedophilia “confession” which she’d been emailed, along with 15,000 others, was real.
All of which has damaged him. “I don’t have the same love for people as I did,” he says. “I’ve become a misanthrope and I’ve become very cynical. I hope it goes away.” Looking back, he describes the conspiracy community as an “evil-worshipping paranoia. As someone who’s been deep in it, and seen the hatred and the insanity, I think big terrorist attacks will come from conspiracy theorists.” He can envisage an assassination or a bombing carried out by a conspiracy believer who has lost all contact with reality.
Conspiracy theorists, he says, are often “bullied people. People who maybe didn’t get the girls at school… So they see a lot of rugger bugger types and they’re against anything to do with them. They will side with the devil, as long as the devil is against the West.” It’s impossible to avoid the observation that the person he describes resembles his own schoolboy self. And if his conflation of “rugger buggers” and “the West” is telling, so is his current ideological position.
“I’ve gone full circle in my Right-wing thinking,” he says. “There’s a professional victimhood in conspiracy theorists. There’s a hatred of high achievers.” Veitch is now hoping to set up a film production company and to carve out a new career as a documentary maker. As for his own involvement in the conspiracy movement, Veitch has a simpler theory. When asked what it was in his psychology that made him susceptible, he answers emphatically.
“Ego,” he says. “Ego made me vulnerable.”
The 911 Conspiracy