By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Ventura's interest in conspiracies was born on the road decades ago during his wrestling days, when he'd kill time on long flights or road trips by picking up a book.
"You're limited in your options," Ventura says. "So reading became very important, and I got into books on John F. Kennedy's killing and tried to read everything I could on it."
Ventura, always somewhat of a skeptic by disposition, found the government's official explanation hard to believe. He points to the fact that JFK's body was whisked away by the feds before Texas officials could perform an autopsy.
"Why is that?" Ventura demands, his body bouncing with growing ferocity. "Why? Why?"
Ventura believes that Agent Orange in Vietnam caused his blood clots, and that the war itself was based on a lie. He's convinced that there were at least two CIA plants within the state government when he was governor.
So when the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the scales fell from Ventura's eyes.
"I find the government's theory to be wanting," he says. "They've told us that 19 Islamic radicals armed with box cutters defeated our multibillion-dollar air defense system, while conspiring with a bearded guy in a cave in Afghanistan."
All that death and destruction, all those logistics: It strains credulity. And when people question the official version of events, they find themselves laughed off as a bunch of nut jobs or worse.
"I find that peculiar," Ventura says, leaning forward and jabbing the table with his finger. "Why is this whole event off-limits? And don't tell me it's because it's been investigated. Don't come to me with the 9/11 Commission, like that was some kind of investigation when they didn't even have subpoena power. They didn't put anyone under oath!
"And now they're going to try this guy [Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, one of the confessed 9/11 masterminds]? With torture evidence? He was waterboarded 180 times, and we're going to accept that in a court of law, and the people of this country are going to sit back and think that's fine?"
It's a train of thought that eventually led Ventura to a collaboration with a California production house called A. Smith & Co., responsible for shows including Hell's Kitchen and Trading Spaces. Ventura's show, Conspiracy Theory, was picked up by TruTV, the rebranded Court TV. Shooting began in October 2008 and only recently wrapped up. If the first season is a ratings success, Ventura has been promised a shot at the Kennedy assassination.
On the show, Ventura gets to play the role of news editor, deciding what stories are worth checking out. People who harbor all sorts of below-the-radar ideas and theories know his reputation and come to him as a last resort "and they say the public needs to know," Ventura says. "'You're the only one who can do it. You're the only one who can get it out there,' they tell me."
Having a big production team at his disposal excites him, too. He chews over each theory with his staff like dogs with a bone. "We hassle back and forth on the pros and cons of the conspiracy. I give out assignments. Then we all come back together, do a few final interviews, and ultimately leave it up to you. Do you believe the conspiracy is real? Or do you think it's bunk?"
Ventura draws no conclusions himself, at least not publicly. Who was behind 9/11? "I don't know," he says with a shrug. But the truth is out there and Ventura wants to track it down. "This is fun for me to do. It's exciting," he says. Recalling that it took years for the American public to learn that Johnson escalated the Vietnam War by exaggerating the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Ventura says he wants to rake some muck and challenge conventional wisdom. Sure he's aiming for high TV ratings, but he's also filming for the history books.
"I just think that there needs to be a record that not everyone believes the status quo," Ventura says. "One hundred years from now I want people to be able to find something that says, 'Not everybody believed.' It's time to shake up the lemmings."
The show's P.R. campaign alleges that there are all sorts of subversive activities around us. In one episode, reads the press materials, "Jesse's investigation of government surveillance on its citizens uncovers a nationwide program that allegedly turns local businessmen and office workers into spies, snooping on their neighbors and ratting out their friends in exchange for information and special privileges from the FBI." In another, we learn that "The Bilderberg Group is a collection of the world's elite who meet once a year at a luxury hotel and, the story goes, decide how it will run the world. Their latest alleged plan is to thin out the world's population through disease and vaccines. In this stunning episode, Jesse attempts to infiltrate the Bilderberg Group, expose its well-known members, and stop their latest 'soft kill' plan before it's too late."
Next up: HAARP, the Pentagon's High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Alaska. The military says the program is looking for ways to harness the atmosphere to help radio communications. But in Ventura's world, "these radio waves could be used to change the weather and control people's minds!" Nick Begich, an anti-HAARP activist, says he believes the program is boiling the atmosphere. A physicist, Brooks Agnew, says he thinks he accidentally triggered an earthquake by using radio waves to locate underground oil. And Ventura is denied access to the research site.