It was the summer of 1999; I had just finished my first year of undergrad and had returned to Bakersfield with the aim of earning some money while I lived rent-free with my parents. Alas, summer jobs were hard to come by, and I applied to numerous temp agencies. One of these, I learned to my chagrin, specialized not in clerical but in 'light industrial,' to which I am not well-suited (there is another story about that). But as things were looking grim on the job front, I went ahead and signed up.
In order to be eligible for any of the assignments that this firm would send me on, I had to spend a Saturday taking a workers' safety class. The class consisted mainly of watching educational safety films - think "Hi, I'm Troy McClure, you may remember me from such films as What's That Smell? - Death and HAZMAT - Your Road to Safety." After that the two instructors would tell us stories about the kind of things that could happen to you if you disregarded the safety instructions, most of which seemed to involve having extremities blown off. All sorts of extremities.
This being a long class, there were breaks, during which most of us just sort of sat there. One member of the class started talking with one of the teachers about the teacher's tattoos, which somehow got the teacher on to the subject of how he was saved. It went something like this:
The teacher (let's call him Frank) used to be a hard-living kind of guy. Motorcycle gangs, drugs, the whole bit. Then one day, he woke up after using drugs and found himself paralyzed, half-dead. He saw a demon come and start pulling his soul out of his body, through the top of the head. When the soul was about 2/3 of the way out of his body, he cried out to Jesus, and instantly four angels appeared, carrying swords which had little lightning bolts going up and down their blades. They chased off the demon, and Frank never looked back. One day, while Frank was over at a Christian friend's house watching a movie, he saw a demon in the movie - the exact same demon who had tried to pull his soul out of his body. Frank, greatly afraid, rebuked the demon in the name of Jesus. The movie? Kull the Conqueror.
Now, I normally try to keep an open mind as to the religious experiences of others, since I understand that from the atheist's point of view we all look pretty equally silly. But this was just too much. Kull the Conqueror. Kull the Conqueror. I was convinced the man was a nutcase. What I didn't realize was that I was probably the only one in the room who thought so.
Back to the story: Frank, sorely frightened by the apparition of his personal demon nemesis in a Hollywood movie, asks God "Why was that demon in that movie?" God answers "It is Satan's way of using Hollywood to prepare people for the reign of demons." And this was where things got wierd. For it was here that Frank segued into his theories on the End Times, and his conspiracy theories about the One World Government.
It would happen something like this: Soon, the millenium would happen (this was 1999, remember), and computers around the world would all fail, plunging us into chaos. He persisted in referring to this event as "KY2000." After that, people would not be able to get food, so there would be violence between those who had hoarded supplies and those who had not. This would be the only excuse the One World Government needed to send in 'peacekeeping' forces who would, in effect, conquer the US. Already, there were NATO armies in our national parks, including Russians in Yosemite. I didn't really have the heart to tell him that Russia isn't technically a NATO member state. Lest you think this was a lone loony, I would like to point out that by this time, at least 3/4 of the class (of about 30 or so) was nodding solemnly in agreement, and indeed many of them were offering their own theories or details, which Frank expertly wove in to the overarching narrative. Things I learned:
- The new quarter and the Euro were both being introduced as part of the One World Government. The attraction of these monetary units to the OWG was that they could be tracked by satellite, so that the shadowy Anti-Christ could at any time know exactly how much money you had in your pocket.
- Concentration camps were being built into which all 'patriotic Americans' would be put after the OWG takeover. One complex would be in California, the other in Oklahoma. Where would you go? Check out the fifth digit of your Social Security number. If it is even, you go to OK. If odd, CA.
- 'They' were working on a microchip to be implanted in the hand to act as a sort of credit/debit card, which would be the Mark of the Beast. They had a prototype that was implanted in the left hand, but as that hand has an artery that comes directly from the heart, the blood pressure tended to wreck it, so they were going to go with the right hand.
- FEMA is evil.
Eventually, someone said we should get on with the safety videos, as he had a softball game that evening. During another break, I overheard some snippets of conversation such as: "yeah, it's like the people who say the black helicopters don't exist." On the way back into the classroom, I saw Frank and another guy (let's call him Warren) talking thusly:
Frank: Yeah, people have seen those camps. The barbed wire isn't pointing out, it's pointing in. Those fences are to keep people from getting out.
Warren: A couple of us are going to move out and head up to Red Rock. We figure we'll stand a better chance up in the mountains.
Frank: Don't tell anyone where you're going! 'Cause then, they'll say you're a militia, and they'll send the feds after you.
I apologize if this post seems a little long, but I wanted to give you the full flavor of events. All of the above actually happened, and where I have erred, I have erred on the side of understatement. Keep in mind that this was a more or less random sampling of working class Bakersfield in 1999, and a majority of them seemed to, if not subscribe to the above ideas, at least consider them to be well within the realm of the possible. Now that Clinton is out of office and everyone knows about bin Laden, I don't know what a similar session would have sounded like this summer. Maybe I don't want to know.