Paranoid flock of conspiracy hunters turns shortwave radio far to the right RADIO FREE COVER-UP

THE BALTIMORE SUN

At the time of his death, Vince Foster was under investigation for spying for Israel, which paid him millions that he hid in a Swiss bank account. The Oklahoma City bombing couldn't have taken place the way the government said it did, and seismographic charts prove it. Waco was a "Holocaust," but we'll never know the entire story because the government -- see a pattern here? -- bulldozed away the evidence.

Welcome to Radio Paranoia, where suspicious minds meet every day to churn current events through various conspiracy theories and arrive at the real truth, the one that the government and mainstream media would hide from you. It is talk radio at its most unfettered, with a sort of outlaw quality befitting its place on the shortwave frequencies of radio, that staticky end of the band you can't pick up on common AM/FM radios.

From the recently emerged militia movement to the ages-old conspiracists -- the kind who see sinister forces in the Trilateral Commission, the Federal Reserve and the Freemasons -- they've all found a voice on shortwave radio.

Long the purview of gadgety, quirky hobbyists who would scan these frequencies in search of a broadcast from the BBC or Radio Netherlands, shortwave recently has become the place to tap into the dark and embattled mood that has settled over the country like some sort of weather front.

"The deck has been stacked against the little guy. Shortwave is the voice of these people," says Mike Callahan, whose 3-year-old show urges listeners to buy gold, silver and platinum as a hedge against a coming economic storm.

Other hosts range from self-styled "independent investigators" looking into Whitewater, Waco and Oklahoma City and coming up with the sort of stuff that no congressional hearings would ever come up with, to truly scary figures like William Pierce, the West Virginia-based neo-Nazi devoted to making North America an entirely white continent.

That is the disturbing aspect to these shortwave radio talk shows. Some of it skews so far rightward, beyond Rush Limbaugh-land, beyond mere Democrat-Republican, left-wing-right-wing squabbling, into some sort of seemingly distant territory unexplored by most of us -- but also right in the midst of us. Some shows proved so controversial that they have been pulled off the air recently by the stations that carry them: Mark Koernke, the infamous "Mark from Michigan" militia member, no longer broadcasts his "Intelligence Report." And WINB, a shortwave station in York County, Pa., known for its ultra-conservative programming that sometimes featured Mr. Koernke and other militia officials, went off the air in April.

For some shows, shortwave is the last if not only refuge. They probably couldn't make it on commercial radio. Many advertisers would shy away from them because of their often incendiary content, and their limited appeal would likely make for poor ratings. And, in the view of some of the radio hosts, powerful forces that control the mainstream media and the government simply wouldn't allow them to be heard.

The role of ADL

For Tom Valentine, whose 7-year-old show is believed to be the longest-running shortwave program of its kind, that force is the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish watchdog group.

"The ADL has the ear of the government. Look at the power of Israel. The media does what the ADL tells them to do," Mr. Valentine groused in a recent interview.

Mr. Valentine's show is broadcast by WWCR, a Nashville-based station that airs mostly religious programs -- the call letters stand for World Wide Christian Radio -- as well as more politically oriented shows. WWCR sells time slots to other broadcasters, such as Mr. Valentine, who is allied with the Liberty Lobby, a Washington-based organization considered "a network of hate" by the Anti-Defamation League.

His program is currently on a Vince Foster roll. A recent show featured perhaps the ultimate shortwave radio talk show guest: A journalist whose employer, a major mainstream magazine, refused to publish his piece on Vince Foster.

Well, well, what have we here?

"Who am I, another conspiracy theorist on shortwave radio?" James R. Norman says dourly when reached at his office at Forbes magazine in New York, where he is a senior editor.

Mr. Norman admits his jaw dropped when a source told him that Mr. Foster had been under CIA investigation for espionage. But he became convinced after numerous interviews and wrote the piece.

"We do not believe the story, nor do we find the sources credible," Forbes editor James W. Michaels says. "But Jim Norman has his First Amendment rights."

The story, headlined "Fostergate," found a home in the August issue of Media Bypass, a 3-year-old magazine with the subtitle, "The Uncensored National News."

Mr. Norman, who also appeared on Baltimore radio station WCBM last night on Zoh Hieronimus' show, lauds shortwave for publicizing his piece even if he doesn't necessarily agree with the content of some of the shows.

"I'm not carrying water for these guys. . . . I have no political ax to grind. I voted for Bill Clinton and I'd probably vote for him again," he says. "But the American people are totally unconvinced by [the Foster] suicide scenario. This is where I part with mainstream media. This is why shortwave radio has taken off. People don't think they're getting the story from the mainstream media. They just send reporters out to bash shortwave radio."

Ironically enough, Mr. Norman's ties to mainstream media give his story an added cachet of believability, even among those who listen to shortwave as an alternative to that very media.

"When you have someone like Jim Norman, you have someone who is fairly solid, so I give it more credence," says Brian Redman, a conspiracy fancier who discovered shortwave radio about a year ago after seeing that like-minded people on the Internet were posting messages about what they heard on the shows.

Mr. Redman, 42, a part-time newspaper truck driver and budding newsletter purveyor (Conspiracy Nation is what he calls his VTC effort) who lives in Champaign, Ill., says he doesn't believe he can get the whole picture unless he monitors all sorts of media and communications.

'Alternative information'

"I try to monitor all sources. I don't just tune on the 5 o'clock news. I read newspapers and magazines . . . I tune in to shortwave radio to get alternative information," he says. "I'm just interested in trying to find out what's going on. I feel like the mainstream media holds back things."

Shortwave talk radio is low-tech, but it serves much the same function as other alternative avenues of information such as the Internet, or even Court TV and C-Span, which, compared to the slicker, more packaged offerings of the traditional networks, give viewers a sort of unfiltered, as-it-happens sense of events.

"The mainstream media -- they're corporate monopolies. They won't permit anything that will go against their agenda," says Ms. Hieronimus, the Meyerhoff heiress and radio talk show host whose multiple interests -- alternative health, one-world-government conspiracy, the global financial picture -- defy categorization.

Ms. Hieronimus, who says she's been offered a shortwave program of her own, says that even if you dismiss some of what you hear on shortwave, it's worth listening to. "I think there's value in hearing dissent," she says. "Ninety-nine percent of media put out a Democratic, liberal perspective, the alternative voice is so outnumbered, so minor, that's why, in part, their stories are sometimes so exaggerated."

Perking on shortwave

Currently, shortwave talk shows are obsessing on the Oklahoma bombing as well as Whitewater and Waco. Still percolating as well is the Ruby Ridge case, the 1992 shootout in which the FBI stormed white supremacist Randall Weaver's home in Idaho and killed his wife and son.

There is a cumulative effect going on here, as talk show hosts flip from one subject to another as if they're all somehow connected.

And, in some minds, they are.

"I was one of the people at Ruby Ridge. . . . We were speaking in Nevada when the fire was caused in Waco. . . . Then the Oklahoma thing happened. We've been perplexed by so much violence going on in the country," Jack McLamb said on one of his shows this week.

Mr. McLamb, who broadcasts from Phoenix, says he's a former law enforcement officer living on a medical pension from injuries suffered in the line of duty. He frequently refers to fellow police and military officers in his show, saying none of them believe what the government says about the Oklahoma bombing.

He has had two relatives of a bombing victim on his show on a couple of occasions, and seems to use them, and the sympathy they would naturally draw, to affirm what he believes.

"It does trouble some of us police officers when we're losing these crime scenes," he said recently of the demolition of the bombed federal building in Oklahoma and the "bulldozing" of the remains of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. "As intelligent human beings yourself," he said to the relatives, "you must have felt funny about that."

Like all talk shows, these are often preaching to the choir.

"I'm a firm believer in the truth will out," "Dave from Tennessee" tells Mr. McLamb. "You don't read about it in the media."

Audience size

How many people are listening is impossible to know -- unlike AM and FM radio, there is no Arbitron audience measurement for shortwave. Many Americans probably don't even know they exist. They got some publicity in May when President Clinton decried certain talk radio programs for "fostering hatred, division and encouraging violence." While he was also speaking about conventional radio talk shows, the president specifically lashed out at "these little shortwave programs that plainly are encouraging violence."

"I don't think Tim McVeigh listened to me," Mr. Valentine says mockingly.

But it is undeniable that much of the same anti-government fervor that may have motivated Mr. McVeigh courses through some of the shortwave radio shows. They speak to the stereotypical Angry White Man -- in all their talk of violence against American citizens, for example, you don't hear any weeping for, say, Rodney King.

In fact, although ATF agents are currently the bad guys in the drama of Waco, they were defended at least once recently in the face of even badder guys: Mr. Valentine charged that the racially tinged "round-up" that ATF and other federal agents were criticized for attending is a red herring.

"They're trying to throw racism in the mix as the Waco hearings are coming on," he said of the gathering where racist T-shirts allegedly were sold to an all-white group of agents. "It looks like the ADL is doing it again, trying to stir up racism where it doesn't exist, to keep themselves in business."

To some of those who listened to shortwave long before the current batch of shows emerged, the newcomers are something of an irritant, although easily bypassed in their search for other exotica. A recent scan of the frequencies found numerous Spanish and French language shows, various religious-oriented programs and the ever popular British Broadcasting Company broadcasts (a Wednesday night offering: an interview with a man who sells "silk-lined, tartan burial shrouds" for pets).

Switching stations

"In the grand scheme of things, to the average shortwave listener, these [American talk] shows are not that popular," says Richard Cuff, an engineer and business manager who lives in Timonium and has been a shortwave radio hobbyist since he was a kid. Mr. Cuff writes a column for a publication of the hobbyist group the North American Shortwave Association.

More traditional shortwave listeners have talked quite a bit about these new shows, he says.

"We're of two minds: We're shocked and appalled by some of the content," Mr. Cuff says, "but at the same time, we also tend to be liberal on issues like censorship."

Others are a bit more confrontational. To Jay Marvin, a shortwave listener as well as a talk show host on WLS-AM in Chicago, these new shows are much like the irritants on shortwave when he was a kid -- the Radio Moscows, the Radio Albanias, the stations from communist countries.

"They were extremely harpy and dogmatic," says Mr. Marvin, who has been involved in various flames on the Internet on the subject of these shows. "[Shortwave] was supposed to be this cultural exchange. Instead it's become this ideological battleground."

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