On a recent hot afternoon, five veterans of the city’s conspiracy and fringe political scenes gathered on the ratty couches of the Yippie Museum Café, at Bleecker and Bowery, to discuss a new political organization that shares all of the anti-establishment animus, if not quite the Aquarian exuberance, of the Yippies.
The founding members of the Truth Party were eager to share their thoughts on what “They” are up to behind the scenes. “They,” of course, refers to “Them,” who from dark shadows and Olympian heights exert daily control over the world economy, brainwash the masses and orchestrate heinous acts of terror and deception like the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Moderating the conversation was the party’s founder and the city’s most colorful conspiracy impresario, Sander Hicks. But Mr. Hicks, battle-tested in the trenches of socialist revolutionary, green and 9/11 Truth activism, has grown impatient with the lazy imprecision and scattershot use of the word “They.”
“Who is ‘They’?” demanded Mr. Hicks. “We must define our pronouns!”
Defining “They,” it turns out, is not so easy. The world is complex, full of conflict, coincidence and incompetence, and the Truth Partiers not surprisingly had more questions than answers.
After tumultuous stints in, and bitter divorces from, the city’s Socialist and Green parties (under the latter’s banner, he twice ran for the Senate), Mr. Hicks now finds himself where he was always destined to be: more or less alone, in charge of his own political fiefdom on the fringe.
In a gift to Freudians everywhere, Mr. Hicks was born into the bosom of the Bretton Woods establishment in Washington, D.C. His father was a senior development economist at the World Bank-“kind of a Joe Stiglitz figure, an insider critic of the system,” says Mr. Hicks. “He has his own problems with the institution, but he doesn’t like much to hear the same critiques from his radical son.”
After graduating from Eugene Lang in 1993, Mr. Hicks took a job at Kinko’s and started the political art-punk band White Collar Crime. After-hours at work, Mr. Hicks used company property to self-publish his own books, the first of which was the novella Foam. “They were small runs, with taped binding,” says Hicks.
In 1996, with the help of a Kinko’s managing partner, Mr. Hicks turned pro under the banner of Soft Skull Press. The first title released by the outfit was Online Diaries: The Lollapalooza Tour Journals of Beck, Courtney Love, Stephen Malkmus, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Mike Watt. Soon the press was the center of a busy little downtown scene of admirers-authors. As the press’ reputation grew, Mr. Hicks came to be known as “the punk of publishing.”
The book that thrust Soft Skull into the national spotlight, however, almost never saw the light of day. In 1999, just as Mr. Hicks prepared to roll out Fortunate Son, a controversial biography of George W. Bush by the journalist Jim Hatfield, his company’s warehouse was hit with a legal injunction not to release the book. A drawn-out court battle followed, which depleted the company’s meager resources. In August of 2001, the Soft Skull board forced Mr. Hicks to step down.
His ouster followed a pattern. He has more often than not clashed with colleagues on the margins of the city’s cultural and political life. Rejected by the Revolutionary Communist Party for “not being proletarian enough,” Mr. Hicks in the late ’90s joined the International Socialist Organization only to be thrown out for the heresy of bringing modern marketing techniques to the street-corner sale of radical newspapers. “I was reading Fast Company along with my Marx,” says Mr. Hicks. “I was outselling everyone and trying to convert them to the importance of salesmanship and the lessons of progressive capitalism. They didn’t like that.”
In the past decade, Mr. Hicks’ political and entrepreneurial endeavors have included the Vox Pop cafe and bookstore in Ditmas Park during the mid-2000s. For a time, Vox Pop was the only cafe run by a staff consisting solely of card-carrying members of the Industrial Workers of the World, a union that last made a boss nervous during the administration of Calvin Coolidge.
Weeks after Mr. Hicks’ exit from Soft Skull in 2001 came the event that would set the course of his lifework. Inspired partly by Mr. Hatfield’s investigation into the Bush family’s connections to the Saudi royal family, Mr. Hicks was among the first of the 9/11 skeptics that would come to be known as “Truthers.” Over the past decade, he has toured the country speaking about the “coverup” (for which, he believes, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was a practice run); has worked to get a referendum on 9/11 skepticism placed on the state ballot; and self-published a book, The Big Wedding: 9/11, the Whistle-Blowers & the Cover-up.
Mr. Hicks’ belief that 9/11 was an inside job is also the prime motivation behind the Truth Party. “The idea grew out of my disgust with the closed-minded ‘left’ thinking of the Green Party,” says Mr. Hicks. On Aug. 15, Mr. Hicks’ decade-long truth quest will culminate in a “Truth Gathering” event in the Catskills community of Livingston Manor. There, Mr. Hicks says, he will “expose some of the darkest secrets of the U.S.A.”-secrets he feels his erstwhile red and green comrades simply cannot handle.
“I feel a little like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver,” says Hicks. “Like all of my life has been leading to this-to the Truth.”
Mr. Zaitchik is the author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.