The Deep Politics of Jared Leto’s Cult

…Pop singer—he’s not so much a person as a puppet, whose strings are pulled for a scheme of total nightmare!

…A terrifying and withering exposé of the misuse of power in an age of illusion!

Privilege theatrical trailer, 1967

For the past year, I’ve been working hard on a book project, which is going to offer insight into a lot of the bigger contemporary political trends. One of the main threads is this: many of the political conflicts we see are the result of internecine struggles between ruling class-power blocs, and many of these are the result of Silicon Valley taking its place among the monopoly industries. In order to illustrate the concept of deep politics, one chapter discusses conclusions we can draw from two of the best on the subject: Crypto Cuttlefish and Dave McGowan.

One of the first things to say about the value of their respective research is that they illustrate how to identify a network. Unless you’re studying counterinsurgency or something, you probably won’t have an opportunity to learn this academically. So the best way to grasp this is by seeing patterns identified, so you can recognize the signs yourself. The world’s richest people constitute a class, but the composition of this class isn’t laid out formally, the way a corporation has a neat-and-clean org chart. Fortunately, the world’s richest people have patterns that are quite predictable—like having the same jobs, attending the same institutions, and marrying one another. Some of the best resources for figuring these things out are obituaries and marriage announcements in major newspapers like the New York Times. Since these patterns are easy to recognize once you know what they are, people with a stake in confusing us dismiss these things as either conspiracy theories or coincidences. They do so because things like family and intelligence connections are not insignificant data points, they’re actually a really big deal.

Cuttlefish’s work on Silicon Valley, in particular, is invaluable for grasping the nature of the newest monopoly industry. Cuttlefish first introduced me to the fact that the Internet was actually not started by a bunch of idealistic nerds who wanted to share college papers—it was a decentralized communications network developed by the RAND Corporation in order to help wage nuclear war. Professor C. turns the tech industry’s utopian mythology rightside-up, showing that the Internet is a tool for social control because that’s exactly what it was built to be all those years ago.

Cuttlefish also illuminates how the ruling class’ human terrain maps onto the physical geography of the military/intelligence-industry. The sergeants and lieutenants of the world’s richest people go to Washington, DC, they graduate from spy-heavy universities, they staff think tanks specializing in social engineering like RAND, they work at military bases and for intelligence fronts, etc. Particularly as it relates to Silicon Valley, they often ended up next to US Air Force installations, working at computers powering missile bases, signals intelligence facilities, and targeting stations. The Air Force was born in 1947, at the advent of the digital age, and its development was rooted in the high-tech industry. That’s why the USAF is overwhelmingly the military branch of the Silicon Valley clique.

This is where the work of Dave McGowan comes in, specifically his fascinating and though-provoking book Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon: Laurel Canyon, Covert Ops, and the Dark Heart of the Hippie Dream. McGowan starts from one essential premise: when something “comes out of nowhere” to great acclaim and “suddenly” dominates the public eye, this must be cause for great skepticism. Unfortunately, this sort of fundamental insight—which separates the actual radical thinkers from the fakes—seems to be in short supply these days. I blame Noam Chomsky for teaching so many people that something can simultaneously be extremely famous and also “marginalized.” Anyway…

McGowan applies this scrutiny to the Laurel Canyon music scene, which spawned the hippie movement, which itself came to be synonymous with the radical era. McGowan proposes that it might be no coincidence that hippie/New Age/woo-woo stuff drew attention from and gradually supplanted the progressive political movements of the era—no coincidence that “turn on, tune in, drop out” replaced “up against the wall, motherfucker!”

Weird Scenes points to the fact that most of the luminaries of the scene were sons and daughters of military/intelligence people. The anecdote which opens the book tells the story of Jim and George Stephen Morrison. That’s Jim Morrison of The Doors fame; at the same time he was made the Lizard King, his father was the commander of US naval forces in the Gulf of Tonkin. This was more the norm than the exception. McGowan discusses the case of Frank Zappa, who was actually born and raised at Edgewood Arsenal, headquarters of America’s chemical warfare program. Zappa’s wife, Gail, attended a US Navy kindergarten with Jim Morrison, since her dad was a naval officer, too.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and McGowan points out that all these people congregated to Laurel Canyon for no apparent reason, and started a “movement” which was then identified as the voice of the generation. The biggest draw would appear to be an extremely suspicious installation called Lookout Mountain, an Air Force station that was, of all things, an above-top-secret movie studio. Lookout Mountain successfully remained secret for decades. As is usually the case, discussion of this extremely strange place was relegated to fringe “conspiracy” discussions, until at one point, mainstream publications got in on and act and said, sure it does exist, but there was nothing weird going on.

So imagine my great surprise when I read that Lookout Mountain had been purchased in 2015, by oddball actor/musician Jared Leto. I had few opinions about Jared Leto, and I thought even less about his band Thirty Seconds to Mars. The few occasions that his band entered my consciousness, I usually confused it with the band fronted by fellow actor Russell Crow, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts.

I was downright astonished when I learned that not only did Jared Leto purchase the installation in 2015, he has also started his own cult. This is after developing at least an academic interest in the subject: “When he isn’t playing in 30 Seconds to Mars,” writes IndieWire, “Jared Leto keeps busy by producing documentaries about cults.”

Someone who knows what a covert action looks like will recognize that this is extremely spooky. “Spooky” is the best word for this—it not only means “spy-like,” but captures the feeling of something being not only unsettling and abnormal, but menacing. Weirder still is the fact that, when he bought Lookout Mountain, Leto told publications that his grandfather was in the Air Force. This is even more suspicious, since the ruling class promotes from within, so family connections are a huge tell. Leto says that he and his brother Shannon lived with that grandfather on and off over the years.

This is quite a bit more banal, but I always found it a little odd that Jared Leto—who is really quite boring and not very good—has been around for a very long time and seems to be promoted well out of proportion with his talent or even box-office success. Weirdest of all is filmmaker Denis Villeneuve discussing the day Jared Leto arrived on the set of Blade Runner 2049, to play the role of tech-messiah Niander Wallace:

It was like seeing Jesus walking into a temple. Everybody became super silent, and there was a kind of sacred moment. Everyone was in awe. It was so beautiful and powerful—I was moved to tears.

This was a role originally conceived for David Bowie, the greatest rock star of all time, and Jared Leto made this guy weep? This is the sort of promotion one would expect to come from a clickbait-mill, not a serious art-house filmmaker. I saw one movie site refer to Leto as an “acting titan.” I mean, the guy who singlehandedly ruined method acting by mailing condoms to Will Smith and Margot Robbie—a titan? Continue reading