James Renner is a journalist and author who lives at an undisclosed location in the woods of Ohio. His new novel, The Great Forgetting, will be released November 10.
by James Renner
When I was a teen, my life revolved around Friday nights. Every Friday night at nine p.m., I dialed the UHF knob on our dusty twenty-inch tube television to Channel 19 out of Cleveland and steadied the antenna so that the signal could come in clear. For the next hour, I lived in the world of the X-Files. I looked forward to this hour all week, from November to May, which was the span of the TV season then. This was before Tivo, and on the weekends I camped with the Boy Scouts I had to program the VCR to record the show on a VHS tape. I enjoyed the stand-alone monster-of-the-week episodes, like the one where Mulder found a human parasite living in the sewers, but my favorite stories were the ones that delved into the grand government conspiracy that was always one step ahead of the FBI agent and his partner.
After my first novel, The Man from Primrose Lane, was published, in 2012, I got to thinking about what to do next, and I remembered how much fun I used to have watching the X-Files. I thought it would be a gas to play around in that world of government conspiracies and write about things like fluoride mind-control and chemtrails and secret underground facilities. What would be the grand conspiracy lurking behind all this?
Now, by then, I considered myself a skeptic. I wanted to believe, sure. But I had grown up. I had worked for years as a true crime reporter. I knew something about the cold, hard truth of the world – that it’s not government conspiracies that keep society in check but our own apathy and indifference toward each other. Never ascribe conspiracy to an agent of the government (be it FBI or local police) when you can ascribe simple laziness. Still… there was something fun in the idea.
In order to lend credibility to a new novel about conspiracies, I first needed to do my research. Where did these conspiracies begin? When did people become suspicious of the H.A.A.R.P. relay in Alaska? When did we get so scared of jet exhaust? When and why?
What I wanted to do was show how silly this all was, what great scaredy cats we are. What I found, though, was enough to make me nervous. There may be something here.
Take, for instance, fluoride.
Everyone has that uncle or great aunt who, after a second glass of sangria at the Fourth of July picnic, starts going on about fluoride in the drinking water. It’s poison, they say. The real fringy ones suggest that fluoride is capable of making a person prone to suggestion, that it was developed by Nazi scientists to keep the Jewish prisoners docile. Crazy talk. We put fluoride in our water so that our teeth don’t rot, so that poor people who can’t afford the dentist don’t drive up the cost of health care.
The first thing I noticed was my toothpaste. Next time you brush your teeth take a moment and look at the tube. There’s a warning label on there, like the kind you find on a carton of cigarettes. If you accidentally swallow more than a pea-sized squirt of toothpaste you’re supposed to call Poison Control. Well. That is kind of frightening when you think about it. If fluoride is poisonous, why do we put it in our drinking water? Why do we bathe in it?
Still, it couldn’t have really come from the Nazis…
I did some digging. Turns out the first real test of fluoride in the public water system occurred in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945, at the end of World War II. The man in charge of the experiment was one H. Trendly Dean. During the war, Dean was the director of Epidemiological Studies for the United States Army. Care to guess where he was stationed? That’s right. Germany.
Mind = blown.
It was at this point, when I traced the origins of fluoride to a former military man, that my new novel, The Great Forgetting, began to feel real. Frighteningly real.
What if your crazy uncle was right?
What if jet fuel really can’t melt steel beams?
Is the truth out there? And if the truth is terrible, to what lengths would our government go to make us forget?