Reality Engineers

The Theory of the Crisis Actor: On Society’s Reality Engineers

The term crisis actor dates to a press release published by a Colorado-based acting studio called Visionbox on October 31, 2012. Promoting “a new group of actors… now available nationwide for active shooter drills and mall shooting full-scale exercise,” two months later the concept entered the lexicon of conspiracy theory after James Tracey, then a Communications Professor at Florida Atlantic University and today described by Wikipedia as a “professional conspiracy theorist,” invoked the term to conclude a series of posts on his blog in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shooting.

Picked-up by Alex Jones on InfoWars, covered in Fort Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel and criticized on CNN by Anderson Cooper, himself a curious figure, today the term remains essentially where Tracey left it, suspended between an incredible hypothesis and a disturbing proposition. But in these terms, the figure is already illuminating. 

Only in a certain kind of society is the figure of the crisis actor thinkable: a society in which reality depends upon the circulation of second-hand information, produced by unknown individuals and groups with unknown motives. Yet once this figure is accepted the nature of reality transforms from a given, to a problem. From accepting, and reacting to the carousel of images presented daily for public consumption, the focus shifts towards the deduction of the agendas and capacities of the puppeteers behind the scenes.

Once one thread is pulled, there’s no telling what else will unravel. Who is not a crisis actor? And what is the reality of the reality engineers? The reluctance on the part of some to question any aspect of a rapidly disintegrating official narrative mirrors the difficulty experienced by others in articulating a sprawling web of associations, intuitions, coincidences and conjectures of uncertain significance.

The narrative cannot simply be discarded, it has to be replaced, not only for the sake of knowledge but for the possibility of action. Absent certain key beliefs or institutional interpretations, collective actions look completely different. “No those aren’t humans, but cattle,” cry even the fathers of the incinerated children in Carthage,’ remarks Michel Serres. “No those aren’t unborn children but clumps of cells.”

But which is which? 

The only difference is the label, but the entire moral question is contained here. The narrative channels violence in either one direction or another by rendering it sacred or invisible. What’s decisive is the imposition of a moral calculus excluding one side of an equation from the possibility of recognition. What is happening is either child murder or a medical procedure, or else the conscious affirmation of the former as the latter. But even here a rationalizing narrative is used.

The question is the basis of the narrative. Personal expediency supplies one basis but the pursuit of power for no purpose has no meaning and is hostile to truth. Truth distracts from an exclusive focus on ambition, so truth is sacrificed for flexibility. All higher principles and moral arguments are transformed into rhetorical devices, and deployed according to their usefulness in achieving social goals. 

This kind of motivation is initially invisible but appears through inconsistency — which is why hypocrisy is the key to judging character, because irrelevant for the hypocrite themselves. But logical and ethical dysfunction are mutually reinforcing. To insist that a deer is a horse, or now a deer once again (so that immigrant detention facilities under the Obama Administration become “children in cages” under the Trump Administration and return to being immigrant detention facilities under Biden) and that reality is subordinate to political criteria has deleterious consequences. 

Once a counterfeit reality is generated the inevitable trajectory is increasing derealization. Individuals are transformed into images or apparitions. Persons, and not only persons, but also stubborn facts, and inconvenient truths become subordinate to a narrative machinery pumping out phantasmagoria to sustain an unreal dream. 

Anything that threatens to disturb the dream becomes a threat and an increasing threat the more fragile the dream becomes. Hence the situation of the global civil “war on reality” that has been escalating in tandem with the expansion of the global information system in recent decades and especially the last four years. 

The more informatized reality becomes the more extreme becomes the general atmosphere of paranoia. Since nothing now presents a generally accepted, and unquestioned ethical or intellectual authority, every sign becomes a sign of other signs, swimming in a sea of signs, available for manipulation, through conflations and exaggeration, if not flat lies.

Perhaps, it is even possible to argue this situation led to the pandemic, as a pandemic of derealization and uncertainty against which lockdown presents a kind of global mental breakdown.


In a premodern community, the reality of the medical and social facts would be transparent. People you know are sick or are dying: in response, specific rituals are called for, some outlining medical measures, others related to the panic that sickness can engender.

Today, assessment of reality depends on the circulation of statistics, images, and facts, pumped-out by experts, journalists and politicians, all riven with conflicts of interests, and almost all collective rituals have been destroyed. Hence the invention of disturbing and bizarre new rituals like social distancing, the danse macabre of nurses and the political police, or the imposition of a mask mandate with no positive medical effects, not to mention genuflection before BLM iconoclastic vandalism and the ‘Cult of Barrabbas’ of George Floyd.

Meanwhile, lockdown regimes around the world have targeted religious rituals and organic social rituals, recognizing in their perseverance a threat to the new normal which they are working to install. Because what defines this new normality is nihilism, every extant source of meaning must be destroyed. 

Nihilism is not only indifference to truth but a war on truth — which is why somebody who calls themselves a Nihilist is probably a cargo cultist. The true nihilist defines themselves through whatever label affords maximum advantage given their own situation and agenda: an Antifascist, a philanthropist, whatever. Hence the flexibility with which these personality types move between camps when circumstances changes, and why there can never be an ideologically defined resistance.

In progressively succumbing to purely cynical identifications, the meaning of every ideology is hollowed out into a vehicle for private interest.

The impossibility of identifying the central doctrines of the so-called successor ideology emerges from the fact that it is nothing but a weapon for colonizing institutions. Whatever central features it possesses reflects the extant cultural and social weakness which the ideology exploits. In a different social system the list of targets would be different, but the structure of the ideology would be the same.

Likewise the ‘long march through the institutions’ destroys the institutions, not through surplus ideological commitments, but as a factor of the march itself. Institutions are unsustainable when occupied by individuals with no desire to maintain them, but only maintain their own possession of them. 

Once this situation is endemic in society, the possibilities of recovery are limited. Networks of zombie institutions, occupied by a nihilist elite, now coordinate to block any challenge to their status. No centralized direction is required. Inside the institutions, individuals of merit and ability are marginalized and loyalist inadequates promoted in their place. Outside, independent individuals and enterprises competing with corrupted institutions are targeted, sometimes violently, as with LD50, whose real crime was to expose the weakness of the institutional art world. 

In the absence of legitimate authority illegitimate authority dominates: authority defined by the capacity to impose itself through subterfuge and games.

At the heights of society we are now dealing with an elite composed entirely of crisis actors, playing experts, journalists and politicians, whose credentials serve an ornamental function, as opposed to demonstrating real attainments. 

The collective outcome is a destroyed political immune system which leaves society wide open to external threats. This dynamic has defined every aspect of the pandemic of the last twelve months, both in terms of the environment it enters, and the solution it suggests. 

The problem of determining what is really happening, exacerbated by the widespread adoption of communications strategies based explicitly on deception, censorship and fear, has accompanied the pandemic narrative from the moment that the story of a deadly Wuhan virus first emerged in December 2019, continued through the undecidability of testing results associated with Christian Drosten’s profiteering PCR test, and persists to this day. 

What is most remarkable is the general indifference to this question. Instead of running systems enabling a flexible response, public health policy has been enslaved to a theoretical model, already demonstrated as wildly inaccurate. Yet this model cannot be removed, because it serves another function, namely a propaganda function in legitimating a political policy arrived at as the outcome of a crisis of authority.

The political dysfunction, where experts simply canalize invisible political and corporate power, is mirrored by a spiritual dysfunction that in misrepresenting the real nature of expert influence condemns them to misunderstand their role. Advertised as scientists, and imagining themselves as scientists, the truth of their position is theocratic: they represent the clerisy of a reified idea of science indistinguishable from dogma.

Science is not an object but a technical approach to thinking: there is no such thing as the science, only a scientific approach to knowledge, expressed in the classic motto of the Royal Society Nullius in verba. When science becomes a narrative it assumes a crypto-religious force and a mandate for presiding over sacrificial systems. 

Technocracy, the form of global government which is now installing itself everywhere, is misunderstood if conceived as alien to religiosity. In truth, it represents one possibility of sacred thought, or superstition, which has recurred repeatedly in history with regular characteristics: nihilism, gnosticism, eschatology, behaviorism, conceptual recapitulation of communication media (hence Kittler’s definition of totalitarianism as the correspondence of broadcast to opinion) and expert pseudo-knowledge wielded as a political and social tool. 

The national cull of healthy animals engineered in the United Kingdom in 2001 following characteristically inaccurate modeling by Neil Ferguson is a case in point. The burning carcasses of millions of healthy animals was functionally indistinguishable from a sacrificial offering yet justified through scientific (or scientistic) rhetoric.

The outstanding question is whether Ferguson himself (and therefore also others) knew then (and therefore now) about his true position in the scheme of things, or whether he did not know, or he simply does not care. Is the intention to deceive conscious, or unconscious, and what is the significance of self-deception?

What makes the issue particularly complicated is that what’s true about the technical principles of information society is also true for the conceptual tools which this society supplies. 

How to gauge the magnitude of certain precise intelligences compared to others? From what standpoint is it possible to grasp their interaction? What position of observation puts you at their mercy. Culianu speaks of modern culture as a “wingless fly” which in the process of its mutation to materialist positivism destroyed the accumulated psychological knowledge of Renaissance and pre-Renaissance Europe. It’s not an accident that the resurgence of occultism in the nineteenth century coincided with the positivist apex of Western civilization as the recognition of the shortfall of the scientistic schema.

In remaining on the materialist plane the theory of the crisis actor offers only a limited possibility of recuperation. Writing of the Italian “years of lead” Baudrillard accordingly denies the possibility of extracting any clear political analysis from the spectacle of violence:

“Is any given bombing in Italy the work of leftist extremists; or of extreme right-wing provocation; or staged by centrists to bring every terrorist extreme into disrepute and to shore up its own failing power; or again, is it a police-inspired scenario in order to appeal to calls for public security? All this is equally true, and the search for proof — indeed the objectivity of the fact — does not check this vertigo of interpretation. We are in a logic of simulation which has nothing to do with a logic of facts and an order of reasons.”

Within the order of the image, and enslavement to the image, only further images can be produced. What has to be accounted for is the position of this order generally, relative to others. The origins of the order of the simulation demands no explanation. What is needed is the cognizance of its existence alongside others in a universe composed of many worlds.

Cover art via Archillect

Daniel Miller is a writer, critic, and a contributing editor of IM—1776.

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