Richard Oxman interviews Charles Ortleb, a prominent AIDS campaigner and writer about his work and his view that orthodox AIDS research is seriously misguided.
CHARLES ORTLEB was publisher of New York Native from 1980-1996. He was one of the first journalist/publishers to take the epidemic seriously. He published investigative reporting on AZT and HIV dissent by John Lauritsen as well as Neenyah Ostrom's reporting on the links between AIDS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and HHV-6.
Since 1996 he has been writing fiction about the politics of AIDS. His first novel "Iron Peter", was a satire about the AIDS Establishment and AIDS Activists.Celia Farber called it the "'Animal Farm' of the AIDS era". His first collection of stories, "Last Lovers on Earth", is a funny and disturbing series of portraits of the gay community as it faces the challenges of survival in a world of AIDS propaganda and collaboration.
His most recent novella, "The Closing Argument", presents the trial of an African-American man accused of spreading AIDS. The novella is one of the first books to expose AIDS as an epidemic of medical racial profiling.
He is also writes poetry and lyrics.Under the name of "Julian Lake" he has created cartoons about coming out. His daily cartoons can be seen at www.gaywit.com.
He has begun work on the history of the AIDS epidemic, tentatively titled "Homodemiology and the Origins of Medical Totalitariansim" (click here). And since then, he's made the movie version of "The Last Lovers on Earth" (click here).
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ROX: January 15, 1994, the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) was created by President Clinton to investigate and report on the use of human beings as subjects of federally funded research using ionizing radiation. Does this resonate at all vis-a-vis the Aids Establishment?
Ortleb: Sorry, I don't know how to answer that. One thing Clinton did that was supposed to help get African-Americans to cooperate with the AIDS agenda was to make a formal apology for the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. By doing that, it was hoped that African-Americans would stop bringing up that experiment as a way of trying to make the community distrust what the government is doing in the name of AIDS. The AIDS establishment wants members of the African-American community to all get tested for AIDS and to take their medications (and eventually the AIDS vaccine) and to forget the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. In my novella, "The Closing Argument," I urge the African-American Community not only to remember the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, but to also consider AIDS something akin to "The New Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment". I've said that it's too bad the gay community doesn't have a Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment to remember. If it did, maybe more members of the gay community would wake up and refuse to cooperate with the homophobic AIDS agenda.
ROX: Care to elaborate on that last point?
Ortleb: I think African-American intellectuals have an easier time than gay intellectuals believing that bigoted ideation is at work in AIDS epidemiology. If tomorrow a story appeared in the "New York Times" that the Centers for Disease Control admits that the definition of AIDS is actually racist and homophobic (and fraudulent), there wouldn't be that much surprise in the African-American community. But I think there would be total shock in most of the gay community. Gays assume that scientists and doctors only have their best interests at heart. Hand-in-hand the gays and the government AIDS scientists have been working for a better future for the gay community — all because of the overwhelming love and concern our society has for gay people. Right. And people wonder why I've turned to writing satire about the epidemic.
ROX: Tell me something about your most recent writing… and underscore, if you will, why satire seems so appropriate.
Ortleb: My most recent project is "The Last Lovers on Earth," a film version of three satirical short stories from my collection with the same title. I co-directed the 100-minute film with Michael Cimpher. I've spent the last fourteen months making it. We will begin screening it in Boston (where we filmed it) and New York next month. In the first story of this dark comedy, "Bruschetta on the Beach", Eddie is a gay man who is cursed by extreme ugliness. He moves to New York hoping that the gay community will give him the love that he was denied all his life. Instead, no one will have sex with him. He never finds a lover even for fifteen minutes. In his first few years in Manhattan, he figures that 1.2 million gay men have rejected him. His luck gets worse when he gets severely ill and is diagnosed with AIDS — even though he has never had sex with a single soul. The diagnosis changes his luck because only when he is thought to have AIDS is he loved and honored. The second story, "Daddy's Little Clown", is about a gay man who grows up in a family in which the father is obsessed with clowns. His greatest hope is that one of his children will one day become a clown. When his youngest son tells him that he is going to become a "gay" rather than a clown, the father is crushed. Only when the gay son later becomes a leading AIDS activist in New York and his parents see his wild, over-the-top AIDS activist behavior on television do his parents realize that he has not disappointed them, for he has truly become one of the great clowns of the twentieth century. The son's behavior and leadership is so out-of-control and loony that he turns AIDS research and activism into a three-ring circus. With his loud, hysterical and menacing antics, he succeeds in getting all the AIDS activists, the AIDS research establishment, and the government to do his bidding. Tragically, he falls victim to his own ridiculous clown act. The third story, "The Last Lovers on Earth", begins with the premise that the AIDS epidemic is over and all gay men are dead. All Hell breaks loose when two gay men are found to be still alive in Cape May, New Jersey. The entire AIDS research establishment suddenly realizes that the historic AIDS research effort has not been a complete success. The two gay men are invited to appear on a leading talk show to explain why they are still alive and every other gay man in the world is dead. Billions of viewers tune in to hear them explain that they have survived by not doing a single thing that the government's AIDS researchers or the AIDS activists have told them to do. Shortly after their appearance on the talk show, they are shot to death by a disgruntled AIDS researcher. Thus, it seems that the AIDS epidemic is finally over. Cumulatively, the three in-your-face stories paint a very disturbing picture of the AIDS epidemic. It's not the plague anyone thought they knew.
I use outrageous satire in these stories to try and wake people up. I think humor helps us see things anew. Times when we're supposed to show reverence to fools call for massive irreverence and the wittiest mockery we can manufacture. I think satire sends a message that people who secretly see what is really happening and are afraid to speak up, are not alone. These are dark times for gay people. Folks who should know better have looked the other way while the AIDS establishment and the AIDS activists have humiliated and cowed the entire gay community. Progressive humiliation only promises to lead to worse things. People don't know what to do. They retreat to their private lives, into something I think Hannah Arendt referred to as "internal exile". They whine. But they do nothing. They live in fear and denial. We're living in a quiet reign of medical and scientific terror (based on fraud) that nobody has fully described yet. Humor has a role to play here in making fun of the oppressors and giving the oppressed hope. First the AIDS powers that be have to be mocked and shown to be naked emperors. It worked during the French Terror against Robespierre in a moment of public ridicule that Simon Schama described in "Citizens" and which is an opening epigram in my movie: "The one weapon against which Robespierre was helpless then struck him down: laughter."
ROX: Great. Now… in the name of making more Robespierres helpless… I ask you what you think of Almodovar. In a Marcia Pally piece on Pedro's Politics of Passion… his Camp Esthetic… she says: "Jews and gays, each in their fashion, milk the trouble they've seen. Hounded for religious beliefs, Jews exaggerate the tsuris that comes from being God's 'chosen'. In a parallel way, gay men, stereotypically dismissed for being effeminate, overblow the heartache of femininity, most pointedly in cross-dressing." She goes on to say, "Dolling up their troubles, gay men made a comic theater of abandonment and isolation." What think you?
Ortleb: Not an expert on or a fan of Almodovar. I think Marcia Pally used to write for the "New York Native" which I published many years ago. I adore sentences like "Dolling up their theater of abandonment and isolation." I'd love to have a writer say it in the film version I'd want to do of my story "Banned in Boston." It would be a comedy about a pretentious "queer writers" conference. I'd like to make a comic theater of people who say that "gay men made a comic theater of abandoment and isolation." I guess we all have our own individual ways of "dolling up" our troubles.
ROX: We met over a piece I wrote titled No Angels in America. What about my work on Tony Kushner's play moved you to contact me? Do you remember?
Ortleb: When you dared to suggest that his politics were platitudinous. Anyone who sees through Tony Kushner is an angel in my America. Even though Andrew Sullivan is a poster boy of AIDS foolishness himself, his criticism of Kushner made me forgive a great deal.
ROX: In your watershed piece "Where is the Massive Gay Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?" you say, "I bet that virtually no members of the gay community are aware that there could be thousands of members of their community with the contagious "mirror image of AIDS." Tell us all, if you will, something about this "mirror image of AIDS." And anything else about the article — there is much there to digest — which you think readers should know about yesterday.
Ortleb: I was being sarcastic by using that expression. There is a massive epidemic of AIDS-like immunodeficiency in the general population. It broke out at the same time as AIDS. It is called "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)" or "Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS)". It has symptoms and immune abnormalities that are very similar to AIDS. We're all supposed to pretend that it's not a form of AIDS or a part of the AIDS epidemic. I can't play along with that nonsense. Desperate to find a distinction with a difference, so to speak, someone decided to call it "the mirror image of AIDS", because they could find some difference in the types of T-cells that were being affected. But there really is too much that the syndromes have in common for that to be true. It is a desperate distinction without a difference. The wall between these syndromes was built by racist and homophobic politics. The same disease is occurring on both sides of the wall. If you're on the gay and African-American side, you have the criminal form of immunodeficiency called "AIDS," and if you're on the white heterosexual side of the wall and have the same basic form of immune deficiency, you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Being told you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome makes it sound like you should just take a vacation even though your immune system looks like swiss cheese. Being told you have CFS is better than being imprisoned in the AIDS paradigm.
ROX: Ah, sarcasm, satire, syndromes, salvation! And what about this new "Proposal for a New Medical Group: Doctors Without Borders, Brains or Ethics?"
Ortleb: Insofar as Doctors Without Borders is exporting America's fraudulent AIDS paradigm to the rest of the world, it is essentially bringing death and deception in the name of health. If I was in another country and saw a Doctor Without a Border coming towards me, I would grab my family and head for the border. I guess we can't blame them, because doctors are not paid to think independently (if at all) and they're just doing what the top public health people tell them. And the fish rots from the head.
I woke up one morning recently and saw that a spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders was expressing concern in the "New York Times" that because of the scandal that was in the papers about the government not telling the truth about an experiment in which a drug called Nivirapine killed a woman and caused all kinds of bad side effects, it was endangering the ability of doctors to get that drug into people's bodies. Hello! And these are our great liberal friends. So I penned a little piece calling for the creation of an organization called "Doctors Without Borders, Brains or Ethics." It began like this: "I think it is time that doctors who are worried about the growing public concern that something is rotten in AIDS research — at least as manifested by the Nevirapine scandal — to start an organization to protect the AIDS establishment."
I used the piece to warn people about a very interesting "AIDS expert" and medical fascist in Canada: "Doctors Without Borders, Brains or Ethics needs strong leadership. Only one man has the courage and vision to lead the organization at this time of crisis, and that man is Dr. Mark Wainberg, the distinguished Canadian AIDS researcher. In Robin Scovill's recent documentary, 'The Other Side of AIDS,' the good doctor had the guts to say what many of his AIDS colleagues are thinking: 'As far as I am concerned, and I hope this is adequately represented, those who attempt to dispel the notion that HIV is the cause of AIDS are perpetrators of death. And I for one would very much like to see the Constitution of the United States and similar countries have some means in place that we can charge people who are responsible for endangering public health with charges of endangerment and bring them up on trial. I think that people like [AIDS dissenter scientist] Peter Duesberg belong in jail.'"
As you can see, questioning the AIDS establishment is a risky business.
ROX: "And the fish rots from the head." Now there's a title for something. But… before I forget… I've got to ask you about the cartoons you do under the name of Julian Lake. I think ALL activists should have them at their side… to split their sides when they need it in the midst of their… Arduous Activism. THE funniest; just sent some to my daughter in NYC. Oh yes, now I'm remembering why I brought the humorous note up. For your Courtroom Novella, "The Closing Argument", you dedicate to Jesse Jackson, Sharon Stone… and the memory of William Kuntsler. I'm torn between asking you what kind of contact you may have had with Kuntsler — a Top Hero of mine — and asking you whether or not you've ever considered doing cartoon takes on JJ and/or SS.
Ortleb: I've done some cartoons on my gay cartoon site about AIDS dissidence and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I came out — or in those days joined the Gay Liberation Front — in 1971 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. A week after I did that, William Kunstler was speaking at the University and I went up to him after the speech and asked him if he would represent the gay group in a suit against K.U. because the university was refusing to give it official recognition. And he said yes! And shortly after that Walter Cronkite reported on the fact that he was taking the case on the nightly news. It was pretty wild. Kunstler came back for a meeting before the case was to go to court and I had a chance to spend some time with him. The reason I dedicated "The Closing Argument" to him is that the novella is about a lawyer who pulls a Kunstler Chicago Seven by turning the tables on the AIDS establishment in a criminal trial in which an African-American is accused of spreading AIDS in New England. The lawyer puts AIDS science on trial and tries to convince the jury that AIDS is a racist and homophobic tissue of lies. I included Jesse Jackson in hopes that he might see the book and rethink his policy of being the government's AIDS puppet in the African-American community. And Sharon Stone was included because she has replaced Elizabeth Taylor as the celebrity face of AIDS philanthropy. All of the Hollywood celebrities who have helped reinforce the official AIDS propaganda should be ashamed of themselves. There's a satirical bit about Sharon Stone's AIDS work in my movie.
I haven't given up on Jesse Jackson. He responded appropriately to the recent Nevirapine scandal. I hope one day he will help raise awareness in the African-American community that AIDS is as racist in its underpinnings as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.
ROX: This is, arguably, my favorite of all the responses thus far; I think it'll go a long way on several counts with a range of readers here. I have just about three more questions, I think. One is…what do you think, ideally, American AIDS activists should be doing — that they're not doing — in solidarity with their counterparts abroad?
Ortleb: By the way, having said some fairly negative things about scientists and doctors let me just go on the record as saying that when science and medicine are good they are very good, and when they are bad they are AIDS, Lysenkoism, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, and Nazi medical research.
From a scientific and a human rights standpoint AIDS activism has been so wrongheaded and so disastrous that the very word "activism" gives me palpitations. I'm not sure that any of the people who helped create this mess will be instrumental in changing it, although given the probable opportunism of some of these satire-worthy characters, they'll make all appropriate changes when they sense way the wind is blowing. One bit of advice I do have for the activists is this: hide your red ribbons, fast!
Thomas Kuhn's description (in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions") of how scientific paradigms change probably has some application here. There has to be a crisis in which people of good will recognize that the old paradigm doesn't explain nature as well as the new paradigm. That crisis should have occurred many years ago, but political factors prevented the normal course of events. We're not necessarily dealing with people of good will. Anyone who challenged the prevailing HIV paradigm of AIDS has been attacked in one way or another. Scientists who don't think HIV is the cause of AIDS are subject to the sanctions of career derailment and the defunding of their research. The matter has been settled politically rather than scientifically. And the public hasn't even been exposed to the debate. Instead of blowing the whistle on the censorship, intellectuals like Nadine Gordimer have attacked people like President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa who spoke out about his doubts about HIV being the cause of AIDS. That book she put together for AIDS should have been a collection of essays exploring the politics of AIDS science. That would have been a real contribution. By and large, our intellectuals have been gullible handmaidens to AIDS fraud.
The first thing concerned citizens and intellectuals need to do is demand freedom of speech about all AIDS issues. There must be a vigorous free and open debate about what AIDS is and what causes it. And it has to include not only those people who think that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. HIV dissenters themselves have not allowed a full and open debate. Just like the AIDS establishment, the HIV dissenters have refused to debate the connection between CFIDS and AIDS and the possibility that another virus like HHV-6 is the real culprit in both CFIDS and AIDS.
Everyone must do their homework on this issue. If you haven't read books by Duesberg, John Lauritsen, Root-Bernstein, Bialy, Ostrom and Hillary Johnson on issues related to this debate, you are not an informed citizen. Time is running out on this issue. All kinds of laws are being passed to criminalize AIDS. Something called Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) for AIDS is just around the corner. DOT is used for TB. If you have TB the state forces you to take TB medications until you are no longer infectious. If you don't cooperate, you can be incarcerated and forced to take the medications. There are already experiments with DOT for AIDS going on in prisons. All the AIDS establishment has to do is declare that their toxic treatments are effective in controlling AIDS and suggest that DOT should be used on AIDS patients — for the rest of their lives. Legislators will be only too happy to pass DOT laws to control the epidemic. Then people will understand why I suggested in my novella "Iron Peter" that the AIDS paradigm is a concentration camp. And then there is he matter of the potentially dangerous AIDS vaccine that people may soon be asked or forced to take. Keep in mind that we're talking about a vaccine for a virus that may not even be the cause of the disease. The AIDS activists and the AIDS establishment have brought us to the gates of a Brave New World.
ROX: I have a new favorite response. Thanks sooooooo much for that invaluable contribution, Chuck. On a lighter note… before returning to some heavy items, maybe you can tell me whether or not Julian Lake (as in Rocky Mountains) as anything much in common with Cape May, New Jersey… which seems to pop up often (enough) in your writing.
Ortleb: "Julian Lake" was just pulled out of a hat. I grew up in New Jersey and spent part of one summer in Cape May.
ROX: In your "The Last Lovers on Earth" — something that DOES have a shot at being one of the most instructive satires, if not one of the most important films of our time (having to reserve comment on that count till I see it!) — in the trailer for it… you use the words collaboration, resistance and violence… at one point. Three parting questions. One, is there anything you'd like to add to this collaboration… in the form of a question you wish I'd asked? Two, what's your take on optimistic outcomes for resisting The Powers That Be? You may have answered that already. And, three, what role do you think violence can/should play in resisting? I might ask one more… after this.
Ortleb: 1. Do you miss being a newspaper publisher? To which I would say yes, some days. But not having a paper has allowed me to begin writing fiction and that path led to filmmaking which I think is the best way ofreaching people these days.
2. My optimism trumps my darkest visions of where we are going. Paradigm shifts can get pretty messy. I don't really know how it is going to turn out. In both good ways and bad it could be a very interesting time.
3. The word "violence" is about something that happens in one of the stories in the movie. I think very creative nonviolent political work is the only way to change anything without creating an even bigger mess. What we need first is a commitment on the part of concerned citizens to find what is going on and to build the next wave of AIDS political activity around the truth rather than propaganda.
ROX: Mercimucho! One final ditty, as promised. Let's see if we can end this thing on a Golden Hope Note for the Globe. To wit, you say that "all of the Hollywood celebrities who have helped reinforce the official AIDS propaganda should be ashamed of themselves." Short of having them "read books by Duesberg, John Lauritsen, Root-Bernstein, Bialy, Ostrom and Hillary Johnson" on issues related to what we've been discussing… so as to be informed citizens… capable of intelligently making decisions, choosing sides… what would you have those influential individuals DO… starting Monday… if we can grab the microphone at Sunday's festivities to tell them? And, on a lighter note, are you rooting for or booing against any elements at the upcoming Golden Globe Awards? Predictions? Remember… many readers will be going through this after all the winners have been announced.
Ortleb: Well, in an acceptance speech one of the stars should call upon Mel Gibson and Michael Moore to jointly produce a film called "The Passion of AIDS Dissent."
As for rooting for certain people, one performance that still resonates with me is Virginia Madsen's in "Sideways".
ROX: Clear as a bell. Well, if the Madsen flick is the one where she says something like "If I tasted this wine on any other day, it wouldn't blah blah blah… taste the same" I pray your roots don't take hold award-wise. Or… in case my judgment from TV ads is off… I trust her performance is better than what they've been sound-biting at us. Haven't seen it. Regardless, you have been a gem of rare gems here, Chuck. And you ARE the Nonpareil AIDS Activist. Now let's do what they used to do at the end of the Dating Game.
ROX / Ortleb: (throwing Jim Lang kisses) MWAH!!
Copyright © 2005 Richard Oxman