The Council Adjourns……

The Armenian Council for Truth in Journalism Adjourns When Brock Willett and I started this show in March of 2020, I don’t think we had any idea what we wanted it to be, or what it would eventually become. The title was born from a random joke that my dad would use when I was a kid. Anytime he was frustrated with opening a bag of plumbing parts or anything else that was tough to get into, he would say that it had been “hermetically sealed by the Armenian Medical Association”.

Some of you boomers might make the connection to The Firesign Theatre, a surreal comedy troupe which did wild radio broadcasts throughout the late ‘60s, but when I co-opted the phrase, and turned it into a smart-ass response to Facebook commenters, who called out my satirical stories on Farmington Tribune for being fake news, my only frame of reference was my father.

After a year and a half of lampooning the media, and making the public spin with our ACTJ verified bull crap, I felt it would only be right for our team to make an honest effort at understanding the country which had become so integral to what we were doing. I filed the paperwork and started Tribune Media International LLC with an ambitious goal of creating a satirical documentary in Armenia. The basic idea was a bit of a reverse Borat approach, where we would lampoon the stupidity of Americans whilst highlighting Armenian culture.

With this goal in mind, Mr. Willett, Vladimir Koshevoy and I went to Armenia in October 2019. We went to “seek the Council”. That trip turned into everything it should have been, and nothing we expected. Perhaps I’ll give a detailed account one of these days, but for now I will just say it was both terrifying and beautiful. The few of you who already know the details, are fully aware. The rest of you will have to wait for the book. But I digress.

We were asked often what we were doing in Armenia. As I would begin to explain how our fake news stories were “independently verified by the Armenian Council for Truth in Journalism, I was consistently unsure of how the joke would be received. Time and again, those in the Caucasus region immediately understood the humor. It was then that I realized the joke was much older than my father’s quips, born from The Firesign Theatre.

“Radio Yerevan” jokes had been used in the USSR as a way of speaking truth, in an atmosphere of extreme censorship, and totalitarian thought policing. If you’ve never heard one, I highly recommend that you Google it. The point here is that in going to the other side of the world, the joke had come full circle. We had truly found The Armenian Council for Truth in Journalism.

This new found understanding inspired Brock and I to push harder at the idea of documenting the realities of places that remain misunderstood in America. 3 months later, we went to England, Ireland, and Scotland to further perfect our abilities as satirical documentarians. We were preparing for a trip to Ukraine, but life had other plans, and the world was shut down for coronavirus.

With little other option, I somewhat begrudgingly allowed Brock to push me into starting a podcast. I will forever be thankful for his insistence. As the year went on, and the BLM protests began, it seemed only proper for us to take a more concerted approach to being “proper journalists”. We recognized the world was changing, and it was obvious that we would need to change with it. Between June and August, the number of guests we had was unreal. The workload consumed me, as we moved from 3 shows per week to broadcasting every day. We were blessed with regular contributors, such as Blake Heckler, Travis Thorpe, Brian Battle, and Dan “The Manager” Sledzinski.

With Jae Shin killing it as our producer, the show began to find it’s sea legs. In between our inebriated rants, and our rapidly changing understanding of the world, some amazing discussions were had. We broke down racial division, coronavirus lies, and the political propaganda. This absurd pace was kept until Brock went to Ireland in August, intent on immigration to the Emerald Isle.

No longer in the same time zone, his ability to co-host was essentially gone.

The show would have surely died, were it not for Thaddeus Preston. His intelligence and analytical perspective of the world was the perfect counter to my anarchist nihilism. He hopped right into the firing line, and has remained dedicated and steadfast for the last 9 months. As we approached the November election, we were all excited to to temporarily wrap, and take a vacation from daily broadcasting. The election special was an absolute mess of old contributors, random miscreants, intelligent debate, and drunken bullshit. When we ended the broadcast, Trump had won the election, and we were all ready to take a break, but much like how the pandemic had derailed my plans to go to Ukraine, the universe had other plans.

The next three months compelled me to travel to various places around the country, documenting the movement to “Stop The Steal”. I’ve never been comfortable around those who would worship a political figure, but as I found myself imbedded in the heart of MAGA, I found a new understanding of these cultish Trumpers for which I had always had disdain. These were normal, hardworking Americans. They weren’t the racist mouth breathers of mainstream media lore. They were the heart and soul of the American dream, and they were distraught at the notion that their republic was dying. They were willing to speak out, regardless of the derision. The movement was not what I had been told. As I followed the story, I found myself in the streets of DC, live-streaming and documenting the Proud Boys. Once again I was reminded of the lies of the mainstream media, who worked tirelessly to characterize the group as some sort of bastion of fascism and racist hatred. Once again, the reality was much different than the snake oil lies of the establishment press. Nearly every ethnicity was represented by this self-proclaimed “drinking club with a patriotism problem”, and I often wondered if they were the last bastion of free men, in a rapidly deteriorating American empire.

As I attempted to highlight reality for my politically diverse following, it became apparent to me that the propagandists were in full control. I watched as some long-time friends turned against me, calling me a fascist, and spewing vitriol for reporting a narrative which didn’t align with their biases. To say it was disturbing is an understatement. It broke my heart to realize that the perspective and consensus I had tried so hard to foster in the previous months, was quickly breaking down in the face of reality. The fallout from January 6 only solidified my understanding that the establishment media, at the whims of the power hungry oligarchs who pull their purse strings, was realizing their ultimate goal of dividing America, and plunging us into civil war. Psychological warfare is a bitch.

So now, nearly 6 months after the events at the Capitol, with press credentials in hand, I can look into the past and see so much for what it truly is. Like taking a hike, through the San Juan Mountains, I can look back at each peak and valley that brought me to this point, fully aware of how painful, or enjoyable each step has been. I can reminisce on those who’ve walked with me along the way. I can mourn for those who took a different path, perhaps never to be seen again.

It has sometimes been said that life is a series of mistakes, ultimately leading to our death, but when I think about this experiment; this ACTJ, I can’t help but think that a certain amount of divine intervention has been an intimate part of each and every ill-conceived decision. I’ve walked the path which was laid out before me. Regret is not an option.

As we move this Council into the next iteration, I’m reminded of the writings of J.R.R Tolkien. We’ve long compared our struggle to bring truth to a wider audience to the fool’s hope that the ring could be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. Though the odds may be against us, I take heart in the fact the Lou Starski has been there with me since the journey began. He probably thought I’d forgotten about him, but this hobbit would be nowhere without my own Samwise Gamgee. Good luck finding someone with a better heart.

There is no map for the quest for truth. All we can do is keep moving forward. Determination is required, and the daily destinations are completely unknown.

Like Gandalf once said: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

The Armenian Council for Truth in Journalism adjourns on May 20, 2021 at 10pm EST

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