Like Billy Corgan before her, Kylie Jenner loves spreading the gospel of the chemtrail conspiracy theory on her Snapchat story. The youngest Kardashian-Jenner sister apparently believes that the government has used airplanes to spray dangerous chemicals over cities, leaving a visible white trail behind planes. This weekend, Kylie tweeted what appeared to be an anti-vaccine meme, along with a comic illustration about GMOs, "forced vaccinations," and government debt, revealing she's interested in a host of anti-government conspiracy theories. Kylie promptly deleted the tweet, but the illustration quickly went viral, bringing attention to the artist behind the image: a 59-year-old comics illustrator named Ben Garrison.
"Silly me, I didn't even know who Kylie Jenner was!" Garrison says.
Garrison lives in Lakeside, Montana. He had lived in Seattle for 20 years, but moved in 2008. "We escaped the traffic and red light ticket cameras as well Washington State's high sales taxes," he says. "I miss Seattle, but Western Montana has its own kind of grandeur, and the freedom here is more palpable." In the 1970s, he attended Angelo State University. He planned to become a fine artist, but after school secured a job as a graphic artist at the San Angelo Standard-Times. He only began drawing political cartoons after the economy imploded in 2008.
"In 2008, Congress bailed out the 'too big to fail' banks," Garrison explains. "I wrote my senators and congressman and urged them not to bail them out. I got the brush. Hank Paulson was threatening Congress with martial law. After he got his bailout, he made sure his cronies all got huge bonuses first and foremost."
The bailout bill infuriated Garrison. His father had served in WWII. Garrison loved his country, but he had never defended the nation like his dad, so he decided to start penning satirical drawings. In his new work, he parodied everything from the Federal Reserve to Ann Coulter. Although today people have demeaned him as a conservative zealot, Garrison identifies as an independent. In an email exchange, he points out that he voted for Ralph Nader and says, "I'm not a Nazi." At first, newspapers rejected Garrison's political art ("I was either ignored or treated like a nut," Garrison says), so he began posting his work on message boards, where commenters loved them. The drawings went viral, Garrison believes, because he captured working class men's anger.
"Very few cartoonists at that time were protesting the Federal Reserve or the central bankers," Garrison says. "Now those elite oligarchs have been exposed—hence the popularity of Donald Trump. People are fed up with the establishment and their cynical rigging of politics."
I spoke to Garrison about Kylie, "aborted fetal matter" (which is also pictured in the image Kylie Jenner tweeted), and anti-vaccination truthers. This interview has been edited and condensed.
BROADLY: How do you feel about Kylie Jenner tweeting your illustration?
My wife, Tina, told me about that. If her dad wants to be a woman, that's fine. I don't care if gay people want to get married, either—let them do what they want. It's not my business nor is it the business of the state. The politicians who grandstand about such issues are annoying.
The illustration parodied GMOs and forced vaccinations. How do you feel about those issues?
Monsanto is a scourge. We need to know what we're eating and the labels need to tell the truth. Americans should have say about what they eat and have injected into their bodies. I don't question the efficacy of some vaccinations, but they are now too prolific, and many are unnecessary. Newborns are treated like pin cushions before they can even build up their own immune system. I have never had a flu shot, and I haven't had the flu in 40 years— I don't trust what is going into many of the vaccines. The idea of mandatory vaccination is disgusting. We are not cattle, even if the elite consider us as their property.
You include aborted fetal matter in the picture mocking Monsanto and government vaccination policies. Do you also dislike aborted fetal matter?
I don't like abortion, but people will get them regardless of laws or not. It's a problem that can't be solved. A lot of things can't be solved, and utopia will never exist—that doesn't mean we should be ushering in hell instead. I don't like the ghoulish idea of fetal matter being used in medicine.
You often satirize the Federal Reserve. Why are you fed up with the Fed?
They are con men. It's a fraud perpetrated by fancy-talking liars. They make what they do sound boring and incomprehensible—they do that on purpose. They are the High Priests of the Debt Slave Dollar, and they don't want to be questioned. Very few in Congress challenge them. Mostly they all vigorously kiss the Fed's backside, with the notable exception being Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders. I recommend a great book written by G. Edward Griffin called The Creature from Jekyll Island. It's must reading for all Americans.
How do you parody the Fed?
I point out their greed for money and power by the use of metaphors. For example, a recent one I drew was called "The Dance of the Dollar." It featured Janet Yellen dancing with a Wall Street fat cat. They were enjoying their high-class waltz, but their feet were trampling the middle class, which is going away.
A common complaint about my cartoons is they aren't funny.
Which artists influenced your work?
DeKooning is one of my favorites. He had a well-paid job as a commercial artist in New York City during the depression. He gave it up to become a fine artist. He lived for years like a bum and ate ketchup soup. His work is brilliant and extremely well thought out. I admire his chutzpah for doing what he wanted to do in life. Of course, he ended up being fabulously successful (and he also became an alcoholic).
As for cartoonists, I liked MacNelly as well as Oliphant. There are plenty of talented cartoonists out there, but full-time jobs for them are few and far between. It's notoriously difficult to make a living as a cartoonist, but I've been fortunate to get a great many supporters who have been helping me out on Patreon. It's good to have hope and a dream.
Did you like comics and satire as a kid?
I read all the classic comic books. I also tried to draw various comic strips. I didn't have a great sense of humor, but I tried. I'm still trying. A common complaint about my cartoons is they aren't funny. I don't think they need to be in order to be effective. There are a lot of serious issues out there that deserve better than being converted into a cheap gag.
Do people misunderstand your work?
I'm not a public figure, and that has made it easy for the trolls to create a vile doppelganger that they used to fool people. Many people were surprised to find out that I'm not a racist bent on mass murder. With the help of many, I've been able to reclaim my own voice, and now Google searches mostly bring up my own work.
[The people at the Federal Reserve] arethe High Priests of the Debt Slave Dollar, and they don't want to be questioned.
You share some views with the non-establishment candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. What are your views on them?
I like Trump because the establishment is terrified of him. He has rustled the jimmies of both parties. That's a good sign! It means he's real and not beholden to the elite masters. He tweaks the nose of political correctness, and I found that very refreshing. He's also fun to draw.
I like Bernie, and he does make a good point about the tremendous wealth disparity in this country. The imbalance is now worse than it was in France before their French Revolution—the middle class is collapsing. Bernie is a sincere man who wants to help, but socialism and a bigger, more tyrannical government isn't the answer. Instead we need to audit and end the Fed and the Gestapo IRS. Let's also start meting out punishment to those who lie about investment package and engage in collusive trading. None of the bankers went to prison for lying about their grade-A real estate investment packages. Instead they were rewarded with bonuses! Trump has at least expressed an interest in auditing the Fed. The oligarchs can't have that, and so they attack him with puerile name-calling.