Who Is William Cooper? An Inveterate Liar or a Heroic Rebel

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Behold a Pale Horse" by Milton William Cooper. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Who is William Cooper? What are his theories? What are his claims based on?

Milton William Cooper was a U.S. Navy veteran, a UFOlogist, and the author of Behold a Pale Horse. In one of the most influential conspiracy theory books ever written, Cooper lays out the roots and methods of a secret movement to topple the American government and establish a global totalitarian order.

Continue reading to learn about this intriguing figure.

Who Is William Cooper?

Who is William Cooper? He’s probably best known for his book Behold a Pale Horse. In it, he lays out his belief, based on his own research and the writings of other conspiracists, that the world is secretly ruled by a shadowy organization known as the Illuminati. The Illuminati plan to establish a dystopian, authoritarian government known as the New World Order sometime in the 21st century. The book’s content is split between exposing the organization’s influence in every major government or religious institution in the world, and the attempts by the U.S. government to conceal the presence of hostile aliens on Earth.

Cooper’s claims are based primarily on secret files he claims to have seen while posted to the Office of Naval Intelligence in the early 1970s. He purportedly handled documents revealing treaties with the aliens, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by a Secret Serviceman, plans to suspend the Constitution and establish a police state, and more. He also describes having personally encountered UFOs during his service on submarines and in Vietnam.

(Shortform note: While Cooper did serve in the Navy for several years, earning two combat medals in Vietnam, there’s no evidence that he ever worked for Naval Intelligence. Many of his fellow conspiracists questioned his reliability over the years since Cooper regularly contradicted his own stories and some of the documents he claims to have seen in the early ’70s did not exist at that time.)

Cooper left the Navy in the early 1970s due to his increasing disillusionment with the U.S. military and government. He attempted to leak some of what he’d discovered to the press but was attacked by two men in black who ran his motorcycle off the road, resulting in the loss of his leg. In the 1980s, he began to speak out through anonymous online forums and eventually became a lecturer at various UFO conferences around the country. Published in 1991, Behold a Pale Horse compiled his arguments and other source documents in order to reach a wider audience. 

(Shortform note: Cooper’s relationship with the UFO community was tumultuous. Though Cooper was enormously popular as a lecturer in the ’80s, several prominent UFOlogists, such as UFO Magazine’s Don Ecker, dismissed him as a fraud and a plagiarist. Even friends eventually expressed doubt in his stories of persecution and fear of his notorious temper. By the time of his death in 2001, Cooper was remembered as being an “inveterate liar” as much as a heroic rebel.)

In the book, Cooper warns that the Illuminati can only be defeated by Americans standing up to their tyranny through armed resistance. He considers it his duty to “wake up” as many people as possible to the problem, and the book repeatedly exhorts the reader to do their own research, educate others, and organize themselves into militias or anti-government movements, preparing for the day when they’ll need to defend themselves against the New World Order.

(Shortform note: Behold a Pale Horse would be Cooper’s most influential work, alongside his 1991-2001 radio show Hour of the Time. Today, he’s remembered more for these projects and his time in the patriot militia movement than his time in the UFO circuit, in part because he eventually dismissed UFOlogy as a “hoax” perpetrated by the Illuminati. Behold a Pale Horse sold hundreds of thousands of copies and is still in print (Cooper once claimed that it was the most shoplifted book in America), while Hour of the Time went on to influence a generation of right-wing radio hosts, most notably Alex Jones.)

Behold a Pale Horse is a mix of primary source documents and long-form essays by Cooper and other (mostly anonymous) conspiracists. This guide organizes his evidence into three core topics: the New World Order discusses the Illuminati’s secret plan for world domination; the Alien Conspiracy discusses how and why the American government has concealed the presence of aliens on Earth; and in how to fight back, Cooper calls on American patriots to lead a popular resistance movement against Illuminati and authoritarian forces for the survival of humanity.

Who Is William Cooper? An Inveterate Liar or a Heroic Rebel

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Here's what you'll find in our full Behold a Pale Horse summary:

  • One of the most influential conspiracy theory books ever written
  • Theories about UFOs, the Illuminati, the Kennedy assassination, and more
  • How the 1991 book impacted different groups in society

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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