People in other cities, said an Army spokesman, don’t get their feathers ruffled during midnight helicopter invasions. What is it about Pittsburghers that caused them to pour into the streets in their underwear during recent treetop antiterrorist maneuvers? Nine Army helicopters swooped into Pittsburgh one midnight in June, complete with the sounds of mock gunfire and explosions that shook the ground. “In my grandma’s neighborhood,” said Kelly, “people laid down in the streets. The noises came in through the open windows. The helicopters were flying so low you could’ve hit them with a broom handle. They thought the communists were coming to take over, or that it was aliens!”

Timothy, the owner of LaDolce Vita Sweet Shop, said he wasn’t surprised to see masked soldiers sliding down ropes onto rooftops from helicopters. “They’ve been doing extractions around here for a long time,” he said, referring to Pittsburgh’s missing persons. One woman, as she peered out her apartment window in the wee hours at the unmarked black helicopters, said, “Oh my God, the militia was right!” On the other hand, “These people are a bunch of crybabies,” decided Grandpa Bup, a World War II veteran. “They should’ve felt the ground shake when a 3,000 pound bomb was dropped on London.”

The helicopter exercises, conducted by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were to have continued all week but were promptly canceled after the public outcry. Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ken McGraw said similar training had been conducted in other cities, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and Detroit, with few complaints.

According to the local scuttlebutt, the Army is concerned that conditions in certain cities are ripe for racial conflict. Pittsburgh had several serious racial incidents involving blacks and the police in 1996, beginning with the death of Jonny Gammage, a cousin of Pittsburgh Steeler Ray Seals, when he was stopped by suburban police for a traffic violation.

The morning after Pittsburgh’s helicopter invasion, Tom Marr, a Philadelphia talk show host, said that invariably in these situations the “black helicopter crowd” comes out of the woodwork, spreading rumors that the Pentagon is ready to aim its guns at American citizens. In Pittsburgh, listeners to Jim Quinn’s Morning Militia talk show were primed with a healthy skepticism to just say no to black helicopters.

At 6:00 A.M. on weekdays, Quinn’s Morning Militia listeners are burrowed under their covers like friends around a campfire listening to ghost stories—only Quinn engrosses his listeners with right-wing conspiracy theories. It’s trendy to trash rightwing radio—no one wants to be part of what Al Gore calls “the extra chromosome crowd”—but just like kids who want to hear Where The Wild Things Are read over and over, listeners find that conspiracies can be fun.

Quinn has regular callers, such as Larry Nichols, a Clinton appointee to the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, who usually calls from somewhere in hiding. Like many rightwing activists, Larry fears for his life. Sounding a bit panicky, he called the other morning to tell Quinn that there had been another “Arkancide,” the name for all those untimely and suspicious deaths around Arkansas that look like suicides. The newest Arkancide, claimed Nichols, was one of his “witnesses,” and he would call back the next morning to tell us who it was. Stay tuned.

Many believe that a Dixie Mafia is the enforcer against anyone who knows too much about the Clintons or the drug deals going down at Mena Airport. Talk show callers make it their business to report anything unusual at the airport—any tidbit they might have picked up on the Internet, like when a runway is being lengthened. It is surprising how many people on the Internet live within five miles of Mena. These people may be swamp dwellers, but they are not dumb. They know that during the Clinton presidency, which New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd characterizes as “exploding cigar,” paranoia can employ ya’. Even a Dole ad man, she says, is teaching his pet parrot, Ernie, to repeat: “Whitewater—guilty as sin!”

Quinn, who is said to have the best grasp on the Mena story of anyone in the country, introduces Mena Updates with snippets of “Smuggler’s Blues” by Glenn Prey of the Eagles. It was not long ago that these strange stories of midnight plane landings and drug drops were thought to be in the same category as Elvis sightings at the K-Mart. But not anymore. Roger Morris, for example, the award-winning liberal author of Partners in Power, contends that one of the government officials who knew and possibly colluded with the drug cartel is Bill Clinton. Morris concludes that there is a “numbing accumulation” of evidence that Governor Bill Clinton knew of the drug smuggling operation at Mena Airport in the 1980’s, allegedly run by his close friend and major campaign contributor, Dan Lasater. “Several Arkansas state troopers and other goveernment agents have said that Clinton not only knew about this traffic, as any governor would,” says Wesley Pruden of the Washington Times, “but protected it, as a lot of governors wouldn’t.”

Arkansas state trooper, L.D. Brown, testified that in 1984 he moonlighted as a CIA contract employee. At Clinton’s urging, Brown accompanied pilot Barry Seal on a flight from Mena to parachute M-16 assault rifles into the jungles of Central America. A former narcotics investigator. Brown has testified that he was shocked and dismayed by the discovery that duffel bags of cocaine were smuggled back on the return flight. Upon returning to Little Rock, Brown, Clinton’s close friend and bodyguard, says he approached the governor and asked him, “Do you know what they’re bringing back on those planes? They’re bringing back coke.” According to Brown’s testimony, Clinton responded, “That’s Lasater’s deal.”

As governor, Clinton steered millions of dollars in state bond money to Lasater, an Arkansas “Bond Daddy,” despite the fact that Lasater was under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration for narcotics trafficking. Though Lasater was a “showy philanthropist for children’s causes, in private he was a relentless purveyor of cocaine,” reports Morris. At the Senate’s Whitewater hearings, Lasater admitted that he provided cocaine to underage girls. After serving only six months of a two-year sentence for drug trafficking, Lasater was pardoned by Governor Clinton.

Lasater was a “fixture” at Governor Clinton’s home, reports Morris, who “came to the mansion whenever he pleased, entering by the back gate and walking through the kitchen.” While Lasater was in prison, his business, including power of attorney, was handed over to his trusted associate. Patsy Thomasson, who to this day is working in the White House as Administrator of White House Personnel. Her duties include drug testing of White House employees.

Scott Wheeler, the producer of “Mena Cover-up,” began his investigation under the suspicion that drug smuggling at Mena was a covert government operation, an offshoot of gunrunning flights to Central America. In time, Wheeler came to believe that it was something much more sinister. Although the cocaine came into Mena on return trips of CIA-operated aircraft, Wheeler now believes that the Dixie Mafia or Latin American drug cartels are running the operation, calling the shots through bribery and blackmail, and that Bill Clinton was too “compromised” to resist them even if he wanted to. “Give me some for my brother,” says Roger Clinton on a narcotics surveillance tape. “Lie has a nose like a vacuum cleaner.”

Occasionally, major media outlets pick up a glimmer here, a glint there, of the Mena and Whitewater stories. They appear like silver fish under murky waters, such as when the Betsy Wright character in charge of “bimbo eruptions” was portrayed in Primary Colors as a Clinton enforcer, threatening people at gunpoint to “get their mind right.”

The Wall Street Journal recently devoted three-quarters of its editorial page to the “Lonely Crusade of Linda Ives,” one of the many baffling Mena Airport stories. Ives, whose son was found killed on the train tracks at Mena because (it is suspected) he witnessed a drug deal, appeared as a guest on Quinn’s show. She told of her quest to navigate the labyrinth of the Arkansas bureaucracy to find out who killed her son. As so often happens in Arkansas, many of those having information about his death have turned up dead or have been driven out of town.

It is, of course, the Mena stories, and the attacks by government agencies at Waco and Ruby Ridge, the coverups about purloined FBI files and White House enemies lists, planes falling mysteriously from the skies without explanation, FBI and Secret Service members in public feuds with the President, and yes, even the arrogance of surprise military invasions of black helicopters, that have given rise to the hyper-vigilance and mistrust of government that characterizes the Clinton presidency. If the 60’s were The Age of Anxiety, and the 80’s The Decade of Greed, the 90’s are shaping up as The Season of Suspicion.

You can hear it on talk radio, on short wave, and on the Internet. Quinn introduces these bizarre goings on with the 60’s song, “Something’s Happening Here. What it is ain’t exactly clear,” and ends up speculating that Clinton seems almost a pawn of some shadowy organization bigger than himself, such as the mob or Colombian drug cartel. “Is the United States so awash in cocaine cash that it has become a narco Republic?” he wonders aloud.

Callers sometimes get impatient with Quinn’s mysterious stories taking as long to evolve as Ashley Abbott’s love affairs on The Young and the Restless. Will he be the next Woodward and Bernstein, or just another in the tradition of great Irish storytellers? When one of the tales breaks into the dominant media, Quinn’s listeners consider it to be proof that they were right after all—at which point Quinn reminds his listeners that they heard all this two years ago on his show. “The ugly truth is a beautiful thing,” he says. “Too much truth for some people.”

I was never a person to believe in conspiracy theories. I never bought a tabloid, except for the time The Star ran the irresistible headline, “Family Flees Talking Doll,” but many of Quinn’s stories are compelling. It is strange that Vince Foster’s death occurred on the same day that the FBI searched Judge Hale’s office in Little Rock. Hale, straight from a government witness protection program, testified that Governor Clinton pressured him to hand over $300,000 fraudulently to his Whitewater partners.

The story of Craig Livingstone, we presume, will become an increasing part of talk radio lore, given Livingstone’s role as the creator of Chicken George, and his place in the center ring of the controversy over Vince Foster’s missing car keys. Indeed, upon hearing some of these stories, it is difficult to decide whether to laugh or cry.

On the morning after the disappearance of former CIA Director William Colby, I was reading Strategic Investment, a financial newsletter. Its editors, researching the theory that Vince Foster was murdered, financed the trio of handwriting experts who declared Foster’s suicide note a forgery. The newsletter announced that Colby had just joined their board. Newswires reported that Colby had left for canoeing on the night of his disappearance with his radio on and his computer screen glowing in the dark, a half-eaten clam dinner on the table. His body was found without shoes or life jacket, which his wife says he always wore. He was a cautious man, she said, who would never go canoeing in two-foot-high whitecaps with 25-mile-per-hour sea winds.

Jim Davidson, editor of Strategic Investment, told Quinn’s listeners that the death of his friend Colby was indeed “suspicious.” The media announced, however, that Colby had simply had a stroke, no foul play involved. Maybe the otherwise cautious and sensible former intelligence head did go out in the middle of dinner in a storm without his life jacket or shoes to do some whitewater rafting in his canoe. It is possible, I suppose.

What to make of these newest stories, I wonder, rolling along on the Whitewater rapids, getting ever closer to the Deep End? What are we to make of the many mysteries surrounding the death of Ron Brown, who shortly before his plane crash in Bosnia warned the President and First Lady that he would not take “the rap” alone, that if indicted on criminal charges, he was ready to bring down Bill and Hillary with him? And could it be true, as Quinn says, that Patsy Schroeder was told to resign from the House by the Angel of Death? The Angel of Death, first unveiled in Media Bypass magazine, is someone from the CIA who visits Congress, telling members to retire after it is discovered that they have transferred illegal monies to foreign bank accounts. “Another One Bites the Dust” is Quinn’s Angel of Death theme song, played each time a congressional resignation is announced.

Like cutting-edge scientists working on a hypothesis, talk radio listeners in the freewheeling land where wild speculation sometimes becomes truth, and sometimes not, have the obligation to discard erroneous suspicions, like chimpanzees tossing out dry peanut shells. Deciphering the difference between junk science and a Nobel winner is what separates conspiracy theorists from just plain nuts.

Quinn relishes his role as the guy with his ear to the ground, captain of the Morning Militia, ahead of the Rush, pushing the envelope and bungee jumping across the Deep End with wild stories, irreverent humor, serious in-depth analysis, fascinating guests, and the most provocative talk show in town.

What are we dealing with here, I wonder, monster stories for grownups. Radio Free Pittsburgh, or a little of both? What if Woodward and Bernstein dismissed Deep Throat as some kook who lurked in underground parking garages? “I just lay out the facts,” says Quinn. “Decide for yourself whether to believe them or not.”