Mr Ronson, I presume

In Dublin to present 'An Evening with Jon Ronson' in the IFI, Guardian columnist and filmmaker Jon Ronson tells Village tales of the extreme: Ian Paisley's sermonising in Cameroon, giant lizards who control the world and soldiers trained to kill goats using only a cold stare. By Tom Rowe


On a plane bound for Cameroon to visit congregations of Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church, Jon Ronson sought to break the ice with the Northern Irish minister with a jocular remark.  

"I assume that the singing style in Cameroon must be very different from that in Belfast," said Ronson.

Paisley regarded the comment as a contemptuous insult. After 16 hours of rejection, he finally announced to Ronson that "the people of Belfast are wonderful people, they are holy people and they are good singers".

"We would get into a jeep and drive for hours into a forest clearing where Paisley would address a congregation of 100-150 people. We did this three times a day for a week. He was like a missionary, but preaching to people who had already been saved. You have to give him his oratory skills."

Doing his best Paisley impression, Ronson recalls a memorable line the doc used in Africa, "Christ is knocking at your door with a nail through his hand. Are you going to let him in?"

Paisley's local translator, Joseph, slept in one morning. The reverend announced to the waiting crowd that he would have been on time but for Joseph, who was then forced to translate his own humiliation.

According to Ronson, one of Paisley's best qualities is that he is not a hypocrite. He also has a sense of humour –  Paisley chose not to veto anything from the Channel 4 documentary, Dr Paisley, I Presume, which was shown complete with racist remarks, like Paisley's constant referral to Ronson as "the Jew".

On a scale of extremism, Paisley would be low compared to others who Ronson studied for his 2002 book, Them: Adventures with Extremists. While Paisley once likened Catholic ritualism to satanism, this is still less extreme that believing that 12-foot tall, shape-changing lizards rule the world, as does former football commentator David Icke. In the book, Ronson describes the times he spent with these personalities, who are regarded as leaders in their own peculiar fields. They also include Omar Batak Mohammed, known as the 'Tottenham Ayatolla', and KKK leader Thom Robb.

He found a reoccuring theory among different groups of extremists. Many believe that there exists a covert government called the Bilderberg group which meets annually in a secret location and controls everything in the world. Irish people allegedly associated with the group include Tony O'Reilly, Peter Sutherland, Denis O'Brien and Dermot Gleeson. The Bilderberg group is in fact a real organisation, attended by some of the world's most powerful politicans and businesspeople, but Ronson says we should not generalise about the group. Its aim may not be to rule the world, but to give business leaders power. Its members are interested solely in money, and thus are less of a threat to the world order.

Ronson tells of a conversation with Max Hastings, former editor of the London Evening Standard, where Hastings told him he had been invited to attend a Bilderburg meeting. "Did you go?" asked Ronson. "No," replied Hastings. "I don't want to rule the world. I enjoy my weekends."

Ronson currently deals with less extreme subjects, writing a weekly column in the Guardian based on his life with his wife and son. He finds it difficult to produce a consistently good weekly column. When he tried to resign from the Guardian, he was refused. Ronson jokes about the paper's feeling towards him: that "we made you and we can break you just as easily".

His new book, Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness (Picador & Guardian Books, 2006, €11.99) is a collection of his Guardian columns and longer stories on ever-more disturbing people such as convicted paedophile Johnathan King and a cult called the Jesus Christians which encourages members to donate a kidney to a stranger.

Ronson will soon be portrayed on screen by Ben Stiller in a film version of his book The Men Who Stare at Goats, the story of New-Age techniques which have found their way into US military interrogations in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.