By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 16, 2020 at 9:02 AM

Milwaukee freelance writer and author Tea Krulos has written a number of books in the past, including "Heroes in the Night," Monster Hunters" and Apocalypse Any Day Now," and these, along with his other work have positioned him as an expert in the paranormal and the paranoid (conspiracy theorists).

In one fell swoop he's nearly doubled his published book output with the arrival of two books more or less simultaneously.

One is "American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness," published by Feral House, and the other is "Wisconsin Legends & Lore," for The History Press.

Both are currently available in paperback and we caught up with Krulos to ask him about these works on conspiracies and legends and how they may overlap.

OnMilwaukee: How difficult was it to work on two books at once, or had one been done already when you started the other?

Tea Krulos: These two books had different trajectories. I’ve been working on "American Madness" for years and right now consider it to be my magnum opus. "Wisconsin Legends & Lore" is a smaller scale project that I worked on as a side project last year. I put in a lot of work the last year or so!

Tell me about "American Madness," which starts off sort of as a biography of a single person but mushrooms into a bigger exploration of conspiracy theories.

While working on my first book, "Heroes in the Night," I was contacted by a man named Richard McCaslin. He told me he had a costumed commando persona, the Phantom Patriot, who had raided a secret society retreat called the Bohemian Grove in 2002 and started it on fire.

He certainly got my attention and I started corresponding with him and researching some of the conspiracy theories he was talking to me about. The story began to take some pretty wild twists and turns and I got hooked on the idea of telling this story.

I write about Richard’s life, but it evolves into a book about how we got into this intense conspiracy era we are experiencing right now.

What is it about conspiracy theories that seems to fuel so much interest and passion?

I think people get into conspiracy because they are afraid and angry about the world and conspiracy gives them a narrative that helps it all make sense. They are given a premise, a plot, and a group of enemies of the "Deep State" who are responsible for all of these terrible things. Another appeal is that conspiracy believers see themselves as enlightened truth seekers while the rest of us are blind sheep.

Is that a uniquely American thing?

Not entirely, I know there’s quite a few European and Australian conspiracy theorists. I was sad to see that the QAnon conspiracy, which alleges that top Democrats have a satanic pedophile ring, among other things, has developed a following in the U.K., Germany and other countries. Some countries will promote conspiracies as a form of propaganda. But here in America it’s really become an ingrained part of our culture. It’s as American as apple pie.

"Wisconsin Legends & Lore" is more focused geographically of course, but what makes Wisconsin unique in this area and what's more universal about our legends and lore?

Wisconsin has a rich melting pot of stories from Native Americans, lumberjacks, and tall tales told over a few beers. One of my favorite parts of "Wisconsin Legends & Lore is the chapter on urban legends, which are really universal – it seems like most towns have a story about a creepy country lane that’s haunted by the ghost of a witch, a psycho killer, a murdered troop of Boy Scouts or some variation.

On the surface these books would seem pretty different in terms of subject matter, but is there some overlap in that there's an aspect of folklore about conspiracies, isn't there? The way they spread and are passed along, etc.?

Yes, that’s a good way to describe it – conspiracy folklore. I think I’ve also always been attracted to stories about people pursuing things that may or may not be real, or straddling a line of reality and fantasy. There’s just something fascinating to me about people who create their own superhero personas, or spend all their spare time tracking Bigfoot or researching a conspiracy.

Are you working on any other books right now?

Working on "American Madness" taught me patience, so all I'll say now is that I have a couple of book ideas in development and I'm excited for both and to see what happens. They are both ideas that are in line with the other books I’ve written.

Are there upcoming events at which you'll be talking about the books?

I’ll be talking about my books at the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference, Oct. 9-11, it’s a virtual event people can register at milwaukeeparacon.com.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.