By Jeff Wolfe
The pejorative term, conspiracy theory is getting plenty of traction in the early days of the Trump presidency. It seems like every day a new article or televised segment pops up in regards to the latest conspiracy inspired statements issuing from 45’s Twitter feed. It’s been quite astonishing to observe. From his campaign sound bite that Ted Cruz’s father may have been an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald, to insinuating that immigrants and refugees are slipping into the country as part of a choreographed plot, to his claim of mass voter fraud conspiracy. Wherever Trump and his Twitter account go, a conspiracy is sure to follow.
Julian Zelizer wrote unequivocally for CNN that, “The President of the United States traffics in conspiracy theories.” Dozens and dozens of similar claims from mainstream news sources are all over the Internet.
As I write this, political commentators are responding to Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway’s remark that Obama was eavesdropping on him through his microwave. Bizarre times indeed.
While conspiracy theories are historically embedded into the DNA of the American psyche and politics, I can’t say I’m aware of a president being so outwardly associated with promoting them. Two ultra-paranoid presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon suffered from extreme delusions but their fears where kept suppressed within their inner-circles until after they left office. As reporter, Jesse Walker has pointed out, Trump has no shame in loosening one conspiracy after another if it momentarily suits his desire to embarrass an enemy or divert public attention.
This phenomena coming on the heels of the memes of fake news, alternative facts and post-truth are turning the media upside down, as both mainstream stalwarts and independent outfits are under attack and fighting back from the ropes. It doesn’t matter if you identify as conservative or progressive, conspiracies are flying from all directions as paranoia and anger reach a fevered boiling point.
That Trump’s presidency has brought this issue into the spotlight is not really surprising considering his background. Prior to his official entry into politics, Donald Trump elbowed his way into the Obama birther conspiracy that questioned the authenticity of the former presidents birth certificate and asserting he was born in Kenya, not the United States. He went as far as to send a team of investigators to Hawaii to collect the damning dirt that would vindicate his assertions. Rather than proving his claim, Trump presently claims he is actually responsible for clearing up the whole controversy.
If the conspiracy helps to discredit or hurt his enemies, Trump can’t get enough of them. When one is directed against him, like the claim he colluded with Russia on an election hack, he dismisses it as fake news. To that point, plenty of anti-Trump media sites like The Intercept and Counterpunch very much classify the new Red Scare narrative as yet another conspiracy created in an effort to discredit the election results. The volleying between Trump’s conspiracies and his opponents helps to spin the public’s head while a slew of other policy actions go underreported.
As someone who pays attention to historical and contemporary conspiracy culture, this is both interesting and disturbing all at once. In a way it’s quite surreal – the individual seated in the most powerful chair of global politics (symbolically anyway) not only paying attention to conspiracies but using them to buttress his policy ambitions. That he is a known frequenter of InfoWars and Breitbart News is very telling. For one thing it illustrates that he is seated directly in the stream of the far-right branch of conspiracy narratives. Conspiracies with political implications tend to be developed with a particular lensing that carries a clear moral point of view.
There are conspiracy theories that play to a broad audience like the UFO question, but a great number have ties to an ultimate, grand unifying theory. The all-encompassing hypothesis collects all the dark threats to democracy under a monolithic banner of evil. Unifying theories tend to exist on the extreme ends of political poles.
Everything that Alex Jones shouts across the airwaves is merely a carrying forward of previously issued tracts on the alleged secrets and origins of international power. Jones will be the first one to admit to his paradigm framing influences starting with the John Birch Society and Gary Allen’s 1971 manifesto, None Dare Call it a Conspiracy.
|Alex Jones and his favorite book|
Conservative patriots regard Allen’s work as groundbreaking for exposing an international (Jewish) banking scheme to enslave the globe under a one-world, communist government. This concept underpins all of right-wing conspiracy theory – a slowly encroaching satanic/communist threat to American freedom will eventually need to be met by private armed resistance. Because the far-right is largely Christian, its not just politicians but secret societies and practitioners of occult or esoteric spirituality who all supposedly work together subverting their religion and “American values.”
The left has their unifying theories as well. Radical leftist reporter, Chris Hedges, writes extensively about the dire threat of the “ruling corporate elite” that threatens to destroy modern culture through extreme greed and fascistic totalitarian impulses. Hedges has plenty of evidence both current and historical to support his claims but it doesn’t change the fact that it describes from another perspective, a situation in which powerful factions of the world actively collaborate from the shadows to subject their will upon a unwitting public. He’s just pointing to different sets of cabals than right-wing pundits do.
At any given moment there are thousands of competing theories flying around in our culture. Everyone feels that society is being influenced and controlled by nefarious forces, even though they can’t agree on just who is at the helm and what the true endgame is.
To be clear, from my own limited estimation, most of what constitutes as conspiracy theory out there can easily be categorized as flat-out junk. It’s an embarrassment to legitimate conspiracy research. David Icke’s reptilian alien overlord theory belongs in an annual of bad science-fiction. I believe in alien life and the strong likelihood that the government is hiding key information related to it but YouTube videos analyzing the Queen of England’s face for reptilian scales is clearly a leap into a realm of hyper-speculation.
Hyper-speculation can be a form of harmless entertainment, or it can be quite harmful when swimming in the minds of mentally unstable individuals with real issues of paranoid schizophrenia.
Fritz Springmeier’s weakly supported claims that a hidden satanic cabal reigns over a worldwide pyramid of infiltrated governments and NGOs, are quite dangerous and carry the threat of severe psychological and personal damage for those who live under the strain of such a belief. (I say Springmeier’s claims are weak because to me, personal sources that wish to remain anonymous are not enough to support such an extraordinary claim.) He has formulated complex charts detailing all the interlocking elements of a massive structure of demonic influence groups. There may even be bits of truth mixed into his wild speculations.
Yes, mind control is real. Sex trafficking and abuse is real. The reality of a multitude of sick and twisted projects or individual aberrations create a temptation in the human mind to want to organize it all together to create a seamless cohesion of systematic abuse. The Satanic Panic of the 1980’s however, shows the flaw of projecting and forcing connections that fit a premeditated conclusion. The result is a witch hunt and demonizing of benign activities or organizations.
|Mugshot of multiple felon, Fritz Springmeier|
So-called eyewitnesses or victims of mind control plots that Springmeier substitutes for evidence don’t bring anything but tall-tales and unsubstantiated campfire tales to the table. They sound incredible, tantalizing and tawdry and therefore interesting. They are easy to dismiss unless your religious training has conditioned you to the certainty of satanic forces playing out a pre-determined drama. Apocalyptic sects of Christianity are forever on the lookout for the coming antichrist and the general signs of Christian values slipping away due to satanic influence. These individuals make up the bulk of Springmeier’s fringe audience and are easy marks for his con game.
Pop culture conspiracies waste our time trying to convince us that Hollywood has a hidden agenda to turn men and woman androgynous and therefor undermine the traditional family structure. It sounds very, very familiar if you know your conspiracy history. According to the very popular sites that focus on the entertainment industry, the herd is being systematically weakened through music videos, film and television in order to create a docile citizenry unable to fight off coming internment in FEMA detention camps.
When you cut through the hysteria it’s clear that what these researchers really have a problem with homosexuality and anything that appears to threaten their narrow, heteronormative morality. They feel a culture war is being waged on patriarchal/heterosexual/Caucasian Christianity and have picked the tool of conspiracy to fight back. Never mind the incredibly small percentage of non-heteronormative identifiers among the population. Ironically enough, Catholics themselves have historically faced the brunt of a large number of conspiracy theories themselves. The pattern of using conspiracy as a weapon against outgroups has been wielded against Native Americans, communists, African Americans and Freemasons to name just a few. It’s a flexible template that can be applied and finessed to target whatever group is the threat of the day.
“You simply cannot invent any conspiracy theory so ridiculous and obviously satirical that some people somewhere don’t alreadybelieve it.” – Robert Anton Wilson, Everything is Under Control
Conspiracy culture can be a dangerous place if you don’t have your wits about you. If you go far enough down the wrong rabbit hole, you may never come back. Yet at the same time, to ignore historical and potential conspiracy comes with its own serious risks. We know enough about the past to identify their existence but not quite enough to recognize them as they play out in real time in a way that prevents them. The same basic conspiracies seem to cycle on a loop, repeating the same patterns over and over.
The reason I pay attention to and have a deep interest in conspiracies is that for all the totally delusional or xenophobic agendas out there, there’s more than a handful that are very plausible or that can be tied to documentable events. This is the maddening and tricky part of deciding to wade through the dangerous seas of conspiracy.
Most likely, it’s the reason the majority of the population would rather see them all lumped under one heading, under the new term – fake news. It’s much harder to grapple with each conspiracy on it’s own merits. It takes a certain amount of commitment and almost always presents a threat to the belief system of the person considering it. To entertain conspiracies places one in a position of strong professional and personal ridicule. Your intellectual judgment is thought to be suspect.
Deluges of op-eds are currently being penned equating conspiracy theory with “untruths” or “lies,” as if such terms are synonymous. This contradicts the whole notion of what a theory represents in the first place. A theory is a theory, not a fact. Handled responsibly, conspiracy theories are presented not as truths but as possible truths or a hypothesis. If there was never a conspiracy theory that turned out to be true or provable, then maybe there’s good reason to dismiss them out of hand. But that’s absolutely not what history shows us.
The conspiracies that really intrigue me are the ones that have valid sources tied to documentation. The now under threat, Freedom of Information Act, signed in 1966, as well as insider source leaks have exposed the public to unthinkable conspiracies carried out by various branches of government or corporations.
Most notable among them are, MKUltra, Operation Paperclip, Prohibition alcohol poisoning, the Tuskegee human experiments, the Gulf of Tonkin false flag, CIA political assassinations, Operation Northwoods, Iran-Contra, The Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Snowden’s NSA leaks, COINTELPRO, Operation Mockingbird, Operation Midnight Climax, Project Artichoke, Guantanamo detainee abuse, Operation Popeye, REX 84 and many, many others.
|A redacted history of abuse and scandal|
If you’re reading this and you are dismissive of the possibility of conspiracies, look into any one of the above items. They are documented events that expose abuse and scandal carried out in covert fashion. Once you come to understand how those in power think and what they’re historically willing to do to advance their agenda, it’s only natural to speculate about more recent or current events. It takes decades for documentation to surface that vindicates suspicions. With accountability and punishment for abuse largely absent, why wouldn’t these tactics continue? Don’t try to tell me politicians are any more ethical now compared to the past.
History shows, most glaringly in the last century, that conspiracies are part and parcel of government and bureaucratic operations. A conspiracy by definition is a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful. They can also be thought of in similar terms with schemes, plans, plots or subterfuge. Those words just about clearly align with the CIA’s day-to-day procedural manual. To deny they take place is beyond naïve. It’s inexcusable considering our ability to access information.
“Everybody who has ever worked for a corporation knows that corporations conspire all the time. Politicians conspire all the time, pot-dealers conspire not to get caught by the narcs, the world is full of conspiracies. Conspiracy is natural primate behavior.” – Robert Anton Wilson, The I in the Triangle
I’m with Wilson – conspiracies take place all the time. It’s a staple of human behavior. We should know this all too well by now. Bernie Madoff was convicted for carrying out a sprawling financial ponzi scheme conspiracy. Enron execs conspired to commit massive insider frauds to the tune of millions. Members of the Bush administration conspired to convince the American public that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to instigate the longest-running military engagement in US history. These are all events from recent memory and yet most people refuse to acknowledge conspiracy as anything other than “crazy” or the work of fevered imagination.
The mainstream media also seems to have general amnesia disorder when it comes to government corruption as a constant. Instead in the media conspiracy is used as a way to embarrass, insult or undermine. And wouldn’t you know, that in itself is a CIA operation at work.
Anyone who has researched the origin of the term ‘conspiracy theory’ has discovered that the CIA itself defined the term in a 1967 dispatch on psychological operations for the purpose of discrediting the thousands of citizens who called the single-shooter theory of John F. Kennedy’s murder into question.
“In other words, the CIA’s clandestine services unit created the arguments for attacking conspiracy theories as unreliable in the 1960s as part of its psychological warfare operations.” – Zero Hedge
This dispatch only came to light due to, you guessed it, a FOIA request. It’s not as if the government wants the public to find out about their secret ops. In fact last year the outgoing Obama administration spent a record $36 million fighting FOIA requests in court. Only 77% of requests were answered from 2016. What we do eventually get is often heavily redacted.
Conspiratorial thinking directed at hierarchical institutions like governments and multi-national enterprises is a wholly different endeavor than fear-mongering against unconventional lifestyle or minority groups. So, yes, there are in fact qualitative differences among conspiracy theories. There is ludicrous click-bait pushed out to support a fringe agenda. On the other hand, there are well-researched and vetted hypothesis supported by either physical documentation or enough circumstantial evidence to deserve reasonable consideration. They are not all created equal. The public needs to better understand that and refuse to be gaslit by lazy naysayers or factions that benefit from the suppression of open investigations of claims.
As Robert Anton Wilson said in the Illuminati Papers, “Anyone in the United States today who isn’t paranoid must be crazy.” If you’re paying any attention, that is. A sober-minded, critical thinker should be allowed to consider possible answers to a range of open questions without immediate social condemnation. Social pressure to conform to the acceptable consensus is exactly what the CIA hoped for by introducing the pejorative.
People are literally afraid to call government claims into question for fear of reprisal… when their Party is in office. When the opposing Party takes the throne, that very same person jumps right into the mud-slinging mix, ready to accept all sorts of sordid secret actions. We end up seeing a great deal of inconsistency from individuals and their proclivities to either embrace or reject a conspiracy. The cognitive dissonance can be cut with a knife.
All that being said, when it comes to Trump, there is good reason to be very skeptical about the branch of conspiracy he picks from. It’s the worst branch of the tree – one lined with the fruits of xenophobia, nationalism and classism. Without a genuine bone in his body, he uses conspiracy not as a truth weapon against the systems of corrupt power but against the weak, the vulnerable or to cheaply cause harm to a political opponent.
A conspiracy should always be examined for hidden agendas. Does it support the narrative of apocalyptic Christian sects? Does it create fear of external threats in order to lay ground for a hawkish imperialism? Does it target racial, ethnic and sexual minorities? These are not the conspiracies I give the time of day to any longer. Religious extremism, nationalism and militarism are not agendas that I’m willing to foolishly carry water for.
Despite the fact that it always goes on even if unrecognized as such, conspiracy theorizing hasn’t really been a part of the acceptable discourse since the original X-Files days. There’s some good reason for that. In the Internet era, the most sensational and outrageous conspiracies have come to define the field. Moving forward, if conspiracy is going to be defined by the prejudiced, fact-free, fear-mongering class of right-wing fanatics like Steve Bannon and Alex Jones, there’s not much hope for the legitimate claims to be given their due.
This essay is sure to make me many enemies. That’s perfectly fine. I’ve looked long enough at what I reject to be comfortable rejecting it. What I disavow is unfounded bullshit pandering behind a phony veil of Truth in order to push some extremist political or religious ideology. If this makes that crowd angry, so be it. Only by being critical of bad conspiracy theory can the plausible theories ever return to the levels of public consideration they achieved in the post-Watergate era. A good portion of the public does harbor suspicions and questions. Bad conspiracies push them into the closet for fear of harsh ridicule.
Credibility is a core issue. I would think that any serious researcher would want the public at large to consider their work in a way that elevates it out of a small underground of followers. This won’t happen as long as Donald Trump and his allies become the new mascots of conspiracy theory. Those he peddles distortions for are not the allies of truth or the well-being of the common citizen. This will only become more abundantly clear as his administration advances.
Then again, maybe I’m a disinfo agent spreading misinformation. Perhaps, I’m really working for them. In that case, I hope the check is in the mail.
About Jeff Wolfe
Jeff Wolfe is the artist/writer of the Secret Transmissions blog