January 28, 2018
Is he going on about his latest conspiracy theory?
This post was weeks in the making. While I initially planned to do this earlier this month, I failed to respect how much research I needed to do in order to address this topic, but I’m glad I worked on this.
Now, many of us have heard the term “conspiracy theory,” especially lately. Perhaps that’s a side effect of the Internet, because we are all connected in this way and information travels fast (depending on your internet service provider). Yet there are currently a few conspiracy theories that don’t need the Internet to travel around.
Before we can get to that, we have to take a look at what a conspiracy theory is and how it came to be. Are you ready to see how far this rabbit hole goes?
What Is a Conspiracy Theory?
A conspiracy theory is a type of explanation used to interrupt observed events as part of a far-reaching plot. Conspiracy theorists ultimately conclude that what just happened was planned and part of a cover-up. In many cases, conspiracy theories abound when highly publicized events, like murders, occur. Investigations do little to quell such theories and may in fact give more fuel to conspiracy theorists.
The term “conspiracy theory” has largely been a derisive term since it was first used. Often, when people call something a conspiracy theory, they are saying that certain plots are implausible. As a result, they are discrediting the person or people who push such theories.
That is not to say that all conspiracy theories are wrong. Not all theories are equal and there are times when suspicions are well-founded and supported with evidence or eventual confessions. However, the problems people have with conspiracy theories are a general lack of evidence and the tendencies of conspiracy theorists to ignore contradictory evidence and contradictions in their own arguments.
What Are Some Examples of Conspiracy Theories?
Sometime in 2009, Time shared a list of the top 10 conspiracy theories:
- The JFK Assassination
- A 9/11 Cover-Up
- Area 51 and the Aliens
- Paul McCartney [Has Been] Dead [All Along]
- Secret Societies Control the World
- The Moon Landing Was Faked
- Jesus and Mary Magdalene
- Holocaust Revisionism
- The CIA and AIDS
- The Reptilian Elite
I will discuss a few here and include some that weren’t mentioned.
Rumors persist about the terrorist attacks which occurred on September 11, 2001. Over the years, some people have insisted that the U.S. government allowed it to happen as an excuse to go to war and those people questioned how the buildings at the World Trade Center collapsed. There are scientific explanations for the latter, but there have been admissions that authorities had the terrorists in their grasp and failed to follow up on clues, reports, and suspicions.
Ever since Barack Obama decided to run for president, there have been people questioning his American citizenship. His detractors argued that he was born in Kenya and I even heard that someone wanted to believe that Obama was born in Hawaii before it became a U.S. state. A few years into his presidency, he broke down and provided his birth certificate, but people questioned why he didn’t provide his long-form signature or claimed it was forged.
It’s curious because Ted Cruz, who ran for president in 2016, was born in Canada to a Cuban father. Why hasn’t he been questioned as much?
By the way, one of the biggest birthers happened to promote a conspiracy theory about Cruz’s dad being the Zodiac killer. Sadly, that conspiracy theorist ended up in the Oval Office.
This is undeniably one of the worst conspiracy theories out there, but it involves two camps: those who deny that the holocaust even happened and those who want to dispute the severity of it.
For the most part, the Illuminati have never been confirmed as a real thing. Yet similar to the Free Masons, the Illuminati have been mythologized as a powerful group that secretly controls the world. But unlike the Free Masons, the Illuminati are viewed as some devil-worshiping cult.
The Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting was one of the deadliest mass shootings in United States history. On December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman killed 27 people (including his mother at their home) and wounded two others before turning one of his guns on himself.
Soon after the massacre, people started to develop conspiracy theories. Some of the theories included claims that the government planned the event in order to push for more gun control laws or the government created a “false flag event” that never happened. A sad side effect of people (including Alex Jones, the #1 conspiracy theorist on the Web) pushing these conspiracy theories was how others were pushed to harass and threaten the victims’ families.
The John F. Kennedy Assassination
Some of the conspiracy theories surrounding JFK’s assassination have some merit and they have been aided by government secrecy. While there have been experiments to prove that a lone gunman could have carried out the assassination and other attacks that occurred on November 22, 1963, the following investigation was shrouded in suspicion and there are still unanswered questions. By 1964, 48% of Americans said that they had suspicions about the Warren Commission’s report and by 2009 most Americans (70%) thought there was a cover-up.
In late 2017, President Donald Trump released some JFK papers, but there is still some information U.S. intelligence agencies still want to remain hidden. What type of information needs to be protected over 50 years later?
Did the CIA Create and Promote the Term ‘Conspiracy Theory’?
In a word, no. The term existed long before the CIA ever used it. But there is something to be said about the CIA’s response to skeptics.
If you were to go do a search, you might find numerous sources which claim that the Central Intelligence Agency created and promoted the phrase “conspiracy theory” in order to discredit people who questioned the veracity of the Warren Commission’s report, which came out of the investigation following President John. F. Kennedy’s assassination.
I first heard that claim in a YouTube video and I had to investigate. Here are a few sources I found:
From Global Research: “Conspiracy Theory”: Foundations of a Weaponized Term (Jan. 22, 2013)
From Zerohedge: In 1967, the CIA Created the Label “Conspiracy Theorists” … to Attack Anyone Who Challenges the “Official” Narrative (Feb. 23, 2015)
From Paul Craig Roberts.org: The Term “Conspiracy Theory” Was Invented by the CIA In Order To Prevent Disbelief of Official Government Stories (Aug. 24 2016)
From Alternet: How the CIA Invented and Promoted ‘Conspiracy Theories’ to Discredit Controversial Views (Sept. 8 2016 )
In each of those posts, there was a mention of the “CIA Dispatch #1035-960” or Conspiracy Theory in America, a 2013 book by Lance deHaven-Smith which made mention of the dispatch and shared the entire text of it in the book’s appendix.
Two other sources I consulted thoroughly debunked the CIA rumor and added more context to the phrase.
On November 29, 2012, a Metabunk user called Mick West decided to start a thread on the topic of conspiracy theories. The main purpose was to debunk the notion that the CIA invented the term “conspiracy theory” in 1967. In the opening post, Mick West did just that. He shared numerous quotes from sources that could be accessed via Google Books, particularly the first source he listed, which came from 1870.
Here are the sources used:
- The Journal of Mental Science, Volume 16, Page 141
- A source from 1890
- A review of theories concerning the secession of the South, from 1895
- Another source from 1895 with the same topic as above
- A source from 1899 discussing conspiracy theories about South Africa.
- Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History (Pages 5-6).
The OP was last edited on August 26, 2017. By then, Mick West added even more sources via responses in the thread.
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)
In 2013, Robert Blaskiewicz, an Assistant Professor of Critical Thinking and First Year Studies at Stockton University, discussed the origins of the phrase “conspiracy theory.” For the most part, he decried the repeated assertion that the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized the phrase to discredit critics of the Warren Commission, let alone created the phrase. Blaskiewicz was then able to thoroughly debunk that theory.
For starters, Blaskiewicz challenged the notion that Lance deHaven-Smith actually said the agency created the term. Profession deHaven-Smith wrote Conspiracy Theory in America (2013), in which he talked about how the CIA used the term “conspiracy theory” in a document used to discredit Warren Commission critics. In his book, deHaven Smith said that the term was deployed by the CIA but did nothing more than that.
Secondly, Blaskiewicz cited a passage from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which cited a passage from May 1964:
New Statesman 1 May 694/2 Conspiracy theorists will be disappointed by the absence of a dogmatic introduction.
As Blaskiewicz pointed out:
This is two years before Dispatch 1035-960 appeared. If you go to the magazine, you will find that this sentence appears in an unsigned editorial, “Separateness,” about the London Magazine’s recent transition from being an exclusively literary publication to a more interdisciplinary review of the arts.
About the Dispatch
There are still lingering questions about JFK’s assassination, particularly in terms of who was involved. The Warren Commission Report was supposed to serve as the definitive word on the final investigation, but many people still didn’t trust its findings. As a response, the CIA produced 1035-960 in order to provide guidelines to “friendly elites,” which included politicians and members of the media.
In addition to labeling people “conspiracy theorists,” the CIA instructed “corporate media outlets, commentators and political leaders” to do the following:
- Tell people that the Warren Commission found all significant pieces of evidence.
- Say that critics overvalue particular details while ignoring others.
- Tell people that it is virtually impossible for the United States to conceal vast conspiracies.
- Turn things on the critics by saying that they latched onto a theory, fell in love with it, and tied it to their pride.
- Tell people that Lee Harvey Oswald (the man named as JFK ’s assassin) was an unfitting co-conspirator.
- Refer to the assertions that “more than ten people have died mysteriously” during the Warren Commission’s inquiry as “vague” while insisting that the people who died passed due to natural causes.
In 1976, The New York Times filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain that document (Tracy).
When you look at the bullet points laid out by the CIA (and you can view the entire document at the JFK Lancer website), there are striking similarities to how news is reported now. Often, the people who have dissenting opinions are discredited and treated as if they are crazy.
And did you know that the CIA has a deal with The Washington Post? If that isn’t a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is.
When Did the Phrase ‘Conspiracy Theory’ Enter the Lexicon?
At Thesaurus.com, the entry on the subject said that the term “conspiracy” entered into the English language around the last 14th century and it came from the Latin word conspiratio. The word conspiracy became a law term in 1863 and the phrase “conspiracy theory” was traced back to 1909.
It looks like much of what I found at Thesaurus.com is at the Online Etymology Dictionary, too. The difference is there was a little bit more information and it says that the word “conspiracy” came into the English language in the mid-14th century from the Anglo-French conspiracie.
In actuality, the phrase “conspiracy theory” may have dated back as far as 1870. The earliest reference to a “conspiracy theory” may have come in The Journal of Medical Science. At the time, there was a debate involving the writers of that publication, writers at the Lancet, and Charles Reade, a novelist and an activist for prison and asylum reform.
Reade was doing some research for a novel about private asylums entitled Hard Cash. In January 1870, Reade was so disturbed by what he saw that he felt compelled to write to the editors of the Pall Mall Gazette.
In discussing the methods asylum workers used to control patients, Reade said he had a “higher class of evidence than the official inquirers permit themselves to hear. They rely too much on medical attendants and other servants of an asylum, whose interest it is to veil ugly truths and sprinkle hells with rose-water.”
From Hard Cash Page 19:
The ex-keepers were all agreed in this—that the keepers know how to break a patient’s bones without bruising the skin; and the doctors have been duped again and again by them. To put it in my own words, the bent knees, big bluntish bones, and clothes, can be applied with terrible force, yet not leave their mark upon the skin of the victim. The refractory patient is thrown down and the keeper walks up and down him on his knees, and even jumps on his body, knees downwards, until he is completely cowed. Should a bone or two be broken in this process, it does not much matter to the keeper: a lunatic complaining of internal injury is not listened to.
The Journal of Mental Science said this in response in February 1870 (Page 139):
It must, I think, be admitted that the difficulties have been real, or surely that would not have evoked such an extreme hypothesis as that advanced in the Pall Mall Gazette, by a well-known novelist—an hypothesis which seems to involve every element of the sensational novel.
The journal then compared Reade’s hypothesis to another and remarked ( on Page 141):
The theory of Dr. Sankey as to the manner in which these injuries to the chest occurred in asylums deserved our careful attention. It was at least more plausible that the conspiracy theory of Mr. Charles Reade …
Was ‘Conspiracy Theory’ Always a Derisive Term?
Blaskiewicz concluded that the use of the phrase “conspiracy theory” in the passage from The Journal of Medical Science was similar to the modern-day usage and thus always used in a pejorative sense. I tend to disagree, based on numerous cited sources.
While men like Charles Reade came to be viewed as over-dramatic radicals, there were instances where the phrase “conspiracy theory” wasn’t really used to deride the person who pushed it.
From The American Journal of Literature, Science, the Arts, a Public Affairs (1890), under “The Conspiracy Against Quay”:
As Mr. Quay does not venture to deny the truth of the statements made about him by the New York World and Evening Post, the theory is now offered that their disclosure in print must be the result of a ‘conspiracy.’ The members of Congress who flung themselves into the breach as his defenders, the vehement by cautious resolutions adopted by his so-called ‘State Committee’ of Pennsylvania, and sundry editorials in the organs of his political machine, all present this theory, adding that it is the base work of wicked Democrats who hope thus to pull down the Atlas upon whose shoulders the national Republican party is now supported.
The conspiracy theory may be well founded, but then again it may not. And rather than be independent upon the evidence of it which may be furnished through the self-sacrificing efforts of the gentlemen who are so ardently engaged in that behalf, we should rather see the party stand on its own foundation, and Mr. Quay on his record, whatever it may be. Then the plot might be proved or disproved, and still the party could live for the further service of the country.
From The Outlook: A Family Paper, under “Rhodes’ History of the United States” (7 Sept 1895, Page 394):
Mr. Rhodes discards the theory prevalent at the North, that secession was the outcome of a conspiracy of Southern Senators and Representatives at Washington, and adopts the view expressed by all Southern writers except Pollard, that secession was a popular movement. As a matter of fact, the Southern leaders in Congress were pressed onward by their constituents. Davis and Toombs are classed among the conspirators. Yet Davis was in favor of delay, and Toombs, in spite of his vehement language at Washington, could not keep pace with the secession movement in his State: while the South Carolina radicals murmured that the people were hampered by the politicians. The conspiracy theory is based on a misconception of the so-called Union minorities in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. Most of those who opposed immediate secession did so because they still hoped to obtain in the Union some such guarantee for the maintenance in the Territories of their peculiar institution as the Crittenden compromise. Others, like Stephens, would have been satisfied with repeal of the Personal Liberty acts. Of unconditional Union men, who by some are supposed to embrace all who voted for the Bell or Douglas in 1860, the number was insignificant. It followed that the minorities, believing as they did that the South had grievances and that the States were sovereign, should bow to the will of the majorities as soon as secession was declared.
This is relatively tame, but there may have been a later push to make the term more derisive in the United States.
Popper and Strauss
In 2016, Ron Unz traced the U.S. government’s use of “conspiracy theory” as a pejorative term to the 1940’s when historian Charles Beard fell out of favor with the elites. In his place, Karl Popper and Lee Strauss rose to prominence.
Popper may be considered the father of modern liberal thought and Lee his neo-conservative counterpart, and they differed from Beard for different reasons. Popper argued that conspiracy theories were all harmful because they undermined the integrity of governments. Strauss argued that elite conspiracies were good and necessary to keep the natural order of things; in addition, Strauss said that we ought to squelch any investigation into those conspiracies.
Unz said that the press has followed both Popper and Strauss in their thinking and have thus failed the public. Unz also said that the emergence of alternative news outlets makes the government and media establishment nervous, thus we have seen the preponderance of elite conspiracy theories.
Why Did I Choose This Topic?
In addition to the conspiracy theories I shared above, there are three recent ones that I’ve been thinking of and two have been openly derided by more members of the press than the first.
1. The Russia Probe
Whether you support the Russia probe or not, it was built upon numerous theories of conspiracy. As I pointed out in a previous post (Are You Still Following News of the Russia Probe?), the investigation began based on at least 4 theories:
- Direct manipulation
Collusion is a charge being made here and “collusion” is another word for “conspiracy.”
By the way, I really need to update that post. I sooooo far behind, although I’ve been reading articles connected to it.
2. Republicans, the Deep State, and FBI Conspiracy Theories
In 2017, I talked about rumblings about a suspected “deep state,” which is basically a collection of individuals who are part of a shadow government. At the time, there was talk of a conspiracy against Donald Trump that was supposedly being perpetrated by members of the United States intelligence community.
This month, members of the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to make a four-page FBI memo available to the entire House of Representatives. Sometime afterward, a number of Republican lawmakers took to Twitter and promoted the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag in order to push for a release of the memo to the general public.
What’s got the Republicans so riled up? Well, they say it’s a scandal that’s “worse than Watergate” (Archived).
The memo is scandalous because it supposedly proves bias by the Federal Bureau of Investigation against Trump. In particular, Republicans said that text messages between special agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page that mysteriously disappeared from the FBI’s database hold proof of the FBI’s attempt to undermine Trump’s presidency (Beauchamp). However, the FBI was able to provide more texts from the two (Levitz).
There are also allegations that the FBI and Barack Obama’s Justice Department used the “Trump dossier” as grounds to abuse the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Additionally, Republicans now claim that the FBI has “secret societies” that are trying to undermine Trump.
It’s a good sign that a conspiracy theory has run its course when a reporter for a favorable network contradicts it and one promoter of the theory has to walk back some of his claims.
In All Honesty ..
Trump did cultivate a bad relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies even before he was sworn in as president. During his 2016 presidential campaign, he gave airtime to numerous conspiracy theories and urban myths (like the myth that Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad was the Zodiac Killer, which I mentioned above). Trump also turned on the intelligence community after Russia was suspected to have colluded with Trump’s presidential campaign. (In particular, he claimed that the Obama administration was spying on him by placing bugs at Trump Tower.)
Now, here’s the kicker:
While the U.S. intelligence agency and those with White House ties deny that the U.S. has a deep state, they don’t deny that one could theoretically exist in other countries.
To be honest, I don’t see claims of a deep state to be unfounded. While intelligence officers do need to be granted a level of latitude as far as secrecy goes (they need to be able to conduct investigations and protect the identities of agents, suspected victims, and witnesses), some take it too far while trampling on basic rights. There are people in different stations in life who let power get to their head and the intelligence community is not immune to this.
Additionally, I don’t see the point in giving the CIA power to affect foreign policy or call drone strikes abroad or to have the National Security Agency’s operations move abroad. Isn’t this beyond the scope of these agencies?
3. The NFL & the New England Patriots
Last year, I talked about NFL officiating and persistent conspiracy theories regarding the league. At one point, I broached the issue of the New England Patriots, and I said that in at least one game they received quite a bit of help from the referees.
At least one sports reporter will hear none of that.
In this obnoxious piece for the NFL, Bill Bender railed against the people who expressed disapproval of the Super Bowl 52 setup. Of course, the Patriots were in again and people are sick of them and they were wondering if the Pats’ presence in the big game was part of the league’s plan.
Bender would have none of it, and he made sure to label those who had suspicions conspiracy theorists. This “article” had all the hallmarks of propaganda, from the sarcastic and argumentative tone, to the use of the term “conspiracy theory,” to his choice of ignoring key pieces of evidence.
For the record: In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, the Pats came back to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars after trailing them by 10 points. However, there were a number of questions about the officiating in that game.
- For one thing, there was a sharp disparity in penalties called and Miles Jack was given a fumble recovery, but many people who watched the game said the official blew the whistle too soon (as to prevent Jack from scoring a touchdown).
- At least one pass interference call that went against the Jags was iffy.
- There was a missed defensive pass interference call against the Pats late in the game.
By contrast, there was no controversy in the NFC Championship Game. And I would argue outside of the Jags-Steelers game, the NFL playoffs have been better overall.
Why People Are Complaining
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are making their 8th Super Bowl appearance, which is the 10th for the entire franchise. Brady has the chance to set himself further apart by winning his 6th SB. This is unprecedented and I doubt anyone will break most of the records they’ve set since 2001.
The Patriots have a strong case to argue that their continuity is due to coaching and execution. But I also think people who question the effect the referees have on the game have a point, too. It doesn’t have to be an either/or.
Regardless, the fact remains that people are sick of seeing the Patriots go deep in the postseason. While that may be the main drive of conspiracy theories against the league at the moment, they still don’t have to like seeing NE so much. And if they’re being told to shut up and enjoy it, that’s another eyebrow-raiser.
Oh, and no team that got caught up in a scandal like Spygate gets to wash that stink off.
Did you get all that? This was a lot to process but I hope it was worth your while.
In the coming weeks, I will be looking at another conspiracy theory, so this post helped set it up.
Beauchamp, Zack. “Conservative conspiracy theory about FBI texts is bullshit, according to … Fox News.” Vox. 24 Jan 2018. Web. Retrieved 28 Jan 2018. <https://www.vox.com/world/2018/1/24/16929776/fbi-texts-fox-news>.
Beauchamp, Zack. “The growing conservative conspiracy theory about missing FBI texts, explained.” Vox. 23 Jan 2018. Web. Retrieved 28 Jan 2018. <https://www.vox.com/world/2018/1/23/16923126/missing-fbi-texts-strzok-page>.
Bender, Bill. “Patriots conspiracy theories cheat truth about latest Super Bowl run.” Sporting News. 27 January 2018. Web. <http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/news/new-england-patriots-conspiracy-cheaters-belichick-brady-spygate-deflategate/9zw4gfsmevkd1imdnhdskimfo>.
Blaskiewicz, Robert. “Nope, It Was Always Already Wrong.” Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). 8 Aug 2013. Web. Retrieved 26 Jan 2018. <https://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/nope_it_was_always_already_wrong>.
Burney, Ian A. “Chapter 1: The Genealogy of the Popular Inquest.” Bodies of Evidence: Medicine and the Politics of the English Inquest, 1830-1926. Johns Hopkins University Press; 2000. Print (via Google Books). Pages 49-51. Retrieved 28 Jan 2018.
“CIA Document 1035-960: Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report.” JFK Lancer. Web. Retrieved 5 Jan 2017. <http://www.jfklancer.com/CIA.html>.
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DeHaven-Smith, Lance. Conspiracy Theory in America. Texas University Press. 2013, Print. (via Google Books). Pages 197-202.
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“JFK Assassination Records – 2017 Additional Documents Release.” National Archives. Web. <https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/2017-release>.
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Levitz, Eric. “The GOP’s FBI Conspiracy Theory Just Got Even Dumber.” New York Magazine. 25 Jan 2018. Web. Retrieved 26 Jan 2018. <http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/01/the-gops-fbi-conspiracy-theory-just-got-even-dumber.html>.
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Tracy, James F. “‘Conspiracy Theory’: Foundations of a Weaponized Term.” Global Research. 22 Jan 2013. Last Updated on 24 Mar 2017. Web. Retrieved 5 Jan 2018. <https://www.globalresearch.ca/conspiracy-theory-foundations-of-a-weaponized-term/5319708>.
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Unz, Ron. “How the CIA Invented and Promoted ‘Conspiracy Theories’ to Discredit Controversial Views.” Alternet. 8 Sept 2016. Web. <https://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/how-cia-invented-and-promoted-conspiracy-theories-discredit-controversial-views>.
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Clockwise from top left:
- President John F. Kennedy: By White House Press Office (WHPO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Illumini Logo: By Quintendp099 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Buzz Aldrin: By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Sen. Ted Cruz: By Frank Fey (U.S. Senate Photographic Studio) (Office of Senator Ted Cruz) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Birther Billboard: Victor Victoria at English Wikipedia [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 9/11 Attacks: By Robert on Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons