Traditionally, conspiracy theories have centered on defining events like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the Kennedy assassination. With the latter, there are a multitude of theories choose from. This is not because of evidence, but due to the emotional impact of a president in the prime of his life and his political career being gunned down in public beside his glamorous wife.
By contrast, the unsuccessful Reagan assassination attempt is seldom thought to have involved anyone other than John Hinckley, though a few isolated theorists have tried to make a hay of the fact that the shooter’s brother, Scott, was scheduled to have dinner with Neil Bush the following day. And if there are any conspiracy theories about the Ford assassination attempts, in which the target wasn’t even hit, I’ve never heard them.
Similarly, one could spend 10 hours a day watching 9/11 conspiracy theory videos and a year later still not run out of viewing material. But one might need just a day to check out all the conspiracy theory videos centering on the 1993 WTC bombing that killed .002 percent as many people.
The Sept. 11 attacks, by the way, did require a conspiracy, though not the type that Truthers have in mind. More than one person was involved in doing something nefarious, so it qualifies as a conspiracy. After the tragedy, 90 percent of the country came together, at least for a few days. Meanwhile, the other 10 percent wondered, “How can I make this massive loss of human life about me?” Thus began the Truther Movement.
One member of the movement responded to my blog post about conspiracy theories by asserting that Al-Qaeda was not involved. I asked him who he thought flew the airplanes and he replied that they were controlled remotely. As you might imagine, he supported this with zero evidence, besides failing to even answer my question, since remote control requires a controller. He also had to ignore or dismiss accounts from passengers describing Middle Eastern men with knives, the voice of one of the hijackers from the cockpit, security footage of the perpetrators boarding the planes, and the totality of the 9/11 report.
He is a typical conspiracy theorist, meaning he is more interested in painting himself as brave warrior battling brainwashed sheep and the establishment than he is in getting to the truth. As this Vice article showed, conspiracy theorists are mostly driven by a need to feel elite, not by a love of the facts. The article outlines how a bogus conspiracy theory was presented to those who considered themselves conspiracy theorists. Half of the group were told that 81 percent of the population believed in the conspiracy, the other half were told that 19 percent believed in it. Overwhelmingly, the theorists embraced the theory if they thought it was a minority opinion and rejected it if was said to be believed by the majority.
While I wrote earlier that conspiracy theories have traditionally sprouted from signature moments, the Internet has changed that somewhat and, depending on the believer, theories these days can center on almost anything.
So you may encounter them at any point and, if you choose to engage the remote control aircraft aficionado or other theorists, here are some points that will likely bolster your case. These were outlined in an essay by skeptic leader Emil Karlsson.
First, realize that in most alleged conspiracy theories, the number of people that would need to be involved is way more than could quiet about it, especially for decades. Every one of them would need to harbor this secret and never reveal it by accident, misspeak, guilt, drunkenness, blackmail, braggadocio, deathbed confession, or in order to sign a lucrative book deal. Thousands of persons would had to have been in on a phony moon landing, yet none of them have come forward.
Genuine conspiracies, such as Watergate, the NSA scandal, and what Bill Clinton’s definition of is is, were exposed by investigative journalists or insiders, not by WAKETHESHEEPLE’S YouTube channel.
On a related note, consider the overwhelming evidence for the genuine theories compared to the scant tidbits that point to hidden cancer cures, advance knowledge of the Pearl Harbor bombing, and the Las Vegas hotel shooting.
Let’s look at two conspiracy theories involving presidential assassinations. Abraham Lincoln was one of multiple targets that night and the killing involved multiple agents who were identified, tried, and executed. This was done in the open, with evidence presented in court. Meanwhile, despite the smorgasbord of options centering on who killed JFK – the KGB, CIA, LBJ, the mafia, labor leaders, hell, maybe even Martians – there has yet to be, nearly 60 years and countless investigations later, one piece of incontrovertible evidence pointing to these ideas.
As to the scandal that took down another president a decade later, Karlsson wrote that the Watergate affair “had burglars being arrested, a money trail that could be followed and mapped, confessions and several rounds of incriminating audio tapes.” Likewise, there is overwhelming evidence and mounds of documentation regarding the NSA scandal, the IB affair, and the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
By contrast, the idea of mass shootings being hoaxes is built on evidence so miniscule it would be comical were the assertions not so offensive. For example, during a press conference about a California shooting, a detective talked about the importance of training for such events. Instead of saying “which played out here today,” he misspoke and said, “which we played out here today.” A couple of seconds later, his cohort rubbed his palm on his forehead. This was presented in conspiracy theory circles as the spokesman inadvertently admitting it was faked and his co-worker burying his head in mortified disbelief that the secret was out. This “evidence” pales mightily compared to the thousands of Snowden documents.
As Karlsson noted, “Most conspiracy theories have little to no actual evidence. They are often based on quoting scientists out of context, misunderstanding basic physics of building constructions, jumping on obvious cases of interview miscommunication or similar. It is really based on alleged ‘evidence’ that is not worth much at all.”
We move now to the issue of inconsistent capabilities. This is when theorists paint perpetrators as extraordinarily skilled, organized, powerful, and able to seamlessly pull off highly-complex operations – yet incapable of getting a YouTube video or Facebook post removed. The evil men behind these plots are said to silence their victims through murder, yet someone is able to share this knowledge without repercussion.
Then there is what Karlsson calls the “method-goal mismatch problem.” While flat Earthers may present a scientifically-shaky observation or hypothesis to argue for their position, they are unable to explain the goal of those trying to keep the message secret. Who really cares what the shape is? Why would mortal enemies such as North and South Korea come together to defend a lie? Where would the millions of guards necessary to prevent the ice wall from being accessed come from?
Going back to the 9/11 Truthers, if the attacks were meant to justify an invasion, why go to the sizable trouble of recruiting kamikaze pilots and coordinating such a complexity? Just bomb a building. Or make up a story about WMDs, which was done anyway.
As Karlsson noted, “If you or the conspiracy theorists can easily invent a better plan to attain the goal of the perpetrators than the plan used in the conspiracy theory, something is terribly wrong with it.”
Finally, consider the tell-tale sign that a theorist is interested in defending the theory at all costs, rather than aiming for the truth. And that is when any discomfiting evidence is paradoxically considered part of the conspiracy. Those doubting Obama’s citizenship concocted a preposterous myth whereby his newspaper birth announcement, a 1990 New York Times article describing him as Hawaiian-born, his Certificate of Live Birth, and his long form birth certificate, were all touted as evidence FOR the theory instead of refutations of it! Anyone this far down the rabbit hole has no interest in finding out what really happened.