Conspiracy Theory in America

by Lance deHaven-Smith

deHaven-Smith_S14_C
As an opener to our “9/11 – 15 years on” we’re sharing this extract from the book Conspiracy Theory in America by Lance deHaven Smith. People can obtain a copy of the book from the link. Regardless of where we stand on the events of 9/11 we need to be aware of the intelligence-backed media campaign that lies behind the current social context of the phrase “conspiracy theory”.

A Curious History

The term “conspiracy theory” did not exist as a phrase in everyday American conversation before 1964. The conspiracy-theory label entered the American lexicon of political speech as a catchall for criticisms of the Warren Commission’s conclusion that President Kennedy was assassinated by a lone gunman with no assistance from, or foreknowledge by, any element of the United States government. Since then, the term’s prevalence and range of application have exploded. In 1964, the year the Warren Commission issued its report, the New York Times published five stories in which “conspiracy theory” appeared. In recent years, the phrase has occurred in over 140 New York Times stories annually. A Google search for the phrase (in 2012) yielded more than 21 million hits—triple the numbers for such common expressions as “abuse of power” and “war crime.” On Amazon.com, the term is a book category that includes in excess of 1,300 titles. In addition to books on conspiracy theories of particular events, there are conspiracy-theory encyclopedias, photographic compendiums, website directories, and guides for researchers, skeptics, and debunkers.
Initially, conspiracy theories were not an object of ridicule and hostility. Today, however, the conspiracy-theory label is employed routinely to dismiss a wide range of antigovernment suspicions as symptoms of impaired thinking akin to superstition or mental illness. For example, in a massive book published in 2007 on the assassination of President Kennedy, former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi says people who doubt the Warren Commission report are “as kooky as a three dollar bill in their beliefs and paranoia.” Similarly, in his recently published book Among the Truthers (Harper’s, 2011), Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay refers to 9/11 conspiracy theorists as “political paranoiacs” who have “lost their grip on the real world.” Making a similar point, if more colorfully, in his popular book Wingnuts, journalist John Avlon refers to conspiracy believers as “moonbats,” “Hatriots,” “wingnuts,” and the “Fright Wing.”
The same judgment is expressed in more measured terms by Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule in a 2009 journal article on the “causes and cures” of conspiracy theories. Sunstein is a Harvard law professor appointed by President Obama to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He and Vermeule claim that once a person buys into them, conspiracy theories are resistant to debunking because they are “self-sealing.” That is, because conspiracy theories attribute extraordinary powers to elites to orchestrate events, keep secrets, and avoid detection, the theories encourage their adherents to dismiss countervailing evidence as fabricated or planted.
In a book on technology and public opinion, Sunstein argues further that conspiracy-theory groups and networks are proliferating because the highly decentralized form of mass communication made possible by the Internet is altering the character of public discourse. Whereas television and radio provide platforms for debating competing viewpoints on matters of widely shared interest, the Internet tends to segment discussion into a multitude of small groups, each focusing on a separate and distinct topic. Sunstein argues that this splintering of discourse encourages extremism because it allows proponents of false or one-sided beliefs to locate others with similar views while at the same time avoiding interaction with competing perspectives. In Sunstein’s words, “The Internet produces a process of spontaneous creation of groups of like-minded types, fueling group polarization. People who would otherwise be loners, or isolated in their objections and concerns, congregate into social networks.” Sunstein acknowledges that this consequence of the Internet is unavoidable, but he says polarization can and should be mitigated by a combination of government action and voluntarily adopted norms. The objective, he says, should be to ensure that those who hold conspiracy theories “are exposed to credible counterarguments and are not living in an echo chamber of their own design”.
In their law review article, Sunstein and Vermeule expand this idea and propose covert government action reminiscent of the FBI’s efforts against the civil rights and antiwar movements in the 1960s. They consider a number of options for countering the influence of conspiracy theories, including public information campaigns, censorship, and fines for Internet service providers hosting conspiracy-theory websites. Ultimately rejecting those options as impractical because they would attract attention and reinforce antigovernment suspicions, they call for a program of “cognitive infiltration” in which groups and networks popularizing conspiracy theories would be infiltrated and “disrupted.”

A Flawed and Un-American Label

As these examples illustrate, conspiracy deniers assume that what qualifies as a conspiracy theory is self-evident. In their view, the phrase “conspiracy theory” as it is conventionally understood simply names this objectively identifiable phenomenon. Conspiracy theories are easy to spot because they posit secret plots that are too wacky to be taken seriously. Indeed, the theories are deemed so far-fetched they require no reply or rejoinder; they are objects of derision, not ideas for discussion. In short, while analyzing the psychological appeal of conspiracy beliefs and bemoaning their corrosive effects on public trust, conspiracy deniers have taken the conspiracy-theory concept itself for granted.
This is remarkable, not to say shocking, because the concept is both fundamentally flawed and in direct conflict with American legal and political traditions. As a label for irrational political suspicions about secret plots by powerful people, the concept is obviously defective because political conspiracies in high office do, in fact, happen. Officials in the Nixon administration did conspire to steal the 1972 presidential election. Officials in the Reagan White House did participate in a criminal scheme to sell arms to Iran and channel profits to the Contras, a rebel army in Nicaragua. The Bush-Cheney administration did collude to mislead Congress and the public about the strength of its evidence for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. If some conspiracy theories are true, then it is nonsensical to dismiss all unsubstantiated suspicions of elite intrigue as false by definition.
This fatal defect in the conspiracy-theory concept makes it all the more surprising that most scholars and journalists have failed to notice that their use of the term to ridicule suspicions of elite political criminality betrays the civic ethos inherited from the nation’s Founders. From the nation’s beginning, Americans were fearful of secret plots by political insiders to subvert constitutional governance. Those who now dismiss conspiracy theories as groundless paranoia have apparently forgotten that the United States was founded on a conspiracy theory. The Declaration of Independence claimed that “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” by King George proved the king was plotting to establish “an absolute tyranny over these states.” Today, most Americans are familiar only with the Declaration’s opening paragraphs about self-evident truths and inalienable rights, but if they were to read the rest of the document, they would see that it is devoted to detailing the abuses evincing the king’s tyrannical design. Among the complaints listed are onerous taxation, fomenting slave rebellions and Indian uprisings, taxation without representation, and indifference to the colonies’ complaints. The document’s signers claimed it was this “design to reduce them under absolute despotism,” not any or all of the abuses themselves, that gave them the right and the duty “to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
The Founders considered political power a corrupting influence that makes political conspiracies against the people’s interests and liberties almost inevitable. They repeatedly and explicitly called for popular vigilance against antidemocratic schemes in high office. Educated in classical political philosophy, they understood that one of the most important questions in Western political thought is how to prevent top leaders from abusing their powers to impose arbitrary rule, which the Founders referred to, appropriately, as “tyranny.” Whereas Great Britain relied on common law to define the powers and procedures of its government, the generation that established the American republic developed a written constitution to set clear limits on public officials. Nevertheless, they understood that all constitutions are vulnerable to subversion because ultimately they are interpreted and administered by public officials themselves. The Founders would view today’s norms against conspiratorial suspicion as not only arrogant, but also dangerous and un-American.
The Founders would also be shocked that conspiracy deniers attack and ridicule individuals who voice conspiracy beliefs and yet ignore institutional purveyors of conspiratorial ideas even though the latter are the ideas that have proven truly dangerous in modern American history. Since at least the end of World War II, the citadel of theories alleging nefarious political conspiracies has been, not amateur investigators of the Kennedy assassination and other political crimes and tragedies, but the United States government. In the first three decades of the post–World War II era, U.S. officials asserted that communists were conspiring to take over the world, that the U.S. bureaucracy was riddled with Soviet spies, and that the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s were creatures of Soviet influence. More recently, they have claimed that Iraq was complicit in 9/11, failed to dispose of its biological weapons, and attempted to purchase uranium in Niger so it could construct nuclear bombs. Although these ideas were untrue, they influenced millions of Americans, fomented social panic, fueled wars, and resulted in massive loss of life and destruction of property. If conspiracy deniers are so concerned about the dangers of conspiratorial suspicions in American politics and civic culture, why have they ignored the conspiracism of U.S. politicians?
Finally, there is something very hypocritical about those who want to fix people who do not share their opinions. Sunstein and Vermeule say conspiracy believers need to have their discussions disrupted, because they are dangerous. But what could be more dangerous than thinking it is acceptable to mess with someone else’s thoughts? Sunstein and Vermeule’s hypocrisy is breathtaking. They would have government conspiring against citizens who voice suspicions about government conspiracies, which is to say they would have government do precisely what they want citizens to stop saying the government does. How do Harvard law professors become snared in such Orwellian logic? One can only assume that there must be something bedeviling about the idea of conspiracy theory.

Naming the Taboo Topic

In what follows, I shall attempt to reorient analysis of the phenomenon that has been assigned the derisive label of “conspiracy theory.” In a 2006 peer-reviewed journal article, I introduced the concept of State Crime against Democracy (SCAD) to displace the term “conspiracy theory.” I say displace rather than replace because SCAD is not another name for conspiracy theory; it is a name for the type of wrongdoing about which the conspiracy-theory label discourages us from speaking. Basically, the term “conspiracy theory” is applied pejoratively to allegations of official wrongdoing that have not been substantiated by public officials themselves.
Deployed as a pejorative putdown, the label is a verbal defense mechanism used by political elites to suppress mass suspicions that inevitably arise when shocking political crimes benefit top leaders or play into their agendas, especially when those same officials are in control of agencies responsible for preventing the events in question or for investigating them after they have occurred. It is only natural to wonder about possible chicanery when a president and vice president bent on war in the Middle East are warned of impending terrorist attacks and yet fail to alert the American public or increase the readiness of the nation’s armed forces. Why would Americans not expect answers when Arabs with poor piloting skills manage to hijack four planes, fly them across the eastern United States, somehow evade America’s multilayered system of air defense, and then crash two of the planes into the Twin Towers in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, DC? By the same token, it is only natural to question the motives of the president and vice president when they drag their feet on investigating this seemingly inexplicable defense failure and then, when the investigation is finally conducted, they insist on testifying together, in secret, and not under oath. Certainly, citizen distrust can be unwarranted and overwrought, but often citizen doubts make sense. Americans are not crazy to want answers when a president is assassinated by a lone gunman with mediocre shooting skills who manages to get off several lucky shots with an old bolt-action carbine that has a misaligned scope. Why would there not be doubts when an alleged assassin is apprehended, publicly claims he is just a patsy, is interrogated for two days but no one makes a recording or even takes notes, and he is then shot to death at point-blank range while in police custody at police headquarters?
Of course, some suspicions go too far. The idea that lizard-like aliens from space are secretly infiltrating top positions in government and business is ludicrous. However, the conspiracy-theory label makes fun of conspiratorial suspicions in general. Consequently, the label discourages Americans from registering doubts about their leaders’ motives and actions regardless of the circumstances. Any suspicions that public officials conspired to cause a tragedy or allowed it to happen are dismissed without further discussion because, supposedly, public officials simply do not engage in conspiracies.
Communication scientists Ginna Husting and Martin Orr, both of whom are professors at Boise State University, have studied the use of the conspiracy-theory label as a putdown. At the beginning of a peer-reviewed 2007 article on the subject, they point out how the label works rhetorically:
If I call you a conspiracy theorist, it matters little whether you have actually claimed that a conspiracy exists or whether you have simply raised an issue that I would rather avoid . . . I twist the machinery of interaction so that you, not I, are now called to account. In fact, I have done even more. By labeling you, I strategically exclude you from the sphere where public speech, debate, and conflict occur.
Husting and Orr go on to explain that the accusation of conspiracy theory discredits any explanations offered for specific social or historical events “regardless of the quality or quantity of evidence.” The label has this discrediting, end-of-argument effect because conspiracy theories have come to be seen as mere suspicions with no basis in fact, not as reasonable inferences from circumstances and evidence about matters of great importance.
In contrast, the SCAD construct does not refer to a type of allegation or suspicion; it refers to a special type of transgression: an attack from within on the political system’s organizing principles. For these extremely grave crimes, America’s Founders used the term “high crime” and included in this category treason and “conspiracies against the people’s liberties.” SCADs, high crimes, and antidemocratic conspiracies can also be called “elite political crimes” and “elite political criminality.” The SCAD construct is intended, not to supersede traditional terminology or monopolize conceptualization of this phenomenon, but rather to add a descriptive term that captures, with some specificity, the long-recognized potential for representative democracy to be subverted by people on the inside—the very people who have been entrusted to uphold the constitutional order.
SCADs are defined as concerted actions or inactions by government insiders intended to manipulate democratic processes and undermine popular sovereignty.] Examples of SCADs that have been officially proven include the Watergate break-in and cover-up; the illegal arms sales and covert operations in Iran-Contra; and the effort to discredit Joseph Wilson by revealing his wife’s status as an intelligence agent.
Many other political crimes in which involvement by high officials is reasonably suspected have gone uninvestigated or have been investigated only superficially. They are included in SCAD studies even when the evidence of state complicity is contested, because excluding them would mean accepting the judgment of individuals and institutions whose rectitude and culpability are at issue. The nature of the subject matter is such that official inquiries, if they are conducted at all, are usually compromised by conflicts of interest. Hence the evidence must be evaluated independently on its merits, and decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis about which events are most likely elite political crimes. Of course, as Husting and Orr point out, engaging the evidence is precisely what the pejorative conspiracy-theory putdown is deployed rhetorically to avoid.
SCADs constitute a special type of political criminality. Unlike bribery, kickbacks, bid-rigging, and other, more mundane forms of political corruption, which tend to be isolated and to affect only pockets of government activity, SCADs have the potential to subvert political institutions and entire governments or branches of government. Committed at the highest levels of public office, they are crimes that threaten democracy itself. Clearly, such crimes and the circumstances that allow or encourage them warrant scientific study, both to better understand elite politics and to identify institutional vulnerabilities that can be corrected to make antidemocratic conspiracies less likely and less likely to succeed. Hence, one would have expected elite political crime, like white-collar crime, hate crime, and racketeering, to have been singled out for research and theorizing by social scientists long ago.
However, because powerful norms discourage Americans from questioning the integrity of their top leaders, and because anyone who raises such questions is likely to be seen as a “conspiracy theorist” who may be mentally unbalanced, the topic has been almost completely ignored by scholars. Social scientists have studied various forms of state crime, but in almost every case the potential for public officials in liberal democracies to subvert democratic institutions has been disregarded. Political science research on Watergate, Iran-Contra, and other U.S. political scandals has sidestepped questions about state criminality by studying the use of congressional investigations and independent prosecutors as political tactics in partisan competition.
Of course, a vast popular literature exists that presents a wide range of conspiracy theories of domestic assassinations and other high crimes, but the form of analysis employed, while careful and in many ways insightful, is not really scientific. Amateur investigators have uncovered important evidence overlooked by official inquiries, but, with only one or two exceptions, they have failed to investigate the general phenomenon of high criminality and instead have speculated about one suspicious incident at a time. There is a body of work on the assassination of President Kennedy, another on the events of 9/11, and still others on the 1980 October Surprise, the disputed 2000 presidential election, and the anthrax letter attacks. To be sure, we do learn a lot about each case; we learn a great deal, for example, about the assassination of President Kennedy and the assassination of Martin Luther King, but we learn next to nothing about assassinations in general, such as their typical targets, tactics, and timing, nor do we learn much about differences and similarities between assassinations and false-flag terrorism as political tactics. By the same token, since we learn little about the nature of elite political criminality in general, we gain little insight into the extent, nature, and role of elite crime and intrigue in American politics.

Perceptual Silos

The tendency to consider suspicious political events individually and in isolation rather than collectively and comparatively is not limited to the conspiracy-theory literature; it is built into the conspiracy-theory label and has become a pervasive predisposition in U.S. civic culture. For Americans, each assassination, each election breakdown, each defense failure, each war justified by “mistaken” claims is perceived as a unique event arising from its own special circumstances. While Americans in the present generation have personally witnessed many political crimes and tragedies, we see them as if through a fly’s eye, situating each event in a separate compartment of memories and context.
Even when obvious factors connect political crimes, the crimes are thought of as disparate and unrelated. For example, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy were brothers; both were rivals of Richard Nixon and were hated by Lyndon Johnson; their murders occurred less than five years apart; both were killed while campaigning for the office of president; and both appeared likely to win the upcoming presidential election. Without their murders, neither Nixon nor Johnson would probably have ever become president. Nevertheless, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy are seen as entirely unrelated; parallels, if they are recognized at all, are dismissed as coincidences. It is seldom considered that the Kennedy assassinations might have been serial murders.
In fact, in speaking about the murders, Americans rarely use the plural, Kennedy assassinations. In the lexicon, there is the Kennedy assassination (singular), which refers to the murder of President Kennedy, and there is the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Clearly, this quirk in the Kennedy assassination(s) lexicon reflects an unconscious effort by journalists, politicians, and millions of ordinary Americans to avoid thinking about the two assassinations together, despite the fact that the victims are connected in countless ways and that they also deserve better—they deserve to be remembered as brothers who stood for the same values and who were somehow struck down by forces still beyond our grasp. This clever feat of keeping the Kennedy assassinations singular and separate might be called linguistic “compartmentalization,” for, by avoiding the plural of “assassination,” we have unconsciously split and compartmentalized in our awareness significantly related events.
For another example, consider how we compartmentalize our perceptions of the disputed 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The election breakdowns are not widely suspected of being repeat offenses by the same network of political operatives employing the same tactics and resources, even though both elections were plagued by very similar problems, including inadequately equipped and staffed polling places in heavily Democratic areas, computer anomalies in the tabulation of county and state totals, highly partisan Republicans in charge of election administration, aggregate vote tabulations benefiting George W. Bush, and exit polls indicating that the other candidate had won rather than Bush. The two elections are seen as separate and without any forensically important parallels. No one called for statisticians to review both elections for similar problems or signs of election tampering. No one speaks of “the disputed Bush-Cheney elections,” or of “the back-to-back election disputes,” or even simply of the plural, “election breakdowns.”
A slightly different example of this phenomenon of compartmentalization is offered by contemporary perceptions of, on the one hand, the hijacked-airplane attacks on September 11, 2001, and on the other hand, the anthrax letter attacks that began a few weeks later. Today, 9/11 and the anthrax mailings are cognitively dissociated even though initially they were thought to be closely connected. It made sense to think they were connected because they shared many characteristics: they occurred closely together in time; both were acts of terrorism; both targeted private individuals as well as government officials; and both exploited essential services (commercial air travel and the postal service). In fact, for the first few months, the anthrax letter attacks were blamed on the terrorist group that was assumed to have carried out the hijacked-airplane attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Soon, however, the FBI investigation reached the conclusion that the anthrax came from a strain developed by the U.S. military at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland. This discovery should have caused investigators and the public to wonder if the events of 9/11 might likewise have been connected in some way to the U.S. military. Alarm bells should also have sounded when, shortly after the anthrax letter attacks were discovered, the FBI authorized the destruction of a rare collection of anthrax samples at Iowa State University. According to scientists, this made it much more difficult to trace the anthrax in the letters to domestic laboratories. However, rather than look for connections between the anthrax case, the 9/11 hijackings, and what appears to have been an effort to prevent the domestic origins of the anthrax from being discovered, everyone just dropped the anthrax attacks from consideration as a terrorist threat. Talk of duct tape ended. In effect, the anthrax letter attacks were quickly sealed off cognitively, and awareness of their domestic origins did not have to be reconciled with what Americans later learned about 9/11—about the warnings President Bush received in his daily briefing in August 2001; about the war games that were scheduled on 9/11, some of which included hijacked airplanes and interfered with the response to the real hijackings; about the expedited flights of Osama bin Laden’s relatives . . . The list could go on. The point is that the domestic origins of the anthrax became a side story, and yet, at the time the anthrax letters were being received and people were being infected, the anthrax attacks appeared to be an integral part of a war on America.
But once the anthrax was traced to Fort Detrick, the fear was relieved and the crime was mentally cordoned off. There were no calls for investigators to look for U.S. military personnel with multiple connections to air defense, war games, and germ warfare. There was never any effort to identify government officials who were involved in national defense policy and who owned or had recently purchased stock in pharmaceutical companies that manufactured medicines for preventing or treating anthrax infections. To the contrary, rather than look for people linking anthrax, 9/11, air defense, and biological weapons, the investigation was narrowed to lone microbiologists who were considered to be disgruntled, emotionally troubled, or opportunistic.

Causes and Consequences

It should be stressed that this way of thinking about elite political crimes—this very common tendency to view parallel crimes separately and to see them as disparate and unrelated—is exactly opposite the way crimes committed by regular people are treated. If a man marries a wealthy woman and she dies in a freak accident at home, people would be suspicious simply because she was wealthy and the accident was improbable. If this same man then marries another wealthy woman who dies in a freak accident at home, foul play would naturally be suspected, and the husband would be the leading suspect in the wives’ demise. If the husband had taken out a life insurance policy on either wife a few weeks or months prior to the accidents, it would be considered circumstantial evidence of foreknowledge. If police failed to recognize the obvious similarities in the wives’ deaths, they would be considered incompetent, negligent, or bought off.
It is routine police protocol to look for patterns in burglaries, bank robberies, car thefts, and other crimes, and to use any patterns that are discovered as clues to the perpetrators’ identity and the vulnerabilities to crime that are being exploited. This method of crime analysis is shown repeatedly in crime shows on TV. It is Criminology 101. There is no excuse for most Americans, much less criminal investigators, journalists, and other professionals, to fail to apply this method to assassinations, election fiascos, defense failures, and other suspicious events that shape national political priorities.
Why do we compartmentalize crimes involving political elites while doing just the opposite with the crimes of ordinary people? At least two factors discourage us from connecting the dots in elite political criminality. One is the term “conspiracy theory,” which is applied to crimes that have major political consequences but not to other crimes. The conspiracy-theory phrase encourages cognitive compartmentalization because the phrase is not meant to apply to interconnected crimes. In American public discourse, multiple crimes planned and committed by a single group are generally called “organized crime,” not conspiracies. The term “conspiracy” is reserved for plots surrounding one major criminal objective and for the networks that come together for that purpose. The Mafia is not a conspiracy; it is an organization. A conspiracy theory about the assassination of President Kennedy is implicitly a theory about a temporary combination of plotters, not an enduring assassination squad or lethal criminal organization. Therefore, even if we think the assassination of John Kennedy was a conspiracy, and we think the assassination of Robert Kennedy was a conspiracy, we are nevertheless unlikely to see the two as connected, because the conspiracy concept envisions them as isolated, self-contained schemes.
The second factor impeding us from drawing connections between political crimes involving political elites is that looking for connections requires being suspicious to begin with, and yet being suspicious of political elites violates norms that are embodied in the pejorative connotations of the conspiracy-theory label. As shown by our speech habits and observation tendencies about assassinations, disputed elections, and terrorist attacks, we are averse to talking about such events as connected in any way.
This aversion is learned. Americans know that voicing suspicions about political elites will make them objects of hostility and derision. The verbal slaps vary, but they are difficult to counter because they usually abuse reason. For example, in using the conspiracy-theory label as a putdown, conspiracy deniers imply that official accounts of troubling events are something altogether much more solid than conspiratorial suspicions—as if official accounts are in some sense without speculation or presuppositions. In fact, however, conspiracy deniers and debunkers are relying on an unstated theory of their own—a very questionable theory. In the post-WWII era, official investigations have attributed assassinations, election fiascos, defense failures, and other suspicious events to such unpredictable, idiosyncratic forces as lone gunmen, antiquated voting equipment, bureaucratic bumbling, innocent mistakes, and, in the case of 9/11 (to quote the 9/11 Commission, p. 339), a “failure of imagination.” In effect, official accounts of suspicious events have answered conspiracy theories with coincidence theories.
Far from being more factual and plausible than theories positing political crimes and intrigues, coincidence theories become less and less plausible as coincidences pile up, which they have been doing for decades in the U.S. It is like flipping a coin ten times and it always falls on heads. In general, as SCADs and suspected SCADs pile up, the odds of coincidence drop rapidly. The Bush-Cheney ticket winning in one or two states despite exit polls indicating they had lost could have been the result of random variations in exit poll samples. When the same thing happens in state after state; when the difference between exit polls and election returns almost always favors the same candidates, the odds of this being by chance alone are astronomically low. This does not necessarily mean the elections were stolen, but it does mean something caused the election returns to differ from how voters said they voted.

The CIA’s Conspiracy-Theory Conspiracy

If political conspiracies in high office do, in fact, happen; if it is therefore unreasonable to assume conspiracy theories are, by definition, harebrained and paranoid; if the Declaration of Independence is a conspiracy theory; if the United States was founded on a conspiracy theory that alleged King George was plotting to take away the colonists’ rights; if the conspiracy-theory label makes it difficult to see connections between political crimes that, in fact, may be connected; if, because it ridicules suspicion, the conspiracy-theory label is inconsistent with the traditional American ethos of vigilance against conspiracies in high office; if, in summary, the conspiracy-theory label blinkers perceptions, silos thinking, and is un-American and unreasonable, how did the label come to be used so widely to begin with?
Most Americans will be shocked to learn that the conspiracy-theory label was popularized as a pejorative term by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in a propaganda program initiated in 1967. This program was directed at criticisms of the Warren Commission’s report. The propaganda campaign called on media corporations and journalists to criticize “conspiracy theorists” and raise questions about their motives and judgments. The CIA told its contacts that “parts of the conspiracy talk appear to be deliberately generated by Communist propagandists.” In the shadows of McCarthyism and the Cold War, this warning about communist influence was delivered simultaneously to hundreds of well-positioned members of the press in a global CIA propaganda network, infusing the conspiracy-theory label with powerfully negative associations.


newest oldest most voted
Notify of
galien8
Reader

Reblogged this on satoconor and commented:
Nice the term SCAD! I’m a conspiracy myself, I mean there is a conspiracy around me, against me, the darkness around me, read my blogs

Seamus Padraig
Reader
Seamus Padraig

One minor error:
“For example, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy were brothers; both were rivals of Richard Nixon and were hated by Lyndon Johnson; their murders occurred less than five years apart; both were killed while campaigning for the office of president …”
Actually, JFK already was president when he was killed. It was Bobby who was assassinated while campaign for the office.

John
Reader
John

JFK was killed while campaigning for re-election as President, while his brother was killed while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for election as President.
In both cases, just who the real killer was – or killers were – has never been fully established.

flybow
Reader
flybow
Chris Owen
Reader

One interesting phenomenon is that people often and very unfairly ‘pool’ you into a conspiracy theory group because you question the accuracy of some fact. You must either believe that the Americans went to the moon or you don’t. I am convinced that many of the pictures and videos of the moon landings have been faked (and I came to this conclusion myself without any internet input). But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the Americans went to the moon. There are many reasons why the US would fake the pictures. This all or nothing assumption is really quite wrong.… Read more »

binra
Reader

Good point. The way our mind is being ‘entrained’ is a binary exclusion zone of “Either/Or”. There are logical situations where this is applicable but Mind of an embracing and discerning awareness is not a fight/flight subconscious routine and dysfunctions to become negatively polarised when ‘fitting’ itself into such an ‘identity trap’. As Mark Twain just ‘said’ to me via one of the speakers while watching a video on Syrian peace initiatives “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain. In other words an… Read more »

mog
Reader
mog

I read Lance de Haven’s book some years back. It is good work, although I think much more could be written about the philosophical underpinings of the ‘Conspiracy theory’ label. I do want to echo and add to the comment by ‘dechutes’ here. What I found most desturbing about studying the evidence around 911 was the sense of being ‘in the wilderness’ -that I had to endure baseless condemnation by intellectuals that I otherwise generally respected. So many apparently honest and critical writers and thinkers have derided or simply ignored the investigatory efforts of Griffin, Thompson,Peter Dale Scott, Hopsicker, Ryan,… Read more »

John
Reader
John

As always, it is necessary to ask “Cui bono” or “Who benefits” from any such coverups? As far as I can see, there is only one country that has benefited from all these events. That country is Israel. 911 followed comments at West Point by Wolfowitz about the US needing a “Pearl Harbour” moment. A group of high-fiving Mossad agents were seen videoing the planes striking the WTC buildings. They were apprehended before possibly destroying the George Washington Bridge. However – as in the case of the USS Liberty – No Israeli ever faced justice. Their “employer” flew to Tel… Read more »

Seamus Padraig
Reader
Seamus Padraig

Here’s more on the Israel-911 theory: https://wikispooks.com/wiki/9-11/Israel_did_it
A very convincing case, all in all.

chrisb
Reader
chrisb

Get your anti-semitism under control. Plenty of non-Jewish people have made money out of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and their occupation.

John
Reader
John

You are confusing Jews with Israel.
Far more Jews choose not to live in Israel than choose to live there.
Only around half the residents of Occupied Palestine are Jews.
The remainder are Christians, Muslims, Druze and Secularists.
My concern is not about Jews but the inhuman practices of the rabble ruling in Tel Aviv.
So-called antisemitism has nothing to do with it.
Arabs and some Africans are also Semites.
Got it?

DavidKNZ
Reader

Colin Powell : Criticism of the state of Israel is not anti-Semitism.

headrush69
Reader

I didn’t detect any antisemitism there. Israel is not Judaism, it is a political and geographic state. Not every Israeli is a jew. Don’t go all guardian on us!

deschutes
Reader
deschutes

Great article. It is surprising how many famous journalists refuse to look at 9-11 and question the official story. Chomsky, Hedges, or even journalist Robert Parry of Consortium News website are such journalists. At Consortium News, Mr. Parry goes so far as to automatically delete any comments under articles–on 9-11 mind you–which question the official 9-11 commission narrative. When I emailed him about this, he glibly snarked back that he had zero tolerance for conspiracy theories about thermite, aliens hijacking planes, explosives planted in the towers, etc. and such conspiracy nonsense would never be tolerated at his website. So you… Read more »

tutisicecream
Reader

If someone’s not done it already I heartily recommend Greg Maybury’s three part exposition on this subject as further reading. It’s a mine of useful links for further research and understanding. Go to: http://poxamerikana.com/?s=conspiracy+theory
I rather like his tongue-in-cheek alternative phrase for conspiracy theorist ‘counter-subversive hypothetician’. Which I’m sure is intended to piss on the PC merchant debunkers bonfire…

archie1954
Reader

I read this article and I cringe because I know that the American public are too stupid to understand how they have been bamboozled. You see the truth laid out for you and you are still too foolish to understand what it means. What in Heaven’s name to you need to lead you to the truth? I;m sorry but Americans deserve to be lied to because they are too dense t even contemplate the truth!

binra
Reader

Perhaps now you understand how it is that people can treat other human beings with callous disregard for their lives – because they are ‘unworthy’. I see that awakening ‘others’ is a ruse by which a partial understanding is frozen and blocked from full acceptance. If your awakening to a true sense of worth doesn’t reach or seed in others a like reaction – move on to where you find a more resonant reception – as well as ensuring you are not preaching different from what you practice. Accepting others where they are at is not possible without a like… Read more »

tubularsock
Reader

Tubularsock likes to make it simple ……. “. . . it’s not a theory when it’s true.”

Schlüter
Reader

Possibly there´s already another conspiracy on the way! Things to Possibly Come Preface: At present my WordPress Blog WiPoKuLi is defect and I´m not able to post new articles. Thus I take this way to publish my analysis about possible developments. USA: New „Business Plot“ under way? The real US Power Elite might count just 100 People. It is made up of the super rich, the „Military Industrial Complex“ (of which already Eisenhower warned) and the most influential heads of the „Intelligence“ community and the military. Since Kennedy´s assassination no US President ever dared to go massively against the will of that… Read more »

DavidKNZ
Reader

Great article, and very timely. For a specific critique of Cas Sunstein (husband of Samatha Power) read ” COGNITIVE INFILTRATION ” by David Ray Griffin. He provides a truly adequate and specific response to Sunstein’s deeply-flawed and legally-questionable arguments. Griffin deconstructs the obfuscation and puedo scholarship employed by Sunstein to create the illusion of a rational critique of the 9/11 truth movement’s alternative account of the events of September 11, 2001. Griffin presents the ten theses put forward by Sunstein, and shows that each is fundamentally flawed. Further, he demonstrates that Sunstein is unable to avoid numerous self-contradictions, either explicit… Read more »

Norman Pilon
Reader

To yours, David, an additional, corroborating and reasonably brief review of Griffin’s book by Kurtis Hagen , who claims to have been the author of “… the first substantial academic rebuttal to Sunstein’s article[,]” the draft of which “. . . sparked the Internet buzz that appears to have first alerted Griffin to the issue[:]” http://philosophy.cah.ucf.edu/fpr/files/11_1/hagen.pdf I’ll have to read the book although it won’t be the first that I will have read authored by Griffin and on 9/11. So many thanks for the mention. As for the excerpt from deHaven-Smith’s book, I liked this relevant bit : “Sunstein and… Read more »

DavidKNZ
Reader

Thanks for the Hagen reference – I’d not seen it before. Its quite heartening to see academics writing what must be career jeopardising articles in support of the truth. I found my way to Sunstein by watching the demented diatribes dished out at the UN by his wife Samatha Powers – ( and seeing her standover tactics on the ever mild Antoly Churkin. ) I’ve a background in science, so for me the laws of physics win. But it does leave me with work in progress – that the alternative must involve deliberate malevolence arising from who knows where

binra
Reader

I see 9/11 as having different levels – one of which being a terrorism of the mind. A declaration of power that intends to dictate the narrative without more than pretence to masking in ‘truth’. Perhaps indeed a declaration of the ‘post-truth’ politics – where the power to control the narrative no longer needs or is no longer able – to mask itself in justifications of appeal to a free allegiance. If you want your ‘reality’ or mind to not break – you have to deny what you know and what you are – to allow that – for example… Read more »

DavidKNZ
Reader

You wouldn’t have been an evangelist in an earlier lifetime, by any chance?? 🙂

binra
Reader

For all I know past or future lives could include a psychopath – I mean – what is the relation between different focuses within an Timeless OverSoul? A network of a complex and diverse range of qualities -particular to an overarching theme of which each part is an integral exploration. What is it to embrace Humanity? I don’t know that evangelism is for me as I have no sense of converting anyone to do or be what they are not already in the doing and being of. But if it is simply a witnessing from which others can take (or… Read more »

John
Reader
John

There was one US President who warned us of a gigantic conspiracy and still lived afterwards.
I am referring, of course, to Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex.
What probably saved him was the fact that he was not standing for re-election as President.
His warning may also have been muted because of his own behaviour at the end of World War Two.

John
Reader
John

I think one of the reasons the label conspiracy theorist has been so successful in camouflaging real political crimes is because those who claim that organised political crime has taken place just have not done the work of fully investigating what happened and who did it. I lived in the US for several years but in those days I was not as aware as I am today as to what was questionable about – for example – the deaths of President Kennedy and his brother Robert. Since then, I have become aware of the culvert killer in Dallas, Texas. He… Read more »

James Carless
Reader
James Carless

I would encourage any reader that hasn’t already done so,to look at the overwhelming documented evidence available that disproves every single bit of the official versions of events on 9/11,the Kennedy assassinations (all 3 of them including Robert Kennedy jnr ).The case of MLK was taken to court by his family and a conspiracy was proven – yet no follow up investigation. ” It all happened a long time ago”,”We will never know for sure, so why open old wounds which will be painful to the victim’s families ?”,”We can’t change things ,we can’t do anything about it,why bother?” These… Read more »

binra
Reader

Deceit based power operates a power to corrupt, adulterate, infiltrate, subvert, and usurp truth. As such it operates a parasitic dependency on the host that is induced to feed it with sacrificial offerings of its own Life – in belief it thereby gains power, privilege or protection. But all operates to make sick and lay waste, while assigning such effects to falsely flagged symptoms intended to divert from true cause. Using up Life to feed a separate self sense is a conspiracy to maintain darkness into which truth cannot enter – but is usurped by a mind-controlling narrative. The extreme… Read more »

DavidKNZ
Reader

A very thoughtful article, pointing to the ultimate conspiracy theory: This world is all there is; there’s nothing here but us molecules. A road down which most choose not to travel 🙂

binra
Reader

When you say ‘this world’ you are really saying ‘these beliefs’. You can believe that ‘such a set of beliefs is ‘all there is’ and act as if that were true. You cannot make it true. But you can experience it as true for you. Yet you can challenge and question such ‘reality’ – except that while you believe it is reality – you will believe you know and so will not even think to ask. Believing we know sets our world in the terms of a past conditioning. Mind control is not really the work of an other but… Read more »

Boo Radley
Reader
Boo Radley

“U.S. officials asserted that communists were conspiring to take over the world, that the U.S. bureaucracy was riddled with Soviet spies, and that the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s were creatures of Soviet influence. More recently, they have claimed that Iraq was complicit in 9/11, failed to dispose of its biological weapons, and attempted to purchase uranium in Niger so it could construct nuclear bombs. Although these ideas were untrue, they influenced millions of Americans, fomented social panic, fueled wars, and resulted in massive loss of life and destruction of property.” Lumping these two ideas together is… Read more »

binra
Reader

Opposing and seemingly conflicting or competing ‘identities’ invite – and are used as a scam where a hidden agenda operates unnoticed. The ‘corporate-financial’ element of power in the world operates cartels of power via narratives in which identities are set up to be diverted and directed so as to give power to the hidden agenda. Thus we are deceived in aligning with false promise or entrapped in entanglement of falsity open to exposure and etc and etc. The ‘faces’ or identifications of power over others are various – but is there any division in the power agenda as the consolidation… Read more »

Husq
Reader
Husq

Vincent Bugliosi says people who doubt the Warren Commission report are “as kooky as a three dollar bill in their beliefs and paranoia.”<

Nordhausen – Epitome of the Big Lie :

headrush69
Reader

I think the use of the term “theory” is inaccurate. Strictly speaking, a theory is a collected body of work that has been tested and found to be true, as far as practically possible. In such a case, details are interlinked so that proving one aspect false would invalidate the theory. A hypothesis however, is more of a tentative “what if” thought experiment which does not require every detail to be completely accurate. In this way, the wider pattern can be deduced on a balance of probability. Hypotheses are subject to iteration as more solid facts come to be available… Read more »

leruscino
Reader

Some people still think the World is flat or that Hillary Clinton knows how to tell the truth & spell her name !

paulcarline
Reader

Professor de Haven Smith’s ‘SCADs’ invention is a potentially useful tool for countering unthinking “conspiracy theorist” labels. However, Lance de Haven Smith’s own conclusions about the events of 9/11 are extremely disappointing, as he clearly supports the untenable ‘LIHOP’ (Let It Happen On Purpose) version i.e. basically the official story of 19 alleged hijackers and four planes etc., with the exception only that the US government knew in advance that it was going to happen, ignored warnings … and “let it happen”. This is a popular view with people of the Left, because it allows them to believe that 9/11… Read more »