After inundating you with pictures of cute animals, I promised you some serious journalism. When have I ever lied to you? Colorado writer Jeff Danelek wrote this piece, which is a super good read.
While it’s hard to imagine, there are people out there who don’t believe their own government is telling the truth, or that history is giving us the straight story, or that Santa Claus is real. In fact, they assume there are “forces” out there—dark, mysterious, dangerous forces—lurking at the periphery of our awareness that have been responsible for everything from World War One to 9/11. Of course, there really are conspiracies afoot and have been since man first walked out of the jungles to try his—and her—hand at civilization. For example, Lincoln’s assassination really was part of a conspiracy, as was the plan to convince the Nazis the allies intended to land at Calais rather than Normandy in June of 1944, but that’s not the kind we’re talking about here. Those are known conspiracies; what we’re talking about are the ones that have been carefully suppressed by various nefarious government agencies, the military, major corporations—or whomever—all in an effort to maintain control and reshape the planet according to some dark and secret agenda. While some might call this paranoia run amuck, others might consider it simply being diligent. So, in the spirit of disclosure, here is my top ten list of the most popular or widely believed conspiracy theories in history. (Of course, if I’ve left off your favorite, I doubt if it was an accident.)
10. Free Energy
Similar to the suppressed technologies conspiracy is the free energy conspiracy, which believes that either the government or private industry has long ago developed “zero energy” technologies that would give us inexhaustible supplies of cheap or even free energy but is suppressing the technologies out of fear of hurting the oil industry. In some cases, it is the oil industry that is suppressing the technology; in others, it’s the government—under pressure from big oil lobbyists and other corporate concerns—doing the suppressing. In either case, the results are the same: no free energy for us poor consumers. Of course, the fact that such technologies remain largely hypothetical and beyond our current ability to build them even if they weren’t doesn’t dissuade the true conspiracist, who has tremendous faith in our technological acumen and in our ability to keep such knowledge suppressed for decades at a time.
9. Suppressed Technologies
Clearly the big oil companies, or the government, or some other nefarious private interest, would not want to see their profits drop as a result of new technologies being introduced to the public; hence the need to suppress these new technologies as soon as they appear—either legally (by purchasing the rights to the technology and then shelving it) or illegally (by destroying the technology or even killing its inventor before he can patent it). The story of some backyard mechanic coming up with a carburetor that can get 100 MPG and being bought out before he can mass produce it or some lab working on a battery capable of propelling a car 400 miles off a single charge before having its funding cut are legion and, to date, unproven. The problem lies especially with the logic; if someone did invent a carburetor capable of 100 MPG, it would generate hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue, making anyone who had the rights to it—especially an oil company—foolish not to mass produce it. The demand for oil might drop, but that would be easily offset by having the monopoly on the “wonder carburetor”, allowing big oil to play off both sides of the pump, so to speak. Fortunately, it’s easier to label any big corporation a villain and simply assume they do wicked things like that than it is to do some research…or think about it for a minute.
While this particular conspiracy has lost considerable thrust since its inception in the 1950s, during its heyday it was all the rage as far as conspiracy buffs were concerned. It seems the government’s plan to introduce fluoride into the water supply in an effort to reduce tooth decay was thought by some to be an attempt by the Communists (or the New World Order, or the Illuminati, or somebody else) to take over the world through mind control. Some believed fluoridation made people submissive or even schizophrenic, making conquest a piece of cake. The fact that the plan was not only endorsed by every major health and dental organization in the country and proved in the long run to substantially reduce the amount of tooth decay had little impact on these doomsayers, who were sure George Orwell’s vision of the future illustrated in his ground breaking novel 1984 (released just a few years before all the fuss began) would be the inevitable end result. This same mindset, by the way, is seen in some circles today among those who suspect that irradiating poultry—a simple and inexpensive way to kill bacteria—is also an attempt to give Americans cancer as a means of reducing the surplus population.
7. Faked Moon Landings
The idea that mankind had the know-how and technology to send astronauts to the surface of the moon and return them safely home forty years ago is too much for some people to accept, resulting in a plethora of theories about how the entire Apollo 11 moon landing (and the subsequent five additional landings made over the next five years) had all been cleverly faked. Pointing out such apparent discrepancies such as what appeared to be an American flag blowing in the “wind” and some questions about what direction shadows cast by the sun should appear caused many pseudo-scientifically-minded observers, (and possibly buoyed by the goofy but well-done 1977 movie Capricorn One, a movie that demonstrated how a mission to Mars was faked in a Hollywood stage) quickly decided it was all an elaborate hoax. (Unfortunately, they don’t explain how the government pulled this off no fewer than six times and how it has been so successfully suppressed all these years, but such are mere details.) Of course, all the “evidences” for the landings having been hoaxed have since been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked (the T.V. show Mythbusters doing one of the best jobs), but that doesn’t dissuade the more hard-core adherents of the idea, many of whom continue to hold to their beliefs long after the lights have been turned out. What’s always struck me as curious about the theory is how the government can be smart enough to get thousands of people to partake in such a ruse without a single slip-up but aren’t smart enough to actually fly to the moon.
6. Jewish World Domination
Ever since some civil servant in Russia released a document called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (see my 10 greatest hoaxes list) in 1905, much of the world has been convinced that wealthy Jewish bankers have been involved in a plot to take over the world, largely through manipulating the currencies of the world’s great powers. Of course, anti-Semitism has been around since Moses first parted the Red Sea, but this bogus paper gave fresh ammunition to the strong anti-Semitic currents already running through Europe and served as a rallying cry for some guy named Adolf Hitler, who, like most dull-witted Nazis, believed the document without question (largely because it simply reinforced what they had already been conditioned to believe). It was even required reading for German students in the thirties and forties and was the fuel that fed the ovens at Auschwitz. Though the paper was thoroughly debunked by a British reporter in 1921, it remains popular in many Middle East countries today, where it is still believed by a majority of the population (possibly because it reinforces what they have already been conditioned to believe from childhood—just like the Nazis).
5. (Tie) Oklahoma City Bombing
Okay, so this really was a conspiracy (largely between a couple of right wing nut jobs who both got caught with days), but what conspiracists maintain is that McVeigh and Nichols were part of a larger government conspiracy designed to…well, I’m not sure what the goal was, other than to blow up a federal building and kill 168 people. No evidence, of course. Just a lot of conspiracy theorists chewing up the airwaves with their far-fetched ideas, all designed to make them look even kookier than they already were. Most likely this was a case in which the government proved to be so competent in catching these two clowns that no one could believe they weren’t in on it in some capacity. What they forget is that terrorists—homegrown and otherwise—often make mistakes, leave paper trails, talk too much, or are otherwise incompetent, and that sometimes the government just gets lucky. McVeigh found this out the hard way when he was executed in 2001 while Nichols will have the rest of his life behind bars to think it over.
5. (Tie) TWA Flight 800
In one of the worst air disasters in American aviation history, on July 17, 1996 a Paris-bound Boeing 747 was seen to explode in mid-air over the Atlantic just south of Long Island minutes after taking off from JFK Airport, killing all 230 on board. While the cause of the explosion was initially unknown, some witnesses maintained they spotted a missile contrail arch up from the sea and strike the airliner, blowing it in two, suggesting either a terrorist attack or an accidental missile launch had taken place. While such was immediately dismissed by the government and the military (naturally) as impossible, the conspiracy that the plane was brought down by a missile grew over the following months, urged on by such noted personalities as journalist Pierre Salinger and a phalanx of other independent investigators, all producing evidence that the plane had been brought down by a missile (or, in one case, two missiles), the resultant cover-up being an attempt not to panic the flying public. Adding to the problem was the fact that it took the NTSB a full four years to publish its findings that concluded the aircraft broke apart when fumes from a nearly empty central fuel tank was ignited by an electrical short in the wiring, blowing the front of the plane off and dooming everyone left in the out of control main section as it plummeted into the sea. (This was determined after painstakingly reconstructing the aircraft from the mountains of debris that had been recovered from the seafloor.) To this day, however, there are those who refuse to accept the report and continue to insist the plane was shot down by either a water-borne terrorist or by an accidental firing of a Navy missile.
4. Roswell and Reverse Engineering
The idea that a flying saucer crashed into the New Mexico desert in 1947 and was recovered—along with the bodies of its dead crew—by the U.S. military is one that is never going to go away. Why? Because it put Roswell, New Mexico on the map (as the nation’s UFO capital) and is one of the most lucrative conspiracies ever perpetrated, making entire careers for many a ufologist out there. But even more than the original contention that the government has an alien disk and the bodies of little green men (or, in this case, gray men) on ice somewhere pales in comparison that the belief that the government has subsequently “reverse engineered” much of the technology found in the crashed disk, successfully integrating it into our own technology and kicking off our modern techno-revolution. Never mind that each of the inventions that have been supposedly gleaned from our alien visitors (everything from the microchip to fiber optics to night vision) have documented histories of how and when they were developed, nor pay attention to the fact that the government admitted the crash “disk” was actually a top secret research balloon (Project Mogul), or that the chances of keeping all of this under wraps for over seventy years would be a gargantuan task. All that matters is that you believe. Unfortunately, those who maintain their beliefs are intractable and insistent that it is for others to disprove their theory rather than that they prove theirs. Of course, it is impossible to prove a negative, which is why Roswell and the entire reverse engineered conspiracy will probably never go away.
3. Pearl Harbor
This was probably the first real anti-government conspiracy theory, though it didn’t became big until many years after the war ended. In essence, the theory assumes that President Roosevelt, who was looking for a way to get the United States to enter World War Two in an effort to save England from Nazi domination, knew about Japan’s plan to attack the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941 but suppressed the information—even from his own senior military commanders—in an effort to so outrage the American people that he could easily persuade Congress to vote for war. The problem with the theory is two-fold; first, there is no evidence allied intelligence agencies, despite the fact that they were reading top secret Japanese diplomatic traffic for weeks prior to the attack, knew the Japanese planned to attack Hawaii. Many may have suspected an attack somewhere was imminent (most imagined the Philippines) but, like 9/11, no one managed to connect all the dots. But even more important was the fact that FDR didn’t need the attack to be successful to get his declaration of war; it merely needed to happen. Even had it failed miserably—with massive Japanese losses and little damage to American forces—it would have still been enough to declare war. Additionally, it doesn’t make sense that Roosevelt would want to enter the war with his Pacific fleet in disarray—a prospect that could have been largely avoided had the alarm been sounded an hour before the first bombs fell. And, finally, proponents of the theory fail to realize that the attack didn’t bring America into a state of war with Germany as intended, but against Japan only. It was Hitler’s ill-advised decision to declare war on the United States two days later that brought us into the war in Europe.
Perhaps one of the most insidious conspiracy beliefs is the one that maintains the government was behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and left over 3,000 people dead. Of course, the theory is as complex and as sophisticated as possible, with everything from pre-placed explosive charges being used to bring down the twin towers to remote controlled jetliners being flown into the buildings, all designed to give President George Bush a pretext to invade Iraq (or seize dictatorial power, or outlaw contraception or something like that.) Unfortunately, not one single element of the theory—from a controlled implosion to the invasion of Iraq (which didn’t happen until some seventeen months later)—hold water, but such is not necessary for those committed to believing even the most unlikely scenarios in the quest to make sense of their vision of reality. Even putting aside the complete lack of empirical evidence or solid science to support any single aspect of the conspiracy, the biggest question has to do with the lack of payoff as Bush didn’t assume Hitleresque powers as a result of the attack, thereby ushering in a new dark ages as some feared, thereby bringing in question the entire rationale for such a risky and evil act. The problem comes, I think, not from an evil government, but from the bewildering imagination of people who can comfortably remain living in a country they are convinced killed 3,000 of its own citizens.
1. The JFK Assassination
The belief that President John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas in 1963 was orchestrated by everyone from the CIA to organized crime to Fidel Castro is probably the most famous and widely believed conspiracy theory of all time, with something like 70% of respondents convinced that the President’s death was part of a larger plan or even a government or mafia “hit” rather than the work of a single, crazed—if highly successful—fruitcake. Even though the assassination has been studied from every conceivable angle for nearly fifty years without a shred of evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald—a Marxist sympathizer and former Marine Corps marksman who dreamed of making a name for himself by taking pot shots at political figures (this is the same guy, after all, who took a shot at right wing conservative General Edwin Walker in April of 1963)—had any help at all in carrying out his dastardly deed. I know, dozens of people have come forward over the years claiming to know “somebody” who “heard” that some Mafioso ordered the hit (or confessed to having done so on his deathbed) or that there were high placed elements within the government responsible for the assassination, but none of these suspects have ever panned out. Despite this, however, the belief that he had help, or that he was set up, or that he was from Mars, continues unabated to this day. (Of course, the fact that Oswald himself was the victim of another fruitcake a few days later hardly helps matters.) The reason for this is not that there is a wealth of evidence to support to conspiracist’s case is available (it isn’t); it’s probably a result of the fact that most people are unable to accept that such a horrendous crime could really be carried out by a single nut job with a mail-order rifle who happened to be at the right place at the right time. It’s as simple as that.
Other Well Known Conspiracies: Chemtrails (the idea that the government is putting dangerous chemicals in the atmosphere for some nefarious reason); The Hollow Earth/Flat Earth Theory (doesn’t one contradict the other?); Elvis is Alive (not really); AIDS as an Invented Illness (there’s that nasty government again trying to come up with ways to depopulate the Earth by introducing a designer disease into the gay and poor communities); Freemasons/Illuminati/New World Order/Trilateral Commission/Boyscouts (there’s always someone trying to take over the world, it seems); and Scientology (the one organization that managed to scare the I.R.S.)
Jeff Danelek is a Denver, Colorado author who writes on many subjects having to do with history, politics, the paranormal, spirituality and religion. To see more of his stuff, visit his website at www.ourcuriousworld.com.