A secret plan made by two or more people to do something that is harmful or illegal. ‘Conspiracy Theory in America‘ by political scientist Lance deHaven-Smith, explains that the term “conspiracy theory” entered the American lexicon of political speech to deflect criticism of the Warren Commission and traces it back to a CIA propaganda campaign to discredit doubters of the commission’s report. CIA Document 1035-960 was released in response to a 1976 FOIA request by the New York Times. “The CIA’s campaign to popularize the term ‘conspiracy theory’ and make conspiracy belief a target of ridicule and hostility must be credited, unfortunately, with being one of the most successful propaganda initiatives of all time.” In other words, people who use the terms “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” as an insult are doing so as the result of a well-documented, undisputed, historically-real conspiracy by the CIA to cover up the JFK assassination.
That campaign, by the way, was completely illegal, and the CIA officers involved were criminals; the CIA is barred from all domestic activities, yet routinely breaks the law to conduct domestic operations ranging from propaganda to assassinations. DeHaven-Smith traces the pejorative use of the term back to a CIA memorandum in 1967 that covertly was presented to the media and political figures. Thereafter, particularly after the 9/11 attacks, the mere application of the term would in effect belittle, if not ridicule, any argument being put forth that questioned the official story. The author reminds the reader that the idea of suspecting conspiracies in high places was not at all foreign to those who fought in the Revolutionary War and to those who drafted the Constitution. In fact, he stresses, the US Constitution was designed with the expectation that public officials are likely to conspire to abuse their powers and thereby undermine popular control of government. Many if not most colonists brought with them to the new world a deep fear of official conspiracies, treason and constitutional corruption.
DeHaven-Smith also explains why those who doubt official explanations of high crimes are eager to discuss historical context. He points out that a very large number of conspiracy claims have turned out to be true, and that there appear to be strong relationships between many as-yet-unsolved “state crimes against democracy.” An obvious example is the link between the JFK and RFK assassinations, which both paved the way for presidencies that continued the Vietnam War. According to DeHaven-Smith, we should always discuss the “Kennedy assassinations” in the plural, because the two killings appear to have been aspects of the same larger crime.
Many American journalists appear to be locked into a peculiar way of thinking that makes them blind to signs of political criminality in high office. This mindset is characterized by an apparent inability to differentiate groundless accusations of elite political intrigue from legitimate concerns about the integrity of U.S. political leaders and institutions. For some reason, when it comes to popular suspicions of schemes involving the nation’s political elites, many journalists in the United State make no distinctions. They categorize all such suspicions as “conspiracy theories,” which they assume are not only untrue, but wacky and paranoid.
This is one of a number of cognitive distortions associated with the term “conspiracy theory” that I analyze in my new book, Conspiracy Theory in America. The book will be published on April 15 of this year by the University of Texas Press in a book series edited by Mark Crispin Miller. Conspiracy Theory in America explains that the conspiracy-theory label was popularized as a pejorative putdown by the CIA in a global propaganda program to attack critics of the Warren Commission’s conclusion that President Kennedy was assassinated by a lone gunman with no government foreknowledge or assistance. The CIA campaign called on foreign media corporations and journalists to criticize “conspiracy theorists” and raise questions about their motives and judgments. Any and all criticisms of the lone-gunman account of the assassination were lumped together as “conspiracy theories,” declared groundless and pernicious, and attributed to ulterior motives and the influence of communist propagandists.
Today, the conspiracy-theory label is widely used as a verbal defense mechanism by U.S. political elites to suppress mass suspicions that inevitably arise whenever 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 be suspicious 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 they are told that Arabs with poor piloting skills managed 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.
Indiscriminate condemnation of conspiracy beliefs is obviously misguided, because political conspiracies in high circles do, in fact, happen. Everyone knows that officials in the Nixon administration conspired to steal the 1972 presidential election, that the Reagan White House engaged in a criminal scheme to sell arms to Iran and channel profits to the Contras (a rebel army in Nicaragua), and that the Bush-Cheney administration colluded 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.
And yet this is precisely how many American journalists proceed. Consider the public statements last year by Chuck Todd about the improbability of voting machines ever being rigged in U.S. elections. Todd is an NBC News reporter and analyst. According to Andrew Kreig at OpEdNews.com, Todd told a national meeting of state election officials that suspicions about voting machines being manipulated in the United States “stretched the bounds of reality.” Todd delivered a similar message in a tweet shortly before the 2012 presidential election, when he wrote, “The voting machine conspiracies belong in same category as the Trump birther garbage.”
In his tweet, Todd displays the hallmark symptom of conspiracy denial: he sees no difference between two very different suspicions. One involves schemes to steal elections by tampering with voting equipment, while the other is about President Obama’s status as a natural born citizen. These suspicions differ greatly in terms of their plausibility and evidentiary support. Doubts about President Obama’s eligibility for the presidency have been refuted by documents showing he was born in Hawaii. In contrast, there are a number of reasons to think that weaknesses in electronic voting machines and tabulators might be exploited to alter election outcomes, especially in presidential elections where the powers of the office and the money and energy invested in campaigns make the stakes so enormously high.
As an elections analyst for a national TV network, Todd surely knows that electronic voting and tabulation systems are quite vulnerable to being hacked. This was demonstrated in 2006 on electronic touch-screen voting machines by researchers at Princeton University. The researchers found that programs could be planted in the machines to flip votes from one candidate to another so that vote totals match the number of voters who sign in to cast ballots. The programs can be set to run only on Election Day and not earlier, when the machines are tested. The programs can also be configured to erase themselves at the end of the day so no trace is left of the electronic tampering. Also in 2006, the HBO Documentary Hacking Democracy showed that optical scan systems, which read and tabulate votes on paper ballots, are vulnerable to similar manipulation by programs that can be inserted on the machines’ portable memory cards.
Scholars began investigating the security of electronic voting systems in the first place because election returns in the 2004 presidential contest differed systematically from the exit polls in the most hotly contested states. Shortly after the election, Steven Freeman, a statistician at the University of Pennsylvania, posted a paper on the Internet analyzing the disparities. Freeman pointed out that the proportion of votes credited to Bush and Kerry differed from the split reported in the exit polls in ten out of eleven battleground states, and in every case Bush received more votes than the exit polls indicated. It would not be surprising for election results to depart slightly from exit-poll findings in a single state, but it was astounding that they did so in ten states and that in each instance Bush’s support was greater in the vote tabulations than in the exit interviews. Freeman calculated the odds of this happening by chance given the size of the samples for the exit polls and the magnitude of the differences between the vote tallies and the survey findings. He concluded that the odds were one in 250 million.
Chuck Todd’s smug dismissal of legitimate concerns about voting system vulnerabilities was met with spontaneous applause from the assembly of state election officials. The audience responded appreciatively because Todd was endorsing powerful norms in the nation’s political class against voicing suspicions of elite political criminality. These norms serve the interests of politicians and government officials by protecting them from public interrogation about troubling events, such as statistically improbable election returns, from which they or their political party may have benefited. It is far easier to ridicule popular suspicions than to answer them with rigorous inquiries and prudent safeguards.
Many journalists appear to have been conditioned by public officials to conform to conspiracy-denying norms even though these norms contradict journalistic ethics, historical experience, and common sense. Journalists who offend political elites by investigatingor merely repeating popular conspiracy beliefs risk losing access to the sources on which they depend for their reporting. Of course, the appropriate journalistic response to this governmental coercion is to expose it and find other sources. That was what Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward did with Watergate, and it is still what Russ Baker, Seymour Hersh, Jane Mayer, James Risen, and other great journalists do.
But most run-of-the-mill reporters have embraced conspiracy denial, and for them it has become an emotionally charged, self-reinforcing belief system. The mindset is self-reinforcing in the sense that it engenders feelings of superiority and is dismissive of evidence. Ironically, conspiracy deniers think they are protecting civility and reason in public discourse, when in fact, by ridiculing reasonable concerns and appealing to elite prejudices, they are doing just the opposite.
Psychologist Laurie Manwell of the University of Guelph agrees that the CIA-designed “conspiracy theory” label impedes cognitive function. She points out, in an article published in American Behavioral Scientist (2010), that anti-conspiracy people are unable to think clearly about such apparent state crimes against democracy as 9/11 due to their inability to process information that conflicts with pre-existing belief.
In the same issue of ABS, University of Buffalo professor Steven Hoffman adds that anti-conspiracy people are typically prey to strong “confirmation bias” – that is, they seek out information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, while using irrational mechanisms (such as the “conspiracy theory” label) to avoid conflicting information.
Studies by psychologists and social scientists in the US and UK suggest that contrary to mainstream media stereotypes, those labeled “conspiracy theorists” appear to be saner than those who accept the official versions of contested events. The 2013 study was published on July 8th by psychologists Michael J. Wood and Karen M. Douglas of the University of Kent (UK) entitled “What about Building 7? A social psychological study of online discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories,” compared “conspiracist” (pro-conspiracy theory) and “conventionalist” (anti-conspiracy) comments at news websites.
The authors were surprised to discover that it is now more conventional to leave so-called conspiracist comments than conventionalist ones: “Of the 2174 comments collected, 1459 were coded as conspiracist and 715 as conventionalist.” In other words, among people who comment on news articles, those who disbelieve government accounts of such events as 9/11 and the JFK assassination outnumber believers by more than two to one. That means it is the pro-conspiracy commenters who are expressing what is now the conventional wisdom, while the anti-conspiracy commenters are becoming a small, beleaguered minority.
Perhaps because their supposedly mainstream views no longer represent the majority, the anti-conspiracy commenters often displayed anger and hostility: “The research… showed that people who favoured the official account of 9/11 were generally more hostile when trying to persuade their rivals.”
Additionally, it turned out that the anti-conspiracy people were not only hostile, but fanatically attached to their own conspiracy theories as well. According to them, their own theory of 9/11 – a conspiracy theory holding that 19 Arabs, none of whom could fly planes with any proficiency, pulled off the crime of the century under the direction of a guy on dialysis in a cave in Afghanistan – was indisputably true. The so-called conspiracists, on the other hand, did not pretend to have a theory that completely explained the events of 9/11: “For people who think 9/11 was a government conspiracy, the focus is not on promoting a specific rival theory, but in trying to debunk the official account.”
In short, the study by Wood and Douglas suggests that the negative stereotype of the conspiracy theorist – a hostile fanatic wedded to the truth of his own fringe theory – accurately describes the people who defend the official account of 9/11, not those who dispute it. Additionally, the study found that so-called conspiracists discuss historical context (such as viewing the JFK assassination as a precedent for 9/11) more than anti-conspiracists. It also found that the so-called conspiracists to not like to be called “conspiracists” or “conspiracy theorists.”
The extreme irrationality of those who attack “conspiracy theories” has been ably exposed by Communications professors Ginna Husting and Martin Orr of Boise State University. In a 2007 peer-reviewed article entitled “Dangerous Machinery: ‘Conspiracy Theorist’ as a Transpersonal Strategy of Exclusion,” they wrote:
“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… By labeling you, I strategically exclude you from the sphere where public speech, debate, and conflict occur.”
But now, thanks to the internet, people who doubt official stories are no longer excluded from public conversation; the CIA’s long campaign to stifle debate using the “conspiracy theory” smear is nearly worn-out. In academic studies, as in comments on news articles, pro-conspiracy voices are now more numerous – and more rational – than anti-conspiracy ones, but the conspirators and their controlled media will continue to smear those who shed light on their crimes.
Conspiracy to seize the power of government is as old as government itself. We can study the conspiracies surrounding Alcibiades in Greece or Julius Caesar in ancient Rome, but we are not supposed to think that men today scheme to achieve political power… It was a conspiracy that directed Brutus against Caesar in the Roman Senate on the Ides of March. It was a conspiracy that plotted the betrayal of West Point by Benedict Arnold during the American Revolution. It was a conspiracy that led John Wilkes Booth to the assassination of President Lincoln on Good Friday, 1865.
Satan is known as the Prince of Darkness because he works in secret, under the cover of darkness. On the other hand, Jesus Christ, born under a new bright star that guided wise men to him, came to be the light & hope of the entire world. Christ also taught us to let our lights shine – to live as he taught us to live, therefore inspiring those around us to live righteously also. Satan and his minions, like cockroaches or rats, operate in the dark, and run like Hades when light is shined upon them.