If you’re a conspiracy buff …
… if you have a tinfoil hat tucked away in your closet,
… if you feel guilty by being titillated at the prospect of black helicopters whisking away loyal Americans to deposit them in United Nations concentration camps,
… if you absolutely know for sure that the Apollo moon landings were hoaxes,
Then you were chortling with maniacal glee on May 3, 2016.
That was the day of the Indiana presidential primary, which culminated with Donald Trump thrashing his two remaining opponents and grabbing the GOP crown. Although Trump predicted an easy triumph, the National Enquirer nonetheless added one more nail to contender Ted Cruz’s coffin with a thinly sourced, getting-stale, April 20 story that insinuated Cruz’s dad, Rafael Cruz, was getting down with Lee Harvey Oswald just weeks before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Trump used that fantasy to bludgeon the mainstream media into transmogrifying it into a “news” story, which then went viral.
Hell, it could be true.
America is many things. Land of the free and home of the brave, true. But what about those aforementioned black helicopters, hmmm? Is “freedom” all a ruse perpetrated by the Masons, the Illuminati, the Bilderbergers, the plutocrats, the commies, multi-national corporations, the drug cartels, the CIA, the DEA, the NSA, the Amway salesmen? Is there a “Super Cabal” controlling the other conspiratorial outfits?
Whatever else America is, it is “Conspiracy Nation.” We thrive on the fanciful and looney. We like to be scared witless that so many evil groups are plotting against us.
Conspiracies are the mainstay of much of our entertainment culture. Books, TV, movies, even music are soaked with paranoia—from The Da Vinci Code, to The Manchurian Candidate, to The X-Files, to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”
What about all of the films and TV shows about the end of the world, zombies, mega-catastrophes? Are we being softened up for some sort of grand Armageddon conspiracy? Or being fattened up for the carnivorous aliens who control Kim Jong-un?
I’m absolutely sure of it, aren’t you?
But what about real conspiracies—or, better phrased, what about the alleged conspiracy theories that people believe are true? Sizable numbers of people subscribe to scores of versions of what transpired with 9/11. Were the towers brought down in a controlled demolition? Did certain groups know beforehand about the attacks? Was it all an “inside job?”
No one can be completely sure, although the odds against any of the dozens of 9/11 conspiracy tales being true are infinitesimal. Yet, fires still smolder in people’s overheated minds. After all, the government contributes to the angst-driven thinking by its deception and denial. It is true, for example, that 28 pages from a Congressional report on 9/11 have been hidden from the public—purportedly because they contain evidence linking Saudi Arabian financing to the terrorist attack.
Some conspiracies are real. Yet, the mainstream press spins them into the looney bin because they come too close to exposing the media moguls’ own conspiratorial roles in manipulating society.
To wit, in the 1930s a group of American industrialists plotted a coup to overturn the New Deal policies of FDR. For show, the president and other officials would remain in place, but a new “secretary for general affairs” would be the fascist dictator. Money for the conspiracy was funneled though a bank run by Prescott Bush, father and grandfather to the two Bush presidents. The coup came off the tracks when its putative dictator-in-chief, Marine Gen. Smedley Butler, created a sting and disclosed the plot to Congress. Notably, Bush’s Union Bank was shut down 10 months after America entered World War II for “trading with the enemy”—the institution was a conduit for investments by top Nazi leaders.
Mentions of the conspirators’ names were scrubbed from Congressional records—but not all copies were destroyed. Time magazine and the New York Times tried to bury the story by deriding Butler as a lunatic. Time: “gigantic hoax.” NYT: “a fantasy,” “perfect moonshine,” “utterly ridiculous.”
But Congress had the facts: “evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country.” Not only were the media not watchdogs, they had been complicit lapdogs in the skullduggery.
Gen. Butler’s courageous actions are no longer derided as the vapor of conspiracies—few now doubt that he saved the nation from a coup. Bush loyalists for decades denounced the Union Bank story as “conspiracy,” until archival records—including FBI reports—surfaced in 2003. Most media outlets, fearful of the Bush wrath, tried to stay clear of the Nazi and coup stories—but not all. I wrote some of the first articles based on the 2003 archival dump. And, as the British Guardian headlined in 2004: “How Bush’s grandfather helped Hitler’s rise to power.”
SORTING TRUTH FROM FICTION
The issue is, of course, sorting out real conspiracies from the garbage—rumors, embellishments, outright lies, all designed to frighten and manipulate citizens. I’d mention UFOs, but we all know that those stories are true. I swear.
Here’s a somewhat deeper and darker thought, probably a conspiracy itself. There is a conspiracy to utilize conspiracies to manipulate society. Wow, that is conspiratorial!
Actually, there are many conspiracies to use bogus conspiracies to twist and pervert public opinion. In recent years, perhaps the slimiest tales have involved the “birthers,” people who want to delegitimize President Obama by claiming he wasn’t born in the United States.
That nasty little conspiracy is deeply rooted in America’s long history of racial bigotry. Although there’s no evidence Obama was born anywhere else than in Hawaii, his political ascendancy ignited the same racist canards that have plagued American society for generations. It’s impolite for people to use racist epithets nowadays, but people can achieve the same level of hatred by claiming an African-American president isn’t legitimate because he was born in Kenya.
Who are the conspirators behind the “birther” conspiracy? We’d like to believe they live underneath rocks. But it’s a largely high-level political mudslinging endeavor.
Just about every contentious, troubling event will soon have a conspiracy stuck to it. The overwhelming bulk of science says climate change is happening and mankind’s industrialization is a factor. But there are big, big dollars betting that no one will put a crimp in oil industry profits; that the energy companies will squeeze the last dollar out of us until there is no more oil, and then they’ll shrug and tell the government, “fix it all.” Oh, and by the way, the average January temperature in Nome, Alaska, by that time will be 102 degrees, and Miami, New York and Los Angeles will be underwater reefs.
So, what’s a big, bad, oil multi-national, super-conglomerate to do? Why, bubble up a few conspiracy theories. There is no global warming, prostituted think tanks chant, adding that the scientists that say there is are all working for Al Gore (but please don’t ask who writes the paychecks to the meager band of white-coated charlatans who have “no global warming” tattooed on their foreheads).
Or, in retrospect, it isn’t quite clear why we invaded Iraq, but didn’t it have something to do about Saddam Hussein’s conspiracy to build weapons of mass destruction? Or, wait, was it the conspiracy to fabricate claims of Hussein’s conspiracy about the WMD?
One thing we do know: A New York Times reporter named Judith Miller was the main conduit—a very willing accomplice—in furthering the hogwash that got the United States into the Iraq debacle. There were other accomplices: almost all of the mainstream press. The media stood by credulously nodding “yes, yes, yes” as each of the blood-drenched prevarications was wrapped into conspiracies, and fed to Americans.
No, I’m not kicking just the Republicans. Conspiracy promulgation is a decidedly bi-partisan effort. It was Lyndon Baines Johnson who crafted one of the most corrosive conspiracy theories in history, the alleged attacks on U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. Some 50,000 dead Americans, plus 2 million Vietnamese civilians and 1.1 million troops were the ante for that conspiracy gambit.
And, again, the media aided and abetted each one of those deaths.
MERCHANTS OF CHAOS
Many years ago, a wise man, L. Ron Hubbard, thought about fabricated conspiracy theories that are intended to manipulate and depress society. He characterized the purveyors of such trash as “merchants of chaos.” “They deal in confusion and upset,” Mr. Hubbard wrote. “Their daily bread is made by creating chaos. If chaos were to lessen, so would their incomes.” Those “merchants” weren’t all bartering conspiracies, but the finely crafted conspiracy was always part of their arsenal.
Scientology’s founder identified many who fit the role of merchants of chaos, but of particular note are the media, politicians and militarists. “It is to their interest to make the environment seem as threatening as possible, for only then can they profit,” he wrote in 1963—just a month after JFK’s assassination, a time when every merchant of chaos was clamoring to foist every conceivable scare story on the world.
“We speak loosely of ‘good press,’” Mr. Hubbard mused. “Is there any such thing today? Look over a newspaper. Is there anything good on the front page? Rather there is murder and sudden death, disagreement and catastrophe. And even that, bad as it is, is sensationalized to make it seem worse.
“This is the coldblooded manufacture of ‘a dangerous environment.’”
“We speak loosely of ‘good press.’ Is there any such thing today? Look over a newspaper.”
The decades haven’t blunted Mr. Hubbard’s words. But although the term “conspiracy theory” wasn’t the popular lingo five decades ago, it was and is a favorite tool of merchants of chaos.
The world IS a dangerous place. Wars and mayhem. Weapons conceived in the darkest pits of hell. Terrorism. Entire populations facing grinding poverty. Human trafficking.
The mounting disparities in wealth, education and opportunity are the things of which revolutions are made. But, while dangerous, the merchants of chaos—especially agenda-driven media—weave conspiracies, bigotry and propaganda into mass manipulations to make things seem worse than they are. That causes the well intended to withdraw, leaving the merchants of chaos to their schemes.
William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in 1898 launched us into the Spanish-American War; Fox News and the New York Times in the early 2000s fabricated tales to get us into Iraq; two Atlanta papers vying for political control of Georgia in 1906 competed in telling scurrilous, lurid tales of black men raping white women until the city raged with a murderous race riot. Lies about the birthplace of a president have helped render the nation unable to function. And on, and on.
In 2016, the left versus right media polarize the nation with scandalous stories, racial and religious bigotry and half-baked attack whispers designed to scare and stampede voters.
Where are the leaders? Slinging the manure of fabricated conspiracies at each other. Exacerbating the widening chasms between citizens. It’s not Hillary or Donald who will change that dynamic. It will only change when every citizen stops listening to the chattering conspiracy artists and merchants of chaos, and proclaims:
We can do better!
John F. Sugg is the executive editor of Freedom.