Prologue: They Hate Him
The term “conspiracy theory” is misleading. There are few theoretical issues (in the academic sense) within conspiracy culture. One could more accurately call it speculative journalism or history. Mae Brussell, Alex Constantine, John Judge, David Emery and many others have devoted their lives and careers to finding out the hidden information, the lacunae, which riddle many official narratives. Most of this darkness comes about through deliberate and systemic efforts to keep information out of the hands of the public, whether through dint of official secrecy (i.e., classification) or through the propagation of comfortable stories to the exclusion and ridicule of others.
Much of the press and academia presently use the term “conspiracy theory” as a pejorative. Given some of the racist, nativistic and anti-Semitic ideation at the fringes of conspiracy culture-- a facet which gets a lion’s share of public attention--one can see why many good and intelligent people would understandably have a knee-jerk disdain (and sometimes disgust) for any explanation smacking of conspiracy. Yet this reaction is primarily an emotional one, not a rational one.
We like to see ourselves as reasonable, wise, and autonomous thinkers who can judge a story or issue solely on its merits. But it’s difficult to maintain objectivity if authorities of all stripes and flavors have deemed an entire line of inquiry “wild-eyed crazy” (pathological), “moronically oversimplified” (unintelligent), or “profoundly ignorant” (held by the un- or under-educated who don’t know how the “real world” works).
One finds great challenge in merely posing a conspiracy question within the media or academia without experiencing some degree of backlash--which sometimes includes the termination of employment and the resultant hardship to the professional involved and his/her family.* But the social sanctions against looking into possible conspiracy are usually much more subtle, entailing such things as glass ceilings, personal mockery, derision, mild harassment, but most critically ostracization. And no one wants to be “that guy” or “that gal” who’s “duped” by a lot of kooky stuff.
Conspiracy is hardly a kooky subject. On any given business day there’s some prosecutor somewhere in the USA who’s putting away a defendant on a conspiracy charge. Conspiracy, after all, is simply the agreement by two or more parties to perform an illicit act. There’s an inherent difficulty in proving conspiracy to a reasonable doubt standard because one has to show that the agreement took place.** Yet, it’s possible to do this when one has access to the necessary resources.
The assumption that conspiracies never occur within circles of authority might possibly stem from stereotypical notions of criminality. It’s common to see crime as part and parcel of a particular class or type of people, who often occupy society’s lowest rungs. In the popular mind, those who are well-educated, or from good families, or have high income (especially if they aren’t African American) are often not seen as criminals, even when everyone stipulates that they have committed a crime.*** Although we might laughingly joke that professionals lie (and in the case of attorneys cheat), we still don't tend to view these instances as criminal activity. And even when there is a provable criminal act among elected officials, or wealthy corporate types we tend to see it as an aberration, or not serious to begin with. Indeed, the prosecution of white collar crime is comparatively lax, despite the fact that it victimizes far more of us, and for far more money than street crime.
After delving into this subject for as long as I have (almost twenty years now), it’s very curious (and often frustrating) to me that when evidence merely suggests conspiracy within lower elements of society, many will tend to shrug their shoulders and say something to the effect of “So what?” or “That makes sense. They couldn’t have done it by themselves.” But if there’s evidence that strongly suggests that those who have power over our lives might have colluded in criminal activity, many people will go out of their way to believe otherwise. This is something noted by others as well.****
So the story eventually becomes only partly about the event itself. Understanding also requires attention to why there is widespread belief in the non-conspiracy explanation even if it is irrational or implausible. There remain those informational gaps, and the speculation that covers them up, of course, but there’s often enough of the puzzle exposed to render non-conspiracy explanations highly doubtful, in an objective sense. And given that the missing information is often held by those accused of conspiring, commonsense would tell us that people do not tend to hide that which proves their innocence.
Some things eventually dawned on me.
At this time I feel compelled to digress to the topic of institutional betrayal at some length. But in the interest of brevity, let’s table that thought, at least for awhile. Instead lets start with an idea that everyone can agree on: namely, no one likes to get flim-flammed. Con artists realize not only this, but something much deeper, something critical to their success. You see, only about 7% of victims ever report the crime to begin with. The reason’s obvious. The admission that we’ve been taken usually elicits a far harsher judgment against us than it does the perpetrator. Friends, family and strangers who know about the theft will often ask something along the lines of “How could you be so f-ing stupid [or greedy, or needy, or lustful, or naive, or gullible or fill-in-blank]?”
There are usually many times during a con where red flags arise. The victim might have varying degrees of alarm about one turn of events or another. But a skillful grifter knows that in deceiving a mark, the mark is often a willing ally. The more deeply one invests in the con, the more impetus there is to find a reason--any reason--to believe that the false hope they actually purchased is in fact not false. Otherwise, they would have to admit to themselves that they are either f-ing stupid, or greedy, or needy, or lustful, or naive, or gullible or fill-in-blank. The confidence gamer is consequently quite aware that the victim will believe any lie that makes sense. They won’t question it. They won’t look into it further. In fact, victims, upon seeing problems within a con’s structure, often will not pull out of a fishy venture, or find some other way to mitigate risk. In fact, they’ll often double-down on the con, investing even more resources into it.*****
When it comes to institutional skullduggery, and our stake within it, there’s likewise the tendency to see something is wrong with an official view. Like the con, the signs and evidence of conspiracy are abundant, and foreboding. And for the same reason as the mark, many have a personal stake in the integrity of the institution’s promise, and thus will have compelling reason to believe anything other than that which would force them to admit that something untoward has happened. It should therefore come as little surprise that there are those who have made a cottage industry of promoting the stories that reassure us that criminal activity--especially of the coordinated kind-- has not occurred within officialdom.
Likewise, the degree to which some have bought into the notion that conspiracy explains everything are also prone to this type of reasoning. This is especially true in organizations like Lyndon LaRouche’s, where conspiracy is intertwined with dogma and a spiritual or quasi-spiritual belief. In either case, the investment in the conspiracy or anti-conspiracy point of view is so large, and the personal stakes for adherents so great that objectivity and facts cease to matter. Each side has skin in the game, and each will desperately dig in to defend these beliefs, so long as they have enough of a narrative or reason to continue believing.
Yet, there’s a fundamental difference between the con man and the institution when it comes to perpetuating a falsity. The institution has far more ubiquity, power, authority and resources than the swindler. The cheat cannot, to a large extent, legally forbid public disclosure of proof. Institutions can. And even if not legal, the institution can still have a better chance of getting away with it, and for a much longer time. In the case of governmental malfeasance the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the government is the only body legally authorized to investigate itself. Furthermore, institutions, through public relations, can enlist great public support for their version of events. All it takes is a willingness for large enough sectors of society to buy repeatedly the explanatory fictions that it provides.
The available tools of institutional deception include a number of items. For starters, there’s the power of the term “conspiracy theory” itself to steer discourse in predictable, and thus controllable directions.****** Another would be the development of straw men, or in other words citing (or perhaps creating) weak or tangential arguments that one can easily tear apart.
The most effective means for doing this consists of propagating texts that are emotionally gripping, and extremely well written. They read or come off as novels or dramatic works. And they all serve to strengthen the official or dominant line. Often these accounts have much in common with the most entertaining conspiracy tales in that they are very long on narrative, and very short on facts or evidence. And what little proof there is usually lies out of context, is often debunked by more compelling evidence, and sometimes made up out of whole cloth.
Before I conclude this post, I’d like to point out that when we talk about “official versions” we often should clarify what we mean. There is the “official story,” the story that becomes the dominant narrative because it is deemed true by police, courts or other official bodies. There are, what I like to call, “quasi-official” stories in which there is a dominant narrative, that is contrary to official findings. Often this occurs when public understanding about a topic comes chiefly from a pop culture source, such as a movie or TV show that takes dramatic license with the people involved, the context and the events. And then, there are stories where there are two or more official findings. As you would expect, these versions are often at odds with each other.
So, it’s with this in mind that I approach the next series to appear here on The X-Spot. It’s a story where the evidence for conspiracy is quite strong, and the evidence of non-conspiracy quite weak. It’s also an instance where there are three distinct official findings, two of which involve conspiracy explanations.
As you might expect, the two conspiracy explanations have, to date, received comparatively little discourse in mainstream venues.
And that prompts us to examine why that’s the case. It also compels us to wonder why the non-conspiracy finding has become the dominant narrative.
*In this blog, I’ve mentioned the stories of Professor Ward Churchill (University of Colorado at Boulder), and Dr. John Mack (Harvard Medical School). I’ve also delved at length into the story of Fox News investigative reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson. I only briefly mentioned the name April Oliver, a CNN reporter who produced a controversial network documentary about a purported conspiracy involving the assassination of US military defectors in Vietnam.
With one exception, the above were fired for either taking a conspiracy position, or for simply giving serious consideration to a conspiracy hypothesis. Harvard attempted to fire Dr. Mack because of his research into the possibility of alien abduction, but could not because of his tenure and exemplary record of research and publication.
**For a good example of a criminal conspiracy and the difficult FBI investigation that finally proved it, check out “The Fix Is In”, episode 168 of This American Life.
***I saw this on the local news a few weeks back. Despite the fact that everyone, including the culprit and his family, stipulated that he took a gun to school and shot up four (fortunately surviving) classmates, the shooter’s mom nevertheless declared that he “wasn’t a cold-blooded criminal.”
Well, since humans are by definition warm-blooded, and are really the only species capable of committing crimes (according to current law–past law is a different story), then that would seem to be true of all people who transgress.
Less flippantly, one is a criminal because he or she executes a criminal act. Note here that the mother’s concept of “criminal” had nothing to do with criminal activity, but rather a certain designation of person. You can probably take a good guess at the type of individual she would see as a true “cold-blooded criminal.”
****Researcher Lisa Pease has often made the observation that many good people simply “cannot wrap their heads around” the notion of conspiracy.
*****An excellent example: record-breaking swindler Bernie Madoff told the New York Times that the banks and hedge fund managers who invested, or encouraged others to invest in him, had to know that something was wrong:
In asserting the complicity of others, Mr. Madoff pointed to the ‘willful blindness’ of many banks and hedge funds who dealt with his investment advisory business and their failure to examine discrepancies between his regulatory filings and other information available to them.In other words, these institutions and professionals knew that they had bought into a very dangerous venture. Yet, they invested even more money (one, up to $38 mil) despite these misgivings.
They had to know,’ Mr. Madoff said. ‘But the attitude was sort of, ‘If you’re doing something wrong, we don’t want to know.’‘
******In one example, Michael Hastings, an award-winning reporter for BuzzFeed and Rolling Stone, disclosed via e-mail to friends and colleagues, sixteen hours before his death, that he was under pressure and surveillance by Intel because of he was then working on a story about DCIA John Brennan. This was after he had written a well respected expose on NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal. Within a day after the fiery automobile collision that claimed Hastings’ life, a number of mainstream outlets were already using the term “conspiracy theory,” to describe potential dissenting opinions that could arrive in the future, after the public received all the facts. This effectively discredited any questions concerning a possible connection.
Granted, Hastings' death could have resulted from a car crash and nothing more (the official story). Yet, if someone writes that he is under pressure from the CIA and FBI, and then dies hours later, I see little imprudence in asking questions (of for that matter exploring it) about a possible connection between his demise, and pressure bought about by two institutions, whose relationship with the writer was evidently antagonistic.