Let’s say that a man marries a wealthy woman, take out a life insurance policy on his wife, and then a few months later, the woman dies in a freak accident at home. The man then marries another wealthy woman, and several months later, she also dies under similar circumstances.
The account I’ve given you here doesn’t provide any real evidence of anything, but I’m confident that you’ve already formulated in your mind a potential culprit. Who wouldn’t think that the first person to investigate ought to be the husband? In fact, if the police who were investigating these deaths didn’t look into the husband, nearly everyone would consider them woefully incompetent.
This is all quite rational. The evidence is purely circumstantial, of course. There would need to be real evidence that the man was involved before he could be convicted. Regardless, there would be near universal agreement that something suspicious was happening, and the man was likely involved.
This is the exact opposite of the way Americans respond to what are typically called “conspiracy theories”, according to Lance deHaven-Smith, author of the book Conspiracy Theory in America, which is without a doubt the most thought-provoking book I have read in years. Once something has been labeled a conspiracy theory, all rational evaluation of the circumstance in question flies out the window.
In fact, the popular conception of conspiracy theories is that they amount to a kind of impaired thinking, analogous to a mental illness or a superstition. A more accurate definition would be that conspiracy theories are any theory of official wrongdoing that have not yet been substantiated by public officials themselves.
The use of the term “conspiracy theory” is a relatively recent phenomenon. It essentially came into existence in 1964 as a catch-all for disagreements with the Warren Commission report on the JFK assassination – and the popularity of the term has exploded since. According to Global Research:
“A LexisNexis search of news program transcripts for the dates March 1, 2011 to March 1, 2014 reveals 2,469 usages of the “conspiracy theory/theories” term. Probing the surveyed time span reveals CNN (586 transcripts) and MSNBC (382) as the foremost purveyors of the phrase, with Fox News (182) a distant third. The US government’s transcript service, US Federal News, comes in at fourth, suggesting persistent strategic usage of the label at federal government press conferences and similar functions to drive home official positions and dispel challenges to them. Programming on National Public Radio ranks fifth, with 115 instances.”
In what some might consider an ironic twist, the term “conspiracy theory” was popularized by a CIA media infiltration campaign beginning in 1967 that was designed to discredit critics of the Warren Commission and paint them as kooks. While you may not believe me, this is not a controversial point, and the plan was outlined in CIA document 1035-960. And it’s not as though there isn’t a long history of CIA manipulation of the media, which has been thoroughly documented by Carl Bernstein.
In other words, you could say that the origin of the term “conspiracy theory” was in itself a conspiracy!
Conspiracies Are Real
In the minds of the majority of Americans, a conspiracy theory is something so “out there” that it is too wacky to even contemplate, and is beyond the range of normal, polite discourse.
This is odd, because we know for a fact that conspiracies can and do happen: Watergate, Iran-Contra, Fast and Furious, and the systematic lying about the weight of evidence or Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, to name just a few of the confirmed ones.
Since clearly some “conspiracy theories” are true, is it not pure nonsense to dismiss all theories of elite criminality as false?
A common response to this line of argument is that “someone would talk”, meaning that conspiracies can never be kept secret because someone will inevitably spill the beans.
Oftentimes, someone does talk; people just don’t listen. They are too busy accusing them of being a conspiracy theorist! Or someone will talk, but people won’t care. How else can we explain that 49% of Americans believe Edward Snowden to be a traitor, despite his making public conclusive evidence of massive government crimes involving illegal surveillance?
But the idea that “someone would talk”, that it would be impossible for public officials to successfully hide their conspiracy, is fundamentally flawed. After all, the government has been able to keep secrets. For instance, the Manhattan Project, which involved multiple agencies and thousands of people, was somehow kept a secret from the public until Truman used nukes on Japan. Even Truman himself was unaware of the program until a full week after becoming President, despite occupying the office of VP for years!
Not only that, but the Watergate and Iran-Contra conspiracies were only exposed because someone got caught, not because someone talked. Better operational security could have resulted in both of these scandals remaining secret, which ought to make you wonder how many conspiracies have managed to remain under wraps!
And then there are false flag attacks, or covert operations designed to trick people into believing that the operation was perpetrated by a different entity, which are routinely admitted to being used by governments around the world. See here for instances where governments have openly admitted to using false flag attacks…it is disturbing. And those are only instances where people have come forward – again, how many more have gone undiscovered?
In any case, the immediate dismissal of anything considered a “conspiracy theory” is shocking in light of American history. After all, America was literally founded on the conspiracy theory that King George had intended to establish “an absolute tyranny over these states”, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. That’s what the separation of powers was about – if powers were unchecked, they could more easily be abused. Of course, it is worth noting that the colonists lived under far less onerous restrictions than we do in modern America.
Clearly, the way modern Americans interpret the term “conspiracy theory” is massively out of line with reality.
“Conspiracy Theory” and Perceptual Silos
I began this post by describing a situation where on two distinct occasions, a man’s wife dies under suspicious circumstances soon after getting a large life insurance policy, and how most people would respond to the story. It seems clear that most people would draw a connection between the two occasions, and would consider the husband to be the prime suspect.
But when something is dubbed a “conspiracy theory”, most people will tuck it away into what deHaven-Smith calls a “perceptual silo”. In other words, we tend to automatically assume that any “conspiracy theory” is an isolated incident.
For instance, when you think of the Kennedy assassination, you immediately think, specifically, about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The assassination of Robert Kennedy is considered a completely different scenario, despite glaring similarities. They were brothers with similar ideologies, murdered within a few years of each other, who were both political rivals of Richard Nixon and hated by Lyndon Johnson. Both were assassinated while campaigning for president, and both seemed likely to win. These similarities prove nothing, but any elementary investigator should be looking for ways to link the two events together, just as they would for the deaths of the two wives.
Let’s compare this with the events of September 11th, which were closely followed by a series of anthrax attacks across the country. As the anthrax attacks were happening, I recall the public discussion assuming that the attacks on the Twin Towers and the anthrax letters were related, and al-Qaeda being blamed for both. Today, these two events are cognitively disassociated. What happened?
Well, the FBI discovered that the strain of anthrax used in the letters was developed at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland…by the U.S. Army. Shortly after the anthrax attacks were discovered, the FBI had authorized the destruction of rare anthrax samples at Iowa State University, making it significantly more difficult for scientists to connect the anthrax in the attacks to domestic labs where they were created. These discoveries should have sent alarm bells off in the minds of the public, suggesting that perhaps the U.S. military was in some way connected to the 9/11 attacks. Instead, discussion of the anthrax attacks stopped, and was “sealed off cognitively” as a completely separate and distinct situation. Once investigators found that the anthrax was developed in Maryland, the case was closed, and that was that.
A “conspiracy theory” is an isolated event. When these types of events are related, they are considered organized crime instead. The Mafia may do many of the things that “conspiracy theorists” accuse the government of doing, but they are considered an organization, not a conspiracy. This distinction between conspiracy theory and organized crime creates these perceptual silos. This silo effect makes it far less likely that people will even begin to look for connections between these kinds of events.
That’s not all. To find a connection between two or more “conspiracies” requires one to have an initial suspicion of political elites in the first place. But this very suspicion is one of the primary norms implicit in the negative connotation that the designation of “conspiracy theorist” holds. If you try to find connections between these events, the act of doing this investigation earns you the label of “conspiracy theorist”, entitling everyone else to ignore you, regardless of the strength of the evidence for your claims.
The Dangers and Psychology of the “Conspiracy Theory” Label
Perceptual silos are but one of the psychological aspects involved in the idea of conspiracy theory. There are other aspects that make the “conspiracy theory” label even more effective at achieving its goal, which we’ll get into in a moment.
First, let’s consider the Martha Mitchell Effect. Martha Mitchell was the wife of Nixon’s Attorney General, and had told her psychiatrist that top White House officials were engaged in illegal activities. Her psychiatrist chalked this up to mental illness – but we know now that Watergate really happened. The Martha Mitchell Effect is the tendency for people (mental health professionals specifically, but it could apply to anyone) to label as “delusional” any claims which they feel are improbable and haven’t taken the time to look at the evidence for. In psychiatry, this can result in misdiagnosing patients as mentally ill, but laypeople tend to go through a similar thought process for “conspiracy theorists”.
And then there is the famous Rosenhan experiment, where a psychologist and other mentally healthy volunteers checked themselves into mental institutions while claiming to be having auditory hallucinations. Once checked in, they all acted normally and claimed to be fine and feeling better. The idea was to see how long these sane people could remain in a mental institution before it was discovered that they were, in fact, sane. The “patients” were never found out, and stayed for an average of 19 days (range: 7 to 52) before being discharged with a diagnosis of schizophrenia in remission. In the end, Rosenhan asked:
“Do the salient characteristics that lead to diagnoses reside in the patients themselves or in the environments and contexts in which observers find them?”
The evidence, of course, points to the latter. And as you can imagine, the label of “conspiracy theorist” has quite a bit in common with the designation of someone as mentally ill. When someone is diagnosed as a “conspiracy theorist”, this tends to say a lot more about the environment, including the person making the diagnosis, than it does about the “conspiracy theorist” himself.
And just as the “patients” were never discovered to be sane regardless of the evidence, the label of “conspiracy theorist” prevents people from registering doubts about public officials, regardless of the evidence.
Perhaps you think this comparison with mental illness is a bit forced. Then you would be forgetting that in the Soviet Union, the regime would denounce anyone who disagreed with the government as crazy and then send them to insane asylums. While the US is not (yet) institutionalizing people for questioning their official narrative of history, the use of the term “conspiracy theory” has a nearly identical effect without directly using coercion.
(As an aside, a resistance to authority is starting to be considered a mental illness in America. The DSM-IV contains Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which according to Wikipedia, can be characterized by “behaviors such as unpopular dissent, non-aggressive resistance, deliberate disobedience to authority, abstaining from widely accepted norms, or refusal to comply with any request in a particular setting.” How long do you think it will be before this kind of diagnosis is used for nefarious purposes?)
In fact, researchers Ginna Husting and Martin Orr found that:
“In a culture of fear, we should expect the rise of new mechanisms of social control to deflect distrust, anxiety, and threat. Relying on the analysis of popular and academic texts, we examine one such mechanism, the label conspiracy theory, and explore how it works in public discourse to “go meta” by sidestepping the examination of evidence. Our findings suggest that authors use the conspiracy theorist label as (1) a routinized strategy of exclusion; (2) a reframing mechanism that deflects questions or concerns about power, corruption, and motive; and (3) an attack upon the personhood and competence of the questioner. This label becomes dangerous machinery at the transpersonal levels of media and academic discourse, symbolically stripping the claimant of the status of reasonable interlocutor—often to avoid the need to account for one’s own action or speech. We argue that this and similar mechanisms simultaneously control the flow of information and symbolically demobilize certain voices and issues in public discourse.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself! The label of “conspiracy theorist” (which, remember, was pushed by the CIA in order to discredit people who questioned the official narrative of the JFK assassination) is used in order to bypass peoples’ rational and objective appraisal of the evidence.
Why Do People Criticize “Conspiracy Theories”?
Criticisms against conspiracy theories and theorists, therefore, are not based on evidence of the theory/theorist being incorrect; rather, they are based primarily on sentimental feelings towards political leaders and institutions. People want to believe the official narrative, because they want to believe that their leaders are generally good people. Deriding “conspiracy theories” is one way to help reduce the cognitive dissonance that would occur if one were to actually look at the evidence.
If sentimental feelings towards their leaders were the only reason why people tend to criticize anything labeled as a conspiracy theory, then I don’t think it would be particularly effective. After all, most people would come around if they were presented with serious evidence of a conspiracy, right?
That’s part of the “beauty” of the conspiracy theory label! A conspiracy denier will lump together all unofficial accounts of the situation in question, and judge the whole group of them by the ones with the least evidence. There is a false dichotomy between the official theory and so-called conspiracy theories. The denier doesn’t look at each theory on its own to evaluate its merit.
For instance, the claim that 9/11 was an inside job or that it was the result of official incompetence are lumped together, despite differing levels of evidence for each, and having very different implications. On a wider scale, the term “conspiracy theory” includes ideas like JFK being assassinated by forces from within the government as well as ideas like the government hiding evidence of extra-terrestrial life. These are wildly different scenarios, yet they are grouped together and dismissed as “conspiracy theory” together. So long as you don’t believe that lizard-like aliens have taken over Dick Cheney’s body, you will also not believe that there is more to 9/11 or the JFK assassination than has been presented officially.
There is also a more “academic” justification for criticizing conspiracy theorists. Cass Sunstein (one of my all-time least favorite public figures, on par even with Paul Krugman!) and Adrian Vermeule wrote a famous paper that alleges that conspiracy theories are “self-sealing”:
“Conspiracy theories generally attribute extraordinary powers to certain agents – to plan, to control others, to maintain secrets, and so forth. Those who believe that those agents have such powers are especially unlikely to give respectful attention to debunkers, who may, after all, be agents or dupes of those who are responsible for the conspiracy in the first instance.”
In other words, conspiracy theorists attribute so much power to those agents involved in the conspiracy that they must also have the power to hide or manipulate any evidence of it. Therefore, a conspiracy theorist will ignore all the evidence of the official narrative, and imagine that this is just propaganda or exactly what the conspirators want us all to believe.
I don’t doubt that this argument is true enough for some people who are dubbed conspiracy theorists, but it is simply false if Sunstein and Vermeule mean to say that this is an inevitable condition. In fact, implicit in this description is just more of the same psychology behind the ridicule of conspiracy theories in the first place. What is assumed in their argument is that conspiracy theories are wrong (they do acknowledge this in the paper, to be fair), and that people who arrive at these conspiratorial conclusions are ignoring evidence. But why must that be the case?
In other words, this argument only works if you start from the assumption that the conspiracy theory is already incorrect. But since the only way to know if any given theory – official or otherwise – is right or wrong, one would need to examine the evidence anyways. But anyone, conspiracy theorist or not, can look at the evidence selectively, perhaps with an eye towards reinforcing a conclusion they’ve already come to. In fact, nearly everyone does – this is called cherry picking or confirmation bias.
When you actually start to think about it, the whole modern notion of “conspiracy theory” is incredibly hypocritical.
Anyone who invests a few minutes looking at the evidence in the JFK assassination would come to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald almost certainly could not have acted alone, and thus that there must be some other explanation – whatever it may be – for the assassination. In fact, a full 61% of Americans believe that others must have been involved, and this is the lowest percentage in decades. Could all of these people just be nutty, raving conspiracy theorists?
In fact, official accounts of most events that have some number of conspiratorial explanations for them are equally implausible, if not more so, than the “conspiracy theories” themselves. Almost always they involve bumbling bureaucrats (well, I guess that is believable!), incompetent intelligence agencies, a wildcard “lone gunman”, or faulty voting machines. You could even regard the official explanations as coincidence theories – and as these coincidences pile up, it becomes ever more likely that there is something deeper and more suspicious afoot.
Conspiracy deniers will ridicule any individual who believes in a conspiracy theory, but they unquestioningly accept institutionalized conspiracy theories. No one was ridiculed during the McCarthy era, when official “wisdom” was that commies had infiltrated every major institution, top government posts, and were taking over the world. And no one was ridiculed for believing that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11. Why not?
There is a very dangerous tendency in America to automatically trust the narrative that the government and mainstream corporate media present. Perhaps I’m just paying better attention now, but I’ve noticed a considerable uptick in this over the past year and a half, and would like to go over just a couple of the more egregious instances where the Obama administration has crafted its own narrative, or “conspiracy theory”, to suit its geopolitical ends.
Remember how in August of 2013, Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad used sarin gas on his own people in the town of Ghouta? This crossed a “red line”, and nearly led to the US intervening in Syria’s civil war in order to oust Assad and save the Syrian freedom fighters. It’s a great story, repeated endlessly in the mainstream media…except that it isn’t true (and see here for a more balanced analysis of that piece of investigative journalism), and Obama knew it at the time. According to an MIT study, the rockets that were used as the delivery mechanism could not possibly have come from areas controlled by the Assad regime. Many in the intelligence community doubted the Obama administration’s claims, but this was only discussed in alternative media. You may not believe me – take a look at the evidence and make your own judgment.
It gets worse. The US government has clearly not given up in its goal to topple Assad, and has continued to rely on propaganda and lies to manipulate the American public into supporting this goal. In the summer of 2014, as ISIS began to carve out its “Caliphate” across the Middle East, Obama and the neocons saw their opportunity to further intervene in Syria, but needed to gather public support. How? By inventing the Khorasan group, a fictional group even more brutal and evil than ISIS itself, and claiming that they are planning “imminent” attacks against the US “homeland”. Talk of the Khorasan group was all over the news for a few weeks, long enough for the US to begin launching airstrikes without a declaration of war (of course, nobody cares about such formalities anymore). And then it completely stopped, and nobody has heard of Khorasan since. Then in November, the infamous “Syria hero boy” video went viral. This video depicted a young boy rescuing his sister from a hail of bullets allegedly coming from Assad’s forces. What an evil man, shooting at children! Of course, as you probably know by now, that video was a fake, despite “experts” immediately “verifying the authenticity” of the video.
All of this is just a conspiracy theory created by the US government – crafting an image of Assad and of the terrorists as even worse than they really are – yet very few people are ridiculing the government the way they ridicule individuals accused of “conspiracy theorizing”.
And what about the conspiracy theory that Russia has been agitating in Ukraine, invaded the Crimean peninsula, and shot down the civilian airliner MH17? I’ve been following this one from the beginning, and it’s truly incredible that the US government has managed to get away with developing a conspiracy theory this complex and deceitful, but yet again, it goes largely unquestioned and un-ridiculed. Let’s start with the fact that the “democratic uprising” in February 2014 was a US-orchestrated coup. George Friedman, the head of Stratfor (a massive, private intelligence firm – not a source to take lightly), has even acknowledged that this was “the most blatant coup in history”. In fact, Assistant US Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was caught red handed with her famous “Fuck the EU” call, where she and the US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt discussed who they would be installing as the next Ukrainian leader (listen to recording here and read the transcript here). The government and the media have consistently downplayed the role that neo-Nazi militias have played in the coup and the ensuing bloodbath and ethnic cleansing of Russians in Eastern Ukraine.
Well what about the shooting down of MH17? Wasn’t that done by Russia or Russian-backed “separatists”? The US government and its compliant media immediately made the claim, but (what didn’t make the news) admitted that their evidence was entirely based off YouTube clips and social media posts. As recently as October, the chief investigator of the MH17 incident says there is no conclusive evidence, despite media reports to the contrary. In fact, Western governments and media have made a concerted effort to suppress any evidence that would suggest other, more reasonable explanations. I urge you all to follow the links, look at the evidence, and draw your own conclusions (perhaps different from mine, but without a doubt understanding the conspiracy theory hypocrisy).
And then finally, to round out the Ukraine narrative/conspiracy theory, much has been made of the claim that “Russia has invaded Crimea” (and even Ukraine itself!). Due to a 1997 treaty between Russia and Ukraine, Russia had the “right” to station up to 25,000 troops in Crimea, a number they did not even reach. And predictably, over 90% of Crimeans voted to join Russia and leave Ukraine – something you would expect a group of Russian speaking people in a state that had just banned the Russian language and began ethnic cleansing of Russians. Imagine if there was a vote in the US to ban English – don’t you think at least 90% of Americans would vote against it? If your only sources of information regarding Crimea are statements by the US government and Western media, then everything you know about Crimea is just a conspiracy theory.
Here’s an even more timely example: North Korea’s alleged hacking of Sony. The FBI continues to insist that, without a doubt, it was the North Koreans who hacked Sony. This is pure conspiracy theory, and luckily more people seem to recognize it this time around than with many other examples. There is near-unanimity among security professionals that there simply is no evidence that would implicate North Korea, and it is far more likely the work of a disgruntled Sony employee (see here and here for evidence, plus more all over the internet). Nevertheless, the mainstream media regurgitates everything that the government says unquestioningly, turning the government’s conspiracy theory into a plausible narrative for most of the American public. We may never know who is actually behind the hack (and it could be North Korea), but there can be no question that the US government has taken advantage of the situation to demonize an enemy regime and push for stricter control over the internet.
Despite all this, the US government is never accused of conspiracy theorizing. Not when making over 900 false statements during the lead up to the Iraq war, and not when accusing other governments of committing war crimes and acts of war. No, when the government does it, it’s merely “bad intel”.
The Dangerous Consequences of the “Conspiracy Theory” Label
Propaganda has clearly come of age, and this makes the term “conspiracy theory” incredibly dangerous. It’s not just a matter of making it vastly more difficult to find truth (although it certainly does that), but it puts our liberties and our lives in serious danger.
In the Wired article regarding North Korea allegedly hacking Sony linked to above, we can see how the demonization of “conspiracy theorists” may proceed:
“There are some, however, who believe that nothing will satisfy the skeptics.
Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist for FireEye, the company hired by Sony to help investigate and clean up after the attack, told the Daily Beast: “I don’t expect anything the FBI says will persuade Sony truthers. The issue has more to do with truthers’ lack of trust in government, law enforcement, and the intelligence community. Whatever the FBI says, the truthers will create alternative hypotheses that try to challenge the ‘official story.’ Resistance to authority is embedded in the culture of much of the ‘hacker community,’ and reaction to the government’s stance on Sony attribution is just the latest example.””
In other words, if you don’t believe the government’s claims, that can only be because you are the kind of person who would never believe the government’s claims. Therefore, you are irrational and not worth listening to. Worse still, you are someone who is not just wrong, but you are resistant to authority. Since the government is good and right, you are therefore bad and wrong – and causing trouble.
Once having been designated a “conspiracy theorist”, a person is obviously subject to ridicule and ostracism by the public. More importantly, however, is that this person would be considered subversive. Someone who has an inherent suspicion of the powers that be is naturally going to be a threat to said powers.
It’s not a stretch to imagine the government taking action against these subversive elements, these “conspiracy theorists”. In fact, that’s exactly what Sunstein and Vermeule suggest in their paper:
“…we suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.”
In other words, the government ought to conduct psy-ops against those groups of individuals who don’t buy into the official narrative in order to introduce “cognitive diversity” (strange, but doesn’t the idea of cognitive diversity suggest not trying to destroy alternative beliefs?). The absurdity of this idea should be obvious, but I’ll let deHaven-Smith spell it out:
“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.”
Some of you may think it disingenuous of me to be crafting an argument merely based on a paper by some academics that nobody cares about. Actually, Cass Sunstein served as the Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under Obama for several years. The reason you’ve never heard of this agency is because it exercises its immense powers largely in secret. They basically rewrite huge chunks of government regulations while exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests and with all but the top two officials on staff being completely anonymous. In other words, we ought to take seriously what this guy says. So, where were we? That’s right, “cognitive infiltration”…
“How might this tactic work? Recall that extremist networks and groups, including the groups that purvey conspiracy theories, typically suffer from a kind of crippled epistemology. Hearing only conspiratorial accounts of government behavior, their members become ever more prone to believe and generate such accounts. Informational and reputational cascades, group polarization, and selection effects suggest that the generation of ever-more-extreme views within these groups can be dampened or reversed by the introduction of cognitive diversity. We suggest a role for government efforts, and agents, in introducing such diversity. Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”
Never mind the fact that “conspiracy theorists” have, basically by definition, been exposed to contrary ideas. How can you rail against the official narrative if you don’t even know what the official narrative is?
More importantly, note the repeated references to “conspiracy theorists” being “extremists”. I challenge you, dear reader, to pay special attention to the term “extremist” while you follow the news over the coming months. You will notice that we are less and less fighting a war against “terrorism”, and more and more against “extremism”. That’s because terrorism is fairly limited to Islamic radicals in the public mind, but extremism can take on many forms. For instance, you would be considered an “extremist” if you don’t automatically accept the bogus conspiracy theories that Washington has been churning out.
Many who read this may think I’m just a paranoid, raving loon. But the FBI has already said that their #1 “terrorist” threat are sovereign citizens, and those who talk negatively about Big Government (yes, more so than Islamic fundamentalists). And it is surprisingly easy to be considered an “extremist” or a “potential terrorist” in America today, solely based on your beliefs – as in, a complete lack of violent tendencies is irrelevant. Here is a list of 72 ways someone can be considered an “extremist” according to official US government documents, including:
- People who talk about individual liberties
- People who say they “want to make the world a better place”
- People who fear gun control or weapon confiscation
- People who complain about bias
- People who are frustrated with mainstream ideologies
- Returning veterans
- People involved in the prepping or survivalist community (perhaps this will soon be expanded to anyone who watches Walking Dead)
- People who believe in a right to bear arms
- People who are “anti-nuclear”
- People who support political movements advocating for increased autonomy
I didn’t include the half-dozen references to “conspiracy theories” that are already on that list. But you should be able to see a pretty clear picture here. Anyone who is opposed to increased centralization of government power is now an “extremist”, which means that they may be a “domestic terrorist”, and thus need to be spied on and “cognitively infiltrated”.
And thanks to documents released by the heroic Edward Snowden, we know that this “cognitive infiltration” is already happening. While these documents pertain to the GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA), it is hardly a stretch to imagine that this kind of manipulation is happening on both sides of the Atlantic. What are they doing? Among (many) other things, government spooks are manipulating the results of online polls, artificially inflating page view counts for certain websites, censoring “extremist” material, creating fake “victim” blog posts to destroy peoples’ reputations, spying on people who visit WikiLeaks, hacking email accounts, and planting false flag attacks to discredit those with opinions they do not like.
“Members of informationally and socially isolated groups tend to display a kind of paranoid cognition and become increasingly distrustful or suspicious of the motives of others or of the larger society, falling into a “sinister attribution error.” This error occurs when people feel that they are under pervasive scrutiny, and hence they attribute personalistic motives to outsiders and overestimate the amount of attention they receive. Benign actions that happen to disadvantage the group are taken as purposeful plots, intended to harm. Although these conditions resemble individual-level pathologies, they arise from the social and informational structure of the group, especially those operating in enclosed or closely knit networks, and are not usefully understood as a form of mental illness. The social etiology of such conditions suggests that the appropriate remedy is not individual treatment, but the introduction of cognitive, informational, and social diversity into the isolated networks that supply extremist theories.” – Sunstein and Vermeule
The fact that anyone can suggest this in our current world of constant surveillance, where the FBI/CIA/NSA and other agencies are known to harass, intimidate, infiltrate, and spy on civil rights and anti-war groups, and where even the author is suggesting “cognitive infiltration”, seems absurd on its face.
Nevertheless, this is what we face today. People who seek truth and liberty are marginalized and ridiculed as “conspiracy theorists”, while those who make up absurd lies and push them through their corporate media allies are revered and highly respected.
I would consider Lance deHaven-Smith’s book, Conspiracy Theory in America, an absolute masterpiece. The book presents the theoretical framework that is necessary for fully understanding many of the issues that were raised in this article. It’s only about 200 pages and it’s cheap, so if you have even a passing interest in this subject matter, you should read it.
Implicit in the term “conspiracy theory” is a systematic attempt to discredit anyone who questions existing power structures. This attempt has proven wildly successful over the past 50 years. Those of us who love liberty need to spread the word and counter this psychological manipulation.