I wrote an article for Publishers Weekly pegged to the release next week of my book The United States of Paranoia. The essay lays out five popular conspiracy theories from American history, starting with the most ludicrous and steadily getting more empirically accurate. You'll have to click through to read my comments on each story, but here are capsule descriptions of the five tales:
Theory #1: Native Americans are minions of Satan.
Theory #2: A southern cabal killed presidents Harrison, Taylor, and Lincoln, and it tried to kill presidents Jackson and Buchanan.
Theory #3: White doctors are conducting covert experiments on blacks.
Theory #4: Working in secret, a conspiracy replaced the country's original constitution with a document that concentrated more power in the national government.
Theory #5: The U.S. government deliberately undermined protest movements in the 1960s.
Spoiler alert: The first two are fantasies; the next two are sometimes accurate and sometimes fantasies, depending on which version of the story you hear; the last is just plain true.