Conspiracy Theories

Grab Your Tinfoil Hats!

Conspiracy theories still thriving in America.


America has a rich tradition of paranoid conspiracy theories, which has been studied in works from Richard Hoftstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics to Jesse Walker's The United States of Paranoia. It is our happy fortune that the tradition shows no sign of waning with the passage of time.

At present, for example, we have the theory that a Muslim-hating questioner at a Donald Trump event was a plant — "plant" in this case referring to someone from The Opposition who infiltrates an event or group in order to undermine it, rather than an individual with the neural activity of knotweed (although that also seems fitting).

The questioner began by saying America has "a problem… It's called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American." He then asked "when can we get rid of them?" With the specificity that has become a hallmark of his campaign, Trump replied "We're going to be looking at a lot of different things."

Why suggest the guy was a plant? Because his comments strike even conservatives worried about radical Islam as stupid bigotry of the first order, and they were embarrassing. The trouble is that this theory does not do the work it is supposed to do — which is absolve Trump and Trump supporters of similar stupidity.

Trump did not correct the gent, but that is only a small part of the problem. The bigger problem is that Trump himself purveys the conspiracy theory that Obama is not a U.S. citizen — a theory he won't let go many moons after the president released his long-form birth certificate.

Even for a conspiracy theory, the birther claim is loopy given the appearance at the time of Obama's birth announcement in a Honolulu newspaper. This requires believing that someone knew, back in 1961, that four decades later foreign-baby Obama might run for president and need a good cover story, and that this someone therefore planted a fake birth announcement — just in case Obama claimed to be born in Hawaii.

Getting back to Trump: Even if his questioner were a plant, it does not absolve Trump's supporters — the Trumpenproletariat, as National Review's Jonah Goldberg has called them — of sharing his views. A poll earlier this month showed 66 percent of Trump fans think Obama is Muslim and 61 percent think he was born abroad.

This brings us to the Occam's Razor test. Why bother infiltrating a Trump rally to embarrass his supporters by ascribing to them views they already admit to? Doesn't it make more sense that one of Trump's supporters simply voiced the sort of sentiment that would make you a Trump fan to begin with?

Then there's the great Clock Controversy. For a brief hopeful moment, it seemed as if the country could unite in agreement that it was indescribably asinine to handcuff Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old science geek, and suspend him from school for three days for building a clock. After all, the nation has grown pretty well fed up with zero-tolerance policies that, inter much alia, call a pointed finger a "level 2 look-alike firearm" and lead to expulsion threats against students who take razors away from troubled classmates. Consensus, it seemed, was near.

But President Obama invited the kid to the White House — and suddenly it was time for the Two Minutes Hate. If Muslim Furriner Obama said something nice about Mohamed, then obviously the punk must be history's greatest monster, or at least among the top 10. Was he trying to provoke an incident? Did he mean to perpetrate a hoax?

Perhaps the funniest concern was raised by the supposedly intelligent folks at the Center for Security Policy. The group's Jim Hanson said Ahmed's clock was "half a bomb," which it was — the clock half. By this logic there is half a bomb on just about every classroom wall in America. Quick, evacuate the buildings!

Laughable conspiracy theories are not the sole province of the right, of course. We saw a host of them emanate from the left after 9/11, and they continue to be pushed by such noted experts on national security and materials science as Russell Brand and Rosie O'Donnell.

Another common conspiracy theory cropped up again the other day. New York Times columnist Gail Collins, rushing to the defense of Planned Parenthood, wondered whether "the people who want to put it out of business (are) just opposed to the abortions… or are they against family planning, period?"

For an answer to that riddle, she turned to a scrupulously impartial observer: Nancy Pelosi. "I'm telling you, it's family planning," Pelosi said. "They decided that was their target long ago."

Of course they did! The Center for Medical Progress spent years making hidden-cam videos about abortion to distract people from its real agenda: outlawing diaphragms. Countless pro-life demonstrators wave posters reading "Pray to End Abortion" — but we all know they go home and pray to end vasectomies. Area 51 is just a decoy; the aliens are really kept at Area 52. It all makes perfect sense, when you think about it.

Hmmm. Maybe Pelosi is a plant to make those who agree with her look foolish. Or maybe she just has the neural activity of knotweed.

This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

NEXT: Pope Francis Helps Normalize Security & Police State in the U.S.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Oh, fuck off. We all know that 9/11 was an inside job, initiated by the Bilderbergers and stolen by the Illuminati, to ramp up the drug war that funds the CIA, which negotiates with the aliens from Roswell to stage the moon landings.

    Wake up, America.

    1. There are over 2000 Architects and Engineers on this site, and over 200 firefighters now. Their names are all there. They have problems with the science/physics of the government's explanation of what happened on 9/11. Some of the firefighters were those at ground zero that day. You know? The heroes of 9/11. They give their own personal stories....they were there. You weren't there. Why wouldn't you at least listen to someone who WAS there?

      Have you been there and at least LOOKED at the evidence they present? No? Solomon the Wise said, "To answer before listening. That is folly and shame."

      Does the government have this many qualified people advocating their science of 9/11? No?

      And just for your information.....we moved on to aluminum foil LONG ago. Lighter and cuts down on the wind resistance.

      Looks to me like the conspiracy guys have the "consensus" and the science on their side, not the government.

    2. "Conspiracy theories are like potato chips??you can't have only one." ~David Butler

  2. "Or maybe she just has the neural activity of knotweed."

    Or thinks we do.

  3. Loved Jesse Walker's book. I would recommend it anyone who loves history, politics, and with a twist of the bizarre. It's a fun and insightful read. I'm usually a lurker but I just had to give Jesse his due on an amazing book.

  4. No need to insult knotweed.

  5. Conspiracy theories still thriving in America.

    Thank goodness. Where would we be without the nutters?

  6. Why bother infiltrating a Trump rally to make him and his supporters look bad for espousing the views they already ascribe to? How about because it puts the episode in every national news outlet's coverage today instead of just six or eight years ago?

  7. The Trump people (really the entire GOP base) needs to pick a scapegoat and stick with it. You can't expel everyone who's not a white Christian, much as they want to. You win power in a fascist movement by focusing carefully on who you're going to blame for all of society's problems. If you can't decide among Muslims, Mexicans, gays, academics, or progressives, you start looking a little goofy.

    1. I vote for vague attracks on white heterosexuals and rich people, for the sin of failing to check their privilege.

      There: that's watered down enough to pass as intellectualism, right?

    2. Or its not a fascist movement.

      1. Nationalism, minority scapegoating with an emphasis on purging the undersirables, rejection of democracy and egalitarianism... how much further right do they have to go before it becomes fascism?

        1. Clearly, we'd be better off if there was a little more socialism in their national socialism.

          1. You must have an extensive grasp on political history.

            1. Prove that the National Socialists didn't appeal to socialism in their very title.


              1. Look, they were evil, so it doesn't matter what they called, themselves; we know that they are actually right wing.

              2. Try thinking about actual policy platforms instead of words and words alone.

                1. Oh, then go ahead and prove that the national socialists never endorsed any socialist policies.

                  You may just learn a thing or two about history yourself.

                  You know they didn't tag the "socialism" to the end of their name randomly, right?

                2. Nazi political strategy focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric, although such aspects were later downplayed in order to gain the support of industrial entities, and in the 1930s the party's focus shifted to anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist themes............
                  Sounds like a certain presidential candidate no?

  8. The group's Jim Hanson said Ahmed's clock was "half a bomb," which it was ? the clock half. By this logic there is half a bomb on just about every classroom wall in America. Quick, evacuate the buildings!

    Here, hold this lit stick of dynamite while I get rid of that clock before it goes off.

  9. Ahmed was not arrested for building a clock, but for bringing it to school and not putting it away when asked to. He was invited to the White House as social justice theater about racism inherent in the system rather than schools having no incentive to not overreact when dealing with "security" issues. Arresting him was still an asinine response, shall we not complain about sloppy arguments without engaging in some of our own?

  10. 1- Not Trumps job to correct people or oscrize people for saying false information.
    2- Obama's long form birth certificate is a forgery and I believe he is a citizen but he is hiding his real father Frank Marshall Davis whom is a known communist pornography
    3- Ahmed's clock was a known forgery from a Radio Shack's brand clock. He did act suspicious when his teacher told him to not cause an incident. Ahmed's older sister was suspended for pulling a fake stunt like Ahmed's incident 3-4 years prior.
    The sincere ignorance of saying Ahmed built a clock is absolutely ludicrous. Get your head out of your ass and get some lessons in reality and science.
    4- 9/11... 3 buildings fall with 2 planes... Do the fucking math... The only explanation is a controlled demolition.
    5- Love how you use the 'conspiracy theory' delegitimization tactic against the people who most imploy the tactic, Liberal nut jobs.
    6- Watch this youtube video and you'll understand why most 'conspiracy theorists' think people whom delegitimize people's concerns as conspiracy theorists are controlled opposition:

    1. "Frank Marshall Davis whom is a known communist pornography"


      1. pornographer*

    2. Not to mention the conspiracy to teach people the proper use of "whom."

  11. Indeed, abart. Laughable conspiracies are all the rage. Of course you leave out the biggest hoot of a conspiracy theory...that being nearly 100% of all the scientists, science organizations, and governments of the world are engaged in the worldwide fraud of man made climate change. That one makes all the others look like kid stuff.

    Of course you ignore it, because that one is a libertarian conspiracy theory. Here come all the libertarian conspiracy theorists...

    1. 18 years 8 months and counting. But we all know that lack of evidence is proof...

      1. And all those scientists, and every single major science organization, that says the opposite of what you believe, it's what, a conspiracy?

        1. There's also the fact that the majority of climate scientists don't consider global warming anything to worry about.

          Is that the "majority consensus" you're talking about?

          Of course it isn't.

          Talk about an inconvenient truth.

          1. This should be good... Link please that says the vast majority of climate scientists don't think it is anything to be worried about.

            1. Here's a start.

              1. Yeah, like anyone is going to pay 20 bucks to read it...

        2. Did you ever apply for an NSF grant?

          Even to the review panels and the program managers, climate porn sells.

          1. A conspiracy that the vast majority of climate scientists take part in, right?

            1. Well not so vast really. As Wegman found there has been an awfully incestuous review process in what amounts to actually a very small community. Then there is some good statistical work by, say, North seriously smashing Mann's contrived hockey stick.

              But let's ask Richard Feynman what he thinks about consensus. It's only a minute long. Surely even your limited attention span can keep up.

              1. Get me that link from Feynman on climate change, skippy. Looking froward to it.

                1. Hey, Jackie, did you happen to notice that there were exactly zero hurricanes and cyclones on 9/12? The first time in 40 years? Still waiting on that catastrophe.

              2. Yes, because theoretical physics = climatology...

      2. Hey, skippy, since your a representative libertarian, just today 6 of the worlds largest banks sent a letter urging governments to join them in spending resources to stop warming the planet. They said this:

        "Scientific research finds that an increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is warming the planet, posing significant risks to the prosperity and growth of the global economy. As major financial institutions, working with clients and customers around the globe, we have the business opportunity to build a more sustainable, low-carbon economy and the ability to help manage and mitigate these climate-related risks.
        Our institutions are committing significant resources toward financing climate solutions. These actions alone, however, are not sufficient to meet global climate challenges. Expanded deployment of capital is critical, and clear, stable and long-term policy frameworks are needed to accelerate and further scale investments."

        Are banks and businesses now part of your conspiracy?

        1. Have you ever looked up the term "climate finance?" You should. Who do you think is going to provide the loans to fund the trillions the UN plans on spending to combat climate change over the next ten years?

          Who do you think is going to be on the receiving end of those trillions? I'll give you a hint: it ain't the Global Poor.

          1. Ah, the conspiracy now includes 6 of the largest banks in the world. I can always count on Reason commenters to prove my point.

            1. They are not in a conspiracy, they are taking the logical course of action. The fact that the big banks stand to make billions has more to do with their decision to support these policies than their sincere belief that this is the best course of action for mankind.

              1. So, let get this straight. Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citi, Mrgan Stanley, and Bank of America...competitors...just signed a letter to government saying science has shown the planet is warming and they want government to invest in climate solutions like they are, and they did this not because they believe it but because they want to make billions?

                You know what you just described, Denver? A conspiracy.

                1. Next you're going to tell me that the insurance industry is worried about global warming. But anyway, I find it amusing that those evil capitalist banks are useful when they want to feed at the government trough.

                  No go back to reading Nat Geo and SciAm and pretending that you invented a clock...

                  1. Skippy! Don't go away mad!

                    1. You think I'm mad? I'm actually laughing. You've proven my point. You can't argue the facts, so you're left with "consensus!" That's as unscientific as it gets.

                      It's not really fair to keep slaughtering your sacred cows, but I do enjoy the Schadenfreude and you really make it so easy.

                2. It's kind of a wonder those suckers in the petroleum industry didn't get in on the great green swindle a long time ago. Their vast investments in anti-climate-change propaganda must have eaten up so much of their meager profits, profits that don't come with any incentives at all, of course.

                  1. Yeah , I wonder if those internal scientists at Exxon who warned executives on the 70s about the dangers of man made CO2 were part of the conspiracy these libertarians believe in.

                  2. because the banks that own them stand to gain trillions as a result of playing off both sides of the fence.... kinda like an arms dealer (USA) selling guns to the rebels and the government, oh never mind that's just a silly conspiracy.

                    We don't expect you to understand economics, that's why you're an illiberal in the first place.

  12. It would be helpful for the anti-conspiracy types to give a list of the conspiracies I am and am not suppose to believe?

    Did Osama bin Laden and at least 19 others conspire to fly planes into buildings?

    Does there a conspiracy to overthrow the Syrian government?

    Did VW conspire to cheat emissions standards?

    Did the FED and the rest of the US government conspire to keep Goldman Sachs and other large banks afloat in 2008?

    Did a bunch of people from 13 British colonies in the America's conspire to rebel against the government of George III?

  13. You actually expect me to read through the birth announcements? And yes, if you think Obama is an anti-Christ planning this birth ad is exactly what you'd expect.

    As for ole Rufus, I think I'm going to respond to some of those ads. 'Hi. Are those linens still for rent?'

    Or the building ads.

    Rufus: 'I'm looking for a carpenter.' '

    Person: ;My father died years. Who is this?

    Rufus: 'That's a shame. Soooo. Do you carpenter?' I have this hole in my...


  14. Yeah, remember those "nutters" that claimed the Gulf of Tonkin Incident had nothing to do with North Vietnam, and that the whole war was based on a false incident? As if someone in our government would do such a thing that would cause the deaths of over 50,000 American lives. lol! Weren't they funny? I mean they said...uh.....wait a second.....*whispers*"McNamara said what?"...umm...err...never mind! MY BAD. Go back to making fun of those silly conspiracy theories!!!!

    1. *cough cough* Operation Northwoods......

  15. Why waste so much time worrying about alleged conspiracies, when the real conspiracies are right out in the open? Income taxes, licensing, tariffs, government-granted monopolies, subsidies, etc.

  16. Go check WND and read about that so called birth certificate legitimacy and settling the case. He returned to HI a few days after his birth. Somehow the record of his mom's flight was lost. Imagine that. While you're there check out that ring that Oblamer wears and the inscription.

    Tell me why Trump bears the responsibility of correcting a comment. Like Trump said. Oblamer would not correct any statement made about Trump.

    1. "He returned to HI a few days after his birth. Somehow the record of his mom's flight was lost."

      This is the part I've never understood. If they knew he was going to be president 48 years later, why leave the country in the first place? Just to make it more challenging?

      1. Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign in the primaries is where the birthed rumors first saw the light of day.

      2. Lies always start to unravel under scrutiny, Read Operation Northwoods, funny how they implemented it VERBATIM against the Middle East instead of Cuba once they found an administration to go along with it
        we really are a nation of sheep

  17. So those stories about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit declaring condom sales as contraceptives illegal in 1930 and allowing men with guns to arrest people--are all whack-job conspiracy rumors? Gosh... and it all seemed so real when that lying Margaret Sanger and the commie newspapers fabricated those allegations out of whole cloth. May the Baby Jesus Bless you, Brother Hinkle, for bearing me away from that False Witnessing. But tell me, is it true that religious conservatives had managed to impose a constitutional ban on beer and wine at the time, or is that also a lie?

    1. That is a lie as written, those were done by religious conservative PROGRESSIVES trying to make people better with the force of government, cuz they know how to live life best and everyone should be subjected to it..... much like socialist PROGRESSIVES trying to eliminate all that icky wealth and dirty profits, and jail the climate deniers or other purveyors of speech deemed insensitive..... i dont suppose you have mirrors in your house do you?

  18. In my experience, generally, there are two types of people who cry "conspiracy theory!" and attempt to discredit those who believe in the theories: 1) those that are just too fucking lazy to do the research themselves and actually challenge their own preconceived notions, presuppositions, bias, long-held beliefs, etc. 2) those that are too afraid of what the information might reveal so they refuse to even attempt the research i.e. cowards. (or they don't want to be put into the margin with the conspiracy theorists so they deny the truth even if they know it's true, i.e. still cowards)

    1. 4 types really, you forgot those intimately involved in the conspiracy, and their willing media outlet accomplices

  19. I blame Sherlock Holmes for the deterioration of our logical reasoning. Elementary Watson, everyone should go back and stay there. Give them all some real nannies to cry about.

    I'm all for burning every mystery novel, it is obviously corrupting the minds of hominids and causing dissension in our political system.

    1. OT-- When I watched Watson on Jeopardy, the only thing I could think of was--Oh sure, how come there isn't a dam romance category! Try answering that from stored memory.

  20. "Laughable conspiracy theories are not the sole province of the right, of course. We saw a host of them emanate from the left after 9/11, and they continue to be pushed by such noted experts on national security and materials science as Russell Brand and Rosie O'Donnell."

    My 9/11 assertions [after 8 years of careful daily study and research] :

    1] 9/11 was an inside job, carried out to further the needs of the Pentagon and associated , orchestrated by the MSM via fake "live" broadcasts.

    2] _Nothing_ we saw on TV that morning was genuine live footage.

    The supposed live imagery from the 5 networks that morning was faked [i.e prefabricated on computers], including the 2nd plane hit [Fl.175] , and the tower collapse imagery [WTC 2, then WTC1, then WTC7].
    [N.B. the entire WTC complex was conventionally demolished via explosives, _off_ camera.]

    See: "The Central Role of the News Media on 9/11":

    3] Most, possibly all of the 3,000 odd victims of 9/11, never existed in the real world, and were digitally created fake persons with fake bios, faked relatives and fake tributes at the on line memorials.

    For example, see:"Why are 3,000 victims of 9/11 missing from Social Security death list?"

    Regards, onebornfree

  21. theriddler said: "... 3 buildings fall with 2 planes... Do the fucking math... The only explanation is a controlled demolition."

    Er wrongo, it's even worse than that - actually _7_ WTC buildings, er, "fell". [i.e. _ALL_ WTC buildings], plus, 2 none WTC buildings were mostly destroyed that day. [9 buildings in all] 🙂

    Regards, onebornfree.

    1. Full moon PLUS eclipse.

      Just curious, do you hang out with Michael Hihn? Do bong hits together while giggling furiously?

  22. The federal government got grand juries to sign so many conspiracy indictments during prohibition that prosecutor Mabel Willebrandt came out and protested the trend in writing in 1929. Among those indicted were Jack Daniels distillery, Roy Olmstead--91 indicted, Congressman John Langley, The City Trust bank--14, Bank of United States--everyone, Atlantic Highlands--59, Columbia Cereal Beverage--20. Corn Products Refining, Hubinger Brothers and Fleischmann's were all indicted, and this was a major driver ror repeal. So how is it that the federal government which today files hundreds--if not tens of thousands--of conspiracy indictments a year (figures are difficult to find or believe) is the wounded innocent when citizens with better cases and zero police powers play turnabout?

    1. You do know that criminal conspiracy and conspiracy theories are two totally different things, right? Guess not.

  23. Regardless of what one believes or doesn't about government and politics, one thing is certain. The government is an accomplished disinformation machine and the msm is their ever compliant lapdog. Virtually every government pronouncement should be viewed with skepticism. The deceptions are certainly as prevalent as the absolute truths.

  24. Perhaps the funniest concern was raised by the supposedly intelligent folks at the Center for Security Policy. The group's Jim Hanson said...

    Damn, he has sunk a long way since The Muppets.

  25. Obama has code to the US Constitution, called the US Constitution Code. With this Code, Obama can see things no one else can see in that document.

    According to Obama's Code, Obama can kill any US citizen without a trial, he can wage war without the consent of congress, and he and only he can choose your doctor.

  26. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do...... ??????

  27. New rule proposal:

    No writing articles about conspiracy theories. It is like posting an article about Florida 2000 over at Jezebel.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.