Why Do We Call Ourselves "The Volokh Conspiracy"?

A little bit of absurdist humor that's stuck with us for 18 years.

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A few people have asked why I named this blog The Volokh Conspiracy. The blog began back in 2002 as The Volokh Brothers, but when I realized I wanted us to grow, I had to change the last word.

I thought "The Volokh Gang," but then I thought some people might see it as derivative of the then-running political talk show "Capital Gang." I thought "The Volokh Group," but then I thought some people might see it as derivative of "The McLaughlin Group." I also realized that the names were derivative of those shows, so I consciously looked for something different.

Conspiracy struck me as unusual, memorable and a little (okay, only a little) amusing. First, I liked the incongruity of a conspiracy actually publicly announcing itself as a conspiracy. Second, it echoed "The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy," to which we belong, and also "The Jewish Conspiracy," to which most of the charter members and since then many of the more recent members have also belonged. But at the same time, as a self-chosen label, it also slightly mocked the term (just as many conservatives' embrace of the label "The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" slightly mocks the term, which was apparently popularized by Hillary Clinton).

So that's how it came about, and I think it's worked well for us. Some people might be a bit put off by it, and think we're connected to some conspiracy theory (though people who distribute conspiracy theories, in my experience, don't call themselves a conspiracy); or they might just think it a bit undignified (which I suppose it is). On the other hand, it does seem memorable; on balance, I think it's done us more good than harm. And in any event it's how we're known, so there's no changing now.

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  1. Well Professor…I am glad you started it. I have learned a lot about law coming here.

  2. I just did a refresher on the Capital Gang and McGlaughin Group…apparently American had a political pundit drought because the two shows had the same group of pundits!?! I remember when America had a handful sports pundits and a few political pundits and Coke cost fifty cents…simpler times.

    1. Some of us “old timers” remember when a coke cost a nickel! And a “moon pie” cost a quarter or less. “RC cola and a moon pie”.

  3. (just as many conservatives’ embrace of the label “The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” slightly mocks the term, which was apparently popularized by Hillary Clinton).

    It deserves more than mockery. It was one of the most mendacious things she ever said, and that is saying something.

    A conspiracy, by definition, is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. It usually involves joint efforts to achieve a common goal. As a lawyer, she knows that well.

    An agreement to do something legitimate is not a conspiracy, although it may involve joint effort. Planning a birthday party is not a conspiracy, even if it involves multiple parties agreeing to do their part.

    She called the opposition to her husband a conspiracy. In her mind, political opposition is a crime. That’s all you need to know about her.

    1. Is the Deep State real??

      1. (I had to repost this without one of the links, which forced this comment into moderation, where it has been sitting for some time.

        “But what about Trump . . .”

        How pathetic. What are you going to do when he is gone in a couple of months?

        And the answer to your question is Yes. There is an entrenched bureucracy and elite who believe they are above democratically elected officers of the country.

        It was recently reported that a U.S. envoy to the Middle East deliberately and repeatedly lied to the Trump Administration about the number of troops in Syria.

        “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” outgoing diplomat Jim Jeffrey told Defense One reporter Katie Bo Williams in an interview.

        Jeffrey added that the real number of U.S. troops in Syria was “a lot more” than the several hundred Trump planned on leaving behind following his abrupt withdrawal announcement in December 2018.

        https://taskandpurpose.com/news/us-troop-levels-syria-jeffrey-interview

        Will someone here defend Jeffrey against a charge of subverting the Constitutional order? And spare me the “what about Trump” arguments.

    2. Isn’t it Trump and his cultists, not Clinton, who consider the opposition criminals?

      Unlike them she certainly wasn’t alleging that her opponents, or her husband’s, should be “locked up.”

      1. (1) No.

        (2) For violations of the U.S. criminal code. Which she got off because of her position.

        1. 1. Yes.

          2. Should Ivanka also be locked up? And are you seriously contending that the crowds chanting “lock her up,” (and the same for Whitmer) are relying on subtle reading of the code?

          And then there’s this.

          Yeah. It’s Clinton who’s the one calling the opposition criminals. Forget it.

          1. “And are you seriously contending that the crowds chanting “lock her up,” (and the same for Whitmer) are relying on subtle reading of the code?”

            Nothing subtle about it. What she did plainly violated the criminal code, as the original version of the FBI report made clear, until it was bowdlerized not to use the statutory language.

            “Lock her up” was not because political opposition is a crime, it was because she got away with something that, say, a Colonel in the Army would have gotten ten years in the brig for.

            1. What about when the President’s supporters demanded that Dianne Feinstein be locked up? Or when the President said “Lock them all up” referring to Michigan’s governor? Why did his supporters want to lock up Joe Biden? Or Pelosi? When a World Series crowd yelled “lock him up” at Donald Trump, will you tell us how confident you are that they were referencing the Criminal Code?

              Are you sure you want to maintain your insane interpretation of “lock her up”? We have the receipts.

              1. “What about” is a very poor argument. Hillary Clinton is a highly educated person who has been in the thick of politics since Watergate, was First Lady (and acc. to her, virtually co-president) and then Secty of State and then almost elected president. Her calling organized political opposition a “conspiracy” is risible.

                Do some Trump supporters need a lesson in civics? Is (or maybe was) Trump a shameless exploiter of their ignorance? Yes and Yes.

                None of that gets Hillary Clinton off the hook. Nor does it change the fact that her position got her off a criminal indicment that others with less connections would have faced.

                1. ““What about” is a very poor argument.”

                  That’s strange, because you’ve been making “What about” arguments for four years.

                  Set that aside. The “What about” part of the argument is not that Hillary Clinton isn’t so bad because President Trump is great. It’s that you’re a fucking annoying person because you are an obnoxious, partisan hack. I am more than happy to criticize Hillary Clinton (although if you think that’s the most “mendacious” thing she’s ever done, get a grip).

                  None of that is related to your claim that ““Lock her up” was not because political opposition is a crime”. The examples are not whattaboutisms. They’re demands for clarification from you, if you think the other times the mob demanded locking up was consistent with your stupid interpretation (“it was because she got away with something” rather than just a bunch of partisan lunatics shouting). I ask again: what is it you think Pelosi, Feinstein, President Trump, President Obama, Michigan’s governor, or Joe Biden “got away with” exactly, to cause people to demand they be locked up?

                2. Wait a second, why would they “need a lesson in civics”? You just told us they were asking for Hillary to be locked up because she violated criminal laws. Is that not an appropriate basis for demanding that a person be locked up? Are you confessing error?

                  1. Take a pill. I understand people in your condition are sometimes helped by that.

        2. You do realize everyone in Trump’s State Department was using WhatsApp instead of official State emails?? So Comey should never have begun the investigation because what she was doing was apparently standard operating procedure.

          1. Keep telling yourself fairy tales.

            Was it SOP at the Dept. of State to have a private email server installed in your house, and then route all your emails through their? Didn’t think so.

            And you do understand the difference between texting on Whatsapp and emails. WhatsApp is much more limited in what it can do, and generally is not used for sensitive things. Not to say that some people in the DOS were not sloppy, but that is a far cry from what Hillary Clinton did.

            1. The time frame was 2009-2012 and so Hillary was using a Blackberry and so her emails were like texts…the official emails would have been captured on State servers because only her closest staffers were on her server. You are playing dumb in this instance because it serves your purpose. Bottom line—there was never any reason for Comey to start an investigation because Hillary never did anything wrong and the private server was only found as a result of a partisan fishing expedition.

              1. Crooked Hillary had classified information on her ‘home brew’ server. That by itself is a violation of law.

                1. Duuuh, Mongo like blackberries. Mongo like petting bunnies.

            2. “Was it SOP at the Dept. of State to have a private email server …”

              Using private email services strikes me as a really, really bad idea, but it may have been SOP – Colin Powell did so. Like I said, I think it’s a terrible idea, but if you are going to lock up Hillary, you need to lock up Powell as well.

              (FWIW, I can see why a SecState might want to have conversations that weren’t subject to FOIA. Maybe there needs to be an exception to FOIA or something. But having folks setting up private email … that’s a bad idea, security wise)

    3. “A conspiracy, by definition, is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. It usually involves joint efforts to achieve a common goal. As a lawyer, she knows that well.”

      That’s not the ordinary definition of conspiracy. If you are not aware of the definition of conspiracy, this is a reputable source that can help.

      Would you describe the President’s deflection of criticism as part of a grand conspiracy against him as mendacious? I will forgive you for not calling it the most mendacious thing he’s ever done, since that’s a tall order. But what’s your stance?

    4. A conspiracy, by definition, is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime.

      I mean, no.

      https://www.dictionary.com/browse/conspiracy

      noun, plural con·spir·a·cies.
      1. the act of conspiring.
      2. an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; plot.
      3. a combination of persons for a secret, unlawful, or evil purpose:
      He joined the conspiracy to overthrow the government.
      4. Law. an agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act.
      5. any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result.

      You will notice that some of those definitions involve crimes. Others do not.

      1. You seriously believe that if I throw my wife a birthday party, and my neighbor picks out the menu, and I hire a caterer to make the food, a housecleaner to clean the house, a waiting service to provide waiters, and a musician to play music, we are all in a “conspiracy?”

        That is not how the word is used. Sorry, No. 5 in that definition is bogus.

        (No. 1 is circular. 2, 3, and 4 all involve doing something unlawful or evil, so that proves my point.)

        The GOP, and its helpers (like Rush Limbaugh) certainly acted together to oppose Bill Clinton. That’s called organized political opposition, something that we have had in this country since George Washington left office. Calling that a “conspiracy” is mendacious.

        1. That is not how the word is used. Sorry, No. 5 in that definition is bogus.

          You’re mistaken. For example, LOTR comes immediately to mind; the friendly-but-secret plot by Merry, Pippin, and Sam to help Frodo leave the Shire was dubbed a “conspiracy.”

          (No. 1 is circular. 2, 3, and 4 all involve doing something unlawful or evil, so that proves my point.)

          It does not. You said that she was accusing them of crimes. But those definitions include non-crimes, so therefore she was not. (And of course she didn’t say that all “political opposition” constituted a conspiracy anyway; she said that a particular set of opponents did.)

          1. That is not how the word is used. Sorry, No. 5 in that definition is bogus.

            You’re mistaken. For example, LOTR comes immediately to mind; the friendly-but-secret plot by Merry, Pippin, and Sam to help Frodo leave the Shire was dubbed a “conspiracy.”

            Ironically. For comedic effect. Are you a crazy person? You appear to be a crazy person.

        2. You seriously believe that if I throw my wife a birthday party, and my neighbor picks out the menu, and I hire a caterer to make the food, a housecleaner to clean the house, a waiting service to provide waiters, and a musician to play music, we are all in a “conspiracy?”

          You? No. I can’t imagine you ever doing something fun or whimsical.

          Other people? Yeah, I could see folks planning a surprise party calling it a “conspiracy”. And no one that they inducted into the conspiracy would be confused that it was a criminal enterprise.

          Also, you seem confused on how “or” works. In common language, “a secret, unlawful, or evil purpose” means (in logical notation) “Secret | unlawful | evil”, not “Secret & (unlawful | evil)”. You’re projecting your biases onto the definition.

  4. just as many conservatives’ embrace of the label “The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” slightly mocks the term, which was apparently popularized by Hillary Clinton

    I got the feeling at the time she was just mocking the right wing’s “vast left wing conspiracy” claims, so I have to disagree that it was particularly mendacious in context.

    1. Didn’t the Clinton staffers remove W keys from computers to piss off Bush? That’s pretty mendacious.

      Maybe it was just an urban legend. You never can guess what the vast right wing conspiracy of deplorables will do.

      1. That was apparently consistent with the hijinks that were pulled in 1992/93 transition.

      2. No, they didn’t pull the W’s from the computers. It was a false story. Fox News even went on the air to apologize for reporting it. A Fox News apology doesn’t happen often; I remember exactly where I was when I heard it (in our bedroom, trying to fix our dial-up connnection).

        1. The back-and-forth between the GAO and Bush White House on that one is fun.

        2. Unless I’m missing something, it seems your memory of the events may be as faulty as that dial-up connection often was. Rat on a Train links to the GAO report on its investigation, above, and they concluded that W keys were missing from some of the keyboards, and that other acts of vandalism, pranks, and theft occurred during the transition. So I’d be interested in finding out what Fox News was apologizing for.

  5. As to whether an agreement to do something ‘legitimate’ is a conspiracy, “Honi sois qui mal y pense” — shame on him who thinks evil of it.

  6. “We like The Volokh Conspiracy because it is a lot more fun than the other conspiracies!”
    “Well, we like The Volokh Conspiracy because it has a third less dignity than the other conspiracies!”
    “More fun!”
    “Less dignity!”
    “More fun!”
    “Less dignity!”

    I see vast marketing opportunities, stretching to the horizon…

  7. Thanks for the history lesson. I’ve been here almost since the beginning, although I had a long hiatus in the comments.

    Question: How long before you rename it to “The Blackman Conspiracy”?

    Question2: Can you bring back the feature from way back when where you could put something on the query string to suppress one or more conspirators? The nineteen posts a day from the junior conspirator are a bit much.

    1. How hard is it to just not click on the articles you don’t want to read?

      1. The bigger issue is that it pushes stories down where there are comment discussions, which means you have to scroll down to find them. That discourages further conversations, especially when the OP is pushed to “More” page. Right now the posts in the first landing page are:

        EV: 10
        JB: 5
        SV: 1
        SB: 1
        DB: 1

        As a general proposition the worst thing that has happened to VC is that we don’t see Professor Kerr much anymore. And the comments section is horrible now. I never thought I’d miss a Randy Barnett ACA analysis.

        I’m not going to demand that somebody else clean their own home. But the Today in Supreme Court History” posts aren’t doing anything for me. If you don’t like feedback that people give to the conspirators, how hard is it for you to just not read that feedback?

      2. How hard is it to just not click on the articles you don’t want to read?

        Um, very, if you read the website rather than via a Twitter or RSS feed. See, you don’t need to “click on” anything on the website to read the posts.

        1. You should learn how to scroll.

  8. Having “Conspiracy” makes your blog more believable (well at least to about half the country).

  9. There really was a right-wing conspiracy against the Clintons and you were not in it.

    1. “There really was a right-wing conspiracy against the Clintons”

      Sure, Captain Queeg.

      Proven with geometric logic of course.

      1. Look up “Arkansas Project” just to begin with. And you might note that Starr couldn’t get a jury to indict even a single Clinton Administration official.

        1. They did however indict and convict Jim McDougall, Clinton’s Whitewater business partner, and Jim Guy Tucker, Clinton’s Lt. Gov and successor as Governor of AR.

    2. Depends on what you call a conspiracy, a conspiracy to bring true facts to light doesn’t seem like a classic conspiracy to me.

      Now sure there were lots of investigations of Bill Clinton resolving around these facts:

      Clinton benefitted from an illegal 300,000 loan given to the ill fated Whitewater development. The loan was adjudicated as illegal, so that can’t be disputed, the question was whether Clinton knew about the illegal loan he benefitted from. David Hale and Jim McDougall testified he did, Susan McDougall refused to testify to the grand jury and served 18 months for civil contempt. Neither Hillary or Bill were charged because she refused to testify. 4 people were convicted of fraud for

      The other investigations were related to whether Clinton misused his position as governor to sexually harass Paula Jones, and then misuse his position as president to obstruct justice by lying and suborning perjury to deny Jones fair access to the courts. I don’t think there is any doubt he lied, and tried to get Monica Lewinsky to lie about there relationship which was germane to Jones’ lawsuit.

  10. Professor, wondering if you plan an article on lawyers trying to pressure other lawyers from representing members of the wrong political party. This topic seems like something in which you would be interested.

  11. I’ve been reading since close to the beginning, when I used to comment under my actual name. Still one of the best blogs around.

  12. Sticking with an oddball name is often the right thing to do. 45 years ago there was a contemporary classical music chamber music group founded in Boston that, for very complex and obscure reasons, called itself Dinosaur Annex. I joined the board a couple of years later, and as the board grew, there would always be someone who thought the group would do better to have a more conventional name. At one such meeting, the founding music director listened politely, then nodded and said “You’re right, we should change our name. From now on we’ll be called ‘The Budapest String Quartet.'” That always put an end to the discussion. And 45 years later, Dinosaur Annex is still there and is still Dinosaur Annex.

  13. An enjoyable site. And like almost all Internet political discussions, thankfully not an actual conspiracy given the lack of acts of furtherance.

    Mr. D.

  14. And here I thought the conspiracy was what drove the take over of Reason.

  15. I always assumed it was a reference to H G Wells’ “Open Conspiracy”.

    “… a scheme to thrust forward and establish a human control over the destinies of life and liberate it from its present dangers, uncertainties and miseries”.

  16. I’ve been a reader for a long time, but never knew the origin.

    BTW, I just checked for evidence on how long. I keep track of past email and instant messaging and other communications going back decades, and my earliest reference to the site was sending a friend a link to:

    http://volokh.com/2003_10_26_volokh_archive.html#106735624982648257

    “FOR EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON AND “ZORK” FANS: The Richard Corey interactive adventure. Both silly and disturbing. Link through the lovely and talented Stacey Tappan, go see her in Siegfried at the Chicago Lyric Opera this November if you’re in Chicago.”

    I have several early 20c volumes of Robinson, have been a Zork fan since the early 80s, and I know Stacey personally, so that hit everything for me.

  17. What I always notice about these articles, and particularly the comments section, is that the people arguing with each other actually make sense and don’t just crazily insult each other. I always learn something that I didn’t know, which is why I bother to read the comments. Contrast this with the comments you will read in some of Reason’s more salacious articles.

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