In my decades as galley slave in Washington’s journalistic sludge fleets, I occasionally encountered conspiracy theories, such as the Second Shooter who got JFK, and that FDR intentionally let the Japs blow up Pearl Harbor, and of many sightings of alien space ships. Various psychic oddities dwelling in the crevices of the Potomac Rome worried about fluoride in the water. Like most news weasels who had a living to make, I ignored them as being fringe notions and wackos, which they later proved to be, the stories if not always the people. In any event they seemed few.
Then came Nine Eleven and Covid and there were millions of conspiracy theorists (CTs). Their numbers elevated them from peculiarities to a sort of contained nation within the polity and, in the case of the vaccine worriers, a public danger in that they blocked efforts against the virus. Yet one cannot reasonably relegate a large fraction of the country to the realms of mental disturbance without explanation. What was going on? Perhaps it was another manifestation of the malaise and anxiety and creeping hopelessness that gnaw at so much of America.
Most of their theories were nuttier than Aunt Polly’s prize fruitcake, that Dad poured rum on every year at Christmas and lit on fire. For example, a photo of the Grassy Knoll from above showed it to be the last place in Dallas that anyone would put a sniper, being small, almost without concealment, surrounded on all sides by busy urban streets, and overlooked by tall buildings with lots of windows. The inability of CTs to notice radical incoherence and protuberant flaws like this in their conspiratorial ointment (or is it flies in ointment?) is characteristic of the species.
To my astonishment, I discovered that many among conservative friends believed in the FEMA camps and such, and that they became angry if these were questioned. So I stopped.
The contradictions in these tales were obvious as boils on a pole dancer, as were stark implausibilities and lack of knowledge of the underlying fields. While the theories themselves soon ceased to be interesting, the psychology of the believers fascinated me. There are a lot of theories and, I noticed men (almost all CTs are) who believe in one almost always believe in many. A few of the more popular
FDR helped the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. Black helicopters of some presumably nefarious sort fly over America. A hundred FEMA concentration camps, manned but as yet empty, exist to be stuffed with patriots or conservatives or somebody. The Navy shot down TWA 800. The Jews (or, in other popular versions, the CIA, Mafia, LBJ’s people, or Cuban intelligence killed JFK. The second shooter did it. The government is buying up, or has bought up, thousands of coffins for I’m not sure exactly what purpose. The Jews killed RFK. Obama wasn’t a US citizen. Covid doesn’t exist. While not existing, it contains microchips to track us. Also nanoparticles that do something probably not good. Also mRNA to reprogram our DNA. The Jews blew up the Twin Towers. The military blew up the Pentagon with a missile. The Jews killed Forrestal. Miracle cures for covid exist but are hidden by the government, or most world governments, to (a) make money for Big Pharma, (b) to train us to obedience as communist robots. The purpose of the virus is to depopulate the planet. Lots and lots of POWs and MIAs were knowingly left behind in Vietnam by the Pentagon. Space aliens are stored at Roswell and flying saucers are virtually everywhere. There is a huge conspiracy to pretend that large numbers of people are dying of Covid. Earlier there was a huge conspiracy to prove they weren’t. The Jews, nothing if not busy, are destroying white Christian civilization. Dominion voting machines were hacked. Fluoride in the water is softening our brains (but, presumably, hardening our teeth.) The Towers were blown up by mini-nukes, the airplanes didn’t exist but were holograms, and pools of molten steel were found under the rubble months later.
There is apparently among CTs a gentleman’s agreement that enthusiasts of one theory will not criticize a mutually exclusive theory For example, when the Twin Towers fell, huge steel beams were allegedly hurled long distances, proving the use of explosives, but the buildings also supposedly fell neatly in their “footprints,” proving “controlled demolition.” At least one of these has to be wrong.
Why CTs, often no dummies, do not notice these impossibilities puzzles me. Any tale is welcomed, though not necessarily accepted in preference to one’s own, as long as it criticizes the “official story” (which usually means “what happened.”)
Maybe to be well twisted you have to start with enough string. The fair few among my friends are otherwise normal and, while mostly conservative, fall within the political mainstream, at leas as loosely defined.
Billions of words have been written by now about almost as many theories of Nine-Eleven but none answers the prior question of whether the conspiracy was possible. This baffles me.
A tale: In Marine Corps basic—OK, AIT, Advanced Infantry Training at Lejeune—we had a (very, very) short course in demolitions. It consisted in crimping a blasting cap onto a length of fuse, inserting it in a block of c4, lighting the fuse, and running like hell to the other side of the berm (“Fire in the hole.”) We saw demonstrations of how to use det cord to connect multiple blocks of boom stuff, but didn’t actually do it. I’m pretty sure I could have dropped a small rural bridge in Vietnam, but not much else.
One thing the instructors stressed—we probably would have figured it out all by ourselves—was that to bring something down, you needed to cut the supports that held it up.
Applying this complex reasoning to the Twin Towers, a Marine would reason that here too the supporting elements needed to be cut. What were these? Answer: the fifty-nine huge steel uprights on each face of the building. Where were these? Answer: In plain sight of all of the workers in the offices on the outer face of the building. Great big things, covered with wood facing or plaster, but visible. Visible every day. All day. Would not a CT, if he wanted to be believed by anyone outside of the community of the faithful, at a minimum have to explain how the Mossad agents rigged these pillars for demolition without being noticed?
CTs don’t think this way. All you have to do is believe, to know without finding out, to accept without checking. The CTs aren’t lying, aren’t trying to fool the public. If they were, they would try to inject a degree of plausibility into the story. Nor do they seem to want to convince a wider public or, again, they would answer the essential questions. If you want me to believe that the Israelis did do it, you have to show me that they could have done it. If they couldn’t have, they probably didn’t. Weirdly, CTs on the web become much angrier at me for doubting their theories than at the Israelis who, they assert, killed three thousand Americans. I do not recall hearing a demand for even a diplomatic protest, much less carpet bombing Tel Aviv, appropriate if Israel did it.
(As of fifteen minutes ago, I have encountered a new kink in this rope: The explosives were built into the Towers at the time of construction. I suppose by a large gang of Mossad agents pretending to be construction workers The towers were finished in 1973, making them a monument to terroristic forethought. The more you look at this stuff, the sillier it gets, but CTs don´t notice.)