The world of conspiracy theory
9/11 was an inside job. Jet fuel doesn’t melt steel beams. We never went to the moon. The earth is flat.
Some of the more famous conspiracy theories often invoke laughter and mockery, and rightly so, but there often seems to be a wilful misunderstanding of the reasons behind conspiracy theories and what drives them.
Many have attributed the rise in anti-intellectualism and conspiracy theorising to the political schisms of recent years - think Brexit or Trump. In a world of fake news and tweeting presidents it’s certainly easier than ever to find content that speaks to your anti-establishment voice. In the UK we have the likes of Westmonster, the absurd website set up by Aaron Banks, and The Canary or Skwawkbox, the Corbynite fake news sites of the left who worry little about the need for actual evidence or facts.
In the world of social media there’s also the very real and tempting tendency to surround yourself with people who think exactly the same as you, leading you to believe that everybody agrees with you, or that the world really is flat.
Beyond the more famous conspiracy theories, though, are insidious fringe theories that are gaining traction with a wider audience and promoting nasty insular behaviour.
To give but two examples there is the anti-Semitism of the British left masquerading as anti-Zionism, and the false flag, a crisis actor movement in the US finding its home in the nationalist right.
For the anti-Semitic narrative emerging on the British left look no further than Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, currently suspended by the party for making ludicrous claims about Hitler. Strangely incapable of making it through 30 seconds of live TV without mentioning Hitler, Livingstone claimed that Hitler in fact supported Zionism to the background noise of a tornado created by the collective nodding heads of the anti-West leftists.
Livingstone is considered not only an anti-Semite but also a liar, as explained by secular Jewish comedian David Baddiel when he said “The statement “Hitler supported Zionism” is not a fact. It’s an interpretation. An interpretation of a particular historical moment, in the 1930s, when the forced emigration of Jews from Germany was pushed further along by various Nazi economic incentives allowing those who fled to Palestine to get some of their stolen assets back. That is not Adolf Hitler supporting the idea of a Jewish state (even writing that sentence looks ridiculous).”
In times of collective sanity, Livingstone’s comments would have invited a much wider condemnation, and he would have been immediately expelled from the party. The party membership, revolted at the insinuation, would have immediately called for his expulsion and, yet, that’s not what happened.
Online, on fake news sites, the conspiracy theorists went into overdrive claiming Ken had been smeared, that it was an attempt to bring down Jeremy Corbyn, that Israel was involved and, most worryingly, that Livingstone was right.
In America, Vice recently aired a short documentary about a conspiracy theorist, Robert Ussery and his accomplice Jodie Mann, who claim that the Sutherland Springs church shooting, in which teenage church goers were murdered by a gunman, never happened and was set up by the government to restrict gun ownership.
According to The Guardian, the sickening behaviour of Ussery was revealed when he was recently arrested, with the article stating “Ussery, 54, was charged on Monday with making a “terroristic threat” after he showed up to the First Baptist church in Texas and allegedly threatened to “hang” the pastor, whose 14-year-old daughter died when a gunman killed 26 people in November. Ussery shouted profanities at the pastor, Frank Pomeroy, and demanded proof that his daughter had died and that the shooting was real, according to witnesses.”
The poster boy for such horrendous behaviour is Alex Jones of InfoWars, a YouTube channel dedicated to Conservative and far-right discussion in which Jones often becomes extremely agitated and shouts at the camera. Jones has accused Hilary Clinton of being part of a global conspiracy involving lizards, and one which isn’t too far from the Jewish conspiracy theories of the far-left.
Jones is currently being sued for defamation by the parents of children who were murdered in the Sandy Hook school massacre, after deriding the shooting as fake and possibly staged by the government, as well as accusing the parents of being crisis actors.
The crisis actor theory has been appearing more and more, with the Syrian chemical weapon attacks also becoming a subject matter for anybody on the internet capable of spotting people who look similar who happen to be in the middle of a warzone. They often also look for pictures of victims horror smiling, claiming that the whole thing was staged, as though victims of terror have no right to smile for the rest of their lives.
Given the horrific nature of these theories and the implications of misleading gullible people into harassing victims of school shootings, one wonders how they ever manage to get out of the darkest corners of the internet and into the discussions of sane people.
Could it be that globalisation and mainstream politics have failed so badly that there is now an irreversible decline in trust in our institutions? It’s certainly possible. Following the 2008 financial crash and the subsequent glacial speed recovery, many have been left wondering what they have to do to get a better chance.
Capitalism so far has failed miserably, at least since the 80’s, of truly bridging the wealth divide between the elite and the majority. It’s probably why Corbyn is so popular in the first place, it’s probably what caused Britain to vote to leave the EU and it’s almost certainly taken Donald Trump into power.
In an article for The Conversation, Harry T Dyer, Lecturer in Education at the University of East Anglia, wrote “knowledge is created and used in a way that reinforces the claims to legitimacy of those in power. At the same time, those in power control what is considered to be correct and incorrect knowledge. According to Foucault, there is therefore an intimate and interlinked relationship between power and knowledge.”
Could it be that politics has created an imbalanced society with no trust for power? Are we heading towards a correction in the relationship between power and knowledge? Perhaps.
What we can be sure of is that whilst politicians do little to address the problems of the developed world there will always be a fertile environment for wild speculation likely to convince others they’re being lied to.