Half of America Believes in at least One Conspiracy Theory
A friend of mine sent me a link a few days ago to an NPR piece she heard which made her think of me, and when you hear the title of the story you’ll know why: More American Than You Might Think Believe in Conspiracy Theories. Apparently there is new research showing around half of all Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory. Here’s a portion from the transcript of the interview:
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
NPR’s social science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, drops by with juicy new research. He’s here with us again. Shankar, what’s on your mind?
SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: I want to talk about conspiracy theories today, David. And this is everything from whether the U.S. government was secretly behind the 9/11 attacks to whether President Obama was actually born in the United States. What proportion of the U.S population would you say subscribes to one of these theories?
GREENE: Ten, 15 percent, maybe? I don’t know.
VEDANTAM: Yeah, I would’ve guessed at most 20 percent. And that’s why this new research by Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood at the University of Chicago took me aback. They find that 50 percent of the country subscribes to at least one of these conspiracy theories. So 19 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks. 25 percent believe the recent financial crisis was caused by the small cabal of Wall Street bankers. 11 percent of people believe the government is mandating a switch to compact florescent light bulbs because the light bulbs make people obedient and easy to control.
GREENE: Oh, wow. Shankar, I wonder if it’s worth reminding people exactly what a conspiracy theory is.
VEDANTAM: Here’s how I think about it. A conspiracy theory is where you believe in a theory where no matter how much disconfirming evidence comes in, you somehow convert that disconfirming evidence into part of the conspiracy. So with Barack Obama’s birth certificate, for example, the moment the birth certificate came out from Hawaii, the people who believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States would say the Hawaiian hospital now is in on the conspiracy as well.
That is an incredibly condescending, inaccurate description of what a conspiracy theory is, and intended to reinforce the pejorative aspect of the term. If you just refer to wikipedia, you get a more neutral description of what a conspiracy theory is:
A conspiracy theory is an explanatory proposition that accuses two or more persons, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through secret planning and deliberate action, an illegal or harmful event or situation.
Yes, much better.
Since I like to periodically destroy any credibility I may have accumulated with my writing about non-conspiratorial topics, let’s take a quick look at the “9/11 was an inside job” conspiracy theory.
There is an article at Global Research (grain of salt) titled The Propaganda Preparation of 9/11: Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden are Elaborate Legends.
It’s an interesting article that examines how a few people helped construct the pre-9/11 persona of Osama Bin Laden. It’s worth reading in full. If you don’t have the time, I’ll highlight this part:
Here is how it would work: A relatively few well-connected correspondents provide the “scoops” that get the coverage in the relatively few mainstream news sources – the four TV networks, TIME, Newsweek, CNN – where the parameters of debate are set and the “official reality” is consecrated for the bottom feeders in the news chain. In other countries, this is what is known as propaganda – or, put less politely, psychological warfare.
But before I leave this topic, I would like to provide an example of “news management” that is revealing for what is omitted – that is, the “smoking gun” of Pakistani ISI involvement in the events of 9/11. On October 9, 2001, the Times of India dropped this little bombshell: “Top sources confirmed here on Tuesday that [ISI Chief Mahmud Ahmad] lost his job because of the “evidence” India produced to show his links to one of the suicide bombers that wrecked the World Trade Centre. The US authorities sought his removal after confirming the fact that $100,000 were wired to WTC hijacker Mohammed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the instance of Gen. Mahmud.”
What makes this particular piece so devastating is that only days before, much of the mainstream American media was touting the news of a “key link” in the chain of evidence linking bin Laden to the events of September 11 – namely, a $100,000 wire transfer to the hijackers from a shadowy operative linked to bin Laden. Yet once this operative was “outed” as being linked instead to the Pakistani ISI Chief, any propaganda gains initially made through this evidence would now crumble. One possible reason might stem from this Karachi News item, released only two days before September 11:
“[Pakistani] ISI Chief Lt-Gen Mahmood’s week-long presence in Washington has triggered speculation about the agenda of his mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council. Officially, State Department sources say he is on a routine visit in return to [sic] CIA Director George Tenet’s earlier visit to Islamabad…What added interest to his visit is the history of such visits. Last time Ziauddin Butt, Mahmood’s predecessor, was here during Nawaz Sharif’s government the domestic politics turned topsy-turvy within days. That this is not the first visit by Mahmood in the last three months shows the urgency of the ongoing parleys…”
In other words, this was a propaganda piece that went disastrously wrong. After October 9, bin Laden’s alleged paymaster could now be linked to a U.S. “ally” who spent the days before 9/11 in deep consultation at the Pentagon. The US authorities immediately went into damage control mode by insisting on the quiet retirement of the “outed” ISI chief. Thus removed from the public eye, the ISI Chief’s role in all this could be effectively ignored, and an American media black-out could be safely assumed.
If you look at that first “definition” of a conspiracy, you can apply it to those who cling to the belief that 19 hijackers used 2 planes to destroy 3 buildings on the 11th day of September. Somehow those folks believe in a theory no matter how much disconfirming evidence comes in, and they ridicule anyone who calls into question their belief with other now pejorative terms, like “truthers”.
It shouldn’t be surprising over half of America believes in at least one conspiracy theory. Suspicion and mistrust over the obvious corruption of how power in America is distributed and exercised will only deepen and spread further.