A Response To The Question “Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?”

Pic: Steve Lee (CC)

Lately there have been a slew of “Why Do People Believe In Conspiracy Theories” articles, no doubt a reaction to the slew of conspiracy theories offered after recent tragedies such as the Aurora shooting, the Sandy Hook shooting, and the Boston Marathon bomb attack. The reasons given in these articles mirror many of the thoughts I have expressed when speaking to those with their own conspiracy theories. I frequently argue with conspiracy theorists here on Disinfo, but not for the reasons they typically give (“government shill” is the most common). I certainly believe there are and have been conspiracies within the US government to break the law at the expense of other people’s lives for the sake of greed and lust for power. What annoys me about the articles I mentioned is that they have all left out, or at the least severely underestimated, a very important reason people believe conspiracy theories. One which is known by just about everyone that posts on Disinfo, one that is never spoken outright because if you weren’t aware of it you wouldn’t be visiting Disinfo. The reason is as follows: those in power do not like company, and they will cheat and steal and generally break all manner of laws, and they will lie to you and everyone else while they do it. In recent US history, conspiracies were made, laws were broken, and hundreds of thousands have suffered.

Some have been successful, in the sense that no one was ever punished for the crimes committed. I plan to examine why some conspiracies are successful and, in doing so, reveal a pattern of successful conspiracies that can be used in the future to analyze a given situation for signs of the same.

First, a little history: back in 1915, Haiti had a government that wasn’t keen to play ball with the US, which saw this as evidence that Haiti did not know what was good for Haiti. In a sense this was true (although a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy), in that Marines were then sent to Haiti and thousands were killed. After disbanding the parliament at gunpoint, a new constitution was drafted. Under US supervision, naturally, so that it would be “beneficial to Haiti”, which Haitians apparently were unable to do before the Marines came. What followed was decades of abject misery under despotic rulers that catered to US financial interests.

Can this be called a conspiracy? Certainly US leaders planned the entire thing with malice aforethought and lied through their teeth about their reasons for intervention, so it would seem to fit the bill. It is also continues a tradition started long ago in regard to successfully getting away with a conspiracy: choose victims that nobody gives a shit about (the darker/more foreign the better), victims that do not have a voice, victims that do not have any kind of leverage. It also shows quite plainly the design of such conspiracies: to maintain the status quo as imagined by the US.

“What status quo, exactly?” you ask. At that time, it was only generally known as “if you don’t have leverage or a voice, but DO have something we want, we will decide what happens next and you probably won’t like it very much”. Pretty much all world powers had been operating under that design for most of history with varying levels of lip-service to ideals of some kind, but it wasn’t until some 30-odd years later that the US refined it significantly.

Fast-forward to the second World War and the War-Peace Studies Group, a joint effort by the State Department and Council on Foreign Relations. For six years they studied the changing geopolitical topography, and quickly realized that by the end of the war the US would be the only real power left, and furthermore that steps ought to be taken to ensure that this remains a key element of the status quo for the foreseeable future. George Kennan, head of the State Department policy planning staff in 1948, said it best in document PPS23:

“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction…. We should cease to talk about vague and…, unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.*”

You’ll note this is contrary to the goals espoused by the US government for lo these many decades. This document was Top Secret until relatively recently, and it paints a frightening picture when one takes into account the status quo the US had theretofore been defending. At that time, American policy makers realized that the US was a.) the sole world power, b.) was very hungry, and c.) could not afford “the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction” or pay any attention to “vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization”. Maintaining the new status quo, “America On Top”, just became of prime importance and those aforementioned paltry ideals would only get in the way.

This reasoning can be seen in much of the US’s history of intervention in Central America after the War-Peace Studies Group’s findings. In order to “maintain this position of disparity”, it became necessary for the Carter administration to support Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza’s brutal regime because, as Robert Pastor — Carter’s National Security Advisor for Latin America — put it, “”The United States did not want to control Nicaragua or the other nations of the region, but it also did not want developments to get out of control. It wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect U.S. interests adversely.”

This is a fine explanation of the status quo the US is trying to protect, that it knew it would need to protect back in ’48. It also explains a great deal of animosity toward Nicaragua after Somoza was kicked out; Nicaragua had the gall to experience a upward trend of productivity and a dramatic decrease in the infant mortality rate, and did so “in ways which reduce their willingness and ability to complement the industrial economies of the West,” which is literally the definition of the “threat of Communism” decided upon by a Harvard study group headed by Professor of Government William Yandell Elliot in the mid-50’s. It’s basically the definition the US used for a solid 30 years after that.
Now, this is not truly a conspiracy as many view the term today. Which international laws were broken is up for debate and difficult to prove; also Pastor is actually quite forthright in his defense of US intervention, although the reasons given are horrible.

A better example would be the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 and how it was handled. The official story was that the North Vietnamese had fired first, that the US boats had acted in self-defense, and that the US had no interest in a broader war at that time but events dictated that it must engage. It would later be discovered, long after an awful and bloody war proceeding directly from that event, that none of those three things were true; at the same time heads of state were assuring the populace that this was indeed the truth they were in fact well aware that it wasn’t. That is a conspiracy, and it was a successful one.

“Successful how?” you may ask. “We lost the war! Thousands of American troops, mostly teenagers, were lost!” Both of those statements are true, but the war did what it was supposed to do: remind everyone that if you don’t have any leverage, any voice, and are foreign-looking, the US is the one who tells you what government you may or may not have and what stuff you may or may not have. Upsetting the status quo means the US comes to your door and what happens next will be an ugly event measured with terms like “blast radius” and “body count” and “utter devastation”. Vietnam didn’t have anything worth taking, but the US couldn’t allow a country to fall into the dangers of Communism for fear of other nations in the area thinking it was permissable to do so without having several thousand tons of incendiary devices dropped on their heads. That was the true threat of the oft-quoted “Domino Theory”.

The majority of this conspiracy’s victims were poor Vietnamese and thus fit the role perfectly, but the other victims–the 56,000 dead US troops–would have been ignored as well, aside from empty sermons on their heroism (while using one epitaph to serve the thousands of dead), had it not been for the media giving them a voice. Images of their burnt, shattered bodies being carried away were beamed to every TV in America and the country began to question their leaders. Stories of drug addiction and psychological scarring began to surface and make America wonder what the goal really was and if it was worth this (US leaders noticed this unwelcome development and its cause, you can be sure).

When the victims were white, unrest soon followed; but on December 4th 1969, when 14 Chicago policemen raided the home of Fred Hampton, charismatic leader of the Black Panther movement, and promptly gunned him down before he was even able to get out of bed, there was no unrest. No demands from the US public for someone to be punished, no true investigation until a lawsuit filed by victims brought forth the truth thirteen years later. That raid was absolutely a conspiracy: several authority figures planned in advance to commit a terrible crime and then lied through their teeth about the event. Cook County state’s attorney Edward Hanrahan went on television and told the nation that the Panthers had fired first and that the police called for a cease-fire numerous times. Neither of those statements were true; witnesses testified that the police simply burst in and began shooting, and forensics later discovered that the only one shot out of more than eighty had been fired by a Panther, and that was straight up into the air as he was gunned down. Thirteen years later it would be proven that the raid was part of the FBI’s notorious Cointelpro operation.

The victims were radical minorities, however, and nobody was punished. The conspiracy was successful, and served the status quo adequately. In the 70’s the Senate Church Committee was formed to investigate abuses by intelligence agencies and sought to curb such abuses by requiring Congressional oversight, which were viciously fought against by none other than Ford administration chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld’s deputy, Dick Cheney. Their reasons are obvious, and they convinced Ford to veto the legislation requiring such oversight. Congress, in a rare moment of humanity, overrode the veto.

Those two names lead us, predictably, to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. All evidence points to a group planning to break the law, doing exactly that, and then lying through their teeth while doing so in an effort to cover up misdeeds and motivations of greed rather than “spreading democracy”. Again, the majority of victims were brown people without a voice loud enough to reach the ears of American citizens. The cry was “support our troops”, not “stop the illegal and invasion and murder of civilians”. It wasn’t until the toll taken by American military forces–men and women once again used, as described by Vonnegut, as toy-soldiers in a rich boy’s game–became obvious to all with help from the media (hello Internet!). This was despite efforts made by the administration to use said media for its own ends, which met with only moderate success. They had learned their lesson in regard to media during the Vietnam War, although perhaps not well enough.

Looking at these well-documented conspiracies, for which no one responsible was ever punished, a pattern emerges. The goals are the same, and while the methods differ they appear to make sure that the victims are sadly similar in a few regards. This pattern is why I don’t accept any conspiracy in regard to Sandy Hook or Aurora or Boston–the victims don’t fit the profile and the goals aren’t being served. Mass shootings aren’t serving the powers that be, despite what those terrified of stricter gun control laws tell you. It hasn’t distracted anyone from any of the many, many problems that plague the US. It hasn’t made the public rally around a leader, or overwhelmingly support any proposed legislation, or given the public an enemy from which they rely on the government to protect them. It is painfully obvious, perhaps more so than ever, that the government can’t protect anyone, that it is as ineffectual and lost as everyone else. It is also obvious that it continues to serve its own ends, that it is beholden to no one but itself, and that the truth is not something to which the American people are entitled.

That is an important answer to the question “why do so many people believe conspiracy theories?” that is too often overlooked. Because conspiracies exist, because the victims usually have no voice of their own, because the guilty are rarely punished.

*If you’ve ever been near Noam Chomsky when he opens his mouth, you’ve probably heard that statement before. He quotes it frequently.



Tuna Ghost lives in Tokyo and has been a contributor to Japan Times and Kansai Scene.Follow him on twitter (@Tuna_Ghost) to read about US politics, the underground Tokyo metal scene, and which brands of 7-11 wine will make you fight like a homeless werewolf prostitute.  

31 Comments on "A Response To The Question “Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?”"

  1. mannyfurious | May 2, 2013 at 6:30 pm |

    This is pretty brilliant.

    Of course there are true-blue Conspiracies happening all the time. The problem is they are far more insidious and destructive than anything most of the typical Conspiracy Theorist can dream up.

    This country will not fall on the back of a “banging” conspiracy. It will fall on the back of a “whimpering” one.

  2. why do people believe in coincidence theories?

    • Jin The Ninja | May 3, 2013 at 10:05 am |

      american policy is an ideology, a doctrine,
      any student of history can see it’s hardly coincidence.

  3. EileenEnfall | May 2, 2013 at 7:19 pm |

    Because people are not always told the truth by people that are obligated to.

  4. BuzzCoastin | May 2, 2013 at 7:25 pm |

    let’s list the members of American society
    who know for sure there are conspiracies:
    American Indians, African Americans, dark skinned Hispanics, poor people, women

    let’s list the members of society who poo-poo the idea of conspiracies:
    white media moguls, white politicians, white corporate elites, white military leaders

    • Have you seen fox news lately. They are throwing false flag around like it’s nothing to scoff at. Otherwise, agreed.

      • BuzzCoastin | May 2, 2013 at 10:41 pm |

        to be honest
        I only give mass media a sideways glance
        it’s all entertrainment for the Proles
        to ignore it is bliss

        • I agree, I only know about this by reading it from “trusted” sources.

          • BuzzCoastin | May 3, 2013 at 2:08 am |

            a few months before 911 went down
            I went totally off the grid
            no electricity, radio, TV, newspaper, internet, phone
            I tried to stay as uniformed as possible
            911 happened around 3am Hawaii time
            and I knew about by 5am
            from a guy more off the grid the I

          • I stopped paying direct attention to the media after 9/11.

          • Sakeeta Rosen | May 3, 2013 at 3:03 pm |




          • obsidianobelisk | May 10, 2013 at 10:53 am |

            Your capitalization of every word really puts your point across very eloquently. Have you ever thought of writing political speeches?

    • Your second list looks more like the members of society who ACT in conspiracies. (maybe denial and active involvement are intertwined, in this case?)

  5. i think the real conspiracy theories began to spin out of control with the election of a black man to the white house. in the minds of many of our citizens that fact could not have become fact without conspiracy theories to explain it. when something has a reasonable and simple answer that goes beyond your comprehension you imagine other explanations that may seem reasonable because they fit your view of the world.
    i think humans had to concoct religion and god because their mere existence was too simple for an inquiring mind that could think in complex and abstract terms.

  6. Well written….TQ

  7. Earthstar | May 3, 2013 at 12:02 am |

    What about Columbine High School? Does that event fit into the established profile? Even going back, that one was messed up too.

    • kowalityjesus | May 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm |

      That is one noted exception from being a conspiracy. Everything fit into place as a pair of boys fed up with a school pecking order, of which they were way at the bottom, and a perfect storm of adolescent sturm und drang mixed with inability to distinguish consequences of reality and willingness to do great bodily harm to themselves and others.

      Very few other situations line up so conveniently, and it is sad that it is so. I am sure someone who has heard a LOT of background information straight from the horse’s mouth (i.e. without massive influx of disinfo and drug-induced paranoia) has a satisfactory explanation for OKC bombings, JFK assassination, 9/11, London bus bombings, Aurora shootings, Newtown shootings, Boston bombings, Extraterrestrial visitations/interactions, etc. I would almost catagorically refuse to take at face value anything coming from the internet, which indicates that the people tasked with conjuring disinformation on the net HAVE DONE A SUPERB JOB!! WELL DONE!!!

    • Jon Norris | May 3, 2013 at 2:58 pm |

      I worked in Aurau Colorodo with a group of kis that were at Columbine at the time and they swore there was an additional shooter but his father was someone of importance I can’t remember what his posistion was but his son was escorted off and that the day before they came in with guns too. They were filming something for a project I heard this from 4 different people I have no reason to question them.

  8. BrendanBabbage | May 3, 2013 at 2:45 am |

    Well, ever since Paradox Press’s “Big Book of Conspiracies” I subscribe to Rev Ivan Stang’s opinion that there is “The Conspiracy” of which all the other hidden controllers, the Rothchilds, the Illuminati, the Elders of Zion, the Bilderbergers, the Girl Scouts, etc… It’s “The Conspiracy” in which all exposers of the truth are debased as “Conspiracy Theorists” as if that was a bad thing. So he sayeth more or less, Slack be upon him!

    However, a “Conspiracy Theory” IMO is actually optimistic. Let’s say there are terrible multinational globalist bankers who are also shape shifting reptiles and start wars, cause economic depressions, take children to abuse and drink their blood, etc… Well, then, the mess the world is in, has been in, is understandable. But what if it’s just men being stupid and greedy and short sighted and when there’s a real, proven conspiracy (Auto companies creating suburbia, killing public transport also…) there’s no connection to the others… Well …. Won’t type a ton of bad words, but isn’t that it, no?

  9. Thanks Tuna for some very thoughtful observations. We could use more like this from our commenting community (hint).

  10. obsidianobelisk | May 3, 2013 at 10:13 am |

    I think some conspiracy theories manifest from some peoples lack of control they feel in their lives in the same way people generate racist views. “I can’t get laid and I’m in a ton of debt (because of my poor decisions) therefore someone out there is trying to ruin the general welfare of humanity for their own gains.” Robert Anton Wilson used to talk about how impractical the idea of a unified conspiracy theory seemed to him and if they do exist, they’re probably all tripping each other up. That makes more sense to me. Seeing how inefficient a lot of governments are, I don’t see how they could successfully maintain working and secret conspiracies. I think conspiracies are possible/probable, but should it be a surprise to anyone who’s ever questioned the will to power? Hell no.

    • BrianApocalypse | May 3, 2013 at 5:36 pm |

      It’s the acknowledgement of that realism of inefficiency and greed that leads people to posit theories of “Them” possessing superhuman/alien abilities or occult hidden knowledge etc. Almost every overarching conspiracy ‘mythos’ contains a hidden-hand with powers and knowledge beyond mere mortals.

  11. Late, Post, or Liquid Modernity (whatever you choose to call it) gives rise to a growth in conspiracy theories and those who subscribe to them. Our world is increasingly characterised by uncertainty, and conspiracy theories provide simple explanations for those who require its comfort, and so on and so on (zizek joke ofc). However, it is true that theorists often over look what has been mentioned here, that the reality that we are presented with conditions us to inherently distrust authority.

  12. Alan Morse Davies | May 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm |

    I don’t think it’s possible to lump all believers in conspiracy theories or the theories themselves together. The theories are alternative views of the consensus truth, but the consensus truth has also been proven after time to be not so true… generally truth has a time stamp and becomes less true with the passing of years.

    What people believe to be true is largely subjective and subject to change… there is no unifying principle for this, just as there is no unifying principle for those that choose to disagree with that current truth. Neither is inherently right at any given time based on numbers of people agreeing or lack of numbers.

    I would suggest for the U.S. it’s more an issue of cultural memes. Instead of looking at the theories or the people that believe in them, look at the culture in the context of trust in the political process.

    France isn’t riddled with conspiracy theorists/theories, neither is Canada, nor the UK.

    To find a country like the U.S. with so many people doubting their own government and reading endless alternatives into every government action or inaction you have to move to third world countries where they know that all their institutions are corrupt.

    The conspiracies are a symptom of corruption and failure, like the number of gun deaths is a symptom of the same (the U.S. ranks in-between Panama and The Philippines), is 40 times the UK rate per capita.

    It’s systemic failure, fall-out from the U.S. becoming a plutocracy, fall-out from the cognitive dissonance of believing in the teachings of jesus and praising the wealthy. Cognitive dissonance from believing that America is the freest country on earth without really feeling free. Cognitive dissonance from the American dream where everyone wins if they work hard yet only the winner of a race is a winner, just one.

    I was going to include something on spreading democracy and freedom and how the opposite has been achieved but those are other countries.

    That’s a lot of crazy to believe to be true all at the same time.

    Maybe consensus truth in the U.S. has been compromised by this?

    American people still believe that the founding fathers were fleeing religious persecution instead of fleeing NOT being able to persecute people of different beliefs in their home country after the restoration of Charles II.

    70% believe in angels?

    God is a capitalist, he wants a free market in order for people to be rich?
    Ayn Rand’s advocation of pure selfishness is in no way incompatible with God?

    What the U.S. is lacking in public is rationalism, intelligence, empathy, conviction and honest debate.

    It is a theater of fools right now and a disservice to its people. Once you start inherently distrusting people that are cleverer than you, game over.

    I am not anti-U.S. I want it to be better, for the government to serve its people well without undue influence from lobbyists. without being remote, with rational debate, for the main purpose of a life in politics not to be solely re-election.

  13. Sakeeta Rosen | May 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm |

    Because they are “theories”, they are the truth.


  14. Jon Norris | May 3, 2013 at 3:07 pm |

    I stopped believing in official stories when I was six and my sunday school teacher told me all the indians would be burninig in Hell I walked out of class and said I want nothing to do with your god.
    Then when Waco happened I thought something was fishy and then OKC I remember them saying there were more bombs shortly after I learned about the Lusitania and I had a good history teacher I wrote an OPed for the NYT as a project and questioned who benefitted the most from the sinking of that boat the germans had written an Oped in the NYT saying not to bring arms to britian then the boat was sunk while germany was winning the war. Why would they want the US to enter the war it benefitted the British to draw us into the war my history teacher then went on to teach about the history of false flags. For that I salute him but he had the most boring monotone voice I have ever had. Except maybe my geologist teacher in college.

  15. disqus_F0e6JU3GwB | May 5, 2013 at 1:51 am |

    So you think the government would do this to all those people and you dont think they would to us???

    • Tuna Ghost | May 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm |

      What do you mean by “us”? It certainly does this to its own citizens, as one can see by the FBI’s assassination of Fred Hampton. It is hardly shocking to suggest that white victims garner much more attention and outrage than minority victims (consider news coverage and subsequent law enforcement response of white child abductions with that of nonwhite child abductions), or that of the conspiracies that are well documented the primary victims are nonwhite.

  16. infomaniac | May 6, 2013 at 4:23 am |

    Good work, until paragraph 18 logic fail.

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