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.