Conspiracy Round-up – July 2016 Edition

One of the interesting ideas that came out of the #brexit referendum in the UK is that whilst no one thinks the 52% of participants who voted 'Leave' are racist, the racists in the UK now think that 52% of participants support them. As such, the fact Donald Trump and his team might be retweeting and following white supremacists doesn't mean Trump necessarily believes in a 'white genocide', but the kind of people who do believe that think Trump and co. are fellow travellers.

Talking of Trump (and this is less conspiratorial, and more cock-up), this article on how certain members of the Establishment are trying to tell us to give up on democracy is interesting. Well, it's unfair to say the pieces and persons being critiqued in this piece are saying 'Let's give up on democracy!' Rather, they are arguing that the political class just isn't appreciated anymore (thus the popularity of Trump, Sanders, Corbyn, and so forth), and this is a bad thing… For reasons.

The articles and persons being critiqued are part of a larger movement which has been criticising the rise of populist figures, and arguing that maybe broadening voting bases has been bad for political systems. See Andrew Sullivan's recent piece in New York Magazine, Democracies end when they are too democratic., and Roslyn Fuller's response, Democracy — Too Much of a Good Thing? in the LA Review of Books.

Someone described this (and I wish I had bookmarked it at the time) as a case of experts who previously warned us that without democracy, we would be overrun with demagogues now telling us that demagogues are a natural consequence of democracy. Personally, as someone with a certain amount of expertise in a specialist subject, I really don't think epistemic experts like myself should run sovereign nations. However, if some secret society wants me to help pull the strings, please do get in contact.

How good is the evidence that frank Marshall Davis is the real father of Barack Obama? Well, if this article by Cliff Kincaid is the best argument for a conspiracy to hide who Obama writes to on Father's Day, I'd say the evidence isn't very good at all.

Talking about US presidents, apparently FDR researched sending excess refugees post World War II to Mars and Venus. I've not found much supporting evidence for this claim outside of a book by Henry Fields, and a review of that book in 'The Eugenics Review' in 1983; can anyone shed light on this?

Moving on. A curious story; what did the 9/11 photographer see? I say 'curious' because I'm not entirely sure why the New Zealand Herald decided to publish this. On the face of it, someone killed their partner, and then fled the country, arguing that they were being persecuted by the US government for what they say beneath the Twin Towers post 9/11. I can see this being somewhat newsworthy in the US, but why was it published here? It's not as if Kurt Sonnenfeld's story as to what he saw is a new and startling revelation even in the Truther community. Colour me surprised!

Steven Segal thinks mass shootings in the US are engineered. He runs the standard canard that the Nazi Party took away peoples' guns (which is not strictly true, and as this Wikipedia article points out, imagines a situation in the Weimar Republic that never really existed). I can't help but wonder why Segal decided to dress like a solider for the clip; you'd almost expect his face to be pixellated, and his voice vocoded, the way he's dressed.

Relatedly, DeadSpin asks the vital question: "Why are so many MMA Fighters Truthers and conspiracy theorists?' I don't know if I agree with the author's conclusions, but it does remind me that I should do some more research into Joe Rogan. He was on my favourite sitcom of all time, after all.

Conspiracy Round-up – June 2016

Are these monthly? Roughly, although the urge to do them really only comes around every six weeks.

So, imagine you are an anti-Semite, and you want to track those dastardly Jews. Why not use a Chrome extension? Better yet, why not give it a completely innocuous name like ‘Coincidence Detector’?

To my mind a significant part of that story is the name. Calling something a ‘Coincidence Detector’ is a knowing nod to the whole ‘coincidence vs conspiracy theory’ debate; the author of the extension knows that critics label their particular views as being the product of misunderstood coincidence, whilst the ‘Coincidence Detector’ is presumably designed to prove otherwise.

In local (Aotearoa) conspiracy theory news: our sustainable fisheries system is a sham, and it’s being covered up by the very body which should be blowing the whistle on it. More here.

(Yes, potential visitors to our lovely shores, please be aware that ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ is just a marketing slogan. You can’t swim in our toxic waterways, you can’t really eat our kai moana (fish), and the government wants to put open cast mines in our nature reserves. Basically, just go visit Hobbiton.)

Oh, and then there’s the curious case of our 1080 poisoner. Not a conspiracy in any sense (it was just one person), but an interesting story nonetheless.

An interesting, libertarian analysis on why the cure for cancer probably isn’t being suppressed/covered-up.

Man wants to recreate 9/11 event to prove what happened either way.

Meanwhile, the CIA deletes its original torture… Sorry, ‘enhanced interrogation’ report ‘by accident’. And they wonder why people suspect them of getting up to no good.

Two conflicting stories about that Benghazi Committee. An explosive (and anonymous) source reveals all, and the chair admits its real purpose.

Brazil is having a bit of an electoral crisis at the moment; their president has been impeached, and the new president is having issues… He’s lost a minister who was found to be threatening an investigation into his own corruption and the new president now has been banned for running for political office for eight years. It all looks very much like a coup by the petroleum industry to cover up kickbacks and the like.

Also, was Hugo Chavez killed because of what he knew about HAARP?

Trump news

I feel Trump needs his own section, given how much Trump-related conspiracy theory news is out in the wilds these days. Indeed, I’ve had to create a new section in my archives to accomodate the fact that Trump is going away, and his theories are getting more and embedded with certain parts of the US electorate.

So, Trump is the presumptive nominee with all the votes need to be ordained King of the Republicans! People are scared about what this means about the support base for right-wing politics in the US, and the Republican Party membership specifically, and are blaming Trump’s rise on right-wing paranoia. More here.

Perhaps as evidence of the above, Trump did have some issues when it turned out delegates of his were white nationalists and Islamaphobic pastors.

I’m not so keen on a diagnosis of paranoia, but it does seem clear that a significant part of the Trump base are unreconstructed bigots, who delight in the idea of a USA best suited for WASPs. I’m not saying every Trump supporter is a bigot (in the same way I don’t think every Sanders supporter is a 22 year old hipster from Brooklyn), but it does seem that Trump is courting the dog whistle vote.

Still, could Trump win by appealing to Sanders’ voters? Some think Trump’s conspiracy theory of being the outsider candidate fighting a corrupt establishment pushes his rhetoric not to the Right, but to the Left. I guess it’s meant to be an instance of the whole ‘The extreme Left and Right don’t really look all that different to Centrists…’

According to Trump, Hillary Clinton is only running for President to avoid going to jail.

So, not so much a conspiracy theory than a worry based on Trump’s past performance; Trump will soon be briefed on top secret information and officials worry he’ll blab. This is a story which relies mostly on anonymous sources, but given Trump’s inability to follow his own narrative, one has to suspect he’d promise not to give away secrets, only to then hold a press conference to explain which secrets he has been sworn to keep from the citizens of the USA.

A month old, but still worth discussing: how Trump evolved on that Ted Cruz’s dad and Lee Harvey Oswald conspiracy theory. You see, if you are mean to Donald Trump, he will be mean to you. It doesn’t really matter if you’re being mean to him was caused by him being mean to you first, or he confused ‘legitimate criticism’ with ‘being nasty’; say something agin the glory of Donald Trump and you will be burned!

Meanwhile, Trump is bringing up talk of the mysterious death of Vince Foster as evidence that maybe the Clintons do have a kill list…

Hillary

Let’s not forget about the presumptive Democrat nominee, though!

Hillary and her optimistic view on UFOs. Basically, she and Bill think there might be something to UFO sightings, and that maybe the powers-that-be might be covering that ‘something’ up. Is this a feature of them growing up during the height of the UFO ‘craze’, the result of insider knowledge, or something else entirely. Whatever the case, I, for one, welcome our potential UFO-enthusiast POTUS!

Although maybe her husband should not have flown as frequently as he did with a pedophile.

Is the fact Clinton ran a private email server whilst Secretary of State really all that big a deal? Clinton supporters are telling us to ignore it, but some analyses indicate she probably does have something to hide and worry about.

More seriously though, the mystery of the email server gets ever deeper. Did you know that the person responsible for setting up then-Secretary of State Clinton’s private email server both has immunity from prosecution, and no record of sending emails to his boss?

All that being said, everyone seems to have forgotten about the time a sitting president lost five million private emails…

Finally…

‘The Da Vinci Code’ is being turned into a Young Adult novel. So. It. Can. Be. Taught. In. Schools. … Sigh.

Did you read the Berenstein Bears books as a kid? Or were you a Berenstain Bear reader? Has someone covered up a change in the timeline?

Chemtrails may protect against vaccine injuries [humour].

Although chemtrail conspiracy theories are proving to be quite the deciding factor as Senator John McCain fights to hold on to his seat. [More here.]

Kind of covered-up: the Soviet Union’s space cannon. Take that, Star Wars Programme!

And talking of Ronald Reagan, he and Gorbachev kind of agreed that if aliens ever invaded the Earth, the US and the USSR would work together to defeat them.

Finally, I always knew I would be vindicated in my dislike of ‘Smashing Pumpkins.

Conspiracy Round-up – 11-04-16

All the news these days is Mossack Fonseca-related; Panama Papers this! Panama Papers that! Who am I to buck such a trend? We even devoted an episode of the podcast to it.

A decent primer on what this whole Mossack Fenseca/Panama Papers thing is actually about.

Vice provides a Conspiracy Theorists Guide to the Panama Papers (although I’d say it’s more a conspiracist’s guide, myself). It covers some of the more wacky aspects of various cover-up theories behind the recent leaks; it’s a hit job on Putin; everyone works for the CIA; George Soros!; etc. It’s a great reminder that almost every major news story can be refactored to fit an existing narrative.

On Putin and Mossack Fenseca, the cellist who seemingly holds the key to the Russian oligarchy’s fortunes.

To my mind, the most interesting part of the investigation into Mossack Fenseca is that near 400 journalists, working for 80 different organisations, managed to keep their investigation secret. It’s a conspiracy by journalists, with the aim of not letting their mark know what was happened, and it seems to have worked out. This story covers some of the lead-up to the Panama Papers investigation, and it makes for interesting reading.

Especially if you take this story into account; did you know that activities of Mossack Fenseca had been revealed to the world eighteen months earlier?

That aforementioned story is interesting to me because it speaks to a curious problem or fascination with modern data journalism; the Vice story told the same kind of tale as the Panama Papers, but it didn’t have a treasure trove of data. It’s a CSI-effect, but in journalistic terms.

Now, the thing about claiming your business is all above board is framing the message. If this story is true, then someone at Mossack Fenseca either thinks their business is crooked, or they watch James Bond films and sympathise with the villains. It’s one thing to name shell companies after Bond films; it’s another to name them after villains in the franchise.

(In related Trump news, Donald Trump retweeted a video about how great he was as a candidate, seemingly unaware that the narration had been stolen from a game (Mass Effect 2), and the narrator in question was not just the villain, but a xenophobic one to boot.)

Moving beyond Panama, here’s an interesting story about how some people at the CIA who are writing a rebuttal (entitled ‘Rebuttal’) to report which said ‘Torture achieved nothing’ just happened to advise the makers of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. You know, the film which said ‘We got Osama because of torture!’

Now, as we discussed on the podcast, when we covered this story, there’s nothing that unusual about agencies helping out Hollywood. It might seem strange, but it happens more often than many of think. Still, there is something unusual about this case. It’s not strictly conspiratorial, but it fits into a narrative of agencies going well beyond the call of duty to get their message across.

I usually don’t link to pieces at Breitbart, because it’s a little tawdry. However, this piece on where Trump’s support comes from – the alt-right – is interesting and scary. Interesting, because it’s basically the sociology of new iteration of the right-wing, and scary for how the authors going ‘They talk like racists, but really they’re not.’ Has everyone forgotten the moral lesson of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr’s ‘Mother Night’?

If you don’t want to read the Breitbart piece, there’s a good overview of it here.

The Guardian’s Conspiracy craze: why 12 million Americans believe alien lizards rule us is – unfortunately – a story of journalist who wants to show that conspiracy theories are weird, and who get’s some quotes from scholars to back it up. It’s interesting mostly because Olga Oksman approvingly cites Rob Brotherton’s work on how people selectively use evidence to bolster their own case, in order to bolster her case. It seems you can’t write about conspiracy theories without succumbing to pre-ordained theories about conspiracies.

Do you read Sutter Kane? Sorry, do you love the film ‘Citizen Kane’? If you do (or even if you don’t), you are probably aware of the story of Randolph Hurst’s media empire trying to shut the film down. It turns out the conspiracy against Orson Welles was bigger than anyone previously thought.

Finally, let me get political for a moment; have you heard of the newest presidential candidate for the USA, Andy Basiago? His policy platform is conspiratorial to the max, and I think you should give him serious consideration if you happen to be a voting American.

Conspiracy Round-up – January 2016

Is the Bundy takeover of the Malheur national wildlife reserve a conspiracy theory? I guess it depends on what you are interested in. If we’re worried that we’re not calling these people ‘terrorists’, then there’s a question as to why (one answer to which will be some claim of a concerted – and maybe secretive – effort by the media and government not to call white people terrorists). There’s also the issue that many of the occupiers are conspiracy theorists themselves, and believe in a state-led conspiracy to deprive them of their natural rights (namecheck: Agenda 21), or that slavery never happened. Whatever we want to call then, they are certainly paranoid enough. Also, why are the authorities strangely absent? What could possibly explain that?

Matt Taibbi has an interesting take on why we are taking cowboys who cry seriously, which is a less problematic analysis than it sounds. But the best thing about it, is that people are sending them dildos.

James F. Tracy, who we interviewed on the podcast in the middle of last year, has been fired from Florida Atlantic University, where he was tenured. An awful lot has been written on it. Some defending Tracy, some taking him to task. Some even saying that the university should not hide its real reasons for the termination.

There’s certainly a discussion to be had about the role of academic freedom, and the associated duties. Northwestern’s Arthur Butz, for example, was not fired for his Holocaust denial. (which is not to compare what Tracy has alleged to have done with anti-Semitism; this is merely an example of a university defending what many rightly would take to be highly offensive behaviour because it was not relevant to Butz’s position).

I do want to call out one article on this, however, which is a perfect illustration of how framing a debate can make one side look more or less bad. This piece about the HONR network talks about harassing people who are sceptical about the official theory of what happened at Sandy Hook. Yet if you think asking people to prove their dead children ever existed is a bad thing, the HONR network looks like it might be a conspiracy of well-intentioned people who just want to stop further trauma. Framing, as we know, can really affect how you view a story.

In other academic conspiracist news: the University of Wollongong has accepted a PhD promoting anti-vaccination views. It’s proving to be quite controversial, and looks like it lacks a lot of rigour. Interestingly, the supervisor of the PhD, Brian Martin, has a long history of supporting students with controversial projects.

Also, we increasingly know more about who are sceptical about vaccines, and it’s not the poor and uneducated.

The search for MH370 has now turned up two 19th century shipwrecks, but no MH370.

Terrorist asks Twitter followers what he should bomb.

This article from The Intercept deftly moves from discussion of the various open plots against Jeremy Corbyn to discussion of how some on the Left are hawkish about the Middle East. Corey Robin has some additional notes.

Why do conspiracy theories take hold in Russia? Basically, everyone either loves or hates Putin.

Ashley Madison might be increasing its user base. Someone suggested to me that Ashley Madison was always a conspiracy; it was really just an extortion racket. That’s why they never checked the emails people used to sign up with; it didn’t matter to them, as long as people wanted to pay the fee to get the account associated with their email deactivated.

As predicted, Volkswagen executives knew about the emissions scandal well before it ever came out, somewhat destroying their claim it surprised them at the time (I guess they were surprised their cover-up wasn’t successful).

You might ask if there was a conspiracy to hide what is killing all the bees.

Finally, did you know there was a conspiracy to hide just how big a Nazi and anti-semite Heidegger was? Well, there was/is.