I love conspiracy theories. I wrote a novella centered on the conspiracy theories and political machinations.  (Not to spoil it, but it involves a takeover of the United States government by an insane dictator.  But that’s another story.) The point is, I’ve spent a lot of time reading popular conspiracy theories.

Lately, a lot of attention has been paid to so-called “fake news” on social media, and the role they played in the recent U.S. Election.

I’m not sure why they are calling these stories “fake news”–they appear to be similar to the old conspiracy theories that flourished, beginning in the late 1990s.  It’s part and parcel of what Warren Spector, the creator of the great conspiracy-theory video game Deus Ex, called “millennial weirdness”.

People who listen to the radio frequently are familiar with these things.  A lot of strange ideas have been floated over the air on shows like Coast to Coast AM for decades now. It’s not new.

I think what is new is the politicization of conspiracy theories. In the old days, conspiracies were about the Illuminati or Extraterrestrial life, and those are never on the ballot. But now, the conspiracy theories are deliberately meant to certain political factions.

It may have started with the 9/11 conspiracy theories, which were inevitably explicitly political in nature.  Or it might have just been that political strategists realized they could take advantage of people’s love for conspiracies in order to advance their aims.  (Good strategists are always looking for any edge they can get.)

But I’m curious about is why the term “fake news” (which evokes something more like satirical sites on the order of The Onion) seems to have supplanted the term “conspiracy theory”. What reasons could there be for this?

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It’s worth asking.  It was a very close election, and so a little careful cheating could have changed the outcome.

The experts seem to take it for granted that the election couldn’t possibly have been stolen.  But the experts also took it for granted that Trump couldn’t possibly beat Clinton.

I’ve always assumed that in a country as big as the USA, there is bound to be some cheating in national elections, but that it is on a small scale, and people from both sides do it, so it more or less evens out.

There is, however, reason to think 2016 was particularly ripe for cheating, due to two facts:

  1. Earlier in the year, the FBI warned that the Russian government was hacking U.S. voting systems.
  2. Donald Trump was singularly sympathetic to Russia throughout his campaign–not only in comparison to Clinton, but also in comparison to his rivals for the Republican nomination.

I am not saying that the Russians hacked the election in order to ensure their preferred candidate won.  I am just saying that if that did happen, it would look exactly like what has happened.

Trump and his staff kept saying throughout the campaign that the polls were wrong, and they had secret supporters in the Rust Belt. And sure enough, that is exactly the way it appeared to play out on election night, with Trump narrowly pulling upsets in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Maybe Trump is an instinctive political genius who could intuitively sense what the professional analysts were all missing. Or… maybe those secret Trump supporters were really deep cover. As in, perhaps they only existed as lines of binary code.

Again, I’m not saying I think this is the case.  To my mind, the election results match up perfectly with what the charisma theory would predict. That seems like the most likely explanation.

But because the Press got their predictions of how it would play out so wrong, it seems to me they should at least look into whether it might have been stolen, rather than simply assuming it wasn’t–just as they previously had assumed Clinton couldn’t lose.

In my previous post, I wrote something that I’d like to enlarge on a bit.  I mentioned how the alleged Bob Dylan conspiracy required a bunch of people to be involved in a conspiracy that would not come to fruition until long after they were dead.  I realized this might be a good rule of thumb for determining how likely a conspiracy is to be true: “are the alleged conspirators going to be around to reap the success of their conspiracy?”

In a lot of these Illuminati/Freemasons/CIA/Assorted Other Shadowy Group conspiracy theories, there is at least a strong insinuation, if it is  not outright stated, that it is all part of some centuries-old plot.  And that has always struck me as really unlikely because it requires these conspirators to not only know which actions will have which consequences centuries later, but also care enough about how it develops after they’re dead.

Most real conspiracies (here are some) are conspiracies that generate immediate results for the conspirators. They’re not doing it to achieve some long-run goal decades later.  And while I’m not saying that all conspirators care only about themselves–ideologues of any type will often justify whatever they are doing by saying “it’s for future generations”–I am saying that it’s one measure of assessing a theory’s plausibility.  There needs to be something in it for the conspirators, not just for future generations of conspirators.

Conspiracy theories like the Dylan one, which are supposedly about making money, strike me as especially unlikely, since people generally have a preference to have money sooner rather than later, and especially have a preference to have money before they are dead rather than after.  This is one of the finer points of decision theory.

Via Thingy, a hilarious and bizarre conspiracy theory about how famous singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was a puppet of U.S. intelligence. Thingy doesn’t know if it was written as satire or not.  My hunch is that it wasn’t, because clearly the author, one Miles Mathis, spent a lot of time either researching or making up a bunch of random things to string together.  I don’t think even Jonathan Swift had enough patience to write a satire that long.

What’s funny about this is that there is a tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small kernel of truth behind all this nonsense:

We know Intelligence was running all sorts of secret operations in the 1960’s. Many of them have since been partially de-classified, like Operation Mockingbird, Operation Bluebird, Operation Chaos, MKULTRA, and many many more. But there appears to have been an even larger, more fundamental Operation beneath all of them. This was Operation Rolling Stone. It was the promotion of change in all forms. To what end? The promotion of trade.

He’s right that it’s not a coincidence that the 1960s social upheaval and the work of liberals, like Dylan, did lead to the promotion of trade. It’s ironic because many of the liberals were not in favor of capitalism, yet they ended up promoting it.  Both the Democrats and Republicans have become way more amenable to the idea of free trade post-’60s.

But it wasn’t a conspiracy by U.S. intelligence, or the Illuminati, or the Elders of Zion, or the Freemasons, or the Esoteric Order of Dagon. It just happened.  I think it’s because the social values of ’60s liberals are quite compatible with laissez-faire trade–values like not discriminating against people based on skin color, or gender, or religion etc. It doesn’t require an elaborate conspiracy where Bob secretly sets the stage for Jim who twenty years down the road will secretly say something to Dan that will motivate him conspire with Harry to fundamentally alter the culture of the United States.

So, I guess, he did identify a correlation between to phenomena.  I think it’s even true that there is a causal relationship there.  Where he goes completely off track is in attributing it to some conscious conspiracy by a bunch of people, most whom would be dead long before any of their efforts came to anything.

That said, he does go a little overboard in asserting how much trade has accelerated in the last half-century, saying:

Gentlemen in the early 19th century looked down on trade, as we see from reading Dickens or Austen, or watching Downton Abbey. The English aristocracy mocked American wealth, since it came from trade.

Where does he think the English aristocracy’s wealth came from? Ever heard of the East India Company?

Is it a joke, or is it for real?  The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

You’ve all heard various conspiracy theories about “the Illuminati”, right? When you love reading conspiracies as much as I do, you see the Illuminati crop up all the time.  But for all the times I’ve heard about them, I never bothered to visit their Wikipedia page and ask: “just who are these guys?”

Well, turns out there was a historical group called ‘the Illuminati“.  They were an offshoot of the Freemasons founded in Bavaria in the 1700s by this guy Adam Weishaupt. But they came into conflict with the Church and were disbanded in 1785.

And just wait till you hear what diabolical schemes these scumbags had in mind! Are you ready to hear what the legendary, mystery-shrouded, secret society wanted? Wikipedia gives the grisly details of their nefarious doctrine:

The society’s goals were to oppose superstition, prejudice, religious influence over public life and abuses of state power, and to support women’s education and gender equality.

So… the famed secret society… the group whose name has formed the basis of all kinds of conspiracy theories… were a bunch of liberaltarians?

It’s a bit underwhelming to go looking for a sinister cabal of super-powerful malevolent cultists, and instead find the blog section at The Daily Beast.

Now, I do want to point out that in the 229 years since the society dissolved, considerable progress has been made towards almost all of the Illuminati’s goals throughout the world, and especially in the United States and Europe.  And, truth be told, I think that’s a good thing.

To a conspiracy theorist, this makes it look as if the Illuminati were secretly controlling events behind the scenes.  After all, how could their goals enjoy such success without the hidden hand that holds the world manipulating things? Pr-etty conve-e-enient, eh?

On the other hand, it could just be that Weishaupt and his friends foresaw that societal trends were going in that direction anyway, and were just ahead of their time.

But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet.  The best part is that in 1799, a guy named Augustin Barruel wrote a book called  Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism that claimed the Illuminati were behind the French Revolution. And you probably thought the John Birch society was who came up with blaming them for everything. Quoth the Wikipedia synopsis:

Barruel defines the three forms of conspiracy as the “conspiracy of impiety” against God and Christianity, the “conspiracy of rebellion” against kings and monarchs, and “the conspiracy of anarchy” against society in general. He sees the end of the 18th century as “one continuous chain of cunning, art, and seduction” intended to bring about the “overthrow of the altar, the ruin of the throne, and the dissolution of all civil society”

More than anything else, Barruel’s writing reminds me of Peter Hitchens whenever he gets on the subject of what he calls the “cultural revolution” in the 1960s. He too sees cultural change and social upheaval as a conscious effort secretly advanced by important people in society.  And who can say for sure if that’s wrong? Heck, Edmund Burke attested to the existence of a conspiracy as described by Barruel.

Conspiracies or coincidence? They report, you decide. But I’ll leave you with this: maybe the pattern is real, but there are no century-spanning conspiracies–it’s just that the same things keep happening over and over. “Condemned to repeat it”, like the fella said.

Did you hear about this weird rant by the House stenographer right before the vote to re-open the government?  Very strange stuff:

I don’t know if there’s audio, but according to this article, part of what she said was:

“This is not one nation under God. It never was,” she said. “Had it been … the Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons, they go against God.”

Longtime readers know my mantra: I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but I love thinking about them. This would make a great opening scene for a Dan Brown-esque conspiracy novel.

CNN ran an article last week by Professor Gabriel J. Chin, explaining why Texas Senator Ted Cruz is eligible to be President.  For those of you who don’t know, there is some concern over whether or not he is a “natural born citizen”, because he was born in Canada. His mother was a U.S. citizen, but his father was a Cuban citizen.

So, in the opinion of this legal scholar, someone who was born in a foreign country still qualifies as a natural born citizen, even if born in another nation, as long as their mother was a citizen. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating.

And so once again, I must ask the question: why didn’t the press mention this any of those times when people were alleging President Obama was ineligible because he had been born in Kenya? That would have been a much better way of counter-acting the so-called “birther” conspiracy than anything else.  Where Obama was born never even mattered from a legal perspective.

I don’t remember any CNN articles pointing this out when they talked about the conspiracy theory.  I mean, the conspiracy stuff is ridiculous enough as it is, but when you throw in the fact that even if it were all true, it is totally unimportant, that would make them look really bad. And yet, nobody seems to have bothered to consult any legal experts when the questions were raised about Obama.

So, I was reading an article about the late George Romney’s eligibility for the Presidency when I made an interesting discovery. According to the Reuters article:

[T]he Congressional Research Service declared that the practical, legal meaning of “natural born citizen” would “most likely include” not only anyone born on U.S. soil but anyone born overseas of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen. [Emphasis mine.]

So, I looked into it. Here is the only paper I could find by the Congressional Research Service on the matter. And it quotes from the case United States v. Carlos Jesus Marguet-Pillado, in which a Court said:

No one disputes that Marguet-Pillado’s requested instruction was “an accurate statement of the law,” in that it correctly stated the two circumstances in which an individual born in 1968 is a natural born United States citizen: (1) that the person was born in the United States or (2) born outside the United States to a biologically-related United States citizen parent who met certain residency requirements. [Emphasis mine, again.]

So, let’s review: Obama’s mother was born in Wichita, Kansas. She was therefore a U.S. Citizen. Consequently, by this definition, Obama is a natural born citizen no matter where he was born. So there, conspiracy theorists: even if your “born-in-Kenya” idea proved to be entirely true, it doesn’t automatically make him ineligible.

Incidentally, I would have thought someone in the mainstream press would have pointed this out to Donald Trump and that crowd, instead of merely stringing them along to generate a farcical diversion from serious matters.

In the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup, there’s a scene where Chico’s character, Chicolini, is on trial. The prosecutor asks, “Chicolini, when were you born?” Chico answers: “I don’t remember. I was just a little baby.”

I’ve though of this line while reading about the latest installment in Breitbart.com’s “vetting” of the President. It seems a 1991 pamphlet from his literary agent described him as “born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.” Almost everyone is saying it’s a simple fact-checking error. Even Breitbart.com doesn’t claim it as evidence he actually was born in Kenya; rather, they say:

It is evidence–not of the President’s foreign origin, but that Barack Obama’s public persona has perhaps been presented differently at different times.

First of all, this is almost certainly true, as it is true of every other politician. How often have you seen a Presidential candidate, on a visit to Pittsburgh say “Go Steelers! I’ll fight for you in Washington as hard as Hines Ward blocks.” and then the next day in Wisconsin say “You know, my mother’s best friend’s brother had a cousin from Wisconsin, and I’ve always had a soft spot for those Packers. How ’bout Aaron Rodgers, huh?”

So, it’s kind of a waste of time to say “hey, look; this guy presents himself differently according to the situation! He is unfit to be President!” They all do that. Even if this isn’t a typo–and it probably is–it’s not important.

I hate the phrase “dog-whistle” used in regards to politics. It’s often used as a cheap excuse to say “well you didn’t say [awful, usually racist thing], but it’s what you meant.” That’s dishonest debating. But in this case, it seems almost like Breitbart.com is actually saying (aside, to conservatives) “Here’s evidence he was born in Kenya.” (aloud, to world in general) “We’re not saying this means he was born in Kenya; we just think he’s a liar!”

Although, at least the allegation that he was born in Kenya, crazy as it is, would be important if true. (Which it isn’t.) It relates to an actual legal issue of his eligibility to be President. The stated allegation from Breitbart.com, in contrast, is a stupid bit of minutiae even if it’s true.

Have you heard about this guy who says he was part of a secret government project that used time travel? I don’t know if this is a hoax or just a guy who’s got a few screws loose. (Would a sonic screwdriver fix that?) In any case, it’s sort of an… interesting story. My favorite part:

“It’s an inexpensive, environmentally friendly means of transportation,” Webre told The Huffington Post. “The Defense Department has had it for 40 years and [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld used it to transport troops to battle.”

Rumsfeld.

Used it.

To transport troops.

To battle.

I didn’t think Rumsfeld was a very good Defense Secretary, but somehow I think even he could have managed to win a war if he had access to time machines.

I also love the “environmentally friendly” bit. If they can travel through time; you don’t need to worry about the environment, you can just keep going back in time to when Earth was at its most pristine.

I love conspiracy theories like this. They’re just too funny.