Not long after the 1964 release of the Warren Commission Report, the official version of events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, questions started to be raised about the Report’s conclusions. As dissenting voices grew louder, the CIA coined the term “conspiracy theorists” and had its contacts in the media begin using the phrase to disparage doubters as nut jobs whose wacky theories were way out of the mainstream. It has proven to be one of the most successful propaganda operations in American history.
However, recent research is telling us a different story. Various studies are showing that there are many more people who accept so-called conspiracy theories than we are led to believe, and one 2013 research project at the University of Kent in the UK found that of the 2174 comments they collected, those who questioned the official accounts of events like the JFK assassination and 9/11 outnumbered the unquestioning group by more than two-to-one. Other studies have shown that those who accept the official versions of events tend to be more hostile and more dogmatic in their beliefs.
Victims of the CIA anti-conspiracy theory campaign can be found on the left as well as the right. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t understand how people like Rachel Maddow, who have made careers out of questioning politicians’ motives and government policies, can ridicule those who don’t accept the 9/11 Commissions findings.
There are, of course, conspiracy theorists who actually do belong in the wacko nut job column, people like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck, who see complex, sinister government plots behind every event that makes news headlines. Debunkers love to point these guys as typical conspiracy theorists when they are in fact, simply loony tunes with a megaphone who appeal to a very, very thin slice of the population.
Not every conspiracy theory proves to be real, and many are patently ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean we should be cowed by demeaning names into never questioning authority. I’d rather be called a conspiracy theorist than a blindly obedient tool of the government.