Denialism: Conspiracy’s Rabbit Hole


Above: the classic illustration by John Tenniel from Alice in Wonderland.

The word denial conjures up many images in our minds. Besides its association with Twelve Step philosophy, which is not the subject of this article, it usually refers to the refusal to believe in certain events or phenomena, such as the Holocaust or climate change. The latter is not my subject either, as it refers primarily to the future. I am talking about the delusional rabbit hole of historical denialism, of which Holocaust denial is just one example.

Although I agree that Holocaust denial is offensive, I oppose all laws that criminalize such speech. It’s better to counter a lie with truth, rather than to censor speech, which the crazies will spin as proof of the “worldwide Jewish conspiracy.” Holocaust denial is wrong, and not just for its anti-semitic implications. Hitler’s regime also murdered gypsies, gays, and the handicapped by the millions. Denial is cruel because it is because it fails to recognize the suffering and death of the victims, and marks the survivors as liars, adding insult to injury.

Here in America, denialism was a fringe form of lunacy until after 9/11. Then, along with the more mainstream conspiracy theories about possible government foreknowledge of the attacks, there were rumors that the passengers of some or all of the doomed planes didn’t die. Supposedly they were whisked away an unknown location. Or perhaps the planes themselves were holograms, projected on the Twin Towers to draw attention away from the explosives planted within.

These ideas were so loopy, they didn’t get much traction, but they gave support to politicians who claimed the 9/11 Truth Movement was disrespectful to the families of the victims. This claim is, of course, false, since it was victims’ families who pushed the government into doing an investigation. Truthers do not deny the attacks happened. Rather, they question the official story, which has some pretty improbable elements of its own. See James Corbett’s brilliant short video, “911, a Conspiracy Theory.

Denialism reared its ugly head again after the Sandy Hook school shootings. People began claiming that the whole event had been faked by the government as an excuse to carry out gun confiscation. Not only is this argument delusional, it is needlessly cruel to the parents of the victims. Furthermore, it gives the false impression that Second Amendment advocates have no valid arguments against gun control.

What about the possible role of psychiatric medications, which have been a factor in so many recent mass shootings? The media, which receives millions in advertising revenue from pharmaceutical companies, is loath to raise this issue. By embracing the lunatic notion of denial, Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists let them off the hook. Another interesting story says that the shooter, Adam Lanza, was diagnosed at Yale University as “profoundly autistic” with “isolationist and anti-social tendencies.” This begs the question of whether Lanza’s mother, knowing that her son was mentally ill, was irresponsible to keep guns in her home. These are difficult questions, not cut and dried like the mindless claim that “it didn’t happen.”

More recently, I’ve heard these same denialist notions raised in relation to the mass murders at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. “Where were the bodies?” say the on-line trolls. There’s a simple explanation for this: the media holds back pictures of victims, out of respect for the feelings of the families. Again, the allegations of fakery side-step more important issues. Was the shooter, Omar Mateen, taking psychiatric drugs? Why did the FBI, who interviewed him twice about extremist statements, conclude he was harmless? Did his parents’ Islamist ideology cause him to attack fellow gays out of self-hatred?

The problems with the denialist mindset are not just cruelty and misdirection from real issues. It’s irrational as well. Occam’s razor states that the simplest explanation is usually the best. Yet elaborate theories about events being faked are much more complex than the more straightforward conclusion that “it happened, let’s find out why.”

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of denialist theories is that they deny evil. Are we to believe that Hitler, a brutal dictator who invaded his neighbors without provocation, was actually a nice guy who would shrink from mass murder? Were the 9/11 terrorists (or the US government, take your pick) too ethical to kill four plane loads of people? Was Adam Lanza just a mixed-up kid set up as a patsy? Was Omar Mateen the innocent victim of Islamophobic prejudice? None of these alternate explanations make any sense. If the powers behind these conspiracies are so bad, why stop at deception? Any government that has ever gone to war has killed civilians or allowed innocents to die for the cause. Furthermore, companies have knowingly put out dangerous products that have killed people. Could the irrational theories of denial be the work of trolls and their innocent dupes, to make conspiracy theorists look foolish, or to draw attention away from the holes in the official stories of these tragedies?

Denialism is not just cruel to the victims of the denied events, it’s foolish and counter-productive of the denialists’ professed anti-government ideology. As always, truth is the answer, not censorship. Those of us who research conspiracy theories must expose these denialist narratives as the toxic nonsense they are. The rest of the public, who may not agree with our interpretations of recent history, must understand that these people do not represent us. As always, the events in question are far more complex than they appear.

Barack Obama: Cat’s Paw of the CIA?


A few days ago I encountered a fascinating article by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, a man whose writings I give a lot of credence. Entitled “Military to Military”,  the piece alleges that the Pentagon and the CIA have been at odds about the crisis in Syria. Hersh reports that the US Military, acting contrary to the policies of the Obama administration, shared information with the government of Bashar Assad in Syria, to help it fight the so-called Islamic State (ISIS.) The brass, alarmed about the growing influence of ISIS, decided that Assad’s regime was preferable to a Syria run by lunatic Islamic fundamentalists. General Michael Flynn openly objected to Obama’s strategy of arming terrorists and was fired; after that, General Martin Dempsey acted secretly to help Assad. According to Hersh, this secret rebellion ended with Dempsey’s retirement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff this September.

This story is a bombshell in itself, but it caused me to make a connection to numerous articles in the alternative media I’ve read about Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, having worked for the CIA. This is cited as one of the reasons for Barack’s sudden rise from obscurity to President. The Wikipedia article about Dunham says nothing about this (if Wikipedia were objective, they would have at least noted the allegations,) but it notes a long sequence of non-profit and quasi-government jobs in Kenya, Indonesia, and Pakistan. This perfectly fits the pattern of CIA cover employment. So if the mother was a CIA asset, why not the son?

I see the Hersh article as another piece of evidence of the battle between different factions in the American Deep State. On one side is the Pentagon, on the other the intelligence services. My view is that as bureaucratic, inefficient and corrupt as our military is, it is still, at its heart, a pro-American institution. We can’t say the same for the CIA, whose predecessor the OSS was instrumental in bringing Nazi scientists to America, and was almost certainly involved in anti-democratic debacles such as the JFK assassination, the 9/11 attacks and the false-flag terrorism of “Operation Gladio” in post-war Europe.

I do occasionally agree with Obama’s foreign policy initiatives; his support of the nuclear deal with Iran and normalization of relations with Cuba are two of them. It seems to me, however, that both of these have the same motivation as the coup in Ukraine and Islamic terrorism in Syria – an attempt to marginalize and otherwise punish the un-cooperative leaders of the Russian Federation. To risk nuclear war by way of Machiavellian maneuverings is exactly the kind of treason the CIA is known for. As we near the end of the immensely unpopular Obama administration, it’s well worth thinking about.

Illustration from

I’m Rational, You’re a Paranoid Idiot


Recently while perusing the techno-geek site, I came across an article expressing a familiar meme that I’d like to address in this post. When I say meme, I’m not talking about a funny cat picture; I mean it in the original sense of the term as coined by Richard Dawkins, that of an idea that seems to reproduce itself like a gene. The Slashdot item referred to a December 1st article in the Washington Post, entitled “Why people think total nonsense is really deep.”

The article describes a study by Gordon Pennycook of the University of Waterloo, which measured the receptiveness of people to ascribe profundity to nonsense. In one phase of the study, a quarter of the 300 participants rated randomly generated nonsense statements as being more profound than genuine well-recognized proverbs. To me, this has interesting ramifications about the human brain’s tendency to look for patterns where there are none. This was, however, not the focus of the study. The researchers attempted to correlate this willingness to see nonsense as profound, and came to the following conclusion:

“Those more receptive to bullshit are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions [beliefs in things for which there is no empirical evidence (i.e. that prayers have the ability to heal)] and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.”

To put it bluntly, (and this is solely my interpretation) people whose beliefs fall outside the mainstream are that way because they’re stupid. You see this attitude most prevalently in websites such as Rational Wiki, whose mission statement includes the following:

  • Analyzing and refuting pseudoscience and the anti-science movement.
  • Documenting the full range of crank ideas.

“Crank” ideas, in their view, don’t just include widely-held superstitions and religiously inspired viewpoints such as Bible-based creationism. They also include climate-change skepticism, the 9/11 Truth movement, and believers in a JFK assassination conspiracy – three categories that implicate yours truly. Now I’m not saying that the writers of Rational Wiki don’t sometimes make a good argument. But I have noticed a significant amount of editorializing and hand-waving in some of their articles – as well as the inclusion of the craziest “theories” – for example, the belief that President Kennedy was abducted by aliens – along with the more widely supported ones. What a shock! These uber-rational folks, who are dedicated to exposing flaws in other peoples’ reasoning, resort to the well-worn “strawman” fallacy, as well as the notion of guilt by association.

In this mainstream view, credulity is contextual. If you readily believe the authorities and the standard explanation for an event or phenomenon, you are rational. (Unless you live in Russia, in which case you would be one of Putin’s Brainwashed Minions.) If you are more partial to alternative theories, you’re credulous and perhaps even mentally unbalanced. Obviously, I disagree: all conspiracy theories and alternative philosophies are NOT created equal. Many if not most of them are, in my view, total bunk. But we must also consider the number of theories that went from “crazy” to accepted, such as the Copernican view of the universe, continental drift (a.k.a. plate tectonics) and evolution.

As for the notion of guilt-by-association: Some may point to the popular documentary “Loose Change” and its collection of unsupported, unrelated and sometimes contradictory theories as “proof” that all truthers are cranks, and therefore conclude that the government’s story of 9/11 must be true, Yet alternative journalist James Corbett does a really impressive job of poking holes in the official story in his brief video, “9/11, A Conspiracy Theory.” Am I contradicting myself? Not at all.

It occurred to me years ago that a secretive government agency such as the CIA could easily influence the news, planting false and misleading stories, and thus manipulate public opinion. In fact, the Agency is widely acknowledged to have done so, not just in the Communist bloc and the “third world,” but in nations considered to be our allies. Does the fact that it’s illegal for the CIA to act inside the USA mean that it won’t? Of course not: “national security” will ensure that the Agency is rarely, if ever, exposed when it does so. And if some whistle-blower does expose them, they’ll be dismissed as — you guessed it — a paranoid conspiracy theorist!

The sarcastic title aside, the point of this post is not that I’m right and “they” are wrong, but that we should all be skeptical, no matter what the source of the information. Everyone has an agenda – even the people we see as “good guys.” As for the “bad guys.” assuming they do indeed have evil motives, they would have no problem inserting disinformation into our “trusted” sources, or infiltrating their agents into “good guy” organizations. In other words, question everything – including this article!

Above “tinfoil hat” image is from


Eight Myths about Conspiracy Theories

This time I’d like to stray from science fiction and write about one of my favorite topics- conspiracy theories. Why do people, especially in the mainstream media, view them with such disdain? I’d say that it’s due to a number of misconceptions, which I’ll address below.

  1. Believing in conspiracies is a sign of mental illness.We’ve all met the disturbed, paranoid type. I once encountered a homeless woman who muttered continually about Richard Nixon “reading her mind” with spy cameras. Then there are the “tin foil hat” people, like Mel Gibson in Shyamalan’s movie Signs (or in Mel’s case, real life.) Since some conspiracy believers are crazy, the argument goes, all must be- a conclusion that violates Logic 101. There’s nothing crazy about keeping an open mind. Even if a given conspiracy is nonsense, it can still provide inspiration for a good story. Chris Carter took advantage of several of them for the X-Files.
  2. Conspiracies can’t work in the real world because conspirators are always caught.People often cite the Watergate and Iran-contra scandals as proof of this assertion. These guys were caught and prosecuted, despite their powerful positions. More likely it was due to the plotters themselves. Nixon was a paranoid drunk and Oliver North was an arrogant fool. Yet on the topic of organized crime, people draw the opposite conclusion. When we hear of a truck full of drugs being busted on the border, we wonder how many others got through.
  3. Someone will always talk and expose the conspiracy.Never underestimate the power of group loyalty. For example, a policeman who blows the whistle on corruption in his department runs the risk of losing his job, and will likely be viewed as a turncoat by his friends on the force. In intelligence agencies and the military there’s the added threat of legal sanctions. Look what happened to Bradley Manning, reviled by millions as a “traitor,” despite his good intentions.
  4. If conspiracies were real, people who threatened to reveal them would be killed.There are numerous examples of people with knowledge that was dangerous to the powerful who died under mysterious circumstances: Clinton aide Vince Foster, British weapons inspector David Kelley, and JFK mistress Mary Pinchot Meyer to name just three. In most cases, however, it’s more effective to harass, intimidate, and otherwise marginalize the truth-tellers. Even the most damning revelations are harmless if no one believes them.
  5. Companies and private organizations conspire, but democratic governments don’t.The media can’t dismiss all conspiracies, because they like to point the finger at modern bogeymen such as tobacco companies and the Vatican. Foreign governments are also fair game if they’re enemies of the United States. Right wing pundits accused Saddam Hussein of plotting to attack America, but our “friends” the Saudi monarchy (who actually do support extremism) were off limits. See Gary North’s article explaining how conspiracies for monetary gain are acceptable but not those for political power.
  6. Belief in conspiracy theories is bad for public health and/or the environment.

This is why the Climate-gate scandal never gained traction in the mainstream media: environmentalists can only be motivated by good. Instead we hear how parents in Pakistan refuse to vaccinate their children because they suspect the CIA of poisoning the injections. The media doesn’t consider the behavior of the US in Pakistan (especially the drone strikes) as a likely cause of these suspicions. Obama aide Cass Sunstein has publicly expressed his desire to suppress web sites that promote “false information” on health issues. No doubt he would like to treat conspiracy theorists the way European governments treat Holocaust deniers- with arrest and prosecution.

  1. Because some conspiracies are false, they all are.

I’m a big fan of conspiracy sites such as Prison Planet. This doesn’t mean I accept every one of their theories as fact. Even the ideas I consider to be far-fetched (chemtrails, HAARP) may contain a kernel of truth or, as I noted before, provide fodder for sci-fi stories. My own theory is that agencies such as the CIA secretly promote bogus conspiracies to discredit the government’s skeptics. Consider the many bizarre and contradictory theories about the 9/11 attacks. Debates about “pods” under the aircrafts’ wings and molten metal under the twin towers draw attention away from more obvious questions, such as, did someone in the government have foreknowledge of the attacks? Could this be why FBI agents were ordered not to investigate suspicious Arab flight students?

  1. Governments practice secrecy not to manipulate and exploit us, but to protect us.There are plenty of counter-examples that show how governments, even Western democracies, view their citizens as expendable pawns in the “great game” of international politics. Consider the Pentagon Papers, which revealed that the Johnson Administration deceived the public about the Vietnam War. Or the Downing Street memo, which admitted that the reasons for attacking Iraq were rationalizations for a policy that had already been decided. For me, the clincher was the book Day of Deceit, by Robert Stinnett, which uses declassified documents to prove FDR had foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack, which he welcomed as an excuse to get the US into the war. What I find most amazing is that so many people are still so gullible. If the government proposes yet another war against an apparently harmless enemy, they conclude that “the President must know something we don’t.” Who, I ask you, are the crazy ones?


Conspiracy theories are not always far-fetched or implausible, though even the crazy ones can be entertaining. Sometimes they make more sense than the conventional wisdom. Perhaps the theories themselves may be part of a larger conspiracy.