Modern conspiracy movements come and go so quickly that it can be hard to keep up with the new threats and concepts that get tossed around social media and the water cooler. So here’s a quick and easy list of some of the basic ideas you’ll often see related to conspiracy theories and popular pseudoscience. And because everyone likes pedantic, grade-school learning tropes, I did it in the form of the alphabet.
A is for Agenda 21, a non-binding and unenforceable United Nations policy paper written over two decades ago, devoted to promoting sustainability and smart growth. Some conspiracy theorists, at the prompting of Glenn Beck, have decided that Agenda 21 is actually a plot to depopulate rural areas, enact a green genocide and cram the survivors into Soviet-style urban clusters. It’s really not, and you can read the “sinister plan” for yourself online.
B is for Bankster, a portmanteau of “banker” and “gangster.” This term has caught on as a reference to the wealthy financiers and global elites who are supposedly controlling every element of society and government, enslaving the rest of us through their octopus tentacles of Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Government. Often, the term is modified as “foreign bankster,” which usually just means “Jews.”
C is for Chemtrail, a spray of noxious chemicals, biological agents meant to control the population, weather modification material or unspecified “toxins” left behind by airplanes acting under the control of the global elite. No compelling evidence of chemtrails exists, and almost everything used as proof of them is either fake or out of context. In reality, “chemtrails” are either contrails left by aircraft when the heat of their exhausts meets cold air, or simply unusual looking clouds.
D is for Denialism. No matter what beliefs are held by the mainstream and supported by solid evidence, you can always find someone who thinks we’re being lied to about them. Everything from the existence of AIDS to the moon landings to vaccine safety has an accompanying movement that says “everything we know is wrong” about these subjects, usually with nothing to prove it. Most of these movements are tied together, because if you’re going to be contrarian, you might as well be really contrarian.
E is for Energy. Many conspiracy theorists believe there is a massive plot by the government and oil companies to suppress free energy machines, which would break the oil industry’s grip on us and deliver unlimited power. As evidenced by the free availability of patents and myriad videos showing the non-existent miracles worked by these machines, this is not true. The laws of physics dictate that free energy can not exist, so there is no need to suppress it.
F is for False Flag. In political terms, a false flag is an action fabricated as a pretext for war. False flags are real things that have happened, but conspiracy believers see them in virtually every terrorist attack and shooting of the last century, all done as a pretext for Bankster-controlled politicians to make money and take away our rights. One false flag consistently cited by conspiracy theorists is Operation Northwoods, a US plan to gin up a war with Cuba. It was pooh-poohed by President Kennedy and never implemented.
G is for Geoengineering. Like false flags, geoengineering is a real thing that has been turned into something else by conspiracy theorists. They see geoengineering as a way the global elite will reshape the planet to enslave us and keep us sick, using chemtrails, “weather warfare” and man-made natural disasters like typhoons and earthquakes. In reality, geoengineering is being studied as a way to reverse the effects of climate change (see Denialism.)
H is for HAARP, short for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. This was a research station in Alaska that used high frequency antennae to bounce radio signals off the ionosphere. Some see HAARP as a powerful weapon capable of weather modification, earthquakes, massive storms and electromagnetic blasts. HAARP has no such actual powers and ionospheric research has no relation to earthquakes or hurricanes. In addition, HAARP closed in March 2013, due to funding issues.
I is for Illuminati, a catch-all term for almost anyone wealthy, powerful or wealthy and powerful. Historically, the Bavarian Illuminati was a secret society founded in 1776 to oppose religious influence over secular life. It lasted less than a decade before being banned. The pop culture version of the Illuminati was remade from a combination of antisemitism, anti-Communism and fear of One World Government. No evidence exists that this Illuminati is real, despite virtually every celebrity, executive and politician posited to be a member.
J is for Jones, Alex. The popular radio host, film producer and founder of conspiracy clearing house Infowars.com is seen as the “face” of the conspiracy theory movement. Jones helped mainstream the view that a cadre of governments and businesses serve as a global elite, running the planet for their own benefit. His media platforms are a haven for those looking to “wake up” the rest of us to what’s “really going on,” despite being wrong pretty much all the time about pretty much everything. He’s also really entertaining to watch be interviewed.
K is for Kennedy, John, the center of a 50 year conspiracy theory regarding his assassination. Dozens of ideas have been put forth as to who “really” killed JFK, from the CIA to the Corsican Mafia to a nebulous group of businessmen to a Secret Service agent to Jackie Kennedy. Despite the weight of research on the subject (as many as 2,000 different books alone) and the staggering percentage of Americans who reject the “official story,” no theory has emerged with enough compelling evidence to displace Kennedy being shot by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald.
L is for Logical Fallacies, the poor arguments used in an attempt to make points lacking supporting evidence. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the many fallacies used against skepticism, such as the Gish Gallop (238234 Reasons Vaccines Are Evil, And You Can’t Possibly Respond to Them All), the argument from authority (we should listen to Dr. Oz about nuclear power because he’s a doctor) and post hoc rationalization (I caught the flu after I got the flu shot, therefore the flu shot did it). Good lists of fallacies can be found here and here.