Source: Butte College
You say you believe the government is hiding something at Area 51–captured alien spacecraft, perhaps? The conjectures and rumors surrounding Area 51 comprise a revered conspiracy theory (many theories, actually). Do you believe the aliens among us are the hidden driving force in human history? That top world leaders (and they aren’t who most people think they are!) are cooperating for personal gain with the alien “reptile overlords” to bring about the enslavement of our species? You might be a conspiracist.
You might buy into one or more conspiracy theories without being an all-out conspiracist. Conspiracism is a world view that sees history as driven primarily by interwoven webs of secret conspiracies. Conspiracy theories are leaner, more restrained, more limited in scope than conspiracism. A conspiracy theory alleges that a secret conspiracy involving hidden actors is behind particular historical events. Its explanation for events usually runs counter to the official or mainstream account, which is itself seen as an elaborate fabrication.
Test your favorite conspiracy against the following components typical of conspiracism and conspiracy theories:
- THEY (the conspirators) are a relatively small group, but powerful and corrupt. They are evil, or at least selfish, acting in their own interest and against the public interest. They have great foresight, patience, and deviousness. Nevertheless, they are not all-powerful or even that smart, really, since WE have figured them out.
- WE are a small, dedicated group of freedom fighters and freethinkers. We are soldiers, rebels in the fight for good against evil.
- YOU are clueless. Why can’t you see what’s going on here? (Conspiracy theorists place most people in this group.)
- THEY have hidden or destroyed all the evidence that would implicate them and have manufactured false evidence that exculpates them.
- YOU are close-minded. In fact, you are probably one of THEM.
The comfort of conspiracy theory is that it provides a well-defined enemy and a sense of control (or at least structure) in the face of upheaval and disempowerment; the tendency to perceive conspiracy is more common in groups experiencing social isolation or political marginalization. The freedom fighters of conspiracy theory need not see themselves as being at the mercy of irresistible, inexplicable, or random natural or social forces, but as soldiers in a just cause. Many, if not most, conspiracy theories probably result from the human tendency to look for pattern in chaos-even if there isn’t any.
Conspiracy theories and conspiracism share three problems:
The main problem with any particular conspiracy theory is not that it’s wrong, but that it’s inarguable; not that it’s false, but that it is unfalsifiable. Because it is unfalsifiable, a conspiracy theory is not provable or disprovable.
One Week on a Cruise for Conspiracy Theorists
By the time intergalactic warfare historian Laura Eisenhower told me that she was secretly recruited to go to Mars, I was way past the point of being surprised. I’d simply heard so much of this kind of talk over the past few days that it seemed totally normal. It was day five of the week-long Conspira Sea Cruise, a gathering of conspiracy theorists (for lack of a better umbrella term) and 80 or so curious followers. We had all boarded a massive cruise ship to listen to the speakers’ musings and philosophies on a range of topics — ancient intergalactic warfare, crop circles, magical vibrations, chemtrails, the government’s control of the weather, alien politicians, and wishing boxes — your normal vacation chatter. And all of this was more or less unbeknownst to the other 2,900 cruise passengers who were oiled up, buffet-ready, and vacationing all around us. For my part, I was there to host and produce a video on the seminar and its characters, and thus, I had been inundated with far-out tales since the moment I stepped onboard the massive, 18-deck ship, which was, at the time that Laura and I eventually sat down by the adults-only hot tub, hurling its way, well-announced by Motown music and exhaust smoke, towards Cabo San Lucas.
It was too late, also, to have the kind of out-of-body, how-the-hell-did-I-get-here moments you might think I’d be having. (That moment had come the night before, at the cruise’s Love Boat-themed disco, where I found myself doing the Hustle, as instructed by motivational dancers, alongside the self-proclaimed leading expert on Area 51.) Instead, what happened when Laura told me that she had been contacted to go to Mars was that I nodded my head, squinted into the sun, smiled, and leaned back on my sun-deck chair, not significantly more taken by the notion of her potential inter-stellar venture than I was by, say, the whereabouts of that evening’s bingo game.
I wanted to know what Laura knew, to understand what she experienced, but I didn’t want to tiptoe further into the complicated attic of her memory by asking skeptical or damning questions, for fear of putting her too pointedly on the spot. What I came to find out was that she was targeted to “travel off-planet” by a man she dated. That she did not, in fact, fulfill the request to go to Mars because it felt like a dark journey with untrustworthy people.
Conspiracy theorists have a reputation for being angry and relentless . . .
Stephanie Wittschier believed in the Illuminati and chemtrails, and even tried to convert people online. But then she started to have doubts.
Stephanie Wittschier believed in a lot of different things throughout her life: that aliens were locked away in Area 51; that the Third Reich was alive and well, along with the Illuminati, and—last but not least—that ruling elites were using chemtrails to poison humanity.
The 35-year-old German was deep into the conspiracy theory scene for years before she dropped out, turning her attention to educating outsiders about the sinister truth behind Third Reich truthers and “chemmies” a.k.a people who believe the government is dumping toxic agents in plane vapor trails. Now she and her husband, Kai, run a Facebook page and Twitter account called Die lockere Schraube (“The Loose Screw”). And they’ve since incurred the wrath of their former conspiracy colleagues.
Wittschier’s journey into the world of conspiracy theories began when she watched a documentary about the alleged inconsistencies in the 9/11 attacks. “Immediately afterwards she went online and googled ‘conspiracy’ and ‘9/11,'” Kai told Broadly. Wittschier got hooked. “She started to talk about elites, the Illuminati… At a certain point it stopped being fun, as it became impossible to talk to her. She stopped listening and seemed closed off to any reasonable discussion.”
On the internet, Wittschier found people who shared her convictions. “That’s how it was,” she writes via email. “Back then, I had a friend who was into the same ideological conspiracy [stuff] and we got along pretty well. We believed in the same stuff, browsed the same forums, we used to talk about all sorts of things and most of the time we shared the same opinion.” Wittschier felt accepted among these like-minded people, who would ridicule outsiders’ attempts to re-educate them: “Those people [with different opinions] are representatives of the system or get paid; so-called sheep, people who don’t think.”
At the height of her obsession—especially when it came to chemtrails—Wittschier was part of various groups on Facebook, participated in a forum called Allmystery, and was active on YouTube. But in August 2012, her best friend in the conspiracy world started to question and oppose certain theories, and began the slow process of dissociating herself from the world she shared with Wittschier.
Some say alien spacecraft are tested at Nevada’s legendary Area 51 site; what does history have to say?
Today we’re going to soar above the alkaline flats of the Nevada desert at speeds in excess of Mach 3, banking and weaving among the peaks, and come in for a landing at runway 32R at airport designation KXTA. We’re inside the restricted airspace of the Nevada Test and Training Range, operated from nearby Nellis Air Force Base. Commonly called Area 51 by the general public, this well-developed base on the shore of dry Groom Lake is one of the most famous mystery sites in the world, shrouded in rumor and wild claims of aliens and conspiracies.
In 2001, two friends and I took a Cessna Skyhawk from Las Vegas to Tonopah, closely skirting the border of the restricted airspace surrounding Nellis AFB. This happened to be just prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, at which time the restricted airspace was greatly expanded, and the route that we took then is no longer possible today. But at the time, flying past the radar facility atop Bald Mountain, we were able to legally look right down into Groom Lake, and took plenty of photographs and video. We were contacted by the air traffic control tower at Groom Lake, which was plainly visible from our position, and he asked us what our destination was. We told him Tonopah, and he asked if we’d like him to give us a direct vector to Tonopah. This was his way of saying “Maybe you’d like to veer away and go straight to Tonopah rather than hugging our border.” But as we weren’t doing anything wrong, we declined his offer and finished out our original flight plan. We saw a number of other landing strips scattered about inside Nellis, but none that were as well developed as Groom Lake.
Why were we able to do this, at a base that everyone believes is so top-secret? Everyone says the government denies its existence or that it doesn’t appear on maps. There is indeed one very big secret at Area 51. In the words of Joerg Arnu, founder of the Dreamland Resort web site: “The biggest secret about Area 51 is that it was never secret.”
In late 1950, the United States Atomic Energy Commission established the National Proving Grounds for the testing of nuclear devices, inside the Las Vegas Gunnery and Bombing Range. This huge area was subdivided into parcels called simply Area 1, Area 2, and so on; and only those Areas from 1 to 30 became a final part of the project. Area 51 was merely a leftover piece of land among many others.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s Project AQUATONE had resulted in the design of what would become the U-2 spy plane, but for security reasons, they wanted someplace more private than Edwards Air Force Base to develop it. In 1955, a team led by Lockheed’s chief designer, the legendary Kelly Johnson, flew around Nevada looking for an alternate site. They found one inside Area 51: the dry Groom Lake, which they described as “A perfect natural landing field… as smooth as a billiard table without anything being done to it.”
Security and confidentiality have been constant throughout Groom Lake’s history. Nobody outside the base has ever had access to whatever work was being done inside, and for a long time, everything that had ever happened there was classified. So conditions were ripe in 1989 when a guy named Bob Lazar told a Las Vegas television reporter that he’d been working there for the past year, reverse engineering alien spacecraft to learn how they worked. For years, Lazar enjoyed a good run of television guest appearances and other publicity.
A lot of people in the UFO community really wanted to believe Lazar’s story, as it so perfectly confirmed their conviction that aliens visit the Earth and that the government covers it up. But everyone who seriously fact-checked Lazar’s claims . . .