In legal parlance, a conspiracy is when two or more people form a plan together to engage in criminal behavior, but in modern days, a “conspiracy theory” has come to mean an alternative explanation for the accepted consensus of a controversial or unusual event or belief. Most proponents of these often easily debunked plots are eccentric and harmless, but a few go beyond the boundaries of free speech. The behavior of these dangerously obsessed few ranges from the merely criminal to the outright deadly.
10 • Jim Garrison Conducted A Witch Hunt Against Clay Shaw Over JFK
Whatever truly went down at 12:30 PM CST on Friday, November 22, 1963, the movie JFK made a hash of it. One thing it didn’t get wrong, though, was its portrayal of Jim Garrison as an obsessive, increasingly paranoid demagogue who bullied witnesses, harassed “suspects,” and conducted a full-on witch hunt in the city of New Orleans.
Garrison’s list of transgressions is too long to fully detail, but the worst of his behavior was the way he almost destroyed the life of Clay Shaw, a respected New Orleans businessman. Garrison publicly outed him as gay (which could have had serious consequences in the 60’s), accused him of CIA connections, and of course, accused him of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century, all on the flimsiest of evidence.
Many accounts of the trial have downplayed the homosexual element, but there is plenty of evidence that Garrison actually believed in some kind of rainbow-colored plot, attributing the assassination to a gay club thrill kill. He named a total of six people whom he believed were “in on it” as homosexuals, including Jack Ruby and even Lee Harvey Oswald himself. In an interview with James Phelan, Garrison called Oswald a “switch-hitter who couldn’t satisfy his wife.”
It took almost two years for Garrison’s case against Shaw to go to trial and another three weeks of testimony and arguments before a jury acquitted Clay Shaw of all charges after less than an hour of deliberation. Shaw himself ably deconstructed the JFK “conspiracy” in a 1967 interview.
9 • Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, Enacted AIDS Denial As Policy
Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, is almost certainly the AIDS denier who has done the most direct harm in the world. In a 2008 study, a team of Harvard researchers estimated that as many as 330,000 people died needlessly because of Mbeki’s policies.
Mbeki didn’t start out as a denier. His views hardened after a complex series of political and economic negotiations. They were further solidified by the bogus claims of an African university about having discovered a cure, prompting hope for an African solution to the problem, and the discovery that the apartheid government had conducted germ warfare tests that included searching for killer bugs that targeted specific ethnic populations and the state-sponsored spread of AIDS via black prostitutes. Negotiations to bring AIDS medications into South Africa at prices the poor could afford were marred by suspicions of conspiracy between Western governments and drug manufacturers.
By the mid-1990s, Mbeki had fallen under the influence of prominent AIDS denier Peter Duesberg. He even invited Duesberg to be part of a conference on the AIDS problem held in 2000, much to the outrage of the rest of the conference. Later that year, he publicly denied the scientific consensus that AIDS was caused by a virus. Instead, he claimed the disease was the result of a combination of general bad health, lack of nourishment, and poverty. Thanks to international pressure and the work of AIDS activists and NGOs, the situation did improve, but Mbeki’s delays caused many unnecessary deaths and condemned many children to live shortened lives.
8 • Bart Sibrel Confronted And Harassed Buzz Aldrin
In 2002, Bart Sibrel lured former astronaut and American hero Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, to a Beverly Hills hotel for an “interview.” When Aldrin arrived on the scene with his stepdaughter, Sibrel revealed his true colors. He was a proponent of a long-standing conspiracy theory that claims the Apollo 11 Moon landings were faked. Proponents of the theory claim that the landings were produced in a Hollywood studio to fool the Russians into believing that the US had won the space race. This is one of the most laughable and easily debunked conspiracy theories out there, but Sibrel was working on a documentary that he believed would prove his case and wanted to include a confrontation with Aldrin in the film.
What happened next is as infuriating as its conclusion is satisfying, and it was all caught on film. When Aldrin realized the real reason he was brought to the interview, he got up to walk out on Sibrel, who then became aggressive, taunting the national hero who took time out of his busy schedule to see him. He followed Aldrin, calling him a “thief, liar, and coward,” thrusting a Bible into Aldrin’s face with demands that he swear upon it.
Finally, after every one of Aldrin’s attempts to leave peacefully had failed, Sibrel started poking him and his stepdaughter aggressively with his Bible. That’s when Aldrin lost his patience and punched Sibriel right in the jaw. Aldrin never faced any criminal charges, and if he had, no jury in the world would have convicted him.