Most well-known conspiracies are rooted, even if only distantly, in fact: A blurry video, redacted government memos, a tragic real-life occurrence. But one of our absolute favorite conspiracies is one that is rooted in practically nothing, one that is so delightfully bonkers and out there that the idea of people actually believing in it strains belief. Behold: The lizard people!
The reptilian conspiracy
Lizard people are a common part of multiple folklore traditions and they show up frequently enough in fiction to have become a trope if you’re generous, a cliché if you’re less so. From ancient myths all over the world to various cryptozoological claims to the foundational level of a lot of the more bonkers conspiracies to appearances in books, television, movies and more, lizard people are clearly ingrained in our subconscious as well as the zeitgeist.
But how do you get from a common element in myth and fiction to a major worldwide conspiracy theory? One that claims that all aspects of government, business and religion are guided, if not outright controlled, by secret reptilian overlords masquerading as human beings? It’s a wild leap, and you don’t see anything similar with say, satyrs and fauns. So, how did we get there? The answer is one man: David Icke.
Initially a professional soccer player, Icke later transitioned into a sports broadcaster after arthritis put an early end to his sports career. By the late 1980s, however, Icke had grown increasingly political, becoming heavily involved with the British Green Party while also taking an interest in various New Age philosophies, specifically psychic abilities, culminating in a mystical experience at an ancient pre-Incan burial site.
Resigning from the Green Party, Icke began to position himself as a kind of psychic, predicting various natural disasters and even the end of the world itself in 1997 (none of which have come true). Eventually, however, his wild claims, particularly the one stating that he was the son of the godhead, caught up with him, as he became a figure of public ridicule. Two years after his purported end of the world, however, is when Icke’s story gets really interesting.
That’s because it was 1999 that saw the publication of Icke’s book, The Biggest Secret. It was this book that made the outlandish claim that human beings were created by reptilian aliens known as the Anunnaki. The tome also put forth several other ideas, many of which will seem familiar to anyone who has seen The Matrix movies, but for our purposes, it’s the lizard people claim that is most fascinating.
Also See: David Icke: Methods Of A Madman (iLLuMiNuTTi.com)
Psychologists are trying to determine why otherwise rational individuals can make the leap from “prudent paranoia” to illogical conspiracy theories
According to a Public Policy Polling survey, around 12 million people in the US believe that interstellar lizards in people suits rule our country. We imported that particular belief from across the pond, where professional conspiracy theorist David Icke has long maintained that the Queen of England is a blood-drinking, shape-shifting alien.
Conspiracy theories in general are not necessary bad, according to psychologists who study them. “If we were all completely trusting, it would not be good for survival,” explains Rob Brotherton, an academic psychologist and author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. “Sometimes people really don’t have our best interests in mind.”
But when people leap from thinking their boss is trying to undermine them to believing their boss might be a secret lizard person, they probably cross from what psychologists refer to as “prudent paranoia” into illogical territory.
And there are a lot of illogical ideas to pick from. Around 66 million Americans believe that aliens landed at Roswell, New Mexico; around 22 million people believe that the government faked the moon landing; and around 160 million believe that there is a conspiracy surrounding the assassination of former US president John F Kennedy.
While aliens and fake moon landings probably trigger eyerolls in many of us, defining what constitutes a conspiracy theory is difficult, Brotherton says. The government, for example, does sometimes conspire to do the unspeakable, such as the infamous 1930s Tuskegee study, initiated by the US government to examine untreated syphilis in African-American men. Researchers blocked research participants from receiving penicillin or exiting the experiment to get treatment. The study continued until a media report made it public. In this case, believing that the government was conspiring to keep people sick would have been completely accurate.
There are characteristics that help differentiate a conspiracy theory from prudent paranoia, Brotherton says. Conspiracy theories tend to depend on conspirators who are unduly evil, he explains, with genocide or world domination as a motive. Conspiracy theories also tend to assign an usually high level of competency to the conspirators, Brotherton adds, pointing out that when the government really does “shady stuff” it often isn’t able to keep it secret.
Chances are, we all know someone who believes some version of a conspiracy theory, which is why psychologists have been trying to understand what makes someone jump from logically questioning the world to looking for signs of lizard teeth in public figures. Research has shown that feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty are associated with a tendency to believe in conspiracies, says Karen Douglas, professor of social psychology at the University of Kent in the UK. Or as Joseph E Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and author of American Conspiracy Theories, puts it, “conspiracies are for losers”.