Why conspiracy theories are so popular and how our suspicious minds look for big causes for big outcomes
The speed with which conspiracy theories spread can make them seem typically modern. But, Rob Brotherton, the author of a new study on the mind of the ‘truther’, says they are as old as thinking itself and tap into our darkest prejudices.
Before the victims had been identified, before any group had claimed responsibility – before the blood had been cleaned from the streets – the “truth” about the terror attacks in Paris was already taking shape online. Just hours after the last shots, one YouTube user explained what had happened in a video that has since been viewed more than 110,000 times.
“It was a false flag event aimed at destabilising Europe into New World Order oblivion,” the anonymous man says in narration laid over shaky mobile phone footage of his laptop. The computer displays images of immigration and the Wikipedia entry for subversion. “Friday 13th is not a coincidence! – it’s an occult date of evil Illuminati satanists,” he adds.
As photographs and footage of the attacks emerged, armies of “truthers” went further, describing in dozens of similar videos and on their slick websites how, among other things, the crime scenes had been staged by the intelligence agencies. The fleeing woman filmed dangling from a window at the Bataclan theatre was an actor wearing a harness.
Terror attacks are always fertile ground for conspiracy theories, none more than 9/11, but committed conspiracy theorists find “truth” anywhere. One truther, as conspiracy theorists prefer to be known (many believe that the use of the term “conspiracy theory” is part of a conspiracy theory) was arrested in Connecticut this month after confronting the sister of a teacher who died in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.
Carl Sagan is arguably science’s biggest rockstar—the ultimate champion for logic and reason. Which makes it all the more painful to find out that his son is a vehement 9/11 truther.
In a recent interview for a radio show called 9/11 Free Fall (already off to a great start), Jeremy Sagan—the younger son of Sagan senior and his first wife, fellow scientist Lynn Margulis—went off on all us closed-minded sheeple. In response to a prompt asking when he first “woke up,” Sagan remarks:
Well, on first seeing it—anyone seeing it can see that there’s something suspicious about it. I think it was New Year’s 2002, I was at a friend’s house, and they were saying Bush could never do something like this because he was incompetent. But in retrospect, now that I think about it, it’s true. I don’t think Bush could really do it, but that’s why they had him skirted off into Florida, to get him a little bit out of the way. In retrospect, you look at that and its obvious it was a controlled demolition.
Obvious indeed. But what evidence does Sagan, a computer programmer, have to support these supposedly manifest claims? Little more than the usual inside job truther fare, saying, “I think the visual evidence is the most compelling. You have molten steel coming out of the building. Obivously, also the evidence of thermite is very compelling. The other thing I should say, if you look at building 7, the way everything was known before it happened. And the way it was reported in the media before it happened, that doesn’t happen. You know?”
In the latter case, Sagan is referring to an aspect in the “controlled demolition” conspiracy that asserts some people had prior knowledge that the buildings were about to fall. This idea is supposedly supported by the fact that a BBC reporter announced the building at 7 WTC’s collapse 20 minutes before it actually happened. Of course, the BBC reporter referred to it as a “very honest mistake,” and news stations have a rich and vibrant history of getting facts very, very wrong in high stress situations.
Perhaps even more surprising than Jeremy Sagan aligning with the paranoid ranters of the world is the fact that, apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. No, not Carl Sagan (dear god not Carl Sagan). We’re talking about his mother. Yes, Lynn Margulis, Jeremy Sagan’s mommy dearest herself was also a crusader for 9/11 Truth.
Margulis was only married to Sagan senior for eight years (from 1957 to 1965), but apparently it was enough to pass off the paranoia gene at least once. If Dorion, her other son with Sagan, has followed in his mother’s and brother’s footsteps, he’s stayed understandably quiet about it.
And while Jeremy seems to have just now come out, Margulis was all in from the start. On the site Scientists for 9/11 Truth, she claimed . . .
Truther, a term that came from the 9/11 Truth movement, but has become more than just an ironic and demeaning term for 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
A Truther can be someone believes in conspiracy theories other than the 9/11 conspiracy theories.
With this in mind I’ve taken a look at these people, and while I’ve noticed alot of traits about them, I’ve narrowed it down to about five different things.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about Truthers:
5. It’s a broad and encompassing term.
For most people when they hear the word “Truther” they think of someone whom is apart of the 9/11 Truth movement, or just someone whom believes the myth that the US government, or Israel, or the Illuminati committed the 9/11 attacks. While this is true, “Truther” has become a more broad term and could include not just a member of the 9/11 Truth movement, but any conspiracy theory.
What a Truther really is is a type of conspiracy theorist that both claims they want to know the truth about a conspiracy theory, and then claims they already know what the truth is, but in reality it’s anything but the truth.
Think of this type of person as someone whom asks you where the nearest large body of water is and you tell them that there is a pond 100 feet behind them, but they don’t believe you and then tell you that nearest large body of water is two miles away, despite the fact that the pond is clearly behind them, and all they would have to do is turn around to see it. Even if they do turn around they’ll just insist that it’s not really a large body of water.
That’s another thing about Truthers…
4. They keep “Moving the Goalposts“.
For anyone who has had a “conversation” with a Truther type of conspiracy theorist you probably already know what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t I’ll explain.
Truthers, when confronted with evidence and/or logical arguments that contradicts or disproves their conspiracy theories, will often claim that what is being presented to them is not enough evidence to disprove what they are claiming isn’t true, or that the evidence that you are presenting to them isn’t true, and in either case they will claim to need more.
When a skeptic gets into an argument with a Truther and they start doing this a person like myself will usually determine that either the Truther is too dumb to realize what they are doing, or too deluded to realize what they are doing, or are in serious denial and are trying to hold on to what they believe or want to believe is real, but somewhere in their minds they know they’re wrong.
Besides just “Moving the Goalposts” another tactic that Truthers like to use is…
3. They call everyone that disagrees with them a shill.
Truthers are under the assumption that they are right, and that everyone else who does not agree with is wrong. For those that continue to insist that the Truther is wrong then the Truther just seems to naturally assume the skeptic is either a sheep that has not “woken up” to “the truth” (their truth mind you) or someone who is being paid to say what they are saying.
EXCLUSIVE: Sandy Hook Truther Comes Forward, Provides Photos Of Stolen Memorial Signs In His Living Room
It’s difficult to imagine the kind of suffering the family of Grace McDonnell has endured. In some ways it feels disrespectful to even believe you can, given the enormity of what happened to them. The same can no doubt be said for the parents and loved ones of all the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. And yet Grace’s parents, in particular, have been subjected not only to the relentless pain of losing their young daughter, but, recently, to the psychopathic whims of those who believe their child never existed in the first place — those who believe that she was some kind of phantasm concocted by faceless nefarious entities trying to pull a fast one on the American public for who knows what reason. These people, Sandy Hook truthers, are a unique product of our time: self-righteous fools full of misplaced intellectual certitude, bolstered by digital misinformation and the confederacy of like-minded lunatics social media can provide to them.
It was one of these truthers, these conspiracy theorists to whom notions like logic and reason are meaningless, who stole a sign placed at a memorial playground honoring Grace McDonnell in Mystic, Conn. last week. This same person then called Lynn McDonnell, Grace’s still-grieving mother, and told her that he was on to her — that her child had never been real and was merely part of the elaborate hoax that was Sandy Hook. When news of this began making the rounds, most decent people responded as you would expect them to: with visceral outrage. I myself wrote a piece here in response to the provocation that attempted to call-out the monster responsible. It was titled “An Open Letter To Whoever Stole a Sandy Hook Victim’s Memorial Sign” and through The Daily Banter and The Huffington Post it received a good amount of attention and circulation. It even received, it seems, the attention of the person it was aimed at — the person who actually stole the sign.
On Tuesday, my co-worker and friend Bob Cesca called me out of the blue to pass along a pretty disturbing bit of information. He said that he had just taken a call from a relative of his who lives in Northern Virginia, and that this relative told him that a stranger had just shown up at his doorstep demanding to see Bob. The man apparently was hoping to talk to Bob in an effort to contact me. He claimed to be the person who had stolen the sign from Grace McDonnell’s memorial playground. He gave Bob’s relative a local public phone number and asked him to get in contact with Bob who would then get in contact with me and tell me to give him a call. My first thought upon hearing this, after being concerned for the safety of Bob’s family, was that whoever had appeared out of the blue in Northern Virginia looking for me wasn’t really anyone I wanted to speak to. He may have made a surprising — and somewhat disconcerting — amount of effort to get in touch with me, but that didn’t mean he was anything more than a garden variety nutjob who’d read my piece and wanted to take credit for an unconscionable offense in the name of getting attention. But I took down the number and called it as soon as I hung up with Bob.
The person who answered the line sounded lucid, which made it all the more unnerving that what he began saying right off the bat was a panoply of conspiratorial crazy. He asked me if I’d heard of the Illuminati. If I knew about Bohemian Grove. If I understood that my ex-employer CNN was helping to usher in the New World Order. He kept referring to Anderson Cooper as my former boss, for some reason. (I never worked on Cooper’s show and even if I had he wouldn’t have technically been my boss.) He insisted that during CNN’s Sandy Hook coverage, Cooper had held up an owl, which he said was the symbol of Bohemian Grove and those working to bring about a one-world government. When I told him that I personally knew about a dozen people who covered Sandy Hook and were on-scene in the aftermath of the shooting, he demanded to know if those people had actually seen any bodies. He insisted, among other supposed giveaways, that none of the parents of the Sandy Hook victims cried on camera, proving that they either weren’t actually grieving or were paid actors.
“Well, they can’t help but smile,” I said. “You would too if you were a member of the Illuminati.”
“Exactly!” he responded.
MANCHESTER, NH—Claiming that the evidence is in plain sight for those who want to see it, local man and passionate 9/11 Truth movement supporter Victor Sidwell, 32, told reporters Wednesday that he will not rest until everyone knows that he is a complete asshole.
The zealous Truther, who for more than 10 years has reportedly labored to shed light on the fact that he is an obnoxious blowhard seemingly incapable of keeping his fucking mouth shut, vowed to continue lecturing acquaintances, confronting strangers, and handing out pamphlets on the street in an effort to convince as many people as possible that he’s an absolute and utter prick.
“Ever since the so-called terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I’ve only had one goal in mind: making people realize that I’m a piece of shit,” said Sidwell while posting a lengthy list of inconsistencies in the 9/11 Commission Report on a friend’s Facebook timeline. “If you take even a cursory look at the available information, it becomes glaringly obvious that I’m an abrasive jackass who routinely drowns out anyone unfortunate enough to get locked into a discussion with me.”
“The proof is right there,” he continued. “I’m a repugnant, grating fuck, and I won’t stop until every single person knows it.”
Sidwell has reportedly gone to great lengths to publicize his position as an insufferable loudmouth by diverting every one of his conversations toward the melting point of structural steel, repeatedly calling in to talk radio shows to express his controversial beliefs as to what “really happened” on Flight 93, and placing “What Did Cheney Know?” stickers in bathrooms of numerous local businesses.
Speaking with reporters, the staunch proponent of the “controlled demolition” 9/11 conspiracy theory conceded that it is not always easy making those around him recognize that he is an unapologetic bastard who needs to shut the fuck up and get a life. Sidwell affirmed that, in spite of the challenges, he remains determined to “give a wake-up call” regarding his supreme dickishness to everyone he meets by forcibly engaging them in debates in office break rooms, personal residences, bars, internet message boards, and grocery store checkout lines.
According to the Truther, most of the public remains “trapped inside a bubble” in which they ignorantly perceive him as a rational, well-adjusted member of society. However, he claimed he is making notable progress in convincing more and more of them of the “cold, hard reality” every time he loudly interrupts a friend’s conversation in order to voice his suspicions concerning the whereabouts of the hijacked airliners’ missing black boxes.
Ross and I are in a coffee shop, on a miserably uncomfortable bench that may have once been a church pew, surrounded by conspiracy theorists who are yelling at us.
“Do you want your employer to know you have cancer? Or AIDS? Or AIDS?!” yells Abel, the leader of the group, his forehead bulging. Ross has asked him about digital surveillance. His question barely relates to AIDS, but we’re getting used to this kind of thing. Ross says he wouldn’t want his employer to know if he had AIDS.
We’ve been going to these “9/11 Truther” meetings for a couple of months now. The Truther movement emerged shortly after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Truthers hold that the United States government planned and executed the attacks to create a false justification for the war in Iraq. Here in Los Angeles, there are two prominent Truther groups seemingly in competition. We have been attending the biggest and most active one. About twenty-five people attend each meeting. Each one is four to five hours long and mostly consists of Abel showing us YouTube videos and steamrolling conversations. Say, for instance, responding to a question about surveillance with rantings about employer/employee AIDS relations.
Another issue on Abel’s agenda: his recent tweets to Tom Hanks. He calls his tweets “twitters.”
“I twittered at Tom Hanks,” Abel says, “and asked him why he isn’t calling out Hollywood for covering up 9/11. Now his eight hundred thousand followers will all see my message!”
The room breaks into applause. Several people tell him he did a good job. A small voice from the back asks, “What’s Twitter?”
When I get home, I check Tom Hanks’s Twitter profile. He has seven million followers. I wonder whom Abel actually “twittered.”
After spending about a dozen hours with these people and watching the three 9/11 documentaries they have given us as homework, Ross and I still have questions about the September 11th conspiracy stories. The Truthers try their best to field our questions, but their answers sound exasperated. They can’t believe this isn’t obvious to everyone. And they’ve grown tired of showing 9/11 videos, so the “9/11 Truth” meetings are conspicuously absent of 9/11 truth.
“There’s only so many times you can watch Building 7 fall,” says Abel. Ross and I agree that that’s a good point.
Building 7, a part of the World Trade Center complex that collapsed along with the Twin Towers during the attacks, is key to the Truthers’ argument that the tragedy was orchestrated by the U.S. government. The DVDs they gave us for homework were full of Building 7. They say Building 7 collapsed exactly how you’d expect a building to collapse if someone blew it up. To them, this is evidence that the government deliberately manufactured a “false flag” event to lead us into war. The DVDs are full of barely related details and wild assumptions. We try to broach a couple of them during the meeting.
“The videos mentioned that the World Trade Center was built to withstand a plane crash, but wasn’t it also built in the 1970s, before these kinds of planes even existed?” I ask, a bit weakly. “Wouldn’t that be part of the government’s explanation?”
“RIGHT!” shouts a fifty-year-old woman across the room, throwing her hands in the air, “They built it to withstand a strike from the strongest airliner at the time!” She seems to have missed the point, but she’s very pleased with herself. She throws her hands in the air, as if to say, “Nothing could be more obvious!” It becomes clear that this group has grown so accustomed to incredulity that scoffing is their default. Counterpoints fly past unnoticed.
Two hours later, the room has dissolved into a shouting spree that I cannot follow to save my life (which, at this point, I’m not sure I want to save). Abel is on a long diatribe about Hillary Clinton: “The Democratic party is dusting off old Hillary’s vagina and waxing it and polishing it up so you can vote for her because she’s a woman. And we all know how well it worked when they did that for the black guy!”
There’s a murmur in the crowd. Everyone mutters something quietly to him- or herself, ranging from “that’s right!” to “well, I don’t know about that…”
The man next to Ross and me, who is sporting cargo shorts and no shirt, shakes his dreadlocks at us. “They’re just MURDERERS. In a CEMETERY!” he says.
I give him a tiny smile, hopeful that this will end our interaction. Ross visibly pretends not to hear.
I raise my hand again. “I’m sorry. Can I bring this back to 9/11 for a second? I’m new to this, so maybe I’m missing something, but if so few people have even heard of Building 7, why did the government destroy it? Couldn’t they have achieved the same ends by just destroying the Twin Towers?”
Abel releases an annoyed sigh. Building 7, he says, was full of secret documents. September 11th planning documents, in fact. His voice slows and his eyes narrow on me. It’s the twelfth hour they’ve spent with us, but they seem to have just noticed us, like a smell creeping through a closed door.
“What’s your background, anyway? What do YOU think happened on September 11th?” asks Abel.
All eyes turn to us. We’ve been found out.
- 10 More Lies Truthers Tell (illuminutti.com)
- Charlie Veitch, the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped (illuminutti.com)
- Paul Ryan’s Democrat challenger is alien conspiracy theorist, 9/11 truther (theblaze.com)
- Sept. 11 ‘Truthers’ Mark Anniversary (nation.time.com)
- Noam Chomsky Schools 9/11 Truther; Explains the Science of Making Credible Claims (openculture.com)
- 9/11 truther challenge (lunaticoutpost.com)
- Dallas Gets It Very Own 9/11 Truther Billboard on Stemmons Freeway (blogs.dallasobserver.com)