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 . . .