List of conspiracy theories

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The Eye of Providence, or the all-seeing eye of God, seen here on the US $1 bill, has been taken by some to be evidence of a conspiracy involving the founders of the United States and the Illuminati[1]:58[2]:47–49

Many unproven conspiracy theories exist with varying degrees of popularity, frequently related to clandestine government plans and elaborate murder plots. Conspiracy theories usually deny consensus or cannot be proven using the historical or scientific method and are not to be confused with research concerning verified conspiracies such as Germany's pretense for invading Poland in World War II.

Aviation

Numerous conspiracy theories pertain to air travel and aircraft. Incidents such as the 1955 bombing of the Kashmir Princess, the 1985 Arrow Air Flight 1285 crash, the 1986 Mozambican Tupolev Tu-134 crash, the 1987 Helderberg Disaster, the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the 1994 Mull of Kintyre helicopter crash as well as various aircraft technologies and alleged sightings, have all spawned theories of foul play which deviate from official verdicts.[3]

Black helicopters

This conspiracy theory emerged in the U.S. in the 1960s. The John Birch Society, who asserted that a United Nations force would soon arrive in black helicopters to bring the U.S. under UN control, originally promoted it.[4] The theory re-emerged in the 1990s, under the presidency of Bill Clinton, and has been promoted by talk show host Glenn Beck.[5][6] A similar theory concerning so-called "phantom helicopters" appeared in the UK in the 1970s.[7]

Chemtrails

A high-flying jet's engines leaving a condensation trail (contrail)

Also known as SLAP (Secret Large-scale Atmospheric Program), this theory alleges that water condensation trails ("contrails") from aircraft consist of chemical or biological agents, or contain a supposedly toxic mix of aluminum, strontium and barium,[8] under secret government policies. An estimated 17% of people globally believe the theory to be true or partly true. In 2016, the Carnegie Institution for Science published the first-ever peer-reviewed study of the chemtrail theory; 76 out of 77 participating atmospheric chemists and geochemists stated that they had seen no evidence to support the chemtrail theory, or stated that chemtrail theorists rely on poor sampling.[9][10]

Korean Air Lines Flight 007

The destruction of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by Soviet jets in 1983 has long drawn the interest of conspiracy theorists. The theories range from allegations of a planned espionage mission, to a US government cover-up, to the consumption of the passengers' remains by giant crabs.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in southeast Asia in March 2014 has prompted many theories. One theory suggests that this plane was hidden away and reintroduced as Flight MH17 later the same year in order to be shot down over Ukraine for political purposes. Prolific American conspiracy theorist James H. Fetzer has placed responsibility for the disappearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.[11] Theories have also related to allegations that a certain autopilot technology was secretly fitted to the aircraft.[12]

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine by Russia-backed rebels or by the Russian military in July 2014. This event has spawned numerous alternative theories. These variously include allegations that it was secretly Flight MH370, that the plane was actually shot down by the Ukrainian Air Force to frame Russia, that it was part of a conspiracy to conceal the "truth" about HIV (seven disease specialists were on board), or that the Illuminati or Israel was responsible.[11][13]

Business and industry

New Coke was manufactured between 1985 and 2002

Deepwater Horizon

Multiple conspiracy theories pertain to a fatal oil-rig industrial accident in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, alleging sabotage by those seeking to promote environmentalism, or a strike by North Korean or Russian submarines. Elements of such theories have been suggested or promoted by US radio host Rush Limbaugh.[14][15]

New Coke

A theory claims that The Coca-Cola Company intentionally changed to an inferior formula with New Coke, with the intent either of driving up demand for the original product or permitting the reintroduction of the original with a new formula using cheaper ingredients.[16] Coca-Cola president Donald Keough rebutted this charge: "The truth is, we're not that dumb, and we're not that smart."[17]

Deaths and disappearances

Conspiracy theories frequently emerge following the deaths of prominent leaders and public figures. In ancient times, widespread conspiracy theories were circulated pertaining to the death of the Roman emperor Nero, who committed suicide in 68 AD.[18] Some of these theories claimed that Nero had actually faked his death and was secretly still alive, but in hiding, plotting to return and reestablish his reign.[18] In most of these stories, he was said to have fled to the East, where he was still loved and admired.[18] Other theories held that Nero really was dead, but that he would return from the dead to retake his throne.[18] Many early Christians believed in these conspiracy theories and feared Nero's return because Nero had viciously persecuted them.[18] The Book of Revelation alludes to the conspiracy theories surrounding Nero's alleged return in its description of the slaughtered head returned to life.[18]

Today, there are many conspiracy theories concerning the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.[19] Vincent Bugliosi estimates that over 1,000 books have been written about the Kennedy assassination,[20] at least ninety percent of which are works supporting the view that there was a conspiracy.[20] As a result of this, the Kennedy assassination has been described as "the mother of all conspiracies".[21][22] The countless individuals and organizations that have been accused of involvement in the Kennedy assassination include the CIA, the Mafia, sitting Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro, the KGB, or even some combination thereof.[23][20] It is also frequently asserted that the United States federal government intentionally covered up crucial information in the aftermath of the assassination to prevent the conspiracy from being discovered.[23]

The deaths of prominent figures of all types attract conspiracy theorists, including, for example, the deaths of US President Abraham Lincoln,[24] Martin Luther King, Jr.,[25] Eric V, Dmitry Ivanovich, Sheikh Rahman, Yitzhak Rabin,[26] Zachary Taylor,[27] George S. Patton,[28] Diana, Princess of Wales,[29] Dag Hammarskjöld,[30] and David Kelly.[31]

Also popular are theories about the deaths of celebrities or politicians. Notable among such theories include the long-running "Paul is dead" theory, which alleges that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike.[32]. Another is the conspiracy theory that widely circulated in Nigeria and alleges that Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has died in 2017 and replaced by a lookalike Sudanese impostor. [33][34]

Inverted theories concerning deaths are also popular, prominent among which are claims that Elvis Presley's death was faked,[35] and that Adolf Hitler survived the Second World War and fled to the Americas, to Antarctica, or to the moon.[36] Theories that Adolf Hitler had survived were deliberately promoted by the government of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin as part of a disinformation campaign.[37][38][39]

The disappearance, and often presumed death, of an individual may also become a cause for conspiracy theorists. Theories of a cover-up surrounding the 1974 disappearance of Lord Lucan following the murder of his family's nanny include, for example, allegations of a suicide plot whereby his body was fed to tigers at Howletts Zoo.[40][41][42]

Numerous persistent conspiracy theories have also attended the 2007 disappearance of English girl Madeleine McCann.[43]

The murder of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich spawned several right-wing conspiracy theories, including the claim that Rich had been involved with the leaked DNC emails in 2016, which runs contrary to the U.S. intelligence's conclusion the leaked DNC emails were part of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[44][45][46] Law enforcement[44][45] as well as fact-checking websites like PolitiFact.com,[45][47] Snopes.com,[48] and FactCheck.org stated that these theories were false and unfounded.[44] The New York Times,[49] Los Angeles Times,[50] and The Washington Post called the fabrications fake news and falsehoods.[51]

Economics and society

New World Order

The New World Order theory states that a group of international elites controls governments, industry, and media organizations, with the goal of establishing global hegemony. They are alleged to be implicated in most of the major wars of the last two centuries, to carry out secretly staged events, and to deliberately manipulate economies. Organizations alleged to be part of the plot include the Federal Reserve System, the Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group,[52] the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Bohemian Grove,[53] Le Cercle[54] and Yale University society Skull and Bones.

The Discordian hoax has resulted in one of the world's foremost conspiracy theories, which claims that the "Illuminati" are secretly promoting the posited New World Order. Theorists believe that a wide range of musicians, including Beyoncé and Whitney Houston, have been associated with the "group".[55] Prominent theorists include Mark Dice and David Icke.[56]

Denver Airport

Some theorists believe that Denver International Airport stands above an underground city which serves as a headquarters of the New World Order. Theorists cite the airport's unusually large size, its distance from Denver city center, as well as assorted alleged Masonic or Satanic symbols, and a set of murals which include depictions of war and death.[57]

George Soros

Hungarian-American investor George Soros has been the subject of conspiracy theories since the 1990s. Soros has used his wealth to promote various political, social, educational and scientific causes, grants totaling an estimated $11 billion up to 2016. However, theories tend to assert that Soros is in control of a large portion of the world's wealth and governments, and that he secretly funds a large range of persons and organizations for nefarious purposes, such as Antifa, which the conspiracies allege to be a single far-left militant group. Such ideas have been promoted by Donald Trump,[58] Bill O'Reilly, Roy Moore, Alex Jones, Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, Breitbart News and cartoonist Ben Garrison. Soros conspiracy theories are sometimes linked to antisemitic conspiracy theories.[59]

Freemasonry

Conspiracy theories concerning the Freemasons have proliferated since the 18th century. Theorists have alleged that Freemasons control large parts of the economies or judiciaries of a number of countries, and have alleged Masonic involvement in events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic and the crimes of Jack the Ripper.[60][61][62] Notable among theorists has been American inventor Samuel Morse, who in 1835 published a book of his own conspiracy theories.[63] Freemason conspiracy theories have also been linked to certain antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Üst akıl

Conspiracy theories in Turkey started to dominate public discourse during the late reign of the Justice and Development Party and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[64] In 2014, Erdoğan coined the term üst akıl ("mastermind") to denote the alleged command and control institution, somewhat ambiguously placed with the government of the United States, in a comprehensive conspiracy to weaken or even dismember Turkey, by orchestrating every political actor and action perceived hostile by Turkey.[65][66][64] Erdoğan as well as the Daily Sabah have on multiple occasions alleged that very different non-state actors—like the Salafi jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the libertarian socialist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and supporters of Fethullah Gülen—were attacking Turkey at the same time in a well-coordinated campaign.[67]

One instance of promoting the "mastermind" conspiracy theory occurred in February 2017, when then-Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek claimed that earthquakes in the western province of Çanakkale could have been organized by dark external powers aiming to destroy Turkey's economy with an "artificial earthquake" near Istanbul.[68] In another example, in November 2017, the Islamist newspaper Yeni Akit claimed that the fashion trend of "ripped denim" jeans was in fact a means of communication, via specific forms of rips and holes, between agents of foreign states and their collaborators in Turkey.[69]

Espionage

Israeli animal spying

Conspiracy theories exist alleging that Israel uses animals to conduct espionage or to attack people. These are often associated with conspiracy theories about Zionism. Matters of interest to theorists include a series of shark attacks in Egypt in 2010, Hezbollah's accusations of the use of "spying" eagles,[70] and the 2011 capture of a griffon vulture carrying an Israeli-labeled satellite tracking device.

Harold Wilson

Numerous persons, including former MI5 officer Peter Wright and Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, have alleged that British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was secretly a KGB spy. Historian Christopher Andrew has lamented that a number of people have been "seduced by Golitsyn's fantasies".[71][72][73]

Malala Yousafzai

Conspiracy theories concerning Malala Yousafzai are widespread in Pakistan, elements of which originate from a 2013 satirical piece in Dawn. These theories variously allege that she is a Western spy, or that her attempted murder by the Taliban in 2012 was a secret operation to further discredit the Taliban, and was organized by her father and the CIA and carried out by actor Robert de Niro disguised as an Uzbek homeopath.[74][75][76][77]

Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal

Conspiracy theories have arisen in this case because of alleged inconsistencies in the evidence presented by the British government. One example is Craig Murray's blog.[78]

Ethnicity, race and religion

Antisemitism

Since at least the Middle Ages, antisemitism has featured elements of conspiracy theory. In medieval Europe it was widely believed that Jews poisoned wells, had been responsible for the death of Jesus, and ritually consumed the blood of Christians. The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence of notions that Jews and/or Freemasons were plotting to establish control over the world. Forged evidence has been presented to spread the notion that Jews were responsible for the propagation of Communism, the most notorious example being The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1903).[79] Such antisemitic conspiracy theories became central to the worldview of Adolf Hitler. Antisemitic theories persist today in notions concerning banking,[80] Hollywood, the news media and a purported Zionist Occupation Government.[81][82][83]

Holocaust denial is also considered an antisemitic conspiracy theory because of its position that the Holocaust is a hoax designed to advance the interests of Jews and justify the creation of the State of Israel.[84][85] Notable Holocaust deniers include former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad,[86] the convicted chemist Germar Rudolf[87] and the discredited author David Irving.[88]

Anti-Armenianism

Conspiracy theories which allege that the Armenians wield secret political power are prevalent in Azerbaijan,[89] and have been promoted by President Ilham Aliyev.[90][91][92]

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has claimed that the Russian media is run by Armenians.[93] American writer and disbarred lawyer Samuel Weems[94] has claimed that the Armenian Genocide was a hoax designed to defraud Christian nations of billions of dollars, and that the Armenian Church instigates terrorist attacks.[95] Filmmaker Davud Imanov has accused the Armenians of plotting against Azerbaijan and has claimed that the Karabakh movement was a plot by the CIA to destroy the Soviet Union.[96]

Journalist Arzu Geybulla has drawn attention to the way in which such theories are used to stifle political dissent.[97]

Anti-Baha'ism

Iran's Baha'i minority has been the target of conspiracy theories alleging involvement with hostile powers. Iranian government officials and others have claimed that Bahá'ís have been agents variously of Russian imperialism, British colonialism, American expansionism and Zionism.[98] An apocryphal and historically-inaccurate book published in Iran, entitled The Memoirs of Count Dolgoruki, details a theory that the Bahá'ís intend to destroy Islam. Such anti-Bahá'í accusations have been dismissed as having no factual foundation.[99][100][101]

Anti-Catholicism

Anti-Catholic cartoon depicting Catholicism as an octopus, from H. E. Fowler and Jeremiah J. Crowley's The Pope (1913)

Anti-Catholic paranoia has featured in the Protestant mind since the Reformation. Conspiracy theories have taken many forms, including the 17th-century Popish Plot allegations,[102] claims by persons such as William Blackstone that Catholics posed a secret threat to Britain, and numerous writings by authors such as Samuel Morse, Rebecca Reed, Avro Manhattan, Jack Chick and Alberto Rivera. Theorists often claim that the pope is the Antichrist, or they accuse Catholics of suppressing evidence incompatible with Church teachings and engaging in secret evil rituals, crimes and other plots.

In 1853, the Scottish minister Alexander Hislop published his anti-Catholic pamphlet The Two Babylons,[103] in which he claims that the Catholic Church is secretly a continuation of the pagan religion of ancient Babylon, the product of a millennia-old conspiracy founded by the Biblical king Nimrod and the Assyrian queen Semiramis.[103] It also claims that modern Catholic holidays, including Christmas and Easter, are actually pagan festivals established by Semiramis and that the customs associated with them are pagan rituals. Modern scholars have unanimously rejected the book's arguments as erroneous and based on a flawed understanding of Babylonian religion,[103][104][self-published source] but variations of them are still accepted among some groups of evangelical Protestants.[103][104] Jehovah's Witnesses periodical The Watchtower frequently published excerpts from it until the 1980s.[105] The book's thesis has also featured prominently in the conspiracy theories of racist groups, such as The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord.[106]

Fears of a Catholic takeover of the US have been especially persistent,[107][108] prompted by phenomena such as Catholic immigration in the 19th century,[109] and Ku Klux Klan propaganda.[110][111] Such fears have attached to Catholic political candidates such as Al Smith[112] and John F. Kennedy.[113][114][115]

Pope John Paul I died in September 1978, only a month after his election to the papacy. The timing of his death and the Vatican's alleged difficulties with ceremonial and legal death procedures has fostered several conspiracy theories.

The elderly Pope Benedict XVI's resignation in February 2013, for given reasons of a "lack of strength of mind and body",[116] prompted theories in Italian publications such as La Repubblica and Panorama that he resigned in order to avoid an alleged scandal involving an underground gay Catholic network.[117][118]

Antichrist

Apocalyptic prophecies, particularly Christian claims about the End Times, have inspired a range of conspiracy theories. Many of these cite the Antichrist, a leader who will supposedly create an oppressive world empire. Countless figures have been called Antichrist, including Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, Russian emperor Peter the Great, Saladin, Pope John XXII, Benito Mussolini and Barack Obama.[119][120][121][122]

Bible and Jesus

Bible conspiracy theories posit that significant parts of the New Testament are false, or have been omitted. Various groups both real (such as the Vatican) and fake (such as the Priory of Sion) are said to suppress relevant information concerning, for example, the dating of the Turin Shroud.[123]

Much of this line of conspiracy theory has been stimulated by a debunked book titled The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982), which claimed that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers and that their offspring and descendants were secretly hidden in Europe following the death of Jesus, from whom the then-living French draughtsman Pierre Plantard claimed descent. Interest in this hoax saw a resurgence following the publication of Dan Brown's 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code.[124]

Islam

"War against Islam" is a conspiracy theory in Islamist discourse which describes an alleged plot to either harm or annihilate the social system within Islam. The perpetrators of this conspiracy are alleged to be non-Muslims and "false Muslims", allegedly in collusion with political actors in the Western world. The "War against Islam" theory is often used in order to refer to modern social problems and changes, but the Crusades are often seen as its starting point.[125]

Since the September 11 Attacks, many anti-Islamic conspiracy theories have emerged, concerning a variety of topics. Love Jihad, also called Romeo Jihad, refers to a conspiracy theory concerning Muslim males who are said to target non-Muslim girls for conversion to Islam by feigning love.[126][127][128][129][130] The "Eurabia" theory alleges a massive Muslim plot to islamize Europe (and often the rest of the western world) through mass immigration and high birth rates. [131] In addition, before and during his presidency, US President Barack Obama was accused by opponents of secretly being a Muslim.

Racism

Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia

In the United States, black genocide conspiracy theory[132][133] holds the view that African Americans are the victims of genocide instituted by white Americans. Lynchings and racial discrimination were formally described as genocide by the Civil Rights Congress in 1951. Malcolm X also talked about "black genocide" in the early 1960s.[134] Public funding of the Pill was also described as "black genocide" at the first Black Power Conference, in 1967.[135][136] In 1970, after abortion was more widely legalized, some black militants depicted abortion as being part of the conspiracy.[137]

In some U.S. cities that are governed by African American majorities, such as Washington, D.C., a persistent conspiracy theory holds that white Americans are plotting to take over those cities.

White genocide conspiracy theory is a white nationalist notion that immigration, integration, low fertility rates and abortion are being promoted in predominantly white countries in order to turn white people into a minority or cause their extinction.[138][139][140][141][142][143] A 2017 study in France by IFOP, for example, found that 48% of participants believed without evidence that political and media elites are conspiring to replace white people with immigrants.[144]

Some Rastafari maintain the view that a white racist patriarchy ("Babylon") controls the world in order to oppress black people.[145] They believe that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia did not die in 1975, instead believing that the allegedly racist media propagated false reports of his death in order to quash the Rastafari movement.[146]

Extraterrestrials

Among the foremost concerns of conspiracy theorists are questions of alien life; for example, allegations of government cover-ups of the supposed Roswell UFO incident or activity at Area 51.[147] Also popular are theories concerning so-called 'men in black', who allegedly silence witnesses.

English conspiracy theorist David Icke

Many reports of dead cattle found with absent body parts and seemingly drained of blood have emerged worldwide since at least the 1960s. This phenomenon has spawned theories variously concerning aliens and secret government or military experiments.[148] Prominent among such theorists is Linda Moulton Howe, author of Alien Harvest (1989).[149][150]

Many conspiracy theories have drawn inspiration from the writings of ancient astronaut proponent Zecharia Sitchin,[151] who declared that the Anunnaki from Sumerian mythology were actually a race of extraterrestrial beings who came to Earth around 500,000 years ago in order to mine gold.[151][152][153] In his 1994 book Humanity's Extraterrestrial Origins: ET Influences on Humankind's Biological and Cultural Evolution, Arthur Horn proposed that the Anunnaki were a race of blood-drinking, shape-shifting alien reptiles.[151] This theory was adapted and elaborated on by British conspiracy theorist David Icke,[151] who maintains that the Bush family, Margaret Thatcher, Bob Hope, and the British Royal Family, among others, are or were such creatures, or have been under their control.[154] Critics have suggested that 'reptilians' may be seen as an antisemitic code word; a charge denied by Icke.[35]

Government, politics and conflict

In the modern era, political conspiracy theories are often spread using fake news on social media. A 2017 study of fake news published by the Shorenstein Center found that "misinformation is currently predominantly a pathology of the right".[155]

Political conspiracy theories may take generalized and wide-ranging forms concerning wars and international bodies, but may also be seen at a localized level, such as the conspiracy theory pertaining to the 118th Battalion, a British regiment stationed in Kitchener, Ontario during World War I, which is believed by some in Kitchener to still be present and controlling local politics.[156]

Illuminati

Conspiracy theories concerning the Illuminati, a short-lived 18th-century Enlightenment society, appear to have originated in the late 19th century, when some conservatives in Europe came to believe that the group had been responsible for the French Revolution of 1789–1799.[157] Hoaxes about the Illuminati were later spread in the 1960s by a group of American practical jokers known as the Discordians, who, for example, wrote a series of fake letters about the Illuminati to Playboy.[158]

False flag operations

The World Trade Center towers prior to 9/11

False flag operations are covert operations designed to appear as if they are being carried out by other entities. Some allegations of false flag operations have been verified or have been subjects of legitimate historical dispute (such as the 1933 Reichstag arson attack).[159] Discussions of unsubstantiated allegations of such operations feature strongly in conspiracy theory discourse.

Other allegations of similar operations have attached to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma City bombing, the 2004 Madrid train bombings,[160] and the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.[161]

The rise of ISIS gave rise to conspiracy theories that it had been created by the US, CIA, Mossad, or Hillary Clinton.[162][163] The same happened after the rise of Boko Haram.[164][165]

9/11

The multiple attacks made on the US by terrorists using hijacked aircraft on 11 September 2001 have proved especially attractive to conspiracy theorists. Theories may include reference to missile or hologram technology. By far, the most popular theory is that the attacks were in fact controlled demolitions,[166][167] a theory which has been rejected by the engineering profession[168] and the 9/11 Commission.

Sandy Hook

American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones

A 2012 fatal mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, prompted numerous conspiracy theories, among which is the claim that it was a manufactured event with the aim of promoting gun control. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has theorized that 'Zionists' were responsible.[169] Theorists such as Alex Jones have suggested that the event was staged with actors.[170][171] Harassment of the bereaved families by conspiracy theorists has resulted in a number of prosecutions. Rush Limbaugh also stated that the event happened because the Mayan Calendar phenomenon made shooter Adam Lanza do it.[172]

Clintons

A discredited theory, parts of which have been advanced by Christopher Ruddy among others, asserts that former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton have assassinated fifty or more of their associates.[173][174][175] The Lakeland Ledger, the Chicago Tribune and Snopes.com have debunked this theory, pointing to detailed death records, the unusually large circle of associates that a President is likely to have, and the facts that many of the people listed had no known link to the Clintons, or had been misidentified, or were still alive.[176][177]

The unsolved 2016 murder of DNC staff member Seth Rich has prompted conspiracy theorists to claim that his killing was instigated by Hillary Clinton following alleged collaboration with WikiLeaks during the 2016 United States presidential campaign. Elements of this story have been promoted by figures including Alex Jones, Newt Gingrich, and Sean Hannity as an alternative theory to Russian interference in the election.[178][179][180][181]

Pizzagate is a debunked conspiracy theory that emerged during the 2016 United States presidential election, connecting a pizza restaurant and members of the Democratic Party with a non-existent child-sex ring. It has been comprehensively discredited by numerous bodies including the District of Columbia Police Department, Snopes.com, The New York Times, and Fox News.[182]

Barack Obama

Donald Trump has been a proponent of the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States

Former US President Obama has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories. His presidency was the subject of a 2009 film, The Obama Deception, by Alex Jones, which alleged that Obama's administration was a puppet government for a wealthy elite. Another theory which came to prominence in 2009 (known as "birtherism") denies the legitimacy of Obama's presidency by claiming that he was not born in the US.[183] This theory has persisted despite the evidence of his Hawaiian birth certificate and of contemporary birth announcements in two Hawaiian newspapers in 1961.[184] Notable promoters of the theory are dentist-lawyer Orly Taitz[4] and President Donald Trump, who has since publicly acknowledged its falsity but is said to continue to advocate for it privately.[185][186][187] Other theories claim that Obama, a Protestant Christian, is secretly a Muslim.

A pair of fatal attacks on US government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, by Islamist terrorists in 2012 has spawned numerous conspiracy theories, including allegations that Obama's administration arranged the attack for political reasons, and Senator Rand Paul's repeated assertion that the government's response to the incident was designed to distract from a secret CIA operation.[188][189][190]

FEMA

The United States' Federal Emergency Management Agency is the subject of many theories, including the allegation that the organization has been engaged in the building of concentration camps on US soil, in advance of the imposition of martial law and genocide.[191]

African National Congress

Members of South Africa's African National Congress party have long propagated conspiracy theories, frequently concerning the CIA and alleged white supremacists. In 2014, Deputy Minister of Defence Kebby Maphatsoe joined others in accusing without evidence Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of being a US agent working to create a puppet government in South Africa.[192][193][194]

Cultural Marxism

The intellectual group known as the Frankfurt School which emerged in the 1930s has increasingly been the subject of conspiracy theories which have alleged the promotion of communism in capitalist societies. The term 'Cultural Marxism' has been notably employed by conservative American movements such as the Tea Party,[195][196] and by Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik.[197]

Deep state

InfoWars logo

Occasionally used as a neutral term to denote a nation's bureaucracy,[198] the conspiratorial notion of a "deep state" is a concept originating principally in Middle Eastern and North African politics with some basis in truth, and has been known in the US since the 1960s. It has since come to prominence under the Trump presidency.[199][200] "Deep state" in the latter sense refers to an unidentified "power elite" who act in co-ordinated manipulation of a nation's politics and government. Proponents of such theories have included Canadian author Peter Dale Scott, who has promoted the idea in the US since at least the 1990s, as well as Breitbart News, Infowars and US President Donald Trump.[201] A 2017 poll by ABC News and The Washington Post indicated that 48% of Americans believe in the existence of a conspiratorial "deep state" in the US.[202][203]

Sutherland Springs

The 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting has also been the subject of multiple conspiracy theories. The shooter has been linked to multiple conspiracies, such as identifying him as a Democrat, Hillary Clinton supporter, Bernie Sanders supporter, "alt-left" supporter, Antifa member, or radical Muslim;[204][205] or claiming that he carried an Antifa flag and told churchgoers: "This is a communist revolution".[206] Some reports also falsely claimed that he targeted the church because they were "white conservatives".[207]

Medicine

Alternative therapy suppression

A 2013 study approved by the University of Chicago suggested that almost half of Americans believe at least one medical conspiracy theory, with 37% believing that the Food and Drug Administration deliberately suppresses 'natural' cures due to influence from the pharmaceutical industry.[208] A prominent proponent of comparable conspiracy theories has been convicted fraudster Kevin Trudeau.

Artificial diseases

Nation of Islam leader and AIDS conspiracy theorist Louis Farrakhan

Scientists have found evidence that HIV was transferred from monkeys to humans in the 1930s. Evidence exists, however, that the KGB deliberately disseminated a notion in the 1980s that it was invented by the CIA.[209] This idea, and similar ideas concerning Ebola, have since been promoted by persons such as actor Steven Seagal,[210][211][212] Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki.[209][213][214] Similar conspiracy theories allege that pharmaceutical companies assist in the creation of conditions and diseases including ADHD, HSV and HPV.

Fluoridation

Water fluoridation is the controlled addition of fluoride to a public water supply to reduce tooth decay.[215] Although many dental-health organizations support such fluoridation, the practice is opposed by conspiracy theorists.[216] Allegations may include claims that it has been a way to dispose of industrial waste,[217][218] or that it exists to obscure a failure to provide dental care to the poor.[216] A further theory promoted by the John Birch Society in the 1960s described fluoridation as a communist plot to weaken the American population.[219]

Vaccination

A popular conspiracy theory states that the pharmaceutical industry has mounted a cover-up of a causal link between vaccines and autism. The theory took hold with the publication in 1998 of a fraudulent paper by discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield.[220] The resulting anti-vaccine movement has been promoted by a number of prominent persons including Rob Schneider,[221] Jim Carrey[222] and U.S. President Donald Trump,[223][224] and has led to increased rates of infection and death from diseases such as measles in many countries, including the US, Italy, Germany, Romania and the UK.[225][226][227][228]

Vaccine conspiracy theories have been widespread in Nigeria since at least 2003, as well as in Pakistan. Such theories may feature claims that vaccines are part of a secret anti-Islam plot, and have been linked to fatal mass shootings and bombings at vaccine clinics in both countries.[229][230][231]

Science and technology

Global warming

Aerial view of the HAARP site, Alaska

Global warming conspiracy theorists typically allege that the science behind global warming has been invented or distorted for ideological or financial reasons.[10] Many have promoted such theories, including U.S. President Donald Trump,[232][233] US Senator James Inhofe,[234] British journalist Christopher Booker,[234] and Viscount Christopher Monckton.[235]

Weather and earthquake control projects

Numerous theories pertain to real or alleged weather-controlling projects. Theories include the debunked assertion that HAARP, a radio-technology research program funded by the US government, is a secret weather-controlling system. Some theorists have blamed 2005's Hurricane Katrina on HAARP.[236] HAARP has also been suggested to have somehow caused earthquakes, such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami or the 2013 Saravan earthquake.[237][238][239][240] Theories concerning HAARP may also refer to mind-control technology.[241]

Also of interest to conspiracy theorists are cloud-seeding technologies. These include a debunked allegation[242] that the British military's Project Cumulus caused the fatal 1952 Lynmouth Flood in Devon, England,[243] and claims concerning a secret project said to have caused the 2010 Pakistan floods.[244]

MKUltra

Genuine American research in the 1950s and 1960s into chemical interrogation and mind-control techniques has prompted many subsequent conspiracy theories, especially following CIA Director Richard Helm's 1973 order to destroy all files related to the project. These theories include the allegation that the mass fatality at Jonestown in 1978 was connected to an MKUltra experiment.[245]

RFID chips

Radio frequency identification chips (RFID), such as are implanted into pets as a means of tracking, have drawn the interest of conspiracy theorists who posit that this technology is secretly in widespread use on humans. Former Whitby town councilor Simon Parkes has promoted this theory, which may be related to conspiracy theories concerning vaccination, electronic banking and the Antichrist.[246][247]

Flat Earth

Logo of the Flat Earth Society, 2013

Flat Earth theory first emerged in 19th-century England, despite the Earth's spherical nature having been known since at least the time of Pythagoras. It has in recent years been promoted by American software consultant Mark Sargent through the use of YouTube videos.[248] Flat-earther conspiracy theorists hold that planet Earth is not a sphere, and that evidence has been faked or suppressed to hide the fact that is instead a disc, or a single infinite plane. The conspiracy often implicates NASA. Other claims may include such allegations as that GPS devices are rigged to make aircraft pilots wrongly believe they are flying around a globe.[249][250]

Technology suppression

Numerous theories pertain to the alleged suppression of certain technologies and energies. Such theories may focus on the Vril Society Conspiracy, allegations of the suppression of the electric car by fossil-fuel companies (as detailed in the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?), and the Phoebus cartel, set up in 1924, which has been accused of suppressing longer-lasting light bulbs.[251] Other long-standing allegations include the suppression of perpetual motion and cold fusion technology by government agencies, special interest groups, or fraudulent inventors.[252]

Promoters of alternative energy theories have included Thomas Henry Moray,[253] Eugene Mallove, and convicted American fraudster Stanley Meyer.[254]

Weaponry

Conspiracy theorists often attend to new military technologies, both real and imagined. Subjects of theories include: the alleged Philadelphia Experiment, a supposed attempt to turn a U.S. Navy warship invisible;[255] the alleged Montauk Project, a supposed government program to learn about mind control and time travel; and the so-called Tsunami bomb which is alleged to have caused the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.[256]

Other theories include Peter Vogel's debunked claim that an accidental explosion of conventional munitions at Port Chicago was in fact a nuclear detonation,[257] and a theory promoted by the Venezuelan state-run TV station ViVe that the 2010 Haiti earthquake was caused by a secret US "earthquake weapon".[258]

False history

Pope Sylvester II (from 999 to 1003)

Some theories claim that the dates of historical events have been deliberately distorted. These include the phantom time hypothesis of German conspiracy theorist Heribert Illig, who in 1991 published an allegation that 297 years had been added to the calendar by establishment figures such as Pope Sylvester II in order to position themselves at the millennium.

A comparable theory, known as the New Chronology, is most closely associated with Russian theorist Anatoly Fomenko. Fomenko holds that history is many centuries shorter than is widely believed and that numerous historical documents have been fabricated, and legitimate documents destroyed, for political ends. Adherents of such ideas have included chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.[259]

Space agencies

Scientific space programs are of particular interest to conspiracy theorists. The most prolific theories allege that the US moon landings were staged by NASA in a film studio, with some alleging the involvement of director Stanley Kubrick.[260] The Soviet space program has also attracted theories that the government concealed evidence of failed flights. A more recent theory, emergent following the activities of hacker Gary McKinnon,[261] suggests that a secret program of manned space fleets known as Solar Warden exists, supposedly acting under the United Nations.[262]

Nibiru (Planet X)

Conspiracy theorists have long posited a plot by organizations such as NASA to conceal the existence of a large planet in the Solar System known as Nibiru or Planet X, which allegedly, will one day pass close enough to the Earth to destroy it. Predictions for the date of destruction have included 2003, 2012 and 2017. The theory began to develop following the publication of The 12th Planet (1976), by discredited Russian-American author Zecharia Sitchin, was given its full form by Nancy Lieder, and has since been promoted by American conspiracy theorist and End Times theorist David Meade.[263] The notion has remained popular, and received renewed attention during the period prior to the solar eclipse of 21 August 2017.[264][265][266] Other conspiracy theorists in 2017 also predicted Nibiru would appear, including Terral Croft and YouTube pastor Paul Begley.[267][268]

Sports

Boxing

Boxing has featured in conspiracy theories, such as the claims that the second Ali-Liston fight[269] and the first Bradley-Pacquiao fight were fixed.[270]

Shergar

The notorious theft and disappearance of the Irish-bred racehorse Shergar in 1983 has prompted many conspiracy theorists to speculate about involvement by the Mafia, the IRA and Colonel Gaddafi.[271]

Rigged selection processes

The "frozen envelope theory" suggests that the National Basketball Association rigged its 1985 draft Lottery so that Patrick Ewing would join the New York Knicks. Theorists claim that a lottery envelope was chilled so that it could be identified by touch.[272] A similar "hot balls theory", promoted by Scottish football manager David Moyes, suggests that certain balls used in draws for UEFA competitions have been warmed to achieve specific outcomes.[273]

1984 Pepsi 400

The 1984 Pepsi 400 at Daytona, Florida, was the first NASCAR race to be attended by a sitting US President, Ronald Reagan, and was driver Richard Petty's 200th victory. Rival driver Cale Yarborough's premature retirement to the pit road has prompted conspiracy theorists to allege that organizers fixed the race in order to receive good publicity for the event.[274]

Ronaldo and the 1998 World Cup Final

On the day of the 1998 World Cup Final, Brazilian striker Ronaldo suffered a convulsive fit.[275] Ronaldo was initially removed from the starting lineup 72 minutes before the match, with the teamsheet released to a stunned world media, before he was reinstated by the Brazil coach shortly before kick off.[276][277] Ronaldo "sleepwalked" through the final, with France winning the game.[277] The nature of the incident set off a trail of questions and allegations which persisted for years, with Alex Bellos writing in The Guardian, "When Ronaldo's health scare was revealed after the match, the situation's unique circumstances lent itself to fabulous conspiracy theories. Here was the world's most famous sportsman, about to take part in the most important match of his career, when he suddenly, inexplicably, fell ill. Was it stress, epilepsy, or had he been drugged?".[278] Questions also circulated into who made Ronaldo play the game. The Brazil coach insisted he had the final say, but much speculation focused on sportswear company Nike, Brazil's multimillion-dollar sponsor—whom many Brazilians thought had too much control—putting pressure on the striker to play against medical advice.[278]

New England Patriots

The New England Patriots have also been involved in numerous conspiracy theories.[279] During their AFC Championship 24–20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, several conspiracy theories spread stating that the referees helped the Patriots advance to Super Bowl LII.[280] However, sports analyst Stephen A. Smith stated the Jaguars were not robbed, but that they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.[281] There were also conspiracy theories regarding the Super Bowl LI matchup between the Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons stating that the game was rigged[282] while others said the Falcons made questionable play-calls at the end of the game.[283]

See also

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Further reading

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