Conspiracy Theory As Art Form
By Robert Guffey
Trine Day LLC Copyright © 2012 Robert Guffey
All rights reserved.
Conspiracy Inc: Anatomy of a Discipline
The world of conspiracy research is fraught with bizarre paradoxes. Often the most thorough research is done by complete amateurs (groundbreaking journalist Mae Brussell being the prime example), while the most amateurish research is done by well-trained professionals (i.e., almost any Los Angeles Times article with the word "conspiracy" in the title).
To see what I mean, I suggest perusing Rich Cohen's article "Welcome to the Conspiracy," featured in the May 2004 issue of Vanity Fair. The article purports to be an objective critique of conspiracy research. However, the actual purpose of Cohen's article is not to offer genuine criticism of conspiracy research at all (such a task would be welcome). Instead, his ultimate purpose is to leave in the reader's mind the impression that conspiracy researchers are a) anti-Semites, b) right-wing fundamentalists, and c) always men. Just a quick glance at the masthead of almost any conspiracy journal would render that last proposition laughable. In fact, one of the great progenitors of this type of research was none other than Mae Brussell, a liberal Jewish woman, the daughter of one of the most prominent Rabbis in Los Angeles history, Edgar Magnin.
Brussell's skills as a political researcher were beyond reproach. Brussell wrote about Watergate before the Washington Post. I refer interested researchers to the compilation The Mae Brussell Reader, released by Prevailing Winds in 1991, if you wish to judge Brussell's reportage for yourself. As famed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh once said of Brussell, "She's crazy, but she's right." Alas, mainstream publications are very often neither crazy nor right.
The job of most professional journalists consists of rewriting news releases sent to them by PR Newswire or Business Wire and very little else. Sometimes, I suspect, they don't even do that much. I have a friend who works at Business Wire; he often sees news releases he himself has edited reprinted word for word in a mainstream newspaper. With such a lackadaisical atmosphere pervading the halls of newsrooms across the country, it's not surprising that amateurs are forced to fill the void with articles in conspiracy 'zines, postings on the internet, hit-and-run phone calls on radio talk shows, and graffiti on alley walls.
Loose in the conspiracy world is an anarchy of information, to which there's an upside and a downside. Most conspiracy magazines are a synthesis of both. The upside and the downside appear side by side without even a wink or a nudge from the editors to explain the difference. On one page you might find a meticulously researched, thoroughly footnoted article examining the origins of the Gulf War Disease by Dr. Alan Cantwell, and on the next you'll find someone named "Anonymous" ranting about the cabal of homosexual Communists attempting to take over the world. Few people can oscillate between these two categories and remain sane, though why this should be the case perplexes me. You don't need a degree in advanced physics to tell the difference between legitimate research and illegitimate research (or, more often than not, no research at all). Legitimate conspiracy research (Noam Chomsky, eager to remain in the good graces of academia, prefers to call it "Institutional Analysis") is footnoted and sourced, and pure speculation is clearly labeled as such. Illegitimate conspiracy research is very often based on little more than hearsay or the wild imagination of the researcher himself. That doesn't mean such goofiness doesn't have a place in the universe. Some of it is purely insane, some of it is clever disinformation manufactured by one or more intelligence agencies to muddy the waters, some of it is misinformation from sincere but sadly misled researchers, some of it is outright satire, but none of it is boring.
Since Rich Cohen was unable to offer an objective critique of the emerging discipline known as "conspiracy research," I thought it might be beneficial to correct Cohen's mistake and do his job for him. After all, in times such as these when conspiracies are conducted right in front of our faces, and murderous thugs wander the halls of the White House cooking up imaginary threats to keep us frightened, it's important not to waste our time conjuring up plots and counter-plots that don't even exist. Let's leave such fear mongering to the professionals, shall we?
What follows is an overview of the more obscure conspiracy theories floating around out there. If possible, I'll attempt to identify which of the five categories the theory falls into (i.e., Insanity, Disinformation, Misinformation, Satire or Legitimate Research). However, I'd like to point out that in even the most suspect conspiracy theory there's often a kernel of truth. As political researcher Dave Emory likes to say, "Even a blind pig can find an acorn once in awhile." I'll try to uncover that acorn in each of the following examples.
Stephen King Shot John Lennon
During the summer of 1998 various people kept coming up to me and saying, "Have you seen this weird guy who drives around Torrance in a van that has a sign on it that says STEPHEN KING SHOT JOHN LENNON?" No, I would reply, I've never seen it. In fact, I appeared to be the only one in Torrance who never did see it, though I would've liked to.
Later that year on Halloween I happened to find myself up in Monterey, CA. While walking down the street on Sunday morning, only about two blocks away from my hotel, I glanced to my right and saw a van parked alongside the curb. The van had a sign on it that read, STEPHEN KING SHOT JOHN LENNON. Well, how could I pass that up? I walked on up to the van and perused the hundred little newspaper clippings taped to its side. The driver, an aging hippie named Steven Lightfoot, climbed out of the back to explain his theory, the main thrust of which was that Ronald Reagan wanted Lennon dead in order to destroy the spirit of the sixties. This I could understand. I'm still not quite clear on how this ties into Stephen King, however. After he finished telling me that Stephen King was also John Doe #2 of Oklahoma City Bombing Fame, I asked him if he'd ever been to Torrance, CA.
"Cravens Ave.?" he said. "Sure! I was there for a long time."
"Why did you leave?"
He slammed his fist into his palm and yelled, "No one there cares about the story, damn it!"
"Look," I said, "sometimes I write for Paranoia magazine. What if I try to get the story out through them?"
He replied that a copy of his "book" (in truth a stapled pamphlet) was $3. I gladly gave up the three bucks, at which point Lightfoot jotted down his pager number on the back of the "book" (he has no address, since he lives out of the van) and said, "Reproduce as many copies as you want. Pass 'em around. The Word needs to get out!" [Lightfoot's pager number is 408-233-4944, if you're interested in getting in contact with him.]
"I promise I'll show a copy to the editor of Paranoia magazine," I said as I strolled away from the van. Upon returning home I sent a copy to one of the editors of Paranoia in Rhode Island as well as to Jack Womack in New York. Womack, author of the novel Random Acts of Senseless Violence, is a connoisseur of such strangeness. He wrote back, "A friend of mine remembers seeing the S.K.S.J.L. van parked on Amsterdam at 72nd a few years ago, which is probably about as close as anyone would let him get to the Dakota, 2 blocks away." Another friend of mine remembers seeing the van at a Grateful Dead concert in Irvine, while yet another friend has heard him calling into the Stephanie Miller show on KABC (790 AM). The man's quite ubiquitous. Sometimes I wonder if he has the divine power of bi-location.
I don't think I need to point out that this particular theory falls under the Insanity Category. However, there are indeed unanswered questions surrounding the assassination of John Lennon. In 1988 Arthur O'Connor, NYPD lieutenant of detectives, suggested to a British barrister named Fenton Bresler, "It's possible Mark [David Chapman] could have been used by somebody. I saw him the night of the murder. I studied him intensely. He looked as if he could have been programmed ..." (Bresler 17). Indeed, Chapman exhibited the behavior of a hypnotized subject. In 1972 Lennon himself had told Paul Krassner, the publisher of The Realist, "Listen, if anything happens to Yoko and me, it was not an accident" (Krassner 214). That was the same time when Lennon and Ono were also funding the publication of Mae Brussell's research.
A more exhaustive examination of these issues can be found in Fenton Bresler's 1989 book Who Shot John Lennon? Though based on little more than circumstantial evidence, the book raises some intriguing questions that need to be addressed. A good start, of course, would be for the FBI to release its files on Lennon sans all redactions that serve to reduce the pages into a mess of blacked-out rectangles with a maximum of two words visible (if you're lucky). Until the government ceases to insist on absolute secrecy in the interest of that all-purpose bugaboo known as "national security," you can look forward to more insane theories like Lightfoot's proliferating on the internet and beyond.
Real Aliens Prefer Strawberry Ice Cream
On October 14-16, 1988, a syndicated television broadcast hosted by Mike Farrell made great waves in the UFO field. Titled UFO Cover-up? Live!, the show purported to be a true exposé of the government's secret agreement with the alien Grays. Though the conditions of this agreement were left ambiguous, the show clearly implied that the government had given the aliens an underground base in Nevada where they were being allowed to carry out genetic experiments on human abductees. The main sources for this information were two "members of the intelligence community" who used the code names Falcon and Condor. Both claimed to be members of a secret group known as the Aviary. They were only shown behind screens and their voices were distorted in order to protect their identity. As Jacques Vallée has pointed out: "It should be fairly obvious that the people presumably charged with the security of the projeects on which Falcon, Condor, and the other members of the Aviary claimed to work, would immediately find out who they were ... since the projects in question are supposed to be highly classified, hence would be known to a very small group where leaks could be traced instantly" (Vallée 43-44). Though the Aviary itself may exist (or may have existed at one time) in some form or another, it's doubtful that the two gentlemen featured on the show were actually members of such an organization.
Among Falcon and Condor's stranger claims was that the aliens preferred to eat ice cream and vegetables. Over twenty years later, those who saw the show seem to remember this detail most of all. Communion author Whitley Strieber has said, "[The show] contained a lot of credible information about aliens and UFOs and the cover-up, but it also contained the story that the aliens liked strawberry ice cream, turning the whole thing into a laughing stock. It was very cleverly done" (Strieber Interview).
The techniques used to obfuscate the few moments of serious information were indeed clever, but simple. For example, the UFO witnesses were forced to read from teleprompters, making them sound stilted and rehearsed. While the witnesses related horrifying tales of alien abduction, the sound track consisted of an upbeat Russian polka, subtly transforming their tragedy into utter slapstick. Mike Farrell's narration was so obviously tongue-in-cheek, the viewer felt alienated from the material even more. Similarly, the painted backdrops of "a bright sunny room overlooking a garden" served as an effective anti-environment when juxtaposed with the ominous information concerning the intentions of the aliens, who were depicted as idealized Disneyesque cartoon characters (Andrews 4-5).
I think it would be safe to say that UFO Cover-up? Live! was a clever piece of propaganda manufactured by the intelligence community itself. By the way, this particular documentary was the first in television history to be granted the privilege of being broadcast simultaneously in both the United States and the Soviet Union. Such international cooperation seems quite suspicious, particularly during the Cold War, and only strengthens the idea that the program's main intent was one of disinformation. As Jacques Vallée has said, "If the objective of [this] particular piece of disinformation art was to destabilize the few groups that are still seriously doing UFO research, to place the few competent investigators in a ridiculous light, and to disseminate spurious data, then they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, as the disintegration of American UFO research over the last few years demonstrates" (Vallée 45).
NASA Mooned America!
What a title! One can't help but admire any conspiracy researcher who could cook up a title as colorful as that. Ralph René, a former member of Mensa who prefers to be known only by his last name for some reason, was forced to self-publish his book in 1992 after Victoria House Press in New York threatened to rewrite it entirely. Upon receiving NASA Mooned America! in the mail, I was immediately struck by the fact that it was bound in black electrical tape. Most people would interpret this as a bad sign, but not me. Anyone who's so committed to his research that he'll resort to binding his book in electrical tape is clearly of interest.
Over the course of 176 pages, René attempts to prove that NASA faked every one of its moon landings in a warehouse near Mercury, Nevada, a theory first proposed in Bill Kaysing's 1981 book We Never Went To the Moon. (Kaysing claims that Peter Hyams' 1978 film Capricorn One was based on his research. By the way, if you want to get really conspiratorial, consider the fact that Capricorn One stars none other than O.J. Simpson.) René expands on Kaysing's original proposal by analyzing original NASA photos, comparing contradictory statements by the Apollo astronauts (or "astro-nots," as René likes to say), and deconstructing the unchallenged assumptions concerning human survival in space. René raises many intriguing questions. How did the Moon Rover fit onto the Lander? Why are there no stars visible in any of the NASA photographs of the Moon? Why wasn't color footage used during the 1969 landing? How did the astronauts withstand the deadly radiation in the Van Allen belt?
Most of René's questions have simple answers, and I would refer the interested reader to Michael Bara's article "Who Mourns For Apollo?" at http://www.lunaranomalies.com/fake-moon.htm for analysis far more in-depth than any I can offer here. René's technical acuity is far from unassailable. At one point he seems incapable of distinguishing between "shadows" and "silhouettes," for example. However, that doesn't mean the entire book is worthless. Far from it. Though in my opinion René fails to prove his central thesis, he does indeed prove that NASA fakes photographs. His analysis of two photographs taken from Michael Collins' 1974 book Carrying the Fire proves that the July 1966 photograph (#66-40127) of Michael Collins' space-walk was derived from a picture of Collins in a Zero-G airplane; the original figure has clearly been flopped over, reduced in size, and superimposed onto a black background. René's analysis of NASA's 4/22/72 photo (AS16-107-17446), depicting Charles Duke and the Moon Rover during the Apollo 16 mission, is certainly intriguing. Even my most skeptical friends have been dumbfounded by the fact that the Rover's antenna clearly overlaps the cross-hairs on the photo. I'd like to meet the professional photographer who can explain that one away.
Because NASA fakes photographs, one can't immediately leap to the conclusion that we never went to the Moon. I can imagine a number of reasons for altering NASA photos, one of them being to remove evidence of alien artifacts that certain NASA officials would prefer to keep from profane eyes like yours and mine. Richard Hoagland, former advisor to both NASA and Walter Cronkite, insists that the famous photo of Alan Shepard hitting a golf ball on the Moon is manufactured (8/20/97 Interview). This photo depicts Shepard and Ed Mitchell standing side by side, despite the fact that there were only two cameras taken along on the Apollo 14 moon landing — both of them strapped to the chests of Shepard and Mitchell. This faked photo can be found in the center of Shepard's 1994 book Moon Shot. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Cryptoscatology by Robert Guffey. Copyright © 2012 Robert Guffey. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
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