From 9/11 and Roswell to Princess Di and the grassy knoll, this survey explores 18 of the world’s most intriguing conspiracy theories. The facts surrounding each theory are examined in detail, exploring the background of those who presented them as well as other lesser-known arguments. Following the recent virtual explosion of conspiracy theory interest and activity on the World Wide Web, the examination includes recommendations for websites that advocate, speculate, and debunk. At once informative and entertaining, this is a detailed, clear-eyed exploration for those who think they've heard it all.
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About the Author
James F. Broderick, a former reporter and copy editor, teaches journalism at New Jersey City University in Jersey City, New Jersey. He is the author of The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek and Paging New Jersey: A Literary Guide to the Garden State, which was named a New Jersey Notable Book. He lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Darren W. Miller has worked as a reporter and editor and is the recipient of several journalism awards. He is a coauthor of Consider the Source: A Critical Guide to 100 Prominent News and Information Sites on the Web. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
Web of Conspiracy
A Guide to Conspiracy Theory Sites on the Internet
By James F. Broderick, Darren W. Miller
Information Today, Inc.Copyright © 2008 James F. Broderick and Darren W. Miller
All rights reserved.
Have you ever found yourself gazing skyward at night, contemplating the stars, and wondering if, among all the vastness of the cosmos, there might exist intelligent life far beyond Earth?
Have you never heard of Roswell, New Mexico?
It was there that one of the most famous encounters with alien life supposedly took place. And in the 60 years since that fateful summer night, when a mysterious "flying disk" (to quote the newspaper reports at the time) crash-landed in a farmer's field near Roswell, the legend has persisted and the question about intelligent life has been answered, some say (though the government persists in denying it). In the decades since that seminal evening, the science of UFO-ology has gained some serious traction, and everyone from backyard videographers to government agencies has joined the search. Countless sightings of mysterious lights, hovering spacecraft, and even alien abductions have been reported, scrutinized, and written about. But no single sighting has garnered the attention of the alien-interest community like Roswell, a tribute, in part, to its enduring mix of documentation, speculation, and elevation as a pop cultural myth.
Wedded to the idea of the recovery of an extraterrestrial spacecraft — and possibly some alien bodies themselves — is the equally compelling theory about a super-secret government installation, known as "Area 51," where scientists study the remnants of alien spaceships and "reverse engineer" what they find from these advance technologies for use by the military. Conspiracy theorists who allege that such a staging ground exists for the collection and study of alien technology point to a very real plot of land in northwest Nevada that remains off limits to all but those with high-level security clearances (even military personnel who fly over the site are not allowed to photograph the property).
Flying saucers. Little green men. Secret military installations. Codes of silence. A government cover-up. Conspiracy theories do not come any more ready-made than this. The question for true believers is not "Is there intelligent life in the universe?" but "How long does the government plan to go on lying to the public about our contact with alien beings?"
Neither side seems likely to cede any ground. The government continues to maintain that the whole alien discovery scenario is more suited to pulp science-fiction novels. Proponents of the conspiracy theory say it's the government that's spinning wild stories.
Weather or Not
The two camps do agree that something happened in late June 1947 on a ranch near the Roswell Army Air Field. A farmer named William Brazel reported in early July that he discovered some metallic-type debris a few weeks earlier on the property, about 70 miles from Roswell. He contacted the local sheriff, George Wilcox, who in turn contacted Major Jesse Marcel at the airfield. Marcel and at least one unidentified assistant went to the ranch and gathered some additional metallic pieces that Brazel had not picked up and took all of the pieces back to the army base.
On July 8, the Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release, which read in part:
[T]he intelligence office of the 509th Bomb group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff's office of Claves County. The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff' office. ... Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher's home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.
The "disc" was then flown to Fort Worth Army Air Field, where officials identified the debris as belonging to a type of weather balloon that carries radar deflectors. The Army issued a press release dismissing the "flying disc" idea. However, Brazel was quoted in news reports the next day challenging the Army's assertions, claiming he had seen remnants of weather balloons on the ranch before, adding "I am sure what I found was not any weather observation balloon."
From that point on, there is little agreement. In fact, some researchers even dispute those findings, arguing that the debris was taken to several military installations for inspection, ending up at the infamous base known as Area 51, a 60-square-mile tract of land that borders the Yucca Flats region of the Nevada Test Site, where the U.S. Department of Energy tests nuclear weapons. Some conspiracy theorists maintain that the bodies of the pilots of the alien vessel that crashed at Roswell are preserved in an underground lab at Area 51 and that military engineers continue to study the flying saucer's remains in an attempt to replicate the advanced engineering that makes interplanetary travel possible.
Dormant for Decades
One of the curious aspects of the whole Roswell conspiracy theory is that, for much of the past 60 years, there was no conspiracy theory. In fact, there was little interest at all in the largely forgotten incident of the "weather balloon" recovery of 1947. For more than 30 years, Roswell remained as unknown to the general public as it had been before the revelation of the recovery of mysterious sky debris there. But in 1980, a book titled The Roswell Incident, by Charles Berlitz (who had written previously about the Bermuda Triangle) and William L. Moore, ignited a wave of fervid Roswell reinvestigations. The book features interviews with several witnesses and people involved with the original investigation, including Major Marcel, who had gathered the debris at Brazel's ranch. Marcel was quoted as saying the material he collected was "nothing made on this earth." The book also argues that the U.S. military was engaged in an effort to discredit belief in UFOs and that the debris the Army showed to the press in an effort to bolster its weather balloon theory was actually switched from the debris collected near Roswell.
After The Roswell Incident, several other researchers rushed into the vortex. Throughout the 1990s, a number of important books on the subject were published, many of which included testimony from additional witnesses, generally supporting the claims made in the 1980 book but extending the reach of the conspiracy. Some of these books suggested that there were actually two separate crashes near Roswell, and many of these authors built further on the original implication of Berlitz and Moore that those closely involved in the recovery of the debris had been intimidated and coerced into silence.
By the time the Air Force published its own report in the mid-1990s, which not surprisingly found no credibility in the spaceship crash/cover-up theory, the conspiracy advocates had gained sufficient ground to plant the seeds of doubt in the public's mind. Opinion polls conducted in the past few years have found continued widespread belief that something happened in Roswell. Occasionally, a major news network or cable television channel will produce a documentary about the Roswell crash, though such enterprises are often beset by the failing memory of those who claim firsthand knowledge of the event, as well as the regularly changing stories of the principals, such as Brazel and Marcel. Additionally, there is a split in the UFO-believing community, with many researchers arguing that Roswell is a dubious event — one that eclipses the thousands of other, more credible "sightings" that should be getting more attention.
But it is Roswell that is, for good or ill, the focal point of UFO-ologists of all stripes, from amateur sky watchers to serious researchers. The town itself has taken advantage of its reputation to become a magnet for conspiracy theorists, sponsoring a four- day "UFO Festival" every year, which features a mix of academic symposia and carnival silliness.
While the town of Roswell has rolled out the welcome mat for the perpetually suspicious, Area 51 has taken the opposite approach, remaining absolutely shrouded in secrecy. The installation — also known as "Groom Lake" (because of the body of water to the southwest) — is surrounded by checkpoints and signs warning trespassers not only that "photography is prohibited" but also that "the use of deadly force is authorized." Some satellite photos of the parcel of property have become public, but these reveal little more than a couple of hangars and some airstrips. (The base's history includes use as a bombing practice facility in World War II and a test site for the famed U-2 spy plane.) Yet conspiracy theorists argue that all the real action happens underground, where facilities are said to include everything from advanced aerospace research labs to morgues containing alien bodies. There's even a contingent of conspiracy-minded individuals who argue that Area 51 was the staging ground for the Moon landing of 1969 (see Chapter 8), which they say was filmed in an underground TV studio made to resemble the lunar surface.
The very words "Area 51" have become shorthand in popular culture for some super-secret location, off-limits to all but those in the corridors of power. Internet sites that seek to acquaint users with the scope of Area 51's activities inevitably rely on speculation and recirculated rumor. No one is allowed to visit the property, which is reportedly patrolled by ground vehicles, helicopters, and radar. Whatever is going on at Area 51 is likely to remain secret — catnip to conspiracy theorists.
The Internet, in fact, seems like the perfect place for fans of a government-sponsored cosmic cover-up to gather: the distances of outer space conflated to the virtual proximity of cyberspace, with no military or government censor redacting the free flow of evidence and speculation. There are many sites that are thorough and credible — but given the admittedly far-fetched "little green men" component of the conspiracy, surfers are urged to remember that there are some Web sites that are as far out as their subject matter.
Before moving directly into the Roswell controversy, readers might want to get their bearings with the universe of UFO research. A great site is the UFO Evidence Web site (www.ufoevidence.org/topics/government.htm). This site offers a helpful and thorough overview of UFOs and the evidence for their existence. A number of articles deal with government secrecy and the military's role in studying and concealing UFO information. Other topics addressed include "U.S. Presidents & UFOs," "Public Opinion Polls on UFOs," and "UFO Crashes & Retrievals." The site offers extensive links to government documents, other UFO-related Web sites, and a catalog of books and articles about the UFO phenomenon. There are also message boards related to each of the topics discussed on the site.
An updated and extensive archive of Roswell crash information can be found at The Roswell Incident page (www.subversiveelement.com/roswell1_home.html), maintained by Subversive Element. Users are greeted by a pages-long list of links to Roswell-related documents, from newspaper and magazine articles to excerpts from books, video, and print transcripts of interviews with government officials, as well as author interviews, photo archives, and statements from witnesses to some aspect of the Roswell incident. The site is not the most visually arresting — it seems to have been designed with the same care that goes into listing the specials on a menu at an all-night truck stop — but there's no denying the wide utility of its selections.
Less extensive but engagingly presented is the Roswell page of the Skeptic's Dictionary (skepdic.com/roswell.html). The site combines a sober and thorough retelling of the sequence of events in July 1947 with an insider's perspective:
The actual crash site was on the Foster ranch 75 miles north of Roswell, a small town doing big business feeding the insatiable appetite of UFO enthusiasts. Roswell now houses two UFO museums and hosts an annual alien festival. Shops cater to this curious tourist trade, much as Inverness caters to Loch Ness crowd. This seems a bit unfair to Corona, New Mexico, which is actually the closest town to the alleged crash site. Roswell is the nearest military base, however....
In addition to the helpful general overview, the site includes a section for further reading and a message board for reader comments. There are also lots of links to related sites connected to the Skeptic's Dictionary, such as "Area 51" and "Alien Abduction."
The fairly objective tone of the Skeptic's Dictionary is somewhat at odds with many of the other Roswell sites, most of which tend to espouse a belief in the alien crash landing and subsequent cover-up. One of the more distinguished voices on a variety of conspiracy theories is CoverUps.com, which, of course, has a Roswell section (www.coverups.com/roswell). If you've had some difficulty convincing your friends or family of the validity of the crash and cover-up, you might want to spend a few minutes online with this site — ferocious in its belief and equally adamant in its assertion of a cover-up:
It would seem logical to conclude that an intelligence matter classified two secrecy levels higher than the Hydrogen bomb is unlikely to be revealed except to those with the very highest security clearances. Even at that level, the degree of information shared would be kept severely compartmentalized. In other words, those who learned the "truth" about UFOs did not necessarily know the WHOLE TRUTH, nor all of those who had the same level of saucer/alien knowledge as they did. The old fable of the blind men describing an elephant comes to mind.
Much of the discussion on the site (not surprisingly) tends to deal with the cover-up rather than the actual event. The motives of the government to keep secret the whole "aliens have landed on Earth" scenario are analyzed and critiqued, with the site's authors rather dryly concluding that: "It is unlikely that the fabric of society would be destroyed if selected facts were released."
But why such secrecy surrounding Area 51, a military base that everyone seems to agree exists, though no one talks about what actually happens there? Well, some people are talking about it, including a PhD in metaphysics named Ellie Crystal, whose Web site Crystalinks contains an extensive section on Area 51 (www.crystalinks.com/area51.html). The site offers extensive geographical information providing Area 51's specific location and an overview of the various military projects undertaken there. In an acknowledgment of the rather "Alice in Wonderland" status of the property, Crystal notes that: "The U.S. Government does not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the Groom Lake [Area 51] facility, nor does it deny it." Crystalinks provides an immense amount of information about the facility (including the protocol followed by base personnel when they arrest a trespasser: "Modest fines, of around $600, seem to be the norm, although some visitors and journalists report receiving follow-up visits from FBI agents."). The site offers a measured tone that never descends into breathless indignation or encyclopedic detachment. It's a very entertaining read.
Less dramatic but quite useful are the extensive articles in Wikipedia under "Roswell UFO Incident" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roswell_UFO_incident) and "Area 51" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Area_51). These entries offer the usual Wiki mix of fun facts, serious scholarship, and unproved allegations. But there's a wealth of information (so much so that first-timers to the world of Roswell or Area 51 might want to start with a smaller Internet bite, such as the provocative, brief entry at www.armageddononline.org). The Wikipedia articles are particularly strong on the post-1980 world of conspiracy theorizing that has swirled around Roswell/Area 51 since the first wave of alien cover-up books began appearing in 1980. The overall tone of the Wikipedia entries is one of healthy skepticism: "While new reports into the 1990s seemed to suggest there was much more to the Roswell incident than the mere recovery of a weather balloon, skeptics instead saw the increasingly elaborate accounts as evidence of a myth being constructed."
As has become clear to regular users of the Internet, the prime benefit of Wikipedia articles might be their often impressive bibliography of sources, pointing the Web surfer to a variety of documents available both online and in libraries and research collections. The comprehensive list of approximately 50 or so sources at the end these two entries testifies to the breadth and depth of research on the subject.
Excerpted from Web of Conspiracy by James F. Broderick, Darren W. Miller. Copyright © 2008 James F. Broderick and Darren W. Miller. Excerpted by permission of Information Today, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Web Site,
Chapter 1 Roswell/Area 51,
Chapter 2 The Death of Princess Diana,
Chapter 3 TWA Flight 800,
Chapter 4 AIDS,
Chapter 5 The Shakespeare Authorship Question,
Chapter 6 The Order of Skull and Bones,
Chapter 7 The Jesus Controversy,
Chapter 8 The Moon Landing,
Chapter 9 The Death of Marilyn Monroe,
Chapter 10 Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
Chapter 11 Pearl Harbor,
Chapter 12 The Trilateral Commission,
Chapter 13 The Hindenburg,
Chapter 14 The Philadelphia Experiment,
Chapter 15 Freemasonry,
Chapter 16 The JFK Assassination,
Chapter 17 September 11, 2001,
Chapter 18 Bodies of Evidence: The Lindbergh, Lincoln, Hoffa, and Morrison Mysteries in Brief,
List of Featured Web Sites,
About the Authors,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is quite insightful. It gives all points of view on the various conspiracy theories with which it deals and there is lots of information which I had never heard before as well as some lesser known conspiracy theories. Really fascinating! Since there are so many more conspiracy theories around, perhaps a volume 2 of Web of Conspiracy?