Tom Loewy: Everybody has a conspiracy theory – Galesburg Register-Mail

R-M columnist Tom Loewy looks at how a book by Aaron Gulyas can help us think critically about conspiracy theory.

As I swiped through Facebook for the umpteenth time Sunday night, I stopped to peruse a few posts about the president of the United States and his possible ties to Russia.

Honestly, I know very little about Russia and its political machinations. I know even less about its state-sponsored and private intelligence agencies and how those entities affect elections in the United States.

But let me tell you my gut instinct: More and more elected officials from many countries are coming in contact with what we used to call organized crime.

And it could be argued, I think, nowhere in the world has organized crime taken a deeper foothold in government than in Russia. What that may or may not have to do with Donald Trump I simply cannot answer.

My instinct is just instinct. Its a theory based on a bit of history, impressions from other sources and my biases.

My mental meanderings got me thinking about the opening line from a book that should be read by anyone interested in all the stuff we see posted on Facebook and churned into endless talk by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Alex Jones:

Many of us have been conspiracy theorists at some point in our lives.

Those words come from Aaron Gulyas and the 2016 book titled Conspiracy Theories: The Roots, Themes and Propagation of Paranoid Political and Cultural Narratives.

I know what you may be thinking: Wow. Long subtitle. And why should I read this?

I look at this way: Gulyas very clearly stakes out some relatively uncharted territory and its important stuff as we find ourselves in not only an argument about what constitutes real and fake news, but we consistently fail to reach consensus on the very nature of reality.

In his own words, the author said the books focus is to determine the point at which the commonly accepted and documented historical record becomes unstable to bear the weight of sensationalism.

Gulyas looks at the history of the development of some of the all-time-great conspiracy theories.

Heres an example: Back in the late 1940s, the United States ran former Nazi scientists out of Europe and enlisted them in the development of new technologies like rockets and weapons systems.

Somehow, roughly six decades after the start of Operation Paperclip, a not small number of people think the Nazi scientists really possessed secrets from space aliens and many of our technological advances in the later half of the 20th century are the result of back engineering alien flying machines.

Operation Paperclip was very real. And former Nazis had a wider influence than just in the manufacture of weapons systems. But some of the important stuff has been bombed out by the necessity of addressing and endlessly re-addressing claims of space alien technologies.

In our modern world, social media fuels rumor and conspiracy even faster than the slowly-unfolding story of alien technology. Want a great example? Take Benghazi.

Dont roll your eyes. Stick with me for a moment. What do we know? Back on Sept. 11, 2012, our consulate in Benghazi was attacked, resulting in the deaths of four persons, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith. Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979.

First we were told, by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the attack was inspired by an anti-Muslim video making its way through the Middle East.

Then we were told it was an attack sponsored by a terrorist group, most likely al-Qaeda. Even later we were told the attacks were carried out by militia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala.

Its not surprising it took some time to sort a list of suspects. But what happened in our media and across our government was a great example of mass hysteria and completely obscured why these attacks happened.

Clinton and her role as Secretary of State had to be one aspect of intense investigation. But we should have looked at the role of American intelligence agencies. Four years after the event, Congressional leaders werent calling on the CIA. Instead, many were picking up threads of conspiracy theories offered by the likes of Fox News and the Daily Wire.

And no one asked why, in the hours after the event, Clinton told the world an anti-Muslim videotape of dubious origin was responsible for the needless deaths of four innocent people. Doesnt that strike anyone as simply odd?

In fact, most Americans can tell you just two things about Benghazi: People died and Hillary Clinton conspired to cover it up.

Thats frightening.

Now we live in a world of even more uncertainty. As Trump and members of his administration make statements, a veritable news industry has sprung up to chart every lie and exaggeration. Whats even more incomprehensible is the fact many Americans appear to delight in their presidents penchant for disregarding fact. We consume endless hours of entertainment parodies.

Americans are breathless as SNL unveils Alex Baldwin as Donald Trump.

All the while, there is a steady, dizzying backbeat. Allegations of conspiracies. Aid from the Russians. Assistance from some other shadowy intelligence services. From Wikileaks.

A growing number of Americans are confused and simply choose to disengage. Others retreat to darker echo chambers that whisper theories about a New World Order or the Illuminati.

Finally, we reach the crux of the matter. Gulyas, after exploring conspiracy theories, shows us what he calls folklore in the making, how banal realities can be reworked into baroque theories.

Thats true. In fact, some of our folklore is fun and entertaining. When David Icke starts talking about reptilians running the world, we can crack up.

But heres another fact that goes back to Gulyas work: Our folklore and conspiracy theories can obscure history. It can prevent us from knowing what really happened during events like the attack in Benghazi.

Think about it. Conspiracies happen. All the time. Iran-Contra. Watergate. The secret agreements between the peddlers of mortgage-backed securities and ratings agencies.

Those things happened. The fallout of those conspiracies are still felt today.

Yet before we post one more theory of conspiracy regarding Russians, our president, or space aliens and the origins of pyramids, do yourself a favor and order Gulyas book. Youll find it on or you can walk down to Stone Alley and order it.

By offering up a history of how past conspiracy theories were formed and have mutated, Gulyas offers a template of how we can think critically about the information we receive today.

Tom Loewy: (309) 343-7181, ext. 256;; @tomloewy

Originally posted here:

Tom Loewy: Everybody has a conspiracy theory – Galesburg Register-Mail

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