Reasonable doubt: The anatomy of a conspiracy theory

Unless there is firsthand knowledge of an event, belief hinges upon the credibility of the information. This is fertile ground image-thumb-1151831from which conspiracy theories spring.

In the Internet Age, we have unfettered access to events as they take place. Cell phone videos and Twitter feeds regularly beat media outlets reporting stories these days. Unfortunately, in the rush to break a story, accuracy is often compromised in favor of being the first to get the news out.

Indeed, commercialism has even affected the news media. Competition for high ratings often lead to sensationalism of some stories and downplaying of others. The actions of authorities can also lead people to question how events take place when they classify or otherwise redact information from official reports. Additionally, matters aren’t helped when official explanations vary from the reported chain of events and above all, when some of these theories turn out to be fact.

The following are examples of events where questions are sufficient enough to raise eyebrows even among the most rational people.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy probably initiated the era of the modern conspiracy theory. It was one of the first major events witnessed by a large number of people as it took place. Additionally, there were cameras recording from several locations, giving views from multiple angles – not to mention the hundreds of eyewitnesses present.

From the outset, there were whispers of conspirators involved in Kennedy’s death. These whispers reached a dull roar as competing theories raised more questions about how and why the president was killed.

Although debates continue to this day, new evidence has tilted many opinions toward the assassination being a conspiracy instead of the lone gunman scenario proffered by the original official report. Score one for the conspiracy theorists.

Since the Kennedy assassination, other events have taken place that warrant closer examination but none like the world-changing attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In many ways, 9/11 represents the apex of conspiracy theorism due to the sheer number that were generated from the disaster. In fact, some very interesting questions have been raised that cast reasonable doubt on the official narrative.

For example, consider the five frames of video supposedly showing the Pentagon being struck. Even the staunchest supporters of the official story will have a hard time pointing out a plane in the clip. The official reason? The plane managed to pass between two frames of video, leaving only the aftermath of its approach.

There is also the mysterious Building 7 that was omitted from the 9/11 Commission Report and had to be addressed in its own report published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which was promptly dubbed fictitious. There is even an entire movement surrounding the attacks known as the 9/11 Truth Movement.

The events of 9/11 continue to be questioned and will likely follow the same vein as the Kennedy assassination.

Ironically, there is no argument that 9/11 was a conspiracy. Instead, the dispute is whether it was one perpetrated by 19 fanatical Islamic hijackers or others.

The final example may not be of international or global significance like the preceding events, however, it deserves a place here for its national significance as well as the way a conspiracy theory has manifested concerning it. This is the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

As expected, there were the usual accusations of government involvement and/or some shadowy organization attempting to further an agenda. Although there was certainly moves made to exploit the tragedy, the most shocking thing to emerge was the assertion that the massacre never happened.

Since the shooting, a number of websites and videos on YouTube have appeared, purporting to provide proof that no one was killed and the entire event was staged.

In a contention rivaling the 9/11 conspiracies, some argue that Sandy Hook was a hoax designed to take away gun rights.

Obviously, with the number of people directly involved with Sandy Hook, pulling off such a colossal hoax should be impossible. Not so, say those who are now called “Sandy Hook Truthers.”

According to some of those claiming to research the tragedy, the government, local, state and federal authorities conspired with actors who took part in a totally contrived event – complete with fake a 10,000-page report and false police video footage.

Even attempting to digest the possibility that someone would fabricate such a horrific story is difficult, to say the least. Conversely, in fairness to those researchers, there are some noteworthy anomalies present, such as the mysterious kindergarten teacher to doomsday prepper switch on Nancy Lanza, the mother of the alleged shooter.

The media’s airing of numerous erroneous reports and the heavily redacted final official report with its equally redacted video did not help matters either.

In a way it would be wonderful if Sandy Hook had really been staged. That would mean all those innocent children and adults are still alive and loved ones are not suffering the terrible anguish of their loss.

It would also mean that the government really is in the business of conducting sinister operations against its own people to further its agendas.

There is a lot of misinformation as well as disinformation out there. The difference is that the former happens accidentally and the latter is done intentionally. There is also no doubt that our government has lied in the past, so can we blame the conspiracy theorist for questioning the official word?

After all, not everyone who questions facts surrounding an event should be branded crackpots. The media is sometimes responsible for propagating falsehoods with shoddy fact checking as well.

The truth is that conspiracies really do exist. What do you think Watergate was? Had it not been for dumb luck, it likely would have never been exposed.

So are some major tragedies manufactured by the government, are they seized upon to further certain political agendas, or both? Remember, cover-ups don’t always have to veil complicity, they can also suppress information harmful to a particular cause.

Are all conspiracy theories the ravings of paranoid individuals or are we really “opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence ...” as President Kennedy said?

Is it possible that our government has been infiltrated by elements that espouse tenets less conducive to our continuing freedom?

President George W. Bush once admonished, “Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories.”

It might also be a good idea not to become so mired in denial that we lose our objectivity as well.