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Conspiracy theory label as a subtle form of censorship

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the phrase "conspiracy theory" occurred in a 1909 article in The American Historical Review.[16]. Initially  the term  meant "questionable hypothesis" or "rumor" and  implied that the proposed explanation of events doe not have any facts behind it and is perceived as violating Occam's razor or, later, the principle of falsifiability.

CIA reintroduced this phase in English language in 1997 with the specific goal to block questions on JFK’s Assassination. Some call this corruption of English language to be  “One of the Most Successful Propaganda Initiatives of All Time.” Specifically, in April 1967, the CIA wrote a dispatch which coined the term “conspiracy theories” … and recommended methods for discrediting such theories.  The dispatch was marked “psych” –  short for “psychological operations” or disinformation –  and “CS” for the CIA’s “Clandestine Services” unit.

Assessing the prevalent use of the term to ridicule or dismiss, Professor Rebecca Moore observes,

"The word 'conspiracy' works much the same way the word 'cult' does to discredit advocates of a certain view or persuasion. Historians do not use the word 'conspiracy' to describe accurate historical reports. On the contrary, they use it to indicate a lack of veracity and objectivity."[21]

In the aftermath of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, the term has acquired a derogatory meaning, implying a paranoid tendency to see the influence of some malign covert agency in events.[17] The term is often used to dismiss claims that the critic deems ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish, or irrational.[18]

Despite conspiracy theorists often being dismissed as a "fringe group," evidence suggests that people from "a broad cross-section of Americans today — traversing ethnic, gender, education, occupation, and other divides" believe in a wide variety of conspiracy theories.

The ridicule of all conspiracy theories is really just an attempt to diffuse criticism of the powerful.

Rothbard: shallow vs. deep[edit]

From Wikipedia

Characterized by Robert W. Welch, Jr. as "one of the few major scholars who openly endorses conspiracy theory", the economist Murray Rothbard has argued in favor of "deep" conspiracy theories versus "shallow" ones. According to Rothbard, a "shallow" theorist observes a questionable or potentially shady event and asks Cui bono? ("who benefits?"), jumping to the conclusion that a posited beneficiary is in fact responsible for covertly influencing events. In contrast, the "deep" conspiracy theorist begins with a suspicious hunch, but goes further by seeking out reputable and verifiable evidence. Rothbard described the scholarship of a deep conspiracy theorist as "essentially confirming your early paranoia through a deeper factual analysis".[36]

Lack of control

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia, asserts that strong supporters of conspiracy theories usually experience a feeling of lack of control. Which means 99% of population of advanced countries.  This explanation makes a strong link between conspiracy theories and rumors.

 A theory can help a believer regain a sense of order explaining some extraordinary events. Knowing some facts can even bring the feeling of power. Lewandowsky states that belief in conspiracies can be a protective mechanism.

Another explanation is that people are inclined to believe in ideas that they initially supported. This is called "motivated skepticism" or a "self-sealing nature of reasoning".[33]

Examples of hypothesis what were previous labeled as "conspiracy theory" but later proven correct

Several hypotheses that previously were labeled as "conspiracy theories" were later proven correct.

Examples include the theory that United States President Richard Nixon and his aides conspired to cover up [19] the theory that aides of President Ronald Reagan's conspired to cover up the [27] and the theory that government mass surveillance was tracking a large percentage of the world's telephone and Internet traffic.

Katherine K. Young writes that "every real conspiracy has had at least four characteristic features: groups, not isolated individuals; illegal or sinister aims, not ones that would benefit society as a whole; orchestrated acts, not a series of spontaneous and haphazard ones; and secret planning, not public discussion" [28]

"Some historians have put forward the idea that more recently the United States has become the home of conspiracy theories because so many high-level prominent conspiracies have been undertaken and uncovered since the 1960s".[29] The existence of such real conspiracies helps feed the belief in conspiracy theories.[32]


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[Dec 21, 2015] Journalists are really mouthpieces for political factions within their own government power structure but the best journalists choose faction that actually embraces reality

"... Regarding Patrick Lang, I noticed that he posted a quite vehement attack against conspiracy theorists postings on his blog who were – if I recall correctly – claiming that the military were involved in the subterfuge to arm extremists in Syria. (Probably cocked up the details but too tired to check.) It struck me as noteworthy as it suggested an internecine intra-Washington struggle between Military / CIA who was going to "own" the debacle in Syria at the very least. It is utterly reminiscent of the struggle between Dulles / CIA power structure (think: institutional group think) and the incoming JFK administration / New Frontiersman during and after the Cuban Missile Crisis. ..."
"... Of course it's worth noting that Hersh had to revert to publishing this "intimate" conversation between American power structures in a foreign publication. What does that tell you about the "freedom index"? Samizdat here we come! ..."
marknesop.wordpress.com

Tim Owen, December 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Sy Hersh's latest via M of A:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n01/seymour-m-hersh/military-to-military

marknesop, December 20, 2015 at 7:58 pm
Washington does not care who assumes power in Syria – whether it be feuding warlords or an Islamic mullah or Assad's cat. Washington knows that Islamic State needs money to survive and keep power, as does any individual or group who will rule, and that to remain in power, it will sell oil. Good enough, as far as Washington is concerned. If the place remains a seething cauldron of destabilizing hatreds, so much the better.
Tim Owen, December 20, 2015 at 8:50 pm
I read this carefully earlier today and wish I had made some notes.

It's an interesting article just in what it says about the politics of American journalism at this point in time almost regardless of the subject matter in a kind of Kremlinology vein. It almost reads like a ransom note. My impression is that Hersh is pulling punches at some key points in order not to overplay his hand.

My suggestion: don't get bogged down in the details. From my recollection of the piece from earlier today Hersh is basically championing a few figures and – most importantly – their perspectives here:

It's worth remembering that Hersh's articles on the Ghoutta attack immediately predated the great stand-down by Obama from all out air-war to destroy Syria.

Given that it's axiomatic that journalists are really mouthpieces for political factions within their own government power structure and that the BEST journalists – like Hersh – actually embrace this reality, what does the appearance of this article augur?

I especially like the sign off:

"The Joint Chiefs and the DIA were constantly telling Washington's leadership of the jihadist threat in Syria, and of Turkey's support for it. The message was never listened to. Why not?"

That sounds kind of threatening. In a good way.

* Regarding Patrick Lang, I noticed that he posted a quite vehement attack against conspiracy theorists postings on his blog who were – if I recall correctly – claiming that the military were involved in the subterfuge to arm extremists in Syria. (Probably cocked up the details but too tired to check.) It struck me as noteworthy as it suggested an internecine intra-Washington struggle between Military / CIA who was going to "own" the debacle in Syria at the very least. It is utterly reminiscent of the struggle between Dulles / CIA power structure (think: institutional group think) and the incoming JFK administration / New Frontiersman during and after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In other words: we, the west, have basically made no progress fighting for reform of our leadership and political structures. Meanwhile the Russians seem to have gone "right round the horn" – as the dinosaur in Toy Story might put it.

Tim Owen, December 20, 2015 at 9:08 pm
Of course it's worth noting that Hersh had to revert to publishing this "intimate" conversation between American power structures in a foreign publication. What does that tell you about the "freedom index"? Samizdat here we come!

[Apr 17, 2015] CIA Popularized Conspiracy Theory Term to Silence Dissent

https://youtu.be/bm3Z-cKRMN4

Abby Martin talks to Lance deHaven-Smith, Florida State University professor and author of 'Conspiracy Theory in America', about some of the US' most controversial events and how labeling truth-seekers as 'conspiracy theorists' damages democracy.

For further reading, here is an excerpt from Kevin R. Ryan's excellent article, Do we need another 9/11 conspiracy theory?

"The use of "conspiracy theory" to deter citizens from investigating historic events is paradoxical, to be sure. It suggests that those who commit criminal conspiracies can only be relatively powerless people who happen to live on the most strategically important lands, and conspiracies among rich, powerful people are impossible or absurd.

Basically, our entire legal system is based on the idea of conspiracy. Despite this fact we have been conditioned by the government and the media to blindly accept the official reports and to treat any questioning of those reports as "conspiracy theorizing." That is, you are a conspiracy theorist if you don't believe the government's conspiracy theory.

This cultural phenomenon goes back to 1967. At that time, in response to questions about the Warren Commission Report (which President Ford helped create), the CIA issued a memorandum calling for mainstream media sources to begin countering "conspiracy theorists."[13] In the 45 years before the CIA memo came out, the phrase "conspiracy theory" appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times only 50 times, or about once per year. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, the phrase appeared 2,630 times, or about once per week.

Before the CIA memo came out, the Washington Post and New York Times had never used the phrase "conspiracy theorist." After the CIA memo came out, these two newspapers have used that phrase 1,118 times. Of course, in these uses the phrase is always delivered in a context in which "conspiracy theorists" were made to seem less intelligent and less rationale than people who uncritically accept official explanations for major events.

President George W. Bush and his colleagues often used the phrase conspiracy theory in attempts to deter questioning about their activities. When questioned by reporters about an emerging scandal in September 2000, Bush said the idea that his presidential campaign was flashing subliminal messages in advertisements was absurd, and he added that "conspiracy theories abound in America's politics."[14] When in 1994, Bush's former company Harken Energy was linked to the fraudulent Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) through several investors, Bush's spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, shut down the inquiry by telling the Associated Press - "We have no response to silly conspiracy theories."

.... track record raised questions about Bush's statement after the 9/11 attacks, in which he said in a televised speech - "Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th."

There is no question that criminal government-sponsored conspiracies exist. History is replete with them and they usually involve the government claiming that the country was under attack from "terrorists." This was true of Hitler's Reichstag fire and it was true of the attacks that occurred in 20th century Western Europe under the guise of Operation Gladio. An example more relevant to 9/11 was the conspiracy behind Operation Northwoods, a plan drafted and approved in 1962 by the highest levels within the U.S. military.

Author James Bamford wrote of Operation Northwoods that it called "for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. [This would provide] the public and international backing they needed to launch their war."[15] The signed documents are available to everyone today and because of this we know that high level U.S. government representatives do conspire, on occasion, to commit crimes against the American people for the purpose of starting wars.[16]


And see this: "Conspiracy Theory": Foundations of a Weaponized Term

In 1967, the CIA Created the Label Conspiracy Theorists ... to Attack Anyone Who Challenges the Official Narrative

The CIA Coined the Term Conspiracy Theorist In 1967

That all changed in the 1960s.

Specifically, in April 1967, the CIA 01 wrote a dispatch which coined the term "conspiracy theories" … and recommended methods for discrediting such theories. The dispatch was marked "psych" – short for "psychological operations" or disinformation – and "CS" for the CIA's "Clandestine Services" unit.

The dispatch was produced in responses to a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times in 1976.

The dispatch states:

2. This trend of opinion is a matter of concern to the U.S. government, including our organization.

***

The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries. Background information is supplied in a classified section and in a number of unclassified attachments.

3. Action. We do not recommend that discussion of the [conspiracy] question be initiated where it is not already taking place. Where discussion is active addresses are requested:

a. To discuss the publicity problem with and friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors) , pointing out that the [official investigation of the relevant event] made as thorough an investigation as humanly possible, that the charges of the critics are without serious foundation, and that further speculative discussion only plays into the hands of the opposition. Point out also that parts of the conspiracy talk appear to be deliberately generated by … propagandists. Urge them to use their influence to discourage unfounded and irresponsible speculation.

b. To employ propaganda assets to and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The unclassified attachments to this guidance should provide useful background material for passing to assets. Our ploy should point out, as applicable, that the critics are (I) wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, (II) politically interested, (III) financially interested, (IV) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (V) infatuated with their own theories.

***

4. In private to media discussions not directed at any particular writer, or in attacking publications which may be yet forthcoming, the following arguments should be useful:

a. No significant new evidence has emerged which the Commission did not consider.

***

b. Critics usually overvalue particular items and ignore others. They tend to place more emphasis on the recollections of individual witnesses (which are less reliable and more divergent–and hence offer more hand-holds for criticism) …

***

c. Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States, esp. since informants could expect to receive large royalties, etc.

**

d. Critics have often been enticed by a form of intellectual pride: they light on some theory and fall in love with it; they also scoff at the Commission because it did not always answer every question with a flat decision one way or the other.

***

f. As to charges that the Commission's report was a rush job, it emerged three months after the deadline originally set. But to the degree that the Commission tried to speed up its reporting, this was largely due to the pressure of irresponsible speculation already appearing, in some cases coming from the same critics who, refusing to admit their errors, are now putting out new criticisms.

g. Such vague accusations as that "more than ten people have died mysteriously" can always be explained in some natural way ….

5. Where possible, counter speculation by encouraging reference to the Commission's Report itself. Open-minded foreign readers should still be impressed by the care, thoroughness, objectivity and speed with which the Commission worked. Reviewers of other books might be encouraged to add to their account the idea that, checking back with the report itself, they found it far superior to the work of its critics.

Summarizing the tactics which the CIA dispatch recommended:

In other words, the CIA's clandestine services unit created the arguments for attacking conspiracy theories as unreliable in the 1960s as part of its psychological warfare operations.

But Aren't Conspiracy Theories – In Fact – Nuts?

Forget Western history and CIA dispatches … aren't conspiracy theorists nutty?

In fact, conspiracies are so common that judges are trained to look at conspiracy allegations as just another legal claim to be disproven or proven based on the specific evidence:

Federal and all 50 state's codes include specific statutes addressing conspiracy, and providing the punishment for people who commit conspiracies.

But let's examine what the people trained to weigh evidence and reach conclusions think about "conspiracies". Let's look at what American judges think.

Searching Westlaw, one of the 2 primary legal research networks which attorneys and judges use to research the law, I searched for court decisions including the word "Conspiracy". This is such a common term in lawsuits that it overwhelmed Westlaw.

Specifically, I got the following message:

"Your query has been intercepted because it may retrieve a large number of documents."

From experience, I know that this means that there were potentially millions or many hundreds of thousands of cases which use the term. There were so many cases, that Westlaw could not even start processing the request.

So I searched again, using the phrase "Guilty of Conspiracy". I hoped that this would not only narrow my search sufficiently that Westlaw could handle it, but would give me cases where the judge actually found the defendant guilty of a conspiracy. This pulled up exactly 10,000 cases - which is the maximum number of results which Westlaw can give at one time. In other words, there were more than 10,000 cases using the phrase "Guilty of Conspiracy" (maybe there's a way to change my settings to get more than 10,000 results, but I haven't found it yet).

Moreover, as any attorney can confirm, usually only appeal court decisions are published in the Westlaw database. In other words, trial court decisions are rarely published; the only decisions normally published are those of the courts which hear appeals of the trial. Because only a very small fraction of the cases which go to trial are appealed, this logically means that the number of guilty verdicts in conspiracy cases at trial must be much, much larger than 10,000.

Moreover, "Guilty of Conspiracy" is only one of many possible search phrases to use to find cases where the defendant was found guilty of a lawsuit for conspiracy. Searching on Google, I got 3,170,000 results (as of yesterday) under the term "Guilty of Conspiracy", 669,000 results for the search term "Convictions for Conspiracy", and 743,000 results for "Convicted for Conspiracy".

Of course, many types of conspiracies are called other things altogether. For example, a long-accepted legal doctrine makes it illegal for two or more companies to conspire to fix prices, which is called "Price Fixing" (1,180,000 results).

Given the above, I would extrapolate that there have been hundreds of thousands of convictions for criminal or civil conspiracy in the United States.

Finally, many crimes go unreported or unsolved, and the perpetrators are never caught. Therefore, the actual number of conspiracies committed in the U.S. must be even higher.

In other words, conspiracies are committed all the time in the U.S., and many of the conspirators are caught and found guilty by American courts. Remember, Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme was a conspiracy theory.

Indeed, conspiracy is a very well-recognized crime in American law, taught to every first-year law school student as part of their basic curriculum. Telling a judge that someone has a "conspiracy theory" would be like telling him that someone is claiming that he trespassed on their property, or committed assault, or stole his car. It is a fundamental legal concept.

Obviously, many conspiracy allegations are false (if you see a judge at a dinner party, ask him to tell you some of the crazy conspiracy allegations which were made in his court). Obviously, people will either win or lose in court depending on whether or not they can prove their claim with the available evidence. But not all allegations of trespass, assault, or theft are true, either.

Proving a claim of conspiracy is no different from proving any other legal claim, and the mere label "conspiracy" is taken no less seriously by judges.

It's not only Madoff. The heads of Enron were found guilty of conspiracy, as was the head of Adelphia. Numerous lower-level government officials have been found guilty of conspiracy. See this, this, this, this and this.

Time Magazine's financial columnist Justin Fox writes:

Some financial market conspiracies are real …

Most good investigative reporters are conspiracy theorists, by the way.

And what about the NSA and the tech companies that have cooperated with them?

But Our Leaders Wouldn't Do That

While people might admit that corporate executives and low-level government officials might have engaged in conspiracies – they may be strongly opposed to considering that the wealthiest or most powerful might possibly have done so.

But powerful insiders have long admitted to conspiracies. For example, Obama's Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, wrote:

Of course some conspiracy theories, under our definition, have turned out to be true. The Watergate hotel room used by Democratic National Committee was, in fact, bugged by Republican officials, operating at the behest of the White House. In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency did, in fact, administer LSD and related drugs under Project MKULTRA, in an effort to investigate the possibility of "mind control." Operation Northwoods, a rumored plan by the Department of Defense to simulate acts of terrorism and to blame them on Cuba, really was proposed by high-level officials ….

But Someone Would Have Spilled the Beans

A common defense to people trying sidetrack investigations into potential conspiracies is to say that "someone would have spilled the beans" if there were really a conspiracy.

But famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg explains:

It is a commonplace that "you can't keep secrets in Washington" or "in a democracy, no matter how sensitive the secret, you're likely to read it the next day in the New York Times." These truisms are flatly false. They are in fact cover stories, ways of flattering and misleading journalists and their readers, part of the process of keeping secrets well. Of course eventually many secrets do get out that wouldn't in a fully totalitarian society. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of secrets do not leak to the American public. This is true even when the information withheld is well known to an enemy and when it is clearly essential to the functioning of the congressional war power and to any democratic control of foreign policy. The reality unknown to the public and to most members of Congress and the press is that secrets that would be of the greatest import to many of them can be kept from them reliably for decades by the executive branch, even though they are known to thousands of insiders.

History proves Ellsberg right. For example:

There was "a planned coup in the USA in 1933 by a group of right-wing American businessmen . . . . The coup was aimed at toppling President Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse & George Bush's Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression"

Moreover, "the tycoons told General Butler the American people would accept the new government because they controlled all the newspapers." Have you ever heard of this conspiracy before? It was certainly a very large one. And if the conspirators controlled the newspapers then, how much worse is it today with media consolidation?

Moreover, high-level government officials and insiders have admitted to dramatic conspiracies after the fact, including:

The admissions did not occur until many decades after the events.

These examples show that it is possible to keep conspiracies secret for a long time, without anyone "spilling the beans".

In addition, to anyone who knows how covert military operations work, it is obvious that segmentation on a "need-to-know basis", along with deference to command hierarchy, means that a couple of top dogs can call the shots and most people helping won't even know the big picture at the time they are participating.

Moreover, those who think that co-conspirators will brag about their deeds forget that people in the military or intelligence or who have huge sums of money on the line can be very disciplined. They are not likely to go to the bar and spill the beans like a down-on-their-luck, second-rate alcoholic robber might do.

Finally, people who carry out covert operations may do so for ideological reasons - believing that the "ends justify the means". Never underestimate the conviction of an ideologue.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that some conspiracy claims are nutty and some are true. Each has to be judged on its own facts.

Humans have a tendency to try to explain random events through seeing patterns … that's how our brains our wired. Therefore, we have to test our theories of connection and causality against the cold, hard facts.

On the other hand, the old saying by Lord Acton is true:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

Those who operate without checks and balances – and without the disinfectant sunlight of public scrutiny and accountability – tend to act in their own best interests … and the little guy gets hurt.

The early Greeks knew it, as did those who forced the king to sign the Magna Carta, the Founding Fathers and the father of modern economics. We should remember this important tradition of Western civilization.

Postscript: The ridicule of all conspiracy theories is really just an attempt to diffuse criticism of the powerful.

The wealthy are not worse than other people … but they are not necessarily better either. Powerful leaders may not be bad people … or they could be sociopaths.

We must judge each by his or her actions, and not by preconceived stereotypes that they are all saints acting in our best interest or all scheming criminals.

And see ...