Some of the most famous conspiracy theories: are they real or not?

From a fake moon landing to ideas about the JFK assassination, conspiracy theories and their adherents have abounded for as long as anyone can remember.

People have been having ideas about Elvis, John F. Kennedy and Bigfoot being cryogenically frozen in an underground bunker. What starts out as a conspiracy turns out to be real in the end. Watergate is a good example of a political conspiracy that actually took place. But with social media algorithms pushing users towards increasingly emotional and conspiratorial content, it’s probably never been easier to spread conspiracy theories than now.

9/11

The evidence is overwhelming that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were indeed the result of a conspiracy: a conspiracy by Osama bin Laden and a largely Saudi crew.

However, this is too simple for some. Conspiracy theorists have a variety of far more complex explanations for what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that day, often involving inside sources – President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Bush advisers.

Also, some famous conspiracy theories are based on Israeli-orchestrated attacks.

The murder of Princess Daiana

Within hours of Princess Diana’s death on August 31, 1997, in a tunnel on a Paris motorway, conspiracy theories began. As with the death of John F. Kennedy, the idea that such a beloved figure could be killed so suddenly came as a shock. This was especially true because Princess Diana was at the centre of political intrigue.

Unlike many conspiracy theories, however, this one had a billionaire promoting it: Mohamed Al-Fayed, father of Dodi Al-Fayed, who died with Diana. Al-Fayed claims that the crash was, in fact, an assassination by British intelligence agencies at the request of the Royal Family. Al-Fayed’s claims were examined and dismissed as unsubstantiated by an inquest in 2006. The following year, at the Official Inquest, the coroner stated that Mohamed Al-Fayed’s “conspiracy theory has been thoroughly examined and found to be without substance”.

On April 7, 2008, the coroner’s jury concluded that Diana and Al-Fayed were killed due to the negligence of their drunk driver, The New York Times reported.

Subliminal Advertisement

Have you ever watched a movie and suddenly had a craving? Or have you sat on the couch watching TV and suddenly had the irresistible urge to buy a new car? If so, you might be the victim of a subliminal advertising conspiracy. Proponents of this conspiracy theory include Wilson Bryan Key (author of Subliminal Seduction) and Vance Packard (author of The Hidden Persuaders), both of whom argue that subliminal (subconscious) messages in advertisements are harmful. Although the books provoked public outcry and led to FCC hearings, much of both books have since been discredited and it has been revealed that several key “studies” on the effects of subliminal advertising have been falsified.

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In the 1980s, concern about subliminal messaging spread to bands such as Styx and Judas Priest, the latter band even being sued in 1990 for allegedly causing a teenager’s suicide with subliminal messages (the case was dismissed).

Subliminal mental processing exists and can be tested. But just because a person perceives something (a message or advertisement, for example) subconsciously means very little in itself. There is no inherent benefit of subliminal advertising over regular advertising. Getting a person to see something for a split second is easy: movie makers do it all the time. Getting a person to buy or do something based on that split second is another matter entirely.

Fake moon landing

NASA sent astronauts to the moon in 1969. In the 1970s, a bizarre conspiracy emerged – that the moon landing never happened.

The conspiracy was described in a 1976 book, “We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle” and a 1978 film, “Capricorn One”. Even in 2001, there was a documentary, “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?”, which claimed that the entire Apollo moon landing program was fake.

There are a lot of debunking of various claims on the subject. How did NASA get moon rocks, if not during a moon landing? Why would scientists around the world willingly participate in the US space agency’s farce?

The death of Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney is not dead. As of mid-2022, he was still touring, in fact. He gives interviews, has a website, occasionally appears in tabloids.

Some conspiracy theorists claim he actually died in 1966. The “Paul died” conspiracy goes something like this: on November 9, 1966, Paul McCartney got into a fight with the other Beatles, stormed out of the studio, and promptly died in a car accident. To cover it up, the band hired a McCartney look-alike.

J. F. Kennedy assassination

John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963 in Dallas. But did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? Or was there a second gunman?

These questions are the gateway to a vast arena of conspiracy theories that have spawned endless speculation and hundreds of books, articles and films. It didn’t help that Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered in the basement of Dallas police headquarters while surrounded by police officers just two days after the assassination.

A host of shadowy culprits have been suggested as perpetrators of the Kennedy assassination: the government of Fidel Castro, anti-Castro activists, organized crime, the CIA, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, etc. However, the Warren Commission report produced by the official investigation into Kennedy’s death found no evidence of any overarching conspiracy, although a host of theories still flourish.

Covid and 5G

Probably no event since 9/11 has generated more conspiracy thinking than the COVID-19 pandemic. There are conspiracies about the origin of the virus, as well as the reactions of each government. Many people even believe that doctors are lying about COVID-related deaths, blaming the virus for deaths from other causes.

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A years-long distrust of “Big Pharma” by “alternative medicine” advocates such as Kevin Trudeau (author of the bestseller “Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About” – a conspiracy title) has also fueled conspiracies about medical treatment and vaccination.

One of the strangest conspiracies has been towards 5G wireless technology, linked to virus fears. According to the COVID 5G conspiracy, electromagnetic frequencies from cell phone towers undermine the immune system, making people sick with COVID.

Another conspiracy theory claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain tracking chips that connect to 5G networks so that the government, or possibly billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates, can monitor everyone’s movements.

As CNBC points out, 5G chips are too big to fit through a vaccine syringe, and even the smallest RFID chips that might fit require too much power.

Earth is flat

Flat Earth conspiracy theories first appeared in the 1950s and have received a new lease of life in the Internet age. After all, even ancient people knew that the Earth was round. The Greeks even figured out the planet’s circumference in the 3rd century. Since then, astronauts have launched into space and seen that our planet is round with their own eyes.

Reptilians run the US government

The idea that the US government (or perhaps the entire world government) is run by reptilian humanoids is… out there, at least. And yet, people who hold this belief have done real harm. For example, a man who detonated a bomb in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, on Christmas Day 2020 wrote to a friend about his belief that lizard people roam the planet disguised as humans. Warner killed himself, destroying 41 buildings and injuring three in the bombing.

The reptilian conspiracy theory received a small boost with the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022. According to Politifact, Facebook flagged and removed several posts after the queen’s death that called the monarch a reptile and referenced strange videos showing the entire royal family reptilian.

Birds aren’t real

The Birds Aren’t Real conspiracy is a movement developed by Peter McIndoe, who began spreading the idea in 2017. Until a December 2021 New York Times interview, McIndoe remained in character as a true believer, insisting in interviews that the birds aren’t real, but rather are surveillance drones made by the US government.

The Birds Aren’t Real movement organized protests and bought billboards. The goal, McIndoe says, is to parody the misinformation Generation Z finds itself in.

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