The CIA Didn’t Invent Conspiracy Theories – But It Does Understand Them

The CIA has been the subject of innumerable speculated conspiracies since its founding in 1947.

Some, such as covert shenanigans in Iran, Guatemala, Syria, Indonesia, and Cuba; are absolutely real. Others, such as their purported involvement in assassinating President Kennedy, or shooting a missile at Air Force One from a stolen submarine in Puget Sound; are not.

But did you know that the very term “conspiracy theory” was invented by the CIA, in the late 1960’s.

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The Sea-Tac Plane Crash: No Coincidences

On April 9th, 1988, a lieutenant in the US Navy was off his naval base for furlough, stopped at the Lil’ Pengiun sandwich shop and ordered a turkey sub with cole slaw and Russian dressing. He finished it quickly, and returned to base.

Exactly 30 years later, a photograph uploaded to image board 4chan showed what many internet researchers believe was a US Navy sub that had run aground on the Sandwich Islands. That sub was speculated to be carrying Nazi gold to a secret base in Antarctica – where the government was preparing to ride out supposed nuclear strike from Russia.

The captain of the submarine? S. Cole.

And the young lieutenant who ordered that sub sandwich? Nathan Gold.

N. Gold = Nazi gold. Submarine. Sandwich. Cole. Russia. Antarctica = penguins.

No coincidences.

Obviously, I made that up, and no such person or submarine or sandwich exists.

But it’s a decent example of one of the logical fallacies that powers the conspiracy theory movement in general, and QAnon in particular – the mistaken belief that nothing happens by coincidence or accident, that everything is planned, everything is connected, everything has meaning, and being able to game out what the connections mean is the difference between those who are awake and those who are asleep.

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QAnon Supporters Have Questions – I Have Answers

When I blogged for Skeptoid, I would often find a piece of conspiracy theory or psuedoscience and refute it point by point. One of my favorites was this piece from October 2013, where I tackled a 29-point listicle alleging that the west coast was being “fried” by radiation from the Fukushima meltdown.

It was and is not, and I was able to refute each of the bad faith claims made by the original piece. It’s exhausting to do, but useful in that it meets head on a favorite tactic of conspiracy theorists: the Gish Gallop. This is throwing out half-baked claim after half-baked claim in an endless succession and counting on the skeptic to eventually get tired of debunking them all and quit.

I don’t write much of these anymore, but wanted to come back to the format to answer a piece challenging the validity of anyone who thinks online conspiracy avatar QAnon is fake.

The piece, published on August 8th on Medium and called “Turn Them Off! #QAnon and the collapse of #FakeNews media,” was written by “Humanistic technophilosopher” Martin Geddes. It asks eight questions of readers to allow them to “decide for yourself which way the truth might lie.”

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Does it Actually Matter Who QAnon Is?

The subject of whether conspiracy theory avatar QAnon is actually a Trump administration insider, a naughty prankster, or something else has consumed the right wing infotainment sphere.

While liberals debate whether or not QAnon should be given oxygen (and I think we need to, if nothing else, to debunk it), conservative personalities are doing their best to simultaneously inflame and shoot down the whole thing.

On one side, you’ve got prominent conservative personalities who are absolutely sure Q is a live action roleplaying game that’s snared a massive amount of suckers. On the other side, you’ve got Q devotes who are utterly convinced that Q is real, and that the others are delusional.

They’re arguing a lot on Twitter and reddit, but it’s likely that where a conservative media personality falls regarding Q rests entirely on the makeup of their audience – more mainstream infotainters will be skeptical, while those on the fringes will shift their allegiance depending on what their followers want.

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Why We Have to Talk About QAnon

I’ve been writing about online conspiracy theory QAnon for a while, and figured it was just too weird, esoteric, and creepy to make mainstream news.

I mean, fascist fantasies about a massive purge of Democratic baby-eaters, with a cadre of self-proclaimed “autists” deciphering rhetorical clues to the events to come left by a secret insider?

So imagine my surprise when a large and vocal group of Q believers swamped a Trump rally in Tampa on July 31st.

Suddenly, QAnon was everywhere – from the New York Times to the BBC and back.

It introduced Q to millions of people and brought mainstream recognition to a movement that had primarily been a secret club with very specific codes and keys to get in.

The coverage also brought up a very real backlash asking an important question: why are we talking about this crap?

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