A Century of Conspiracies
Which conspires more—governments or big business?
If you’re asking about actual conspiracies, it’s impossible to say; it’s in the nature of entrepreneurship that businesses try to keep trade secrets and get ahead of the competition, whereas governments are—in this era and country at least—supposed to be democratic… in theory, if not in reality.
There are plenty of examples of conspiracies by governments and big business. Whenever there are secretive, large institutions that are not accountable to the public, then there will be conspiracies—and conspiracy theories.
What percentage of actual conspiracies eventually come to light?
Five percent. No, really, I have no idea.
Which proven conspiracy do you consider the most clever?
If it were that clever, it would not have been discovered yet. Conspiracy theories are usually proved because the conspirators are incompetent. [Nixon and his staff] used the Oval Office taping system to record themselves conspiring in a cover-up, to give just one example from U.S. history.
Which widely believed conspiracy theory is the most ludicrous and why do you suppose it has so many adherents?
Though there are lots of reasons to doubt the official story, many of the John Kennedy assassination theories are completely ridiculous. The list of possible villains is endless: J. Edgar Hoover. Richard Nixon. Lyndon Johnson. The Jews, the Masons, the Illuminati, the Federal Reserve Bank. Fidel Castro with or without the Soviets, or possibly in strange cahoots with anti-Castro Cubans. The mafia. George H.W. Bush. The Secret Service. Aliens.
The reason that so many people believe these theories is that the U.S. government deliberately withheld key details of the murder from the public. Specifically, the CIA under Kennedy had been consorting with the mafia in an attempt to kill Castro. Some people now (and some in the U.S. government at the time) believe that there might be a connection between the Castro plots and the Kennedy assassination. Lyndon Johnson himself later said that he thought there was a conspiracy, and that it involved Castro. On the other hand, he did not want this information to become public at the time. It would have been very embarrassing—and possibly dangerous—for the U.S. government to admit that it had been trying to kill Castro at the very time that Kennedy was killed. So the government officials’ decision to withhold key information from the public prompted many Americans to suspect an official conspiracy.
What exposed conspiracy was the most important in making us more aware of secret goings-on with the potential to harm us?
The Iran-Contra conspiracy was potentially the greatest threat to American democracy in history. A cabal of zealots in the White House basement conspired to sell arms to terrorists, and then use the profits to fund a war in Nicaragua, even though Congress had explicitly prohibited the use of U.S. funds for this war. If U.S. officials can sell government property at a profit and secretly fund their own pet causes against the expressed wishes of the people’s elected representatives, then American democracy is truly in danger.
What is the least-discussed conspiracy theory that should be better known?
I personally like to tell people about the tsunami machine. Some conspiracy theorists believe that the U.S. government uses this machine to destroy Third World countries and grab more resources.
Do you have a favorite documentary or fictional film about conspiracies?
I don’t much like documentaries about conspiracy theories; they tend to sell conspiracy and fear without giving adequate attention to alternative explanations. But I do confess a certain admiration for the 1997 fictional movie Conspiracy Theory with Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. Gibson’s character really conveys the paranoid mindset of conspiracy theorists—and in his case, it turns out to be justified.