“Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th.”—George W. Bush, November 10, 2001
In April of 1967, a CIA official sent a memorandum dispatch to agency chiefs and stations. This memo described a strategy for discrediting critics of the Warren Report, the official account for the assassination of President Kennedy released in 1964. At the time of the memo, polls showed that 46% of Americans did not think that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, in contradiction to the official finding. To counter such criticisms, the memo proposed labeling critics as “conspiracy theorists” and proposed that the CIA’s “propaganda assets” in media begin to use the slur and other, related techniques to marginalize critics.
Classified as Secret but finally released in 1998, the memo stated, “Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit circulation of such claims.”
The memo instructed media assets to discredit those questioning government reports by saying the critics should be depicted as “wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, hasty or inaccurate in their research, or infatuated with their own theories.”
The approach laid out by the memo was adopted by many in the American media. That’s not a surprise given that Operation Mockingbird, a domestic propaganda campaign aimed at promoting the views of the CIA within the media, was in full swing at the time. And despite official claims that the CIA’s influence of American media was halted in 1976, after the Church Committee findings, the continued use of the terms “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” indicates that the practice has continued.
A few years ago, I tested this by checking how many times the phrase “conspiracy theory” had appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times in the 45 years before and after the CIA memo.
Before the memo was issued, “conspiracy theory” was a phrase used 50 times, or about once per year, in the Times or the Post. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, these newspapers used the term 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, they have used the phrase “conspiracy theorist” 1,118 times.
The continued use of terms such as “conspiracy theorist” suggests that the CIA still controls the mainstream media. With regard to the crimes of 9/11, The New York Times has led the way in terms of support for official propaganda. Moreover, many “alternative” media sources use these slurs as frequently, or more, than mainstream media do.
An example was in August 2011, when I was a guest on National Public Radio’s ‘On Point” talk show to discuss 9/11 skepticism. Interestingly, I was the only 9/11 skeptic invited to appear on this show about 9/11 skeptics. The other two guests were Jim Meigs from Popular Mechanics and dubious “truther expert” Jonathan Kay. During the show, I answered questions from the host for about 5 minutes, until it became clear that my skepticism of 9/11 sounded rational. After I was dismissed—for the remaining 42 minutes of the show—Meigs, Kay, and the substitute host rambled on about the evils of conspiracy theories, using some form of the phrase conspiracy theory a total of 85 times. That’s more than once every 30 seconds.
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. It’s just that kind of doublethink mindset that has led us to where we are today as a nation.
Of course, 9/11 was a conspiracy. The only question is was it a conspiracy of people who could not possibly pull it off and who would only suffer as a result or was it a conspiracy of the people who benefited and had the power to accomplish it? The first option presents many problems. Common sense suggests the latter.
These days, it seems that you can tell who is working for the CIA simply by the way they use “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” in attempts to belittle others. An example might be when a lawyer for gold mining companies was presented by the corporate media as a public servant/truth teller based on stolen documents that were never shared with the public. That lawyer and his colleagues at The Intercept use the conspiracy theorist slur as much as any other media source, and often when they are questioned about their dubious rise to fame.
In any case, our entire legal system is based on the idea of conspiracy. Yet despite this fact we have been conditioned by the government and the media to blindly accept official reports and to treat anyone questioning those reports as conspiracy theorists. That is, you are a conspiracy theorist if you don’t believe the government’s conspiracy theory.
This technique is easy to see. Next time you read an article that uses these slurs, look more closely at the author and where he or she is trying to lead you.