## Conspiracy – Fact or Fiction? Part 1: Games People Play

1
— The Numbers Game

Are
you one of those who sees all sorts of coincidences in numbers and
dates? Theories abound about plots and conspiracies, real or imaginary,
and about number-obsessed plotters conspiring to bring about violent
events on symbolic, specifically chosen dates. This Friday, November
22nd 2002, is the 39th anniversary, to the day, of the assassination
of President John F. Kennedy on Friday, November 22nd 1963, still
the benchmark conspiratorial event of the American century.

The
body of Kennedy assassination literature, film and academic studies
must be a prime candidate for the biggest ever compendium of conspiracy
theory, and it is still growing. And yet there is hardly a better
debunking of the official version of events than Bertrand
Russell
's essay of September 1964, written very soon afterwards.
And for a fascinating study which puts the events in context, none
better than Peter Dale Scott's Deep
Politics and the Death of JFK
.

So
what's special about a 39th anniversary? Nothing at all, unless
and until you chance to be with someone who believes things always
come in threes, and points out to you that 3+9=12, that 12 splits
down to 1+2, which equals 3, or that 9+11+1 equals 21, which splits
down to 2+1, which equals 3, and so on ad infinitum.

I
am not the first person to point out that George Bush Sr. introduced
the phrase u2018New World Order' in a speech given before the UN on
September 11, 1991, or that 911 is the emergency telephone number
in the US. The World Trade Center was attacked on September 11,
2001. Bali was bombed on October 12, 2002. Numerologists are not
alone in asking: what price November 13, 2003 for another bombing
outrage? And yet, the doubters will say, this is time-wasting nonsense:
the arithmetical progression (9/11/01 – 10/12/02 – 11/13/03)
only works properly if you follow the American convention for dates
(MDY), or the Japanese (YMD), and not the European (DMY).

There
are, as they say, only two choices on the menu. Take it or leave
it.

2
— The Naming Game

If
you do take it up, then serious-minded people can get very agitated
about this sort of thing. Of late, it's been the turn of the columnists,
who have been getting upset and calling each other names for daring
to admit conspiracy theories into the arena of debate. u2018Fruitcake,'
u2018wacko,' u2018member of the grassy knoll school of thought,' u2018tin-foil
hat conspiracy theorist,' are just some of the milder terms being
bandied about. The immediate cause of all this has been another
event involving violent loss of life, the plane crash in which the
late Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed. But it's nothing new. Conspiracy
theory, always present in history but endlessly stigmatized by those
who, since the time of the Enlightenment, have preached politically
correct objectivity, civilized reasonableness and responsible reporting,
flourishes every time there is a major violent event of this sort.

Personally
I have no idea whether Wellstone's plane was sabotaged. For myself
as for countless others, I am sure, violent loss of life is deeply
upsetting. But, as an interested outsider observer, with no axe
to grind, I am aware of at least the following:

1)
When the history of empire in the late 20th century comes to be
written, airplane sabotage will be seen as having been one of the
methods of choice for getting rid of those whom the rulers wished
to have out of the way or those who came too close to the truth
(the other preferred method being u2018suiciding'). I have found no
one on the web better on this subject than the inveterate battler
against judicial corruption,
Sherman
Skolnick
.

2)
There is no doubt that there is a prevailing feeling of discomfort
and suspicion about the Wellstone crash in many quarters, just as
there is a huge backlash of denial from the anti-conspiracy theory
brigade crying ‘if you believe he was murdered, show us the
evidence,’ as if the phrases u2018cover-up' and u2018airplane sabotage'
had never entered the vocabulary.

3)
There is debate even down to what the prevailing weather conditions
were, something which should be a matter of record (or are weather
stations also federalized?).

4)
The death was indeed so terribly convenient electorally.

5)
The form the death took was predicted with uncanny precision about
18 months back by a popular conspiracy website.

Political
assassination at the heart of the empire has existed since time
immemorial. Think of the Borgias. Think of ancient Rome. So what's
new? In this particular case it exists as a possibility, involves
a handful of coincidences, and there is no proof. Indeed there rarely
is positive proof of a possible conspiracy, as Judge Bingham pointed
out all the way back in 1865:

"A
conspiracy is rarely, if ever, proved by positive testimony. When
a crime of high magnitude is about to be perpetrated by a combination
of individuals, they do not act openly, but covertly and secretly.
The purpose formed is known only to those who enter into it. Unless
one of the original conspirators betray his companions and give
evidence against them, their guilt can be proved only by circumstantial
evidence…"

~ Special
Judge Advocate John A. Bingham, quoted in The
Trial Of The Conspirators
,
Washington, 1865

All
this has been more than enough to light another fire in the perpetually
smouldering conspiracy theory debate, and to set off another bout
of furious name-calling.

When
political assassination takes place in the periphery, away from
the centres of power, it is generally because there is a perceived
threat to the centre. Here's an example which is close to home for
me personally. In December 1980 a plane was sabotaged in Portugal
(in imperial terms a small vassal state, significant only for its
strategic geographical location for arms transhipments, aircraft
refuelling, and satellite communications). The plane was carrying
the then Defense Minister, and also the Prime Minister (who had
originally not been scheduled to travel on the flight). It crashed
shortly after take-off, killing all aboard. It is now generally
accepted that the Defense Minister was about to go public, possibly
in the UN, about the involvement of senior US officials and Portuguese
army officers in the arms traffic to Iran, via Portugal and Israel,
and that a known professional hit man (who is still alive and in
prison in Brazil) had earlier been flown in to supervise the planting
of the necessary explosives. At the time, however – this was
at the height of the eventually successful campaign to avoid the
so-called u2018October
surprise
' – the early release of US hostages in Iran which
might have given Jimmy Carter re-election, it suited all concerned
to treat the crash as an accident: British investigators, and even
the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an agency of the
US federal government, were brought in to give the official seal
of approval to this desired version of events. For the relatives
of the dead who are still campaigning for justice in this case,
22 years after the event, it is of little practical benefit that
the reports of these official agencies have subsequently been discredited
both by the Portuguese Parliament's commissions of inquiry and by
the US Congress.

3
— The Game of Theory and Practice

Conspiracy
theory is a huge area. But it would not be so if political theorists
and ideologues had their way, because they feel that speculation
about the coincidences and details of violent events, and especially
wider across-the-board interpretations of history involving on-going
conspiracies (such as the Illuminati, secret government, the international
bankers, and lately the so-called Jewish-Crusader alliance) are
a waste of valuable time, and detract from the broader, ideological
struggle taking place in the here and now. This problem is said
to affect particularly the left wing of the political spectrum.
Michael Parenti, in his book Dirty
Truths
, has done a highly effective demolition job on those
so-called structuralists who deny the political relevance of conspiracy
theories:

"Those
who suffer from conspiracy phobia are fond of saying: “Do you
actually think there’s a group of people sitting around in a
room plotting things?” For some reason that image is assumed
to be so patently absurd as to invite only disclaimers. But
where else would people of power get together – on park
benches or carousels? Indeed, they meet in rooms: corporate
boardrooms, Pentagon command rooms, at the Bohemian Grove, in
the choice dining rooms at the best restaurants, resorts, hotels,
and estates, in the many conference rooms at the White House,
the NSA, the CIA, or wherever. And, yes, they consciously plot
– though they call it “planning” and “strategizing” –
and they do so in great secrecy, often resisting all efforts
at public disclosure. No one confabulates and plans more than
political and corporate elites and their hired specialists."

~ Michael
Parenti, Dirty
Truths
, City Lights Books, 1996.

Parenti
also has interesting things to say about the role of investigative
commissions, and how they are often designed to reach a pre-ordained,
desired conclusion. Discussing the false charge that the Warren
Commission was hasty and slipshod in its investigation, he writes:

"In
fact, the Commission sat for fifty-one long sessions over a
period of several months, much longer than most major investigations.
It compiled twenty-six volumes of testimony and evidence. It
had the investigative resources of the FBI and CIA at its disposal,
along with its own professional team. Far from being hasty and
slipshod, it painstakingly crafted theories that moved toward
a foreordained conclusion. From the beginning, it asked only
a limited set of questions that seemed to assume Oswald’s guilt
as the lone assassin.

The Warren Commission set up six investigative panels to look
into such things as Oswald’s background, his activities in past
years and on the day of the assassination, Jack Ruby’s background,
and his activities on the day he killed Oswald. As Mark Lane
notes, there was a crying need for a seventh panel, one that
would try to discover who killed President Kennedy. The commission
never saw the need for that undertaking, having already made
up its mind.

While supposedly dedicated to bringing the truth to light, the
Warren Commission operated in secrecy. The minutes of its meetings
were classified top secret, and hundreds of thousands of documents
and other evidence were sealed for seventy-five years. The Commission
failed to call witnesses who heard and saw people shooting from
behind the fence on the grassy knoll. It falsely recorded the
testimony of certain witnesses, as they were to complain later
on, and reinterpreted the testimony of others. All this took
careful effort. A “hasty and slipshod” investigation would show
some randomness in its errors. But the Commission’s distortions
consistently moved in the same direction in pursuit of a prefigured
hypothesis."

~
Michael Parenti, ibid.

The
Warren Commission could thus be said to have conspired, in its own
way, to bring about a particular, pre-planned outcome. Political
realists would say that this was u2018in everyone's best interests.'
Truth gets swept under the carpet for reasons of political expediency,
and in fact there is often little pretence that a concern for the
truth is even a secondary consideration in the political cost/benefit
calculations involved.

It
is as well to recall that in its Latin origin the verb u2018to conspire'
means simply u2018to breathe together.' So any group of people coming
together to plan for action or a defined objective — good or bad
— can in a sense be described as conspiring. Groups of people, especially
outside of government, conspire to achieve good things, with positive
intent, and may well succeed. It is only a paranoid fear of the
truth, together with the implicit assumption, particularly on the
part of the mainstream media, that only crimes against the state
are conspiracies, and not those of the state's servants or their
political masters, which has tended to push the notion of conspiracy
into the realms of wickedness in the public mind.

4
— The Linking Game

I
myself was recently chastised by a very articulate 21-year old college
student for allegedly believing too much in ‘those conspiracy
theories.’ So I was intrigued to see on the Internet lately
the website of a certain R. B. Ham of Canada, and that he had categorized
the Lew Rockwell website, in his listing of links, under the heading
‘Conspiracy – Fact or Fiction,’ alongside other well-known
conspiracy theory websites. LewRockwell.com
(LRC) is of course a libertarian website, perhaps even the
libertarian website par excellence.

Actually
there is no doubt that the conspiracy websites listed by u2018RB,' while
getting few awards for design, contain much interesting fuel for
the conspiracy theory fires. I do not know all the sites, and I
can think of some that are missing from the list, but of the ones
I do know I recommend those of Al
Martin
, a former member of the US Office of Naval Intelligence,
who has written the book
"The
Conspirators: Secrets of an Iran-Contra Insider
," and Jeff
Rense
, who has a radio talk show.

Others
on the list which I personally have visited are Jared Israel's Emperor's
Clothes
, Mike Ruppert's From
the Wilderness Publications
Morning News
(Daniel Hopsicker), Questions
Questions
, Serendipity,
UnanweredQuestions
(which focuses on Sept. 11th) and Mike Rivero's What
Really Happened
.
All of
them are worth a visit but, as with any source of information,
you have to make up your own mind about their content.
Take
a look at this link – http://members.shaw.ca/rbham/print%20thinks/currentprint.htm
– and scroll down to the bottom to see the rest of the
company LRC is in.

I
grant that RB states that these links are a work in progress, but
perhaps because the stigma attaching to conspiracy theory is so
prevalent and so strong, a part of me felt that he could at least
have had the decency to put LRC
up there
in the respectable category of "Politics, Humour, Reference"
together with
the excellent
CounterPunch,
OnlineJournal,
Al Giordano's
Narco
News
, Robert Parry at Consortium
News
, Ted
Rall
, Truthout
and Working for
Change
, amongst many others.

But
let us be thankful for small mercies. At least LRC is not classed
in the category at the bottom of the page, which is called ‘Anomalous
Science!’ For, if we are to believe Thomas
Fleming
, libertarian ideas ‘are irrelevant, not just to
present circumstances, but to the human condition.’ Hey, wait
a minute, that's even worse than being labelled a tin-foil hat conspiracy
theorist!

November
19, 2002

Richard
Wall (send him mail) is a freelance
translator, specializing in the social sciences, who lives in Estoril,
Portugal. This
article is the first in a 3-part series on the subject of “Conspiracy
— Fact or Fiction.”