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, MadCow 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.”