Paranoia Runs Deep

Conspiracy theories have seeped into the heart of the American public

True Believers: Kennedy assassination buffs

Reality Check: Just plain not enough space on the grassy knoll for all those people


Author / Date of Origin: Various/1954

The Theory: Beginning with a meeting at the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands in 1954, the "Power Elite" have convened in a different city every year to plot the course of world history. The group includes members of the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Katherine Graham, Henry Kissinger, George Ball, and George Stephanopolous have all attended meetings.

True Believers: Spotlight, the Washington-based right-wing weekly, and many others, including former Lousiana congressman John Rarick, who read the Bilderberger "history" into the Congressional Record in 1971.

Reality Check: Despite a purported quarter century of meetings, none has been effectively documented (evidence, says the Spotlight, of fear on the part of the press).

Dixie Mafia

Author / Date of Origin: Internet Clinton watchers/1992 presidential election campaign

The Theory: A network of individuals surrounding Bill Clinton conspired to advance the international drug business. Operating out of headquarters in Mena, Arkansas, it involved narcotics trafficker Barry Seal, and its doings led to the death of Vince Foster as well as the mysterious deaths of over 30 others who either learned of the plot or got caught in it by mistake. According to one version, Clinton himself was nurtured by the CIA as an informant during his student days in England.

True Believers: Clinton bashers

Reality Check: Exhaustive investigations show Foster's death to be a suicide, and even Ken Starr seems to have found no evidence to back this theory.

Christian Identity

Author / Date of Origin: British Imperialists/the 19th century

The Theory: Only Aryan men, who can trace their heritage back through the Lost Tribes of Israel to the Garden of Eden, can claim to be true inheritors of God's world on earth. And as such, they are the only true citizens of the United States. According to the theory's adherents, people of color aren't really human, just a bad carbon copy, and Jews are "mud people"—descendants of Eve's union with the serpent.

True Believers: Neo-Nazis

Reality Check: Even most Christian scholars locate the Garden of Eden in Tanzania, which would mean black people are the direct descendants of Adam.

The Illuminati

Author / Date of Origin: French cleric Abbe Barruel/1797

The Theory: Members of this secret society (pockets of which existed in reality) believe in achieving "illumination" through the study of rational philosophy and the humanities. They are supposed to have maintained a secret power cabal that, among other things, launched the French Revolution.

True Believers: The Catholic Church, which condemned the society in the 18th century; Adolph Hitler, who outlawed it in the 1930s; and various far-right groups today

Reality Check: Does it seem like rational humanists are running the world?

Oklahoma City Bombing

Author / Date of Origin: J. D. Cash, Kristen and Glenn Wilburn/April 19, 1995.

The Theory: In this widely popular conspiracy advanced by Cash, a small-town Oklahoma journalist, and the Wilburns, grandparents of blast victims, the bombing occurred when a government sting on neo-Nazis went awry and the FBI failed to stop the explosion it knew would happen.

True Believers: Militias, the John Birch Society, random Internet conspiracy theorists

Reality Check: Although there were bits of tantalizing evidence at the trial indicating a wider conspiracy behind the bombing, provable evidence of this particular scenario has never been produced.

David Rockefeller, Ultimate Powerbroker

Author / Date of Origin: Various/1960s

The Theory: As honorary chair of both the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission, and a principal in the Chase Manhattan Bank (and thus a power to be reckoned with at the Federal Reserve Board), David Rockefeller appears in any number of conspiracy theories as the Insider's Insider. He's the current head of a family that controlled 90 percent of the country's oil in 1890, by 1930 owned substantial portions of 40,000 corporations, and today has influence across a vast array of affiliated banks, insurance companies, and industrial corporations throughout the world. Brother Nelson was governor of New York and vice president of the U.S.

True Believers: This one brings in all types of adherents.

Reality Check: Truth be told, David does seem a little too powerful, even for a big businessman.

The Reorganization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency

Author / Date of Origin: Spotlight/1980s

The Theory: Ronald Reagan's National Security Directive #58 allowed the National Security Agency, then under the direction of Oliver North and Bud McFarlane, to infiltrate this otherwise seemingly innocuous government organization concerned with disaster relief and secretly reoriented its mission. Congress created a secret FEMA budget of $2.9 billion, which went into Mobile Emergency Response Support and the purchase of 300 specially equipped and nuclear-hardened vehicles located throughout the U.S. They were designed to shuttle the president and members of his cabinet around the country so they could maintain control after a nuclear strike. Money was also used for elite counterterrorism and espionage training and to compile a computer database of U.S. citizens involved in "Un-American Activities."

True Believers: Spotlight readers on the right. Reagan conspiracy devotees on the left.

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