Paranoia Runs Deep

Conspiracy theories have seeped into the heart of the American public

Reality Check: FEMA can't even deal effectively with hurricanes and floods, much less nuclear war.

The Death of Princess Di

Author / Date of Origin: The fringe media/September 1, 1997

The Theory: Princesss Diana's death was a "hit" ordered by the Royal Family out of fear that her companion, Dodi Fayed (an Arab), would wield undue influence on the future King of England, Prince William. The theory has seemingly been confirmed by Mummar al-Qaddafi of Libya, who said, "Britain is the vilest of countries" for "executing an Arab citizen who wanted to marry an English princess." Related theories: "strange lights" seen at the time of the crash presage a UFO connection to be revealed in the future. The Princess's opposition to land mines led to retaliation by arms merchants. The deaths were faked to allow the couple to escape.

True Believers: Distraught Diana-maniacs, egged on by radio talk-show hosts.

Reality Check: The theory overestimates the organizational skill of the Royal Family.

The Insiders

Author / Date of Origin: Robert Welch/1958

The Theory: In this update of the Illuminati, a small group of Insiders (who are not necessarily seeking illumination) works behind the scenes to gain power by manipulating just about everybody, including the Communists (Lenin and Trotsky were dupes), anarchists, socialists, and various opportunistic politicians. According to Welch, President Eisenhower was a pawn in the game, and even a card-carrying Communist. Welch, however, is less clear about how the Insiders came to have such power.

True Believers: John Birch-ers

Reality Check: Welch was never even able to say who the Insiders were.

New World Order

Author / Date of Origin: Bo Gritz and friends/1980

The Theory: Gritz, a leader of the far-right racialist movement, exemplifies eclectic present-day conspiracy theorizing in his elaborate description of an "elite organization"—which includes such strange bedfellows as Henry Kissinger, the Rothchilds and Rockefeller families, members of Yale's Skull and Bones society, and the queen of England—that has been behind everything from the American Civil War to the JFK assassination to the formation of the European Economic Community to the Iran-Contra scandal. "It's always been in the planning," warns Gritz, "and now it's in the execution."

True Believers: Survivalists and other far-right adherents. On some points, leftist believers in the "shadow government" or "the Octopus."

Reality Check: As the Beatles observed, "Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl, but she hasn't got a lot to say."

Flight 553

Author / Date of Origin: Sherman Skolnick, independent investigator in Chicago/December 8, 1972

The Theory: United Airlines Flight 553 crashed a few miles short of Chicago's Midway Airport in 1972, killing 43 people including Dorothy Hunt, wife of E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate burglar. Skolnick questioned whether Richard Nixon had the plane blown up to keep Ms. Hunt from spilling inside secrets. Suspicious details include a pilot named "Whitehouse," whose body had significant amounts of cyanide in the blood; the mysterious disappearance of the flight recorder; and Nixon's appointment of personal cronies Egil Krogh, Alexander Butterfield, and Dwight Chapin to run the crash investigation.

True Believers: Various lefties, encouraged by writings of radical historian Carl Oglesby

Reality Check: Three different investigations—by the FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Federal Aviation Administration—all said the crash was an accident.

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