Disorganized Conspiracy

When you've got money and power, who needs meetings in secret boardrooms?

It's no mystery that citizens of a country methodically eliminating its social services, waging "preemptive" wars on behalf of corporate interests, defunding education, and building more prisons than hospitals view the prevailing power structure as a public menace; that many of those citizens who can't afford health care, whose jobs have been exported to countries where slave wages and child exploitation are endemic, spill over the edge, embrace bizarre cultic notions, and believe there are "aliens among us."

One smells a metaphorical truth in McCaslin's belief that "human sacrifices" occur in Bohemian Grove's exclusive covens, typically attended by Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, James Baker III, Bush père et fils, the Bechtels, George Shultz, the heads of the World Bank and the IMF—none, as far as I know, even vaguely troubled by human sacrifices produced by the pursuit of their own enrichment.

The word conspiracy reduces logical thought to paranoia, and it's misleading in a different sense too: Little of what we ought to know about the dealings of power is especially secret anymore. Much of the public doesn't have the ability to make obvious connections between available facts. Remove education from the public agenda and you replace the capacity for analysis with an atavistic belief in horoscopes and astrology, alien abductions and Zionist imperialism.

September 11, 2001: the biggest insider-trading op ever?
photo: Michael Appleton
September 11, 2001: the biggest insider-trading op ever?


  • Part One: No Such Thing as Paranoia On the culture of conspiracism
  • Part Two: Opus Heyday The success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code excites interest in a secretive Catholic lay groupóand further notes on the culture of conspiracism
  • Everyone in an authoritarian society understands what lies beyond the pale of consensual reality. Skepticism is demonized as "conspiracy theory," evidence of real conspiracies ridiculed by mainstream media. Any rejection of received ideas is misrepresented to burnish absurdist images of conspirators as Dr. Mabuse-like lunatics gathering in dark basements and Masonic lodges.

    Actual conspiracies do not involve interplanetary visitors, pod people, and the other fantasies conspiracist analysts call "stigmatized knowledge." They involve money and power, and the manipulation of appearances by powerful interests. Conspiracies can evolve over time, without highly organized or explicit planning. Indeed, the "disorganized conspiracy" transpires in increments over generations, with no consistent personnel, and requires only a continuity of anti-populist, authoritarian ideology.

    Ted Nace's Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy charts the insidious, century-long accumulation of precedents constructed around a glaring judicial error, arising from the 1886 Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case, that has ultimately resulted in the extension of "equal protection" under the law to corporations, and the bestowal of "civil rights" and "immortal personhood" on economic entities, including the First and other Bill of Rights amendments intended to protect human individuals. This lethal absurdity has now become extraterritorial, as GATT and WTO measures enable corporations to file suit against sovereign states whose labor or environmental laws inhibit corporate profit-taking.

    Nace cites the perversion of the Fourteenth Amendment, intended to guarantee due process and equal protection of the law to the slaves newly freed under the Thirteenth Amendment, into an instrument for "the empowerment of the corporation." Per Nace: Justice Hugo Black noted that in the first 50 years of the Fourteenth Amendment's existence, " 'less than one-half of 1 percent' of cases in which it was invoked had to do with protection of African Americans, whereas 50 percent involved corporations." Nace further notes that "the person who did more than anyone else to bring about this [corporate] empowerment was Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field . . . [whose] older brother David . . . served as counsel for the notorious railroad barons Jay Gould and Jim Fisk."

    Christian Parenti's The Soft Cage follows another "disorganized conspiracy," one that begins with the written physical descriptions on passes required for plantation slaves to travel off their owners' property, and charts the gradual extension of obligatory identification documents into the lives of virtually all citizens. (An elegant exposition of the pre-photographic methods used in 18th-century Britain to identify fugitives can be found in William Godwin's spellbinding 1794 novel The Adventures of Caleb Williams. Happily for many Southern slaves, who had secretly acquired literacy and could forge these passes, the passes themselves were usually inspected by illiterate Southern whites; British fugitives had no such luck.) Parenti's book ends, or rather continues, with the gradual morphing of mandatory ID into interface media for the panoply of visual and electronic surveillance technologies now used to amass data on virtually every individual on earth. One could say, contingently, that these temporally spaced, individually smallish corrosions of individual rights and privacy "just sort of happened," though the structural contradictions between capitalism and democracy they reflect, and the manufactured belief that the two things are identical, seem hardly the products of pure chance.

    Economist Loretta Napoleoni provides an exhaustively researched account of one recent conspiracy in her book Modern Jihad:

    Just as Worldcom was able to use accountancy techniques to tamper with its books, bin Laden's associates succeeded in utilizing sophisticated insider trading instruments to speculate on the stock market prior to September 11. . . . [O]n 6 September . . . around 32 million British Airways shares changed hands in London, about three times the normal level. On 7 September, 2,184 put options on British Airways were traded on the LIFFE (London Futures and Options market), about five times the normal amount of daily trading. Across the Atlantic, on Monday, 10 September, the number of put options on American Airlines in the Chicago Board Options Exchange jumped 60 times the daily average. In the three days prior to the attack, the volume of put options in the U.S. surged 285 times the average trading level. . . . Ironically, in attacking one of the symbols of Western capitalism, bin Laden may have masterminded the biggest insider trading operation ever accomplished.

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