Guest post by M.L.R. Smith & Niall McCrae
‘What do you call it when the assassin accuses the assassin?’ So asked Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now! A similar question may be posed in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, when people accuse others of being conspiracy theorists while expressing ideas of conspiracy themselves.
Conspiracy theories are, after all, all around us. For evidence we need look no further beyond the current turmoil afflicting many US cities. Where the Black Lives Matter protests are based on theories that the police are systematically killing black people for a racist agenda. Our societies, furthermore, have recently gone through the coronavirus crisis, which has been a field day for conspiracy theorists of all descriptions, for the scourge of a pandemic is tailor made for all those who wish to advance all kinds of elaborate ideas about how we have been afflicted.
Conspiracy and contagion
Disease is a recurring theme in conspiracy theories. AIDS is evidently caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, which probably originated in African monkeys before crossing the genetic barrier to human beings. Robert Gallo, the scientist who first isolated HIV, suggested that it emerged as an adverse effect of mass vaccination for diseases such as smallpox, which the World Health Organisation was intensifying in Africa. Although evidence is inconclusive, vaccines are believed to cause auto-immune disorders in some recipients, although this would be accidental rather than a conspiracy. Another claim is that AIDS was developed by the CIA as a biological weapon.
In the conspiracy schema of David Icke, the WHO is one of several global agencies controlled by the ‘New World Order’, and is engaged in surreptitious population control. This relates to another disease conspiracy that arose in Kano, a state in northern Nigeria. In 2003 the WHO launched a vaccination programme, mainly funded by the US government, to eradicate polio within a year. However, Kano had a fundamentalist Muslim governor who imposed Sharia law. Rumours spread about the polio vaccine, with suspicion that it was an American poison to cause infertility and depopulate Africa. The state refused to participate in the program, despite the national government insisting that the vaccine was safe. In 2004 a batch of vaccines made in Muslim Indonesia was tested in Kano, and the governor relented. By then the disease had spread widely.
The AIDS and polio vaccine theories appeared in a recent compendium by Joel Levy, who gave each a truthfulness score of 0% (by contrast, he gave 23% to the Pentagon planning the World Trade Center terror attack). While ‘anti-vaxxers’ may seem far-fetched, there are genuine concerns about the relationship between governments and the pharmaceutical industry. Vaccines need no marketing; government approval is all that is needed to open a vast market. As Bill Gates has found in funding vaccination campaigns, the people are not always appreciative, particularly after healthy children mysteriously die.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the Covid-19 outbreak was organised, supposedly to instill global control, with temporary restrictions and surveillance priming a ‘new normal’. Some cynics think that the virus is a hoax, or that 5G internet technology is installed to reduce immunity and spread the disease. More plausibly, the virus leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, where bat coronaviruses and human transmission are studied. Several respected scientists have suggested that the virus was engineered in some way; for example, Nobel Prize winning virologist Luc Montagnier suspects ‘the work of molecular biologists’.
The mainstream media have been carelessly uncritical in accepting the official Chinese version of the truth, that the virus was transmitted from a bat at a ‘wet market’. Times writer Ben Macintyre, for example, likened the alleged laboratory link to a spate of attacks on mobile signal masts: –
‘Such claims should be treated with the same disdain sensible people attach to the conspiracy theory linking the coronavirus to the rollout of 5G. Giving credibility to such stories is the political equivalent of setting fire to a phone mast’.
This not a scientific attitude. It is judgmental arrogance, as displayed in the silencing of climate change sceptics.
When retired snooker champion Peter Ebdon observed in a BBC interview that social distancing rules to curtail Covid-19 were harming society, the Independent newspaper, belying its name, accused him of ‘promoting conspiracy theory’. The article quoted a series of Twitter users, one describing Ebdon as ‘dangerous and disgraceful’. Several suggested that his opinion was as useful as scientific advisors commenting on snooker.
The pandemic has shown that deplatforming is not the preserve of student union zealots. Society is increasingly censorial, with concerted efforts by Twitter and Facebook users to get contrarians banned. Ironically, people complaining about the loss of basic liberties are seen as extremists rather than scaremongers who get a kick out of daily death tolls. Logical thinking is overridden by moral panic.
Global technology companies are removing material that contravenes the officially-approved consensus on Covid-19, including deviations from the discredited WHO. Plandemic, a controversial documentary featuring microbiologist Judy Mikowits, was removed by YouTube after over a million viewings, because it allegedly spread misinformation. Meanwhile, undesirable commentaries are downgraded by the Google search engine.
Collusion between Big Tech and governments to impose Orwellian policies was planned before Covid-19 struck. In October 2019 the World Economic Forum conducted a preparatory exercise for a pandemic (‘Event 201’). The lessons were that governments must work together, go on a war footing, and do things that they normally wouldn’t do: this included controlling the media. Does drawing attention to this uncannily timely event show susceptibility to wacky ideas, or does it simply ask pertinent questions about power and how it is wielded?
People who are quick to accuse others of conspiracy theory unwittingly display the Freudian defense mechanism of projection. Subconsciously, they see in others a weakness in themselves. Of course, they believe themselves to be immune from conspiracy theorising, but that is the crucial dissonance that makes them vulnerable: a self-anointed belief that they exist on a higher plane, enabling them to proclaim with Olympian detachment on what constitutes the truth.
But it is not enough for critics to claim superior intellect: the derided fantasists must be morally suspect, and thus stigmatised. Conspiracy theorists are often demonized in the media as ‘far right’. Yet being troubled by the impersonal forces of globalization and its impact on jobs is hardly goose-stepping to fascism. Heightened concern about right-wing conspiracy theory is partly due to a decline of critical thinking in educated society. When identity politics gained a cultural foothold in the 1960s, younger generations challenged authority everywhere, and subverted universal truth with relativism. However, gradually this university-educated generation became the new establishment, and in its position of cultural hegemony it controls discourse and suppresses undesirable opinion.
Consequently, both the hard and globalist elite Left resorts to conspiracies to sustain their narratives. Interestingly, in this regard, the recurring trope of a Jewish plot to destroy Western civilisation is found on both extremes of the political spectrum. But whereas right-wing theories are denounced, hard left theories are extolled and rewarded. The belief that police officers start each shift by planning the next racist assault, is validated enthusiastically by virtue-signalling media and the metropolitan elite. Despite some unlawful police actions, the vast majority of U.S. law enforcement officers serve the public as best they can.
Perhaps the best example of liberal conspiracy theory has been the media circus on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. This gained prestigious Pullitzer Awards for the New York Times and Washington Post, but after three years of burrowing in a rabbit hole, no substantive evidence has been found. Vladimir Putin took no credit for the election result. Trump won fair and square, having tapped into anti-establishment fervour while his opponent placed herself in opposition to the ordinary people (who she labelled ‘deplorables’). The whole ‘Russia hoax’ is now unravelling. Another example is the musings of Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who spun a web depicting Brexit as a Russian plot, with Nigel Farage as a lead conspirator. Her conspiracy theory was rewarded with the Orwell Prize for Journalism.
Good and bad motives
The definition of conspiracy is to secretly plan with others to do something clandestine and usually unlawful. Conferring bad intent is not scientific reasoning but a political tactic. Those who are ready to accuse others of conspiracy theory need to be scrutinized, because the term functions primarily as a pejorative label rather than as an accurate descriptor. If no satisfactory evidence can be provided to sustain any claim it can be defined as a conspiracy theory. That wouldn’t necessarily debunk a theory, but it would accurately represent its current evidential status. The more extreme assertions of Black Lives Matter, for example, are not supported by evidence. They rely on assertions more than fact and this should be emphasized by the mainstream media rather than uncritically cited.
Let us end with a conspiracy theory of our own. The accusers of conspiracy theory, it seems, are on the side of the establishment. Their purpose is the preservation and advance of power. Ironically, progressive liberals and hard leftists who ascend the ranks of institutions see power as the motivating dynamic in social life, but they lack insight. Ultimately, Colonel Kurtz answered his own question: ‘What do you call assassins who accuse the assassin? They lie’. Beware those who accuse others of conspiracy theorising: for they lie too.