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Conspiracy Mania

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Things to beware of in 1997:

Chernobyl.  (And not just the one which already blew.)


From Newsweek: 2/6/97

Growing National Paranoia
Conspiracy Mania

Aliens killed JFK. The CIA started the crack epidemic. Kurt Cobain was
murdered. Who comes up with this stuff? And why do so many people believe it?
by Rick Marin and T. Trent Gegax

   Inside a beat-up white trailer home in the Nevada desert, Glenn
Campbell sits leashed to his desk by a telephone headset. Faxes grind
and modems screech while Campbell (no, not that Glen Campbell) runs the
one-man government-watchdog station he calls the Area 51 Research
Center. A giant black satellite dish out back points ominously skyward.
The front yard is decorated with the tail of a crashed F-4 jet. Animal
bones scattered in a macabre rock-garden formation separate the trailer
from the dirt frontage road along Nevada State Route 375--a.k.a. The
Extraterrestrial Highway. A sonic boom from the local air force base
cleaves the heavens as Campbell hangs up with a deep military source.
"We found a connection between Ron Brown's plane crash and Area 51!" he
announces. "It's all linked together!"

   He's kidding--sort of. Campbell is a conspiracy theorist, not a
conspiracy nut. A retired Boston software executive, he cashed out a
couple of years ago at the age of 33 and relocated to the sun-baked
hamlet of Rachel, Nev., to become the leading authority on Area 51. You
know: the "secret" section of an air base that houses alien spacecraft.
This is ground zero for UFOlogists convinced that the world has been
controlled by aliens ever since the first flying saucer fell to Earth in
1947. "There is alien contact with the military," Campbell says, though,
he admits, "I don't have proof other than what I hear from my sources at
Area 51." Coincidentally, those sources commute from their homes in
Vegas to the air base in a T-43 transport plane just like the one that
carried Secretary Brown to his death.

   Conspiracy paranoia is surrounding us. A paranoid person might even
say it's closing in, because these wacky theories aren't just spreading
in the usual cheesy newsletters dense with type and craziness. Fomented
on the Internet, mass-marketed by Hollywood ("The X-Files,"
"Independence Day"), conspiracism has become a kind of para-religion.
Its vast flock ranges from casual believers to zealots who think O. J.
Simpson was set up by the Japanese mafia and that Prince Charles is a
puppet of the new world order, instructed by a computer chip planted in
his royal buttocks. Wait until Pierre Salinger starts looking into that

   This great nation has always had its share of conspiracy freaks.
Hell, the country was founded by Freemasons, the ultimate secret
society. (Who do you think put that weird eyeball-and-pyramid symbol on
the dollar bill?) But the ranks of the darkly deluded may be growing. A
recent survey in George magazine indicated that three quarters of
Americans believe that "the Government is involved in conspiracy."
Depending on your level of venality, that statistic can be read as
either mass psychosis or a marketing opportunity. This year, America
Online started a "channel" called ParaScope, to attract devotees of the
paranormal and the paranoid. Mel Gibson's next movie is called, simply,
"Conspiracy Theory." He'll play a cabdriver who finds himself in trouble
when one of his harebrained theories turns out to be true. Surprisingly,
Oliver Stone is not directing. "There certainly seems to be a resurgence
in sympathy toward conspiracy theory and an increasing strain of
paranoia," says Kendrick Frazier, editor of The Skeptical Inquirer, a
monthly devoted to debunking wacko theories. Clearly, something is
heating up in the more tropical climes of the American psyche. So,
herewith, a skeptical inquiry of our own.

   Kurt Cobain's 'Suicide.' The shotgun blast that killed the Nirvana
front man and Gen X martyr was not self-inflicted, this theory goes.
Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, is implicated, according to the book
"Love & Death: The Story of Kurt & Courtney," by Montreal journalists
Ian Halpern and Max Wallace. Private investigator Tom Grant, originally
hired by Love to look into her husband's disappearance, is working hard
to keep Cobain's suicide as mysterious as White House aide Vince

   "The picture that was painted of this thing as a suicide was totally
false," Grant says. Contrary to press reports, he claims (and says
police records back him up) Cobain did not place his driver's license on
top of his wallet on the floor next to him to help authorities identify
the body. In fact, Grant says, a cop put the license out for the
crime-scene photographer. "That information led people to think it was a
suicide," Grant says. "But it was not true."

   More "proof." In addition to the suicide note at the scene, Grant
says, Cobain left Love a Dear John letter: "We'll learn in the end that
that note explains exactly what he was doing. He was retiring, leaving
the music business, leaving his wife. That was a retirement note to his
fans, not a suicide note." The motive? Grant's got that figured out,
too. "She was after his fan base. The motivation is greed and
career"--the same motivation Grant has been criticized for by the
Courtney camp. Love dismisses the charges. And Seattle police spokesman
Sean O'Donnell says, "I've had to respond to so many theories and
conspiracy theories since the event occurred, and I've refuted them
consistently. There's just no information that would indicate this is
anything other than a suicide."

   Hemp Power Suppressed. Another Gen X favorite, and stoner perennial,
since hemp (another name for cannabis) can be smoked as pot or turned
into a fiber. In June actor Woody Harrelson was arrested when he planted
four nonhallucinogenic, industrial hemp seeds in a Kentucky field. Such
a Thoreau-like act of civil disobedience would have been unnecessary in
1938, when a Popular Mechanics cover story headlined hemp as the new
billion-dollar crop. But "something went wrong between 1937 and 1942,"
says Allen St. Pierre, deputy director of the National Organization for
the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "I can't tell you that I've been
able to find a conspiracy. But there was such a moneyed interest
involved, it makes you wonder."

   NORML claims to have documents showing that as part of the war effort
the government set up hemp farms in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana and
Ohio. St. Pierre says hemp supplied superstrong twine for parachute cord
and oil for war vehicles. "The U.S. forces were one big mobile hemp
unit," St. Pierre says. During World War II, a "Hemp for Victory"
newsreel featured fresh-faced 4-H kids sewing hemp seeds. It also made
Levi's denim famously sturdy. What happened? St. Pierre blames Harry J.
Anslinger, the nation's first drug czar, who he says needed a fresh
target once Prohibition failed. "They made pot illegal for their own
purposes," St. Pierre says, citing an Anslinger-Du Pont-Hearst
triumvirate as the culprit. The Du Pont family feared cannabis could
supplant many of their petrochemicals, and William Randolph Hearst
needed a new moral high horse for his newspapers. Nonsense, says Bob
Barker (no, not that Bob Barker) of the American Fiber Manufacturers
Association. He says hemp doesn't even compete with textile and
petroleum products: "It's kind of a nice, back-to-nature sort of thing
to believe." Especially if you're baked.

   The Klan in the 'Hood. The black community is a hotbed of this kind
of suspicion and mistrust, some justified, some fantastical. In October,
Rep. Maxine Waters convened a town meeting in South-Central Los Angeles
between her constituents and CIA Director John Deutch. A heated debate
ensued over reports speculating that the CIA had spread the crack
epidemic by backing Nicaraguan drug dealers whose profits went to the
contras. "Black-oriented talk-radio shows are rife with conspiracy
stuff," says Dr. Jewelle Taylor Gibbs, a University of California,
Berkeley, professor who has written extensively on race issues. At WVON
in Chicago it's conventional wisdom among listeners that AIDS is a plot
to wipe out African-Americans. Keisha Chavers, an executive producer at
the station, says, "The common refrain is 'Just because you're paranoid
doesn't mean they're not out to get you'." Such is the conspiracist's
reflex mentality. It's often a reaction against authority among groups
that feel they've been politically marginalized, socially isolated or
economically oppressed. Gibbs agrees: "Invariably, blacks start asking
if the government is against us. Once these urban myths take hold, you
can't do much to disprove them." Like the myth that the Snapple Iced Tea
label depicts a slave galley, reflecting the company's solidarity with
the KKK. The picture in question is actually of the Boston Tea Party.

   The New World Order. When Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and
right-wing political extremist Lyndon LaRouche meet, they can agree on
one thing: the malign, totalitarian power of the NWO and its executive
arm, the Trilateral Commission. When President George Bush (a member of
Yale's secret society Skull & Bones) proclaimed a new world order, he
didn't tell us that "black helicopters" would be patrolling the night
skies, monitoring our every move. Or that the government keeps a genetic
record of every citizen in secret "DNA banks" (a hot topic in AOL's
ParaScope chat rooms). Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh
reportedly claimed that the U.S. Army (the military arm of the NWO) had
implanted a computer chip in his buttock to control him. He didn't say
whether he and the Prince of Wales had experienced any chip-to-chip

   These bizarre fantasies would seem safely ridiculous if they didn't
occasionally turn out to be true. "My paranoia and mistrust of authority
came of age during Watergate," says Chris Carter, creator of "The
X-Files," TV's weekly conspiracy-geek bible. On "The X-Files,"
everything from who killed JFK to why the Buffalo Bills lose so many
Super Bowls is traceable to a single master plan. "It helps when you
pick up the paper every day and see how the government has lied to us,"
Carter adds, ticking off recent revelations about the cover-ups
surrounding gulf war syndrome and President Clinton's apology for
radiation experiments conducted on unwitting Americans as late as 1974.
In "Journey Into Madness: The True Story of Secret CIA Mind Control and
Medical Abuse" (Bantam, 1990) British journalist Gordon Thomas
meticulously documents the brutal brainwashing of soldiers in the Korean
War. Militia extremists who had been warning of a new world order for
years felt vindicated when their president actually announced one. See!
They told you so. As Glenn Campbell likes to tell people out at his
trailer in the middle of nowhere, it's all linked together. He just
can't quite prove it. Yet.

1/07/97 Lifestyle/Conspiracy Mania Feeds Our Growing National Paranoia

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