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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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