Conspiracy theories run like a raging bull online, from fringe communities like 4chan to popular social media sites such as Facebook. Often attributed to those who lean heavily towards right-wing ideologies, they’re passed around online social circles and framed as hidden truths that the mainstream media refuses to discuss.
Conspiracy theories such as “pizzagate,” which claims a wide pedophile ring runs among the nation’s elite (notably among known Democrats such as Hillary Clinton) who use terms relating to pizza as a form of code, are widely popular. The theory that George Bush was personally responsible for 9/11 is another, often more discussed with those who identify more with left-wing politics.
What I personally find most bizarre about conspiracies is the fact that they often fall very close to the truth. There is a problem with rampant sexual abuse that goes unchecked and excused among wealthy individuals, and there is substansial and extensive proof that oil companies benefited from the 9/11 tragedy while harsh immigration and privacy laws were put into place.
I’m using these two as my primary examples — but there are countless others that I’ve seen being passed around.
But what draws conspiracy theorists to conspiracies and not the simple truth of the matter? It may seem like the government allowed for 9/11 to happen given all that took place afterwards. The Patriot Act, passed only over a week after the tragedy, gave the government the full legal protections to spy on its citizens like it never has before. Most people are aware of the crimes wealthy and powerful people can get away with by virtue of being wealthy and powerful — so, feasibly, pizzagate could be true after all.
The explanation for the draw to conspiracy theories may not be simple — but it’s still overwhelmingly clear.
Pizzagate, which is mostly adopted by conservatives, puts Democrats at the forefront of responsibility of child sexual abuse while a Republican president sits in office with 25 sexual assault allegations. By claiming that there is a wide ring of pedophiles that talk in code relating to food, the real issue of human trafficking can be discussed through a comfortable lens while giving the conspiracy theorist the moral highground they achieve by being “aware” of such horrible things happening to children. By placing Democrats at the forefront, the theorist can then alleviate themselves of acknowledging that there are real, grounded accounts of sexual abuse against a leader in office right now.
No critical thinking needs to happen when the theorist abides by the fantasy shrouded in a thin veil of truth. By believing in the pizzagate conspiracy, the theorist doesn’t have to think about the rampant, unchecked pedophilia from priests in the Catholic church if the theorist is of Christian faith themselves. The theorist can sit comfortably in their spoon-fed beliefs and blame very real problems on the people or groups the theorist already hates; for conservatives abiding by pizzagate, this would be the Democrats, or, most notably, Hillary Clinton.
As with 9/11, claiming that the government already knew about the tragedy beforehand — or was even responsible for it — allows the theorist to essentially victimize themselves. By telling themselves that “Bush did 9/11,” the theorist can frame the tragedy as a dark, daring betrayal of the U.S. government as opposed to the government using 9/11 as an opportunity to pursue oil in the Middle East and crack down on immigration laws.
The tragedies that followed after 9/11 were quiet and rarely discussed until recently — the thousands and thousands of civilian deaths in the Middle East, the victims of ICE raids that took place after 9/11. By claiming that George Bush was responsible for 9/11, the conspiracy theorist can make the tragedy feel more movie-like and “exciting.” It paints the government as one may see the imperial empire in a “Star Wars” film and gives an edge to the tragedy that the theorist subconsciously believed the situation was lacking at face-value.
The theorist can look at the ways in which the world has changed after 9/11 and make themselves the victim of movie-esque government betrayal instead of acknowledging who the real post-9/11 victims were: namely, muslims and innocent civilians in the Middle East.
Essentially, conspiracy theorists “want in” on the real-world, institutional problems. They want easy answers that align with their ideologies and let them make problems more “fun” and exciting to discuss. They want to victimize and center themselves in real-world events and avoid the critical thinking it requires to understand why certain things happen the way they do, both within and outside political parties and various religious faiths.
Conspiracy theories will always be easier than the truth. Paradoxically, they will often be painted as “hard truths” that only the enlightened can accept via Facebook memes and out-of-context screenshots. And in a world where social media dominates the lives of each and every person, it’s easier than ever to accept an easy truth that crosses our paths.
Let’s try and think a little better. Real victims of human trafficking and those hurt by the government scapegoating their existence in the face of a tragedy are counting on us.
Sam Walsh is a fifth-year student majoring in special education and English. SW850037@wcupa.edu