How to Challenge Media Narratives Without Being Called a Conspiracy Theorist

August 13, 2017
Posted in Blog
August 13, 2017 Editor

How to Challenge Media Narratives Without Being Called a Conspiracy Theorist

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August 12, 2017

John Kiriakou

photo above: President Kennedy minutes before his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Also in the presidential limousine: Jackie Kennedy, Texas Gov. John Connally and Connally’s wife, Nellie. (Walt Cisco / Wikimedia)

WN: As to the last line of the quote below:

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

Abraham Lincoln

In Trump’s case: He simply tells lies all the time in a bid to do what his famous predecessor says cannot be done, and does anything else he can to inflate a gargantuan ego devoid of any concern for anyone else on the planet but his truly, in which there seem to be no redeeming qualities — except he is a human being created in God’s image and loved by Christ. (OK: we Christians must “love” him too. Sigh…)


Most Americans believe in conspiracy theories. I do. I don’t buy a lot of them, but I think that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. In my view, there’s credible evidence that Tampa, Fla., Mafia boss Santo Trafficante may have hired Oswald to fire the gun that killed President John F. Kennedy that day. And I think there was probably a conspiracy to kill his brother, Sen. Robert Kennedy, in 1968. Acoustics experts have testified that as many as 13 shots were fired at him, more than the eight rounds Sirhan Sirhan’s gun could hold.

Conspiracy theories were not prevalent in American politics until the JFK assassination, and scholars argue that they entered the U.S. cultural mainstream only in the late 20th century. Opinion polls show that conspiracy theories are believed by a wide cross-section of Americans, irrespective of race, age, sex, political affiliation, education or socio-economic status. Many historians believe this is the case because so many actual conspiracies have been uncovered at the highest levels of government since the 1960s—think MKULTRA, the Gulf of Tonkin and the 1953 Iranian coup, to name just a few.

Project MKULTRA was a CIA program wherein the agency experimented illegally on human beings without their knowledge. The program began in 1953 and was finally curtailed in 1973, according to declassified CIA records. It was concerned with “the research and development of chemical, biological and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.” The CIA partnered with 80 institutions and 185 private researchers¹.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident was a naval confrontation between the United States and North Vietnam in 1964, whereby the U.S. claimed that North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the USS Maddox. The reports led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in Congress and drew the U.S. most deeply into the war. The problem was that the incident likely never took place, at least not in the way the U.S. said. But public opinion was galvanized against North Vietnam, and the U.S. quickly escalated its involvement in the war.

On Aug. 19, 1953, Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected leader of Iran, was overthrown, ostensibly as part of a “popular uprising” by elements opposed to Mossadegh’s purported support for communism. In truth, elements of the CIA and the British Intelligence Service (MI-6) overthrew Mossadegh to protect the economic and business interests of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. It wasn’t until the CIA finally declassified documents in August 2013, a half-century after the fact, that the public finally learned definitively that “the coup was carried out under CIA direction,” and “as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government.”

So what is a conspiracy theory? Simply put, it’s an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy without evidence, usually involving an illegal or harmful act carried out by the government or other powerful actors. Conspiracy theories often produce hypotheses that contradict the prevailing understanding of history or simple facts.

I get questions regularly in public forums about conspiracies related to the Sept. 11 attacks. I was at CIA headquarters in the year before 9/11 and was in the building on that morning. I was in a meeting in July 2001 in which the then-director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center told a group of visiting dignitaries I was showing around the building, “Something terrible is going to happen. We don’t know exactly what or where. We don’t know when. But there’s going to be an attack on an unprecedented scale.” He briefed the group on what we knew at the time about al-Qaida. “I beg you,” he continued, “if you have any sources inside al-Qaida, please help us.” I listened intently to that briefing. I had access to the intelligence.

I believed then—and I still believe—that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida were behind the attacks. It wasn’t a “controlled detonation” carried out by the Bush family, the Rothschilds, the “Jews,” the Trilateral Commission, the Israeli government, the space aliens or anybody else. It was al-Qaida.

With that said, I would love to get to the bottom of what brought down Building 7. I don’t think it’s ever been adequately explained. And that has led to even more conspiracy theories. Building 7 was one of the buildings in the World Trade Center complex. It was hit by burning debris on the morning of the attacks, and after its south face was hit by the collapsing North Tower, Building 7 eventually came down, too.

Conspiracy theories were rampant that the CIA, the FBI, the New York Police Department, the New York Fire Department or other entities blew up the building through a “controlled demolition.” The National Institute of Standards and Technology, however, found no evidence to support the theory that the building came down as a result of explosives.

Similarly, also on Sept. 11, the Pentagon was hit by American Airlines Flight 77, resulting in the deaths of 64 people on board and 125 in the building. Conspiracy theorists claim that the building was hit by a missile, ostensibly ordered launched by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, ignoring the fact that hundreds of people on the highways around the Pentagon, including one of my best friends, watched the plane fly low over Washington Boulevard in Arlington, Va., and crash into the side of the building, and further ignoring the fact that the families of 59 passengers and crew on the plane (there were also six hijackers) had to bury their loved ones in the following days.

Conspiracy theories are popular for myriad reasons. First, they purport to explain what institutional analysis cannot, what to the rest of the world is too complicated or confusing. Second, they are simplistic and divide the world between light and dark, between good and evil. Third, they are often presented as “secret knowledge” unknown or unappreciated by others.

And that’s exactly what we’re seeing in politics today. We’ve gotten to a point where many Americans, as well as elements of the mainstream media (I’m talking about you, Fox News) treat conspiracy theories as legitimate news stories. Look at Benghazi and Pizzagate, to name two recent examples.

And that has led us to Donald Trump, a president who perpetuates conspiracy theories because it serves his purposes. Hillary Clinton ordered multiple murders to protect her official positions and the presidency of her husband, right? She ran a pedophile ring? Don’t like a story? Call it “fake news.” Don’t like the outlet where the story appears? Repeat over and over again that it’s fake news. The conspiracy theory just may stick.

Here’s a news flash: Some Americans are not very bright. They’re easily influenced. They believe that The New York Times and The Washington Post, two eminent newspapers of record, are purveyors of fake news because the president says so. The conversation ought not to be fake news. It ought to be about how we ended up with a fake president.

With that said, we can all guard against unfounded conspiracy theories. Just do your own research. Sure, there will always be incorrect stories that make their way into the media. But we have to question everything and do the research. Seek out experts. Look for competing theories, follow the facts and reach your conclusions based on the facts, not on what you read on Facebook or on some fringe message board.

But whatever you do, try not to believe anything this president says.
¹See: “The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It”


Please click on: Conspiracy Theories

  1. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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