LIONEL PODCAST: How the CIA Weaponized the Term “Conspiracy Theory”

“CIA Document 1035-960” was released in response to a 1976 FOIA request by the New York Times. The memorandum delimits a detailed series of actions and techniques for “countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.” It provided the blueprint of discrediting any idea or theory deemed unpalatable or embarrassing with the blanket and dismissive pejorative “conspiracy theory.”

Proem. Nothing will grind to a halt a discussion or disquisition quicker than calling it a “conspiracy theory.” So how did this come to be? Have we always enjoyed this distinction? Or rather, this almost patellar rejection of anything deemed to be the product of an illegal confederation.

It’s the third rail of political discussion. Kryptonite. A mine field. Drop the topic altogether. Don’t go there. Bring up a verboten or sensitive topic and watch what happens if it’s dubbed a conspiracy theory by an audience. All discussions ceases and you are a de facto nut, a loon, whose opinion is baseless and motivation (as well as sanity) is suspect. So where and when did this conspiracy phobia emerge? Was it always a part of our inquiry-killing repertoire? And what exactly is wrong with a conspiracy or theory of one? There are scores of convicted defendants warehoused today for conspiracies. How successful would they have been in seeking to have their convictions overturned by saying “This was just a conspiracy theory!” No, we’ve changed the meaning of the charge. It’s synonymous with insane, baseless, paranoid and baseless. And the transmutation of terminology was deliberate and by design. Courtesy of your CIA.

Your forebears would be livid. Professor Lance deHaven-Smith in Conspiracy Theory in America details “how the Founders’ hard-nosed realism about the likelihood of elite political misconduct—articulated in the Declaration of Independence—has been replaced by today’s blanket condemnation of conspiracy beliefs as ludicrous by definition.” It was ostensibly their deep-seated and well-founded suspicions that gave way to the inspiration and motivation to create our republic, borne from . . . you guessed it, conspiracy theories.

The weaponization of a term. In Conspiracy Theory”: Foundations of a Weaponized Term Professor James F. Tracy explains accordingly. And remember, the CIA under the Allen Dulles was the beginning of the transformation of the agency from intelligence-gathering to that of covert operations. Remember as well that Dulles, no fan of Kennedy, was positioned on the Warren Commission, which today is synonymous with whitewash and distortion.

Conspiracy theory’s acutely negative connotations may be traced to liberal historian Richard Hofstadter’s well-known fusillades against the “New Right.” Yet it was the Central Intelligence Agency that likely played the greatest role in effectively “weaponizing” the term. In the groundswell of public skepticism toward the Warren Commission’s findings on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the CIA sent a detailed directive to all of its bureaus. Titled “Countering Criticism of the Warren Commission Report,” the dispatch played a definitive role in making the “conspiracy theory” term a weapon to be wielded against almost any individual or group calling the government’s increasingly clandestine programs and activities into question.

Sound familiar? But even today the same techniques are employed, specifically this favorite argument: Conspiracy on a large scale would be impossible to conceal in the United States. Its synthetic reasoning and the transmission of such as a potent meme to this day serve to divert, obscure and redirect valid considerations and review of critical issues. And along with knee-jerk and Pavlovian false claims of racism and to a lesser extent homophobia, all discussion stops, valid areas of inquiry are sidelined and shelved, discussion ditched and sanity reevaluated. The history of the construction of his meme is mandatory for any truth-loving American who cherishes historical verity.

The latest introduction of the dread theory. So, do you think that conspiracy theory as pejorative weapon of distraction is limited only to truthers, birthers and vaxxers? Think again. Behold the rudiments of distraction.

%d bloggers like this: