I am a conspiracy realist. Certain conspiracies are real. History shows conspiracy theorists are right much more often than the mobs that hunted them.
“A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” — James Madison
How many times have we witnessed the truth-teller being shouted down by champions of popular, yet unproven, opinion? The age-old tactic of the ad hominem attack is used time and time again. And the effectiveness of the ad hominem attack lies not in any truth regarding its assertion, but in the willingness of the listeners, or readers, to believe it.
So when isn’t the story the story? Or in other words, when the story isn’t the story, what is the real issue? It is when those who are either not convinced of the rightness of their cause or are fearful of the wrongness of their assertion being discovered, lash out. When the conspiracy is unearthed or when the lie is disproved they make the discoverer the story, rather than the truth of the discovery. Those who are secure in their accuracy, integrity or diligence, or all the above, loathe engaging in character assassination.
Conspiracies are US
An often-used line of attack is trying to reduce the storyteller, the detractor from the widely-accepted (but not necessarily accurate) story, into the delusional “conspiracy theorist,” thus marginalizing their voice. This writer is well aware that when a leaf falls, it is merely a leaf falling. It doesn’t mean the wind plotted with the tree and the ground agreed to be complicit in the cover-up.
Criminal conspiracy is defined, federally, as an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime or to perpetrate an illegal act. Conspiracy charges in state court are similar, but many more crimes will give rise to state conspiracy charges. While intent is key in any federal conspiracy case, only “general intent” to violate the law is necessary. Proof of the defendants’ specific intent to violate the law is not needed, only an agreement to engage in an illegal act. The end may be legal, but the planned means are illegal. Additionally, the parties involved don’t necessarily have to have knowledge of one another’s involvement, they just have to be connected to the same crime, the same conspiracy.
Not every conspiracy is a criminal case. Political, organizational and even moral conspiracies abound. And through the annals of history we read a familiar script: boy meets conspiracy; conspiracy tells the boy he’s delusional; conspiracy gets everyone else to join in calling the boy delusional; and in the end, the boy was right.
Although I may not be a conspiracy theorist, I am a conspiracy realist. I believe that certain conspiracies are real. Just a cursory view of history shows us that the harassed and hounded lone voice, or the voices of the few that were accused of being conspiracy theorists, have been right many more times than the mobs that hunted them.
U.S. Senators Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska stood in the minority as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution sailed through the Senate 88-2 in 1964. The historical record now tells us what we were told about that August 4 day. It was largely a lie, and people in our government conspired to mislead the American people and Congress. In 2005, an internal National Security Agency historical study was declassified. It concluded the Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2, but that there may not have been any North Vietnamese Naval vessels present during the engagement of August 4. The report stated: “It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night.” Morse said of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: “I believe this resolution to be a historic mistake” and history, by and large, agrees.
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a leading Vietnam War strategist, concluded that America’s role in the war was based on decades of lies – by any rubric, a conspiracy. He leaked 7,000 pages of top-secret documents to The New York Times, causing Henry Kissinger to call him “the most dangerous man in America.” Ellsberg remarked that “it wasn’t that we were on the wrong side, we were the wrong side.”
Subsequently, Ellsberg was considered an enemy of the state and put on trial, along with his colleague Tony Russo, beginning Jan. 3, 1973. But a funny thing happened on the way to a conviction.
On April 26, 1973 it was discovered in the Watergate investigation, that burglars under the direction of a “Special Investigations Unit” of the Nixon White House known as the “Plumbers,” broke into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, in Sept. 1971. A few days later, a newspaper revealed that Judge Matthew Byrne, presiding over the Russo-Ellsberg trial, had been visited by top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman and was offered the position of director of the FBI.
Days later, it was also discovered that Ellsberg had been recorded on illegal wiretaps for up to two years. On May 11, 1973, the Russo-Ellsberg trial was dismissed by Judge Byrne because of the massive governmental misconduct. All charges against the two men were dropped and they were freed. And we are fully aware of history’s verdict as well.
When Joe Wilson penned the New York Times op-ed, What I Didn’t Find in Africa, we bore witness to a smear campaign of historic proportions, including the outing of his CIA agent wife, Valerie Plame. In interviews, Wilson consistently asserted that his doubts about the alleged Iraq-Niger connection reached the highest levels of government, including then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.
The story ended in Feb. 2009 when the Bush White House admitted they were wrong about WMD and the Iraq-Niger connection – the whole premise for invading Iraq. Further, it was discovered that 23 administration officials were involved in leaking Valerie Plame’s identity, Scooter Libby being the only official convicted for any reason in this conspiracy. The disparaged Joe Wilson was vindicated. And as for the Bush administration, Iraq is the millstone of dishonor that continues to hang around its neck.
No, our nation would never allow men to suffer and die of syphilis when they could have been cured. You must be crazy to think that we would sell arms to a nation that held Americans hostage not long before. You surely jest in your allegation that the CIA would be a contributor to the selling of drugs on the streets of Los Angeles. And yet, no matter how many times we’ve seen this scenario, we meet the countervoices in our society, not with critical inquiry, but with a dogmatic allegiance to the company line, with a slavish fidelity to the status quo.
The Orwells, the Bradburys, the Ellsbergs, the Morses, and the like, have tried to teach us – and we should have learned – that those who raise the first questions; those who shed the first beams of light on these issues and incidents, are rebuffed or face retaliation. And because we perpetually fail to learn the lesson, it is brutally taught and re-taught by the assault on those who are brave or bold enough to speak truth to power.
The American xenophobic impulse
When a society colludes, consciously or subconsciously, that it’s ok to discriminate against certain groups of people or particular groups should be viewed, for prejudicial reasons, less favorably than others, this is the first step in a moral conspiracy. This is prevalent xenophobic attacks aimed at people and citizens of color, particularly personified, in the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment.
In the aftermath of 9/11, I know of a Palestinian-American girl who was made to feel like an outsider, like an enemy of America. We as a society could have sent such a powerful message if we would have caringly embraced that girl, but we didn’t. And so we failed her. We failed her just as we failed the Native-American children sent to re-education schools and reservations; as we failed the Chinese-American children when this nation rescinded the welcome mat and they were told to give up any hope of being considered an American.
She was failed in the same way that America failed the African-American children who were enslaved, segregated, brutalized, beaten and bombed in a seemingly never-ending American apartheid, and in the same way we failed the Japanese-American children that were interned and imprisoned in camps as “journalists” were saying things such as “a viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched… So a Japanese-American grows up to be Japanese, not American.” This isn’t hyperbole, this is history.
What intolerant fever courses through the veins of this nation that we continually return to this failure of compassion and understanding? McCarthyism wasn’t the disease, it was mere a symptom, a symptom of a rabid strain of American xenophobic nativism. It is a disease that insists, by arbitrary and transitory principles, on a hypocritical, puritanical national and social uniformity.
In that America, citizens that are Hispanic are told to prove they are legal; citizens that are black are told to prove that they belong; and Muslim citizens are told to prove they are not terrorists. A society that incessantly demands certain groups prove they belong will always be in danger of the very collapse they claim they’re trying to avert.
An 11 year-old Mexican-American boy sings the national anthem – yes, the national anthem – at an NBA Finals game, and it is met with a torrent of racist animus; an Indian-American woman wins the Miss America pageant and is bombarded with hateful and derogatory invectives. It appears that in spite of all the historical flowery speeches about unity, in current-day America, the ever-present mob mentality is trumping the ethos of e pluribus unum.
What takes place whenever the prevailing-yet-unverified narrative is challenged is regrettable and unfortunate, but sadly, foreseeable. The issue for the bigoted isn’t about keeping America safe, but rather about racial and cultural double-standards.
And at the end of the day, it’s not about whether you agree or disagree with a certain account, and it’s not about whether you believe in a particular religion – such as Islam. It’s about what you believe about justice, truth and compassion. Will we continue to fail to learn the lessons that history has taught us about the lone voice and widely-accepted opinion? Will we continue to fail little Muslim-American boys and girls, mothers and fathers, son and daughters, by treating them as if their lives have less value and their citizenship has less validity than non-Muslims?
History continues to be on the side of those who stood upright against the winds of intellectual and moral laziness. It persists in vindicating those who went against the currents of xenophobic impulse and popular opinion.
Heroic, courageous or noble moments are not immediately understood as such at the outset of the moment. They are realized and actualized by a resolute fortitude. Or put another way: the race is not given to the swift or the strong, but to those who endure to the end.