Conspiracy Theories: Funny, Not Funny

Remember when conspiracy theories were funny?

You know the ones I’m talking about. The earth is flat and there’s no such thing as gravity.  Crashed-and-recovered UFOs are stored in Nevada. Finland and Australia are fictitious countries. And my favorite: Elvis’s twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, wasn’t stillborn. He lived to be 42 and is buried at Graceland beneath his brother’s tombstone. Elvis is still alive.

What, exactly, is a conspiracy theory? It’s an unfounded and often nonsensical explanation for the way things are. Conspiracy theories often invoke shadowy, malevolent forces masterminding the cover-up of the truth. Thus the notion of a “deep state” that secretly manipulates everything our government does.

Last May, I wrote a column that bore the headline “Conspiracy theories abideth still,” which was intended to be a light-hearted look at some of the crazy things some people believe. What a difference seven months can make.

There’s nothing amusing about the conspiracy theories floating around these days. They’re downright terrifying. Consider, for instance, “lizard people,” which I confess to having been unaware of until downtown Nashville was bombed on Christmas morning. Apparently some folks, including bomber Anthony Warner, actually believe that reptilians (also known as lizard people) inhabit the earth. Reptilians are extraterrestrial shapeshifting humanoids who often disguise themselves as political leaders, corporate executives and entertainers. Their goal is to enslave the human race. Reptilians are responsible for the Holocaust, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11 terrorist attacks. Several members of the British royal family aren’t human beings at all. They’re crown-wearing lizard people.

People who buy into conspiracy theories tend to be distrustful of authority. They’re determined not to be hoodwinked by the powers that be. They want to understand how the world works but are reluctant to accept that hard questions seldom have easy answers. Even a ridiculous explanation is better than no explanation. Though conspiracy theorists are not necessarily unintelligent, they tend to lack critical thinking skills. Checking sources and evaluating evidence is not important to them. Some conspiracy theorists are quiet loners. Others are proud to display their anger and aggression.

Fear and uncertainty caused by the pandemic have made it easier for once-reasonable people to buy into conspiracy theories. So have alternative “news” sources. Social media has made it simple for conspiracy theorists to connect with one another and to spread their crazy ideas far and wide.

QAnon, once considered a fringe phenomenon, is all over the news these days. One of its earliest claims, way back in 2017, was that Satan-worshiping pedophiles are operating a worldwide child sex-trafficking ring. In addition to kidnapping and molesting children, these pedophiles sometimes kill and eat their victims in order to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood.

Nobody with a lick of sense would believe such nonsense. Right? Wrong. QAnon is stronger than ever and was well-represented in the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Two QAnon groupies—Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia and Lauren Boebert from Colorado—were elected to Congress last November. QAnon followers aren’t just worried about pedophilia. They also claim that Covid-19 is a hoax designed to wreck the economy and that those who take the Covid vaccine will be implanted with a microchip that will track all movements. And they shout from the rooftops, or from the steps of the Capitol, that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, who is the nation’s only hope for setting thing right.

It’s enough to make anybody with half a brain throw their hands up in despair. And to long for the days when all we had to worry about is whose body is buried in Elvis Presley’s grave.

(January 16, 2021)