In this article, we will explore the world of conspiracy theories in 2021. It is a world where people are constantly trying to prove their truths and debunk others’. Conspiracy theorists have been around for centuries, but with the rise of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter the number of “true believers” has only increased.
In fact, according to journalist Michael Ellsworth-Krugh, there were more than 80 million Americans who believed that they had uncovered some truth about 9/11 when it was being reported on by mainstream news outlets. What do these beliefs say about society? Why does anyone believe them in the first place? Below you will find an exploration of these questions as well as a look at what life might be with our without these theories.
In 2021, conspiracy theories abound, from the corridors of Congress to viral Facebook and blush-pink Instagram posts.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a sociology professor at American University who specializes in extremism and radicalization, says that conspiracy theories have long been prevalent in the United States. However, they’ve been able to spread like wildfire since social media tools allow them to be easily amplified and circulated false information.
Amid a pandemic that has already killed 600,000 Americans, the conditions couldn’t be more perfect for conspiracy theories to take hold. Because these ideas might provide comfort in the form of a simple solution, people tend to look for conspiracies when they’ve lost their sense of control and feel scared and nervous.
“When people feel out of control, they’re attracted to things that offer them an action path,” Miller-Idriss tells
According to Miller-Idriss, “inexplicable deaths” — whether it’s death on a mass scale, like the pandemic, or the loss of a famous person like Princess Diana — breed conspiracy theories.
“When something is so horrifying, it’s easier for people to believe it can’t be true. They can become more vulnerable to conspiracy theories because maybe they can’t psychologically wrap their head around the fact that it is true,” she says. “It’s these episodic, shocking events that create vulnerability.”
In her work as the director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab, Miller-Idriss has found that one way to combat conspiracy theories is to administer attitudinal inoculation.
This approach attempts to teach individuals how propaganda, misinformation, and conspiracy theories operate so that when they encounter questionable assertions from dubious sources, they are appropriately critical.
Myths about the Holocaust
Six million Jews were murdered in Europe between 1941 and 1945 during the Holocaust, an infamous genocide carried out by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Despite the fact that the Holocaust is one of history’s best-documented events, there are still parts of the population who doubt it occurred or that the death toll has been excessively boosted.
According to a 2014 poll conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, only 30% of respondents believed accurate accounts of the Holocaust had been written. People under the age of 65 were more likely than those over 65 to dispute that the Holocaust took place as historians claim it did.
While some conspiracy theorists blame anti-Semitism on a lack of education, others subscribe to the idea that the Holocaust was created or exaggerated to gain sympathy and financial benefits for Jews while also advancing Jewish interests.
Deborah E. Lipstadt, a historian, and professor who has written numerous books on Holocaust denial distinguishes between two kinds of deniers: hard-core deniers, who claim that the Holocaust did not occur, and less-fervent deniers, who may acknowledge the Holocaust occurred but question the official death toll or believe gas chambers were used for.
“So who has to be wrong?” she asks. “To believe the deniers, you would have to assume that someone is mistaken. Of course, all the survivors… bystanders… and most importantly, the perpetrators. They never said it didn’t happen.
The CIA had a hand in JFK’s assassination
On November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was detained in Dallas, Texas, and charged with the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. on the same day. On the morning of November 24, while being transferred to a local jail, Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner from Texas.
From the start, this odd sequence of events was ripe for conspiracy theories: Not only had a handsome, well-liked president been shot in broad daylight, but the accused assassin was subsequently murdered, fueling conjecture about a cover-up.
More than half of Americans didn’t think Oswald acted alone as early as the late 1960s, and nearly two-thirds still don’t today. And according to FiveThirtyEight, 61 percent of Americans believe there was some sort of conspiracy behind the assassination in 2017.
There are a few main JFK conspiracy theories. One popular theory is that the CIA killed JFK in retaliation for the failed
According to biographer Philip Shenon, Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s brother and the attorney general, initially thought that a group of rogue CIA agents was involved in his brother’s assassination, but he later changed his mind.
Another idea is that Oswald wasn’t the only gunman; when a House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations found there was “probably” a conspiracy involving a second shooter, it’s easy to understand why people would believe this. Another committee debunked those conclusions in 1982, but the notion had taken root long before.
A third possibility: The murder was a Mafia hit meant to punish Bobby Kennedy for his anti-crime efforts. We’re not going to go over it here, but if you want to laugh, look into it.
The moon landing was faked
Was the moon landing truly completed in July 1969, or was it all a hoax? That was a joke. They most certainly did. However, 30% of Americans doubted the moon landing’s authenticity by the 1970s.
The truth was not accepted by all of the astronauts. Other options grew. According to William Kaysing, We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle was written as satire but he eventually converted to the confession.
Dr. MacRae’s book claims that the moon footage of Apollo astronauts taking their first steps on the lunar surface, which hundreds of millions of people saw live on television, was indeed shot at Nevada’s Area 51 (yet another popular destination for conspiracy theorists).
Princess Diana’s death was no accident
When Princess Diana, a beautiful, young royal outsider known as “the people’s princess,” was killed in a car accident in Paris one year after her divorce from Prince Charles, rumors immediately sprang up.
The specifics vary, but the basic concept of most Diana-related speculations is that she was murdered in a car accident. She was dating Dodi Fayed, an Egyptian film producer who perished with her in the limo, and he was supposedly going to propose to her that night.
Mohamed al-Fayed, the father of Dodi Fayed, stated in a court witness statement that they were murdered because the monarchy could not stomach the prospect of Diana and Prince Charles’s children — future monarchs of the United Kingdom — having a stepfather who was Egyptian and Muslim. The coroner who did an autopsy on Diana determined she was not.
Some people believe that Paul was drunk at the time of the incident and intentionally caused a vehicle accident. Because Paul was in charge of security at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, where the couple had departed from only minutes before, conspiracy theorists think he might have been on the payroll of a national intelligence service organization that sought Diana’s death.
Others think that Diana’s medical treatment following the accident was intentionally neglected; this notion originated in the United States for conspiracy theorists.
In France, it is standard practice for emergency medical personnel to attempt to stabilize a patient before transporting them to the hospital; in the United States, reaching a hospital is the top priority. Some people believe this is proof that Diana was deliberately murdered because she was treated on-scene rather than being rushed to the nearest hospital immediately.
The 9/11 attack was an inside job
The September 11 attacks are perhaps the best-known example of a major tragedy spawning widespread conspiracy theories. When four passenger airliners crashed in the United States on September 11, 2001, everyone was quick to assume that it had been orchestrated by Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist group.
During the attacks of September 11, 2001, over 3,000 people perished in a series of coordinated terrorist assaults, hundreds more were wounded, and over 2,000 first responders ultimately died as a result of diseases linked to their duty at Ground Zero.
On that autumn day in 2001, people across the United States watched in horror as two planes slammed into the Twin Towers in New York City, a third slammed into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a fourth plunged into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. September 11 took over from Pearl Harbor as the date of America’s worst foreign assault.
The subject of 9/11 has long been a playground for conspiracy theorists, perhaps owing to the scale of devastation — that nearly 3,000 people might be killed in a few hours on a bright September morning — or because of the lies that have been told to the American people to sell them on endless conflicts that followed the attacks.
The most popular idea is that the Bush administration “did” 9/11 or, at the very least, knew about it and permitted it to occur because the president wanted to start wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for oil. Many 9/11 conspiracy theories grow out of the basic assertion that the attacks were carried out by someone within the government.
For example, the 9/11 Commission Report, which was published in 2004 and claimed: “The only way the Twin Towers could have fallen as they did is by use of explosives.” (This isn’t true.) It’s a popular conspiracy notion that the Pentagon wasn’t hit by an airliner; it was instead targeted with a rocket.