L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 333, August 21, 2005
"...far greater threat than Al Qaeda..."
Special to TLE
It's only been a few weeks since the terrorist bombings on the London subway system, but there's already no shortage of conspiracy theories addressing both the bombers and the motives behind the attacks. Early on, some suggested that the bombings could have been engineered by the British government to bolster fading support for a national ID card in Great Britain or to encourage the US Congress to renew the PATRIOT Act intact. (As it happens, the London attacks were cited by those who favored PATRIOT Act renewal, and the legislation was passed in relatively short order; the Bush administration also enjoyed a bit of a poll "bounce" in the immediate aftermath of the bombings). But now some who are purported to be witnesses to the London bombings are making allegations that, if true, would preclude at least one of the bombings from having happened the way we're told that it did.
Most decent people tend to believe that other people are as decent as they are, and the earnestness of such testimony tempts the rest of us to believe it. But whether or not they happen to be telling the truth is less important here than is the fact that so many are inclined to believe them. After all, and without commenting on the honesty or integrity of the witnesses involved, if we believe the stories, then we must also by default believe something very frightening indeed: Our government will stop at nothing in an ongoing effort to assert complete authority over each and every one of us.
Conspiracy theories aren't new; scoffing at them isn't a recent development, either. But in its definition of conspiracy theory, the online Wikipedia points out that many so-called "conspiracy theories" have turned out to have more than a grain of truth to them. In fact, some relatively fantastic theories (Watergate, for example) have turned out to be reality. On the other hand, while most people don't buy the persistent Bigfoot or alien abduction rumors, more and more people are inclined to believe the worst of their supposedly altruistic governments.
The 9/11 terror attacks were a natural target for conspiracy theorists. A French national speculated that the Pentagon wasn't hit by a 757 but rather a missile (he based his suppositions on the fact he couldn't see any airplane wreckage in photos of the scene); his theories were rapidly picked up and expanded upon by Americans. Later, speculation emerged that the Twin Towers, too, were deliberately "taken out" by missiles rather than airplanes. Do a Google search containing the terms "WTC," and "missile," and you'll see thousands of web sites returned many of which include what the publisher claims to be photo or video evidence of a missile attack. Among them is the "World Trade Center Missile" site where mysterious "dots" are shown in clouds of smoke coming from the doomed Trade Center buildings.
The accusations concerning the Pentagon have been rather thoroughly debunked; those having to do with the Trade Center haven't been dignified with any thorough commentary from the government, but they persist. Although these "theories" are far-fetched at best, there are always those anxious to create and believe such things. Most Americans don't appear to believe that their government actively attacked its own citizens on 9/11; a surprising number, however, seem perfectly inclined to think that it's possible the government knew about the attacks in advance and did nothing to prevent them.
It's becoming easier as time goes on for conspiracy theories having to do with government wrongdoing to gain followers. There's a very good reason for that: the government has been caught red-handed in cover-ups of its own ineptness in the past, and in more recent times, has been discovered to be taking an active role in exercises many Americans find distasteful.
Consider, for example, the incidences at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. We were initially told that a US Marshal had died in an attempt to capture a dangerous white separatist who was selling guns to some very bad people. We learned a little later that Randy Weaver's wife had been shot by an FBI sniper as she stood in the doorway of their small home holding their baby. It was later still before we found that Weaver's son had been shot in the back as he ran away. Conspiracy theorists claimed that Weaver had been set up.
Eventually, the whole truth came out: federal agents had attempted to entrap and then coerce Weaver to sell a gun they'd repeatedly demanded he cut to a barely illegal length; court appearances were manipulated in such a way that an arrest warrant for Weaver was issued when he didn't show up for a court appearance he'd never been notified was scheduled. Although Idaho authorities attempted to try the FBI sniper for murder, they were foiled by still more government regulations. The government, meanwhile, quietly settled with Weaver for a hefty dollar figure.
The Branch Davidians, who spent some months under siege by federal agents, were eventually almost entirely exterminated by the government. When the siege began, Americans were told that the group's leader had a cache of illegal firearms and that there was rampant child abuse ongoing at the compound where he and his followers lived. The stand-off began, we were advised, when leader David Koresh balked at being served with a warrant; it ended, authorities said, when the Davidians set fire to their own building. Conspiracy theorists called the Davidians victims of the government.
Over time, more details concerning the horrors of Waco have emerged. Though the federal government still denies wrongdoing, the evidence is strong that, from beginning to end, the worst of Waco was the fault of officials who should have known better than to take many of the actions they did. Initially, the local sheriff advised federal agents that David Koresh had been cooperative in the past and would certainly accept service of a warrant if it were calmly delivered. The agents declined, and sent an attack team as "back-up" instead. There's still argument as to who fired the first shots when the stand-off began, but since law enforcement destroyed the primary evidence that could have decided the question, it's difficult not to give some credence to those who say it was federal agents who first opened fire. The government claims the tear gas it fired to end the siege isn't flammable; the containers for the tear gas bear warnings that state otherwise. Most unforgivable of all is the fact that the authorities used earth-moving equipment to block egress which ensured that any escape from the burning building would be all but impossible.
When the ashes of Waco had cooled, former Attorney General Janet Reno made public noises about how bad she felt at the deaths of more than 80 men, women, and children (this is the same woman, of course, who ordered commandos armed with heavy weaponry to break into a small Florida house to kidnap a young child for transport back to Castro's Cuba). Nothing much was ever said, however, of the fact that there were no illegal firearms in Branch Davidian possession after all. Oops!
It was what happened in Waco, according to most, that provided the inspiration for Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to build and park a truck bomb in front of the Alfred R. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City just a few years later. The two men, we're told, intended their actions as a government protest of the worst possible kind. When the bomb exploded, some 160 people, many of them children, lost their lives. Timothy McVeigh was tried, convicted, and subsequently executed. Terry Nichols will be spending the rest of his life in prison if Oklahoma authorities don't impose the death penalty for separate murder trials there. Conspiracy theorists, however, say that more personnel were involved and that there's more to the story than we've all been told.
There's little doubt that McVeigh and Nichols had an intimate involvement in what happened in Oklahoma City. Conspiracy theorists wonder, however, what happened to the mysterious "John Doe," the "third man" in the bombing conspiracy who was reported by witnesses but never caught. The mystery is less who John Doe might have been than the fact that no one is even looking for him. Noises also continue to be made over some federal complicity in the bombing plans and execution (McVeigh may have been involved with an undercover agent, for example, in a militia-type group with which he associated). One of the most plausible and intriguing rumors involves a University of Oklahoma seismograph which supposedly recorded several blasts rather than merely the one we're told was responsible for the death and destruction. At least one web site offers not only seismographic evidence but recordings inadvertently made while businessmen were busy recording dictation on that fateful morning.
Not all conspiracy theorists are "fringe" elements. In the case of the Oklahoma City bombings, I happened at the time to be personally acquainted with a man in military intelligence. On the afternoon of the bombing, he told me he'd talked with a buddy of his who happened to be an expert in explosives. His friend was unequivocal: a single truck bomb, no matter its size, could not have resulted in the destruction he'd seen over and over again on his television. Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely), he never mentioned anything concerning the bombing to me again. But whoever talks or doesn't talk, the rumors of government complicity in connection with Oklahoma City go on.
In actuality, the wilder the theory and the more of them there are, the better as far as the authorities are concerned. The idea that there are alien bodies hidden at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, flying saucers being reverse engineered at Area 51, or some "Illuminati" plot to subvert the US government to a one-world body offer convenient distractions for many. The implausibility of many theories also gives plenty of room for politicians to scoff at anything they don't want to hear or don't care to reveal as just another "conspiracy theory" (or, in some cases, a "vast right wing conspiracy"). But there's another theory playing out before our eyes these days, and that's the one that takes note of just how many people are starting to believe at least portions of some claims of government complicity and/or cover-ups in some very nasty incidents.
Politicians, of course, should probably be paying attention to the phenomenon. At some point, it must be clear that government involvementor notis less important for their careers than is the fact that people may believe that there's government involvement. The crucial corollary is that the rest of us ought to take a step back and examine these conspiracy theories a little more thoroughly, too. It's past time that we connect the dots and take note of the fact that, regardless of the reality of any given theory, more and more of us are starting to think that more and more of these theories are at least possible. And that, in turn, means that we're able to believe that our government would do some pretty awful things.
If we truly believe thator even merely suspect that it could be the caseshouldn't we be anxious to do something about it? Shouldn't we be actively calling, writing, and visiting our politicians and demanding the truth? Shouldn't we be voting demonstrated liars out of office, and throwing our support behind men and women who will actually uphold the Constitution and protect our civil liberties? Shouldn't we remember that our government is of and for the people, and work to take back the control that we once hadand to which we're constitutionally entitledaccordingly?
Sure, we're talking theoretically at the moment. We do still have some freedoms which is how it is that I can write this and you can read it, and the conspiracy theories I've outlined here are unproven (though I've personally got a few suspicions myself). The one reality, however, is that our freedoms are being taken from us in fits and starts. It truly doesn't matter whether the means for that theft are licit or illicit, or we're told the truth about why we're losing them or are comforted with lies. Either way, our freedoms are going, going, soon to be gone. And we don't need any conspiracy theories to guess or to explain what will happen next in that case. Some very bleak moments in history will serve just fine to do that.