Conspiracy theories used to be relegated to the fringes of American political discourse. Not so much anymore, now that one of the major political parties is itself pretty fringe. When the notion that the government itself is out to get the people and needs to be dismantled and shut down is the position of one of your party’s frontrunners, you’re pretty far gone.
That’s why the year’s top conspiracy theories, as kooky as they are, will seem familiar. The idea that the government was planning a military takeover of Texas—the dreaded Jade Helm plot—was fostered on Fox News and taken seriously by Governor Greg Abbott. Many of the GOP presidential frontrunners continue to perpetuate the lie that Planned Parenthood is a front for some barbaric baby-part selling operation. So-called reasonable person Marco Rubio suggested with a straight face that women were starting to seek abortions... for profit.
It’s not just Alex Jones and Glenn Beck spouting this stuff anymore. When soft-spoken man of medicine Ben Carson mentions in an on-air interview his insane suspicions about why there are more Planned Parenthood clinics in black neighborhoods and no one laughs in his face—and his poll numbers go up—it’s hard not to think all is definitely lost.
Still, you have to laugh. It beats despair. Here’s a look back at five of the wackiest conspiracy theories the indefatigable right-wing loony factory pumped out this year. While most of them came from the fertile mind of your favorite conspiracy crank, Alex Jones, they gripped a sizable number of the rabid conservatives who have attained—or gotten close to—elected office.
1. Donald Trump is a Clinton plant (to undermine the respectability of the Republican Party, yah de yah de yah).
The logic goes something like this:
- Trump knows, has socialized with, been photographed with, and even given money to the Clintons.
- The Clintons are evil geniuses and will stop at nothing to win.
- Trump is damaging the Republicans.
- If Trump wins the Republican nomination (and maybe even if he doesn’t), Hillary will coast to the presidency come November. Therefore, his candidacy must somehow have been a premeditated plot on the part of the Clintons to tarnish the Republican brand, alienate minority voters and ensure Hillary’s victory. Ingenious!
Of course, this ignores the fact that Republicans have done a great job of tarnishing their own brand, turning off women, blacks and Hispanics, young people and basically anyone with a brain, and this process was well underway before Trump arrived on the scene. But because Bill and Hillary are such lightning rods, this theory gained some currency in liberal outlets, with Gawker running a piece asking whether there might be some credence to it, only to ultimately dismiss it as baseless. Nonetheless, expect this theory to gain more traction in crackpot circles if Trump becomes the nominee.
Meanwhile, evil mastermind Hillary also ingeniously plotted for her daughter to get pregnant again, and of course, continues to have to explain why she plotted to let our diplomats in Benghazi be killed for no reason that anyone prolonging the zombified Benghazi hearings has ever been able to explain.
2. The military takeover of Texas!
Jade Helm, a standard military training exercise in Texas scheduled for July, became an obsession of far-right morons everywhere, who posited that it was a covert attempt on the part of the federal government to impose martial law on Texas, in order to, we suppose, confiscate their guns, or... annex the state? (Newsflash, folks: Texas is already part of the U.S.)
But the embrace of these usual fringe theories about imminent federal government takeovers of states did not stop on the far far right. Fox News aired its concerns about it, and taking its lead, Texas governor Greg Abbott, darling of Tea Partiers everywhere, decided to kowtow to the wackos and ordered the state guard to monitor the training exercise. Joining him in this chorus of crazy was Texas representative and soft-boiled egg-in-a-suit Louie Gohmert, who said that because of the Obama administration’s hostility to the Constitution and its defenders, “patriotic Americans have reason to be concerned.”
With elected officials like Greg Abbott and Louie Gohmert in positions of authority and power, we’d say all Americans should indeed be very, very concerned.
3. Planned Parenthood's evil side business.
Perhaps the most deadly and dangerous conspiracy theory in 2015. Videos released by the euphemistically named Center for Medical Progress purported to show evidence that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue, which is against federal law. After this hit job was released and rabid anti-choicers and Fox Newsians disseminated its message, responsible journalists (the kind who don’t use bogus press credentials, make surreptitious video recordings, edit them heavily and release them to the public) dug into the videos and found ... nothing.
But the “baby parts” nonsense just wouldn’t die. Carly Fiorina took it and ran with it during the second Republican presidential debate, challenging viewers to “watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain”—a fictitious scene that did not even appear in the fictitious pseudo-documentary. But never mind. The Republican-controlled House organized a committee to investigate Planned Parenthood, called CEO Cecile Richards in to testify, and memorably got called on their fabrications. Several red states launched independent inquiries into Planned Parenthood’s medical practices and couldn’t turn up one stitch of evidence for the alleged fetal parts business.
After the months-long smear campaign, a domestic terrorist stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, killed three people and wounded nine. He would later describe himself as a warrior for the babies.
4. San Bernardino truthers come out of the woodwork.
Another mass shooting, another round of truthers crying “Hoax! They’re trying to take our guns!” It is basically reflexive at this point, though no less devastating to the real victims of gun violence. This time, the truther community didn’t even wait to let the crazy marinate in its own juices. Within hours of the shooting in San Bernardino, Alex Jones’ InfoWars had posted a story pointing out all the ways in which the shooting was “highly suspicious,” which included this thought-provoking tidbit: “So far there is no motive and the shooting makes no sense.”
Huh, you don’t say! Usually mass killings make a ton of sense and the motives are instantly clear.
But to the truther nuts, there are no such things as mass killings, only staged massacres providing President Obama the opportunity to grandstand about the country’s need for reasonable gun control legislation. And if there are mass shootings, let alone thousands of Americans dying every year as a result of gun violence and accidents, they only show we need more guns.
5. Ben Carson: “My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain.”
Okay, not exactly a conspiracy theory, just a “remarkable lapse in education” as one Egyptologist described it. But still, for sheer lunacy, this one is hard to beat. Frankly, we’re a little sorry that Ben Carson’s star has fallen so far. When the former neurosurgeon-cum-presidential candidate was riding high, he provided hours of knee-slapping, totally out of left-field entertainment. (Exhibit A: His suggestion that we drone illegal immigrants crossing the border.)
Carson is certainly no stranger to nutty conspiracy theories: There was his previously mentioned insanity about abortions taking more black lives than cops do, and it being no accident that health centers that help poor women are concentrated in poorer neighborhoods. In fact, Carson is an acolyte of the thoroughly discredited right-wing conspiracy theorist W. Cleon Skousen, a man even the National Journal has called a "nutjob."
To be fair, Carson first aired his whackadoo “theory” about pyramids 17 years ago, and the video only resurfaced this year in light of his success on the campaign trail. But mounds of archaeological evidence and the Egyptian government be damned, given the chance to rethink, Carson refused to back away from his "theory," even once it came under fire for being, you know,completely wrong. Instead, Carson mumbled inaudibly about the mainstream media’s “gotcha” questions, then promptly fell into a dreamless slumber. Night, Ben.