The Difference Between A ‘Conspiracy Theory’ And The Truth


The following speech was delivered at the University of Kentucky on Tuesday, November 1, 2022

When liberals are not calling conservatives “racists” and fascists and terrorists, they call us nuts and kooks and “conspiracy theorists,” which does not really mean anything but is nonetheless an effective slur. After “racist,” “conspiracy theorist” is probably the worst thing one can be called in our society. The moment one is labeled a “conspiracy theorist,” about everything he has to say ceases to be taken seriously — by the Left, certainly, but even by many in the center and on the Right. Yet, easy as it is to destroy someone with accusations of “conspiracy theorism”— the same as with accusations of “racism”— it is much easier to ruin someone’s reputation by calling him a conspiracy theorist than it is to define precisely what a “conspiracy theory” is.

A number of “conspiracy theories” have cropped up over the past few years regarding COVID. For instance, in the early days of COVID, there was the “conspiracy theory” that COVID most likely originated in a Chinese laboratory rather than in nature or in a bad bowl of bat soup. The established scientific and political authorities — Dr. Fauci at NIH, Rochelle Walensky at the CDC, Joe Biden at the White House, and many other, including the entire establishment media — all denounced this theory as crazy, absurd, scientifically impossible. Then, after a year and a half of denouncing it, when the evidence in support of it became undeniable, they quietly admitted it was true.

Once the authorities admitted that the virus likely came from the Chinese lab, another “conspiracy theory” cropped up: that is, the theory that the United States had actually funded the sort of research associated with viruses like COVID-19 at the very laboratory that likely leaked the virus. This “conspiracy theory” outraged the authorities. Not only did all of the supposedly serious, credible, scientific people in lab coats denounce this theory, but Dr. Fauci himself denied it under penalty of perjury before the U.S. Senate. But then a Freedom of Information Act request produced the receipts showing that the U.S. had in fact funded the risky research on bat coronaviruses with specific subgrants for the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Who signed off on the funding? Dr. Fauci himself.

After that crazy COVID “conspiracy theory” turned out to be true, another one emerged: the crazy conspiracy theory that the COVID vaccines were neither totally safe nor particularly effective.

From the moment the vaccines became available to the public, the established authorities all insisted that they were safe and totally effective. Biden, Fauci, and Walensky all promised that the shots would prevent both infection and transmission of the virus. Biden promised, “You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.” Fauci assured us, “When people are vaccinated, they can feel safe that they are not going to get infected.” Walensky insisted, “Vaccinated people do not carry the virus, do not get sick.” On the one side you had just about every established authority; on the other side, you had the “conspiracy theorists.” On both questions, the “conspiracy theorists” were entirely correct.

The authorities told us the vaccines were totally safe. They told us that reports of vaccine injuries were nothing but a crazy conspiracy theory. Then people starting coming down with blood clots, myocarditis, changes to women’s menstrual cycles. That last one, we were told by public health propagandists, was “scientifically impossible.” Then the so-called “conspiracy theory” turned out to be true and, according to recent studies, fairly widespread.

We could go on about the vindication of COVID “conspiracy theories” all night. We’ve barely scratched the surface. And that’s just COVID. That’s just one part of one example from just the past few years. But there are so many others. How about the conspiracy theory that Democrats rigged the 2020 election? Do you remember that crazy conspiracy theory: the notion that Democrats changed all the election rules, in some cases illegally, to disadvantage Trump and the Republicans in the leadup to the 2020 election? That, we were told, was the delusional thinking of tinfoil hat-clad lunatics. And then the liberals themselves admitted that they had done it. On February 4, 2021, when TIME magazine published a detailed account of the rigging, “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election”:

In a way, Trump was right. […] There was a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, one that both curtailed the protests and coordinated the resistance from CEOs. Both surprises were the result of an informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans. […] The handshake between business and labor was just one component of a vast, cross-partisan campaign…. […] Their work touched every aspect of the election. They got states to change voting systems and laws and helped secure hundreds of millions in public and private funding. They fended off voter-suppression lawsuits, recruited armies of poll workers and got millions of people to vote by mail for the first time. They successfully pressured social media companies to take a harder line against disinformation and used data-driven strategies to fight viral smears. They executed national public-awareness campaigns that helped Americans understand how the vote count would unfold over days or weeks….

It’s right there, in black and white: not just a “conspiracy theory” but a confession…of a conspiracy. I suspect many people in this room could recite a litany of famous conspiracy theories that turned out to be true right off the top of their heads.

The Tuskegee experiments: starting in 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service conspired with the Tuskegee Institute to create a fake medical program. The program purported to treat syphilis but instead administered dangerous chemicals and procedures to some 400 black male participants. Only in the ‘70s did the government cop to the conspiracy and pay out $10 million plus lifetime health benefits to the men it exploited.

How about the Nayirah testimony? In 1990, a 15-year-old girl using the pseudonym Nayirah testified before Congress that after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi soldiers had taken Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and watched them die on the floor. This testimony was cited countless times by the Bush White House to justify American involvement in the Gulf War. Until it turned out that the story was completely made up. And not only was the story made up, but it was made up by a PR firm that worked with the Bush White House, and very likely it was made up in coordination with the White House itself.

How about the gay frogs? The gay frogs are my favorite “conspiracy theory” that turned out to be true. When Alex Jones claimed on his show that “they” were “turning the frickin’ frogs gay,” everyone made fun of him. But he was right. Regardless of anything else Alex Jones has ever said, they really were turning the frickin’ frogs gay. Actually, they were turning the frogs trans. A team out of Yale analyzed 21 ponds in suburban Connecticut and discovered that estrogenic waste in the water was turning them hermaphroditic. Not only was Jones’s “conspiracy theory” true; it did not go far enough.

Of course, any proper list of conspiracy theories that turned out to be true must necessarily include many mentions of the CIA. The CIA would not be doing its job if it weren’t well represented on such a list.

Beyond the usual fare of assassinating undesirable world leaders and covering it up, there are a number of conspiracies that took place on domestic soil as well. There was MK Ultra, the conspiracy of the CIA to ply unwitting Americans and Canadians with LSD and then to pay off hospitals, prisons, and universities to keep quiet about it. That conspiracy was not discovered until 1975, two years after CIA director Richard Helms ordered that all of the documents relating to the program be destroyed, though some 20,000 documents managed to survive.

There was Operation Mockingbird: the effective CIA campaign to control the messaging coming out of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS, and lots of other news outlets — relatively run-of-the-mill stuff. And then there was some less run-of-the-mill conspiracies, such as Operation Northwoods: a 1962 CIA proposal to launch a false flag attack on American military and civilian targets, blame it on Fidel Castro, and then channel the ensuing public outrage to justify war against Cuba. That particular conspiracy never went into effect — the Kennedy administration rejected it — but the Top Secret document outlining the proposal was declassified in 1997 and is available in plain English for anyone to read. Operation Northwoods is about as crazy a conspiracy theory as one could possibly come up; and yet it happens to be true.

Putting aside the CIA for a moment, we learned just yesterday about a new sort of Operation Mockingbird, this time out of the Department of Homeland Security. According to reporting from The Intercept, in the leadup to the 2020 election, Big Tech companies including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, Wikipedia, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and others met on a monthly basis with the FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and other government representatives. These meetings did not just concern tech security threats such as hacking; they concerned supposed “disinformation.” And by “disinformation,” I of course mean true information that damaged Democrats’ electoral prospects. Twitter and Facebook had direct portals for the government to request that inconvenient posts be censored as “disinformation.” According to documents filed in federal court in a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, two FBI agents — Elvis Chan and Laura Dehmlow — were involved in high-level communication with tech executives that “led to Facebook’s suppression” of the Hunter Biden laptop story. The Hunter Biden laptop story, suppressed by all the Big Tech platforms, which according to post-election polls singlehandedly could have swung the election to Trump.

It was a conspiracy, plain and simple. So if one observes these plain historical facts, does that make one a “conspiracy theorist”? I suppose it does: one is putting forward a theory about a conspiracy. But in the case of all the examples I just cited and countless others on top of that, one would be theorizing about conspiracies that indisputably occurred. When a conspiracy theory is demonstrably true, who could deny it? Only a fool, or a liar, or a coward. And I suspect it is the latter category that best describes most people in whom the phrase “conspiracy theory” still inspires fear and dread.

The sort of people who knew from the beginning that the official story on COVID’s origins didn’t really make a lot of sense. The people who suspected that the vaccines were probably not quite as safe and effective as we were told that they were. The people who sense intuitively that there were some serious structural shenanigans during the 2020 election — widespread mail-in ballots in contravention of the Pennsylvania state constitution, for instance. People who suspect all of those things but don’t dare raise the suggestion because they fear for their social media accounts or their jobs or just their social standing, which depends upon going along to get along. People who understand that the true function of the label “conspiracy theorist” is not to separate truth from fantasy but rather simply to get dissidents to shut up.

When did this fear of “conspiracy theorizing” begin? Not all that long ago, it turns out. A Google Ngram search reveals that the term “conspiracy theory” appeared pretty much nowhere in English literature until the mid-1930s, and it only really took off after 1950. The term “conspiracy theorist” is of an even more recent vintage, appearing basically nowhere until the mid-1960s and taking off only after 1990. 

I mentioned earlier that the term “conspiracy theorist” fulfills a similar function to the word “racist” — that is, it’s an accusation that, when successfully applied, completely destroys a man’s reputation in the public square. It’s a label that means little more than “this person is delusional, and you should not take anything he says seriously.” 

The word “racist” follows almost exactly the same pattern of usage. “Racism” and “racist” appeared basically nowhere in English until the mid-1930s, and they became popular only after 1950. In other words, these two terms of abuse — these linguistic weapons — only came into fashion during the era of the postwar liberal consensus, and during that entire time they have been used almost exclusively to attack conservatives.

Liberals have a much worse record on race, a much more perverse view of race, than conservatives do. Doesn’t matter. The stench of “racism” only ever sticks to the Right. Biden says Barack Obama is the first clean articulate black man in American politics — doesn’t matter. Democrats found and run the KKK for the entirety of its existence as an organization — doesn’t matter. But if a conservative criticizes George Soros, the single most prominent and prolific funder of far-left causes in the world, that conservative will instantly be labeled an anti-semite; if a conservative criticizes Barack Obama, he will instantly be called a “racist.” 

Same goes for “conspiracy theories.” Think of the absurd narratives that the mainstream liberal establishment has tried to sell to us in recent years. They told us for years on end that Donald Trump was a secret Russian asset because Vladimir Putin had a videotape of him urinating on prostitutes in Moscow. They repeated this ad nauseum on all of the most mainstream left-wing news outlets for years. Never mind that Trump was the most hardline president on Russia in my lifetime. Only president since Vladimir Putin’s rise to power on whose watch Putin did not invade a sovereign nation. Never mind that they could never produce even one shred of evidence. They just peddled that conspiracy theory for years and then, when it completely fell apart during the Mueller investigation, just moved on as if nothing had happened.

And yet the Left still has the audacity to accuse the Right increasingly of embracing conspiracy theories. Perhaps we are. But if there is a rise in “conspiracy theorizing” on the Right, it is not due to any defect in the rational faculties of conservatives; it is due to a rise in actual conspiracies on the Left. “Conspiracy theories” flourish when people lose trust in their political institutions, as we are seeing today. But the collapsing credibility of our institutions is not the fault of conservatives; it’s the fault of the liberals who have controlled those institutions for decades and run them into the ground. To be a “conspiracy theorist” during times of political order and transparency is kooky and ridiculous; but to be a conspiracy theorist during times of profuse conspiracy is rational and prudent. In an age such as ours, the difference between a conspiracy theory and the truth is often not the difference between delusion and fantasy. As our liberal ruling class has shown so clearly over the past few years, in an age such as ours, the real difference between a conspiracy theory and the truth is usually about three to six months. Thank you very much.

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