conspiracy AND theories
  • The unsealed court documents related to the Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking case contain new information about prominent individuals who were allegedly involved with Jeffrey Epstein, including former President Bill Clinton and current Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. Despite some social media claims of a "list" of potential Epstein clients or co-conspirators, these documents are not such a list but rather provide detailed depositions from Maxwell's trial accusers and former employees that do not necessarily link the individuals to any wrongdoing beyond their close association with Epstein and Maxwell.
  • ![]( A picture of Jeffrey Epstein from July 8, 2019, when federal prosecutors charged the financier with sex trafficking of minors. Epstein died later that year by suicide while in federal custody. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images This week's unsealing of court records relating to [Jeffrey Epstein's alleged associates]( has brought about a new wave of conspiracy theories about the late, disgraced financier. Epstein, who died by suicide while awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges, is [a perennial favorite in conspiracy-minded communities]( because of his ties to the wealthy and powerful and the speculation surrounding his death. Some false accusations [tried to tie other high-profile figures who weren't named in the documents to Epstein]( Many other discussions centered around the idea that whatever the public is shown about Epstein isn't the real story. Conspiracist logic often functions as an inversion of the cliche that 'seeing is believing,' according to Jenny Rice, a professor of rhetoric at the University of Kentucky, who has researched conspiracy theorist communities devoted to the 9/11 attacks. "You can only believe the things that you can't see," she explained. "The things that we are shown are deliberately produced and delivered to us and therefore are not trustworthy." Examples from this week include those pushing the idea that a [school shooting that took place in Iowa]( on Thursday was actually a staged event meant to distract the public from the Epstein list. Elsewhere the list itself is cast as a distraction from new alleged evidence of election fraud that proves Donald Trump is the rightful president. Contradictions like these are common in the world of conspiracist beliefs, especially in the era of social media, where decoding and interpreting news events is often participatory and communal. "It's almost like a form of world-building collaboratively," said Rice. "I'm a researcher myself, so I totally understand the thrill of researching and discovering. And though I do it through academic means, a lot of conspiracy theorists find the same kind of joy in discovering." The contradictory theories that swirl around Epstein when he reappears in news headlines just go to show how malleable and useful his story has become in conspiracy-minded communities. "When we did surveys on the Epstein conspiracy theories, what's interesting about them is that they kind of cross the ideological spectrum. A lot of conspiracy theories tend to be located firmly on one side or another, and this one really, it's because he was so prolific in his social context and the pictures of him with Donald Trump and pictures of him with Bill Clinton," said Eric Oliver, a political science professor at the University of Chicago. Oliver has been researching conspiracy theories since 2006 and says the share of the population that believes in conspiracy theories of one kind or another has stayed fairly consistent. They're also a constant throughout history, he says. "I think that's the big difference of what's happening now, is that and then I think you also have readily available media sources...that regularly pose as news sources," says Oliver. He and other researchers sometimes use the phrase "conspiracy entrepreneurs" to describe people or organizations that gain money and influence by spreading conspiracist beliefs. It's a business model with some built-in advantages. "You know, conspiracy theories don't get to a point where they say, okay, mystery solved. Our work here is done. Because to a certain extent, you know, part of what draws in people to conspiracy theory is that it is unending," said Rice. Unfortunately, she added, while conspiracy narratives can appear to focus on legitimate social issues, they also tend to detract from constructive political engagement. The potential for conspiracy theories to influence politics is increasingly concerning for Oliver, who points to two recent examples. "January 6th and mobilization of people storming the Capitol around January 6th. Would that have happened without conspiracy theories around this?" he said. "The second one would be, of course, [resistance to vaccines around COVID]( and sort of denial about the basic scientific evidence around COVID."
  • ![]( Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates with Taylor Swift after a 17-10 victory against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 28, 2024 in Baltimore. Patrick Smith/Getty Images Taylor Swift has been one of the most dominant cultural figures of the past year, between her [billion-dollar Eras Tour]( and accompanying [film](, a slew of Grammy nominations, and a [high-profile romance]( with Kansas City Chiefs tight end [Travis Kelce]( that's made her a fixture of the National Football League season. But Swift's popularity is being twisted into a threat by a contingent of far-right, Donald Trump-supporting conservatives who have started circulating conspiracy theories about the singer, the Super Bowl, and the 2024 election. During the Chiefs' conference championship game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Mike Crispi, a pro-Trump podcast host on the right-wing Salem Media Group, posted a rant claiming the NFL had "RIGGED" a Chiefs victory. "All to spread DEMOCRAT PROPAGANDA. Calling it now: KC wins, goes to Super Bowl, Swift comes out at the halftime show and 'endorses' Joe Biden with Kelce at midfield. It's all been an op since day one," Crispi wrote on X. (This will be the Chiefs' [fourth Super Bowl appearance]( in the past five years.) When the Chiefs pulled off a win, speculation went wild, casting Swift's relationship with Kelce as a plot to tip the presidential contest in Biden's favor. "I wonder who's going to win the Super Bowl next month. And I wonder if there's a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall," former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who has pushed debunked conspiracy theories about the [Jan. 6th insurrection](, the [2020 election](, and [9/11](, wrote on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, on Monday. Unfounded claims about Swift's alleged role as a government plant have been swirling for some time. Last month, Fox News host Jesse Watters speculated that Swift might be a Pentagon "psyop" — an asset used for psychological operations. "Is Swift a front for a covert political agenda?" he asked. While noting that he had no evidence, he pointed to Swift's endorsement of Biden in 2020 and her recent encouragement that fans [register to vote](, which led to a surge in registrations. The Pentagon [rejected Watters' claim]( But the collision of the Super Bowl and a contentious presidential race have propelled the right-wing backlash to new heights. A [_New York Times_ report]( this week that Biden's campaign is hoping Swift will endorse him again this year added further fuel to the fire. Influential right-wing figures including Jack Posobiec, who pushed the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and radio host Charlie Kirk have weighed in. Conservative cable outlets have dedicated multiple segments to Swift, with Fox News's Jeanine Pirro urging her, "Don't get involved in politics. We don't wanna see you there." ### Monetizing attention The strategy of attacking a pop icon, as well as a cultural institution like the NFL, might seem counterproductive, given that both [Swift]( and [football]( are very popular across the political spectrum. However, the business of many figures in the very online Trump-supporting world is capture and monetize attention, said Joan Donovan, assistant professor of journalism and emerging media studies at Boston University who studies online discourse. "It's a play for engagement. If you look at interest in Taylor Swift and the crossover with the NFL, you want to be part of those conversations online," Donovan said. Mentions of Swift on fringe, right-wing internet sites like Trump's Truth Social, have spiked in the last week, according to data from Pyrra Technologies, which tracks smaller platforms. It's not the first time Swift has been the target of conspiracy theories and right-wing ire. For years, the singer avoided politics entirely, but her background in country music fueled speculation, without evidence, that she might be a Republican and a Trump supporter. In 2016, [Vice reported]( on white supremacists who claimed Swift as an ["Aryan Goddess."]( Swift broke her political silence in 2018, endorsing a Democratic opponent to Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, whom [Swift called "Trump in a wig,"]( in her home state of Tennessee. She openly supports LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter, and [condemned Trump]( during the 2020 protests following George Floyd's death. Her [evolution]( from teen ingenue to 30-something, unmarried, [successful businesswoman]( has also been a break with conservative ideals of femininity, Donovan said. "Amongst the right wing, because she is getting older and hasn't had children and whatnot, she's less seen as the traditional 'wifey' material," she said. "In broad terms, Taylor Swift represents older, independent women who do not need male support to have a career, to self-determine where they're going." More recently, her relationship with Kelce, the Chiefs tight end, has added fuel to conservative criticisms. Kelce has also been attacked by conservatives because he's done commercials for [Pfizer vaccines]( and Bud Light. ### Attention begets abuse The attention focused on Swift doesn't just draw conspiracy theories. It also attracts abuse — and specifically, the kind of abuse that is disproportionately targeted at women online. In the last week, AI-generated sexually explicit images of Swift went viral on X and other social media sites, racking up tens of millions of views. The incident has resurfaced the prevalence of [nonconsensual deepfake pornography](, a problem that has plagued not only celebrities, but also regular women and girls, for years. "The point of gendered abuse, the point of casting Taylor Swift in this light where she is not necessarily her own self-actualized person making her own decisions ... and putting her in this sexualized light is to demean her and to undermine her power," said Nina Jankowicz, a researcher and author of the book _How To Be A Woman Online_. "She's just a sexual object, she's just a tool of the Biden administration." Jankowicz herself also been the victim of [conspiracy theories]( and explicit deepfakes. She said she hopes the attention paid to the recent attacks on Swift will also highlight the harms of this kind of abuse on people who do not have the resources of a global superstar.
  • Taylor Swift often encourages her fans to devise fanciful theories about her music, but this week a very different type of wild speculation sprung up around her: political conspiracy theories being peddled by Fox News, Trump surrogates and the extended MAGA universe. The theories range widely, but include [outlandish claims]( that Ms. Swift is secretly working for the United States government and that her relationship with Travis Kelce, a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, is part of a lengthy political scheme. In this theory, her dalliance with Mr. Kelce and the N.F.L. ends with the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl and Ms. Swift announcing her support for President Biden in the forthcoming election. The attacks may be intended to embolden a right wing base, and perhaps change a few minds in other parts of the political universe, but Swifties, predictably, remain indifferent. Several said the attacks have only motivated them to be more politically engaged. “When I see an uptick in hate toward her or, like, conservative men saying she needs to stay in her place, it makes me go ‘wait a minute, you can’t box a woman in,’” said Raven Mosley, a mental health professional and Swift fan from Vancouver, Wash. “It makes me want to be like, ‘Hey, let’s pay attention to what’s going on out here!’” Ms. Mosley, 31, added. “They’re getting mad. They’re getting angry. There’s a reason for that.” Theories about Ms. Swift are prevalent online, but suggestions about what her political motivations are, in terms of her relationship with the N.F.L., were promoted last month by the Fox News political commentator Jesse Watters. Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and [log into]( your Times account, or [subscribe]( for all of The Times. Thank you for your patience while we verify access. Already a subscriber? [Log in]( Want all of The Times? [Subscribe](
  • What kind of idiot falls for a conspiracy theory? Somebody gullible, you might imagine: at best someone vulnerable or mentally unwell, and at worst someone actively malicious. But mostly, to be blunt, not perfectly normal people like you and me. We are too rational, we tell ourselves smugly, to fall for some old guff about lizard people running the world, or Bill Gates wanting to microchip everyone, or the royal family secretly bumping off Diana, Princess of Wales. We go where the evidence takes us, follow the news closely, exercise our own judgment. The bad news for those of us who like to think we’re immune, however, is that, according to the [kind of research]( we probably pride ourselves on reading, intelligent people who consider themselves open-minded and curious enough to work things out for themselves can be surprisingly vulnerable to some strains of conspiracist thinking – at least where these tap into existing fears or prejudices. Which brings us to the festering mess of the Rochdale byelection, and its broader implications for British political parties. Only Azhar Ali really knows why at a [meeting of Labour councillors]( threatening to quit over Gaza he presented himself as a kind of 7 October truther, suggesting the Israeli government had been warned of what Hamas was planning but “deliberately took the security off” and allowed hundreds of its own people to be slaughtered just so they had an excuse to “do whatever they bloody want” in Gaza. Only those in the room at the time, meanwhile, can explain why neither this bizarre outburst nor comments blaming “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for fuelling criticism of the pro-Palestine MP Andy McDonald (who has been suspended from Labour) were seemingly flagged up to party headquarters. But what I’ve learned from several maddening hours of arguing online with otherwise perfectly nice-sounding people who still can’t really see the problem with what Ali said is that a frightening number of people still don’t understand what a conspiracy theory actually is. For a Labour party desperate to rid itself of cranks, in a climate where complaints of antisemitism expressed via conspiracy theories have [almost doubled]( in a year, according to the Community Security Trust, that represents a pressing problem. The chaos of the last few days suggests Starmer certainly has lessons to learn about handling complex cases like Ali’s, where Labour Jewish opinion was initially divided on how to respond amid fears of gifting George Galloway the seat. But even a leadership with its act thoroughly together can’t be everywhere at once, which means any party’s first line of defence is ordinary members challenging dangerous junk when they hear it and thus setting the social norm. But doing that means recognising that the most insidious conspiracy theories don’t revolve around fake moon landings and tinfoil hats. They’re more likely to start from a kernel of fact that makes them sound plausible – in this case reports that the Israeli government fatally [overlooked early warnings]( of something brewing in Gaza, much as the US government in the run-up to 9/11 tragically [overlooked clues]( that Bin Laden was planning something big – before taking a quantum leap into the wild. The hallmark of conspiratorial thinking is a quasi-religious conviction that nothing ever happens by accident, only by grand design, and that only people too naive to know how the world really works could think otherwise. When challenged, believers revert indignantly to that one original fact, before insisting they are entitled loudly to draw whatever conclusions they like from it. Don’t all those horrific images of mutilated Palestinian children suggest the Netanyahu government _might_ be capable of anything? The true conspiracy theorist doesn’t need evidence, just the boundless confidence – or arrogance – to conclude that their judgment is as good as any so-called expert’s now that they’ve done the hard Googling. And in their wake trails a small but vocal crowd of highly ideologically motivated followers arguing that you can’t prove it _didn’t_ happen, so they don’t really see a problem with casually speculating that it _might_ have. Even if that means embracing false flag theories claiming that Jews essentially brought their tragedy upon themselves, which have a very long and dark antisemitic history. Some readers may be frustrated that a row about a Rochdale councillor seemingly consumes more airtime than the deaths of more than [28,000 Palestinians]( to date in this war, or [worldwide alarm]( at the prospect of a full-blown Israeli assault on Rafah. Some activists will meanwhile complain, as they invariably do, that charges of antisemitism are being used to silence legitimate criticism of Israel. But anyone who thinks that being forced to stick to the facts somehow stops them talking about the horrors being livestreamed out of Gaza is nowhere near as good an activist as they fondly imagine themselves to be. The broader battle against conspiracy theories of all kinds seeping into public life matters, meanwhile, because these are not victimless beliefs. Anti-vaxxer nonsense of the kind Ofcom inexplicably let the GB News presenter Neil Oliver [get away with]( has the potential to cost lives in an outbreak. In the US, ridiculous smears about a [political paedophile ring]( operating via a Washington DC pizza parlour ended in a man firing an assault rifle inside the restaurant. The risks of elected politicians amplifying and encouraging this stuff – whether cynically, for their own political gain, or because they actually believe it – couldn’t be more painfully obvious, yet are seemingly no longer much of a deterrent. In Australia, rightwingers have used the Great Reset conspiracy – which holds that a mild-mannered World Economic Forum initiative to build back sustainably post-Covid actually masks a sinister plot to install a socialist world order – to attack their Labor opponents. Donald Trump openly [embraces symbols]( of the far-right QAnon conspiracy movement at his rallies. Even the British transport secretary, Mark Harper, last autumn called [15-minute city strategies]( to keep cars out of congested neighbourhoods a “sinister” development. The advent of AI-generated, [highly realistic “deepfake](” audio and video means that conspiracy theories are likely only to become more slick and convincing, capable of fooling even the most sophisticated. It has never mattered more that those in public life stick religiously to the facts; that anyone active in grassroots politics challenges conspiratorial thinking when they hear it; and that all of us learn to think twice when stumbling across something that looks too juicy not to share. Especially, perhaps, those who consider themselves far too smart to fall for anything so dumb. * Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist * _**Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our [letters]( section, please [click here](mailto:mailto:[email protected]?body=Please%20include%20your%20name,%20full%20postal%20address%20and%20phone%20number%20underneath%20your%20letter.%20Letters%20are%20usually%20published%20with%20the%20author’s%20name%20and%20city/town/village.%20The%20rest%20of%20the%20information%20is%20for%20verification%20only%20and%20to%20contact%20you%20if%20your%20letter%20is%20used.).**_
  • AT&T issued a statement Thursday night to explain that the telecom’s widespread network outage [earlier in the day]( wasn’t caused by a cyberattack. Countless conspiracy theories [emerged online]( Thursday morning as people naturally wondered why they’d lost service. “Based on our initial review, we believe that today’s outage was caused by the application and execution of an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network, not a cyber attack,” AT&T said in a statement published to its website. “We are continuing our assessment of today’s outage to ensure we keep delivering the service that our customers deserve,” the statement concluded without going into more detail. Social media was swamped with wild ideas on Thursday about what may have been behind the outage, including an attack by a geopolitical adversary of the U.S. [like China or Russia]( Alex Jones, America’s most well-known professional conspiracy theorist, insisted during his show on Thursday that there was an 80% chance it was China, and a smaller chance it was the “globalists themselves,” who might be carrying out a “false flag” attack. The Netflix movie _Leave the World Behind_, became a popular point of reference on social media sites like X, given the fact that it depicts an attack by an unknown entity that wipes out all communications. Conspiracy theorists and regular social media users alike shared images from the movie, which stars Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, and Mahershala Ali, worried that something nefarious might be happening. The outage was initially thought to include many more carriers than AT&T, but reports to Down Detector for other phone providers were likely a result of users simply being connected to AT&T’s network despite paying another carrier for service. AT&T’s network appeared to be [fully restored]( by mid-afternoon Eastern time. [_This article originally appeared on Gizmodo_](
  • Rishi Sunak attended a protest alongside a group which has posted conspiracy theories about climate change, and which campaigns against net zero, the _Observer_ can reveal. The prime minister has been accused of “pandering to extremists” by farmers and wildlife groups, who have asked him to “listen to reason and logic” rather than conspiracy theories. Sunak has been making a concerted effort to improve his party’s standing in rural areas after polling showed the majority of countryside seats are likely to be lost to Labour and the Liberal Democrats at the next general election. Last week, he [gave the keynote address]( at the National Farmers’ Union conference where he told farmers “I have your back.” On Friday, he attended a farmers’ protest against the Welsh Labour government, which has brought in a new payments scheme in which farmers will have to prove 10% of their land is woodland and 10% of it is quality habitat for wildlife. He appeared alongside farmer Gareth Wyn Jones and stood next to placards emblazoned with the logo for the campaign “No Farmers No Food”. Wyn Jones is a leading supporter of the campaign, which was started and is being run by James Melville, a [GB News]( pundit and communications consultant. Sunak joined in the protest, along with Andrew RT Davies the Welsh [Conservatives]( leader, telling those assembled with their tractors that they had been “treated as Labour’s laboratory”. Speaking to Wyn Jones, he said the new subsidies scheme was “absolutely not right, the impact it will have on your jobs, your livelihoods, your incomes and food production around the country. It’s simply wrong.” The No Farmers No Food campaign is anti net-zero and has shared conspiracy theories about climate change action, while Melville has questioned the effects of climate breakdown as well as sharing conspiracy theories about net zero. Its manifesto accuses the UK government of having an “obsession with net zero” and calls for it to end climate measures. The Twitter/X account for the group shared a conspiracy theory that the World Economic Forum (WEF) is going to force people to eat bugs to reach net zero, retweeting a post from former LBC host Maajid Nawaz that said: “Farmers stand between us and WEF’s desire for us to EAT BUGS, own nothing and be happy.” Melville also shared a post with the conspiracist claim which stated: “Between Bill Gates, the CCP & the WEF, we’re going to have no private farmland left. They want you eating bugs.” Melville has also shared fake news that local councils are forcing people into “climate lockdowns” and added: “Endless project fear. Very similar vibes on climate/net zero given off by the same people who pushed for lockdowns. And similar vilification issued against anyone who dares to question the narrative.” Craig Bennett, CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, said the prime minister’s appearance at the protest was “deeply worrying”, adding: “Rather than pandering to extremists who don’t know what they’re talking about, Sunak should be talking to the farmers who are doing their utmost to alleviate biodiversity loss and the impacts of climate change. It would be nice if the prime minister paid a bit more attention to science, reason and logic.” Arable farmer Martin Lines, CEO of the Nature Friendly [Farming]( Network added: “We are already seeing significant impacts to our businesses and food production because of climate change and all the science says it is going to get significantly worse if we don’t reduce emissions. I find it very disappointing that the prime minister has gone to a protest for a group where one of their key asks is no to net zero measures.” A government spokesperson did not address the claims, but said: “We are on the side of farmers and – just this week – we announced a major new package of support for rural communities to protect British farming for the next generation. “This includes the largest ever grant offer for farmers in the coming financial year, expected to total £427m, including an unprecedented package of funding for technology and productivity schemes.” Melville told the _Observer_: “These are individual views and not to do with the campaign which includes a lot of different credible people. The farming campaign is not a slavish obsession with net zero, far from it. It is to point out a number of key issues.” On the opinions about climate lockdowns and the WEF forcing people to eat bugs, he said: “Every individual has a number of different viewpoints that they can openly express without being accused of being a conspiracy theorist.” He added that these climate views are not related to the farming campaign but are personal views. Gareth Wyn Jones has been contacted for comment.
  • Far-right Republican congresswoman, Trump ally and potential vice-presidential pick Marjorie Taylor Greene told a British interviewer to “[Fuck off](”, when asked about her frequent repetition of conspiracy theories. Emily Maitlis, formerly a senior journalist at the BBC and now a presenter of the News Agents podcast, spoke to Greene at Donald Trump’s Super Tuesday celebration [at Mar-a-Lago]( in Florida, as the former president closed in on the Republican nomination. “Could you tell me why so many people that support Donald Trump love conspiracy theories, including yourself?” Maitlis asked. Greene said: “Well, let me tell you, you’re a conspiracy theorist and the left and the media spreads more conspiracy theories. We like the truth. We like supporting our constitution, our freedoms and America first.” Raising a famous instance of the congresswoman’s eager conspiracy theorising, concerning what she thought was to blame for starting forest fires, Maitlis said: “What about [Jewish space lasers]( Tell us about Jewish space lasers.” “No,” Greene said. “Why don’t you go talk about Jewish space lasers and really, why don’t you fuck off? How about that?” “Thank you very much,” Maitlis said, as Greene walked away. Greene might have been advised to expect tricky questions. A highly experienced interviewer, in 2019 Maitlis [memorably]( confronted Prince Andrew about his links with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a royal disaster [so complete]( it has now been dramatised, Gillian Anderson [starring]( as Maitlis. Greene’s brief exchange with Maitlis started more civilly than it ended. Maitlis asked what message Greene thought Republican voters were sending to Nikki Haley, the last challenger to Trump for the presidential nomination who suffered a near-Super Tuesday wipeout. “Well, we’ve been encouraging her to drop out and support President Trump,” Greene said. “And I think tonight is the clear message that that President Trump is the clear frontrunner. He’s the winner in our Republican primary and it’s time for Nikki Haley to drop out and support him.” [skip past newsletter promotion]( Sign up to First Thing Our US morning briefing breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you what’s happening and why it matters **Privacy Notice:** Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our [Privacy Policy]( We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google [Privacy Policy]( and [Terms of Service]( apply. after newsletter promotion Asked if she was on Trump’s list of potential vice-presidential picks – as she previously [told the Guardian]( she was – Greene said: “That’s the question everyone asked and no, I don’t think Nikki Haley should be on the list. But of course, President Trump will choose who he wants for VP. “He’s got a long list. I serve President Trump in any way he’d ask me, but I can assure you it won’t be Nikki Haley.” Maitlis then asked about Trump, Greene and conspiracy theories. Things went downhill from there.
  • Mar 8, 2024 9:00 AM Earlier this week, after Instagram, Facebook, and Threads went down, _Leave the World Behind_ took off on social media. The trend’s bizarre origins have something in common with Alex Garland’s new movie _Civil War_. ![Two people crouched next to a police car with debris fire and smoke in the background]( Still from _Civil War_.Courtesy of Murray Close/A24 Several people are typing, and they’re all saying [Netflix](’s [_Leave the World Behind_]( is wildly prescient. The movie, directed by [Sam Esmail](, opens on a world where communication has been knocked out following a cyberattack. And earlier this week, when nearly all of [Meta](’s platforms—Facebook, Instagram, Threads—[went down](, people took to (other) social media platforms to post and hand-wring about the apocalypse. Most of the posts, per usual, were jokes: wry observations to help soothe the agita that comes with being alive when everything feels unstable. “Another dry run for _Leave the World Behind_,” [wrote one X user]( “I fear we are moving close to a _Leave the World Behind_ scenario,” [wrote another]( “These tech glitches are increasingly \[sic\] with regularity.” But there was also a more conspiratorial undercurrent. For those who don’t know, _Leave the World Behind_ was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama through their company Higher Ground Productions. Ever since the movie’s release, a conspiracy theory has persisted online that the film is somehow a warning about the widespread disorder to come. This same thread emerged late last month when an [AT&T network outage]( wreaked havoc on US cellular networks. “The predictive programming of the Obama’s \[sic\] movie, _Leave the World Behind_, is becoming a little too real right now,” one user [wrote on X]( “I wouldn’t put it past our own federal government to institute a terrorist or cyber attack, just to blame it on foreign countries like China and Russia.” Odds are that nothing of the sort happened. _Leave the World Behind_ is based on a [2020 book by Rumaan Alam]( and, according to the film’s director Sam Esmail, the former US president came on as a production partner only after the script was pretty much done. “I would just say \[the conspiracy theorists\] are pretty wrong in terms of his signaling,” [he told Collider]( “It had nothing to do with that.” Not that facts have ever gotten in the way of an online conspiracy before. Case in point, this week’s big trailer drop: _Civil War._ When the first trailer for Alex Garland’s next film dropped in December, online right-wing pundits [speculated]( that it was also [predictive programming](, something meant to prepare the populace for events already planned by those in power. When the new trailer dropped this week, people on Reddit and elsewhere seemed to be fretting that the film will become, [as _The Hollywood Reporter_ put it](, “MAGA fantasy fuel.” Ultimately, reactions like these to _Leave the World Behind_ and _Civil War_ merely serve as proof that they’re effective as works of fiction. They’re not part of some psyop to placate the public—they’re reactions to a political era that is fraught at best. Comfort is not a prerequisite for good filmmaking; movies are supposed to be unsettling sometimes. Concerns about a movie being _too real_ are just signs that the filmmakers have tapped in to the collective psyche. Rather than think that Esmail or Garland—or Obama, for that matter—are trying to send some warning, perhaps consider the circumstances for why you’re worried that they might. > _The Monitor is a_ [_weekly column_]( _devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter._ For years, a conspiracy theory has persisted that Stanley Kubrick, the director of _2001: A Space Odyssey_, worked with NASA to fake the moon landing. While decidedly [not true](, people have hung on to the idea for decades. Just last year, [Reuters had to debunk]( a bunch of AI-generated images that “proved” it was real. Often I’ve wondered whether people latch on to this one in particular during times of unrest—but that’s likely just a coincidence, the very thing that people overlook when espousing these theories. While writing this, I went looking for reasons why the Kubrick theory has stuck around for so long. In my search, I [found a quote]( from Jack Singal, a physics professor at the University of Richmond, noting that the moon-landing conspiracy is an “atypical” one; such theories often pop up to explain tragedies like the 9/11 terror attacks or the JFK assassination, he said, not “for all mankind” events like the moon landing. Singal gave those comments in 2019. Nearly five years later, the breadth of conspiracy theories seems far wider. On one end, there are people who think the 2020 US election of Joe Biden wasn’t legitimate. On the other, there are people who think Taylor Swift is dating an NFL football star in an attempt to get President Biden reelected. Somewhere toward the Swift end of that spectrum are people who think _Civil War_ is a cautionary tale for events that have not happened. Perhaps it’s easier to be paranoid than introspective. Maybe that’s why we worry about social media crashes in the first place.
  • Aaron Rodgers has denied he believes the murder of 20 children in the Sandy Hook school shooting was an inside job by the US government. The New York Jets quarterback has been under increased scrutiny this week after the New York Times reported [he is a potential running mate]( for Robert F Kennedy Jr’s independent presidential campaign. On Wednesday night, [CNN ran a report]( in which one of its journalists said Rodgers told her in 2013 that he believed the Sandy Hook tragedy was staged. CNN quotes another person who said that Rodgers said the 2012 shooting “never happened … All those children never existed. They were all actors.” The person alleges the quarterback said the parents of the murdered children were “all making it up. They’re all actors.” Conspiracy theories around the shooting have circulated for years and have been disproven. Parents of the victims [have suffered harassment]( by people who do not believe the murders took place. On Thursday, Rodgers issued a statement outlining his beliefs on the shooting. “As I’m on the record saying in the past, what happened in Sandy Hook was an absolute tragedy,” he wrote on X. “I am not and have never been of the opinion that the events did not take place. Again, I hope that we learn from this and other tragedies to identify the signs that will allow us to prevent unnecessary loss of life. My thoughts and prayers continue to remain with the families affected along with the entire Sandy Hook community.” > As I’m on the record saying in the past, what happened in Sandy Hook was an absolute tragedy. I am not and have never been of the opinion that the events did not take place. Again, I hope that we learn from this and other tragedies to identify the signs that will allow us to… > > — Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) [March 14, 2024]( Rodgers is known for [promoting widely disproved fringe theories]( around subjects such as Covid-19, immigration, vaccines, the September 11 attacks and masking. The 40-year-old has spoken of his admiration for Kennedy, and last week called him “presidential”. Kennedy says he will announce his running mate on 26 March. In a podcast last month, Rodgers said he does not support Joe Biden or Donald Trump for president. “Trump got four years. I don’t know how much this swamp got drained,” [he said]( on Look Into It With Eddie Bravo. “It seemed like there are certain members of the establishment who stayed in power or got to power. Biden. I mean, he’s a puppet. I don’t know who’s actually running the country, whether it’s somebody else, but he can barely put his sentences together.” Rodgers has yet to comment on whether he would be interested in being Kennedy’s vice-presidential candidate. He is guaranteed $38m in salary next season from the Jets, who would presumably object to him campaigning during the [NFL]( season, which starts in September. In his prime, Rodgers was one of the most talented players in the NFL but he tore an achilles tendon in his Jets debut last year and missed the rest of the season.
  • ![Image for article titled Kate Middleton has been out of sight and the internet has some crazy theories](,q_60,w_645/84c3f33dd0739c2e3c7c22b0e9b9252c.jpg) The Kate Middleton saga has been a boon for tabloids and cat nip for internet conspiracy theorists. Since Middleton [had abdominal surgery]( in January and then failed to show up at a number of annual and/or scheduled events, the internet has been flooded with theories about what might have happened to her. Then came [the doctored photos](, making things even worse. Despite myriad claims from the royal palace that Kate is alive and well, public speculation persists. I will admit that it seems weird that the royals have not done a better job of addressing public concerns about Middleton’s whereabouts. Would it really be that hard to put out a quick video of Kate giving a direct address and saying, ‘Hey, uh, yeah, I’m good—no worries everyone’? Of course, if she did that, there would be plenty of theories about the video being a deepfake. Let’s face it: in the modern era, reality has ceased to exist and all that remains is the endlessly speculative nature of digital infotainment. Nobody really cares if Middleton is alive or dead, they just want to laugh, joke, and post about it. With that in mind, here are some of the internet’s best guesses as to what’s been happening with Middleton. [_A version of this article originally appeared on Gizmodo_]( The most prevalent conspiracy theory about the princess’s disappearance from public life is that she is dead. Conspiracy theorists have speculated that Middleton’s abdominal surgery went horribly wrong and that she did not survive. It’s not obvious to me how that makes any sense. If the princess died, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to just tell the public? Why pretend like she’s still alive? The same logic involved here seems to animate [the classic Beatles “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory]( Another theory related to the botched surgery scenario suggests that Kate may not be dead but is actually in a coma. This theory actually makes slightly more sense than the “dead” theory, since the royal family would actually have some incentive to pretend like things are fine in the hopes that an unconscious Kate might soon wake up. An alternate theory suggests that Middleton never actual had abdominal surgery and that the procedure she actually underwent was plastic surgery—likely involving her face. This theory would appear to have two primary variants: 1) the surgery went fine but it will take a little time for her to recover from it and 2) the surgery went horribly awry and now Middleton has to hide from public life until the royals can figure out how to fix the surgery. Can’t a royal princess just enjoy a day off? Some online speculators have claimed that Middleton is just taking some time for herself. This theory would make sense, if not for the fact that the entire internet/Western world is currently freaking out about her whereabouts. I would presume that the royals would obligate her to make an appearance, at that point. One popular theory is that Middleton has a body double, whom the royal family has deployed during her weird absence over the past few weeks. It doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that rich and famous people have body doubles. That said, it’s not clear why Middleton would need to deploy one right now. In an apparent recent effort to soothe public concerns over the princess, Prince William and someone CLAIMING to be Kate Middleton went on a public outing to a pet shop, where the duo were caught on video. Yes, William was seen walking with, uh...someone, at the shop. Internet geniuses quickly began scrutinizing the video and claimed that the woman with William was not actually the princess. I’m not sure how this fits in with the rest of the theories, but some online conspiracy nuts have speculated that King Charles is actually the one who recently died. I’m not sure why that would require Middleton to disappear from public life while Charles’s own son stays in the limelight, but there you have it. Charles [is really old]( and also has cancer, so it would make more sense that he is dead rather than Middleton. But he’s not dead. I don’t think. One of the less whacky theories that has circulated is that Middleton is actually getting a divorce from William and has taken leave from the royal family. So this theory goes, the royals are trying to pretend like everything’s okay and thus are deploying the body doubles/actresses/fake photos, etc., to create a Kate mirage to dispel any suspicions about her absence. This theory follows on the heels of a rumor that Prince William [cheated on Middleton with the Marchioness of Cholmondeley]( I don’t know who that is and I don’t care. One of the more popular (and silly) conspiracy theories is that Kate got a BBL—a Brazilian butt lift. You could dub this a subvariant of the plastic surgery theory. Internet trolls have been having a lot of fun joking about this one. This theory gained so much traction that reps close to the royal family [had to clarify]( that Middleton had not gotten the procedure. It seems like every rich and famous person is currently using the magic weight loss drug Ozempic. Even though it seems destined to spur lots of negative health impacts and it gave one woman [endless diarrhea](, the world’s most monied just can’t get enough of the stuff. Some have suggested that Middleton recently went on Ozempic and subsequently suffered a bowel-related “injury.” We may earn a commission from links on this page.
  • ![An image being shared on social media trying to connect Barack Obama with the bridge collapse in Baltimore on March 26 because the former president executive produced an apocalyptic thriller movie at Netflix where a ship crashed into a beach. ](,q_60,w_645/873c3af8e61bc0d4d37b6988183bee8c.jpg) When [the Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed]( in the early morning hours of Tuesday, there was almost immediately chatter on social media about potential conspiracy theories. In reality, the bridge collapsed because a container ship lost power and [crashed into a column](, causing it to tumble into the river below. But many of the internet’s dumbest minds think they’ve found the “real” reason. The ridiculous ideas that have circulated since the bridge collapse have become so routine at this point that you can pretty much guarantee they’ll happen after every news event. Did you spot a touched-up family photo [of a princess]( She must be an AI-generated clone. Your favorite team didn’t win the Super Bowl? It must be a “[CIA psyop](” What really happened to cause the bridge collapse on Tuesday, according to the loudest voices on social media? We’ve compiled a list with some of the dumbest theories, including everything from the idea that explosive charges were scattered across the bridge to the theory that Ukraine was somehow responsible for the collapse. There’s also the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was behind it. Why on Earth would people believe such a thing? Because Obama was a producer on the 2023 Netflix movie [_Leave the World Behind_](, which has a scene where a giant ship crashes into a beach. Incredibly, this is the first time conspiracy theorists have pointed the finger at Obama over his association with the apocalyptic thriller. People were saying the same thing when AT&T had a nationwide outage [about a month ago]( [_A version of this article originally appeared on Gizmodo_]( ![Image for article titled The internet has some pretty dumb conspiracy theories about the Baltimore bridge collapse](,q_60,w_645/ea3fcfe89b29400f1dad46b5ce27ca57.jpg) There’s a certain breed of conspiracy theorist online who tries to turn literally anything that’s happening in the news into their own pet cause. So it makes sense that some people who are obsessed with the war in Ukraine, and Russia’s invasion of the country in 2022, would see Ukraine in this latest bridge collapse. The website ZeroHedge shared a screenshot that purports to show the captain of the Dali, the Singapore-flagged ship that caused the bridge collapse, was a man from Ukraine. ZeroHedge spread the idea in a [blog post on Tuesda]( and Russian-linked accounts on X have [run with the claim]( as well. But as the BBC’s Shayan Sardarizadeh reports, the ship had a crew of 22 people, and all of them were from India. The Dali apparently had a Ukrainian captain for about five months in 2016, but that’s not the case anymore. It’s not clear whether the image that’s circulating purporting to show a Ukrainian captain is doctored, and unfortunately, the Wayback Machine doesn’t have a proper archive of that page. Whatever the case, that’s not what the page looks like [right now]( and no one has produced any evidence Ukraine was involved in any way with the collapse. We’ve all seen the video from a YouTube livestream that captured the moment that container ship hit the Key Bridge. But have you seen the “alternate angle”? The video above has been shared widely, claiming to reveal a newly discovered camera angle that shows the truth of explosions on the bridge. The idea seems to have first been spread by an account called Cackenbools but it’s since [been deleted]( However, plenty of other accounts are still spreading the fake information. In reality, the video is from 2022 and shows the Crimea Bridge over the Kerch Strait. We know this because plenty of [news outlets]( at the time covered it at the time and 2022 isn’t exactly ancient history. But that hasn’t stopped incredibly stupid people from sharing this video as something captured from the Key Bridge in Maryland. ![Image for article titled The internet has some pretty dumb conspiracy theories about the Baltimore bridge collapse](,q_60,w_645/c1f65e964af968d0e1dde2b756d97b03.jpg) Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the completely unhinged congresswoman from Georgia, [tweeted]( about the bridge collapse on Tuesday, demanding a “serious investigation.” Greene included a video from a conspiracy theory account called MJTruthUltra, which insists the ship was “[hacked](” While we don’t yet know what caused the power outage on the ship, there’s absolutely no evidence that the ship was hacked, whatever that’s supposed to mean exactly. “Is this an intentional attack or an accident?” Greene tweeted on Tuesday, apparently taking time away from her completely normal theories on [Jewish space lasers]( ![Image for article titled The internet has some pretty dumb conspiracy theories about the Baltimore bridge collapse](,q_60,w_645/c27dc4bcc0614f7492a298d40b298205.jpg) One X account, controlled by someone named Jimmy Corsetti, was really reaching with his theory. The ship that crashed into the bridge was leaving Baltimore with a final destination in Sri Lanka. And, as Corsetti points out the Sri Lanka flag features a lion. But then Corsetti really goes into nutcase conspiracy theory land, pointing out that the ship in _Leave the World Behind_ is called the White Lion_. Never mind_ the fact that Sri Lanka’s flag features a golden lion. Yes, conspiracy theorists continue to insist the bad event of the day was too similar to a Hollywood movie for comfort. But, no, there’s no evidence Obama had anything to do with the collapse of the Key Bridge. And you’re reaching if you try to connect the flag of a random country with a movie. ![Image for article titled The internet has some pretty dumb conspiracy theories about the Baltimore bridge collapse](,q_60,w_645/e69a5138e670ea1168bed88348305a05.jpg) There were a surprisingly large number of different variations on the Obama conspiracy theory, including some new photoshopped images like the one above. “In 2023, the Obamas produced a movie called Leave the World Behind, where a cyberattack causes a massive container ship to lose power & crash,” conspiracy theorist Matt Wallace [wrote]( on Tuesday. “Months later a massive container ship loses power & crashes into Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, CAUSING A DEADLY COLLAPSE.” The question becomes why would the puppetmasters who pull the strings would telegraph their plan with a sci-fi movie before executing their dastardly deeds. The answer, according to the conspiracy theorists, is that they get a sick thrill out of “predictive programming,” or showing exactly what they’re going to do before they do it. Cool theory. The idea that explosive charges were affixed to the bridge surfaced almost immediately since it looked like some flashes of fire happened as the bridge collapsed. But as the Community Note above points out these were almost certainly caused by the kinds of flashes that you’ll see when electric cables snap. There’s no evidence that any kind of explosives were present on the bridge. ![Image for article titled The internet has some pretty dumb conspiracy theories about the Baltimore bridge collapse](,q_60,w_645/52667831b036cc4557b79d858e98cb2f.jpg) Incredibly, there were plenty of people who thought the bridge collapsed because of racial diversity and inclusion initiatives at U.S. companies, sometimes referred to as DEI. How is that supposed to work? Your guess is as good as ours. But it seems like you can blame pretty much anything on DEI these days. “Did anti-white business practices cause this disaster?” one particularly dumb X user wrote on Tuesday. Racists also called Baltimore’s mayor the “DEI mayor,” in [tweets on Tuesday](http://%20https:/, continuing their long-practiced tradition of insisting anyone who is Black only got their job through diversity initiatives. Other far-right figures insisted America [can’t even build]( bridges anymore. The Francis Scott Key bridge that collapsed in Baltimore was first opened in 1977, to be clear. If you think there were structural issues with the bridge—and there’s no evidence that there was—take it up with the 1970s.
  • [David Gilbert]( [Makena Kelly]( Mar 26, 2024 9:30 AM A combination of gamified social platforms, distrust in media and government, unprecedented conspiratorial thinking, and even a bot influence campaign led us to this point. ![Collage of an image of Kate Middleton repeating in multiple spirals]( Photo-illustration: Jacqui VanLiew; Getty Images The past few weeks have been a fever dream for the online conspiracy world. Wild claims about [Kate Middleton](, the Princess of Wales, went from fringe corners of the internet to mainstream social media platforms, and people who don’t usually dabble in conspiracies found themselves leading the charge. Basically, the [whole world fell down the rabbit hole]( WIRED talked to researchers, TikTok creators, and experts on conspiracies about what exactly happened, and how so many people so willingly threw themselves into the story. It was the perfect storm: A combination of gamified social platforms, distrust in media and government, unprecedented levels of conspiratorial thinking, and even a bot influence campaign on social media all played a part. Even now, following [Middleton’s announcement that she has been diagnosed with cancer](, the conspiracies have continued. Until Friday, Middleton was last seen in public on Christmas Day. Kensington Palace later announced that she was undergoing an abdominal surgery and said Middleton was in the hospital for two weeks before returning home to recover. Conspiracies surrounding Middleton’s whereabouts had been bubbling online since early January, but they became mainstream after the palace issued [a doctored photo that]( was retracted by AP, Reuters, and other agencies. “They were dishonest, and then they put out at least one doctored photo. So of course, at that point, they're gonna lose all credibility,” Melissa Ryan, a disinformation researcher, tells WIRED. It seemed like the whole internet quickly became obsessed with figuring out what happened. On social media platforms, videos discussing this issue exploded. TikTok investigators and content creators, along with their huge fanbases, obsessed over dimples on grainy photographs, images of hands, and AI-enhanced pictures. Creators who don’t typically post about royals jumped on the bandwagon because of the level of engagement this topic was receiving. These conspiracies were also able to thrive because of the unwillingness of the royal family to speak openly about what was happening, creating a void which was quickly filled by everyone from TikTok creators to blue check grifters on X and died-in-the-wool conspiracists on Telegram. “The topic is an ideal mainstream conspiracy theory: It's low stakes, easy to obsess over, and endlessly iterative,” Caro Claire Burke, a journalist and TikTok creator based in Virginia, tells WIRED. “There's no easier build-your-own-adventure story than the one that can be built around a woman who is simultaneously famous and unknown. She's a perfect lightning rod for this kind of obsession.” Burke, who is a producer with Katie Couric Media, recently switched from posting about [tradwives]( to Kate Middleton; she’s seen huge engagement on these posts, including several videos which racked up more than 2.5 million views each, and one which has been viewed more than 6 million times—much more than any of her previous videos. While the volume of conspiracy content around Middleton has dramatically decreased since her statement was released on Friday, it has far from disappeared entirely. On Telegram channels and X over the weekend, conspiracies claiming that Middleton’s video statement was AI-generated spread quickly, while others claimed that her cancer was caused by the Covid vaccine which she was photographed getting in 2021. But influencers looking for likes and clicks made up just one aspect of this perfect conspiracy storm. WIRED found that Middleton conspiracies were being amplified by networks of bot accounts on X, with one comment posted by thousands of accounts. The comment referred to a conspiracy about a video published in _The Sun_ of Prince William and Middleton walking at a farm shop. “Why do these big media channels want to make us believe these are Kate and William?” read the posts. Joe Ondrak, regional investigations lead with Logically, a company that uses AI to track conspiracies and disinformation online, also discovered the same comment being shared on other social media platforms, as well as message boards and much darker conspiracy corners of the internet. Ondrak has not been able to identify who was behind the campaign, but said it could be a “bot farm for hire,” which is a company [that sells services to push whatever disinformation narrative you desire]( on social media platforms. While most of the X accounts spreading this message are based in the UK, the ones with the highest reach are based in India. The campaign, Ondrak believes, could have been undergone, in part, to “undermine trust in mainstream media sources.” In the US, [trust in mainstream media]( and government is at all time lows, meaning that these kinds of comments or explanations can be eagerly accepted and shared. A Gallup poll published last year found that [39 percent of Americans had no confidence at all](,trust%20and%20none%20at%20all.) in the mainstream media, a record high. Months earlier, a survey published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that [49 percent of Americans agree with four or more conspiracy statements]( related to topics like antisemitism, vaccines, climate change, and white supremacy. That figure dramatically increases to 69 percent among US teens. “Conspiracy frameworks and the conspiracy mindset are more readily present in the cultural mindset now than it was pre-2020,” Ondrak says. “The way in which Covid \[conspiracies\] led to the Great Reset and led to everyone knowing someone in their family who has referenced it or shared things on Facebook—it's now just much more present.” The British royal family is a topic that has been at the center of the conspiracy universe for decades, from [wild claims that they are lizard people]( to [QAnon’s claims about Princess Diana still being alive]( The palace is also a subject of intense scrutiny from the media across the globe, meaning that audiences have been primed for years to engage with this story. “There is no weirder Twitter than people who either love or hate the royal family, and the battle that plays out online every day,” says Ryan. “I follow it just because I've written about Meghan Markle and the hate targeting her so much. So there was already an audience sort of primed for this content.” Now, experts who track how people are radicalized into more troubling conspiracies by seemingly benign ones worry that some of those who were captivated by the Middleton speculation in recent weeks could now find themselves obsessed with other conspiracy communities. “I see a lot are having fun with it, but as with many conspiracy theories there's an extremity scale here,” says Brent Lee, a former conspiracist who now [works to help people escape the rabbit hole]( “This sliding scale always runs the risk of losing people to the extremities of the rabbit hole. It depends how far people are willing to go.” Ondrak believes that the lack of trust in institutions and government means more and more people are susceptible to this type of thinking. “We've seen in the past the true crime community getting far too into things that lead to Satanic Panic, and then true crime becomes QAnon.” says Ondrak. “There is always the risk that one or two people might accidentally find themselves on an on-ramp and not be able to get off.” Still, it may not necessarily lead to anything. Since Middleton’s cancer announcement, backlash against Burke and creators has been swift. “I genuinely did not think that people would turn this story into what they turned it into, which was that a young woman, a young mother of three, had been bullied into revealing a medical diagnosis and we should all be ashamed,” Burke [said on a podcast]( on Sunday. “On Instagram in particular, and TikTok, I received a sudden rushing wave of profound vitriol.” Other creators believe some, however, deserve the blame. “I do think there are a handful of creators who took advantage of the hype, spread horrible theories, and made bold claims without any fact to back it up,” says a TikTok creator known as Alyssa R from Illinois. Alyssa R has 115,000 followers, and her videos on Middleton amassed hundreds of thousands of views. “Those creators absolutely should feel ashamed for partaking in spreading misinformation and potentially putting pressure on the Princess to reveal her diagnosis.” Ashamed or not, these creators could have inadvertently sent some of their new followers down a conspiracy rabbit hole that could be difficult to escape from. Lee says that for those teetering on the edge of looking into more extreme conspiracies, it’s important to ask basic questions: How likely is this to be true? How many people would have to be involved to pull off this conspiracy? How many people would have to be involved in covering up this conspiracy? And have I jumped to conclusions because there is a gap in my knowledge? “It's so easy to get caught up in the hype of the rumor mill,” Lee says. “It's nothing strange or new. It's what we do. I believe the genesis of almost every conspiracy theory is gossip. My advice to anyone, be they prone to conspiracy theories or not, is to stop and think for a minute. Occam's razor is your friend. Ask yourself these questions and see if you can find easy logical answers without making assumptions.”
  • A voting technology company targeted by bogus fraud claims related to the 2020 presidential election has settled a defamation lawsuit against a conservative news outlet WASHINGTON -- A voting technology company targeted by bogus fraud claims related to the 2020 presidential [election]( settled a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against a conservative news outlet. The settlement between Florida-based Smartmatic and One America News Network is the latest development in a larger legal pushback by voting equipment companies that became ensnared in wild conspiracy theories falsely claiming they had flipped votes and cost former President Donald Trump reelection. In a statement, the company said it had "resolved its litigation with OANN through a confidential settlement.” The dismissal of its lawsuit was filed in federal court in the District of Columbia. Chip Babcock, a Houston-based attorney representing the news outlet, confirmed the case had been resolved but said he was unable to disclose any of the settlement terms. Smartmatic was an odd target for the conspiracy theorists because use of its voting technology and software was so limited. It was used only in Los Angeles County, a Democratic stronghold in a state that was not a presidential battleground and where Trump did not contest his loss. But the company has for years also provided voting services in Venezuela, and that created a springboard for phony claims that a foreign company was involved in a vast conspiracy to flip the election from Trump to Democrat [Joe Biden]( Smartmatic also has active lawsuits against Fox News and the conservative outlet Newsmax over similar complaints. Fox has said it had a First Amendment right to air claims about an election that were being promoted by prominent figures. Last year, on the eve of a trial, Fox News agreed to pay $787 million to settle a defamation lawsuit filed by a much larger voting technology company, Dominion Voting Systems, which claimed the network and its hosts spread false claims that its equipment helped rig the election against Trump. Dominion has other defamation lawsuits that remain active, including one against One America News Network. The conspiracy theories relating to voting equipment and software are among the lies about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election won by Biden. Numerous reviews, audits and recounts in the presidential swing states where Trump contested his loss have affirmed Biden's victory, and there has been no evidence of widespread fraud. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is facing federal and state charges related to his attempts to overturn the results.
  • ![]( ![]( Jim Hoft, owner of the Gateway Pundit, at the White House in 2019. The website has been hit with defamation lawsuits related to 2020 election fraud conspiracy theories it is accused of spreading. Evan Vucci/AP The Gateway Pundit, an influential website that regularly peddles falsehoods and conspiracy theories, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as it faces multiple defamation suits. In a [statement]( on The Gateway Pundit website, Jim Hoft, the outlet's owner, blamed the "progressive liberal lawfare attacks against our media outlet" and admitted no wrongdoing. The company did not respond to emails from NPR seeking more information. The website, founded by brothers Jim and Joe Hoft, is facing a lawsuit from Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and [Wandrea "Shaye" Moss]( over false claims about election fraud in the 2020 U.S. presidential election that resulted in their [harassment]( Protect Democracy, the nonprofit representing Freeman and Moss, declined to comment on the bankruptcy announcement. The Gateway Pundit also settled a lawsuit from a former official at voting technology company Dominion Voting Systems, which was targeted by election fraud conspiracy theories in 2020. In the statement, Hoft said the bankruptcy is a way to consolidate lawsuits against the outlet. But Chapter 11 [bankruptcies]( are meant to help small businesses restructure, said Mark Bankston, an attorney at law firm Farrar & Ball who represented parents of slain Sandy Hook school students in a defamation suit against conspiracy theorist [Alex Jones]( and his outlet Infowars. "It's not actually meant to be used as a tool of what they seem to be using it for," Bankston said. "This process is being used by defendants who are facing libel lawsuits. And in particular, it tends to be right-wing, extremist publications or individuals." The Gateway Pundit's parent company's [bankruptcy filing]( shows that the company has between $100,001 and $500,000 in liabilities and between $500,001 and $1 million in assets. Jones also filed for Chapter 11 [bankruptcy]( after Sandy Hook families were awarded more than $1 billion in damages against him in 2022. Because of the drawn-out proceedings of the bankruptcy, the families are [still waiting]( for compensation. The election workers who sued The Gateway Pundit also sued former Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani, who [filed for bankruptcy]( in December after a $148 million judgment against him. "There's been a lot of hope recently in our legal system that certain plaintiffs are going to be able to find justice through the courts." Bankston said. "Unfortunately, these bankruptcy proceedings sort of temper that hope. There is a lot of legal process in this country that is designed to assist those who have a lot of resources to avoid paying their just debts." The Gateway Pundit has [already been accused of]( delaying legal proceedings against it. It takes time, resources and lawyers who can afford to wait to get paid to support these legal proceedings, Bankston said. Even with delays, the costs to sites like Infowars and The Gateway Pundit from lawsuits are meaningful, Bankston said. "Jurors are not happy when someone takes private people and spreads these lies about them and... turns their world upside down," he said. "Juries will not forgive that when powerful people do that." The Gateway Pundit used to enjoy massive online traffic via social media like Facebook. Like other outlets, however, it has seen [its traffic drop off]( amid declining news consumption and industry changes including Facebook owner Meta deprioritizing news.
  • The street performers first appeared a few years ago along busy intersections of Islamabad. Coated head to toe in eye-catching gold paint, they stood perfectly still, leaning on glimmering canes and tipping their top hats open. Some cracked a smile or offered a slow nod when they earned tips from passers-by. Perhaps in a different place, the emergence of mimes on the street looking to earn a few dollars might go unnoticed. But this is Pakistan, where things under the security state often are not as simple as they seem. So as the number of golden performers grew, so, too, did the intrigue around them. Could they be informants for the country’s intelligence agency? Lookouts for powerful politicians? Maybe spies for the C.I.A.? “In any other country, if you see a beggar, it’s clear he’s a beggar,” said Habib Kareem, 26, a lawyer in Islamabad, the capital. “But here, you see a beggar and you think to yourself, ‘He’s working for them,’” he added, referring to Pakistan’s powerful intelligence services. Today, the “golden men” of Islamabad have been added to the ranks of the conspiracy theories sprouted, knocked down and rehashed every day across the city. In Pakistan, where the hand of the security services is seen everywhere, conspiracy theories have been embraced in the mainstream for decades, driving conversations among street vendors, politicians and everyone in between. Suspicion has become so universal that wild tales take root after almost every news event. In the wake of catastrophic floods in 2010, people asserted that they had been caused by C.I.A. weather-controlling technology. Media pundits claimed that an American “think tank” was behind a failed car bombing by a Pakistani American in Times Square that year, and that Osama bin Laden was actually Jewish. Others were convinced that the C.I.A. staged the assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, the girls’ education activist, in 2012 after a local newspaper ran [a satirical “investigation”]( describing the plot with outlandish details. (A disclaimer was later added to the article, which was meant to poke fun at the country’s love of conspiracy theories, to clarify that it was fiction.) Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and [log into]( your Times account, or [subscribe]( for all of The Times. Thank you for your patience while we verify access. Already a subscriber? [Log in]( Want all of The Times? [Subscribe](
  • His brand of conspiracism will live on even if Infowars doesn’t. ![A photo of Alex Jones standing before microphones at a press conference outside a Houston courthouse]( Yi-Chin Lee / Getty June 17, 2024, 2:50 PM ET Alex Jones couldn’t help himself. On Friday, just before a federal judge was set to decide the fate of Infowars, his conspiracy-media empire, Jones spun up yet another conspiracy. He was on his way into a Houston courthouse as part of the ongoing saga over lies he told about the Sandy Hook school shooting. After six years of litigation, Jones owes $1.5 billion in defamation damages. The “FBI and CIA” had fabricated the charges against him, Jones explained, in his famously gravelly voice, to the half dozen or so cameramen in front of him. The agencies had organized a “deep-state operation against the American people,” he said, wiping the sweat off his head in the Houston heat. “This is a very, very exciting time to be alive.” Apparently, the omnipotent FBI and CIA failed in their ultimate goal of thwarting Jones. The judge directed Jones to sell off his personal assets in order to pay up, but he spared Infowars. Right now the media network sits in purgatory: It will keep operating for the time being, but in future legal proceedings, Infowars [could be]( [liquidated]( [to help Jones pay the damages]( With all the money Jones owes, it’s not clear how much longer he can keep hold of his most treasured asset. But the reality is that it doesn’t matter much if Infowars is shut down. Over the past three decades of his broadcast career, Jones helped pioneer an entire mode of conspiratorial thinking that is now dominant in pockets of the right. It will live on even if Infowars doesn’t. I’m more familiar with this mode of thinking than I sometimes like to admit. I first encountered Alex Jones at a different time in both of our lives. He was a relatively popular but still niche curiosity, and his conspiracy theories were not yet as politically destructive as they would become. I was a high schooler in Texas. I came across him not in his hometown city, Austin, but more than 100 miles down the highway, near Houston, in my family’s computer room. I don’t remember exactly how I heard about Infowars or what segment roped me in (this was around 2008), but I remember the feeling it gave me: the satisfaction of having found a truth that most were blind to. As a young teenager who didn’t feel represented by either party, I found that Jones’s videos offered a different option, one in which both Democrats and Republicans were simply giving cover to a cabal of wealthy elites. He skewed libertarian and made documentaries with titles such as _The Obama Deception_, but he also attacked the “police state” and went after George W. Bush. Anyone or anything with power was fair game. I came to Jones alone but eventually found out that people around me were also peering into his world. When a substitute teacher at my high school referenced Infowars during class, my friends and I discussed it later with approbation. We all agreed that he was tapped into the good stuff. A lot of others saw what we saw. In 2011, _Rolling Stone_ [reported]( that Jones was drawing a bigger online audience than Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh combined. Eventually, the spell broke. As I got older and saw more of his content, I realized that his spiel wasn’t adding up. FEMA was supposedly operating concentration camps across the country, Jones posted online. _I highly doubt it, but maybe … ?_ I thought at the time. In 2010, when Jones said that _Machete_, a goofy action movie starring Danny Trejo, was actually a part of a plot to incite a race war in the U.S., I knew that Jones had lost his own plot. Maybe he’d never had it. At some point after I came across him in the family computer room, Jones went from being a general skeptic with reactionary tendencies to being solidly ensconced in the far right. By the 2016 presidential election, he was buddying up to the billionaire GOP nominee. Donald Trump was calling in to his show for fawning interviews. Jones’s conspiracy theories became more comprehensive. He began giving copious amounts of oxygen to the type of conspiracy that anything embarrassing for the right is actually a manufactured operation by the federal government. In Jones’s worldview, the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was orchestrated by the feds to undermineTrump. The victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, were crisis actors. But if there was a single inflection point that represented Jones’s shift from a libertarian free agent to someone explicitly fighting for right-wing causes, it was also the thing that now promises to be his undoing: Sandy Hook. After the tragic 2012 shooting in which 20 children and six adults were killed at a Connecticut elementary school, Jones skipped the moment of national grieving and went straight to conspiracy theorizing. The shooting was a hoax, he said, and the victims and their grieving families were “crisis actors” who were working for the gun-control lobby. Jones never provided proof for his claims but kept repeating them anyway, exposing victims’ family members to harassment and death threats. In 2018, the same year that the families sued Jones for defamation, he was also banned from [nearly every major tech platform](, in part because of the Sandy Hook abuse. I checked in on Jones in 2019 to see what he was up to. What he was up to was being extremely Islamophobic. “You have a sickening alliance of hijab-wearing women \[in Congress\],” he [said in one video]( from January 2019. “I mean, I go to restaurants … and there’s women in full burqas taking spoonfuls of food and eating it under their—we’re talking slits where their eyes are.” He went on to describe the women as “captured slaves who have had their genitals cut off.” Jones’s own arc tracked neatly with the trajectory of the world around him. As he evolved, the mainstream right began to trade in conspiracy theories in a more explicit way than it had in decades. You can see the residue of this on the arc of the modern conspiracy movement. A space previously occupied by sometimes-lovable kooks became a theater in a vicious culture war. Jones’s conspiracy forerunners of the 1980s and ’90s, such as Art Bell and George Knapp, focused on UFOs and the paranormal. Occasionally, they also discussed the government, but with less political intensity. As Jones ascended, he started having less in common with the likes of Bell and Knapp and more in common with incendiary right-wing commentators such as [Rush Limbaugh]( It’s hard to know if Jones influenced this trajectory or simply understood the direction it was going in before everyone else did, and ran in front of it. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Either way, it bore out in the apparatus that became QAnon, a [sprawling conspiracy theory]( that liberal elites are sexually abusing children in tunnels. QAnon was less a fringe way of explaining systems of power (the standard role of the previous era of conspiracy-theory culture) than an [all-encompassing system of logic]( Jones, appropriately, was an early booster of QAnon’s precursor, Pizzagate, which claimed that liberal elites were sexually abusing children out of a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. Suggesting that events are hoaxes carried out by left-wing operators is now standard language in parts of the right, both among elected officials and among [t]([heir supporters]( Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene [supported unfounded]( [theories]( that the Parkland school shooting was a “false flag.” Earlier this month, she [posted a picture]( on Instagram of herself with Jones, accompanied by the caption “I stand with Alex Jones!” After the 2022 elementary-school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Representative Paul Gosar [falsely claimed]( that the shooter was a “transsexual leftist illegal alien.” Even if Infowars is shut down, this kind of conspiracism is not going away. Politicians and right-wing-media figures will probably keep making “false flag” claims and attempting to explain away inconvenient truths with unverified conspiracy theories. The thing that took Jones down—not just his Sandy Hook defamation but also his use of conspiracy theories as a political cudgel—is the clearest example of what his legacy will be. [Ali Breland]( is a staff writer at _The Atlantic_.
  • As the search for Jay Slater, the British teenager who went missing while on holiday in Tenerife, enters its second week Spanish rescuers continue to comb the rugged mountain terrain where he was last seen for clues. Staff and volunteers from the local police, fire brigade and civil defence force have been using dogs, drones and helicopters to hunt for the 19-year-old apprentice bricklayer from [Lancashire]( But more than 2,000 miles away in Britain, a group of online sleuths are conducting their own operations, scouring Google maps of the area where he disappeared in the [Rural de Teno national park]( and posting baseless conspiracy theories, and, in some cases, even cruel deliberate hoaxes about his disappearance. Slater’s family and friends have said the interest the case has generated online is compounding their distress in what is already one of the most difficult situations a parent could imagine. And they fear the online “noise” around the case could even hamper the investigation. Slater’s last known contact with those close to him was when he phoned a friend called Lucy who had been at the same music festival but left before him. He told her that his phone battery was on 1%, that he was thirsty, lost and that he had cut his leg on a cactus. A Facebook group set up by a friend of the family, for them to share information and seek help from the public, titled “JAY SLATER MISSING – ONLY OFFICIAL GROUP” has more than half a million members. But a second group, “Jay Slater Discussions and Theories”, is rapidly catching up, with almost 288,000 members. In this group, some of the conspiracy theories are so far-fetched, they verge on bleak satire; “does anyone else think that maybe the shark that was spotted in Gran Canaria has something to do with it?”, reads one. Other popular theories suggest Slater has been kidnapped after crossing “Moroccan drugs gangs”, that his disappearance has been faked to scam money in donations from the public, or that the mafia has somehow played a role in him going missing. Even known conspiracy theorist David Icke has waded in, saying: “Lucy doesn’t exist,” and claiming “Manchester airport \[on Sunday\] wasn’t evacuated due to a power cut, and reason was much more chilling. These events are planned.” Speculation is also spreading like wildfire on X and on TikTok, where “true crime” accounts are sharing their own theories. Paul Arnott, a climber from Bedfordshire, has even flown to Tenerife to join the search in person, sharing clips on TikTok. “I was following the story and I wasn’t planning to come out but as soon as I heard they needed help, that’s when I came out,” he [told Sky News]( And in a darker corner of the internet, some cruel posts falsely claim “he’s home now” or that a body has been found. Meanwhile, friends have said that trolls are impersonating them on social media, and have attempted to hack into Slater’s own Instagram account. One photograph circulating last weekend, claiming to show a body that had been found in Los Cristianos, the seaside resort where Slater had been staying with friends, appeared to have actually been taken in Iceland. Other conspiracies have targeted Slater’s friends and relatives directly, such as one ridiculous theory that his mother, Debbie Duncan, 55, is actually Karen Matthews, who was jailed in 2008 for faking the kidnapping of her daughter Shannon. [skip past newsletter promotion]( Sign up to Headlines Europe A digest of the morning's main headlines from the Europe edition emailed direct to you every week day **Privacy Notice:** Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our [Privacy Policy]( We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google [Privacy Policy]( and [Terms of Service]( apply. after newsletter promotion [In a previous interview with the Guardian](, Duncan described the online speculation as “horrible” and said that Spanish police had told her it may actually hinder their investigation. “I think as well they have actually said that there’s too much noise, that’s affecting it,” she said. She said she believes “there’s something untoward” about her son’s disappearance, and that police told her they are considering all possibilities. “They’ve said we’re investigating all leads,” Duncan said. It is not the first time a missing person’s investigation has gripped the internet; last year, Nicola Bulley, 45, who was also from Lancashire, was missing for 23 days before her body was found. She had slipped into a river and drowned. Her family criticised “[wildly inaccurate speculation being shared over numerous platforms](”, while YouTube and TikTok influencers descended on the tiny village where she was last seen, forcing police to put in place a dispersal order. ”People believe in conspiracy theories as a way to explain the world when they feel uncertain, they feel threatened, they feel perilous,” Daniel Jolley, assistant professor in social psychology at University of Nottingham said, adding that online speculation is also popular because “it’s entertaining”. However, he said: “It can potentially derail investigations because people may indeed be flagging these things up to the police.” “Any unexplained event that is vaguely unsettling and frightening that is reported in the media is going to give rise to speculation and conspiracy theories, it’s almost inevitable,” added Stephan Lewandowsky, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Bristol. But for the families at the centre of police investigations, Lewandowsky said: “The impact is awful.” “I really am saddened by all your comments,” Duncan wrote in an update a GoFundMe page set up to support the family. “I really hope I am not taking my son home in a body bag.”
  • It took mere minutes for unsubstantiated theories to take over. ![A magnifying glass over an image of a blooded Trump]( Illustration by The Atlantic. Sources: Rebecca Droke / AFP / Getty; Epoxydude / Getty. July 14, 2024, 5:24 PM ET “Joe Biden sent the orders” was the first thing Representative Mike Collins of Georgia [posted]( following the assassination attempt on Donald Trump yesterday. To clarify that he was not being hyperbolic, Collins [followed up by saying that]( Biden should be charged with “inciting an assassination.” Collins was one of the highest-profile people to boost a conspiracy theory almost immediately after a gunman fired eight shots during a Trump rally in Butler County, Pennsylvania, yesterday afternoon—but he was far from the only one (and [not even]( the sole member of Congress). Within moments of the shooting, some Trump supporters started speculating online about the Secret Service’s complicity. “To deny that something is fishy here is to be willfully blind,” one Instagram meme account with more than 800,000 followers posted in a caption underneath a picture of the grounds where the rally was held. “He was counter sniped within seconds of pulling the trigger. So Secret Service knew he was there.” Elon Musk, who endorsed Trump right after the shooting, [publicly]( [wondered]( whether the Secret Service made a “deliberate” choice to overlook security gaps. Left-wing accounts posted their own “false flag” conspiracies. The [now-famous photo]( of Trump surrounded by Secret Service agents, pumping his fist with small streaks of blood across his face, was [simply too good]( to not have been staged, some people posted. _Semafor_ [reported]( that Dmitri Mehlhorn, a Democratic strategist, emailed journalists yesterday urging them to consider the possibility that the shooting was staged by the right to make Trump look good. (He later apologized.) This is almost always how it goes now when something notable happens in the news: It becomes instant conspiracy fodder. Wildfires were actually started by massive laser beams. The rollout of 5G [caused the pandemic]( Kate Middleton’s extended absence from public appearances earlier this year was because of [some sinister royal plot]( Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce aren’t actually dating—they’re doing a crossover marketing psyop [to boost their profiles]( (and [undermine Trump]( These theories are obviously far less pernicious than ones demonizing migrants or [falsely]( [accusing people of]( [trafficking]( [children](, but they speak to the same idea: Absolutely nothing is ever as it seems. Online platforms such as Facebook and X have long been accelerants for baseless information and conspiracy theories, but these things aren’t just the product of an information crisis that can be resolved with education and by reining in social media. When conspiracy theories become the default logic for many Americans in understanding all major moments, they suggest a more fundamental breakdown. In a system that doesn’t resolve social atomization or [economic precarity](, or mitigate the darkest impulses of technology companies, people will end up trying to make their own order amid intense disorder. It’s not surprising that solutions made inside a Russian nesting doll of messy conditions end up also being very messy. Conspiracy theories become the primary logic that begets more disorder, which begets more conspiracy theories. The cycle repeats itself. [Ali Breland]( is a staff writer at _The Atlantic_.
  • Almost as soon as photographs emerged of the [attempted assassination of Donald Trump](, conspiracy theories wondering whether the shooting could have been fake boomeranged around the internet. The fevered thinking went like this: The images of Trump pumping his fist and [apparently saying “fight”]( were too conveniently media-ready. The term “staged” promptly [trended]( on X, with [multiple]( viral [tweets]( getting over 100,000 likes. Redditors [debated]( whether it was uncouth to be suspicious that Trump was trying to drum up sympathy votes. Adding fuel to the fire, eyewitnesses, online observers, as well as some media outlets, reported incorrect information about what had happened, some of it potentially incendiary. The New York Post [claimed]( early on that the shooter was “a Chinese man,” which only served to exacerbate burgeoning conspiracy theory narratives. One far-right activist [floated]( the conspiracy theory that the Secret Service was involved in setting up the assassination, as part of the “deep state intel community.” Additionally, as we’ve often seen before, people latched onto misidentified “suspects,” including [an Italian YouTuber who vlogs about soccer]( and a Twitter troll who posted a “joke” video claiming to be the shooter soon after he was identified. It was passed around the site for hours despite his [assertion]( that it was a joke. The conspiracy theories came from all corners of the ideological spectrum: the left, the right, and the politically inscrutable. Many were eager to project their prior partisan assumptions onto [emerging information]( about the shooter. He was a registered Republican, so surely the shooting wasn’t politically motivated — but he had also [reportedly]( made a one-off donation to a Democratic PAC, Act Blue, on the day of Biden’s 2021 inauguration, which would indicate the opposite. Even as the initial “faked” theme faded, members of the public reached for a narrative that would allow them to blame one side or the other. Fortunately, the conversation shifted within hours as bystander accounts and more information about the shooter were reported in mainstream outlets. Per Google Trends, there was less than a 1 percent interest in searches for “Trump shooting staged,” “Trump shooting fake,” and “Trump shooting conspiracies” over the past 24 hours. It was a thankfully brief, but remarkable, cultural moment, one that revealed how years of extremist conspiracy theories and the growth of conspiratorial imagining have managed to distort our thinking at casual levels. Social media has both intensified moments of crisis like this and fomented misinformation about what’s actually happening. One media analyst determined that [up to 45 percent]( of all accounts across Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter that tweeted hashtags about the “staged” shooting were bot accounts made purely to fuel confusion and doubt. Modern social platforms algorithmically [amplify]( this kind of hysteria and skepticism. Essentially, they become sites of real-time collective doubt, and then the very nature of social media reinforces that doubt. In this case, the idea that the shooting could have been staged didn’t seem like a stretch for the many people on social media who pointed to what they saw as telltale signifiers: Trump’s quick recovery, the relative lack of bleeding, the perception that all of this was too conveniently timed. Right-leaning extremists like [Alex Jones]( have spent the decades since 9/11 normalizing the concept of “[false flag operations](” — that is, faked events orchestrated by nefarious actors to advance a political objective. In the social media era, it has become alarmingly common to suggest that a major event didn’t happen at all or, if it did, it was all a setup. These are ideas that would have seemed fringe a few decades ago, but in our conspiracy-theory-brained age, they seem nearly ubiquitous. Even if you don’t adhere to a specific conspiracy theory, you might pick up the language of distorted thinking along the way: Take the casual use of “false flag” or “[astroturfing](,” for example, or the use of “the deep state,” as though there really is such a thing. It’s also understandable if people aren’t entirely certain right now about what is real. The third decade of the 21st century has so far been punctuated by moments of collective shock or trauma, including the pandemic, numerous climate-related disasters and emergencies, and the death of George Floyd. In particular, the era of Covid and the associated rise of the anti-science and anti-vax movements has [only exacerbated paranoid thinking]( Moreover, as the country continues to become [increasingly politically polarized](, ideas that would’ve once seemed far-fetched to the average person [gain appeal]( and spread. All of our collective traumas can induce feelings of [derealization](, or the sense that the world around us is fundamentally out of balance with our own experiences or perceptions. Especially after a major shock like a political assassination attempt, when people’s reactions are unfiltered and emotions go unchecked, the world might feel more divorced from reality than usual. One positive sign that things aren’t totally dire is that the conversation seemed to shift away from the “staged” theories quickly as the public gained confirmed facts about the shooting. True, some prominent figures have continued to fan the flames of gossip, such as Matt Walsh [hinting at]( a government cover-up — but so far, those speculations seem to be staying mainly on the fringe. There are also those who still seem to be entertaining the idea that the shooting was staged, as well as a few other minor [conspiracy tropes](, but we’re still largely in the wait-and-see stage. Frankly, the fact that we still have a wait-and-see phase is heartening. For now, it seems the public’s collective ability to take a breather instead of immediately devolving into chaos is a boon, although it’s still the early days of the aftermath. This weekend’s divided response only reinforces the [epistemic crisis]( in which we now live, in which multiple versions of “truth” compete with each other and obfuscate reality. Bad-faith takes — with no basis in fact — have already begun to dominate the Republican response to the situation, as prominent political leaders argue that [rhetoric]( from Democrats somehow played a role in the shooting. With that ideological divide widening and partisan viewpoints holding sway, navigating these murky waters requires caution. This moment is a reminder to avoid reaching for the most extreme read on a situation before you have all the facts. After all, with so many questions still lingering about the shooter’s motivations and the stakes [so high](, there’s a lot riding on our collective ability to stay rational. If there were ever a time to slow-walk to judgment, it’s now. You’ve read 1 article in the last month Here at Vox, we believe in helping everyone understand our complicated world, so that we can all help to shape it. Our mission is to create clear, accessible journalism to empower understanding and action. If you share our vision, please consider supporting our work by becoming a _Vox Member_. Your support ensures Vox a stable, independent source of funding to underpin our journalism. If you are not ready to become a Member, even small contributions are meaningful in supporting a sustainable model for journalism. Thank you for being part of our community. ![Swati Sharma]( Swati Sharma Vox Editor-in-Chief [Join for $5/month]( We accept credit card, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. You can also contribute via [![](](
  • Soon after a bullet [grazed Donald Trump’s ear](, the conspiracy theory hashtags started appearing. Social media discourse on the shooting was immediately punctuated by #staged, #fakeassassination and #stagedshooting as a familiar refrain took hold: don’t trust what they tell you. In a sign of how unstoppable these narratives become, the focus of distrust this time was [Donald Trump](, one of the arch-proponents of the argument that mainstream media and the establishment in general cannot be trusted. X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, was the fulcrum of post-shooting scepticism. One post on X, with the hashtag #staged, queried whether a bullet really tore past Trump’s ear. It has been viewed more than 500,000 times. “If it grazed him then where did the travelling bullet go as it would’ve continued flight towards those ppl?” it asked. Much of the sceptical commentary relies on analysing images and footage taken by official media outlets at the Pennsylvania rally. Another tweet from an account critical of Trump had 2.1m views as of Monday, although it did not carry one of the hashtags that proliferated around the internet from Saturday into Sunday. “A presidential candidate got ‘shot’ in the face and our collective reaction as a country was to laugh because nothing has ever looked so fake,” it said. One conclusion experts are drawing from these posts is that they show conspiracy theories are not partisan and are not just a feature of rightwing discourse. Since Covid and the wave of scepticism it unleashed, it has become standard for vast numbers of people online to doubt the consensus view and interpret events in a way that rationalises their own worldview. “Conspiracy theories are not limited to one political persuasion,” said Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a campaign group, adding that such viewpoints were an attempt to “place events in a narrative that makes sense to us” and that “reinforce our beliefs and biases”. “Because of the high emotions around the \[US\] election, it reinforces people’s desire to fit what is happening around a pre-determined narrative that satisfies their political perspectives either way,” he said. This has gone hand in hand with distrust of the media, even if much of the sceptical commentary around the shooting has relied on analysing images and footage taken by official media outlets at the Pennsylvania rally. Conspiracy theories emanating from people with leftwing or liberal leanings has given rise to the term “Blueanon”, in reference to the blue Democratic party. The term is a derivation of “QAnon”, the [baseless pro-Trump, rightwing conspiracy theory]( that a world-controlling satanic elite is operating a child abuse ring. Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of digital platforms and ethics at the University of Oregon, said it “doesn’t serve the debate very well” to equate QAnon with the other side of the political spectrum, even if it makes for a neat pun. “When people are panicking about Trump and voicing conspiracy theories, they are often panicking about something specific related to Trump or people within the Maga orbit,” she said. QAnon devotees were heavily involved in the January riot on the Capitol and the theory has been referred to by mainstream politicians on the right, with Trump calling QAnon followers “people who love our country”. Conservative social media accounts have weighed in with their own conspiracy theories on the shooting, querying how Thomas Crooks was able to [come so close to assassinating Trump]( A popular rightwing account on X posted on Sunday: “You’re telling me the Secret Service let a guy climb up on a roof with a rifle only 150 yards from Trump? Inside job.” The post, flagged by disinformation experts at NewsGuard, has had more than 7m views. Trump shooting theories have been consumed on a vast scale since Saturday. Posts on X, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok that used conspiracy theory hashtags may have been viewed up to 595m times within 11 hours of the shooting, according to Cyabra, an Israeli disinformation analysis firm. The conspiracy hashtags received 404,000 “engagements”, Cyabra said, referring to likes, comments and re-posts. Alongside posts from authentic accounts claiming that Trump staged the shooting to boost his election chances, Cyabra found evidence of coordinated attempts to propagate a false narrative. It investigated 3,115 social media profiles pushing the hashtags and found that 45% of them were “fake” accounts, a term covering a range of bad actors from automated accounts to sockpuppet operators, who use fictitious identities to pump out a specific narrative. “The false narrative asserting that Trump staged the shooting was predominantly disseminated on X,” said Cyabra analysts in a report. “Numerous accounts suggested that Trump, anticipating an electoral loss to Biden, orchestrated the incident to attract more voters and alter the prevailing narrative in the United States.” It is not just the presidency being contested, but any narrative related to it.
  • The Center for Countering Digital Hate says posts on X containing conspiracy theories about the [assassination attempt on Donald Trump]( have been viewed more than 215 million times, and that 95% of those posts do not contain a fact-check by community members. Almost immediately after the failed assassination attempt on Donald Trump during a [rally in Butler, Pennsylvania](, on Saturday, terms such as “staged,” “false flag,” and “deep state” began showing up in X’s trending topics window. Using X’s advanced search function, CCDH researchers looked up keywords such as those outlined above to manually collect a sample of 100 popular posts about Trump’s attempted assassination. They then calculated the views of those tweets, including only the ones that got more than 10,000 views since July 13. Some in the MAGA crowd said the orders for the shooting came directly from Joe Biden, or from the “deep state.” Some on the left speculated that, because the shooter appeared to mount his rooftop perch unopposed by the Secret Service, the assassination attempt was designed by the Trump campaign to create a fist-pumping photo op. Others used the event to advance existing prejudices. The research also shows that posts containing antisemitic conspiracy theories received more than 8.8 million views. X’s algorithm curates “top” posts based on the keywords used in them, and on how many reposts and replies they get. X also sells ads against posts on an auction system based on how much marketers are willing to pay for millions of impressions. The CCDH has been something of a thorn in the side of X owner Elon Musk, who [sued]( the nonprofit research group in July 2023 after it released a [report]( finding that the social site was profiting from hate. The report came just after X reinstated thousands of once-banned accounts from what the CCDH called “neo-Nazis, white supremacists, misogynists, and spreaders of dangerous conspiracy theories.” But a federal judge dismissed the suit in March, saying that X was merely trying to “silence its critics.” _Recognize your technological breakthrough by applying to this year’s [Next Big Things in Tech Awards!]( Extended Deadline to Apply: Friday, July 19._ Mark Sullivan is a senior writer at Fast Company, covering emerging tech, AI, and tech policy. Before coming to Fast Company in January 2016, Sullivan wrote for VentureBeat, Light Reading, CNET, Wired, and PCWorld [More](
  • Accusations that the assassination attempt on Saturday was staged have [proliferated all over social media]( Many on the left are arguing that the attack was meant to garner pity for Trump and ensure a kind of “[Reichstag fire](” scenario so Trump could seize power unilaterally. Many of these focused on the photos of Trump in the immediate aftermath, his fist raised in defiance, as evidence that the entire event was set up to garner sympathy and show the ex-president as unbowed. Meanwhile, on the right, rumours swirled that it was an assassination attempt by President Biden – on Sunday, [Alex Jones]( blasted out an email with a subject line that read in part: “Desperate Deep State Will Try to Assassinate Trump Again”. None of this is surprising – the United States has a long history of presidential assassination and assassination attempts, and a long love affair with [conspiracy theories]( of all kinds. But the ease with which conspiracists of all political alignments have been able to assimilate Saturday’s shocking, unexpected news with their preformed opinions tells us what political conspiracy theories do for people and how they operate. In the wake of breaking, confusing news, conspiracy theories offer the illusory promise of an explanation. Not only that, but a conspiracy theory also offers a narrative of history that is resilient, one that continues to hold up no matter what transpires. If you believe, for example, that the “[deep state](” is engaged in a long-running, omnipresent campaign to defeat Donald Trump, then anything that happens can be seen as further proof of that. Presidential assassinations – and assassination attempts – are among the most destabilising, confusing and terrifying political events. Alongside major attacks like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, they can change the course of history for ever. So it’s not surprising that such events attract paranoid musings – they proliferate immediately, almost as a sort of self-defence mechanism against the shock of the new. The United States, in particular, has had a long history of yoking conspiracy theories to political assassinations. In 1886, ex-priest Charles Paschal Telesphore Chiniquy wrote a bestseller, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome_,_ in which he claimed (among other things) to be a confidant of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had, in fact, represented Chiniquy in 1850 as a young lawyer on a minor matter, but in Chiniquy’s telling, he went on multiple private visits to the White House, where Lincoln purportedly told him that not only were the Catholics behind the civil war, but that if anything were to happen to him, it would be the Jesuits who had pulled the trigger. More recently, they’ve been used to shape reactions in the dramatic aftermath of breaking news. Immediately in the wake of John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, everyone from organised crime to the KKK to Cuban exiles to the CIA was accused of being behind the attack – anyone, it seemed, was more plausible than Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone and using an antiquated rifle. Five years later, when Kennedy’s brother Robert was also killed during his presidential candidacy, once again conspiracists alleged that the killer, Sirhan Sirhan, had been brainwashed or was otherwise part of a larger conspiracy. Similar theories surrounded Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, even though he wasn’t a presidential candidate, and this is to say nothing of the various political assassination attempts carried out _by_ the US government in _other_ countries – in Congo, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Indonesia, as well as the successful coup of Salvador Allende in Chile – and the resulting conspiracy theories they engendered. As the US has long been involved in actual conspiracies (including against its own citizens, such as the FBI’s surveillance program [Cointelpro](, or the CIA’s experimentation on Americans, [MKUultra](, the problem is not necessarily in entertaining beliefs – rather, the danger is in using them as a filter against breaking news. It’s natural to want to make sense of something that seems to come from nowhere, changing everything and throwing us off kilter – in such moments of disorientation, [any kind of explanation]( can help reestablish some kind of sense to the world. But when news breaks, facts and motives aren’t at all clear, which is when conspiracy theories emerge as a means of filling that gap, providing a narrative that explains everything that’s happened and what it means. It’s why we turn to them again and again, and why they’re not likely to go away anytime soon. For all the certainty these theories have offered regarding the potential impact of Saturday’s act – that it’s clinched Trump’s election, or that it’s proof that the deep state will stop at nothing to bring him down – it’s far too soon to say for sure. Presidential assassinations have certainly had large impacts on American history: had Lincoln lived past 1865, for example, his successor Andrew Johnson wouldn’t have been in a position to kill Reconstruction. But the effects of assassination _attempts_ are harder to measure. The failed assassination of [George Wallace]( didn’t get him any nearer to the presidency in 1972, and the two assassination attempts of President Gerald Ford didn’t save his re-election campaign in 1976. Actual, verified information takes time; law enforcement has said they still know [relatively little about the shooter]( or his motives. In the coming days, some aspects of this story are going to come into crystal-clear focus. Some may, as with the Kennedy assassinations, remain forever murky. Given all we know about the history of the United States’s covert operations, it’s impossible right now to rule out any possibility of some kind of conspiracy. But what remains true is that any such revelations, should they ever come, won’t come from random social media accounts, and they won’t come from Alex Jones. * Colin Dickey is the author of Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, and Under the Eye of Power: How Fear of Secret Societies Shapes American Democracy
  • ![Image for article titled Chaos at airports, Elon Musk blames DEI, and conspiracy theories: CrowdStrike outage news roundup](,q_60,w_645/175ac6cc170984ee8a7840d974e1deed.jpg) ![Passengers wait for check-in counters to open at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, amid a global IT disruption caused by a Microsoft outage and a Crowdstrike IT problem, on July 19, 2024 in Manila, Philippines](,q_60,w_645/518483cf20d143d5845a92b3693d2e5d.jpg) ![back of a blonde man wearing a shirt with palm trees looking up boards with flight information at an airport](,q_60,w_645/c68d5e1a5ef19eead013606f05148726.jpg) ![Elon Musk](,q_60,w_645/d8e2f1551ed0c0ad0473c5b354d2332a.jpg) ![Former President and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.](,q_60,w_645/79d483d71a1455743d886af82fd9a141.jpg) ![Flight passengers are seen eating a meal at McDonald’s at the Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates.](,q_60,w_645/6cf43218c925e73d4b15dc47b34ddf12.jpg) ![UPS driver Grant Jung (R) pushes a handtruck loaded with boxes as he makes deliveries in San Francisco, California. ](,q_60,w_645/bd2e5beaad53d2590430208312644d88.jpg) ![Carl Salazar (right) sleeps at Ronald Regan Washington National Airport while waiting for a delayed United flight on July 19, 2024 in Washington, DC.](,q_60,w_645/de8221d76caa20cc16419b9f461a3812.jpg) ![Image for article titled Chaos at airports, Elon Musk blames DEI, and conspiracy theories: CrowdStrike outage news roundup](,q_60,w_645/a208deedda4f6ad72a7df6964dcb04bb.jpg) ![orange logo of the IT security company Crowdstrike photographed from the screen of a laptop](,q_60,w_645/5ffa79cfe92866fad550eb9d2b2e7e5a.jpg) ![Several hospitals around the world were hit by the CrowdStrike outage. ](,q_60,w_645/7606242239d848c5cc88c142c53bcd97.jpg) ![Image for article titled Chaos at airports, Elon Musk blames DEI, and conspiracy theories: CrowdStrike outage news roundup](,q_60,w_645/24f75bfb6515946d543c769d19386718.jpg) ![CrowdStrike](,q_60,w_645/babcfe6b75994cc72644cc6426d12393.jpg) ![Spotted: A blue screen of death in Times Square.](,q_60,w_645/326276d99224eabdbdfd1ab7eef6a567.jpg) Everyone, everywhere is seeing little blue screens of death — and it’s probably a little-t trauma trigger for older computer users who remember the ominous displays common in the 1990s. [Read More]( ![ATM](,q_60,w_645/6bedcd9a1f13bf720604b28f15c10c7b.jpg) The banking industry is relying more and more on third-party organizations for everything from technology and risk management, to mortgage lending and auditing. A massive [global tech outage]( Friday, caused by a bungled software update at CrowdStrike, shone a light on the pitfalls of this outsourcing, analysts said. [Read More]( ![Image for article titled Chaos at airports, Elon Musk blames DEI, and conspiracy theories: CrowdStrike outage news roundup](,q_60,w_645/79f222087e258ddc722ca08912e16f0f.jpg) ![Several Australian news outlets were hit by the CrowdStrike outage. ](,q_60,w_645/14d4e5e08758d4b86a1e7969f15259bd.jpg) ![Travelers queue up at the check-in counters of the Hong Kong International Airport on July 19, 2024 in Hong Kong, China ](,q_60,w_645/bd9c5462df50fa1cde4e38045c93c4ba.jpg) Between booking, sorting out transportation, and waking up on time, flying is already a pretty stressful task. A [global tech systems shutdown]( on Friday that disrupted check-ins, delayed airlines, and left passengers stuck trapped in lines doesn’t help. [Read More]( ![CrowdStrike](,q_60,w_645/79a4c0888f58f123f5c0cecb791eca16.jpg) A defective software update at CrowdStrike led to a massive internet outage that took entire industries worldwide offline Friday. [Read More]( ![ Queues of passengers wait in line at Suvarnabhumi Airport watching the docked airplanes as a global IT disruption caused by a Microsoft outage and a Crowdstrike IT problem combine to affect users on July 19, 2024 in Bangkok, Thailand.](,q_60,w_645/51eb9d5c3c0e352ee7cec18a85fded39.jpg) Computer systems at businesses around the world failed after cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike bungled an update and Microsoft reported issues with its Azure cloud service. [Read More]( We may earn a commission from links on this page.