What Makes a Good Conspiracy Theory?


We’ll never get rid of them, but can we at least process them better?

On this blog I frequently debunk conspiracy theories that spread among conservatives: QAnon, Obama’s birth certificate, Dominion voting machines, Antifa’s role in the Capitol insurrection, and so on. But this week a liberal conspiracy theory kept showing up in my social-media news feeds: The accusations against Andrew Cuomo are part of a scheme to install a Republican as governor of New York, so that he can use his pardon power to protect Donald Trump from New York state prosecutions.

Debunking the Cuomo theory. Before I start using this as an example of a conspiracy theory, though, let’s dismiss it as a sensible interpretation of events: Suppose Cuomo resigns or is impeached. His replacement is the Democratic Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who has no reason to pardon Trump. Next in the line of succession are the Temporary President of the Senate, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Attorney General — all Democrats.

Then comes the 2022 election. New York electing a Republican governor is not unheard of: George Pataki served three terms from 1995-2006. But Pataki Republicans are not exactly Trumpists, and in recent cycles Democrats have done quite well in New York. Cuomo won his last election (2018) by 23%. But he doesn’t have some unique ability to pull in votes that puts the governorship in danger if he can’t run. Biden beat Trump in New York in 2020 by 23% as well. Kirsten Gillibrand won the New York senate race in 2018 by 34%. Letitia James won the 2018 Attorney General race by 27%. And the names being discussed as 2022 Republican challengers are not ones that should cause Democrats to quake in fear, particularly if a Trump pardon becomes one of the issues.

In short, raising phony accusations against Cuomo in order to keep Trump out of jail would be a wild scheme that had almost no chance to succeed. Not even Trumpists are crazy enough to invest the kind of resources even a failed attempt would require. And besides, there’s a far more mundane explanation for Cuomo’s problems: Being an asshole finally caught up to him.

My rare attempt at bipartisanship. If conspiracy theories appear in both parties, then sensible people in both parties should want to debunk them. That’s why I was pleased to see someone I rarely agree with, New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat, contribute to that effort a little while ago with “A Better Way to Think About Conspiracies“.

He starts with the following observation: The only way to get rid of conspiracy theories completely is to induce everyone to accept the expert consensus on everything. Not only is that never going to happen, it shouldn’t happen, because sometimes the expert consensus is self-serving or corrupt or just wrong in the ordinary people-make-mistakes way. I mean, how many experts told us that Saddam had WMDs, or that Trump couldn’t possibly beat Hillary? Worse, occasionally there are real conspiracies, like Nixon’s Plumbers or the baseball owners’ free-agency collusion.

So if we can’t just deny all conspiracies, or insist that people believe whatever the experts say, what can we do?

If you assume that people will always believe in conspiracies, and that sometimes they should, you can try to give them a tool kit for discriminating among different fringe ideas, so that when they venture into outside-the-consensus territory, they become more reasonable and discerning in the ideas they follow and bring back.

Douthat suggests a few sorting principles that can keep people from falling down the Q-Anon rabbit hole.

  • Simple theories are better than baroque ones.
  • Be skeptical of theories that seem tailored to reach a predetermined conclusion.
  • Take fringe theories more seriously when the mainstream narrative has holes.
  • Don’t start accepting all fringe theories just because one of them looks right to you.

To illustrate the simple vs. baroque distinction, he contrasts two origin-of-Covid-19 conspiracy theories: One says “it was designed by the Gates Foundation for some sort of world-domination scheme”, and the other that “it was accidentally released by a Chinese virology lab in Wuhan, a disaster that the Beijing government then sought to cover up”. Douthat rejects the former out of hand, but finds the latter plausible — not true, necessarily, but possibly worth investigating further.

The difference is that the Gates theory requires postulating a whole bunch of other stuff not in evidence. (What powers those nano-chips in the vaccine once they get into your bloodstream?) But the lab-accident theory just has one unusual event, after which a lot of people behave the way we know a lot of people behave: They would rather lie than accept blame. [1]

He illustrates the predetermined-conclusion point by looking at Trump’s various stolen-election theories. If you’ve ever argued with a Trumpist about this, you’ve probably observed what Douthat did: When you disprove one election-fraud theory, the Trumpist doesn’t reconsider his position, but just comes back with another election-fraud theory. If Georgia’s hand-recount disproves the corrupted-voting-machine-software theory (it does), then what about Detroit having more votes than voters? After you debunk that, what about dead people voting? And so on. The conclusion (Trump really won) remains fixed; the conspiracy theories are just roads to get there.

That should count against them.

Douthat’s point about holes in the mainstream narrative is similar to Thomas Kuhn’s account of scientific revolutions: Novel theories shouldn’t dislodge an accepted theory unless the accepted theory is having trouble explaining anomalies. As Einstein reflected, “If the Michelson–Morley experiment had not brought us into serious embarrassment, no one would have regarded the relativity theory as a (halfway) redemption.”

The example Douthat gives is Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein’s career is so unlikely that you can hardly blame people for trying to place him in a larger story. I would point to the pee-tape theory of Putin and Trump. There is essentially no evidence of a pee tape, but Trump’s defenders have never offered an alternative explanation of why he was so subservient to Putin. Instead, they just denied what we could all see. If the alternative to the conspiracy theory is believing that the Trump/Putin news conference in Helsinki is perfectly normal behavior for an American president, then I’ll keep looking for a pee tape.

The fourth point ought to go without saying, but there is a strong pull in the opposite direction: Once you leave the mainstream, other outside-the-mainstream folks feel like compatriots. (Once you accept alien visitors, why shouldn’t Atlantis be real?) Douthat makes a good point, though: All the world’s revealed religions have stressed that not every voice that pops into somebody’s head is the voice of God. You have to practice discernment.

I’ll support him by pointing out that even though the experts aren’t always right, they usually are. So when you believe a conspiracy theory, you’re betting on a long shot. Long shots occasionally come in, but no gambler makes a successful career out of betting on one long shot after another.

My additional principles. I agree with all of Douthat’s principles, but I don’t think he goes quite far enough. I want to add some ideas that I can easily imagine him agreeing with. And even if he doesn’t …

You don’t have to accept the convention wisdom, but you should know what it is. If you reject it, you should have a reason. Before you retweet something bizarre, take a moment to google a news story on the topic, or check some reference like Wikipedia. Is there a widely accepted explanation you hadn’t considered? Is there a reason not to accept it? If you have such a reason, fine. But at least consider a non-conspiracy explanation.

Evil people face the same problems you do. Have you ever tried to organize something? It’s hard. It gets harder the more people you need to coordinate, and harder still if it’s something like a surprise party, where it’s supposed to be secret, so you can’t just blast out an announcement.

It’s not any easier to organize something nefarious. If you can’t imagine how a richer, more powerful version of yourself could pull something off, be skeptical that somebody else is managing it.

Who are “they”? One way to avoid realizing just how big and complicated a conspiracy would have to be is to attribute it to a nebulous “them”, as Donald Trump Jr. does in this clip: “There’s no place that they won’t go. This week alone, they canceled Mr. Potato Head, they canceled the Muppets. They’re canceling Dr. Seuss from reading programs.” They who?

Everybody in a conspiracy needs a motive. The reason the baseball-owner-collusion theory was plausible (even before it turned out to be true) was that all 32 owners had the same financial incentive: paying their players less.

Now consider the theory that ICUs are faking the Covid pandemic. Everybody who works there needs to be in on it: nurses, doctors, cleaning staff, and so on. Either they’re not telling their loved ones, or the loved ones are in on it too. What motives could possibly unify all those people?

Very few people are motivated by evil for its own sake. A theory I heard fairly often as same-sex marriage cases were working their way through the courts was that same-sex couples weren’t actually interested in getting married, they were just trying to destroy marriage for the rest of us. We are all occasionally tempted to do something out of spite, but seriously: Would you devote a big chunk of your life to a project that gained you nothing, but just destroyed something for somebody else? Not many people would. [2]

As new information comes in, bad conspiracy theories have to grow. A good conspiracy theory might even shrink. A sure sign of a bad theory is that every objection is met by expanding the conspiracy. “They’re in on it too.”

But if you imagine organizing a conspiracy yourself, you wouldn’t be constantly trying to bring more people in, because each new person is a new risk. Instead, you’d try to identify the smallest possible group that could pull the operation off.

So if you’re on the trail of an actual conspiracy, the more you find out, the closer you should get to understanding the vision of the planner. Rather than “He’s in on it too”, you should start to realize how a small group of people really could do this. [3]

Contrast this with the nanobots-in-the-vaccine theory. Anybody who has access to a Covid vaccine might put it under a microscope and see those bots. Why aren’t they saying anything? They must all be in on it.

[1] My favorite Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theory is similar: After Oswald fires that first non-fatal shot, a Secret Service agent’s gun goes off by mistake, killing JFK. The agent’s superiors then try to cover that up, and things spiral from there.

Having brought up the Kennedy assassination, which educated my whole generation in conspiracy theories, I have to tell this joke: Two authors of JFK-assassination-conspiracy books are sharing a car as they drive to a convention where they’ll both be on a panel. Unfortunately, they are involved in a highway accident and die. But they’re both virtuous people, so they arrive together in the afterlife.

Their introductory tour of Heaven is given by God Himself, and somewhere between the infinite beach and the endless ice cream bar he tells them that there are no secrets in Heaven. “So if you ever want to know anything — about Heaven, about the Earth, about Me — you just have to ask.”

So one of the authors raises the question he’s been wrestling with for years: “Who really did kill Kennedy?”

And God answers, “Oswald, acting alone, pretty much the way the Warren Report says.”

The authors go silent for a while, until eventually one leans over to the other and whispers, “This goes up much higher than we ever imagined.”

[2] This is one reason I suspect that conspiracy theories do better among religious groups that believe in an active Devil. Unlike anybody you actually know, the Devil is motivated by evil for its own sake. And if the Devil has minions, they also are just trying to do harm.

[3] One of my favorite Kennedy-assassination conspiracy books was Best Evidence by David Lifton. (I’m not endorsing his theory, I’m just illustrating a point.) His theory revolves around how investigators think: They trust some kinds of evidence more than others, and they’ll explain away less-trusted evidence if it contradicts more-trusted evidence.

In a murder case, the best evidence is the body; or, after the body is out of reach, the autopsy. So if you could control that evidence, then you wouldn’t need to involve the whole FBI; they would naturally discount eye-witnesses who saw something that the autopsy says didn’t happen.

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  • Gina  On March 15, 2021 at 11:11 am

    I will say that when I heard the notion of the Cuomo attack being a protect-Trump event, my anxiety wasn’t caused by thinking somehow a Republican might get elected. Donald Trump was a Democrat before he was a Republican, it’s conceivable there might be some NY Democrats who are corrupt enough to pardon Trump for the right pay-off. So I find it dismissive to demonstrate how unlikely it is that a Republican could get elected. Cuomo himself is proof that it’s not just Republicans who behave badly.

    On the other hand, I have to say the reason it felt to me like a setup is the timing. We had a year or so of Me Too–why didn’t these accusations come out then? Why just now? I’ve come around to believing the accusations are valid, because of the number and severity of them and because of Cuomo’s general demeanor, but I don’t think it was wild and crazy to question the timing of this initially. It would be just the sort of trick the Trump bunch would pull–find a Democrat willing to pardon him and then find a way to get that guy elected governor. It’s not crazy.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On March 16, 2021 at 8:45 am

      The only objection to that is Trump has never demonstrated the organizational or leadership skills that would be necessary to pull off a plot like that. Not to mention, other than his financial activities (which are handled by professionals), his administration tended to leak like a sieve. There’s no way a plot of that magnitude and complexity could be kept secret.

      • Gina  On March 16, 2021 at 9:17 am

        I agree, except that I would have said the same thing about the postal service. I would have said Trump and his administration doesn’t have the focus and influence to destroy the postal service, and yet I’m shocked and amazed at the amount of damage they were able to inflict on that very popular government program. I would have said the same thing about the CDC but listen to Maddow’s most recent episode talking about how the Trump administration took the most respected, successful, trusted government program and turned it into a Trump propaganda machine. Trump is incompetent but somehow he finds people willing to do what he wants done.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On March 16, 2021 at 9:37 am

        What happened to the Post Office wasn’t Trump; it was Louis DeJoy, and even though DeJoy has done considerable damage, it didn’t go unnoticed. He started the process of slowing the mail by getting rid of sorting machines too soon, so if the intention was to disrupt the mail-in ballot process, that left enough time for the various state legislatures to address the expected problems.

        I stand by my view that if Trump had paid off Cuomo’s accusers to lie about him, that would have come out by now. Where Cuomo is really in trouble is with the reporting on nursing home deaths, and Trump had nothing to do with that, unless your theory is that Trump operatives broke into the database and altered the records.

  • Neal Schaeffer  On March 15, 2021 at 11:48 am

    Your “toolkit” seems like a riff on Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Toolkit, which also was offered in express support of democracy. This can be found in Chapter 12 of his The Demon-Haunted World, which appears to be available at https://archive.org/details/DemonHauntedWorld_carlSagan. Sagan had additional ideas beyond yours to implement healthy skepticism, which is really the critical point here.

  • Barry Mauer  On March 15, 2021 at 1:38 pm

    Trained scholars rely on established methods for determining which claims are better than others, and we grant credibility to those claims that withstand proper assessment, such as in the following philosophical “razors”:

    1. Popper’s Razor (named for Karl Popper): A better theory is more powerful, meaning it explains more data than its rival.
    2. Ockham’s Razor (named for William of Ockham): A better theory is simpler and requires fewer ad hoc hypotheses or assumptions to bolster it.
    3. Hume’s Razor (named for David Hume): A better theory is more probable: the fewer miracles required, the better.
    4. Whewell’s Razor (named for William Whewell): A better theory is consistent with other good theories.
    5. Sagan’s Razor (named for Carl Sagan): Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    6. Hitchen’s Razor (named for Christopher Hitchens): Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

  • Eric Hamilton  On March 15, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    No disagreement on the essence here, but I wonder about the relationship between conspiracy theories, white supremacy, and human belief systems in general.

    You wrote “Would you devote a big chunk of your life to a project that gained you nothing, but just destroyed something for somebody else? Not many people would.” As Heather McGhee documents in her book ” “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together”, people are willing to destroy things lest other have them too.

  • Michael Harrison  On March 15, 2021 at 2:23 pm

    For me, a teen at the time, the Kennedy assignation and doubts about the implausible Warren Commission Report provided serious roots to my questioning attitude. I mean really, the gangster Ruby was so upset that the President, (whose Attorney General brother was the biggest threat to organized crime in decades) was murdered that he ran right out and murdered Oswald thus preventing his testimony. Incredulous. That conspiracies were a fact of life was nailed down for me when Robert Kennedy was murdered by another lone gunman who was prevented from testimony… I suggest that your attempt to discern valid conspiratorial concerns suffers credibility with your naive dismissal of the Kennedy assassination. It was, justifiably, primal fodder for such beliefs.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On March 16, 2021 at 8:50 am

      One problem with that theory is that Ruby wasn’t a “gangster;” he was a nightclub owner with no known mob connections (and certainly wasn’t a hitman). The other problem is that while the Italian mafia has a long history of assassinating government officials, their American counterparts have scrupulously avoided this. In fact, Albert Anastasia ordered the execution of Dutch Schultz to prevent Schultz from carrying out his threat to murder the prosecutor Thomas Dewey. It makes no sense that the mob would break this rule by starting at the top, and that they’d use an unstable nutcase like Oswald for the biggest hit job in history – or that they’d use another unstable nutcase like Ruby to silence Oswald.

      It’s telling that these theories are propounded by people who never met Oswald or Ruby, and not anyone who actually knew them.

    • weeklysift  On March 18, 2021 at 3:10 pm

      Actually, I don’t think I dismissed Kennedy assassination theories. I told a joke about one, but another I used as an example of a good property (the conspiracy shrinks as you study it).

  • Marty  On March 15, 2021 at 3:43 pm

    I would argue that the biggest factor in conspiracy theories, especially old ones, is the number of people it would take to keep it secret. If you have more than a few people, it becomes incredibly likely that someone will let the cat out of the bag; after which investigation will quickly connect all the dots and the whole thing will quickly become the accepted explanation.

    This is more true when you have people involved from different organizations. It’s pretty easy to keep a secret if you have a small number of participants working together closely from one organization, but the moment you reach outside of government to some corporation, that guy is much more likely to become a leak.

    So, one of the best ways to evaluate conspiracy theories is to ask: how many different people would have to be involved? how many different organizations would have to be involved? And, how long would the secret have to have been kept? If those numbers are large, then the conspiracy theory is almost certainly false.

    So, the pee tape is a believable conspiracy, after all, it would only involve a few KGB agents, Putin, Trump, and a go-between. That is a secret that could reasonably be kept. (Though, it is still unlikely, as Occam’s Razor, indicates it is more likely that Trump just has a dictator-crush on Putin). Q-anon, on the other hand, involves thousands of participants from hundreds of different organizations keeping secrets. The idea that one of them hasn’t leaked is unlikely, so, it’s very unlikely.

    There is even a mathematical model for this that assumes that people are better at keeping secrets than they actually are.


    • weeklysift  On March 18, 2021 at 3:18 pm

      I get particularly suspicious of conspiracy theories so old that the perpetrators must be dying off. Dying people blab all sorts of stuff.

  • johnaedgren  On March 15, 2021 at 9:07 pm

    Vis a vis betting against the experts: I once taught from a statistics text that had chapter-head teasers. One quoted Damon Runyon, “It is true that the race is not necessarily to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”

  • George Washington, Jr.  On March 16, 2021 at 9:00 am

    I’m currently reading Vincent Bugliosi’s massive study of the JFK assassination, “Reclaiming History.” Bugliosi spends a third of the 1500-plus page book debunking the many conspiracy theories around the event. One thing many conspiracies have in common is confusing motive with evidence. If someone wanted JFK dead, that’s taken as evidence of guilt. RFK was cracking down on organized crime, and the mob was upset over JFK’s lack of gratitude for their help in his election victory, so they killed him. Herbert Hoover was worried about being at loose ends if JFK forced him to retire, so he had the FBI kill him. Anti-Castro Cubans were upset about the lack of support for the Bay of Pigs invasion, so they killed JFK in revenge. JFK planned to reduce the number of American advisors in Vietnam by 1000 (one-sixteenth of the total number there), so “the military-industrial complex” killed him. Johnson wanted to be president and was upset over how the East Coast elites in the administration treated him, so he had JFK killed. And once you’ve accepted one of these theories, the slightest irregularity, the flimsiest “evidence,” are proof that you’re correct.

    • weeklysift  On March 18, 2021 at 3:11 pm

      I think you mean J. Edgar Hoover, not Herbert.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On March 18, 2021 at 4:38 pm

        Yes, I meant J. Edgar Hoover, who was facing mandatory retirement at the time. It was well known that he had no life outside of the FBI, so I guess that was sufficient motive for him to kill the president. Johnson kept him on because “it’s better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

        I’ve never heard the theory that Herbert Hoover killed JFK, but I’m sure there’s at least someone who thinks he did.

  • Thomas Paine  On March 17, 2021 at 10:14 am

    The JFK assassination isn’t the case study to use here, because so much about what we do know about what happened makes any given single narrative next to impossible to believe. For instance, 20 different FBI sharp-shooters attempted to simply get off three rounds from the rifle Oswald was alleged to have used within the time required, and 19 failed. Not only did they not bother to aim, Oswald himself received the lowest marksmanship ranking in the Marines. In order to conclude Oswald was the only source of the bullets that struck not only Kennedy, but Connolly, too, one has to believe in both a “magic bullet” that changed direction several times as well as in an incredulous amount of luck combined with extraordinary rifle skill. And that’s but two of the many, many irregularities in such a narrative.

    A much better example of a ridiculous conspiracy theory that’s easily debunked is the Q-nut claim that HRC was running a child sex-slave ring out of the basement of a DC pizza parlor, taken seriously enough to cause someone to show up with a gun to stop it. Each and every aspect of it is so preposterous, it’s as if someone is making these up just to see how gullible some people are. Unfortunately, we have yet to find a limit.

    As mentioned above, the single best method of resisting conspiracy theories is a very healthy amount of skepticism whenever one appears, and requiring substantial, verifiable proof. It’s ok – as we really must do with JFK – to say we simply don’t know what the truth of the matter is, and until we’re able to say we do know with a reasonable amount of certainty, to reject whatever assertions are made even when that leaves us with no explanation at all. And it’s also ok to say that while we may not know what the truth of the matter actually is, it certainly isn’t what’s being claimed.

    Not every question has, today, an answer. Until we learn to accept this, conspiracy theories will continue to attempt to fill the voids.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On March 17, 2021 at 11:46 am

      I’m not sure where you’re getting your information. Several FBI sharpshooters easily beat Oswald’s speed and accuracy. And while Oswald received the low rating right before his discharge (when he presumably didn’t care what his score was), he still qualified, and his earlier rating was in the second-highest category. So the argument that Oswald couldn’t have killed JFK for that reason doesn’t hold water.

      The “magic bullet” theory depends on placing Connolly in the wrong position in relation to Kennedy in the vehicle. If he’s sitting where he actually was, the bullet’s trajectory is a straight line. There’s also no evidence that any bullets came from any other source besides the 6th floor Texas School Book Depository window.

      You have to be careful with JFK conspiracy theories, as many proponents aren’t above blatantly fabricating evidence. For example, Oliver Stone’s film “JFK” contains numerous outright falsehoods.

      • Thomas Paine  On March 17, 2021 at 1:26 pm

        There’s plenty of primary sources available for review that all call into serious question Oswald’s ability to do what the WC claims he did. Here’s one example for you, by someone in a much better position to form an opinion that either you or I: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1993-11-21-me-59498-story.html

        Your assertion that “several FBI sharpshooters easily beat Oswald’s speed and accuracy” is simply not true. Some tests were done using a different model of the rifle, one that didn’t have the limitations of Oswald’s, and no tests had any hitting the targets within the required time on the first try. And you gloss over the fact that his first Marine rating in the second tier was only by two points, and that he barely passed at all when retested. Oswald was a poor rifleman without recent practice firing at a moving target using a problematic weapon from a less than ideal position with less than seven seconds to do so. Maybe he somehow overcame all these factors working against him. Most likely, he didn’t.

        But this is a good example of how, when someone has decided he knows the ‘truth’ of a situation, he will deny the plethora of facts that call such ‘truth’ into question and wish them away. You, yourself, should be careful about “blatantly fabricating evidence”, and no one needs to rely on an Oliver Stone script to arrive at the conclusion that any one assertion of what happened faces serious challenges by both evidence and probability, and especially the assertion Oswald was the only source of the bullets involved. Note that I’ve intentionally chosen this phrasing to make it clear that it’s quite possible the shooting was accidental rather than being the product of some coordinated hit. FWIW, I personally believe that the accidental shooting theory by a SS agent in the car best fits both the problems with Oswald as well as the issues with the autopsy and control of the body. But, like your opinion, it’s just a guess.

        This isn’t the place to go around and around about JFK specifically. This is about being skeptical, especially when unknowns are unable to be resolved, and accepting that there are occasions when the best, most proper answer is “I don’t know” rather than making an assertion in any direction.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On March 17, 2021 at 4:15 pm

        Not to belabor the JFK assassination, but given that it’s been almost 60 years, and no solid evidence of a conspiracy has been found, the mere fact that there are “irregularities” doesn’t mean that there must have been multiple shooters. We would have to accept that the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee, which together explored every possible avenue, somehow missed finding the truth. Or worse, we would have to say that these two groups were “in on it,” and the investigations and hearings were a massive Kabuki theater, carefully designed to conceal the truth while giving the impression of sincerely searching for it.

        Conspiracies and their attendant cover-ups tend to come to light, for example, the Gulf of Tonkin and Watergate didn’t remain secret for very long. It’s inconceivable that any conspiracy around the JFK assassination could have been kept secret all this time. It’s only in conspiracy theories that the truth remains hidden, visible only to a select few.

  • Thomas Paine  On March 17, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    This is a good example of a fallacy of logic. To dismiss the serious problems that exist with the WC narrative by calling them “irregularities”, and then to argue that because what evidence that does remain and is available hasn’t produced a definitive alternative explanation requires accepting what’s been officially asserted essentially begs the question.

    No, there’s no time limit. No, there’s no requirement that because incidents like Nixon’s obstruction of justice were exposed that all must be, especially when evidence has been destroyed. No, it’s simply not true that “only in conspiracy theories that the truth remains hidden, visible only to a select few.” There are situations in which “the truth” simply cannot be known. That, of course, doesn’t stop individuals such as yourself as asserting you do know, regardless of whatever gymnastics are required to get there.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On March 17, 2021 at 9:54 pm

      It is possible that Oswald was part of a conspiracy that has remained secret to this day. I just don’t see any value in asserting that. It’s like saying that while we have no proof that Santa Claus exists, it’s possible that we simply haven’t found it yet. Like the judge in “Miracle on 34th St.,” we will keep “an open mind.”

  • Peter  On March 17, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    Having enjoyed the Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theory joke (not heard that one before), I submit my own musing on the topic of How Conspiracy Cults Begin.

    There comes a point in everyone’s life when an opportunity arises to make a mark, to leave behind a legacy for all time.

    Lately I’ve been thinking about Q and the Anon crowd, and I had an epiphany.

    I should begin a conspiracy cult of my own.

    To that end, I have been doing some deep thinking, whenever time permitted.

    I have decided to create my persona based on the letter in the English alphabet that comes after Q – namely, R.

    And to obfuscate the fact that I am in reality R, I shall portray myself as one of my own followers (and also to get the membership ball rolling).

    But what to call my followers? Anon is already taken. It occurred to me that we are all souls, and that Souls might serve as a suitable epithet for my followers.

    And so, since I am not only R but also one of my followers – a Soul – I proudly make the following declaration:

    I am an RSoul!
    (My proposed tagline is *WABWWAG*: We’ve All Been Where We’ve All Gone)

    • weeklysift  On March 18, 2021 at 3:15 pm

      The explanation of RSouls works better when I read it out loud with a British accent.

      • Peter  On March 18, 2021 at 9:31 pm

        Damn. What a giveaway. Or is it…?

      • weeklysift  On March 19, 2021 at 6:20 am

        Another tagline could be WRWWR: We R What We R, a collective version of Popeye’s “I yam what I yam”. Popeye could be a mascot for the movement.

      • Peter  On March 19, 2021 at 6:41 am

        I suppose I should point out that there is no British accent. It would have to be an amalgam of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English accents (and all the regional dialects and slang therein). It’s been my experience that the accent most identified with “British” is actually either Home Counties English or Cockney/London/South-east English (and the two are significantly different from each other).

        It’s a British conspiracy to confuse Americans by farming out many accents to other parts of the world to evolve still further (I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked if I’m Australian or South African – or even German (???)).

  • Peter  On March 19, 2021 at 6:47 am

    WRWWR: We R What We R. I like it. But Popeye? King Features would have my Rs. I’d be King Screwed…

  • John  On March 19, 2021 at 4:41 pm

    I agree the most likely reason for Cuomo’s current situation is that being an asshole will eventually catch up with you, but I think your dismissal – “Not even Trumpists are crazy enough to invest the kind of resources even a failed attempt would require” – is too cavalier.

    Seems to me that assumption has been disproven time and again over the last 5 years or so. Inevitably it seems to turn out that Trumpists ARE crazy enough.

  • tsawyer8  On June 12, 2021 at 7:05 pm

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


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