Conspiracy theories have always been with us. As a teenager, I remember a story that a 100 miles-per-gallon carburetor had been developed and then buried by the automobile manufacturers because the oil industry wanted to sell more gasoline. Over the years, it became evident that this story was completely bogus. Still, a lot of people believed it.
When the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11th, high school friends of mine believed the conspiracy theory that the destruction of the Twin Towers was an “inside job” by the government; that explosives planted within the buildings brought them down. They pointed to photographs showing windows on the lower floors blowing outwards as the building above started collapsing towards the ground.
Of course, mechanical and civil engineers quickly explained this. The Twin Towers had poured-concrete floors supported around the perimeter by steel brackets. The burning jet fuel softened (not melted) these angle brackets. Eventually, they failed, and the blazing floor fell onto the floor below. Now the sheer weight of both slabs exceeded the load capacity of the support brackets, and they broke loose. The buildings had a large elevator shaft in the center running from top-to-bottom. As the floors pancaked towards the ground, you have the equivalent of a bicycle pump – the pancaked slabs acting as a giant piston, overpressuring the levels below as the building fell. Naturally, some of the windows blew out below, as shown by the above photograph. Try to explain that to proponents of this conspiracy theory, and they’ll call you “stupid liberal,” “snowflake,” “cuck,” or whatever.
While most of us would agree that the Internet is the greatest invention of our time (who doesn’t love Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Netflix), sadly, the Internet has weaponized the crazies among us. Websites such as Breitbart, 4chan, Stormfront, and InfoWars have gleefully participated in the creation and dissemination of idiotic conspiracy theories.
The poster child of conspiracy theorists is none other than Alex Jones, shown above, who runs a website called Info Wars. Donald Trump has appeared on his show, and Jones is a card-carrying member of the White House press corps. His conspiracies, espoused on his show, run from the entertainingly nutty to the outright cruel.
On one notable showing, Jones hosted a conspiracy nut, Robert David Steele, who claimed that NASA had a pedophile base on Mars where little children were held there as sex slaves. While Jones himself looked a bit skeptical at this one, nonetheless, he put this insanity on the air. A few days later, NASA had to release a statement that “No, we don’t have a pedophile base on Mars.” Here’s a link on this: Mars Slave Colony
The most horrifying Alex Jones conspiracy theory involved the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass killing. A deranged individual, Adam Lanza, murdered his mother, then entered the Sandy Hook school and killed twenty children and six staff members. This horrifying event energized the gun safety movement in the United States. The right-wing hellscape switched into overdrive to deflect the nation’s attention away from the tragedy by claiming that the whole thing was a “deep state” hoax. Alex Jones was front-and-center on this nonsense, and the resulting publicity caused grieving parents to start receiving death threats and other forms of harassment. Some fought back, sued Jones and Info Wars, and caused him to broadcast a retraction. This case is still under litigation, and Jones may someday find himself driven to bankruptcy.
These tragedies always involve real people dealing with the worst kind of heartbreak – the death of a child or sibling. The photograph above is Carlee Soto at the moment when she was told that her sister, Vicky, was killed in her first-grade classroom, trying to protect her children from the gunman’s bullets. To question her grief and anguish to shield the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby is vile beyond belief.
Which brings us to the conspiracy du jour, the Ukrainians hacked the Democratic National Committee’s web server. Grab yourself a cup of coffee as I take us through this flight of fancy.
On May 10, 2016, George Papadopoulos, one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisors, bragged at a London pub to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that Russia had Hillary Clinton’s emails. Downer, to his credit, immediately tattled to the United States government, specifically the FBI and CIA. They got a FISA warrant to follow Papadopoulos, and the chase was on. Eventually, the FBI brought Papadopoulos in for an interview, and he lied to them. That’s a federal crime, and he was found guilty and served 12 days in prison.
The FBI, with the assistance of the CIA, began an investigation of Russian meddling in the upcoming 2016 election. At the time, President Obama wanted to go public with the preliminary results. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected, and the whole thing remained under-the-radar up through the election.
Trump won, albeit an electoral college victory only (he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots). On assuming the Presidency in 2017, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was prosecuting Trump’s National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn (Mister Lock Her Up). Acting FBI Director Rod Rosenstein created a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, to continue the investigation.
Laboring for two years, Robert Mueller investigated the Russian election interference and published a 400-page report. His team identified the Russian facilities that did the hacking and social media manipulation, and the actual individuals who did the work. They have all been indicted and had better not attempt to travel to the USA. Mueller, being a stickler for DOJ rules, declined to indict Trump, but rather punted the football to Congress.
President Trump objected to the suggestion that his election might be tainted by Russian interference, and looked for some way to prove that the Russians are innocent in this election business. Lucky for him, the nutty conspiracy theory goons came up with a whopper: The Ukrainians Did It!
The “Ukrainians Did It” conspiracy has two major parts: the Bidens and Crowdstrike.
Vice President Joe Biden’s last surviving son, Hunter Biden, is a Washington lobbyist. In 2014, Hunter took a job as a member of the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. His salary at Burisma was $50k per month. Ukrainian prosecutors have investigated Hunter’s activities and found nothing illegal.
Hunter Biden is no angel; the Navy discharged him for cocaine use. His divorce in 2016 was tabloid fodder. Although a Yale law graduate, Hunter was always in the shadow of his late brother Beau. He’s just someone using his Father’s notoriety to land a cushy job, something prevalent in Washington these days.
The Crowdstrike part of this conspiracy theory is a real howler. Cooked up by Steve Bannon, Breitbart, and other right-wing idiots, the story goes like this. The Ukrainians actually had the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server in Ukraine, hacked it themselves using the Ukrainian cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, released the data to Wikileaks, et. al. to embarrass the Russians. This brilliant plan also allowed the Democrats to lose the election.
Here’s the truth. The DNC had several servers. Here’s a photo of one of them in their DC headquarters. It’s the small electronics rack on the table to the right of the file cabinets. As far as I can tell, none of these servers was in Ukraine.
So the Ruskies figured out the Internet address of this server, got in there, and copied the whole shebang (calling Julian Assange!). When the DNC got wind of this, they hired the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike to investigate. Crowdstrike worked with the FBI on the inquiry and, you guessed it, found out that the Russians did the hacking. One of Crowdstrike’s founders, Dmitri Alperovitch, is of Russian birth, coming to the USA as a child. It’s not a Ukrainian company. So why would the Democrats hack their DNC server, spill it’s contents to Wikileaks and others, to facilitate losing the election?
Only an idiot would believe this nutty story. Unfortunately, our Idiot-in-Chief, President Trump, believes it. He demanded that the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky find this “server” and get the goods on the Bidens if he wanted to get the Javalin missiles that the Ukrainian Army so desperately needs. This mob-style shakedown of the Ukrainian President is, of course, the essence of the House Impeachment Investigation. I’ll comment on that in another blog post.
Concluding, I’d like to talk about lying. I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment – freedom of speech. I’d go to the barricades with anybody to uphold that freedom. However, I don’t believe that Freedom of Speech grants you the right to lie.
Facebook has said that it’s not their job to police lying on their platform. Evil people, like Steve Bannon and his ilk, use social media voluminously to promulgate conspiracies that are demonstrably false to the general public on a massive scale. Grieving people, like the Sandy Hook parents, the family of Seth Rich, and others are then harassed and threatened by fools who believe these lies. The worst cases are the demented gunmen who, egged on by these conspiracy theories, have killed scores of innocents in the last couple of years.
These social media platforms are the root of the problem. They’ve made it too easy for the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, and others to manipulate the American public. Here are some ideas to reign in the influence of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You Must Have a Social Security Number to be on Facebook, etc.
Force all American users of Facebook, Twitter, etc. to re-register with a name, address, and social security number. Have the Census Department provide a database to do this. This new arrangement will prevent bots from creating bogus users in the United States. You’ll know if the post you’re reading is from a foreign entity.
Eliminate the Share and Retweet Buttons
Eliminate the Facebook “Share” and Twitter “Retweet” buttons. You can send cat photos to your Facebook circle of friends, but they cannot send them on with a single click. This limitation wipes out the “chain reaction” effect of exploding memes and dishonest postings to everybody in the country and the world. If you want to pass on a post with your cousin’s baby pictures, you must take the time to create a message yourself.
Make Knowingly Lying on Social Media a Federal Crime
If you lie to the FBI, that’s a federal crime (ask Martha Stewart about that one). In the same light, it should be against the law to lie to you and me, especially if it’s on a social media platform. If anyone places a posting, meme, or statement on these platforms proven demonstrably false, the content creator (e.g., Alex Jones) and the content transmitter (e.g., Facebook) will be held legally accountable if the posting caused harassment or death threats to innocents. Put this concept into law and watch how fast Mark Zukerberg applies Artificial Intelligence (AI) to fact check every posting.
Lying has become too prevalent in today’s America. Maybe it’s time to stand up and say we’ve had enough of this mendacity. We could start by ridding ourselves of the biggest liar of them all, President Trump.