Conspiracy theories: Paul McCartney is dead, Elvis is alive, Stonehenge was built by aliens and 12 more
www.theweek.co.uk Conspiracy theories: Paul McCartney is dead, Elvis is alive, Stonehenge was built by aliens and 12 more In a post-truth world, conspiracy theories are aplenty - here are some of the most intriguing and bizarre out there THE WEEKDAY NEWSLETTER Apr 23, 2018
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In the post-truth internet age conspiracy theories seem to be blossoming. Here are some of the most intriguing and bizzare:
Paul McCartney is dead
One of the most unusual pop-culture conspiracy theories concerns a member of the Fab Four. Beatles legend has it that Paul McCartney secretly died in 1966, at the height of the band's fame, and that the other three members covered it up by hiring someone who looked and sang like him.
Beatlemaniacs point to numerous clues in the band's later albums as proof of this. The Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album is, they claim, awash with "Paul is dead" clues such as the lyrics to A Day in the Life, which featured the line "He blew his mind out in a car" and the recorded phrase "Paul is dead, miss him, miss him," which becomes evident only when the song is played backward. Lennon also mumbled, "I buried Paul" at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever" although he later denied there was any hidden meaning in the lyrics and what he was actually saying was "cranberry sauce".
Much is also made of The Beatles' use of imagery after 1966. The original cover of 1966's Yesterday and Today album featured the Beatles posed amid raw meat and dismembered doll parts - "symbolising McCartney's gruesome accident" says Time Magazine. The magazine also claims that "if fans placed a mirror in front of the Sgt Pepper album cover, the words Lonely Hearts on the drum logo could be read as "1 ONE 1 X HE DIE 1 ONE 1."
Most famously, there is the Abbey Road album cover in which John Lennon, dressed in white, leads a "funeral" procession across the street. Ringo follows in black as a mourner with George in jeans representing a grave digger. Paul McCartney walks out of step with the rest of band and barefoot as, some had it, he would have no need of shoes in the afterlife.
Elvis is alive
Music legend Elvis Presley died on 16 August 1977 - or did he? If the latest conspiracy theory is to be believed, the King of Rock and Roll faked his own death and now works as a groundsman in Graceland.
Grainy footage of a bearded man has been posted on YouTube by "The Shadow", who claims the figure is an 81-year-old Elvis.
In the caption for the video, which has been viewed nearly 700,000 times, The Shadow writes: "He raises his 2 fingers to the top of his left head as a proof of life signal. In Chaldean Numerology the numerical value of V sign in Numerology is: 9. Proof of life!!!....he told us he is alive with the simple V sign. Number 9 ,'I'm Alive' He is giving us a clue that he knows we are all there watching him and to his most loyal fans that he is indeed with us."
While some say the claims are "idiotic" and Elvis should be left to "rest in peace", the belief that the King is out there looks unlikely to fade away.
The CIA and Aids
Ever since HIV/Aids was first identified in the US in 1981, rumours have persisted as to its cause and origin.
One of the most outlandish theories that has nevertheless captured the imagination of conspiracists is that the deadly virus was created by the CIA to wipe out homosexuals and African Americans on the orders of US president Richard Nixon.
It boasts a number of high-profile supporters including former South African president Thabo Mbeki who once touted the theory, "disputing scientific claims that the virus originated in Africa and accusing the US government of manufacturing the disease in military labs" says Times magazine. Meanwhile, a number of prominent scientists, including former Nobel Peace Prize Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai, have also backed the theory.
There is evidence that the CIA connection was, in fact, created by the KGB as part of a Cold War disinformation campaign to discredit the US.
Dubbed Operation Infektion, the USSR published letters from "anonymous US official sources" in scientific journals and newspapers throughout the 1980s claiming that virus was a CIA experiment gone wrong. This initially remained within the medical community but as the epidemic grew, the theory took hold and persists to this day.
Despite this, most scientist and doctors agree that the virus jumped from monkeys to humans somewhere in the Congo during the 1930s.
MH370 and MH17 are the same plane
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 and has yet to be found despite an extensive search operation.
A little more than four months later, on 17 July 2014, another Malaysia Airlines flight, MH17, crashed in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border after apparently having been shot down by a missile.
To most people the two tragedies looked like a terrible coincidence, but to conspiracy theorists there are no coincidences – and MH370 and MH17 were in fact the same plane.
Worldtruth.tv is one of the many sites that argues that MH370 was hijacked and flown to US military base Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
The "US propaganda machine" then staged the shooting down of MH17 so that the Russians would lose credibility.
The theory fails to explain why the same propaganda victory could not have been achieved, assuming it was desired, simply by shooting down any passenger aircraft over the Ukraine-Russia border. Read our in-depth article on MH370 conspiracies here.
Aliens helped build Stonehenge
The series of boulders that make up Stonehenge have long puzzled experts and provided material ripe for conspiracy theorists.
Most pertinent is the question: how were the stones - some weighing 50 tons - transported and arranged to where they sit today?
Without basic transportation technology, such as wheels (which were invented more than five centuries after Stonehenge is believed to have been built), there is no obvious answer to how the biggest stones were moved.
Much of what scientists do know about the construction of Stonehenge is from educated guesses and constantly evolving research, the newest of which suggests that in fact two of the largest boulders that make up Stonehenge have always been “more or less” where they sit today.
Alternatively of course, scientists could shun the research and read Erich von Däniken's seminal book Chariots of the Gods?, “which makes the argument that many ancient megastructures such as Stonehenge, the Egyptian pyramids, and the Moai heads of Easter Island were built using know-how passed down from God-like aliens to mankind”, says The Independent.
Though why the extraterrestrials would pass on the knowledge of how to build Stonehenge but not the wheel is anyone’s guess...
The "reptoid hypothesis" is a conspiracy theory which advances the argument that reptilian humanoids live among us with the intention of enslaving the human race. It has been championed by former BBC sports presenter David Icke, who believes the likes of Bob Hope, members of the royal family and former US presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton are part of the "Anunnaki" race who came to earth for "monatomic gold".
Critics accused Icke of anti-Semitism, alleging that his talk of reptiles was code for Jews – but he clarified that the lizards to which he referred were literal, not metaphorical.
Beyonce is a clone
Remember the classic Paul is Dead conspiracy? The theory that Paul McCartney was killed in a car accident at the height of the Beatles's fame and replaced by a lookalike? Well, the 21stcentury music industry now has its own twist on the tale. And in keeping with its modern origin, it's a little more tech-savvy.
In recent years, a small but vocal subculture has argued that the Beyonce we all remember from the days when she was lead singer with Destiny's Child has been replaced by a clone.
The outlandish theory was first spotted by The Root, which shared the following screenshot of a Facebook post showing the supposedly clear physical difference between the 'old' Beyonce and her cyborg replacement.
The Daily Dot has unearthed a video uploaded to YouTube showing the pop goddess at a basketball game behaving in a way considered a little bit…clone-ish.
It's far from the first conspiracy theory to involve Queen Bey, who was accused of faking her pregnancy and is frequently identified by Illuminati enthusiasts as one of the leading players in the so-called New World Order. But as far as we can tell, it's easily the wackiest.
Jesus married Mary Magdalene
Sometimes the best conspiracy theories are the oldest – and prove they existed well before the invention of the internet.
For those who take the stories of Jesus Christ as matters of historical fact, there remain some aspects of his life that are highly contentious. Central among these is the personage of Mary Magdalene. Discovered in 1945, and still disputed by religious scholars, the Gospel of Phillip refers to Magdalene as Jesus's koinonos, a Greek term for "companion" or "partner".
While there is scant evidence elsewhere in the scriptures to support the claim that Jesus and Magdalene were married, this has not stopped a host of theories springing up.
Most famous of these is undoubtedly Dan Brown's The Da Vinci code which also wraps in conspiracy shibboleths like The Illuminati, Opus Dei and the Knights Templar for good measure.
Yet, dismissed as a mostly-fictional thriller, it could be that Brown was nearer to the truth than even he knew after a 1,500 year-old manuscript was recently unearthed at the British Library which appears to reveal Jesus not only married the prostitute Mary Magdalene but had two children with her.
Dubbed 'The Lost Gospel', it also made the startling claim that the original Virgin Mary was Jesus’ wife and not his mother.
In 1947 claims that an "alien spacecraft" had landed in Roswell, New Mexico, were dismissed by the US military, which said the alien craft was merely a weather balloon.
Ufologists believe the spacecraft was taken into Area 51 – a division of Edwards Air Force Base – and the US government has been researching alien technology and life forms on the site ever since.
Video footage of an alleged "alien autopsy" has been shown to be fake, but Area 51 is known to be a secretive and heavily guarded base. The reasons, however, may be more earthly than the conspiracy theories suggest: the U-2 spy plane, and several other top-secret aircraft, were developed and tested here.
On 11 September 2001, four planes were hijacked by al-Qaeda and two of them were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, killing 2,996 people.
However, some believe that the attack was an inside job, orchestrated in order to cement the US's place as the top global power or to secure the oil reserves in the Middle East.
Another theory is that the building's owners were responsible for the event (they stood to gain $500m in insurance profits). For more detail, read our feature on the top ten 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Mass shootings are staged by the government
While the latest Parkland school massacre has sparked a nationwide debate and increased calls for tighter gun controls, some believe mass shootings are actually orchestrated by the government as an excuse to restrict the sale of firearms.
Many of the Parkland survivors have been vocal about gun control, leading to accusations they are not really students at all. Memes and videos on YouTube claim some of the students are “actors” working for anti-gun groups who travel around the country to the sites of mass shootings.
Earlier this week, a video alleging Parkland survivor David Hogg, 17, was a “crisis actor” who’s been “coached” on anti-gun talking points, was one of the top trending videos on YouTube.
In response, Hogg thanked all the conspiracy theorists and detractors he believes have helped amplify his real message.
“These people that have been attacking me on social media, they've been great advertisers. Ever since they started attacking me, my Twitter followers are now a quarter of a million people. People have continued to cover us in the media. They've done a great job of that, and for that, I honestly thank them," Hogg told CNN's Brian Stelter.
Yet effort by social media companies to crack down on false stories claiming teenage survivors are actors hired to promote gun control “shines a light on a seemingly intractable problem of the modern conspiracy theory epidemic: that censoring the content can reinforce and enhance false beliefs and that there is no easy way to change the mind of a conspiracy theorist”, says The Guardian.
Neil Armstrong's giant leap kicked off one of the most persistent conspiracy theories of the 20th century - that the 1969 landings, and all those that followed, were faked by Nasa and that no human being has ever set foot on the surface of the moon.
Even though there is substantial evidence to the contrary (including moon rocks brought back to Earth and manmade objects left on the moon) some remain adamant that film director Stanley Kubrick was hired to produce the footage after his experience on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In November 1963, John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald, a former US Marine who defected to the Soviet Union before returning to the US, was accused of the crime but was shot dead before he could stand trial. But was he just a scapegoat? Did the real killers get away with murder?
No official investigation has turned up evidence of a conspiracy, but theories implicating everyone from the KGB to Jackie Kennedy continue to circulate. Read more about the JFK conspiracy theory here.
Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory
To the most dedicated conspiracy theorists, none of these plots on their own is sufficient to explain the sustained malevolence of the world in which we live. Instead, each one is a manifestation of what RationalWiki describes as "an interlocking hierarchy of conspiracies", in which all the world's events are controlled by a single evil entity.
It is a complex and self-reflexive premise: if it is correct, then it must be the case that awareness of the Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory is itself a part of the conspirators plan – and so, of course, is this list.
Why do so many people believe in them?
Even the most rational people buy into conspiracy theories as a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness in the modern world, says the New York Times. "Believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular," the paper says citing a 2010 study.
Research suggests conspiracy theorists are more likely to believe something if there is an element of uniqueness to possessing that knowledge.
“Belief in conspiracies can serve to set oneself apart from the ignorant masses - a self-serving boast about one’s exclusive knowledge,” writes Roland Imhoff, professor of social and legal psychology at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. “Adherence to conspiracy theory might not always be the result of some perceived lack of control, but rather a deep-seated need for uniqueness.”
Demonstrating this, Imhoff and his team created a conspiracy theory in Germany, namely that the biggest manufacturer of smoke detectors knew their detectors had serious side effects, emanating a ‘hypersound’ that causes nausea, gastritis and depression but were doing nothing about it.
“The conspiracy: the manufacture was in cahoots with the government and knew about the dangerous smoke detectors, but did nothing,” writes Imhoff.
His team of researchers then introduced the conspiracy as being believed either by a majority (81%) or a minority (19%) of the German public.
The scientists hypothesis was that conspiracy theorists were “more likely to endorse the conspiracy when finding out that fewer people believed in it than when they found out that many people believed it”, reports Quartz.
And that’s exactly what their study showed.
“The new conspiracy seemed to be more attractive if it was a minority opinion. It set them apart from the masses,” says Imhoff.
US psychologist Rob Brotherton, the author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, says many as 90 per cent of people acknowledge entertaining one conspiracy theory or another. "Given a handful of dots, our pattern-seeking brains can't resist trying to connect them," he says.
But Brotherton also suggests we shouldn't be so quick to reject even the stranger notions. "Dismissing all conspiracy theories (and theorists) as crazy is just as intellectually lazy as credulously accepting every wild allegation," he writes in theLos Angeles Times.
"If you had claimed, in the early 1970s, that a hotel burglary was, in fact, a plot by White House officials to illegally spy on political rivals and ensure President Nixon's re-election, you might have been accused of conspiracy theorising," he says.