Conspiracy Theories Are Often About the Theorist, Not the Conspiracy

Probably not killed by the JOOZ (AP)
July 22, 2013

Jody Bottum has a good line about cranks:

There are three infallible signs of the crank—that oddball, goofball sort of person who mutters, as he walks along, about how he’s grasped the key to everything. The first is that he has a theory about the Jews. The second is that he has a theory about money. And the third is that he has a theory about Shakespeare.

I couldn't help but think of that bit of wisdom while reading Michael Potemra's recent post on the JFK conspiracy theorists who believe that Israel was behind the assassination. Writes Potemra:

Another disappointment in the collected letters of JFK: Close to the end of the book, which is only 352 pages long, the editor devotes eight pages to an exchange between President Kennedy and Israeli leaders on Israel’s nuclear-weapons program, which the U.S. president viewed as a threat to world peace. Editor Martin W. Sandler introduces the section as follows:

In March 1992, Representative Paul Findley of Illinois, wrote in the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs, "It is interesting. . . . to notice that in all the words written and uttered about the Kennedy assassination, Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, has never been mentioned." Two years later in his book Final Judgment, author Michael Collins actually accused Israel of the crime. Of all the conspiracy theories, it remains one of the most intriguing.

No, it doesn’t. It’s not one of the most intriguing theories about the JFK assassination; it’s one of the crankiest, craziest, and nuttiest.

I must disagree with Potemra, at least in part. It actually is intriguing that some people think that Israel was behind the killing; I've read quite a bit about the killing and was introduced to the theory only recently. But it's intriguing not because it sheds any light on the murder of President Kennedy. Rather, it's intriguing because of what it tells us about the individuals who believe in such a theory. It tells us that they're cranks: they have a theory about the Jews (in all likelihood, many such theories) and are, in all likelihood, probably not terribly fond of the Chosen People. Similarly, you saw a number of insta-theories about Israeli involvement in 9/11. This tells us more about the person ranting about the evil, perfidious Jews than it does about the terrorist attacks that day.

Such is the way of most conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists. A conspiracy theory isn't interesting for what it tells us about the world so much as what it tells us about the worldview of the person espousing it. Did 42 percent of Democrats actually think that George W. Bush or Dick Cheney planned the 9/11 attacks? Maybe, maybe not. But I can tell you this with a good degree of certainty: Forty-two percent of Democrats polled by John Zogby on those days hated Bush and Cheney with enough passion to accuse them of plotting the attacks that killed almost three thousand Americans. The answer given by those Democrats tells us nothing about what happened on 9/11—but it tells us a lot about how they see the world.

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