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Political Conspiracies

The attack on 9/11 was a horrific act, but it is the story—the words, if you will—that surround the act that have given it meaning. The meaning conveyed by "You are either with us, or against us." or "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." are perhaps some of the more blatant examples of how the events of 9/11 have been framed to be the foundation of the Great Fear society. But, more insidious, is the use of the phrase "conspiracy theorist" to defend the official view from critics. The frequency and effectiveness of its use in this way has been so powerful that it is now part of the lexicon used to discredit anyone with a contrarian view of the world.

The community represented on this website has largely learned to deal with ad hominem critiques—particularly in website comments. However, the "conspiracy theorist" phrase still carries weight in its use in the media. Getting past this phrase that associates questioning the events of 9/11 with being a weak-minded dupe, means changing its meaning in the public eye. Echoing advice given by a "skeptical" columnist in Scientific American, repeating one's opponent's words gives weight (and credibility) to his arguments. The first step in undercutting the power of this phrase is to never use it.

Instead, the meaning of 'conspiracy theorist" can be changed by linking it directly with what it has been used to cover up, political conspiracies. There are a huge majority of Americans who understand that political conspiracies do happen and they have been covered up by our political establishment. So, responding to an inflammatory accusation of being a "conspiracy theorist" by pointing out that "political conspiracies do exist" redirects the meaning of conspiracy theorist away from "dupe" to "realistic understanding of the political system."

What the effective use of the term "conspiracy theorist" has taken from us has been the ability to label 9/11 for what it was, a conspiracy of the worst kind—treason. While using "political conspiracy" in comments and articles does begin to point to those most likely to have committed these crimes against humanity, it also makes it much more difficult for a defender of the official story to use the "conspiracy theorist" term. This because defending the official story must never lead to a general discussion of political conspiracies. A general discussion of this sort might begin to connect the Coup d'état of '63, the murders of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Iran Contra, and ultimately 9/11.

Interesting suggestion

The term 'political conspiracies' at least separates 'conspiracy' from 'theory.' While the meaning of both those words individually has been degraded, it is the use of them in combination that has become really toxic.

Here's a recent comment I posted on this subject. It includes an embedded video, the intro to which you might want to check out:

http://911blogger.com/news/2014-03-20/cass-sunstein-still-plagued-his-imaginary-conspiracy-theorists#comment-261087

'Inducing Resistance to Conspiracy Theory Propaganda'

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hcre.12000/abstract

A "911 conspiracy" is put before participants ... are we to lament that people are not easily inoculated against the truth?

--- ABSTRACT ---

This investigation examined the boundaries of inoculation theory by examining how inoculation can be applied to conspiracy theory propaganda as well as inoculation itself (called metainoculation).

A 3-phase experiment with 312 participants compared 3 main groups: no-treatment control, inoculation, and metainoculation.

Research questions explored how inoculation and metainoculation effects differ based on the argument structure of inoculation messages (fact- vs. logic-based).

The attack message was a 40-minute chapter from the 9/11 Truth conspiracy theory film,"Loose Change: Final Cut".

The results indicated that both the inoculation treatments induced more resistance than the control message, with the fact-based treatment being the most effective.

The results also revealed that metainoculation treatments reduced the efficacy of the inoculation treatments.

Hmmmm...

I honestly can't make heads or tails out of this academic-speak. Are you able to translate the results into plain English, by any chance?

Sounds like 'inoculation' is part of the same project as 'debunking'.

Me too

But this wiki entry explained inoculation theory fairly well. It was quite interesting actually. A good compliment to the Asch studies. I found it a bit disturbing that the article uses the phrasing "more importantly how to keep original attitudes and beliefs consistent in the face of persuasion attempts." It begs the Oquestion why is it so important to maintain original beliefs especially if they are harmful or just plain wrong. The practice of bloodletting was a medical procedure thought to rid the body of impurities, disease, and/or virus. Once proven to be ineffective and harmful, why would someone want to hold onto such belief? Maybe that's a bad example but as seen in the excerpt below, it could show why so many poor theories were put forth on 9/11 such as pods, missles, space beams, so early on. This may be the very method being used by CIA.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inoculation_theory

Inoculation Theory was developed by social psychologist William J. McGuire in 1961 to explain more about how attitudes and beliefs change, and more importantly, how to keep original attitudes and beliefs consistent in the face of persuasion attempts. Inoculation Theory continues to be studied today by communication, social psychology, and social science researchers. The theory has been assessed in varied context, including politics (Pfau et al., 1990), health campaigns (Pfau & VanBockern, 1994), and marketing (Compton & Pfau, 2004), among others.

Medical analogy

Inoculation can best be explained by a medical inoculation analogy. Indeed, the analogy served as the inaugural exemplar for how inoculation confers resistance. As McGuire (1961a) initially explained, a medical inoculation works by exposing a body to weakened viruses—strong enough to trigger a response (i.e., the production of antibodies), but not so strong as to overwhelm the body's resistance. Attitudinal inoculation seems to work the same way: Expose someone to weakened counterarguments, triggering a process of counterarguing which eventually confers resistance to later, stronger persuasive messages.

Thanks

Thanks. I do recall learning something years ago about the 'inoculation effect' in argumentation.

I think Nietzsche was getting at the same thing when he said, 'The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.'

I actually kind of like your bloodletting analogy.

Misleading the people - and protecting powerful criminals....

The term "conspiracy theorist" was first exploited in the ensuing battle of two theories regarding the assassination of JFK: the "lone gunman" theory, (which became the officially sanctioned version) versus the "multiple gunman", aka "conspiracy" theory, which was *not* officially sanctioned, probably because it implicated persons whom the powers that be wanted to protect. Since then, the term has been developed as a very effective psychological weapon to simultaneously mislead the people, while shielding well-connected, privileged, rogue elements within government, corporate, military, intelligence, security and law enforcement from investigation and due process. With the decades-long aid of a complicit mainstream media, to raise the term "conspiracy theory" now results in a Pavlovian response amongst the masses: "skeptics of any official position on any controversial event must be deluded, paranoid or stupid". This aspect of the war is a really tough cookie to address.

Thanks Kevin once again for your superb analysis!

CIA Document

Written April 1, 1967 this CIA document really says it all. Writer/NYU Professor Mark Crispin Miller did a study and found that after its release the usage of "conspiracy theorist" exploded as a pejorative in the main stream corporate press.

http://www.realhistoryarchives.com/collections/assassinations/jfk/cia-inst.htm

Here's Mark explaining it (first speaker, in a hurry go to 4:00 mark):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkbPSn68oGc

They'll Call us Conspiracy Theorists No Matter What

They'll call us conspiracy theorists no matter how we try to deflect it, so I just accept the term and move on. Meanwhile, I'm reading Denying History by Michael Shermer, which is a very good refutation of Holocaust deniers. What is intriguing is that Shermer points out that the genocide of the Jews was a conspiracy by the Nazi government, which tried to keep it secret from the German people, afraid that they might protest too strongly against it, as they had protested against the euthanasia that the Nazis had been carrying out against the mentally ill and physically handicapped. So Shermer is a conspiracy theorist. I accept his conspiracy theory as a reasonable explanation for the facts of history. I don't try to shout down his theory by labeling him a conspiracy theorist. Too bad he and others don't see the inconsistency of their ways.

The early "Holocaust Truthers"

Some years ago, my next door neighbor was a German family. Max and his wife Netta ran a successful cabinet-making business. I got to know them well and we had some very interesting conversations, and from these I learned a lot about life for ordinary German people up to and during World War II, during which time he was growing up. During one conversation, the subject of the Holocaust came up. It was difficult for him to talk about it. Max talked about how his parents - as did many ordinary Germans - knew about the "rounding up and deportation of the Jews", in the years leading up to the start of WWII, and thought that it was a "terrible thing". Then, later in the war, rumors of "mass killings of the Jews", started circulating. The prevailing attitude amongst much of the population - privately held of course, for good reason - was "well, we don't like Hitler, we don't approve of the Nazi Party, we don't like the war, the food rationing, the checkpoints, its all gone way too far, too long, etc. etc. - but *mass killings of the Jews*? That's crazy talk. "Even if we think our government has gone too far, there's no way they would do something as terrible as to exterminate a whole population - that is insane".

To many Germans, the notion of the Holocaust, before the terrible truth was confirmed - was a parallel of today's "wacky conspiracy theory". Many people here in the US don't like our administration(s), but when it comes down to the notion that elements within our government either planned, signed off on, or carried out the 9/11 attacks - this is enough to prompt a similar response - there's no way they are capable of such an evil, heinous act, killing thousands of our own people.- and they could never have kept it secret either (but thats another point for a whole new discussion).

I have, as been many of us in the 9/11 Truth Community, been accused of being a crazy conspiracy kook, or unpatriotic, or even a "supporter of al Qaeda". In response to those people, I sometimes quote this parallel between the earliest Holocaust deniers - and those who blindly accept the official narrative of 9/11. In other words, if you choose to believe that "our leaders could never do something so awful", remember the historical precedent of "Holocaust Truthers".

Reply to Bilbo, Bloggulator, et al

The secular Jewish "Holocaust Revisionist" David Cole has written a book which will be available from major booksellers by the end of this month. David became somewhat famous/infamous during the early 90s with his work and appearances on the shows of Donahue, Montel Williams and 60 Minutes to name a few. After several years and realizing that he was unable to achieve a respectful hearing of why he holds the views he does and that the JDL (Jewish Defense League, not to confuse with the ADL) had put a $25,000 hit on him he decided to leave active Holocaust revisionism. He literally paid off Irv Ruben of the JDL, insincerely renounced his views and then faked his own death only to reemerge as "David Stein". The irony is that as David Stein he got a job in Hollywood doing work on mainstream History Channel type productions on the Holocaust as he had extensive knowledge on the subject (for example, by his count he visited Auschwitz 6 times). There he would work with non-revisionists who behind the scenes would readily admit, for instance, that the gas chamber at Daucau was an American propaganda fake, etc.. The second irony was that he fell in with a conservative group in Hollywood called "The Friends of Abe" and participated in their social functions which included not just actors but the likes of Dick Cheney, Condi Rice and other neocons. To shorten the story -- he tells it better and it will be in his book Republican Party Animal -- he fell out with his girlfriend who knew his secret and she 'outed' him to the group and his friends. His 'friends' abandoned him in droves and denounced him without a chance to explain.

Here is a link to a recent interview he did at "ancreport.com" http://ancreport.com/podcasts/podcast.php?id=107

My point in bringing this up is not to say he and other revisionists are right or wrong, or half right or half wrong, but that there are other views worthy to be evaluated on their merits or lack thereof. In Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Canada and other places one can and are imprisoned for questioning the Holocaust. Not for doing violence, nor calling for violence, not for engaging in hate speech, but merely for questioning the state's accepted 'facts'.

Further -- and this is in NO WAY an endorsement of Hitler -- have we not noticed that every new conflict whether Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad, Putin etc., is always presented as "The New Hitler". The point is that Hitler and the Holocaust serves a very important propaganda purpose for the US, NATO and allies for every war crime (my view) that 'we' commit? Rightly or wrongly, what the revisionists like David Cole have striven for is the possibility that Hitler's crimes, while very terrible, were not so uniquely terrible as to justify new war crimes.

If one is interested then Google the subject and one can find more interviews and information both good and bad, just like 9/11.

Personal statement: I was raised in a home where no racial nor ethnic slurs were ever spoken and that is who I am today. I detest bigotry. Until recently I had never even questioned the veracity of the essential holocaust story, but was disturbed to learn that the questions alone are dealt prison time in many countries. The truth should not require laws to protect it. Hate language and violence are one thing and reprehensible, but sincere inquiry should always be permitted.

"I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." -- Voltaire

Side note to Bilbo: As David rode to prominence in the early 90s he relates how he was approached by Michael Shermer who wanted to get on TV and promote his career and magazine. He tells how Shermer was sympathetic to his questions in private then turn and call him "racist" in public. David decided he needed to protect himself and so recorded some phone conversations. He had bits up on his site "biginfidel.com" which was pretty funny, but I see today it has been taken down from youtube (he says it is all in the book). You may want to reconsider your evaluation of Shermer after this. Personally, after hearing Shermer talk about 9/11 mostly with ad hominem insults I discounted him long ago.

Holocaust Deniers are wrong, just like 9/11 Truther Deniers

Hi ACD,

Shermer's book, which he co-wrote with a trained historian, was very well researched, unlike his attacks on 9/11 Truthers. Not sure what the fake gas chamber at Dachau is supposed to be about. The Dachau website doesn't even mention anyone being gassed there:

http://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/1945.html

Before you take Holocaust Deniers' word on anything, read Shermer's book. Holocaust Deniers are really denying a government conspiracy, just like those who deny 9/11 Truth.

Revision is not "Denial"

Hi Bilbo

Like I said above I've never really looked at "the Holocaust" with a critical eye until recently. It's interesting to me and I'm still reading and learning. 9/11 truth already has an uphill battle and I don't really want to draw this topic into a this fine forum. I will not be reading/supporting Shermer's book as he has proven himself to me a dissembler at best. I know you suggested it in good faith, but please don't take my criticism of Shermer as personal criticism toward you.

In news archives one will find that Daucau was presented to a visiting delegation of post-war Congressmen/Senators as a "death/gas chamber" and was so reported widely at the time. Today I'm told it has a sign that says "Gas Chamber. Never Used." I merely used this as an example of "revision". I mentioned David Cole/Stein: while he was working with Jewish experts and others in the field on MSM documentaries (after he left revisionism) he says it was commonly acknowledged in that circle that a Daucau shower room was modified by the military to look like a gas chamber as a post-war propaganda prop.

I'm not taking anyone's 'word for it' until I can cross-verify for myself with more reading -- the results of which may be that the essential MSM story is right -- but I've seen enough for myself at this time to keep reading and researching.

The best to you.

The difference between Revisionism and Denial

Hi ACD,

Scholarly historians are constantly studying the history of the Holocaust and revising it. There is much debate among them about many of its details. Thus the correction about Dachau. But what there is not debate about is that there was intentional mass murder by the Nazi government that resulted in the death of about 6 million Jews, much of it by the use of gas chambers at various extermination camps. David Cole is one of a few people who deny this, which makes him a Holocaust denier, not a revisionist.

Just because Shermer cannot be trusted when it comes to 9/11 Truth does not mean he cannot be trusted when it comes to the history of the Holocaust. If he looked at 9/11 with as much effort as he put into researching the Holocaust, and with an open mind, he would be a 9/11 Truther. But then, so would every academic.

Another time

Hi Bilbo

Another time and place would be better to discuss this, but not here on 911blogger. If you would like to discuss this further and know a private way to forward your email or phone to me I'd be happy to discuss it. My views will go with the evidence and I've much to read, review and learn. So much history in other areas that I thought was settled turned out to be otherwise; all part of my journey through 9/11 truth. Regardless, we agree on 9/11 and I'm sure many other things.

Shermer

Hi Bilbo

"...does not mean he cannot be trusted when it comes to the history of the Holocaust."

I don't wish to re-open this discussion, but only address Shermer's credibility, or better, lack thereof.

Here's a link to the Shermer audio that was taken down from youtube because Shermer was trying to suppress it. David writes an entertaining post about the legal ordeal and includes the suppressed audio at the end: http://www.countercontempt.com/archives/5232

Official Denial of Part of the Holocaust, with tacit approval...

Another aspect of the Holocaust which seems to be glaringly apparent, but seldom addressed, is the history of Holocaust remembrance and how it has been developed, especially in recent years.

As regards the death toll of the Holocaust, the most visible organizations of Holocaust remembrance, together with the mainstream media routinely refer to that "6 million" death toll; as a result, most people have that figure sharply etched in their awareness as the true and only history, and the sole people who were targeted were the Jews. The 6 million actually refers only to the Jewish victims, who suffered the largest numerical loss as a group; however, other demographics had greater proportional losses. The total death toll varies between at least 11 million and possibly as high as 25 million, depending on the survey, and includes at least 5 million people, and perhaps many more, of non-Jewish faith and ethnicity, including Blacks, Romani (Gypsy), Gays, Poles of all religions, Slavs, Disabled people, and others; in other words, those who did not conform to the Nazi regime's hellish vision of society.

Only a few weeks ago I was accused of being "antisemitic" by bringing up this issue in a conversation. This really hit home quite hard - and prompted me to research and then write a long (8 page) essay on the subject, purely as a matter of needing to get it off my mind. It is sad that there appears to be a subtle but powerful drive to exclude these forgotten victims from history's pages: Surely the non-Jewish victims are not considered "lesser" human beings by the writers of history, thus less deserving of their place of remembrance in the worst human tragedy of the 20th century, perhaps of all time? Their exclusion, ironically, is yet another form of Holocaust denial, but one that I am sure most people would prefer to ignore and sweep under the rug of political correctness.

There is a parallel alongside this "institutionalized selective Holocaust denial" - the terrorism issue. Those who are marketing terrorism, both in media and government have made great inroads into convincing a large segment of the (US) population that all terrorists are Muslim (Islamic) - and even the absurd reciprocal ("all Muslims are terrorists" ) is making inroads into mainstream US public opinion. It seems as if the subtle agenda is to forever link the terms - Muslim/Islamic and Terrorism - in the collective psyche.

Cui bono?

...... but perhaps even to think along these lines (let alone communicate these thoughts), as I recently found out, is politically incorrect as well?

To me, that's still not 'denial'

I have never, ever heard it denied--that is, claimed to be a fabrication--that many, many non-Aryans besides Jews were also killed under the Nazis. Overshadowed, seldom acknowledged (at least in the US), yes. But I think that's different from 'denial.'

Still, I suppose it's true that the term 'Holocaust' is commonly thought of as referring exclusively to Jewish victims. It's the most automatic association. I think it may in part be because that term was adopted by way of reference to some verses in the Old Testament (not sure, though). Again, it's not that the other victims are denied, but rather that some broader term is needed to make clear their inclusion, such as 'crimes of the Nazis.'

I am a conspracy theorist!

And proud to be one. I see nothing wrong with theorizing about all the known conspiracies at all.

US media gets an undeserved pass

They enable the intelligence agents and public officials to evade public accountability. For example look at the recent documentary Manhunt about the CIA's effort to track down Bin Laden. The CIA agents were never asked one challenging question by anyone in the media. We are at the point where many journalists are so lacking in basic integrity that they pass off anything that dares to challenge their awful 9/11 coverage as conspiracy theory.

The recent Frontline program on the NSA suggested that post 9/11 overreach initially began as a good faith effort to prevent another attack. I did not see any info about credible claims of pre-9/11 warrantless surveillance. I did not see any effort to explain how using FISA was somehow an infringement on civil liberties. The whole point of FISA was to protect civil liberties while giving the government a means of gathering intelligence. The NSA's story simply isn't credible in relation to tracking the hijackers. They didn't use the legal tool available and have never explained why. Instead they boast about how 9/11 would have been stopped if they had only been allowed to have their sweeping surveillance program in place. The media has completely failed to get real answers. Instead they produce these kinds of Frontline specials that let NSA officials lie about their pre-9/11 conduct.

Tomorrow President Obama will make an appearance at the 9/11 museum. Will the media point out that honoring the victims with a photo op is not impressive in light of the fact that the President refuses to declassify 28 pages of the JI report? Of course not.

Wonderful opportunity to spread the word on 9/11 truth...!

CNN has a lead story right now about the opening of the 9/11 Museum in NYC.

Please contribute to the discussion. Thanks.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/14/us/9-11-museum-objects/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

Troll Fest

Like zombies, they all arrived to take the field away from the truth…I've never seen so many zombie trolls. They must be upping their pay grade.

Get in there..!!!

And do what you can.

Yeah the OS trolls are all over it - need more truther comments and info. Thanks.

Another place...

And yet it's our side that's getting called 'trolls'!

I don't doubt that there are paid trolls, but I think there may also be some who are doltish enough to do it for free--and I sometimes have a hard time telling the difference.

Here's a familiar assertion that appears in that thread:

'Because structural engineers deliberately design skyscrapers to implode in a disaster, rather than topple sideways to minimize collateral damage, you stupid dolt.'

Oh, of course. That's why they were quick to evacuate all those people in the towers, so that there wouldn't be any casualti...Oh, wait....

'The new WTC is designed to do the same thing and there's no big secret or conspiracy about it.'

I'm sure that's a great selling point for prospective tenants at the new WTC.

The Plots to Destroy America By Kurt Eichenwald / May 15 Newsw

The Plots to Destroy America
By Kurt Eichenwald / May 15, 2014 7:00 AM EDT
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Newsweek

http://www.newsweek.com/2014/05/23/plots-destroy-america-251123.html

In Baldwin County, Alabama, an award-winning plan to provide guidance for private-sector developers was spiked—it was, constituents complained, part of a United Nations plot to end property rights, impose communism and force locals onto rail cars heading to secret camps. When the blueprint was voted down, residents cheered and sang “God Bless America.” Every member of the zoning commission resigned in disgust.

A federal proposal that would have paid physicians for time spent discussing elderly patients’ medical and personal priorities in their final days of life was shelved. Some conservatives, led by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, slammed the idea as creating “death panels” of bureaucrats to decide who would live and who would die. With the rejection of the plan, which had been supported by geriatricians, oncologists and advocates for senior citizens, the aged in the United States now only hear their options for resuscitation, pain control and religious support if their doctors provide the counseling for free.

In 2008, no one in America caught measles and 13,278 people contracted whooping cough. By 2013, measles infected at least 276 people in the U.S. and there were more than 24,000 cases of whooping cough. Medical experts attribute this trend to declining numbers of people being vaccinated, in large part fueled by a belief that doctors and pharmaceutical companies are hiding the dangers of immunizations to protect profits, even though earnings in this niche are so comparatively small that six out of seven companies have dropped out of the business in the past 35 years. Now, because of this false belief advanced by scientific frauds and celebrities, vaccine-preventable diseases that were once on the brink of extinction are roaring back.

George W. Bush murdered thousands by orchestrating 9/11. Barack Obama is a Kenyan national and holds the presidency illegally. Education standards developed by state governors are part of an anti-Christian communist plot that will turn children gay. Unemployment rates and the reported numbers for Obamacare sign-ups are lies engineered by the White House. Water fluoridation doesn’t prevent cavities in children and has been adopted for a range of nefarious purposes. And on and on they go.

Conspiracy theories have been woven into the fabric of American society since before the signing of the Constitution. But what was once dismissed as the amusing ravings of the tin-foil-hat crowd has in recent years crossed a threshold, experts say, with delusions, fictions and lunacy now strangling government policies and creating national health risks. “These kinds of theories have the effect of completely distorting any rational discussion we can have in this country,’’ says Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center who recently wrote a report on the impact of what is known as the Agenda 21 conspiracy. “They are having a real impact now.”

Experts say the number and significance of conspiracy theories are reaching levels unheard-of in recent times, in part because of ubiquitous and faster communications offered by Internet chat rooms, Twitter and other social media. “Conspiracy narratives are more common in public discourse than they were previously,’’ says Eric Oliver, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who has published research on the phenomenon. “We seem to have crossed a threshold.”

The fears about Agenda 21 are a prime example. The name refers to a nonbinding statement of intent signed in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush and 177 other world leaders. The idea was simple: Under the auspices of the U.N., those countries expressed their interest in managing urban development and land-use policies in ways that minimized the impact on the environment. At the time, mainstream conservative and liberal politicians considered the concept to be fairly inconsequential.
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More from the May 23 Issue

No more. Extremist organizations latched on to Agenda 21 as an attempt by the U.N. and the “New World Order” to seize private property to advance the causes of communism and to crush all dissent. Death maps will be created to determine where people will be allowed to live, some of the theories go. Trees will be given the same rights as humans. Electricity companies will conduct surveillance on customers.

By 2012, the Republican National Committee—overlooking that a Republican president had signed Agenda 21—adopted a resolution slamming the document as an “insidious scheme” designed to impose a “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth.” That language was toned down by the time of the Republican National Convention, but wild claims about Agenda 21 survived, saying the barely financed, unenforceable declaration was “insidious” and “erosive of American sovereignty.”

Today, the Agenda 21 conspiracy is raised around the country when local zoning boards—many of whom have never even heard of the U.N. statement—attempt to adopt development plans that control willy-nilly construction while considering environmental impact. That Baldwin County proposal was felled by fears of Agenda 21. A highway construction project in Maine designed to ease traffic congestion was abandoned. Same with an oyster bed restoration plan in Virginia and a high-speed-rail proposal in Florida. The construction of bike paths—bike paths!—has been attacked by locals waving signs about sinister international conspiracies.

Even the recent controversy involving Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who refuses to pay fees required under law for his cattle to graze on federal land, has been linked to the U.N. “You need to investigate U.N. Agenda 21, as this is what the Obama administration is following in order to steal your land and rights via zoning changes,’’ an Idaho resident wrote to her local newspaper, the Coeur d’Alene Press, about the Bundy case. “The U.N. goal is to remove ALL private property rights, as they are considered ’unsustainable.’”

The letter wasn’t tossed into the trash with the other bizarre, conspiracy-laden missives that arrive at news organizations every day. Instead, it was printed in the paper under the headline “BUNDYS: All part of U.N. Agenda 21.” Never mind that grazing fees on public lands were established in 1934, almost six decades before Agenda 21, and that other ranchers hold 18,000 permits without any global intrigue involved.

These kinds of fearful convictions are not limited to one side of the political debates, research shows. “Who believes in these? Everyone,” says the University of Chicago’s Oliver. “Conspiracy theories go across the ideological spectrum.”

Take the theories about the George W. Bush administration. There have been claims and suggestions that Bush used the 9/11 attacks—or even engineered them—as a pretext to engage in wars and increase the state security infrastructure; that his vice president, Dick Cheney, orchestrated the Iraq War to shovel millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts to his former employer, Halliburton; and that the administration rigged the 2004 election through fraud in Ohio. And while these ideas have been put forward by plenty of regular citizens, they have also been advanced by national political figures: respectively, Keith Ellison, a Democratic congressman; Senator Rand Paul, a Republican associated with the party’s libertarian wing; and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of Bobby Kennedy, who is now a liberal radio talk-show host.

Indeed, the prominence of some of the conspiracy theorists attacking the Bush administration is a reflection of a more disturbing trend: national political leaders who advance tales of secret schemes and treachery without a scintilla of evidence. Many politicians lent support to the idea that Obama was hiding his birth certificate, a central tenet of the claim that he was born in Kenya. Among those quoted in news articles making those statements are Senator Richard Shelby, then-congressman Roy Blunt, then-representative Nathan Deal and others. Former representative Cynthia McKinney was a proponent of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Senator Ted Cruz has said Agenda 21 involves attempts to abolish golf courses and paved roads.

Prominent business executives and pundits also push unsupported claims about conspiracies. Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, proclaimed that declining unemployment figures released by the government before the 2012 election were fraudulent. Dick Morris and other political commentators advanced the idea that polls showing Obama winning the 2012 election were the result of a conspiracy among polling firms. Jesse Watters, an interviewer and producer at Fox News, said that when numbers from the White House showed high sign-ups for health insurance under Obamacare, the administration was “straight-up lying.”

Experts who study conspiracy theories are uncertain as to why so many national figures are now openly advancing suspicions of sinister plots. “There are certainly people who will take things further than they honestly believe,’’ says Dr. Michael Wood, a lecturer at Britain’s University of Winchester who teaches the psychology of conspiracy theories. “But it is also quite possible that these ideas about conspiracy theories have taken hold in top levels of politics. It would be strange if politicians were completely immune to this.”

Often, when prominent individuals suggest that their political opponents are engaged in nefarious activities, they hedge by saying they are merely attempting to raise questions that should be considered—a way, experts say, of starting conspiracy theories. “One of the most common ways of introducing a conspiracy theory is to ‘just ask questions’ about an official account,’’ says Karen Douglas, co-editor of the British Journal of Social Psychology and a senior academic who has researched conspiracy theories at Britain’s University of Kent. “It’s quite a powerful rhetorical tool because it doesn’t require any content, just the introduction of doubt about the official story.”

But accusing political opponents of serious wrongdoing based on unsubstantiated nonsense plays havoc with social discourse. When each side attacks the other based on wild theories—calling them terrorists, anti-American, murderers, racists and the like—the tribal divisions cripple basic governance.

“The reason we should worry about conspiracy theories and misinformation is that they distort the debate that is crucial to democracy,’’ says Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor in Dartmouth’s government department who has conducted research on conspiracy theories. “They divert attention from the real issue and issues of concern that public officials should be debating.”

That is what has happened with the issue known as Common Core standards in public education. They were developed by the National Governors Association, working with an organization of state school superintendents, with the intent of advancing educational standards and identifying the math and literacy skills that every student at each grade level should have. The standards are now being implemented in 44 states.

There are strong reasons to support or oppose Common Core, and whether it is the right way to improve the nation’s school system is open for debate by well-meaning participants. Legitimate questions exist about whether the standards have been appropriately tested or whether teachers should be judged based on the performance of their students on Common Core exams. Unfortunately, that discussion has been derailed by conspiracy theories about the standards, built on falsehoods, misunderstandings and beliefs in ominous, secret plots.

“It is communism,” Glenn Beck, a prominent conservative commentator, said on a television program last year when speaking about Common Core. “We are dealing with evil. And there comes a time where you have to just say what it is, and it’s evil.’’

Again, those types of accusations have found their way into the political process, along with false allegations that the standards were assembled by the Obama administration, a fiction that has led opponents to deem them “Obamacore.” According to a just-released report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the conspiracy theories flowed in April at a hearing before Alabama’s Senate Education Committee about legislation to allow school districts to reject Common Core. “We don’t want our children to be taught to be anti-Christian, anti-Catholic and anti-American,” the report quotes Terry Bratton, a Tea Party activist, as saying. “We don’t want our children to lose their innocence, beginning in preschool or kindergarten, told that homosexuality is OK and should be experienced at an early age and that same-sex marriages are OK.”

Common Core teaches none of those things. In fact, it pretty much teaches nothing—there is no curriculum, no imposed method of learning, no books that must be studied. Indeed, the only materials every student is expected to read in Common Core are the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

Common Core is about skills, not substance. For example, a reading standard for fourth grade says students should be able to “determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details.” While the standards do include a list of books as examples of what students might read to help them sharpen these abilities, none of them are required. A teacher or local school district can choose all, some or none of those suggestions and still be part of Common Core.

So is Common Core a worthwhile nationwide undertaking? America might never know. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about half of the more than 200 bills about Common Core filed by legislators around the country would slow or stop the adoption of its standards.