In legal parlance, a conspiracy is when two or more people form a plan together to engage in criminal behavior, but in modern days, a “conspiracy theory” has come to mean an alternative explanation for the accepted consensus of a controversial or unusual event or belief. Most proponents of these often easily debunked plots are eccentric and harmless, but a few go beyond the boundaries of free speech. The behavior of these dangerously obsessed few ranges from the merely criminal to the outright deadly.
10Jim Garrison Conducted A Witch Hunt Against Clay Shaw Over JFK
Whatever truly went down at 12:30 PM CST on Friday, November 22, 1963, the movie JFK made a hash of it. One thing it didn’t get wrong, though, was its portrayal of Jim Garrison as an obsessive, increasingly paranoid demagogue who bullied witnesses, harassed “suspects,” and conducted a full-on witch hunt in the city of New Orleans.
Garrison’s list of transgressions is too long to fully detail, but the worst of his behavior was the way he almost destroyed the life of Clay Shaw, a respected New Orleans businessman. Garrison publicly outed him as gay (which could have had serious consequences in the ’60s), accused him of CIA connections, and of course, accused him of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century, all on the flimsiest of evidence.
Many accounts of the trial have downplayed the homosexual element, but there is plenty of evidence that Garrison actually believed in some kind of rainbow-colored plot, attributing the assassination to a gay club thrill kill. He named a total of six people whom he believed were “in on it” as homosexuals, including Jack Ruby and even Lee Harvey Oswald himself. In an interview with James Phelan, Garrison called Oswald a “switch-hitter who couldn’t satisfy his wife.”
It took almost two years for Garrison’s case against Shaw to go to trial and another three weeks of testimony and arguments before a jury acquitted Clay Shaw of all charges after less than an hour of deliberation. Shaw himself ably deconstructed the JFK “conspiracy” in a 1967 interview.
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9Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, Enacted AIDS Denial As Policy
Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, is almost certainly the AIDS denier who has done the most direct harm in the world. In a 2008 study, a team of Harvard researchers estimated that as many as 330,000 people died needlessly because of Mbeki’s policies.
Mbeki didn’t start out as a denier. His views hardened after a complex series of political and economic negotiations. They were further solidified by the bogus claims of an African university about having discovered a cure, prompting hope for an African solution to the problem, and the discovery that the apartheid government had conducted germ warfare tests that included searching for killer bugs that targeted specific ethnic populations and the state-sponsored spread of AIDS via black prostitutes. Negotiations to bring AIDS medications into South Africa at prices the poor could afford were marred by suspicions of conspiracy between Western governments and drug manufacturers.
By the mid-1990s, Mbeki had fallen under the influence of prominent AIDS denier Peter Duesberg. He even invited Duesberg to be part of a conference on the AIDS problem held in 2000, much to the outrage of the rest of the conference. Later that year, he publicly denied the scientific consensus that AIDS was caused by a virus. Instead, he claimed the disease was the result of a combination of general bad health, lack of nourishment, and poverty. Thanks to international pressure and the work of AIDS activists and NGOs, the situation did improve, but Mbeki’s delays caused many unnecessary deaths and condemned many children to live shortened lives.
8Bart Sibrel Confronted And Harassed Buzz Aldrin
In 2002, Bart Sibrel lured former astronaut and American hero Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, to a Beverly Hills hotel for an “interview.” When Aldrin arrived on the scene with his stepdaughter, Sibrel revealed his true colors. He was a proponent of a long-standing conspiracy theory that claims the Apollo 11 Moon landings were faked. Proponents of the theory claim that the landings were produced in a Hollywood studio to fool the Russians into believing that the US had won the space race. This is one of the most laughable and easily debunked conspiracy theories out there, but Sibrel was working on a documentary that he believed would prove his case and wanted to include a confrontation with Aldrin in the film.
What happened next is as infuriating as its conclusion is satisfying, and it was all caught on film. When Aldrin realized the real reason he was brought to the interview, he got up to walk out on Sibrel, who then became aggressive, taunting the national hero who took time out of his busy schedule to see him. He followed Aldrin, calling him a “thief, liar, and coward,” thrusting a Bible into Aldrin’s face with demands that he swear upon it.
Finally, after every one of Aldrin’s attempts to leave peacefully had failed, Sibrel started poking him and his stepdaughter aggressively with his Bible. That’s when Aldrin lost his patience and punched Sibriel right in the jaw. Aldrin never faced any criminal charges, and if he had, it’s doubtful that any jury in the world would have convicted him.
7Richard McCaslin Broke Into A Private Club
In 2002, a man named Richard McCaslin, who called himself “The Phantom Patriot,” broke into a San Francisco club called the Bohemian Club. Since 1872, the club has been a gathering place of powerful and influential people (artists, writers, politicians, intellectuals, etc.) to appreciate the arts, music, and literature. According to conspiracy theorists, however, it’s a gold mine of sinister and outlandish tales of powerful people engaged in secretive rituals and backroom plans of world domination.
Everyone from the Illuminati to the reptilian overlords have been alleged to have used the club as a front for nefarious purposes, and nowhere can it be more obvious than at their annual gathering known as “The Creation of Care.” The mock symbolic sacrifice involved in the ceremony is believed by many, including McCaslin, to be a front for actual child abuse.
When conspiracy guru Alex Jones obtained some grainy footage of this event and posted it on the Internet, McCaslin was inspired to conduct his own black ops mission. He prowled the grounds wearing a skull mask, a bulletproof vest, and combat fatigues printed with his “handle.” He was carrying a small arsenal of weapons, including a double-barreled shotgun/assault rifle hybrid, a .45 caliber pistol, a handmade bomb-launcher, a crossbow, a knife, and a 60-centimeter (24 in) sword. Expecting to be met by minions of evil out for blood, he instead promptly got lost in the woods when his flashlight went out and fell asleep in the first lodge cabin he could find.
The next day, he managed to reach the site of a giant wooden owl that is central to the Creation of Care ceremony, where he placed some Old Testament verses. He then attempted to set the mess hall on fire, but the area’s sprinklers did him in. He was found and confronted by some sheriff’s deputies, to whom he surrendered. He was held on a $500,000 bond and placed in a mental health ward. On April 16, 2002, he was found guilty of five felonies, including arson, burglary, and brandishing a weapon at a peace officer.
6Gary McKinnon Hacked US Computers Looking For UFO-Related Files
In 2002, Glasgow-born Briton Gary McKinnon was arrested on charges that “between February 2001 and March 2002, he hacked into dozens of US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Department of Defense computers.” It was the single biggest military computer hack in history at the time. McKinnon claims that he was looking for evidence of a vast cover-up involving UFOs and the suppression of “free energy,” along with whatever other technological cover-ups he could find.
Under the alias “SOLO,” McKinnon left malicious and silly messages, which US officials took to be anti-American and possibly evidence of a terrorist attack. McKinnon didn’t stop at cyber-bullying, though—he deleted many files, compromised passwords, and rendered entire critical systems inoperable, costing the military nearly $1 million. Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman for Homeland Security, said that “We are attacked millions of times a day, and the attacks range from the nuisance to the highly sophisticated.”
The case caused plenty of public outrage, as McKinnon’s detractors slung accusations of terrorism and his supporters countered that the Asperger’s sufferer was being unfairly punished. The US spent over a decade trying to extradite him, which many condemned as a human rights violation. In the end, the US lost, and the UK decided not to pursue charges.
5Environmental Extremists Vandalized GMO Field Trials
In August 2013, a Filipino group called the KMP, or the Movement of Farm People of the Philippines, stormed a field belonging to the Department of Agriculture and uprooted all the plants there. The DOA was testing “golden rice,” a genetically engineered strain of rice enhanced with beta-carotene, which could improve the nutritional intake of hundreds of thousands of children in developing countries.
Claiming to speak for everyone despite having no local farmers within the group, the KMP stated “This should serve as a stern warning to those planning to conduct GM field trials in Bicol.” While the damage to research was slight that time, attacks on crops like these have greatly contributed to fears about GMOs, slowing down life-saving initiatives and fanning the flames of conspiracy theory.
The scientific consensus is that GMOs pose no dangers not ordinarily present in foods. Every scientific establishment in the world has come to this conclusion, supported by over 1,785 independent studies performed over a 30-year period. A groundbreaking review of those studies was published in 2013 by a country whose government is generally anti-GMO, rendering accusations of a government cover-up even more dubious than they normally are.
The incident in the Philippines wasn’t an isolated event—far too many anti-GMO activists have behaved like terrorists and propagandists in their zeal. A Belgian potato test crop resistant to Phytophthora infestans (a nasty form of potato blight that has killed people throughout history and costs farmers 55 million Euros a year) was attacked by anti-GMO vandals in May 2011. In 2013, vandals in New Zealand tunneled through fences to destroy 375 radiata pines at Scion’s Forestry Research Institute, causing $400,000 worth of damage. Resistant to pesticide, the trees could play a role in slowing the spread of deforestation, among other environmental benefits.
4Conspiracy Theorists Terrorize Colorado Theater Shooting Victims And Witnesses
On July 28, 2012, alleged shooter James Holmes, 24, killed 12 people and wounded 70 more at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado. Conspiracy theorists jumped all over the case before the bodies were even cold. “They” are trying to scare you and take away all your guns, the theorists say, so “they” fake shootings or set up “false flag” operations.
Soon, the theorists were harassing witnesses and posting their names and home addresses online, forcing prosecutors to ask for measures to ensure the participants’ safety. When the judge decided to seal many documents and barred attorneys and investigators from speaking publicly about the case, the theorists even tried to impersonate witnesses, filing for court documents under their names in an attempt to obtain confidential information.
The next year, Tom Sullivan, father of victim Alex Sullivan, had to deal with a nutcase who kept trying to contact him through his union regarding space aliens. Shelly Lucido, the president of the union’s Aurora chapter, fielded the calls and said that it was “almost body-snatcher stuff.” Later that year, Kevin Purfield of Portland, Oregon was arrested on charges of harassment and intimidation for making dozens of phone calls to family members of the victims. Frank Fania, spokesman for the Aurora police, said about the 45-year-old’s calls, “In the beginning, it was this conspiracy theory stuff. Then, it went away from the conspiracy theory into personally attacking the families, calling them names and hoping bad things would happen to them.”
3Sandy Hook ‘Truther’ Vandalized Playground, Told Victim’s Mother Her Daughter Didn’t Exist
In May 2014, Lynn McDonnell, mother of Sandy Hook victim Grace McDonnell, received a telephone call. The anonymous caller claimed to have vandalized a playground that had been built in honor of Grace’s memory as part of the Sandy Ground Project, which aims to build a playground for every one of the victims. The caller taunted McDonnell over the phone, insisting that her daughter “never existed.”
The caller’s claim of vandalism turned out to be true—a sign based on Grace’s own drawing of a peace symbol had indeed been stolen. On May 20, 28-year-old Andrew David Truelove was arrested for the crime after posting pictures of himself making obscene gestures at the sign to a news and opinion website called The Daily Banter. Police recovered the missing sign from his house as well as another missing sign from a Mantoloking, NJ playground dedicated to Chase Kowalski, whose mother he had also harassed.
Truelove was part of a movement that believes the Sandy Hook massacre never happened or that it was some kind of “false flag” operation set up by the government, much like the Aurora shooting conspiracy theories of earlier the same year. These claims are, of course, completely outlandish and easily debunked. Even Glenn Beck, no stranger to crazy conspiracy theories, has lambasted them.
If they stayed on their message boards and sat at their booths at gun shows, this might be all right, but many Sandy Hook “truthers” have become menaces, vandalizing property, harassing and even threatening parents and investigators, and disrupting hearings and meetings. Sadly, truthers aren’t the only ones vandalizing parks from the Sandy Ground Project, though. Just a few days before this incident, vandals scrawled graffiti over the entrance sign of another park, which honored Ana Grace Marquez-Greene. While the message left by the vandals was well-meaning, it was still a destructive eyesore.
2Sandy Hook ‘Truthers’ Harassed Hero Gene Rosen
One of the most despicable examples of bad behavior after the Sandy Hook massacre was the way many Sandy Hook truthers treated Gene Rosen, who famously took in six children and a bus driver who had fled the scene of the massacre. For this act of selflessness, he was repeatedly threatened and harassed.
Soon after his story broke, truthers began calling and emailing him, accusing him of lying about his story and being what they call a “crisis actor.” One caller said, “How are all those little students doing? You know, the ones that showed up at your house after the ‘shooting.’ What is the going rate for getting involved in a government sponsored hoax, anyway?” The emails became so numerous that a friend began screening them on Rosen’s behalf.
Even so, the harassment continues. Truthers have posted pictures and Google Earth images of his home online. They impersonated and maligned him on social media. Anti-Semites on white supremacy message boards have mockingly called him an “emotional Jewish guy.” Several obnoxious YouTube videos were posted that made outlandish claims, including that Rosen was once a member of the Screen Actors Guild. (They had actually identified a different man by the same name.) Comments sections of these videos include heartless declarations like “The only thing consistent about this clown’s act is all the fake crying.”
1Jenny McCarthy Reversed Vaccine Gains
More than any other public figure, actress and former Playmate model Jenny McCarthy has been responsible for spreading the absurd conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism and large corporations and governments cover it up so they can make billions, among other spurious and outright false claims about vaccines. Both the science and the politics of this movement are atrocious, but that didn’t stop American TV news networks from fueling the fires of conspiracy with around 171 stories about the debunked “science” of the anti-vaccine movement.
As a celebrity, McCarthy herself toured the talk show circuit, accepted speaking engagements, and sponsored various groups to promote her insane cause, building a small army of “anti-vaxxers.” As a result, cases of measles tripled in the US alone in 2013. Over the last few years, new cases of whooping cough have exploded. Anti-vaccine Muslim clerics in North Africa have been largely responsible for the failure of vaccination programs against measles in Nigeria that have killed hundreds of children. Herd immunity is breaking down in several parts of the world, including places where it has become deadly to be unprotected.
It seems that these new outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and the turning tide of public opinion have tempered McCarthy’s stance. Perhaps it was a drought of speaking engagements and sponsorships or the demolition of her recent #AskJenny campaign by pro-health advocates. Whatever the case, McCarthy disowned her reputation as a rabid anti-vaccination activist in April 2014. “I am not ‘anti-vaccine,'” she told The Chicago Sun-Times. “This is not a change in my stance nor is it a new position that I have recently adopted. For years, I have repeatedly stated that I am, in fact, ‘pro-vaccine,’ and for years, I have been wrongly branded as ‘anti-vaccine.’”
It’s impossible to know just how many people have already died as a direct result of the misinformation sprouted by McCarthy and her ilk, but that number is large and growing. Now, McCarthy seems to be trying to escape her share of the responsibility for it. Let this be a lesson to us all: Don’t get your science from Playboy models and talk show guests.
Lance LeClaire is a freelance artist and writer. He writes on subjects ranging from science, skepticism, and religious history and issues to unexplained mysteries and historical oddities, among other subjects. You can look him up on Facebook or keep an eye out for his articles on Listverse.