People who have a religious belief in conspiracy theories hate me, because I question their evidence. Yet I'm also despised by the haughtier opponents of conspiracy theories, like these smug, robustly self-congratulatory skeptics
. Why? Because I admit that governments (especially their intelligence services) can act in a criminal and deceptive fashion, and that journalists (either through corruption or torpor) will often aid and abet these deceits.
This blog has often addressed the question: How does one determine the difference between responsible parapolitical research
and blinkered, soul-crushing paranoia
For me, the standard political divide provides a somewhat useful compass as we try to navigate this terrain. Conspiracy theories offered by liberals are somewhat more reasonable -- more circumscribed, more likely to have the backing of evidence -- than are conspiracy theories offered by conservatives. Let us quickly admit that the liberal theorists do not always
prove correct; in fact, their track record is pretty damned poor. (It has been getting worse over the past decade or two -- due, one suspects, to lower educational standards.)
But in my experience, you can't trust any
conspiracy theory offered by a right-winger. Right-wingers do not care about truth. They have a phobic reaction to any demands for evidence. Righties will lie incessantly in order to push their favorite memes. They will even create false documents, of which the Protocols of the Elders of Zion
is but one example among many.
Lefties simply do not do that. I can't think of a single fake document created by someone on the left -- with the exception of the Report From Iron Mountain
. And even that was just a prank, not a serious attempt at a deception. Only a fool would place it in the same category as the Protocols or L. Ron Hubbard's Psychopolitics
hoax. The Report From Iron Mountain
provides us with a particularly interesting case, because Leonard Lewin's satire migrated from left to right. In ultra-conservativeland, you can still find reactionaries who think that the thing is real.
This post will relate a similar story. This is the tale of a conspiracy-flavered meme created by a left-wing writer and believed by many progressives. Yet the main culprit may well be an ultra-conservative.
In the 1970s, a typewritten document -- allegedly created by the CIA in the mid-1960s -- made its way, samizdat-fashion, through the black and leftist communities. The "King Alfred Plan,"
as it was called, was a long text, written in perfect emulation of government bureaucratese. Bottom line: The plan purported to offer a Final Solution to the "negro problem." The CIA would soon do to American blacks what Hitler did to the Jews -- or so we were told.
A lot of people accepted this document at face value. It was widely discussed throughout the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and even today
. People gave the thing credence even though no-one knew its origins. In terms of formatting, the pages looked real only to those who had never seen an actual CIA document.
Eventually, people realized that the same text appears in an excellent 1967 novel called The Man Who Cried I Am
, by John Williams
Had some irresponsible rabble-rouser used Williams' novel as the basis for a hoax? Most people would so presume. But that idea was rejected by those who had become emotionally wedded to the conspiracy theory. They preferred to think that the document was real, and that John Williams had slipped it into his novel as a way of "conditioning" the public to accept the truth.
In the early 1990s, when (to my later regret) I ran with a rather paranoid crowd, I ran into a lot of people who accepted the King Alfred Plan at face value. Nothing could shake them from this belief.
An obvious solution suggested itself. I wrote to John Williams (care of The Nation
, to which he had contributed an article) and asked if he had come up with the King Alfred Plan. His reply: Yes, he had "concocted" it. That was the exact word he used. He went on to say that he had concocted it out of the stuff of history, a statement with which, sadly, I cannot argue.
When my associates saw Williams' letter of response, they responded by saying...
...oh, but why even complete the sentence? If you can't guess, you've never met a paranoid. That's why I don't associate with such people any more.
Over the course of more than two decades, thousands and thousands of people had seen the King Alfred Plan in its typewritten form. Did any of them bother to write John Williams, as I had? No. Do you know why they didn't consult him? Precisely because
they could guess how he would respond. They knew that he would say something that they did not want to hear. Once he made the devastating admission -- "It's fictional" -- the game would be over.
And that is the difference between a parapolitical researcher
and a conspiracy believer
. We may call it the King Alfred test. If you would have written to John Williams, you are a researcher
. If you would have made excuses not to write to Williams, you are a believer
. To put the matter in less polite terms: You're a zealot, a wacko -- a sheep who arrogantly refers to others as "sheeple."
More than that. If, after the truth came out, you're the sort of person who would have said: "Aha! Looks like someone got to John Williams"
-- you are no longer a sheep. You're a goat. A stubborn, stupid old goat.
And I hate
you. Frankly, I would support a version of the King Alfred Plan designed to solve this country's "goat problem."
We need to say a few words about the propagation of the King Alfred Plan. Wikipedia says the following...
When his novel was first published, Williams photocopied portions of the book detailing the King Alfred Plan and left copies in subway car seats around Manhattan. As a result, word of the King Alfred Plan spread throughout the black community and the truth of its existence was often assumed to be unchallenged.
This is not quite accurate. Williams did not photocopy pages of the book; he had a copy of the plan printed up for inclusion in the book's publicity package. He sent me one of these copies. As I recall, it was typeset, on good-quality off-white paper with a purple design of some sort on one side of the page.
No-one would have mistaken those typeset pages for a government document; even high schoolers understood that actual CIA documents were produced on typewriters. In the 1970s, what got passed around the black and progressive communities was a retyped
version of the King Alfred Plan -- pica, if I recall correctly -- with a few words changed and some ersatz material added to make the whole thing vaguely resemble a piece of actual CIA paperwork.
One question haunted me: Who would do
such a dangerous thing? Why would anyone go to such lengths to stir up animosity within the black community?
Back in the early 1990s, I investigated the matter as best I could. One source said that the person who transformed Williams' fiction into a hoax document was an unnamed bigwig in the John Birch Society. According to the story, the hoaxer (either accidentally or on purpose) left the document out in the open in his office, where it was snapped up by the night-time cleaning woman, who was black. The meme spread from there. Supposedly, this all occurred in 1972 or thereabouts.
Was my source telling the truth? I don't know. While I have no problem accepting the tale provisionally
, you may feel differently. We need further evidence. (If you have that evidence, please write in!)
John Williams himself is not a complete skeptic of all conspiracy theories. The protagonist of The Man Who Cried I Am
was modeled after the radical black author Richard Wright, who died in 1960 at the age of 52.
When asked if Wright might have been been assassinated by the American security services, Williams replied, "I would say his death was highly suspicious" (he added, "I wouldn't put it any stronger than that"). His suspicions arose from conversations with people who were in France at the time of Wright's death, most notably the novelist Chester Himes, who had been close to Wright though the two were by then estranged. Asked why the government would risk murdering a writer who was no longer a force in the civil rights movement, Williams said, "I do believe there is such a thing as teaching people a lesson."
The official cause of Wright's death on November 28, 1960, was the obstruction of a coronary artery--a heart attack. His body was cremated, without a post-mortem. Almost immediately, rumors began to circulate that he had been poisoned. A mystery woman was said to have visited his bedside an hour before he died.
Was Wright killed? I don't know. Anyone who dismisses the idea out of hand is, in my book, an asshole. Anyone who accepts the idea as a fact without asking for more evidence is, in my book, an asshole.
Now, I told you all of that in order to tell you this.
As many of you know, I've made my own humble contribution
to the leg-pull genre. The story located at the other end of that link soon entered popular lore -- Wikipedia, documentaries, radio programs, several books and only-Horus-knows-how-many websites. Go to Google and type in "Crowley Bush Connection"
: You'll see that my meme-begetting work isn't even listed among the top responses.
Why didn't I ever state in public that the thing was a hoax? Because I was a conducting a test. The "King Alfred" test.
I wanted to see if anyone would write to me and ask (as I once asked Williams): "Did you concoct this thing?" Throughout the past five years, not one person -- not one
-- has written that email. My address is available at the top of this page, and a staggering number of people in Nigeria have made use of it. But those who accept the Crowley/Bush connection at face value have never wanted to become pen pals.
Why didn't they correspond? Because, deep down, the people who want to believe that Barbara Bush was the daughter of Aleister Crowley knew full well that I would tell them that the whole thing was a Fools' Day leg-pull. And they didn't want to hear it.
Sadder still is the case of these guys
They claim to be skeptics of the James Randi variety. They think that they are very
hip. They consider themselves to be superior creatures. They have nothing but Olympian contempt for the conspiracy believers -- who also
tend to think of themselves as hipster kings, and who have Olympian contempt for the "sheeple" baa-ing their way through mainstream society.
In fact, both camps are filled with arrogant, smirky "right man"
types who would rather snip off their small toes with a rusty pair of cuticle scissors than admit even the slightest of errors.Did any of those smug skeptics write to me? No. They too failed the King Alfred test.
Once again, we have proof that both conspiracism and skepticism are, in essence, modern-day religions -- although adherents of both denominations would violently deny the charge. I've said it before and I'll say it again: All isms are prisons