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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Terror in Boston: The role of conspiracy theory

The Boston Globe published this mega-piece a couple of days ago, but I could not pay attention to it until today. (A busy boy, I've been.) For those of you following the trail of the Tsarnaevs, this article will probably be the standard reference point for a while to come.

Most will be surprised to learn the alleged lead perpetrator, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, heard voices and believed himself to be a victim of mind control. Naturally, there are plenty of people -- genuine tin foilers, the kind who actually wear the hat -- who will take this claim at face value.

I have a different question: Why we haven't heard any of this before?

Lots of people have dug into the history of the Tsarnaev family. How the hell could such a startling piece of information remain under wraps for so long (except for a brief mention in a Rolling Stone article)?

According to the Globe, the "mind control" claim has two main sources. The first one seems to be a woman named Anna Nikaeva, a Tsarnaev family friend who manages a senior care facility. One day, Tamerlan's mother Zubeidat confided in Anna about the son's condition:
“He had told his mother that he felt there were two people living inside of him,” said Nikaeva. “I told her, ‘You should get that checked out.’ But she just said, ‘No, he’s fine.’ She couldn’t accept the tiniest criticism of him..."
After the bombing, Anna told her husband -- a urologist -- about this conversation. The husband, suspecting schizophrenia, mentioned the issue to Dr. Alexander Niss, a psychiatrist who had been helping Tamerlan's father deal with PTSD resulting from the Chechen war. (Anna Nikaeva was also the source for the Rolling Stone piece mentioned above.)

The problems here should be obvious. Of all the people mentioned above, the only person qualified to make a diagnosis of schizophrenia is Dr. Niss, and he did not examine Tamerlan. The "voices" story comes from Tamerlan's mother -- second-hand. And the phrasing used is troublesome: When Tamerlan spoke of "two people living inside," his intent may have been merely poetic.

The Globe's second source is more substantive: Tamerlan Tsarnaev's friend Don Larking. An odd fellow, Larking is: Substantially older than Tamerlan and somewhat disabled, he attended the same mosque as the Tsarnaevs. (I can't resist noting that most people would consider "Don Larking" kind of an odd name for a greybearded guy in a fez who spends a lot of time sitting in a mosque.)

He and Tamerlan would get together and discuss -- egads! -- conspiracy theory:
Larking and Tamerlan, who met when Tamerlan visited his mother at work, took an immediate liking to one another and shared their views on conspiracy theory and American politics. Larking loaned his young friend copies of a newspaper he reads, “The Sovereign, newspaper of the Resistance!’ ”, which suggests that US military explosives were used in the World Trade Center attack.
As their relationship grew closer, Tamerlan confided in Larking his troubling secret about the voice inside his head. Tamerlan told him that he had been hearing the voice for some time, and that he had a theory of what might be afflicting him.

“He believed in majestic mind control, which is a way of breaking down a person and creating an alternative personality with which they must coexist,” explained Larking. “You can give a signal, a phrase or a gesture, and bring out the alternate personality and make them do things. Tamerlan thought someone might have done that to him.”

The person inside him, as Tamerlan described it to Larking, “was someone who wanted to control him to make him do something.”
This is troubling. I would like to learn just which books or essays made their way onto Tamerlan's reading list.

The phrase "majestic mind control" is unusual. It's not a term one finds in the conspiracy literature or in books about brainwashing. If you google those words (using quotation marks to get exact matches) the hits all lead back to web pages discussing this very Globe story.

So where does the term "majestic mind control" come from?

If memory serves, the word "Majestic" played a key role in the paranoid barkings of the late Milton William "Bill" Cooper, who preceded Alex Jones as the Conspiracy King of the United States. Conceivably, Tsarnaev may have told Larking about something Cooper wrote.

However, I think it more likely that Larking has offered a garbled recollection of the phrase "Monarch mind control," which has received much discussion on kook websites (such as David Icke's). Although many people believe that Monarch is a real project, it's actually a fantasy concocted by a notorious pair of con artists named Mark Phillips and Cathy O'Brien. There is absolutely no documentation on Monarch that does not ultimately trace back to that very shady couple. Phillips charges substantial amounts of money to "cure" troubled individuals who believe themselves to be victims of mind control. In a conversation with writer Walter Bowart, Phillips admitted that he concocted the phrase "Monarch."

Before you decide to write an angry comment: Yes, I know all about the CIA's notorious Project MK-Ultra. Puh-leeze don't think you can take me to school on that topic! If you scour the internet, you can find a few good, older books about that project, along with a surprising number of original CIA documents. I promise you: You won't find any reference to programs or techniques called "Monarch" or "Majestic"; those are latter-day fantasies, invented by the embellishers. Alas, research into what the CIA actually did (or tried to do) has been so thoroughly overrun by cranks, crazies and con artists as to make further study impossible.

In fact, those "cranks, crazies and con artists" are the real topic of this post.

I've long felt that some conspiratorial texts have what may be called a "psychotoxic" effect on readers. Such works can push marginally unstable individuals into total madness.

(Drug abuse -- even marijuana abuse -- can exacerbate this process. The Tsarnaev brothers apparently liked their pot.)

In a post written in April of this year, I listed a number of outrages in which conspiracy theories seem to have driven certain individuals over the edge. At that time, various journalists had reported that Tamerlan was a big fan of the Alex Jones website. Moreover, we were told that Tamerlan had developed an interest in that depressingly ubiquitous anti-Semitic hoax, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Interestingly, the new Globe article mentions nothing about anti-Semitism. Neither do the Globe writers see fit to mention the strange teacher named "Misha" who supposedly exercised a controlling influence on Tamerlan. Am I the only one who remembers Misha? For some reason, he seems to have disappeared from the more recent stories about the Boston bombers.

To be frank, the shifting "Theories of Tamerlan" are rather bewildering. It's almost as if our media infrastructure is telling us: "Okay, you didn't like that picture of the guy? Then let's try it this way..."

Let's return to our main subject: The strange interaction of what we may call "paranoia chic" and acts of public violence.

These days, nearly every act of mass murder gives rise to conspiracy theories. But the theories themselves may be part of the problem. If the reader will forgive a bit of self-quotation, here's a huge chunk of what I wrote back in April...
You surely recall Jared Lee Loughner, the bizarre individual who shot Congresswoman Giffords. Although Loughner was clearly deranged, I have elsewhere suggested that his consumption of "psychotoxic" materials -- such as the film Zeitgeist -- may have aided the derangement process. Zeitgeist (described in this earlier post) is an inane conspiracy documentary which clumsily ties together three separate topics: The alleged non-historicity of Jesus, the controlled demolition theory of 9/11, and financial schemes of the "international bankers."

Some evidence indicates that Seung-Hui Cho, the Virignia Tech shooter, imbibed regularly from the fountains of political paranoia. Was he attracted to that kind of material because he had already gone mad, or did exposure to that stuff help drive him mad?

Nancy Lanza, the mother (and first victim) of Sandy Hook mass murderer Adam Lanza, was a "doomsday prepper," which we may fairly label a conspiracist subculture. (Have you ever met or heard of a prepper who did not believe in conspiracies?)
The mother of Newtown school massacre gunman Adam Lanza was a survivalist who was stockpiling food because she thought the world economy was on the verge of collapse.

Nancy Lanza began hoarding food and water because she feared that the onging financial crisis was going to bring about the end of civilized society.
And, of course, we have the examples of Tim McVeigh and Anders Brevik, two paranoia addicts doing battle with hallucinations of the Illuminati.

Conspiracy theory has become inextricably intertwined with American fundamentalist religion. To prove the point, one need only cite Pat Robertson's infamous The New World Order, which approvingly quotes noted "old school" anti-Semitic writers such as Nesta Webster and Eustace Mullens. When the internet first became popular in the mid-1990s, most "Christian" websites were only one or two links away from The Protocols. Many American clergy preach the politics of fear as routinely as they preach Jesus. This is also true in black churches -- Americans learned all about that when they met Reverend Wright -- and in some conservative Jewish organizations. And needless to say, conspiracism is very popular within certain Muslim sects.

These days, the Republican party's whole act is built around conspiracism. Just turn on Fox News and watch for an hour or so. You're sure to encounter at least one conspiracy theory -- in fact, you'll probably hear about dozens.
Incidentally, it's worth noting that the JFK assassination is one conspiracy theory that the Fox Newsers continually pooh-pooh. In our topsy-turvy culture, those few conspiracy theories backed by decent evidence are the ones least likely to be pushed by the media empire I call Conspiracy Inc.

Conspiracism has become an industry. When the product serves the interests of the powerful, that industry receives funding and thrives. Glenn Beck and Alex Jones do nothing to challenge -- and everything to uphold -- the established order. Being libertarians, they push the message that elected government officials are always evil, and that unelected corporate power must never be tethered. Working class people who look to Jones or Beck for answers will always be told to love their oppressors and to hate anyone who tries to make the average person's life better. The consumers who buy the wares produced by Conspiracy Inc. consider themselves the hippest of the hip, even though they are the most easily manipulated people in the world.

Conspiracy Inc. is itself a conspiracy. That's my theory.

The danger to our nation does not come from any individual conspiracy theory. Some theories have a basis in fact -- and even those which do not are not dangerous in and of themselves. Each argument must be judged individually, on the evidence.

What I have learned to fear is the conspiratorialist mindset. Like Big Tobacco, Conspiracy Inc. must continually create new addicts. If you've ever met anyone ensnared by this addiction, you already know the identifying characteristics:

* The quasi-sexual thrill derived from interpreting all phenomena in the most paranoid possible fashion.

* The instant presupposition of malice and bad faith on the part of anyone offering a counter-argument.

* An alienation from normal society, coupled with an inability to discuss mundane topics or to read non-paranoid books.

* A phobic reaction to the very concept of self-criticism.

* A manic loquaciousness, coupled with a desperate desire to prevent anyone else from completing a thought.

* Either/or thinking, coupled with a distaste for nuance.

* A chronic inability to comprehend the meaning of the word evidence.

* Above all, those addicted to the products of Conspiracy Inc. are characterized by arrogance. They have the unbridled self-confidence of the clueless.

Do these people pose a menace? Yes. Potentially.
Speaking of conspiracy theories and the Murdoch media...
Here I thought only pornography made you twisted. . .
I can't help with his reading list, but Tsarnaev had an amazon wish list:

Stuff about Chechnya. Fake ID manufacture. Voice coaching. Lots of true crime stuff about the Mob. Boethius' Consolations of Philosophy. Gibbon's divine Decline and Fall. No Turner Diaries. No Behold a Pale Horses. No Illuminati Formula for an Undetectable Total Mind Control Slave. I'm unimpressed.
You may have a point, Stephen...but then again, he did have access to the internet. Does anyone really need to BUY a conspiracy book these days?
This is perhaps nitpicky, and it certainly has nothing to do with the main topic of this post, but here's what's been bothering me about this series of articles (actually published as a special section of the Globe that began on the front page). I don't know anything about the vast majority of what's in here other than what I've read since mid-April, but I do know about one thing that's referred to early on, the Cambridge public school system, and they got it wrong. There is no "the public middle school" for one of the daughters to attend, and there hasn't been for decades; until the 2012-13 school year, the middle grades were part of the JK-8 (and one JK-6) elementary schools (15 of them in 2002, and 12 starting in 2003). In addition, Djokhar couldn't have graduated from the Community Charter School of Cambridge in 2007 because it is a grade 7-12 school that opened in 2005 with grades 7 and 8 and graduated its first class in 2009. As far as I know, he attended the Cambridgeport School, the newest of the three alternative elementary schools in our district, and about as far as you can get from CCSC, where the students wear uniforms and focus on tests and definitely do not have crunchy-granola, multi-grade classrooms (as Cambridgeport did back then) where they build portfolios of the work they've done over their academic careers.

Should the reporters' failure to get this relatively small detail correct make me wonder what else they got wrong? It's really bothering me.
Exposure to conspiracy theories cannot "drive" someone mad. They can provide content for delusional systems. The delusional thought processes arise from neurotransmitter imbalances in the frontal lobes affecting a person's ability to think well. That is what prevents them from critically evaluating conspriacy theories, which have appeal because they provide explanations and make sense out of scary, out of control circumstances in life. That is especially important to someone who may feel his personal life is increasingly scary and out of control (because of mental deterioration). So, the madness comes first. I agree that it is despicable to make a living off people with mental illness or brain injury.
The Glen Becks of the world and some of the 911 truthers have really muddied the waters in this type of research.
But allow me to step into the "harmless crank" category; in July I wrote this piece on "voice to skull technology". It really does exist and is being used experimentaly in advertising.

So if a billboard can put a voice in your head that only you can hear... I have no doubt the technology has been used for some bad stuff too...

As for finding out what happened with Tamerlan, I'd really like to know what he learned at the seminar in the country of Georgia that was put on by CIA front "The Jamestown Foundation". Then there is Tamerlan's Uncle Ruslan (big oil/USAID) and his CIA father-in-law Graham Fuller.
It seems the best way to track back to the Tsarnaev's would be to see why the FBI killed his friend Todashev in Florida. My speculation is that Todashev knew that one of the agencies was running Tamerlan and that he double-crossed them with the Boston Bombing.
There are some wonderful conspiracies that fill our world.

Kevin Ryan's 'Another Nineteen'..

The making of mind-controlled killers...

and the thoroughly debunked Monarch The New Phoenix Program....

Then there's the theoretical.....

But nothing really beats capitalism, the great master of conspiracy that produces/reproduces human exploitation, misery, poverty, war and destruction on the grandest scale ever devised and imagined.
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