The traditional view of conspiracy theorists has them sitting in a basement (usually their mum’s), hunched over a computer (probably a Linux system because Windows was built by the NSA), wearing a tinfoil hat to prevent the government and its alien overlords from reading their thoughts. These dedicated basement-dwelling, foil-wearing warriors of truth call themselves ‘lightworkers’ because of their tireless efforts to expose the forces of darkness.
It’s easy to laugh at these lightworkers because they believe such outlandish things. The tobacco industry conspired for decades to conceal the effects of smoking, the US government undertook a secret program to develop mind control drugs, the Catholic church concealed decades of child abuse all over the world, and a network of Russian interests colluded to put a particular President in the White House.
You get the point. All these stories started as conspiracy theories, and the people who first touted them were derided as tinfoil-hat-wearing basement dwellers. Now, these episodes are accepted fact. Yes, the tobacco companies conspired. Yes, the US government ran the MKUltra program, and racked up a few casualties in its pursuit of mind control. Yes, the Catholic Church concealed child abuse, moving offending priests around different parishes like nasty pawns on a corrupt chessboard. Did the Russians collude to help a certain president into the White House? Possibly.
Horsemeat in food, cash for questions, athletes hopped up on banned substances, quiet, multi-billion dollar deals done behind closed doors to ‘save’ the financial system. We’ve all seen enough of the dirty business of life to know that things are rarely what they seem. But have we gone too far? Should we start getting fitted for tinfoil hats?
A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted in the US found that 46% of Americans believe media organisations fabricate news stories. All over the world, news outlets have had budgets slashed and the money available for real investigative journalism has dwindled. News organisations are increasingly reliant on wire services that aggregate and disseminate information, which is why so many stories in so many papers feature the same quotes from the same people.
We’re more sceptical than ever, but our traditional news services are less and less capable of meeting our needs. They can’t afford to put a team of journalists on a story for a year or two. They need quick wins to keep circulation, hits or viewership up, meaning they often pursue sensation over truth, further degrading the public’s trust. In response, the public seeks out ‘alternative’ news sources that claim to deliver the truth, but which may in fact be spreading false information or deliberate propaganda. Dangerous times.
One of the strands in my new novel, Freefall, deals with a shadowy organisation called the Foundation. It was alluded to in Pendulum, but is fully developed in the new book. The Foundation takes some inspiration from Propaganda Due, a secret masonic lodge established in Italy in 1945. When Italian police finally raided the home of the group’s leader in 1981, they discovered a partial membership list of almost 1,000 of the most powerful and influential people in Italy. For well over three decades, Propaganda Due was a nexus between politics, high finance, religion and organised crime. Propaganda Due was implicated in fraud, assassinations, bomb plots, arms smuggling and drug trafficking.
Reading the history of Propaganda Due, it’s difficult not to be worried by the ease with which a group of people could collude to subvert the legal and political system, affecting the lives of tens of millions of citizens for decades. We may just have seen something similar happen again with the US presidential election.
If we’ve all become conspiracy theorists, it’s with good reason. Now, more than ever, we need media organisations we can trust, free of sensation or agenda. Without them, we’re going to find ourselves living in a world where the basic assumption is that we can trust no one.
Right, I’ve got to go. Mum’s calling me up for dinner, and then I’m off to get measured for my new tinfoil hat.
Freefal l by Adam Hamdy