10 Most Famous Conspiracy Theories of All Time
Conspiracy theories are fascinating whether they’re well-researched or something out of left-field. They’re believed by fringe groups and the mainstream media alike, and they often survive debunking only to come back in some other form.Like the superstitions that people used to believe in the Middle Ages, sometimes it’s hard to imagine that people could actually believe aliens landed at Roswell or that fluoride in the public water supply is meant to control humanity, but these and other conspiracy theories are widely believed by people who, by most accounts, look completely sane.According to “Scientific American,” people of all types believe conspiracy theories, and belief isn’t restricted to a single demographic. While certain races, ages, or groups may believe one conspiracy theory over another, the fact remains that everyone from your grandmother to your best friend has probably mulled over a conspiracy theory and found some points of the argument valid.Here are the 10 most famous conspiracy theories of all time. Do you believe in any of them?
10. Roswell Alien Landing
New Mexico was the staging point for a variety of aircraft tests by the United States Air Force (USAF), but no test was more famous than the weather balloon launched into the air in 1947. Some locals in Roswell saw the weather balloon crash and suggested the balloon was a UFO. Immediately after their claims, the local Roswell newspaper ran with the story and published a headline that read, “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region.” The USAF made a statement about the truth of the matter, and the conspiracy was largely forgotten for several decades.
However, in the 1970s, the popularity of UFO conspiracies was high, and people calling themselves “ufologists” created elaborate conspiracy theories about the incident. The claim was that the accident wasn’t a downed weather balloon but an alien spaceship that had extraterrestrials inside. Conspiracies usually spoke of a government cover-up. In a response to the widespread public acceptance of the military cover-up, the government published an extensive report in the 1990s to quiet the rumor mill. Apparently, the government’s initial secrecy regarding the event was a response to the nature of the test that was part of nuclear test monitoring.
Starting in the late 1970s, a group of ardent UFO researchers spent over a decade and a half interviewing countless witnesses to the event, as well as people who had claimed to have a connection to the Roswell incident. The group also scored hundreds of documents from the incident courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act. They determined that at least one UFO landed in Roswell in 1947. The alleged alien landing is so popular that there’s a UFO festival in Roswell held each year.
9. Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941 by the Japanese was the singular event that thrust the United States into World War II. History states the Japanese went through with the attack to prevent the United States from entering the war, but the attack seemingly did just the opposite. In the years after the attack occurred, several official inquiries were made by America’s government on the attack and a final inquiry in 1995 revealed a variety of mistakes that were made by the country’s government before the Japanese attack.
However, despite these admitted errors, conspiracy theories regarding the government’s advanced knowledge of the attack have flourished for the past 70 years. One such theory involved the code-breaking abilities of the United States and the suggestion that America had already broken Japan’s secret codes at the time of the attack. Therefore, the Americans should have known that the attack was going to happen. A related theory suggested that unusual radio signals were heard in the Pacific Ocean for days before the attack, which should have alerted the Americans to suspicious Japanese activities. However, these theories have been largely debunked over the years.
Another theory about Pearl Harbor featured the locations of the aircraft carriers and battleships at the time of the attack. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Pacific’s three aircraft carriers weren’t in port. Conspiracy theorists have taken this fact to suggest the military knew the attack was coming and moved the valuable aircraft carriers out of the harbor. However, aircraft carriers weren’t the same sort of ship as today’s technologically advanced vessels. In fact, aircraft carriers were considered fairly expendable by the Navy.
In the United States and a few other developed nations, governments have added fluoride to the public water supply to reduce the incidence of cavities in the population. Some groups have been critical of fluoridated water because of bioethical concerns, and other groups have said the practice hasn’t been proven to offer true health benefits. However, the oddest criticisms have come from conspiracy theories regarding fluoride’s “true” purpose. For example, one of the earliest theories came about in the 1940s when people were afraid of communism and believed that fluoride was meant to control the population and allow for the development of socialism in the United States.
However, this early theory was soon pushed to the very fringe of society, particularly with satires on the subject including Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 epic, “Dr. Strangelove.” A character in that film decides to initiate nuclear war to stop the communists from putting fluoride in the water. Later theories about fluoride came about in the 1980s and 1990s when a pamphlet was published that said drinking fluoridated water over time would make people docile and accepting of whatever the government wished to do. The founder of the Sierra Club even created an organization called the Fluoride Action Network to fight against the “highly toxic substance.”
After seeing their arguments fall on deaf ears, some activists took to the courts to sue various local governments over the use of fluoride in water. The lawsuits usually suggested that fluoride was responsible for widespread public health problems and contaminated water. However, none of these lawsuits was ever successful, and no court has found the addition of fluoride to water to be a criminal act. In fact, groups like the American Dental Association have said that adding fluoride to water was one of the best things the government has done for citizens’ health.
It’s not uncommon to look up in the sky and see a fluffy white trail streaking across the sky after the passing of a large jet airplane. One strange conspiracy theory suggests that those trails are actually made of dangerous chemicals, but various theories exist as to their purpose. Some theorists have said the chemicals are for controlling the people’s minds while other theories have suggested the chemicals were testing for high altitude weapons. The name of the conspiracy theory comes from the combination of the words “chemical” and “trail,” and it’s supposed to sound like the word “contrail,” which is the actual name for the phenomenon. A contrail occurs when condensation forms in the air from a passing aircraft.
The public was introduced to the first rumblings of the chemtrail conspiracy theory in the mid-1990s when a fictionalized paper was created by a student in the United States Air Force. Over the years, that paper fueled more theories about chemtrails and gave rise to organizations concerned with something called “geoengineering.” These groups would appeal to government officials to halt the spraying of toxins in the sky. In addition to the suggestion that the government introduced chemtrails to make people sick, other groups started suggesting the chemtrails were responsible for climate change.
Despite the lingering popularity of chemtrails with anti-government conspiracy theorists, attacking the validity of the theory hasn’t been too difficult for naysayers. Essentially, the height at which contrails form is so distant from the Earth that any chemicals sprayed from the plane wouldn’t make it to earth before dispersing. Government officials have even come out to state, point blank, that the theory is ludicrous.
HodagMedia / Shutterstock.comThe tragic passing of Elvis Presley shocked the world in 1977, but some of his fans weren’t quite ready to let the King rest. Secrecy regarding Elvis’s autopsy fueled rumors about his death almost immediately. The addition of an extra “A” on Elvis’s tombstone for his middle name, Aaron, created more suspicion in the years after his untimely demise. Since his death, a number of fans have said they’ve seen the King alive and well like Louise Welling, who swore she saw Elvis in a Burger King in Kalamazoo, Michigan and a second time in a supermarket in Mississippi.
These fervent claims only led to more people coming out of the woodwork to reveal that they, too, had seen the King despite a photograph of Elvis in his casket that was run by the “National Enquirer” shortly after his death. One of the most interesting conspiracy theories to come out of Elvis’s death was the idea that Elvis bought a plane ticket for a flight bound for Argentina and changed his name to Jon Burrows. Another similar theory suggested Elvis went by the name of Jimmy Ellis and passed away sometime in the 1990s.
Not surprisingly, and given Elvis’s incredible fame, an organization calling themselves the “Elvis Sighting Society” actually met in Canada in the late 1980s for a meeting to discuss the overabundance of Elvis sightings publicized over the years in Ottawa. Amusingly, the city of Ottawa named a street after Elvis, calling it Elvis Lives Lane. Unfortunately, the public won’t get to see the true contents of Elvis’s autopsy report until 2027 since Elvis’s father had the autopsy sealed for 50 years.
5. The New World Order
Theories of a world government bent on totalitarianism have existed for several decades, and adherents of the conspiracy theory have suggested that a world government will soon rise to power and control the planet. The theory features major events around the world as evidence that the plot for world domination is well underway. The theory was once popular with anti-government groups, as well as fervent religious groups who believed the end of the world and the arrival of the Antichrist was nearing.
The name for the theory actually came from famous politicians of the early 20th century like Winston Churchill who started using the phrase around World War II when some politicians believed countries would need to work together to restore order to the world. International groups like the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were created shortly after the close of World War II, and these groups fueled the rise of conspiracy theories that developed in the second half of the 20th century.
One conspiracy theory related to the New World Order that took hold shortly after the war and which has remained popular was the suggestion that groups like the Freemasons were behind the attempts to create a world government. Radical conspiracy theorists also suggested the Jews or the Illuminati were behind the world government. Some of the conspiracies were a response to the fear of communism during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. Other variants of the conspiracy theory have suggested that powerful corporations were responsible for the creation of a shadow government that would eventually take over the world.
4. The Moon Landing
Multiple conspiracy theories about the moon landings exist, and the most remarkable theory suggests none of the six moon landings was real and that the Apollo astronauts faked their trips to the moon. The first moon landing occurred on July 20, 1969, which was a date just a few months before John F. Kennedy had declared that the United States would reach the moon. It didn’t take too long for skeptics to start suggesting that the whole moon program was faked. The first book on the subject came out in 1974 and was called, “We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle.”
A strange group called the Flat Earth Society also made headlines when they suggested that Hollywood and Walt Disney were responsible for the faked landings and that the landings were actually a film directed by Stanley Kubrick. Over the years, many experts in fields like photography have claimed to find evidence that the moon landings were faked by examining the films and photographs of the events. One theorist said he believed a spotlight was used when Buzz Aldrin exited the Lunar Module.
One of the strangest theories suggested the astronauts really did land on the moon, but NASA created fake images after the landings to make sure hostile countries couldn’t benefit. In recent years, NASA has sought to eliminate the conspiracy theories surrounding the moon landings by providing high-quality images from the space program’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The photographs showed a variety of tracks and landing spots, as well as pieces of equipment left behind by the astronauts when they left the moon. Later, additional high-res photographs showed several of the American flags planted by astronauts when they landed were still standing.
With an event of the magnitude of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it’s not unexpected that conspiracy theories would begin to surface almost immediately after the events occurred. One of the most eye-opening theories claimed that the World Trade Center’s twin towers were part of a controlled demolition rather than a collapse due to the impact of the passenger jets. Another theory involved the Pentagon and suggested that it wasn’t a plane that destroyed part of the security building, but a missile launched from inside the United States.
In the years since the attacks, a variety of documentaries have been made about the conspiracies, but most claims have been rejected after investigations by various organizations. For example, the American Society of Civil Engineers published a study in 2007 that said the collapse of the towers was plausible given the parameters of the jet aircraft. 9/11 also spawned various organizations that rejected the official accounting of events. The 9/11 Truth movement even held anti-war parades and suggested the attacks were a government conspiracy designed to get the United States into a war with Iraq and Afghanistan.
The formation of conspiracy theories was particularly swift after 9/11 with some European news agencies covering stories about the attacks and suspicious circumstances surrounding the events. The conspiracy theories were so prominent in the media that President George W. Bush made a speech to the United Nations just a few months after 9/11 that criticized the theories for trying to blame someone other than the terrorists. When President Bush decided to invade Iraq in May of 2003, conspiracy theories in the United States really started to pick up steam which prompted an official response to the attacks from the government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.
2. Global Warming
One of the most contentious topics today is the subject of global warming, and wild weather swings and increased temperatures on the planet have made it a popular topic of conversation for everyone from regular folks to internationally famous politicians. Most conspiracy theories regarding global warming revolve around the idea of manmade global warming and whether the planet’s climate changes have been the result of human interference or natural processes. A statement by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said at least 95% of the planet’s temperature increases have been caused by human activities.
Virtually every major scientific body recognizes that global warming has come about due to human influence; however, one of the features that makes this conspiracy theory so fascinating is the belief by mainstream individuals that the global warming of the past few centuries has been a natural phenomenon. In fact, right-leaning publication “Forbes” published an article a few years ago that suggested the book “Watermelons, The Green Movement’s True Colors” accomplished its goal of showing that global warming is a fraud. Most conspiracy theories wouldn’t find validation in the form of major news outlets or respected publications. Global warming denial, on the other hand, has found a home in mainstream media.
On the other side of the argument, publications like “The Guardian” have called attention to the fact that most conspiracy theories regarding global warming denial have come from journalists while the scientific community has, largely, remained constant in its opinions regarding global warming. The denials that started as a fringe movement have become so mainstream in today’s society that calling it a “conspiracy” might not go far enough.
1. The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
thatsmymop / Shutterstock.comThe assassination of John F. Kennedy continues to fascinate the public more than 50 years after the event that traumatized a nation. The remarkable thing about the assassination’s conspiracy theories is how mainstream they’ve become over the last several decades. Some conspiracy theories have remained the property of fringe groups and extremists. The conspiracy theories about JFK, on the other hand, have made it into major Hollywood motion pictures, well-regarded documentaries, and articles from major news outlets. Despite the Warren Commission’s findings in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, theories about government involvement abound.
In fact, polls on the assassination taken by major media companies like Gallup have shown that many Americans believe that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone when he assassinated the president. One poll conducted in 2003 revealed that less than 20% of respondents believed Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. However, Americans haven’t been able to agree on which conspiracy theory to believe. Like other major events in U.S. history, the conspiracy theories surrounding JFK’s death started swirling almost immediately after Jack Ruby shot Oswald to death just a few days after the assassination.
One of the most popular conspiracy theories was the “grassy knoll” theory which suggested an additional shooter stood on a hill near the assassination and delivered the fatal bullet that killed JFK. Conspiracy theories reached a fever pitch in the late-1970s when the government’s House Select Committee on Assassinations examined the Warren Commission’s findings of the 1960s and found that the commission’s results were deeply flawed. In addition, the house committee found that an oddly high number of people with some connection to the assassination had died under suspicious circumstances in the years after the event.
Although we might label people who think up conspiracy theories as a little crazy, these theories are still an interesting part of our modern culture. The passion and enthusiasm of conspiracy theorists captivate us and asks us to question our own beliefs on subjects that touch every part of our lives. Virtually no event is off-limits to the imaginative and creative minds of the people who think up ideas like the gunman on the grassy knoll.
Sometimes conspiracy theories are completely outlandish and entertaining, but other theories are grounded in just enough fact to make you think twice about something you never questioned. As time passes and the events that have inspired conspiracy theories fade into history, it’s increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. Was the JFK assassination a huge government conspiracy? Was the moon landing a hoax? Are we shortly to be taken over by the dreaded New World Order? Perhaps we’ll never know the full truth about any of these events.