Conspiracy Round-up – 11-04-16

All the news these days is Mossack Fonseca-related; Panama Papers this! Panama Papers that! Who am I to buck such a trend? We even devoted an episode of the podcast to it.

A decent primer on what this whole Mossack Fenseca/Panama Papers thing is actually about.

Vice provides a Conspiracy Theorists Guide to the Panama Papers (although I’d say it’s more a conspiracist’s guide, myself). It covers some of the more wacky aspects of various cover-up theories behind the recent leaks; it’s a hit job on Putin; everyone works for the CIA; George Soros!; etc. It’s a great reminder that almost every major news story can be refactored to fit an existing narrative.

On Putin and Mossack Fenseca, the cellist who seemingly holds the key to the Russian oligarchy’s fortunes.

To my mind, the most interesting part of the investigation into Mossack Fenseca is that near 400 journalists, working for 80 different organisations, managed to keep their investigation secret. It’s a conspiracy by journalists, with the aim of not letting their mark know what was happened, and it seems to have worked out. This story covers some of the lead-up to the Panama Papers investigation, and it makes for interesting reading.

Especially if you take this story into account; did you know that activities of Mossack Fenseca had been revealed to the world eighteen months earlier?

That aforementioned story is interesting to me because it speaks to a curious problem or fascination with modern data journalism; the Vice story told the same kind of tale as the Panama Papers, but it didn’t have a treasure trove of data. It’s a CSI-effect, but in journalistic terms.

Now, the thing about claiming your business is all above board is framing the message. If this story is true, then someone at Mossack Fenseca either thinks their business is crooked, or they watch James Bond films and sympathise with the villains. It’s one thing to name shell companies after Bond films; it’s another to name them after villains in the franchise.

(In related Trump news, Donald Trump retweeted a video about how great he was as a candidate, seemingly unaware that the narration had been stolen from a game (Mass Effect 2), and the narrator in question was not just the villain, but a xenophobic one to boot.)

Moving beyond Panama, here’s an interesting story about how some people at the CIA who are writing a rebuttal (entitled ‘Rebuttal’) to report which said ‘Torture achieved nothing’ just happened to advise the makers of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. You know, the film which said ‘We got Osama because of torture!’

Now, as we discussed on the podcast, when we covered this story, there’s nothing that unusual about agencies helping out Hollywood. It might seem strange, but it happens more often than many of think. Still, there is something unusual about this case. It’s not strictly conspiratorial, but it fits into a narrative of agencies going well beyond the call of duty to get their message across.

I usually don’t link to pieces at Breitbart, because it’s a little tawdry. However, this piece on where Trump’s support comes from – the alt-right – is interesting and scary. Interesting, because it’s basically the sociology of new iteration of the right-wing, and scary for how the authors going ‘They talk like racists, but really they’re not.’ Has everyone forgotten the moral lesson of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr’s ‘Mother Night’?

If you don’t want to read the Breitbart piece, there’s a good overview of it here.

The Guardian’s Conspiracy craze: why 12 million Americans believe alien lizards rule us is – unfortunately – a story of journalist who wants to show that conspiracy theories are weird, and who get’s some quotes from scholars to back it up. It’s interesting mostly because Olga Oksman approvingly cites Rob Brotherton’s work on how people selectively use evidence to bolster their own case, in order to bolster her case. It seems you can’t write about conspiracy theories without succumbing to pre-ordained theories about conspiracies.

Do you read Sutter Kane? Sorry, do you love the film ‘Citizen Kane’? If you do (or even if you don’t), you are probably aware of the story of Randolph Hurst’s media empire trying to shut the film down. It turns out the conspiracy against Orson Welles was bigger than anyone previously thought.

Finally, let me get political for a moment; have you heard of the newest presidential candidate for the USA, Andy Basiago? His policy platform is conspiratorial to the max, and I think you should give him serious consideration if you happen to be a voting American.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.