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Pathologizing Protest
An Exploration of "Conspiracy Phobia"
Carolyn Baker

Last month, when mainstream media reported Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s call for an investigation of the events of September 11, I was surprised, yet not at all shocked to hear pejorative comments from the likes of Ari Fleischer, alleging that McKinney must be competing in a contest for "The Grassy Knoll Society." However, I was and continue to be viscerally astounded with the inordinate terror of "conspiracy theory" within mainstream, and yes, even progressive, media. A lifetime of psychological training immediately kicked in, and rather than feeling defensive of McKinney’s assertions, with which I happen to thoroughly agree, I felt compelled to reflect upon what I have come to believe is "conspiracy phobia" among some of the greatest minds in media. I find no other way to account for a perception of anything even remotely resembling conspiracy paradigms as a kind of intellectual leprosy. What is so tragic about this dread and loathing is not the irrationality of it all, but the enmity and polarization it is creating within what could and should be a consistent, collaborative, congenial left-liberal alliance in a time of unprecedented corruption, criminality and Constitutional degradation in American government.

For example, shortly after September 11, the websites of Mike Ruppert’s From The Wilderness, (, Global Research, ( and The Emperor’s New Clothes, ( began publishing a plethora of inconsistencies in the "official" U.S. government explanation of the attacks. Shortly thereafter, Chip Berlet of (Public Research Associates), criticized Ruppert’s "conspiracism," stating that Ruppert’s allegations "fall short of journalistic standards of evidence and proof." He goes on to say that Ruppert makes sweeping claims that cannot be verified and "serve to distract from serious progressive opposition to the status quo and sometimes even discredit it."

In March, referring specifically to Mike Ruppert, David Corn of The Nation, in his article "When 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Go Bad," wrote: "I won’t argue that the U.S. government does not engage in brutal, murderous skullduggery from time to time. But the notion that the U.S. government either detected the attacks but allowed them to occur, or, worse, conspired to kill thousands of Americans to launch a war-for-oil in Afghanistan is absurd." Oh really? Then how is it that Gore Vidal, Seymour Hersh and Michael Moore are now asking the same questions that were asked by the aforementioned websites shortly after September 11? More dramatically, on May 12, 2002, MSNBC released a story: "What Did FBI Know About 9-11 Attacks?" indicating that the FBI has now embarrassingly admitted that some of its agents had received information last summer regarding a possible World Trade Center attack in the fall.

Anyone who has read stories published by From The Wilderness, Global Research or Emperor’s New Clothes can only be in awe of the impeccable documentation of evidence presented. A particular case in point is Mike Ruppert’s extraordinary video documentary, Truth And Lies Of 9-11, recorded at a three-hour presentation at Portland State University in November, 2001. In the presentation, Ruppert explicitly states that he is presenting his case as an attorney would to a jury or as law enforcement would present evidence to a district attorney. After viewing the video several times, I could only chuckle at Berlet’s assertion that Mike Ruppert "makes sweeping claims that cannot be verified," or "that Ruppert’s allegations serve to distract from serious progressive opposition to the status quo and sometimes even discredit it."

In a letter to KPFA, the Berkeley, California radio station on which Congresswoman McKinney first publicly verbalized her call for an investigation of 9-11, columnist Norman Solomon questioned the station’s scheduling of a radio interview with Mike Ruppert, suggesting that the station had been giving him too much airtime. Solomon warned that "…such programming, when it is ‘successful,’ encourages people to fixate on the specter of a diabolical few plotters rather than on the profoundly harmful realities of ongoing, structural, institutional, systemic factors." Solomon continues with phrases such as, "…when logic becomes secondary to flashy claims…" and "…assertions unsupported by evidence." He concludes with a curious question: "Aren’t the well-documented crimes of the U.S. government and huge corporations enough to merit our ongoing outrage, focused attention and activism?"

I find Solomon’s remarks fascinating not only because Ruppert, Global Research, Emperor’s New Clothes, Cynthia McKinney, and now, the MSNBC news story suggesting foreknowledge of the attacks, all include assertions overwhelmingly supported by concrete evidence. But I find Solomon’s concluding question even more curious for another reason, and herein lies a key hiatus of logic in conspiracy phobia. Solomon is essentially polarizing the assertions of those questioning the U.S. government’s explanation of 9-11 as somehow separate from the "well-documented crimes of the U.S. government and huge corporations." In other words, progressives who do not raise the question of U.S. government foreknowledge of the attacks operate in the realm of "ongoing, structural, institutional, systemic factors," whereas those who do present evidence for government foreknowledge are "fixating on the specter of a diabolical few plotters." Hence, we are asked to choose between "systemic" and "conspiracy" as the only options in the 9-11 debate. Apparently, Solomon, Berlet and Corn have never read or understood anything written or spoken by those who assert government foreknowledge. Mike Ruppert, in particular, painstakingly embeds the events of September 11 in the "ongoing, structural, institutional, systemic factors" of a government that has in the last four decades, become, in his words, "a criminal empire." His perspective is not one of scapegoating a small minority of conspirators, but rather is a perspective that can best be described as what Peter Dale Scott calls an understanding of deep politics or "A deep political system or process…one which habitually resorts to decision-making and enforcement procedures outside as well as inside those publicly sanctioned by law and society. In popular terms, collusive secrecy and law-breaking are part of how the deep political system works." What Solomon is describing (ongoing, structural, institutional and systemic) is precisely synonymous with "deep politics."

But even aside from the systemic vs. conspiracy dichotomy, the very word conspiracy has in itself become a smearing epithet for some—tantamount to schizophrenic or delusional. As Carla Binion noted at the beginning of her excellent May, 2001 article in Online Journal, "Conspiracy Fact vs. Conspiracy Theory," there have been actual conspiracies in this country such as Watergate, Iran-Contra, BCCI, the savings and loan scandal, Iraq-gate and COINTELPRO. Unfortunately, those who would turn reality inside out in order to avoid being labeled with the horrifying "C" word, rarely make a distinction between conspiracy fact and conspiracy theory, simplistically dismissing the evidence presented by those who suggest foreknowledge of 9-11 as "conspiracy" theory (interpretation: psychotic drivel).

What would be amusing, were it not so distressing, is that progressives who criticize those who suggest foreknowledge as holding a non-systemic view, seem themselves, to be behaving extraordinarily "non-systemically" in their censure of those individuals. Why might this be so? Again, I return to the issue of fear. What I continue to hear is the terror of crossing a line, for as Berlet says, "I think Ruppert steps over the line into conspiracist allegations…." What is that line, and why is crossing it so dreaded by certain progressive thinkers?

What would it mean to state with all candor, holding in one’s hands extraordinary amounts of credible, superbly-documented, coherent, sound evidence that the U.S. government may have had foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks? What are the consequences of making such an assertion? For the short answer, we have only to ask Cynthia McKinney to tell us how the media have savaged her, some even calling for her investigation by the House Ethics Committee. That in itself, is certainly enough to discourage any journalist from crossing the frightful line. But even attacks have not daunted McKinney, Ruppert or others. "Sticks and stones," and so on. The issue of line-crossing is much more complex—a word so beloved by our conspiracy-phobic friends.

To conclude on the basis of what is a groundswell of extraordinarily well-documented evidence that the U.S. government had foreknowledge of the attacks is to essentially conclude that we do not have a government—at least one based on the rule of law. It is, furthermore, to conclude that the Constitution of that government is virtually non-existent and that our civil liberties, like all of the documents pertaining to Enron trading that were stored in the offices of the SEC in the World Trade Center, went up in smoke on that tragic September morning. To conclude that our government had foreknowledge of the attacks is to conclude that within the current political system, as we now know it, there is no hope—no party, no candidate, no organization in this country that can reverse the brick wall toward which this nation is reeling at locomotive speed.

In other words, crossing the line is synonymous with crossing into the reality that we have long since ceased to live in a democracy and that we now live in a criminal, militaristic empire that is essentially holding us hostage as it takes its war for oil and drugs all over the world for what it shamelessly admits may be the rest of our lives.

To cross the line is to realize that our President, Vice-President and Secretary of Defense, undoubtedly along with numerous other officials in the Executive Branch of government, must be arrested and tried for treason. Perhaps most poignantly, crossing the line would mean that one finally comprehends, on a cellular level, that while we say that everything changed on September 11, nothing meaningful has changed if our thinking remains intact. And certainly, no profound changes on behalf of human decency and democracy will result as long as those on the left continue to posture, polarize and pontificate an antiquated world view.

While all of this may sound morbidly hopeless, I do not feel so. I see enormous hope in the sharing of information and the constant bubbling forth of unexpected voices questioning the "official" explanations of 9-11. Among other incisive statements made by Mike Ruppert in his 9-11 tape is this one: "People playing in a rigged game get stupid."

The U.S. government has been playing in a rigged game for decades, and it is growing increasingly sloppy and inept in covering up its surreptitious, felonious, murderous machinations. Whether or not the dam will fully break and a torrent of public opinion will ignite protest in this nation that will pale the sixties by comparison remains to be seen.

But meanwhile, let us examine the conspiracy phobias we all have and let us be courageous enough to reflect and examine introspectively whatever investments we still hold in the criminal empire, be they in stock portfolios or deep in the trembling recesses of our vulnerable psyches.