The release of thousands of classified files on the death of John F Kennedy will shed very little light on what happened on that day in Dallas. However, they will do nothing to silence the conspiracy theorists who claim that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone, that the mob, the FBI, or even Vice President Johnson were behind the killing.
Conspiracy theories have always been with us. The Pope is the Anti Christ; the Holocaust was a Jewish plot to help create a state of Israel; Princess Diana, Dag Hammarskjold and David Kelly were all assassinated; Paul McCartney really died in 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike; alien reptiles rule the world; the US moon landing was staged by NASA. Donald Trump seems to be particularly drawn to conspiracy theories, in his time flirting with theories on the birthplace of Barack Obama; global warming; Hillary Clinton’s mental state; Ted Cruz’s father’s involvement in the assassination of JFK; collusion between FBI and KGB; the rigging of the presidential election’s popular vote; vaccines causing autism etc. He is a great fan of conspiracy theorist in chief, Alex Jones - his radio show and his website infowars.com.
Nearer to home we have had to deal with the Yes Campaign’s conspiracy theories that the Indyref was rigged. Thousands of Yes votes were removed; boxes of No votes were secretly brought into counting centres; votes were deliberately put in the wrong piles. Left wing sites like the Canary peddle conspiracy theories about all opponents of radical politics.
Nick Cohen writing in the Observer said, ‘These echo chambers cut down on dissenting information, they eliminate us happening on other points of view. This is likely to make people even angrier, more outraged, more certain that people we disagree with are evil, and more likely to live within the echo chamber itself. This isn't good for our capacity to hold reasoned, civil debate in public life.’
What conspiracy theorists have in common is that they do not believe in random coincidence. We all suffer from this a bit - it’s just that they get it out of proportion. Society tolerates this in mainstream religious belief for example, or harmless superstition. We all want life to make sense- we just don’t always want to face up to the obvious explanation of events. Conspiracy theories are particularly popular with groups on the political extremes and religious cults. It's not that the internet has created this phenomenon, just that it has made it so much easier to propagate and seek out like minded people. We are faced with an army of the lazy minded who think themselves anti-establishment and believe all Government is corrupt and therefore are up for believing all the conspiracy theories of the day.
It's sad to think that so many people are prepared to make important decisions about where they stand and what they believe without employing their critical thinking skills. But always remember - the truth is out there, as sure as the earth is flat!