Conspiracy Theories

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drunken
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Conspiracy Theories

Postby drunken » Wed Nov 26, 2008 8:52 pm UTC

I was surprised to find there was no thread on SB about any conspiracy theories, not in general, except for a thread on the XKCD comic with the same title, and not specific conspiracy theories. In fact the lack of discussion about the attacks of september 11th in particular seemed strange. To me september the 11th is very serious business. I would like to discuss conspiracy theories and theorists in general. I imagine we will get an excess of claim - counter claim about specific theories, which I would rather avoid. To this end if there is a problem with specific theories I may start another thread about that specifically or this thread will get too clogged. I was interested in general discussion of conspircy as a concept and theories about possible conspiracies in general. Also we might as well restrict it to political and government conspiracies as criminal and commercial conspiracies would widen the topic too much. (terrorism is generally included as political)

Is the vilification fo conspiracy theorists justified given the number of actual verified historical conspiracies?
Do false conspiracy theories do significant damage to society?
If you were around at the time of a real historical conspiracy would you have believed the people claiming that it was a conspiracy?
If the government lies about what happened in a certain event does that necessarily imply that they are complicit in the event?

My opinion:
No
No Edit: Yes
Yes
No
Last edited by drunken on Thu Nov 27, 2008 5:00 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
***This post is my own opinion and no claim is being made that it is in any way scientific nor intended to be construed as such by any reader***

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby clintonius » Wed Nov 26, 2008 8:57 pm UTC

drunken wrote:I imagine we will get an excess of claim - counter claim about specific theories

If that happens I'm locking the thread. This is a very contentious topic with lots of potential for dismissive and insulting posts, which means I'll be keeping a close eye on it. This is a pre-emptive command for civility.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby roc314 » Wed Nov 26, 2008 9:19 pm UTC

drunken wrote:Is the vilification fo conspiracy theorists justified given the number of actual verified historical conspiracies?
...
No
I respectfully and civilly disagree with you here. There may have been conspiracies in the past, but that does not mean the current ones have any merit. It's a bit of an argument from anecdotes. Those previous conspiracies do not lend any weight to current conspiracy theories. (Of course, it is just as fallacious to assume that all conspiracies are false--they should be judged by the evidence and reasoning for them, not on the basis of being a conspiracy theory. (There have been few legitimate conspiracy theories, however.))
drunken wrote:Do false conspiracy theories do significant damage to society?
...
No
This one varies. Depending on the theory and the popularity of it, it may have no impact to significant impact. For example, the theory that the US government has aliens at Area 51 is relatively harmless. However, if there was a theory that stated that aliens control the world's governments and it was believed by a supermajority of the people, it would do significant damage to society (I think these are rare, though).
drunken wrote:If you were around at the time of a real historical conspiracy would you have believed the people claiming that it was a conspiracy?
...
Yes
Again, this one depends. I would have to see what data and evidence was available then to decide for each case.
drunken wrote:If the government lies about what happened in a certain event does that necessarily imply that they are complicit in the event?
...
No
To an extent. The government lying about, hypothetically, what really happened at 9/11 is not the same as causing it. They are still complicit in some of the events.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Wellan » Thu Nov 27, 2008 6:42 am UTC

drunken wrote:Is the vilification of conspiracy theorists justified given the number of actual verified historical conspiracies?
Do false conspiracy theories do significant damage to society?
If you were around at the time of a real historical conspiracy would you have believed the people claiming that it was a conspiracy?
If the government lies about what happened in a certain event does that necessarily imply that they are complicit in the event?


One: I would never say that ALL conspiracy theorists should be looked down on, but a lot of them are really ridiculous, and so a certain amount of skepticism is justified.

Two: Oh, yes, they do. During the black plague, many Jews were killed by Christians, because they were thought to be the cause of the plague (we now know this to be ludicrous.) In my eyes, that qualifies as a conspiracy theory doing significant damage. Of course, that was a long time ago - things like that happen less in modern times. And, of course, your average silly conspiracy theory has next to no effect on society. However, they can be very nasty in the wrong circumstances.

Three: No clue. Depends on the historical event and the quality of the theories involved.

Four: It can, but not as a general rule.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby scwizard » Thu Nov 27, 2008 6:54 am UTC

I have enough trouble understand American politics as it is without believing that there's some kind of secret force that was responsible for the September 11th attacks.

The whole idea of a series of bombings triggering the collapse of the WTC seems kind of silly to me. If I were the shadow govt and I wanted to stage a terrorist attack, I wouldn't bomb anything in a secret and suspicious way, I'd just fly some planes into some buildings. I mean even if the buildings didn't collapse the shock would have been enough to accomplish the conspiracy's supposed goal of inciting terror and manipulating the masses.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby cerbie » Thu Nov 27, 2008 11:54 am UTC

drunken wrote:Is the vilification fo conspiracy theorists justified given the number of actual verified historical conspiracies?
Not as much as it is felt in the general populous, but yes. Anything the 'conspiracy nut' believes is seen as entirely ridiculous, even true ones.
Do false conspiracy theories do significant damage to society?
Depends. I think they are a necessary part of political discourse, whenever the parties involved do not offer sufficient transparency (FI, the Bush admin has been exceptionally secretive). While some are clearly wrong (overwhelming majority, in the recent cases), the interest is led on by facts not fitting the story, and/or facts being falsified, and/or facts missing from the public.

The problem comes in when a majority of an identifiable group believe a given conspiracy theory, and act upon it, when it has no basis in fact. Ultimately, I think tempering what we know with admission of what we don't, is the best way to go, even if it causes a little doubt.
If you were around at the time of a real historical conspiracy would you have believed the people claiming that it was a conspiracy [aided in execution by what we generally think of as the good guys]?
No. I believe what seems to lead to what happened, even if there are missing pieces. Have you not still been hearing about JFK's assassination? Have you not heard of 9/11 hypotheses? Have you not read a dozen conspiracy theories about us going into Iraq? Text added, because most events we hear about in the news had actual conspiracies involved. It's just not so threatening when the good guys conspire against the bad guys, or the bad guys conspire against the good guys.
If the government lies about what happened in a certain event does that necessarily imply that they are complicit in the event
Yes, cautiously. It does not mean they were, but I certainly take the implication. I trust the government to be looking out for people in its ranks, not the ones it is claimed to be serving. However, lying to the public can be used to help keep its own safe, in ways that work towards our safety, too. We rarely have enough information to be 100% confident.

We are not in a world in which we have all of the answers. We not have all of the information. We do not have all of the right questions. We must make decisions with some level of confidence, but be aware that it is not absolute, and we may be proven wrong. The vast conspiracy theories have a tendency to follow our desire for a world with a predictable order to a degree that denies incompetence, emotional needs (closure, FI), and poor loyalties on the parts of those with influence over information.

edit in italics, since my initial thoughts did not fit things like the PotEoZ
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Iv » Thu Nov 27, 2008 1:18 pm UTC

drunken wrote:Do false conspiracy theories do significant damage to society?

It can, it has

There is an old motto that says that even paranoiacs have enemies. There is a famous case in France of a guy who had been the witness in the 80' of a minor event and from then he was persuaded that he was constantly spied, followed, that he was harassed by secret services. He was so funny in his obvious paranoia that many journalists interviewed him and he came to several TV shows. It is not until his death that it was discovered that many things were indeed true. He really was intensively spied.

Conspiracy theories can have merit. It is often quick to see which hold together and which dismiss facts that contradict them. There are relatively few theories that require a long time to get a straight opinion on them.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Darkscull » Thu Nov 27, 2008 1:40 pm UTC

When the subject is conspiracy theories, the answer to almost any question you ask should be 'depends'. Any other answer shows a slightly disturbing lack of reasoning skills. (ie. thinking that conspiracy theories never/always do damage, etc. Although that's an extreme example, obviously))

Nothing is black and white, and that's part of the problem with many conspiracy theorists (and certainly with the stereotypical version): They see things a little too black and white, all or nothing, etc.

Also, the most disturbing and incomprehensible (to me) thing about conspiracy theorists is how often they fall into the trap of "it could have happened, therefore it happened".
For some reasons beliefs that come about through that sort of thing tend to be unshakable no matter what evidence there is against it and/or lack of evidence for it. Sometimes this is compared to religious faith, but the difference is that religious beliefs are untestable, whereas whether or not the world's politicians are lizards is definitely testable.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Nov 27, 2008 4:01 pm UTC

drunken wrote:Is the vilification of conspiracy theorists who believe in conspiracies that would require thousands of people to be complicit justified given the number of actual verified historical conspiracies involving groups orders of magnitude smaller than this?

Yes, absolutely. As roc314 said, we can't use past conspiracies as evidence for or against present ones, most especially when the plausibility is so radically different.

The only legitimate reason to ever bring up a past conspiracy is to point out that groups of people do sometimes succeed in fooling larger groups of people, when they can all keep quiet about it. But a group of, say, 100 CIA employees drawing up plans to topple an enemy government and keeping quiet about it is vastly different from a group of 10,000 or more people, many of whom swore oaths to protect and defend the United States, who would be willing to die in other countries to serve that purpose (but apparently fear death too much to step forward about the conspiracy?), *all* remaining completely complicit for 7+ years about the largest terrorist attack on our own country in all of history. The plausibility of the smallish CIA conspiracy directed towards (ostensibly) helping our country and its citizens lends no credence whatsoever to even the slightest possibility of the gigantic conspiracy involving thousands of people from a wide range of professions and all walks of life directed towards murdering thousands of innocent American citizens.
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In many ways, I think grand conspiracy theories are very similar to creation "science"/evolution denial, flat-earth theories, and the like. Believers in these things combine very incomplete understanding of the evidence and very incomplete understanding of science with very fervent desires for certain things to be true. They denigrate the "official story", whatever it may be, without actually understanding most of what the official story actually says. They look for perceived anomalies in the official story, use these to promote their own crackpot theories, and then proceed to plug their ears when you point out the many times more anomalies their theory invariably has in it.

I'll gladly stop believing the "official story" in any of these cases, as soon as someone comes up with an alternate hypothesis that even comes remotely close to having as few unexplained elements as the story I currently believe.

Darkscull wrote:For some reasons beliefs that come about through that sort of thing tend to be unshakable no matter what evidence there is against it and/or lack of evidence for it. Sometimes this is compared to religious faith, but the difference is that religious beliefs are untestable, whereas whether or not the world's politicians are lizards is definitely testable.

But like people whose testable faith-based beliefs (such as creation science) come under attack, conspiracy theorists are very good at tactics like moving the goalposts all the hell over the place.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Iv » Thu Nov 27, 2008 4:40 pm UTC

I once heard an interesting theory (he presented it as fact but I never dig enough to confirm it) from an UFO-lover I-want-to-believe type. He told me that Air Force officials, during the whole Roswell thing, were annoyed by all those people watching Area 51. They had no aliens but still did some secret military tests that they wanted kept secret. So the theory says that during UFOlogist meetings, they sent agents with completely crazy theories to discredit these meetings ("the Army trains mediums to control tornadoes !") in order to make other believable claims less heard (like "the Army is working on a plasma propulsion device")

Even unconfirmed, it is an interesting counter-intelligence strategy.

gmalivuk wrote:I'll gladly stop believing the "official story" in any of these cases, as soon as someone comes up with an alternate hypothesis that even comes remotely close to having as few unexplained elements as the story I currently believe.

In some events (like 9/11) I give as little credence to the official story than to conspiracy theories. After all, the current US administration has proved a readiness to present fake proofs and to hide information to the public in order to fulfill an agenda. It is a textbook receipt for conspiracy making.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby drunken » Thu Nov 27, 2008 5:27 pm UTC

I have been convinced to change my position on question 2 as peoples areguments here are compelling. I realised in fact that Hitler's assertion that Jews were trying to ruin the world and take it over fits exactly my definition of a conspiracy theory, and the damage there is evident.

As for the vilification of conspiracy theorists, I still don't agree that it is justified. I am not advocating as some people suggested, that you should believe their theories because of past conspiracies, I was suggesting that ridiculing them and questioning their sanity, solely for questioning the official story and hypothesising alternatives, is unjustified. The ridiculing of conspiracy theorists seems to have entered the mainstream as a result of the JFK assassination conspiracy. It is easy to see why: the idea that a democratically elected president could have been killed by the government itself is repugnant to freedom and democracy, the main founding principles of the US. The result then of people advocating this theory was not that people simply were able to disbelieve and ignore the theory, but that people felt afraid and threatened by the very idea of it. This leads people to feel the need to attack and discredit the theory and it's proponents. You would think that this attitude would have taken a bit of a kick in the teeth since most of the claims of the JFK conspiracy theorists have gradually been vindicated over time, and it is generally accepted by most people who do enough reserarch into it, that JFK was actually murdered by the CIA in conspiracy with Lyndon Johnson. This change of attitude does not appear to have happened however, probably for the same reason it started in the first place.

@ Gmalivuk: thankyou for the misquote, but that is not what I meant at all. The longest running conspiracy that is accepted and proven that I have found, also having the most conspirators, was the efforts of Christian missionaries to commit genocide on the native north american population using diseases, mostly TB and smallpox. This conspiracy went on for more than 400 years running well into the second half of this century, it included tens of thousands of missionaries and hundreds of thousands of victims. The church still denies this and many of the still living perpetrators of the conspiracy have never been held to account. There is extensive documentation of this, one good example I would recommend if you are interested in learning more is the documentary "Unrepentant" http://video.google.de/videoplay?docid=-6637396204037343133&ei=XsQtSZPZF6Ky2gKckuCPAQ&q=documentary as it deals with a fairly modern example and goes into every aspect of the phenomenon.

There are other examples of conspiracies too that involve groups not "orders of magnitude smaller than" a group of CIA operatives and some high up memebers of the government. I am not asking you to believe the conspiracy theories, I am asking you to stop subjecting their proponents to abuse and ridicule. If only for the reason that abuse and ridicule does nothing to help with ascertaining the truth, and just makes these people bitter and jaded.

If you truly believe that you are right then you should be able to argue your point without resorting to abuse, name calling and emotionally laden rhetoric.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Darkscull » Thu Nov 27, 2008 6:44 pm UTC

drunken wrote:I was suggesting that ridiculing them and questioning their sanity, solely for questioning the official story and hypothesising alternatives, is unjustified.


It's been my experience that conspiracy theorists are ridiculed for A. hypothesising alternatives where there is no need, and no evidence to suggest the official version is untrue and B. hypothesising stupid alternatives that make no sense.

Yes, people generalise and apply those things to all conspiracy theories, whether they're accurate or not, but that doesn't change that that is why they ridicule them, not a general fear of anything other than the establishment or anything like that.


If you truly believe that you are right then you should be able to argue your point without resorting to abuse, name calling and emotionally laden rhetoric.


People that need to be told this: politicians, and conspiracy theorists.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Philwelch » Fri Nov 28, 2008 1:22 am UTC

Conspiracy theories are often two-dimensional in a way: sometimes they dispute the immediate physical effects of what happened and sometimes they speculate on "who was really behind this".

Examples:

JFK (immediate facts):
Conventional view: JFK was shot and killed by two rounds from a rifle fired by Lee Harvey Oswald from the Texas School Book Depository. Governor Connely was shot and wounded by one of those rounds after it exited Kennedy.
Conspiracy theory: There was a second shooter on the Grassy Knoll. Or in the storm drain. Or behind the fence. Oswald was a patsy and didn't successfully make either shot. Or maybe he made the first but not the second. Maybe there were three shots. Or three shooters.

JFK (who was really behind it?):
Conventional view: The responsible party was a lone nut, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Conspiracy theories: The responsible party was (pick any of the following)
*Russia
*Cuba
*The CIA
*J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI
*The Mafia
*LBJ

9/11 (what happened?)
Conventional view: 19 young Arab men hijacked four airlines, two of which crashed into the WTC, one of which crashed into the Pentagon, one of which crashed in Pennsylvania in response to the passengers trying to recapture the aircraft. The WTC towers later collapsed due to the impact, damaging nearby buildings, including WTC 7 which also collapsed due to residual damage.
Conspiracy theories: A missile hit the Pentagon and explosives were planted in the WTC.

9/11 (who was really behind it?)
Conventional view: Al-Qaeda.
Conspiracy theories: GWB, the Jews, the cell phone companies, Al Gore.

There's also, often, an "allowed it to happen" measure where the actual facts of what happened are not under dispute, nor are the perpetrators, but that the powers that be had advance warning and chose not to act. For instance, some think that FDR knew Pearl Harbor was going to be bombed but let the Japanese bomb it anyway because he wanted to join WWII. Others think that GWB knew 9/11 was coming but ordered NORAD to stand down and so forth because he wanted to invade Afghanistan and build an oil pipeline.

Where am I going with this, other than taxonomy of conspiracy theories (which is pretty damn fun for its own sake)? Well, it's generally easy to argue about the physical facts. We only need to apply a little bit of verificationism and check the evidence and apply physics to see what's up. That said, it's almost impossible to pinpoint 45 years later whether Lee Harvey Oswald had clandestine meetings with rogue agents working for the LBJ political machine, and it's impossible to get deep enough inside the US intelligence community to find out just how much GWB knew on September 10.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby SJ Zero » Fri Nov 28, 2008 11:15 pm UTC

The strange things about conspiracy theories is, they pop up where there is an authority trying to hide the facts. 9/11 had the government putting on a "They hate us because we're so perfect and lovable" facade, tonnes of conspiracy theories.

The real reason for the 9/11 attacks, according to the 9/11 report, is quite simple. We've been killing leaders and bombing cities in the middle east for 50 years. Some people got mad and struck back. If the government just admitted that, I think we'd see a lot of the conspiracies disappear. Instead, they keep on this insane party line of "They gave their lives to strike at us because we're so awesome because we're good and they're evil".


I imagine Area 51 is much the same. Give a ridiculous "It's a weather balloon" excuse without any thing to back it up, and cause conspiracy theorists to piss themselves for 50 years trying to figure it out.

The tragic irony is that real conspiracies go unnoticed. It turns out the US has secret prisons throughout Europe and has used them like Guatanamo Bay for 50 years, it makes one story on page 15. It turns out that the US DOES condone torture, it's not even worth talking about. The only thing worth talking about is whether we should keep doing it or not, and it's a real stumper. JFK's "Project Northwoods" was pretty much a conspiracy theorists wet dream, but nobody gives a crap when US officials actually plan to launch attacks on US soil for the purpose of creating a motive for attacking Cuba. Only when there's a vague plot is it news.

Hell, the Echelon/SIGINT system has been public knowledge since the 60s. Nobody cares. It seems like we've got a bunch of Sherlock Holmeses out there, hoping to solve a mystery, but not nearly as interested when the mystery has been solved and something terrible has been done.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby JoshuaZ » Sat Nov 29, 2008 8:19 pm UTC

drunken wrote:
Is the vilification fo conspiracy theorists justified given the number of actual verified historical conspiracies?

I don't know if "vilification" is justified but in many cases mockery certainly is. For example, the conspiracy theories of Jack Chick, who thinks that the Vatican secretly controls Islam, or of David Ike, who thinks that the world is controlled by shape-changing Reptilian Illuminati, the primary rational response is to laugh because the ideas are simply so far removed from reality that no other response is at all productive. This is in contrast to some other conspiracy theories (such as ideas that the Apollo landings were a hoax), that are severely incorrect but not so far removed at to be laugh-worthy. Finally, there are the conspiracy theories with minimal but non-zero plausibility such as strange claims about the death of Princess Diana. It is only the first one that deserves mockery.

I'm not aware of any real vilification of conspiracy theorists. Very few conspiracy theorists have anything other than the best of intentions and I doubt many would claim otherwise. (There was an episode of Bullshit! where Penn and Teller took a pretty negative view of 9/11 Truthers, basically accusing them of desecrating those who died on 9/11 for the Truthers' personal amusement, but that's the closest example I'm aware of).

Do false conspiracy theories do significant damage to society?


Yes. 1) They take up resources (mental and otherwise) that would be better spent in other ways. Every conspiracy theorist out there could have some more useful hobby. 2) They make people mistrust the government and the media (which you shouldn't trust but the nature of the mistrust is distinct from that generally advocated by conspiracy theorists). 3) In some cases conspiracy theories and the general attitudes about conspiracy theories can so pervade a culture that they can severely interfere with any attempt to get information through people. 4) In some cases, conspiracy theories have actually led to direct harm. For example, when the Israelis first gained control of Gaza in 1967, they saw that the Palestinian population had severe health problems including river blindness in the young children. So the Israelis tried to distribute eye drops to help prevent the disease in children. A rumor started that the Israelis distributing the eye drops to blind the Palestinian children. As a result, almost no one used the drops and river blindness continued to be a severe problem. So in this particular case a conspiracy theory directly hurt people. And depending on how you classify things, ideas that vaccines cause autism are arguably a conspiracy theory (the line between conspiracy theory and fringe belief isn't always clear) that is harming many people today.

If you were around at the time of a real historical conspiracy would you have believed the people claiming that it was a conspiracy?


We've lived through actual conspiracies. In at least one recent case, Guantanomo, the extreme (inaccurate) claims being made by the die-hard conspiracy theorists hindered the quick realization among many Americans that the situation there was unacceptable.

Also, what constitutes a conspiracy becomes more of an issue here. As 9/11 Truthers are fond of pointing out, the "standard" explanation for 9/11 is a "conspiracy theory" in that it is a conspiracy involving many people. Similarly the recent attacks on Mumbai were the product of a conspiracy. In both those cases they are not at all similar to most standard conspiracies because they are tiny (tens of people involved as opposed to thousands or tens of thousands or in the case of Apollo hundreds of thousands) In this context, you mean a large conspiracy among people already in power. And we are presumably not counting dictatorial regimes which do this sort of thing all the time. Chinese censorship for example is arguably in this category. But historical examples include much larger propaganda efforts such as those by Hitler, Mao and Stalin.

If the government lies about what happened in a certain event does that necessarily imply that they are complicit in the event?


Legally, ethically or morally? Recently for example the CIA tried to cover up the incompetence and possibly criminal negligence in the downing of an airplane in Peru back in 2001. I don't think that makes everyone in that regard complicit from a moral perspective although it probably does make them criminally liable for some if not all of the events that occurred (at minimum, there could be charges for obstruction of justice). Sometimes however a government lies to cover up what an ally has done or because they don't want another government to know that they really know what happened.


One thing to keep in mind is that people want to believe in conspiracies. There is a comfort to such views. Many would rather believe in large-scale conspiracies which at least have an overarching pattern than to believe that events occur haphazardly. The most blunt statement of this I'm aware of is:
Sidney Hunter wrote:There are only two ways in which world history can be explained:

1. The accidental theory. All events, such as those world depressions, revolutions, wars and political plots are the results of pure chance. Such a view is as ridiculous as belief in evolution!

2. The conspiratorial theory. World events such as mentioned above, take place because some influential people want them to happen and make them happen. People with power meet behind closed doors and work out plans to achieve their aims. The most precise way to describe such conduct is - conspiracy.

To us, the conspiratorial theory makes far more sense than the accidental theory.


(quoted from http://www.chick.com/reading/books/199/0199_01a.asp ).


The anti-evolution bit thrown in to the quote aside it does summarize pretty well what is likely going on in the minds of most conspiracy theorists. Humans above all are pattern seekers and the larger the patterns we see the happier we are. Conspiracy theories are a natural outgrowth of such tendencies.


Edit: Formatting and one additional point I thought might be relevant.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Intercept » Sat Nov 29, 2008 8:36 pm UTC

It scares me that conspiracy theorists don't see the third option. Ya' know, reality.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby roc314 » Sat Nov 29, 2008 9:53 pm UTC

JoshuaZ wrote:Yes. 1) They take up resources (mental and otherwise) that would be better spent in other ways. Every conspiracy theorist out there could have some more useful hobby.
This was pretty much the only part of your post that I disagreed with. While it is true that they could do things with their lives that would be more useful, I don't think it's fair to attack others' hobbies, as you put it. How many hobbies do anything useful for society? Someone building model planes is barely contributing to society at all.

Of course, when it crosses the line from being a minor hobby to being a major event, then it does start to significantly waste resources. Spending a few hours every other weekend going to 9/11 truth meetings? Insignificant. Quitting your job, staging full-time protests, lobbying congress, getting thousands or millions to join you? Significant.

I think that restricting people's rights to do stuff like this would be much worse than people doing it, but I personally think they could better spend their time.
Intercept wrote:It scares me that conspiracy theorists don't see the third option. Ya' know, reality.
Which is what, a little of both?
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Intercept » Sat Nov 29, 2008 11:37 pm UTC

I suppose. The quote makes it sound like it has to be one or the other though. I wouldn't call most things that happen accidents though, even if they were unintended.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby roc314 » Sat Nov 29, 2008 11:47 pm UTC

Intercept wrote:I suppose. The quote makes it sound like it has to be one or the other though. I wouldn't call most things that happen accidents though, even if they were unintended.
I thought that was the fallacy in the quote, although your next sentence also shows that that quote is a false dichotomy.

That quote is wrong on many levels.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Intercept » Sun Nov 30, 2008 12:12 am UTC

It does succeed at sounding like a crazy conspiracy theorist who is out of touch with reality though!

I'm fine with alternate theories, in that they're possible, but probably not likely. I have problems with when these theories are clearly detached from reality though.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby JoshuaZ » Sun Nov 30, 2008 7:32 pm UTC

roc314 wrote:
JoshuaZ wrote:Yes. 1) They take up resources (mental and otherwise) that would be better spent in other ways. Every conspiracy theorist out there could have some more useful hobby.
This was pretty much the only part of your post that I disagreed with. While it is true that they could do things with their lives that would be more useful, I don't think it's fair to attack others' hobbies, as you put it. How many hobbies do anything useful for society? Someone building model planes is barely contributing to society at all.

Many hobbies do help others (volunteering, or creating artwork or running an interesting blog, etc.) Conspiracy theories do not have that potential. I do agree that this a weak argument and not a major consideration.

I think that restricting people's rights to do stuff like this would be much worse than people doing it, but I personally think they could better spend their time.


I agree. Restricting free speech is really not a good idea. And on rare occasions the conspiracy theorists might even be right. Moreover, people have a right to say and believe what they want even if it is stupid.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby drunken » Mon Dec 01, 2008 2:49 am UTC

There are a lot of interesting posts here. I would like however to reiterate that nothing has so far changed my mind on the first question.

Darkskull wrote:It's been my experience that conspiracy theorists are ridiculed for A. hypothesising alternatives where there is no need, and no evidence to suggest the official version is untrue and B. hypothesising stupid alternatives that make no sense.
Yes, people generalise and apply those things to all conspiracy theories, whether they're accurate or not, but that doesn't change that that is why they ridicule them, not a general fear of anything other than the establishment or anything like that.


I do not believe that such a generalisation is fair, yes a lot of conspiracy theorists arent very good scholars, and get basic facts wrong. This is not insanity, and it is the same as members of the general public qho support the official version getting their facts wrong, which is equally frequent. That is just a symptom of people not being very good fact finders. The media don't get that kind of ridicule when they get their facts wrong, and they also do so frequently. The real crackpots of conspiracy theory are a tiny minority. Generalising all conspiracy theorists into this group is equivalent to me generalising all XKCD users to be stupid because I read one or two stupid posts. It is simply not justified.

Speaking of the real crazy conspiracy theroists, someone mentioned David Icke. I think Icke is great, he is hilarious. I view it as a strange alternate form of science fiction, like the Bible which I also enjoy reading. I believe he is basically just a conman but he is also an entertainer, I read half his book and then got bored as the humour value wears off after a few hours. Basically not many people take him that seriously, and if you really have trouble differentiating him from reasonable people who believe there is a serious threat to our freedom due to percieving lies in the official story of events, well I am afraid you are always going to be doomed to believe what you are told. Luckily theres no people like that in this discussion.

This all got me thinking about how I choose which theories to believe, as it didn't seem to be confusing for me, as has been suggested, to see one conspiracy theorist as an amusing fiction writer, and another as an alternate historian. I realised that it is when the government and the media are obviously lying. When this happens I have to ask myself what happened. I am curious: what is the truth if they feel they must lie? In these cases when I am offered an explanation containing obvious falsehoods, or an explanation from someone who appears to have limited resources and is more of an average joe with average failings, I tend to pay careful attention to both. This is an important point, and I would suggest that the effect that SJ Zero mentions "that real conspiracies go unnoticed" is a result of the currupt and lying media. The fact is that we all live in a country whos government and media conspire to lie on a regular basis, and I am not only talking about one country, most governments and media do this to varying degrees. Does this not worry anyone? Isn't it better to believe in one or two false conspiracies in order to also learn about the real ones? When you know for a fact that the democracy and freedom of your nation is being regularly and systematically dismantled? We know they are lying, we know the US government is violating it's own constitution. We know that many nations are compromising the human rights not only of their own people, but of other sovereign nations. We know that several major nations are or have recently violated international law, including the international conventions on what constitute war crimes.

At what point did "There are some logical inconsistencies in this single persons particular theory about what is happening" become more important than "Something seriously bad is definitely happening and we have no way of knowing exactly what". When do we all stop arguing semantics and attempt to regain some control as a population?
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby roc314 » Mon Dec 01, 2008 3:09 am UTC

drunken wrote:At what point did "There are some logical inconsistencies in this single persons particular theory about what is happening" become more important than "Something seriously bad is definitely happening and we have no way of knowing exactly what". When do we all stop arguing semantics and attempt to regain some control as a population?
When the logical inconsistencies are enough to leave serious doubts about the validity of the claims of seriously bad stuff. When you are making outrageous claims (such as '9/11 was caused by the US government'), you need to have evidence to back it up. Having large logical inconsistencies in your evidence makes it less believable.

With each logical inconsistency, it becomes less and less likely that the conspiracy theory is true.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby drunken » Mon Dec 01, 2008 4:01 am UTC

roc314 wrote:
drunken wrote:At what point did "There are some logical inconsistencies in this single persons particular theory about what is happening" become more important than "Something seriously bad is definitely happening and we have no way of knowing exactly what". When do we all stop arguing semantics and attempt to regain some control as a population?
When the logical inconsistencies are enough to leave serious doubts about the validity of the claims of seriously bad stuff. When you are making outrageous claims (such as '9/11 was caused by the US government'), you need to have evidence to back it up. Having large logical inconsistencies in your evidence makes it less believable.

With each logical inconsistency, it becomes less and less likely that the conspiracy theory is true.


But in saying that you are tacitly accepting the other explanation, that also has logical inconsistencies. I however am simply saying that I don't know what happened exactly and I am open to hearing and considering any possible explanation. More importantly with that last part I was saying that independant of how it happened or why, it did happen, it shouldn't have happened and we should try and prevent it from happening again. We should also try to learn about how and why it happened to facilitate this and if the government and the media are lying then our resources for finding out the details are severely limited. We should also be attempting to correct that limitation.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Philwelch » Mon Dec 01, 2008 11:23 pm UTC

JoshuaZ wrote:Many hobbies do help others (volunteering, or creating artwork or running an interesting blog, etc.) Conspiracy theories do not have that potential. I do agree that this a weak argument and not a major consideration.


It's also untrue, since a good conspiracy theory is a great deal more entertaining than most blogs!
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Intercept » Tue Dec 02, 2008 2:53 am UTC

Also on the off chance a conspiracy theory is proven to be true it is immensely important.

The sun's totally at the center of the system man!
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby JoshuaZ » Tue Dec 02, 2008 4:41 am UTC

Philwelch wrote:It's also untrue, since a good conspiracy theory is a great deal more entertaining than most blogs!


As a struggling blogger I resent that. Ok, it is true. Completely. I'll go off back into my little corner now...


drunken wrote:
roc314 wrote:When the logical inconsistencies are enough to leave serious doubts about the validity of the claims of seriously bad stuff. When you are making outrageous claims (such as '9/11 was caused by the US government'), you need to have evidence to back it up. Having large logical inconsistencies in your evidence makes it less believable.

With each logical inconsistency, it becomes less and less likely that the conspiracy theory is true.


But in saying that you are tacitly accepting the other explanation, that also has logical inconsistencies. I however am simply saying that I don't know what happened exactly and I am open to hearing and considering any possible explanation. More importantly with that last part I was saying that independant of how it happened or why, it did happen, it shouldn't have happened and we should try and prevent it from happening again. We should also try to learn about how and why it happened to facilitate this and if the government and the media are lying then our resources for finding out the details are severely limited. We should also be attempting to correct that limitation.

(some snipping for clarity)

First of all, much of the issues here are not logical inconsistencies but empirical inconsistencies or extreme implausibilities. For example, the Apollo Moan landing conspiracies require that literally thousands of people would be in on it and keep quiet. That's not logically inconsistent just implausible and at odds with what we know about how people empirically behave.

Moreover, most major explanations (e.g. we did land on the moon, 9/11 was done by a group of Islamic terrorists who hijacked planes and crashed them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, etc.) don't have any serious inconsistencies or empirical problems. Furthermore, when dealing with any real life event that is very complicated and far reaching a handful of things might not seem to fit simply because we don't have all the details. That's how reality works (similar to how there's some error in good experimental data that has nothing to do with performing the experiment well). Minor inconsistencies (when they exist) are not a reason to construct far reaching, convoluted, conspiracy that are far at odds with the prevailing evidence.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby folkhero » Wed Dec 03, 2008 8:19 pm UTC

One conspiracy that turned out to be tragically true is the Tuskeegee Experiment. If you don't know what this is, you really should look it up, I can't do it justice here. Essentially, a group of doctors and nurses studied the effect of untreated syphilis on poor black patients that were lied to about there condition. This study continued well after the discovery that penicillin was an effective cure, and the study took place IN THE UNITED STATES UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF THE CDC. (sorry for the all caps, but this is something that I feel is very important and surprising) Some of the doctors and nurses involved were themselves black. It seems improbable, at least to me, no one that was in on this conspiracy would have come clean to the media and revealed the atrocity that was being committed, but that doesn't change the fact that none of them did come clean. The study wasn't explicitly kept a secret, but a few letters to the right people would have shut it down almost immediately.

Now don't get me wrong, I am a pretty big skeptic, especially with the whole 9/11 truth thing, but the argument, "do you really think that that many people could have kept the secret this long?" tends to sweep some very ugly truths about human nature under the rug. People are easily convinced to go along with whatever authority figures command and then they are very good at rationalizing that what they're doing is right long after things have spiraled out of control. In the case of 9/11, I think it is a solid argument because of the sheer numbers and the immediate and almost universal recognition of how evil the attacks were; in general, when the argument is used, it should be remembered that people have stayed silent about horrific atrocities in the past.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby drunken » Wed Dec 03, 2008 10:10 pm UTC

JoshuaZ wrote:Moreover, most major explanations (e.g. we did land on the moon, 9/11 was done by a group of Islamic terrorists who hijacked planes and crashed them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, etc.) don't have any serious inconsistencies or empirical problems.


I dont see any empirical problems with the moon landing, but with 11/9 they are obvious. As far as the official version is concerned: ther is no official reason in the 911 comission for the collapse of WTC 7. There is no evidence presented linking the people the official version blames for the events with the events themselves (I am talking about binladen here). There was no investigation of the physical evidence left after the events, including the materials that the buildngs were made of (about 150 peices of steel were retained from the actual towers). This physical evidence could have totally proved or disproved any claims of explosives or thermite from residue analysis.

But in the post you quoted I was mainly talking about how the US was the victim of an illegal coup, and that this coup was never reported by the mainstream media to this day. This terrifies me. Your government was taken over by a group of individuals with no legitimate right to power, that was 40 years ago. It was not reported by the media meaning the media are also in the pocket of this illegitimate establishment, or vice versa. The 11/9 conspiracy may indeed have been perpetrated by private anti US terrorists but your government is lying about it. The coup was definite, and the government lied about it demonstrably and often. This is an empirical problem.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Pa-Patch » Wed Dec 03, 2008 10:29 pm UTC

This wasn't supposed to get bogged down with theories proposed and debunked over and over, so don't start it up and make this both pointless and locked.

Edit: Also, is 11/9 some sort of new term conspiracy theorists are using for some reason? Twice seems like it's not likely to be a typo.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby peevo » Wed Dec 03, 2008 11:14 pm UTC

Pa-Patch wrote:This wasn't supposed to get bogged down with theories proposed and debunked over and over, so don't start it up and make this both pointless and locked.

Edit: Also, is 11/9 some sort of new term conspiracy theorists are using for some reason? Twice seems like it's not likely to be a typo.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Elvish Pillager » Wed Dec 03, 2008 11:34 pm UTC

Regarding 9/11, there's two main suggestions people put out for what happened.
1) the "conspiracy theory" that there was a conspiracy within the U.S. government to destroy the towers.
2) the official line, that there was a conspiracy of Islamic terrorists who sent agents to destroy the towers.

People who are leery of conspiracy theories, why not think this:

3) A few extremists noticed that U.S. airline security is hopeless[1], and used this knowledge to destroy some towers. Other people started pointing fingers because it was politically expedient to do so.

Also:
Rave Reviews, on "9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA", wrote:Answering objections, the author shows that such vital ideas in American history as the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's House Divided Speech, and the 1860 Republican Party platform would be classified as conspiracy theories by the self-appointed neocon guardians of orthodoxy today.


[1] it still is, by the way. If there was really a conspiracy of Islamic terrorists, why haven't they pulled the same trick again?
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby clintonius » Thu Dec 04, 2008 2:06 am UTC

Pa-Patch wrote:This wasn't supposed to get bogged down with theories proposed and debunked over and over, so don't start it up and make this both pointless and locked.

Discussion on 9/11 is certainly welcome, but it had damn well better be SB-worthy discussion. Avoid uncited claims and leave the flaming insults for your family reunion.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby JoshuaZ » Thu Dec 04, 2008 4:31 am UTC

I'm going to only deal briefly with the 9/11 claims. If there's interest in discussing them in more detail would should probably start another SB thread.

drunken wrote:I dont see any empirical problems with the moon landing, but with 11/9 they are obvious.


There's an interesting phenomenon where people often pick a subset of conspiracy theories and decide that those in the subset are plausible but not others. It is rare to see a conspiracy theorist who subscribes to large swaths. And even most who do subscribe to some overarching conspiracies to unify them. Jack Chick for example subscribes to many different conspiracy theories which he considers to be the responsibility of the Vatican.

As far as the official version is concerned: ther is no official reason in the 911 comission for the collapse of WTC 7.


I haven't read the 9/11 report in a very long time so I don't remember how much in that report had to do with WTC 7. However absence of a detailed explanation would not by itself be an "empirical problem". It would be "we don't know about this aspect". Note however that the NIST did give a long report discussing WTC 7 in detail (Incidentally, note that claims that WTC 7 was deliberately demolished lack any coherent explanation for why a conspiracy would do so. WTC 7 was not an iconic building. It was not well-known. It was not particularly more noteworthy.)

There is no evidence presented linking the people the official version blames for the events with the events themselves (I am talking about binladen here).


I'm not sure what you mean by this. Is the complaint that there was no evidence that the hijackers were connected to Bin Laden? This claim simply isn't true:Mohammad Atta met with Bin Laden before the attacks and there is a video of Atta in Afghanistan.


There was no investigation of the physical evidence left after the events, including the materials that the buildngs were made of (about 150 peices of steel were retained from the actual towers). This physical evidence could have totally proved or disproved any claims of explosives or thermite from residue analysis.


Again not an empirical problem. That is at best an argument that they were not thorough enough. Given that the 9/11 truth groups were not nearly as prominent as they are now it isn't at all surprising if extensive chemical analysis was not done.

But in the post you quoted I was mainly talking about how the US was the victim of an illegal coup, and that this coup was never reported by the mainstream media to this day. This terrifies me. Your government was taken over by a group of individuals with no legitimate right to power, that was 40 years ago. It was not reported by the media meaning the media are also in the pocket of this illegitimate establishment, or vice versa.


I'm sorry but what are you talking about? I'd like to think I have a pretty decent knowledge of conspiracy theories but I'm drawing a blank on this one.

folkhero wrote:One conspiracy that turned out to be tragically true is the Tuskeegee Experiment.

Yes. An absolutely horrific event. It makes it highly understandable why many blacks in the US find conspiracy theories about HIV to be so plausible; they were actually subject to a genuine medical conspiracy. But there is an interesting detail about Tuskeegee that is often overlooked: there were no conspiracy theorists making any claim that an event like Tuskeegee had happened. It came completely out of nowhere.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Seraph » Thu Dec 04, 2008 6:34 pm UTC

Elvish Pillager wrote:People who are leery of conspiracy theories, why not think this:

3) A few extremists noticed that U.S. airline security is hopeless[1], and used this knowledge to destroy some towers. Other people started pointing fingers because it was politically expedient to do so.

Because that is still a conspiracy, even if you haven't used the word.

Elvish Pillager wrote:[1] it still is, by the way. If there was really a conspiracy of Islamic terrorists, why haven't they pulled the same trick again?

Because most of the conspiritors are dead from flying planes into buildings, or in jail because of their involvement with flying planes into buildings.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby JoshuaZ » Thu Dec 04, 2008 11:30 pm UTC

Seraph wrote:
Elvish Pillager wrote:[1] it still is, by the way. If there was really a conspiracy of Islamic terrorists, why haven't they pulled the same trick again?

Because most of the conspiritors are dead from flying planes into buildings, or in jail because of their involvement with flying planes into buildings.


And because after the results of 9/11 and Flight 93 this sort of attack is unlikely to work again.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Elvish Pillager » Thu Dec 04, 2008 11:58 pm UTC

Seraph wrote:Because that is still a conspiracy, even if you haven't used the word.

Okay, I'm not using the word precisely. The point I'm trying to make is that (3) requires vastly fewer people to be complicit than either major theory.

Seraph wrote:Because most of the conspiritors are dead from flying planes into buildings, or in jail because of their involvement with flying planes into buildings.

I'm talking about a major conspiracy here. If they can field hundreds of suicide bombers, I'm sure they can pull a few more people with the necessary skills from somewhere (or train them, for that matter.)

JoshuaZ wrote:And because after the results of 9/11 and Flight 93 this sort of attack is unlikely to work again.

I'm not convinced. Want to provide some evidence?
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby JoshuaZ » Fri Dec 05, 2008 12:28 am UTC

Elvish Pillager wrote:
JoshuaZ wrote:And because after the results of 9/11 and Flight 93 this sort of attack is unlikely to work again.

I'm not convinced. Want to provide some evidence?


I wasn't talking about improved airport security (and yes Goldberg's article is excellent. If anyone hasn't read the linked article they should). The issue is that any attempt to hijack will likely result in a situation similar to Flight 93 where the passengers will fight back. Direct evidence rather than reasoning for this assessment is not that strong. However the on-air response with Richard Reid and similar instants does support such a claim.

In any event if this becomes a general 9/11 discussion we really should spin it out to another thread.

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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Elvish Pillager » Fri Dec 05, 2008 12:46 am UTC

A fair argument; but if there's really a bin Laden guy who can procure lots of fanatical followers and high-tech weapons, why doesn't he spare a few of them to make the attempt?

I believe that there are plausible reasons why he would not, but I haven't heard of any that aren't hard-core conspiracy theorism. For example, one theory is that his intent isn't actually to damage the U.S. but to provoke it into taking ridiculous measures against him, so he can cry imperialism and gain support from less radical Islamic groups. That requires as much complication and deception as the theory that people within the U.S. government arranged the attack in order to gain support from less radical U.S. politicians.
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Re: Conspiracy Theories

Postby Philwelch » Fri Dec 05, 2008 2:11 am UTC

You have to realize that Bin Laden had to put half of these guys through flight school just to make 9/11 even work.

And no, the official theory only requires that Bin Laden can get 19 people to live in the United States for years on valid visas and ID's, put 4 of them through flight school, and have them all coordinate four hijackings within hours of each other and execute 4 kamikaze attacks. That takes more time and money and effort and organization than you think. The fact that he failed a repeat performance after the government bombed his hideouts, overthrew the government that was harboring him, and captured several of his accomplices is also easily explicable by the fact that they bombed his hideouts, overthrew the government that was harboring him, and captured several of his accomplices.
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