the belief in conspiracy theories with emphasis on the kennedy assassination

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  • 1. The Belief in Conspiracy Theories with Emphasis on the Kennedy Assassination by Elise Stone The University of Findlay

2. Abstract This paper explores conspiracy theories and what makes them believable to people seeking the truth. It has been argued that conspiracy theories once limited to the fringe element have now become much more commonplace and that a broad cross section of the general public gives them credence, sparking interest from sociologists, psychologists and others. Why is that the case when, although conspiracy theories cite information that supports their rationale, it is usually very limited in its scope and accuracy? This paper examines the modern phenomenon of conspiracy theories and its history. It researches the definition and types of conspiracy theories currently recognized. Also, this paper examines the effects of media on the populations acceptance of conspiracy theories as well as the role of politics. It details the conspiracy theorists approach to gaining the information he or she needs to justify the theory and how it differs from that of a professional investigator. This paper also investigates the psychology of conspiracy theory and why people choose to believe the theories when many of them are illogical, improbable and inaccurate. Although most conspiracy theory is rooted in paranoia, there are other psychological factors at play. This paper also examines those issues, including such things as victim mentality and the loss of control many people feel as their lives move in directions they would not have chosen. With this said, what really influences people to believe in conspiracy theories? Is the tendency to believe still present in the current population? Can we determine what causes that tendency? After completing this research, a survey will be developed to answer these questions and prove the hypothesis that belief in conspiracy theories is alive and well. 3. Introduction Everyone has their own opinion on the validity of conspiracy theories. On one end of the spectrum there are those who believe the government is watching their every move and at the other end are those who dont like to ask questions. The average person tends to fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. As human beings we are prone to asking questions. Sometimes we do not like the responses we hear and so attempt to come up with seemingly more fitting answers to our questions. This becomes especially true when it comes to controversial topics such as the assassination of President Kennedy and the terrorist attack on 9/11. Events such as these raise many questions that are not easily answered. And in some cases, instead of believing what we are told as citizens, we prefer to formulate our own answers. The media holds much influence over the way that people today formulate thoughts and beliefs. Todays media is a powerful tool that controls much of how people articulate their thoughts into actions. The media often influences people to ask questions and make assumptions about things that they may not completely understand. Because of the evolution of television, movies, books, magazines, etc. peoples views have become distorted to the point where it is difficult to differentiate fact from that which is unreliable. The government also plays a role in how and to what degree we as citizens make assumptions. In todays society, we hold much contempt for our system of government and the politicians who take part. This breeds lack of trust in the system and those who run it. Due to this, we find it even easier to conjure up our own stories of events with the belief that our 4. government is hiding the truth from its citizens. It is due to the influence of todays media and contempt for the government that make conspiracy theories such as the Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 attack so controversial. Literature Review The term conspiracy theory offers up a mental picture of government agents, wild plots, assassinations, and secretive missions. Once upon a time these ideas would never have been accepted as the truth by any but those on the very fringes of our society. Why is it then that today conspiracy theories abound? And why is it that things thought to be totally unbelievable 50 years ago are now easily accepted by a broad cross section of the general public? Those changes in our belief structure are sparking great interest in sociologists, psychologists, and others, such as those in law enforcement. As an example, Ted Goertzel (1994)in his research on conspiracy theories found that, according to a national survey by the New York Times in 1992, only ten percent of the U.S. population believed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in his assassination of President John Kennedy. This compares to a Gallup Poll in 1966 in which 36 percent of the population believed that Oswald acted alone. This increase in belief of a conspiracy theory over the past almost 30 years has taken place in spite of the additional evidence gathered over the years to support the original supposition and arrest. Why? In order to answer that question, it is necessary to better understand the nature of conspiracy theories. Defining a conspiracy theory is not easy. Due to the lack of organization and systematic processing evident in a conspiracy theory, they are not simply explained. 5. However, even though the explanation is not always clear, they can still be described as independent or one-sided views or statements that are influenced by scientific theory and political pathology (Blanusa 2011). Another comparative definition of a conspiracy theory is a suggested alternative explanation of a significant event in history according to a limited group of believers (Keeley 1999). This definition uses the word theory because it offers a possible explanation to an event but is not the only explanation. It also states that conspiracy theorists are not omnipotent but significantly influence the spreading of the event. The small groups of believers that are usually involved take action secretly in fear of ruining their ideations. These definitions also correlate with the accuracy of a conspiracy theory simply because they are theories. Theories are defined as a set of facts in relation to one another (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. 2008). People who come up with the conspiracies are theorists that tend to place emphasis on unaccounted for and contradictory data, which is another way of saying errant data (Keeley 1999). The facts of the theory may be related but are inaccurate. Conspiracy theorists do not always investigate the truth before deciding what the truth really is. They tend to change and twist the outcome of their data to fit their own preconceived notion. Another way of putting it may be that nature is construed as a passive and uninterested party with respect to human knowledge gathering activities; the conspiracy theorist is working in a way that interferes with the true facts of the investigation (Keeley 1999). 6. Although it is apparent that conspiracy theories are difficult to define it is actually possible to categorize different types of conspiracy theories, for instance: superconspiracy, event conspiracy, and systemic conspiracy theories.Superconspiracy theories are multiple conspiracies that are linked together. A prime example of this would be the attack on 9/11 and the numerous theories that are associated with it. Many include the twin towers being brought down with explosives (controlled demolition), the collapsing of building 7, the failure of America's air defenses, and Osama bin Laden's denial of involvement. Also, there is the notion that there was never a proper investigation to ascertain the events of 9/11. It has been widely assumed that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorists were responsible (Everett 2010). Because 9/11 is one the most horrific experiences that has ever occurred in the history of the United States, there are many aspects of it ripe for misinterpretation and theorizing, but all the theories associated with 9/11 are more or less linked. Another type is an event conspiracy theory, which is one or more events that are unconnected and have a limited objective. A well-known example of an event conspiracy is the assassination of President Kennedy. It is commonly believed that the death of President Kennedy was covered up and several agents, as well as agencies, were involved; Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged shooter, did not act alone in the assassination. After the event, many books and articles were published that linked the assassination to the FBI, CIA, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, and other individuals and organizations (McHoskey 1995). This particular event caused much controversy because the killing of a U.S. President is almost unheard of and caused a 7. fair amount of psychological angst among the American public. Just like 9/11, it was a significant event in U.S. history and many aspects of the incident were attractive targets for conspiracy theorists. The last known type of conspiracy is a systemic conspiracy theory. This particular theory refers to a more expansive region of belief. It focuses more on the control of a country or ruling system. An appropriate reference to a systemic theory would be the disbelief in the occurrence of the Holocaust. It has become evident that some people believe that Hitler was not a dictator and the attack on the Jewish people never took place; Jews were not tortured, there were no concentration camps, the Gestapo, German police, did not exist, and the war never actually happened. Even though there is a substantial amount of proof that the Holocaust did in fact occur, some prefer to put their faith in a conspiracy theory. It is not obvious when the first conspiracy theory was conceived; however, it is known that they date back at least to the days of the American Revolution. One author, Timothy Tackett (2000), describes a potential


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