great battles of crank magnetism: flat earth vs. pizzagate
Remember the conspiracy theory that the Clintons and Podesta ran a child trafficking ring headquartered at a D.C. pizzeria? Well, it never really went away, and even now, there are firm believers who think that our politicians are letting innocent children (who no one can identify) be raped in under-the-restaurant basements (which don’t exist) and pizza places which have an eclectic enough logo are enabling this to take place nationwide. But for just a moment, they’re going to take a break and accuse flat earth believers of being paid to distract the media from Pizzagate because the two are all too often mentioned side by side in news articles for their liking. When we consider that flat earthers have been around since the early 19th century, doubting over 2,000 years of accepted theory, and enjoyed a resurgence in the media long before anyone ever heard of Comet Ping Pong, this bizarre accusation is completely wrong. For it to be right, it would have to assume that the powers-that-be knew the story would get out and planted stories of all those flat earth stooges many months in advance, instead of just keeping the conspiracy they wanted to protect hushed using the same resources.
Naturally, flat earthers who also happen to be Pizzagate devotees are very offended by the suggestion that they’re COINTEL plants, and in their swift and impassioned dissent show exactly why skeptics in the media and blogs mention the two conspiracy theories side by side. You see, say flat earthers, just like Pizzagate exists with government involvement, NASA is ran by the very same government. And if the government can traffic children for their most perverted members, why couldn’t it also convince people that Earth is round? According to the Pizzagate theorist who started the anti-flat earther campaign, it’s because the Earth actually is round and people who believe a government has something to gain by tricking people about the oh so easily verifiable shape of planets mentioned in the same breath as his supposedly indisputable conspiracy theory, are letting the media delegitimize him. He’s not completely wrong there, but in his quest to promote his beliefs, he can’t see that he stumbled into a very well known phenomenon in the conspiracy world called crank magnetism. Once you buy into one conspiracy, it’s much easier to buy into the next one and before you know it, you’re weaving vast and tangled webs you’re convinced reveal some grand evildoing.
We know that most conspiracy theories start with very argumentative and politically active people who feel helpless to really change things. We know they look for some way to explain jarring inconsistencies in what they see and work them into a cohesive narrative. We can see this in play when the studies done prior to the 2016 election found Trump voters to be the most likely to ascribe to conspiracy theories, and ones done after show that more liberals are now agreeing with conspiratorial treatises than conservatives. It makes sense that they’re tying to frame the new administration’s vindictive, reactive, fire-ready-aim approach to governance into something they’re far more used to: an administration with grand plans and a coherent doctrine where public pronouncements are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of them will outlast the Trump administration as well and will also be defended by die hard fans when compared to other conspiracy theories with which they disagree. It’s basic crank magnetism mechanics. When conspiracies collide, their adherents will fight with each other for whose theory should get more attention and respect from outsiders, becoming sub-conspiracies.
Since many conspiracies thrive on negative evidence, statements such as the lack of smoking gun proof for something they suspect is evidence that some powerful organization is in on the conspiracy and is suppressing said proof, pundits drawing any sort of comparison between the “real conspiracy” and “offensive cranks” has to be part of this suppression effort as well to the true believer. Had it been mentioned alongside a more respectable conspiracy to them, there’s a good chance there would be no complaints, or it would even get coopted into their platform. And this may be one way to fight a virulent and harmful conspiracy theory in the long term: compare it with theories its adherents would passionately disavow and let theorists fight with each other while harshly dissecting their ideas for logical and factual flaws, which may work to plant doubt in counterfactual information for the short term…