Conspiracy theorists are losing the plot

By Khaled Diab

Wacky conspiracy theories cause damage by drawing attention away from the real plots being hatched by our governments.

4 July 2009

If I were paranoid, I might start believing that some sinister plot was afoot. It almost seems as though the sheer proliferation of far-fetched, madcap conspiracy theories doing the rounds has been designed by some evil genius to cause ‘conspiracy fatigue' in the public mind and to discredit the whole idea that our governments actually do conspire. But as I'm not unduly paranoid, I realise that this is a reflection of the fact that there are legions of gullible and disillusioned folk out there who have lost their faith in the establishment.

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the July 2005 London bombings, there is one conspiracy theory that has proven particularly resilient to reason and evidence. According to advocates of this theory, the attacks were not the work of a group of disgruntled and marginalised British Muslims angry at what they saw as their government's war against Islam – a variation on the stubbornly persistent ‘clash of civilisations‘ theory. Instead, they believe – based on evidence so flimsy you wouldn't sit your coffee mug on it – that the whole affair was staged by the British government (possibly with Israeli help) to draw attention away from the catastrophe in and shore up support for the so-called “war on terror”.

And how did the government achieve this? Through controlled explosions. Sounds familiar? Yes, it's a low-budget spin-off of the 11 September conspiracy theory. And like , it comes with its very own cult film entitled 7/7 Ripple Effect.

Conspiracy theories: some believe the 11 September attacks were an inside job. Image ©Copyright Katleen Maes
Conspiracy theories: some believe the were an inside job. Image ©Copyright Katleen Maes

The film bases its conspiracy theory on a number of apparent contradictions and “an unbelievable set of circumstances” in the official narrative, such as the fact that an ex-police officer organised, in a nearby office, a mock exercise preparing for a possible terrorist attack on the underground. The film also claims that the alleged attackers were not on the trains that blew up. So, where were they? Apparently being assassinated in Canary Wharf by government agents who were out to frame them for the atrocity. Given the persistent popularity of 7/7 Ripple Effect, the BBC ran a special documentary this week which investigated the credibility of the DVD's claims.

Examining the film's claims one by one, the BBC documentary demolished them compellingly by drawing on convincing evidence. It also unmasked the man behind Ripple Effect, a certain John Hill from Sheffield who is living in Ireland. In addition to making conspiratorial mountains out of coincidental molehills, Hill's other beliefs include that he is the Messiah and that the ‘Force' told George Lucas to write Star Wars.

Of course, the flimsiness of the case and the untrustworthiness of the source won't convince a certain faction of diehard conspiracy theorists. In fact, I've found out that it has been declaimed as a “hit piece” by a leading rightwing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. No doubt, I will be seen as a mindless pawn in the plot for writing this piece.

In the absence of an official public inquiry and given the government's lack of credibility following the ‘sexed up' march to war in Iraq, some people are gullible or disenchanted enough to believe that the government – or other groups they don't like: corporations, Muslims, Jews, etc – is capable of hatching the most fantastical plots.

However, the sensation and ridicule elicited by crackpot conspiracy theorists discredits talk of the very real plots that take place and enables those involved to laugh them off. But just because there are fantastical conspiracy theories out there that does not mean there are no real taking place. In fact, behind many far-fetched conspiracies, there is a germ of fact based on precedent. For example, there are rumours in the Middle East that the US is pulling the strings of the protests in Iran, even though no one has been able to show any convincing link or explain how a mass movement can be remote controlled from Washington. What sustains the rumours and gives them life is that the US and Britain have form, having covertly engineered a coup to oust Iran's first democratic government more than half a century ago.

Similarly, the 7/7 and 9/11 theories feed off a deep well of distrust dug by other lies. It seems clear to me that the British and American publics were misled in the run-up to the Iraq war, with all the fanciful claims of fictional weapons of mass destruction and the non-existent and farcical link between Saddam Hussein and his sworn enemies al-Qaida. Now that's a conspiracy, if ever there was one. Instead of giving any credence to 7/7 or 9/11 conspiracy theories, we should dedicate our efforts to campaigning for a proper public inquiry into the real deceptions that took place and demand that those responsible be brought to justice.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited's Comment is Free section on 3 July 2009. Read the related discussion.


  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English- blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the , and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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8 thoughts on “Conspiracy theorists are losing the plot

  • Well there’s an assumption that I subscribe to the theories you describe as “farfetched” and “madcap” – as I observed in my initial mail, it’s easy to take the more outlandish theories out there (of which 7/7 Ripple Effect clearly is) and focus your attention entirely on this without making any distinction between it and other more rational commentary. Personally, my position – as I’ve reiterated in both emails – is that the Home Office report – like the 9/11 Commission Report – is fundamentally flawed (the latter most obviously, and by the admission of its authors) and from this point it can be clearly viewed as warranting a full and independent investigation. This is why I use the term mendacious – not one I apply lightly but certainly one which springs to mind when you focus your piece on the need to investigate Iraq lies et al – in ignoring completely the substantial and valid criticisms of the official account you automatically lend it credence. To apply rigourous levels of criticism to one scenario – for instance Iraq – and to mask the fact that other equally serious crimes have gone unpunished is, in my view and the view of many others, duplicitous, not least because the crimes of 9/11 and 7/7 are intrinsically linked to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But this is the standard tactic of the mainstream when dealing with 7/7 and 9/11 – not to focus on the many flaws evident in the government’s account (which has been dutifully yet erroneously bolstered by the journalistic profession, who have almost universally failed to do their jobs and investigate the veracity of these reports) but to instead cherry-pick extreme and tenuous alternative theories as if highlighting these somehow clarifies the truthfulness of the official story. And therein lies – for me at least – the hypocrisy: a quite justified demand that the lies which led to Iraq and Afghanistan be thoroughly investigated, coupled with a concerted effort to block any attempt for a thorough and independent investigation for the two events which provoked and continued to justify these illegal invasions. To characterize those who think differently as “madcap” is, when one considers the various kinds of people asking questions – particularly of 9/11 – is, as I say, mendacious. After all, it includes people such as Major General Albert “Bert” N. Stubblebine III:

    I am not writing in defense of any alternative theory – I’m writing in defense of those who push for a fresh investigation (quite in the spirit of the call for accountability which characterised your article) which journalists such as yourself do nothing to assist with and everything to hinder.

    From e-mail on 9/7/2009

  • Well, I appreciate feedback from readers. I also believe in debate and openness, so I do my best to respond to any correspondence I receive, no matter how offensive. I don’t recall referring to people who subscribe to the 9/11 and 7/7 conspiracy theories as being mentally unstable, but I have the right to label what I find to be unconvincing theories as “farfetched” or “mad cap”. Whereas I refrain from insulting people who subscribe to these theories, you felt no hesitation in describing me as “mendacious” and “duplicitous”. Surely, just because I don’t agree with you, that does not make me a hypocrite. If I were duplicious, would I be calling for a public inquiry into the deceptions that led to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan?

    Which leads me to the main point of my article which you refuse to address and instead choose to insult me: why are there people wasting their time on theories based on hearsay and conjecture, when there are real causes out there affecting millions of people where there is compelling evidence of deception, such as the march to war in Iraq?

    Anyway, I don’t expect this will change your mind, but I really do think you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    From e-mail on 9/7/2009

  • Thanks for the response – it’s rare to get one from a journalist these days.

    As it happens I don’t send boilerplate emails to journalists – I rarely contact journalists at all – but if that makes it easier to dismiss (and avoid addressing) my broader criticisms then that’s your perogative. Given that you wholeheartedly commend the BBC documentary (a term I apply in the loosest possible sense) it’s fair to infer you endorse its conclusions – if you don’t believe these “conspiracies” fuel radical Islam then I retract that statement.

    Of course, you are entitled to your views and others theirs, but the issue is the insinuation of mental instability (which you persist with in this response with your patronising “leaving the fairy tale ones for spy movies” comment). To reiterate my comment in my initial email, if you’re looking for “fairy tale” accounts I’d suggest the Home Office version of events, for which there exists nosubstantial supporting evidence in the public domain, and which in facthas been directly contradicted by evidence in the public domain thathas twice resulted in the Home Office amending the highly flawednarrative into one even more contradictory and flawed – a point you fail to address along with many others.

    From e-mail on 9/7/2009

  • Andy Dilks writes: “The most distressing aspect of both theBBC’s programme and your article is the suggestion that those whoquestion the official accounts of contentious events such as 9/11 and7/7 are fuelling radical Islam”

    This statement proves that you haven’t actually read my article and have sent me some boilerplate e-mail you send to journalists. Where does my article claim that conspiracy theories fuel radical Islam? My article is about focusing attention on the real conspiracies around us and leaving the fairy tale ones for spy movies.

    As for the evidence the BBC provided, let’s agree to disagree on that: I found it compelling, you did not. Note, that does not mean I believe the BBC to be completely objective and above reproach – quite a bit of its war coverage is sickeningly patriotic and tows the government line.

    From e-mail on 9/7/2009

  • Some additional observations regarding the BBC Conspiracy Files episode on 7/7 you considered to be so compelling and definitive – I wonder if you have any comments/a response?

    * They chose the most speculative and least objective 7/7 documentary to focus on.
    * There is no allowance for the questions that survivors such as Rachel North have raised with regard to MI5’s prior knowledge, and the audience is misled to believe that the victims are content with the official account, when many are not.
    * After accepting the Luton to KC Thameslink train was cancelled there is no further scrutiny of the Home Office timeline and the many other inconsistencies it portrays.
    * There is no thorough inspection of the reports that suggest MI5 may have been able to prevent the attacks.
    * They fail to understand or examine the false potential of electronic evidence and the corruption within the cctv companies. Instead they focus on making fools out of those who questioned the authenticity of the Luton image and do not consider the cctv timeline contradictions.
    * They accuse those questioning the official government account of ‘sowing dissent across Britain’ and did not give any credence to those people who are simply asking honest questions with no intention of stirring up dissent.
    * After hearing a controversial view on the issue of the identification found at the bomb sites the audience was then provided a speculative opinion presented by the BBC are official and therefore correct.
    * It is implied that anyone involved with questioning 7/7 is on a par with disingenuous types such as the producer of Ripple Effect.
    * They do not scrutinise the links offered by the authorities with regard to terrorist training.
    * They do not make clear that the officials admit there is still no available intelligence actually proving the men were involved in terrorism.
    * They insinuate that those asking questions upset the victims of 7/7, but they did not reveal that the majority of those questioning the official account want the same thing many of the victims want – a full scale independent public inquiry.
    * There is no analysis of the conflicting reports regarding the explosives used and the audience is not informed that there is still no official explanation.
    * There is no investigation into the alleged bombers.
    * No examination of false and misleading media stories.
    * No questioning of evidence found at Alexandra Grove.
    * No mention of the reputed links with Haroon Aswat or Al Muhajiroun.
    * No wider context of terrorist infiltration, false flag attacks or police/intelligence corruption.
    * As to be expected they purposely edit out prominent points in favour of less coherent arguments.
    * They cunningly attempt to exonerate Tony Blair for his early finger pointing at the Islamic community and failed to examine the numerous other officials who immediately jumped on the hallmarks of radical Islam Al Qaeda band wagon.
    * Netanyahu’s advisor denies there was any prior warning and the story is compared to the fabricated story of Jews being warned not to go to work on 9/11. However there is no mention that Mossad agents were arrested and implicated in the 9/11 attacks, nor is there mention of any of the significant evidence suggesting that Mossad once blew up the Israeli embassy in London for political ends.
    * A large amount of emphasis is put on the unacceptable hatred aimed at those implicated in a conspiracy, but it is not made clear that the vast majority of people who have researched 7/7 are decent law abiding citizens who would never send such abuse.
    * They are given intriguing access by Peter Power to the Visor Consultants’ exercise run on 7/7, but fail to highlight the basis for why many people were suspicious of coinciding exercises.
    * Time is wasted on the more ridiculous allegations made in the Ripple Effect regarding the oddities of the Kingstar van and the Descent poster – no attempt is made to make clear that the vast majority of 7/7 researchers see these issues as simply odd coincidences.
    * It is claimed that questioning 7/7 has caused division in British society and has served to alienate Muslims from the authorities, yet there is no acceptance that the most profound catalyst for Muslim alienation from the authorities has been the ongoing murder of millions of innocent Muslims by a UK led coalition conceived on a policy based on lies and fabrications from the high echelons of Western intelligence.
    * There is no mention that there are no reliable witnesses on public record who claim to have seen the men on 7/7.
    * Richard Jones is not questioned with regard to his numerous conflicting statements in the press.
    * There is no mention of the bus cameras being out of operation and no attempt to investigate whether they had been tampered with.
    * No mention that the witness reports regarding the explosions do not concur with the blast effects of peroxide based devices.
    * They insinuate that there were only two survivor reports suggesting the blasts may have come from beneath the tube carriages, but in reality there were many more.
    * There is no assessment of the distrust the government has sown through it’s inadequate and shoddy reporting on the events of 7/7.

    From e-mail received on 7/7

  • Declan, thanks, glad you like the blog. Indeed, why let evidence stand in the way of a good theory? That would be depriving people of their innocent fun. I suppose it also reflects the utter distrust many citizens feel towards their governments that they should believe such theories.

    I’ve seen Goodwin’s law in action plenty of times at The Guardian.

  • Great blog.

    Take care when engaging with the likes of Alex Jones and his acolytes who appear to overpopulate this interweb thingy, I’ve seen many a good blog get lost in the fog of trying to refute the many weird and wonderful theories out there.

    Check out anything from Obama’s birthplace to Tony Blair being the anti christ to the flu vaccines that will exterminate us all.

    Logical argument will just bring about (as seen in Andy Dilks comment) sooner rather than later.

    It is however rather good fun.

  • congratulations on joining the ever growing throng of mendacious, duplicitous mainstream journalists. Your article Losing the Plot for the Guardian bore all the characteristic trademarks of the media’s banal treatment of “conspiracy theories” (a term applicable to the official version of events): repetitive ad hominem, smear by association, selective use of extreme/tenuous positions in favour of more substantial and compelling anomalies in the official account, vague and unsubstantiated claims and the fallacious reasoning that events for which there has been no thorough and independent investigation should not be investigated. That you cite the BBC’s risible Conspiracy Files piece as demolishing these theories with compelling evidence – without referencing any claim/counterclaim – is utterly absurd. Like your article, significant issues were glossed over or ignored, statements taken out of context, all presented with stylistic/dramatic manipulation which betrayed any semblance of objectivity. This, from an institution which lied about the massacre of Fallujah, repeated the lies which led to the Iraq war as “facts”, demonstrated exceptional bias in its coverage of Operation Cast Lead and has committed invidious acts of propaganda such as showing footage of the damage caused by the Georgian sneak attack on South Ossetia whilst the narration speaks of “Russian aggression”.

    The most distressing aspect of both the BBC’s programme and your article is the suggestion that those who question the official accounts of contentious events such as 9/11 and 7/7 are fuelling radical Islam, exacerbated by the characterisation that only “paranoid crackpots” would question the government on these matters – a government who’s depths of corruption and deception on virtually every other issue is not contested. Rather than dishing out crude and childish name-calling in response to cherry-picked alternative hypothesis, perhaps you’d be better spending some time analysing the Home Office report, for which there exists no substantial supporting evidence in the public domain, and which in fact has been directly contradicted by evidence in the public domain that has twice resulted in the Home Office amending the highly flawed narrative into one even more contradictory and flawed. But something tells me this isn’t something that concerns you – judging by your article it’s abundantly clear that you’re far more interested in discrediting those who have genuine, legitimate questions, with tactics worryingly similar to the manner in which the Nazis dealt with political opponents – insinuatons of insanity. The credibiility of mainstream journalism continues to crumble away.

    Andy Dilks
    From e-mail received on 6/7/2009


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