News & Politics

5 of the Most Ridiculous and Widely Believed Anti-Government Conspiracy Theories Today

No, the govt. isn't stockpiling guillotines.

Judging conspiracy theories on their virtues can be fraught with peril. For starters, they're typically—and often purposely—vague debates, relying more on emotion than logic. They often use ad hominem reasoning and accusatory statements to make their cases, while not offering believable counter arguments. Refuting them gets you labeled as nothing more than a co-conspirator shilling for (pick one) Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Government, or Big Hollywood. 

Despite that, conspiracy theories can be entertaining, whether you believe in them or not, and can teach us about the prevalent kinds of alienation from reality and government in operation today. Here are five government conspiracy theories that are going strong today, despite the dubious and preposterous assertions behind them.

1. The Obama administration has stockpiled 30,000 guillotines.The Obama administration is supposedly up to some really horrible things using the President’s executive powers. One, which began circulating last year is starting to compete with the old FEMA concentration camp conspiracy, which began around 2009.

In one versions of this conspiracy, Congress approved the secret stockpiling of guillotines in 2013. Another, which is a bit more complex, says the Obama administration acquired the guillotines “for governmental purposes” through a series of executive orders. Infowars.com contributor Jim Garrow has been peddling a hybrid version of this story, conflating Obamacare, FEMA, birtherism, and Sharia law to paint a genocidal, New World Order dystopia.

With the spate of bungled death-row executions, and a federal judge pining over the good ‘ol days of firing squads and beheadings, the rumor continues to circulate on social media and conspiracy sites.

While the mythbusting site Snopes says this rumor first began to circulate during the Bush administration, it points to the anti-Muslim conspiracy theory website, Sharia Unveiled, as one of the more recent sources of this wild rumor.

“As usual with such types of rumors, none of those sites offered any evidence documenting that Congress had approved the purchase of guillotines, that the U.S. government had actually bought tens of thousands of those instruments, or that such machines were stored in stockpiles in Georgia and Montana, as claimed — all that information was simply repetition of rumor asserted as fact (i.e., 'information we received') with no proof whatsoever behind it,” says Snopes.

But this theory is nothing to lose your head over. The “Chanel” guillotine provided as visual proof by Sharia Unveiled is actually a tongue-in-cheek creation by artist Tom Sachs, which was part of a 1988 art show called “Creativity is the Enemy.” There has never been a congressional resolution, law, or executive order from the government to stockpile guillotines.

2. The feds can steal the contents of all safe deposit boxes. Over the past year, dozens of investment and conspiracy websites have claimed that the Department of Homeland Security has informed banks they can raid the contents of safe deposit boxes without warrant and confiscate any valuables they find. Again, like many conspiracy theories, this one has many versions, including one that says the executive order was originally given in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Back in ‘33, President Roosevelt did sign an executive order, famously known as Executive Order 6102, that forbade the “hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States.” In essence, it made it a crime for individuals, corporations, and organizations to possess monetary gold.

The rationale behind this order was that the hoarding of gold was damaging the prospects of an economic recovery from the Great Depression. It did, however, allow for the possession of small amounts of gold currency, and offered compensation to those who turned over their gold to the Federal Reserve. Dentists, jewelers and craftsmen who worked in gold were given some exemptions. In 1974, President Gerald Ford signed legislation repealing the essence of Executive Order 6102.

That’s where the truth behind the conspiracy ends. Since at least the mid-1990s, it's been widely circulated that Roosevelt signed another executive order, only five days after taking office, ordering all the safe deposit boxes in the U.S. to be seized and searched for gold by the Internal Revenue Service. The mass raid of safe deposit boxes never occurred.

The first specific reference to this hoax was in the 1996 book After the Crash, Life In the New Great Depression. Later iterations of the conspiracy theory included silver, diamonds and bonds. More recently, chain mails and websites have circulated the claim that the Department of Homeland Security has informed banking institutions that “under the Patriot Act” it reserves the right to seize the contents of vaulted safe deposit boxes in the event of martial law—including the seizure of guns!

There is no such provision under the Patriot Act (scan or read it here), and no banks have come forward with evidence that Homeland Security has issued such an ominous warning.

​3. The government and medical industry are hiding a cure for cancer. More than a third of Americans believe that the U.S. government just wants us all to get sick and die, according a recent survey by the University of Chicago. When asked if they believe the Food and Drug Administration purposely conceals information on natural, alternative treatments for cancer, 37% said yes. Fewer respondents said they disagreed with this conspiracy theory.

This meme has been circulating for decades, and is arguably one of the oldest, strongest and most cynical of government conspiracy theories. The biggest reason it has legs is probably the theme that greed is behind it all. It’s widely held that cancer is a cash cow for doctors, Big Pharma and the government. When people are sick and dying of cancer, there’s money to be made.

But when you consider that cancer is actually a large and complex assortment of diseases, it’s very doubtful, according to researchers, that there’s one cure-all for the entire array.

As Steven Novella, the publisher of Science-Based Medicine points out, the claim that Big Pharma has too much to lose if a single cure for cancer is foundis a practical fallacy. He says it would take $100 million in research or more to prove a drug was a cure for just one type of cancer, let alone all types.

“Why would a pharmaceutical company spend that kind of research money on a drug they know they have no intention of marketing, just so that they can suppress it?” he writes. “Also—where would they do such research? How could they get past all the regulatory hurdles to perform human research without revealing what they are doing?”

How the discovery of such a cure could be kept from the public also doesn’t seem plausible, according to Novella. He notes the medical community is massive and diverse, with many contrasting viewpoints and goals.

“Often those who claim that ‘they’ are hiding a cure for cancer have only a vague notion of who ‘they’ are,” he writes. “The medical establishment is composed of universities, professional organizations, journals, regulatory agencies, researchers, funding agencies, and countless individuals— all with differing incentives and perspectives. The idea that they would all be in on a massive conspiracy to hide perhaps the greatest cure known to mankind is beyond absurd.”

​4. The feds blanketed the South with fake, plastic snow.After uncharacteristically Arctic-like conditions in the South early this year, several websites and YouTube videos pushed a conspiracy theory that the white stuff falling from the sky was not snow, but a plastic impostor that was engineered by the federal government for nefarious reasons that were never explained.

A spate of videos cropped up in January and February showing people unsuccessfully trying to melt snow with butane lighters. The snow doesn’t melt, but becomes a gas with the remaining solid becoming tinged with black. In some of the videos, the video bloggers claim the snow gives off a toxic smell. They insist it’s not real snow, but a chemical geo-engineered by the government and dumped on southern states.

Except it wasn’t. Meteorologist Mike Stone, who works for CBS affiliate WTVR, explainedthat what the video bloggers reported was nothing unusual.

“When you heat something like this, it goes from a solid to a gas. It’s called sublimation. It doesn’t go from a solid to a liquid, i.e. melting,” he said.

Meanwhile, other YouTube users posted their own videos debunking the fake snow reports.

“Bottom line, if you don’t want to waste five minutes watching this video, butane burns dirty. The smell is not from the snow, the black on the snow is not because it’s plastic; it’s because of the butane,” said one video blogger.

Many of the videos attempting to expose the snow conspiracy have either been taken down or made private since we first reported this in February, but geo-engineering conspiracy sites still promote the myth. 

​5. Obamacare requires the implantation of RFID chips to track recipients​.The “death panels” conspiracy theory made famous by Sarah Palin and former New York Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey never did happen, but that's not the ominous rumor on the lips of health-reform haters these days.

Beginning in 2010, mass emails have been circulating claiming that people taking advantage of the Affordable Care Act mandate are required to have an RFID chip implanted under their skin. Not only will their movements and activities be monitored, the chip will have direct access to its host's bank account, according to circulated emails gathered by Snopes.

A widely circulated version of this hoax insisted that by March 23, 2013 everyone would be required to have a chip the size of a rice grain implanted beneath their skin. But like Y2K, that date came and went. Still, this is one conspiracy theory that's hard to kill. In late July of 2013, a fake news website called the National Report warned residents of Wyoming that public school districts in the state were starting to implant the chips in children without parental consent.

This caused confusion and uproar in Hanna, Wyoming (which was mentioned in the faux article) after the story was circulated on social media sites like Facebook. Many of the residents who read it were not aware it was a spoof and flooded local government with worried and angry calls.

With the final implementation of the Affordable Care Act not revealing a single RFID chip, you'd think this conspiracy would finally die, but that didn't happen. The raw-foods meme site, Raw for Beauty, reported only this week on its Facebook page (which has 95,000 likes) about the nefarious chip implants in Wyoming.

And the National Report knows no shame when it comes to recycling a joke. It continues to create a new iteration of this farce every few weeks, with headlines like "RFID Chip Implemented In All Public Schools By 2015 – Effort To Curb Gun Violence"and “Pope Francis Goes Public With Support Of RFID Chip Implantation” appearing only recently, continuing to create some anger and confusion on Internet message boards to this day.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.

 

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