Ghosts and vampires are no longer on the charts – secret government plots are. This decade, conspiracy theories have been a central theme in international politics, and the United States has been at the forefront.
Here is a list of ten biggest ones that drew our attention over the past 10 years.
MH370 wasn’t an accident
The tragedy of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has become the most head-scratching airline disaster of the century, so far. The Beijing-bound plane, which carried 239 passengers and crew, veered away from its course before vanishing from radars on 8 March 2014, and only several pieces of debris have been found across the Indian Ocean since then.
Conflicting accounts by Malaysian authorities and the inconclusive findings of two massive search operations have hardly satisfied the families of the victims, so conspiracy theorists began looking for explanations as to where the flight had gone: they include remote hijacking, interception by a warplane from a third country, a murder-suicide plot by the pilot, and a mystery passenger taking over the plane. One outlandish claim even suggested that the MH370 was the same plane as MH17, another Boeing 777 which crashed in eastern Ukraine months later.
The Sandy Hook shooting didn’t happen
On 14 December 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot his mother at their home before driving to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. There he killed six educators and 20 children between the ages of six and seven years old before committing suicide. The perpetrator was found to have had multiple mental health issues, coupled with “scorn for humanity”.
Claims soon surfaced online that the massacre was a false flag operation staged by the government to push support for stricter gun control. InfoWars founder Alex Jones has even suggested that the shooting didn’t happen at all because the media allegedly used green screen when covering the story.
In October this year, a jury ordered another conspiracy theorist who claimed the massacre was fabricated to pay $450,000 to the father of a boy who had been killed in Sandy Hook.
A body-double fills in for Melania Trump
US President Donald Trump has become a magnet for all sorts of conspiracy theories, and his wife Melania has suffered some collateral damage. Speculation suggesting that the First Lady had been replaced by a look-alike first spread on social media in 2017.
At the time, a now-suspended Twitter account posted side-by-side old and recent photos of Melania as “proof” that her face and hair looked different. The user didn’t care to suggest what had happened to the “real” Melania.
That theory re-emerged several times throughout 2019 after Melania’s public appearances alongside Donald Trump. She never addressed the claims, unlike the president, who accused the media of photoshopping pictures of his wife to make her look different.
Jihadi leader al-Baghdadi was a Jewish actor trained by Mossad
As Daesh, the outlawed terror group aka ISIS, rose to power in Iraq and Syria by the mid-2010s, its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was “revealed” to be a Jewish actor called Simon Elliott.
The Internet rumour that emerged in 2014 cited non-existent documents purportedly leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden as saying that the intelligence agencies of the US, Israel and Britain have engineered Daesh as a place to gather terrorists from all over the world under one umbrella.
Those fictitious leaks, according to articles and posts that first appeared on Arab-language social media, claimed that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi/Simon Elliott had undergone military training with Mossad. Fake photos have even been published of al-Baghdadi meeting with John McCain. Both Snowden’s lawyer and American authorities dismissed the story as a hoax.
The US government created Ebola
Now mostly out of the spotlight, Ebola was the scare of the day back in 2014-2016, when its worst outbreak in history caused over 11,000 deaths in West Africa.
Not long after it began, the Daily Observer, a major Liberian newspaper, published an article that described Ebola as a bioweapon designed by the US Defence Department. The piece was written by Cyril E. Broderick, a Liberian-born professor of plant pathology who was at the time teaching at Delaware State University. He also implicated the US Centres for Disease Control, the World Health Organisation, Doctors Without Borders, and the US research lab in Kenema (Sierra Leone) in the alleged plot.
North Korea picked up that story later in 2014. An article published by the state-run KCNA news agency claimed that an ex-aide to Ronald Reagan had informed them that the US had created a progenitor of the virus “for the purpose of launching a biological warfare”.
Only the last name of that aide – Roberts – appeared in the article, and US media linked him to Paul Craig Roberts, an economist who did have a role in the Reagan administration as the assistant secretary of the treasury. The KCNA story referred to an online blog by Roberts that cited Broderick’s statements.
Finland doesn’t exist
Since the Flat Earth theory, there hasn’t been a bigger geographical conspiracy that Finland, a legitimate nation of 5.5 million, is just a hoax. It appears that the claim was first floated by a user under the nickname Raregans on Reddit in 2015.
In a thread discussing weird things parents do, Raregans said his parents told him that Japan had invented, with the consent from the Soviet Union, the “landmass” called Finland where the actually is a body of water to fish there without restrictions. He then claimed that the fish was transported through the USSR under the guise of products by Nokia (a Japanese company in disguise) and that the UN was also involved into deceiving the international community.
The Economist knows what the New World Order will look like
The Economist, a leading magazine covering international business and geopolitics, gave much food for thought to conspiracists when it published its predictions for 2015.
The cover of ‘The World in 2015’ issue, which featured world leaders and pop culture references, was filled with cryptic messages. Those included two arrows thrust into the earth with the numbers ’11.5’ and ’11.3’ on them, ‘Federal Reserve’ written on a game called ‘Panic’, a nuclear mushroom cloud beneath the image of a two-faced world, a man playing a pipe next to Vladimir Putin (the Pied Piper of Hamelin?), and some other symbols.
Given that The Economist is partly owned by the Rothschilds, the wealthy family long associated with one-world-government theories, some people rushed to suggest that this is how the shady rulers tried to communicate with one another or codify the look of the New World Order.
Democrats ran a paedophile ring in Washington
The messy 2016 presidential campaign and the social media frenzy surrounding it culminated in a theory that prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, were part of a clandestine paedophile ring operating out of a D.C. pizza parlour called Comet Ping Pong.
It has its roots in the emails hacked from the account of Clinton's campaign chair, John Podesta, a month before the election. After Podesta was found to have mentioned Comet Ping Pong in his emails released by WikiLeaks, paranoia peddlers falsely concluded the pizza place was being used as a front for the child sex trafficking operation.
In December 2016, a man fired an AR-15 rifle inside the parlour as he was “self-investigating” the claims. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison. This theory has since been discredited by a number of media organisations and the police.
A US tech firm covered up Ukraine’s interference in 2016 election
There was another major conspiracy theory relating to the 2016 election, which was floated by Donald Trump in his infamous Ukraine phone call but side-lined by his request for an investigation into Joe Biden.
It holds that CrowdStrike, a California-based private security firm tasked by the Democratic National Committee with investigating a security breach on its server, had concealed evidence that Ukraine hacked that server (by storing it in Ukraine) and framed Russia to cover up Ukraine’s role.
Proponents of that theory, including Donald Trump himself, have claimed that CrowdStrike is owned by a “wealthy Ukrainian”, although in fact its co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch was born in Russia and is a US citizen. It emerged later that CrowdStrike had never been in physical possession of the DNC server and handed over all forensic evidence to the Justice Department, which didn’t find any wrongdoing on the part of the firm.
Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself
Well-connected money manager Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his prison cell in August while awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges. The official coroner’s report concluded that Epstein used his bed sheet to create a makeshift rope and hang himself.
The financier, who pleaded not guilty to the damning accusations, had socialised in the past with powerful people like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew. Suspicious details in the story (like the fact that he had been taken off suicide watch just days before his death or that his guards were sleeping that night) have fuelled theories that some of Epstein’s friends tried to silence him forever so as not to get exposed.
The autopsy revealed that Epstein had broken bones in his neck – an injury that may occur in a suicide by hanging – although a private pathologist hired by Epstein’s family claimed that it was more consistent with “homicidal strangulation”. The Justice Department said no one entered Epstein’s cell the night he died, meaning there was no evidence to suggest that he died by any other way that suicide. The two guards who were tasked with monitoring Epstein have been charged with conspiracy and falsifying records.