JFK assassination to moonwalk: 6 American conspiracy theories

American conspiracy theories date back to the days before the Declaration of Independence. Here are six – both old and new, well-known and obscure – that are percolating in the American zeitgeist now.

2. Boston bombing another ‘false flag’ operation?

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    American flags in remembrance of victims of the Boston Marathon bombing fly at a roadblock manned by National Guardsmen at the end of Boylston Street on April 16, 2013, in Boston.
    Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
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When two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon earlier this year, apparent inconsistencies in the official narrative and the imposition of a one-day lockdown of a broad swath of the Boston metro area as police searched for the fugitive suspects gave rise to a number of conspiracy theories.

The pattern is a common one in the wake of modern tragedies: A flood of pictures, images, and reporting from a terrible scene is added to a vacuum of official information, then the government responds forcefully, giving skeptical observers a ream of facts to parse and join together in different webs, leading to a variety of definitive “conclusions” about what really happened.

In the Boston case, this has led to various conclusions:

  • Pictures of two men in cargo pants and black backpacks tie the attack to a shadowy US security firm.
  • The two Chechen brothers accused of the crime were not acting alone, but were in fact part of a broad Islamic terrorist plot emerging from the Caucasus region of Russia.
  • The two brothers were CIA double agents gone rogue.

Many of the theories touch on familiar "false flag" themes: "In false-flag theories about the Boston bombings, what looks to credulous innocents (such as the FBI and the cops) like a criminal act of terror is, in reality, a sinister clandestine operation by the government to sow panic among the citizenry and thereby slash freedoms, declare martial law, and tighten the government’s iron grip on everyday existence," writes Lloyd Grove in The Daily Beast.

Deep distrust of media and government motives helped fuel the Boston theories. Blogger Scott Creighton, for example, posited that a series of media reports preceding the bombing about Al Qaeda and terrorism meant that networks such as NBC knew about the impending bombing and used it to boost ratings.  

“[Y]ou can’t help but conclude this is a false flag operation,” with the government helped along by media corporations that “are nothing more than the official propaganda arm of the current administration,” Mr. Creighton wrote.

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