26 April 2009

Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories

I have a lot I've been meaning to write about. I'm London right now, and I'll be here or around the UK for the next six weeks or so. Unfortunately, I forgot my copy of "From Hell," the Alan Moore comic book, which is an extremely detailed version of the "Royal Conspiracy," concerning Jack the Ripper. But I found a tour guide pamphlet in our crappy hotel, and a blogger who has already done the "From Hell" tour, so maybe I'll just take some pictures or something. But I do want to write about that book, because it's awesome.

I found this book, "The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories," a few weeks ago when I was home in Richmond, VA, for my birthday, at my favorite used book store. As you might expect, the writing is pretty terrible, but it's a fairly comprehensive reference for conspiracy theories, so hopefully it will prove useful. It's kind of funny, it sort of claims to be "sorting myths from realities" but the writing is so vague it's often hard to tell what they fuck they're talking about. They use the terms "conspiracy," "conspiracy theory" and "conspiracist" pretty much interchangeably. Here's part of the introduction:

Conspiracy theories have also given birth to a miniature academic industry. Where once serious historians avoided the word "conspiracy" like a disease, cultural critics and sociologists are now documenting conspiracism in popular culture, dissecting the politics of conspiracist thinking and analysing what is sometimes called the "paranoid style" - interestingly, a term borrowed from clinical psychology. A few historians are now willing to lash themselves, like Ulysses, to the mast and expose their ears to the siren voices of the conspiracy version of history. The idea that long ago it was great men's deeds that drove world affairs gave place to the notion that much bigger historical and social forces were at stake. Now, once again, it is being recorgnized that plans, projects, conspiracies and even conspiracy theories can change the world.

My favorite new conspiracy from the book is about this guy, Danny Casolaro, who died in 1991, an apparent suicide, while pursuing a conspiracy theory he referred to as "the Octopus" -- "it had so many tentacles." Because Casolaro told his brother "
that, if something were to happen to him, it would not be an accident", law enforcement pursued a murder investigation. Casolaro, a freelance writer, was supposed to meet with Michael Riconosciuto, who was basically a nutcase grifter and conspiracy theorist. In the days leading before they were supposed to meet, Casolaro recieved numerous threatening phone calls. He met with a few other people on the way to Martinsburg, West Virginia, other sources providing material for the book he was trying to put together. Riconosciuto had promised an important piece of information to fill in Casolaro's "Octopus" theory. At the time, Riconosciuto was also facing charges for drug trafficking that could put him in jail for thirty years, and his defense was based on a government conspiracy to silence his knowledge about the Inslaw case, in which the government was being sued by a software company. Riconosciuto was known as a computer programmer and weapons designer, as well as a crystal meth manufacturer, but it's difficult to know if any of that is true.

Anyway, the ambiguity of Casolaro's suicide is what makes the story fascinating. Did the CIA fake his suicide because he was getting to close to the truth, "the head of the Octopus?" Did Riconoscuito kill Danny Casolaro to make give weight to his conspiracy theory? If so, did Riconoscuito himself actually believe his own theories, or was it all an elaborate plan of defence? Or was Casolaro driven crazy by his pursuit of the "Octopus" and his failures to get a book deal or the information he was seeking?

Casolaro's suicide note doesn't help answer that question: "To those who I love the most: Please forgive me for the worst possible thing I could have done. Most of all I'm sorry to my son. I know deep down inside that God will let me in."

Some other things I will hopefully eventually blog about:

-- Michael Rockefeller, who mysteriously died on an expedition in New Guinea. So far I haven't found any actual conspiracy theories about this, but I imagine they're out there.

-- This crazy guy, who came up with this, made this movie and others, and is now in jail, I think.

-- The Paranoid Style in American Politics, one of my favorite essays.

-- This British journalist, who George Blake told me about, also this guy Peter who was interested in working with Boy Crisis as one point.

-- The Marlowe Society, which doesn't "officially" claim that Marlowe was Shakespeare, but champions him, and likes to point out that he died under suspicious circumstance right around the time Shakespeare started publishing poetry. Thinking about getting a tattoo of their emblem. JK, I love Shakespeare.

-- This book, which is awesome, and reminds me of being in college.

-- Maybe even Noam Chomsky and this whole thing.

1 comment:

James said...

Have you listened to that This American Life segment I told you about regarding the London train bombings? It's by Jon Ronson. He's actually on that show quite a bit... OH MY GOD. Ira Glass is an alien Freemason lizard king!