Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

The Red Placebo: Confessions of a Former Conspiracy Dabbler

Often portrayed as heroic and haphazardly correct, conspiracists dangerously deny objective reality.

Walter Hudson


June 6, 2013 - 7:00 am


The Matrix may have inspired an entire generation of conspiracists. We sometimes forget the impact of a particular moment in our popular culture. The success of The Matrix was that no one saw it coming. Though the concept of virtual reality and computer simulations had long been weaved throughout science fiction, the Wachowski brothers’ uniquely plausible presentation captured the mainstream imagination.

The allure of the red pill, of knowing a terrible truth and boasting an esoteric righteousness from the knowing, haunted many moviegoers long after the credits rolled. The film’s imagery and lexicon went on to permeate the various truther movements which gained popularity in the following decade.

Often portrayed as heroic, innocent, kooky, or haphazardly correct, conspiracists are actually dangerous. After all, what we accept to be accurate knowledge informs both our actions and our emotional responses. By refusing to accept plain facts and insisting upon indulging unsubstantiated fantasy, conspiracists in effect become willful psychotics, consciously rejecting reality.

Let us consider a few examples of how conspiracists stumble through our popular culture.

In Roland Emmerich’s disaster porn 2012, Woody Harrelson’s pirate radio conpiracist Charlie Frost proves himself prophetic. Operating out of a cluttered trailer in Yellowstone National Park, Frost accurately predicts the end of the world better than the combined scientific-industrial complex of the G20 nations. Presented as unkempt, disorganized, and somewhat repulsive, Frost nonetheless enjoys validation as his wacky theory tying solar activity to the Mayan calendar manifests in global tectonic catastrophe.

In John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic They Live, professional wrestler turned actor “Rowdy” Roddy Piper plays a drifter who comes across a pair of sunglasses which enables him to discern subliminal messages on billboards, signs, television screens, and magazines. The spectacles even let him see the many hideous aliens in his midst who have disguised themselves as humans. The film shares the tone of the earlier television miniseries V, which portrayed a fascist invasion of reptilian aliens who at first appear to be friendly and human-like. In both stories, the notion of the rebellious few who see the truth while others comply like mindless sheep — “sheeple” in truther lingo — becomes well established.

That notion plays out in real life through the proselytization of David Icke, who on the conspiracist spectrum serves as mainline heroin compared to Alex Jones’ gateway trutherism. Icke claims that world affairs proceed under the malevolent control of a race of hybrids created by combining humans with alien reptilian DNA. Icke and his followers offer “proof” in the form of video stills of high-profile politicians and media personalities whose eyes briefly appear to be reptilian slits when the interlacing of two frames creates video artifacts. It would be laughable if not for the fact that people actually believe it.

YouTube Preview Image

Take Alice Walker for example. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple – which was adapted to film by none other than Steven Spielberg and launched the careers of both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey — stands enthralled by the conspiratorial revelations of Icke. She writes in her blog:

Earlier I wrote that David Icke reminded me of Malcolm X.  I was thinking especially of Malcolm’s fearlessness.  A fearlessness that made him seem cold, actually, though we know he wasn’t really.  All that love of us that kept driving him to improve our lot; often into quite the wrong direction, but I need not go into that.  What I was remembering was how he called our oppressors “blue eyed devils.” Now who could that have been?  Well, we see them here in David Icke’s book as the descendants of the reptilian race that landed on our sweet planet the moment they could get a glimpse of it through the mist that used to cover it (before there was a moon).  No kidding.  Deep breath!  Yes, before there was a moon! (Oh, I love the moon; can I keep it? Please?).  Anyway, there they came, these space beings (we’re space beings too, of course, not to forget that).  But they looked…. different than us.  And they were.

Like I said, psychotic. Walker’s fixation upon the moon springs from a belief propagated by Icke that the natural satellite is actually an artificial creation of the alien reptilians which bombards us with a signal to control our minds. Indeed, that’s no moon. It’s a space station!

Such notions are bolstered in popular culture by conspiracy narratives like those found throughout The X-Files franchise which popularized the phrase “the truth is out there,” which is to say it’s not right here in front of you. You can’t trust what you see. You can’t trust any of your senses. You certainly can’t trust any claim of authority.

Sometimes the conspiracist mindset lurks subtly in the background of our entertainment. Such was the case in the 1996 Michael Bey actioner The Rock, starring Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, and Ed Harris among an array of recognizable character actors portraying the seizure of Alcatraz as a base for launching an attack on San Francisco. Connery’s long-imprisoned British spy earned his sentence by stealing and hiding a microfilm record documenting many conspiratorial secrets, such as what really happened at Roswell in 1947 and who killed JFK.

YouTube Preview Image

Then we have films which play with our perception and encourage us to doubt the integrity of reality. Total Recall uses the specter of manufactured memories to keep its protagonist and the audience guessing as to who is who and what is what. Jurassic Park actor Sam Neill stars in two such films, In the Mouth of Madness and the supremely terrifying Event Horizon. Coming full circle, we can include The Matrix which rests its entire premise on the notion of a false reality. We should note that the simulated reality of The Matrix is presented as our own. Déjà vu, a phenomenon we have all experienced, is explained as a glitch in the computer simulation. The tendency of various animal meats to taste like chicken is attributed to a lack of imagination by the machines who created the Matrix. We are meant to doubt, not some fictional reality, but our own.

Perhaps the influence of such narratives contributed to my own exploration of the conspiracist community. After the election of 2004, finding myself disillusioned by how Republican-controlled government was falling short of the ideals I had heard on talk radio since coming of age during the Clinton years, I allowed myself to entertain any explanation as to why Bush and Congress were not governing like conservatives.

Enter Alex Jones, with his seemingly plausible claim that the Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same coin, fronts for a globalist conspiracy to erect a New World Order. Look! We have video of Bush 41 telling Congress about it. Look! We sneaked into the Bohemian Grove and took creepy footage of a strange ceremony. Look! That hole in the Pentagon wasn’t shaped like an airplane… as if aluminum leaves a cartoon silhouette in reinforced concrete.

After many months veraciously taking in everything Prison Planet had to offer, watching Jones’ entire catalog of documentary-style films, and following his organization’s “alternative news” and even having a couple of my personal blog entries cross-posted on his site, I eventually began to tire of the shtick. There were a number of things which contributed to my rejection of the conspiracist mindset.

YouTube Preview Image

First, as I began to get more involved in political activism and came to know people in positions of real power, their bumbling humanity undercut any sense that they might be part of a massive globalist conspiracy. That observation added credence to the idea that vast, complex conspiracies like those posited by 9/11 truthers, who more often than not don’t even agree with each other, would require far more covert cooperation among innumerable co-conspirators than is remotely feasible.

I also found it suspect that Jones and his ilk never presented practical solutions, even within the context of their unique worldview. If anything, they seemed to employ the very fear-mongering tactics they accused others of using. To listen to Jones on a regular basis is to live on the edge of a knife, in constant anticipation of tomorrow’s martial law, complete with door-to-door gun confiscation and cattle cars delivering patriots to concentration camps.

The cliché proves true: even a broken clock is right twice a day. There have been times when Jones has been right about particular aspects of a story. However, the context of wild conspiracy theories creates a “boy who cried wolf” effect which actually encourages people to dismiss observations of legitimate concern. For instance, the gun confiscation which occurred as part of the government response to Hurricane Katrina deserved scrutiny. Yet, reporting on it alongside tales of HAARP weather control and hidden FEMA camps only discouraged mainstream coverage.

Further undermining Jones’ credibility was his conduct when engaging with those who disagreed with him. Upon first encountering him, I dismissed his confrontational style as a personality quirk. Eventually, I realized it was actually essential to the conspiratorial mindset.

Chest-thumping rage channeled into an “info war” fought with rambling factoid carpet bombs created the illusion of a researched and righteous indignation. In truth, Jones was merely changing the subject so frequently as to keep his opponents off-balance. Another big tell was the speed at which he and his organization would jump to conclusions. When something like the Boston Marathon bombing occurs, Jones reliably takes to social media within the hour positing with incredible confidence a conspiratorial context, employing an obvious confirmation bias. Information which appears to confirm what he wants to believe is immediately credible. Information which does not confirm what he wants to believe, or conflicts, is just as immediately dismissed as part of the conspiracy.

YouTube Preview Image

Therein lies the reason why conspiracists are genuinely dangerous. Just as it would be ill-advised to drive while blindfolded or fly an airplane in whiteout conditions without instruments, proceeding through life in denial of the facts at hand leads inexorably to harm. Genuine threats to life, liberty, and property exist in the real world and deserve an informed response. Conflating those with imagined or unproven threats diverts attention from where it ought to be focused. More fundamentally, the goal of a properly whittled down government limited to its single rightful purpose of protecting individual rights, if achieved, would inherently defang any malevolent conspiracy. So why not focus on achieving that rather than converting people to believe “the truth” regarding a particular incident?

In my experience, the conspiratorial mindset presents the believer with an excuse for inactivity. Sure, the Alex Joneses of the world happily trot around the globe chasing Bilderbergers, shoving cameras in people’s faces, and ranting in bullhorns. But that’s not activism. It doesn’t accomplish anything. It doesn’t affect public policy or otherwise secure individual rights. On the contrary, it drives an addictive sense of perpetual revolution where believers stand ever ready to shoot back, yet won’t bother to participate in the political process and effect real change. It’s so much easier to sit holed up in your bomb shelter, cleaning your arsenal for the day the Man comes to take it, than to roll up your sleeves and commit to the humble and often tedious work of politics. One of those options has the virtue of seeding real change. The other proves self-indulgent.


Check out the previous installments in Walter Hudson’s ongoing series on Video Games, Villains, and Values:

May 2:

Beating Back the Nazi ‘Sickness’

May 9:

What Zombies Teach Us About Human Nature

May 16:

The Gospel from Planet X: Why Aliens Ignite the Imagination

May 23:

Putting the War into the ‘War on Terror’

May 30:

Greed Is Good: The Villainy of the On-Screen Capitalist

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, and as president of the Minority Liberty Alliance. He hosts a daily podcast entitled Fightin Words, proudly hosted on Twin Cities Newstalk Podcast Network. Walter is a city council member in Albertville, MN. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
My, how quick some are to jump on the “oh look at me, I’m an adult” bandwagon.
So, Barack Obama, David Axelrod, Valarie Jarrett, et al are just bumbling idiots? Bin Laden and those that aided him were just coincidentally working to the same end? Alger Hiss had no connection to the KGB, who by the way, were not at all working with anyone to destroy the US?
Is Mr. Hudson saying that there is no such thing as a conspiracy? I believe, I’m sure someone will happily correct me if I am wrong, that you can be convicted of conspiracy and sent to prison. The length of your incarceration will depend upon what you were conspiring to do.
The only point I can see to Mr. Hudson’s essay is to present himself as the adult among the silly children. But an adult must discriminate between fact and fiction, neither naively accepting nor discounting information or possibilities based on notions of what is properly sanctioned as respectable adult viewpoints. Blind dismissal and ridicule of suspicions or allegations of conspiracy, and those who might take them serious, is just as stupid as blind acceptance of conspiracy theories.
Because I think Alex Jones is either a hysterical idiot - or someone trying to appeal to hysterical idiots, does not mean there are no conspiracies. I don’t think there is a hole at the North Pole that leads to a subterranean world, and I don’t think there are NAZIs down there plotting to make a comeback - but that does not mean there are no such thing as conspiracies.
A conspiracists best friend, aside from obvious whack cases, is the smug citizen that repeats aphorisms making the point that the more people involved the less likely there is a conspiracy, or that it is impossible for more than one person to keep a secret. These pithy folk witticisms blind people to what is often happening right under their nose. Oh yes, and never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence. (Or something like that) That could be paraphrased: never attribute to conspiracy what can be explained by coincidence.
Mr. Hudson’s pompous advice to “… roll up your sleeves and commit to the humble and often tedious work of politics.” is on its face good advice. Most of us have been doing that for a long time. Gosh, we elected John Boehner, John McCain, Marco Rubio, George Bush etc. We are making great strides.
There is no one out there working with any other person or group to keep our borders open, or keep the illegal immigrant flow going. There is no religious group plotting to take over the world. The most powerful and the most wealthy people in the world only meet once a year for tea and a healthy discussion of the weather. Their interests do not coincide and they would never collude let alone conspire.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"However, the context of wild conspiracy theories creates a “boy who cried wolf” effect which actually encourages people to dismiss observations of legitimate concern."

Oh yes.

I've long thought that conspiracy theories were the best disinformation tactic ever devised. You want to steer popular attention away from a subject? Create a conspiracy theory about it, complete with lots of Alex Jones types howling about it. Mainstream investigators won't touch it for fear of being tarred with that brush.

It works to suppress whistleblowers too. Can you imagine having a horrendous secret, like say that the NSA is tracking everybody's phone calls, and trying to "alert the media"? You're pre-discredited right there, it sounds too tinfoil-hat-ish... as if taking that chance wren't bad enough, the difficulty of getting someone to believe you is increased... so much simpler just to shut up and disappear. "They" are usually fine with that.

It does conspiracy theorists no good either; by feeding them an ersatz reality, it disconnects them from the real one, where tyranny IS a real threat, but not by the channels they fancy.

Speaking more generally, conspiracy theories are for those who don't understand ideas -- how they work, how they propagate, how they flow through a culture and how they determine its direction.

Consider schools of fish; it's tempting to think like a conspiracy theorist does and expect that their ability to move as one **must be** due to a central "command and control" fish giving orders for all to follow. Such a person will likely never discover the reality of it, that the fish are not "communicating" beyond merely observing one's immediate neighbors and reacting according to a basic common "program" they all possess.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"In my experience, the conspiratorial mindset presents the believer with an excuse for inactivity."

I've always believed the conspiratorial mindset is an attempt to impose a moral order on random events or poorly informed decisions by gov't or individuals. The conspirators are always a shadow group of all-knowing, all powerful agents working to some nebulous goal (i.e. world domination) but never succeeding, and also lacking a 'why' other than "they are evil". It's an easy way to convince yourself you are the good guy while anything bad that happens in a result of evil agents, not random chance or misguided actions you or a government has taken. Plus, you never had to admit responsibility since you are the morally good victim.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (40)
All Comments   (40)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
If Dana Perino is a reptilian alien in disguise, then ...

...I, for one, welcome our new reptilian overlords. ☺
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sheesh…10 years ago you would have been labeled a nut job for thinking that the government was:

1. Tapping your phone
2. Reading your email
3. Developing a database with everyone’s picture and every single thing you ever said.
4. Running guns to Al Qaeda…yea that’s what Libya was about.
5. Giving guns to drug lords so that chaos would overwhelm our southern neighbor forcing millions across the border.
6. That a communist would be President.
7. That he would be filling all levels of government with his communist friends.
8. That this President would be deliberately be trying to sink the United States by bankruptcy.

etc etc etc…tired of typing but we all know we could go on.


Sometimes they really are out to get you....I think articles like these do us a disservice by making us doubt what is going on in front of our eyes. The Government is emboldened to do crazy things, running guns to Al Qaeda etc, by our sheer inability to believe they could be that evil.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not sure what you read, but I advocate believing what's in front of your eyes. It's the conspiracists who insist there's more than meets the eye and you can't trust your senses. Indeed, the offenses you cite are all objectively demonstrable.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You don't have to believe in vast, well-organized conspiracies to believe that our government is being run by an incompetent, greedy, self-serving elite. The wide-spread, bumbling, greed, ignorance and allegiance to a pernicious socialist idealogy produces results virtually indistinguishable from an organized conspiracy.

As Mark Steyn and others have said, Obama didn't need to tell the IRS to target conservative groups, the culture of leftist groupthink in our federal bureaucracy made such actions seem perfectly reasonable to the perpetrators.

However, I find this an odd time for supposed conservatives to be bashing conspiracy theories. If anything, these times should be a wake-up call. Keep your eyes and ears open. Don't accept what your told.

Just because there's not a vast, organized conspiracy doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Placing a premium on objective fact above wild speculation is more important than ever when scandals like those we currently face come to light. Should we start buying into the alien reptilian theory because the NSA is listening to our phone calls? Or should we focus on the actual problem at hand? I find the answer to be obvious.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Therein lies the reason why conspiracists are genuinely dangerous. Just as it would be ill-advised to drive while blindfolded or fly an airplane in whiteout conditions without instruments, proceeding through life in denial of the facts at hand leads inexorably to harm." I think DHS armed with 2 billion bullets, thousands of automatic rifles, and even SWAT teams for the Dept. of Education are all more dangerous to my life and health than people who believe in lizard shape shifters.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How can you hope for a culture capable of dealing with the DHS threat if it contains so many incapable of dealing first with reality?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"When something like the Boston Marathon bombing occurs, Jones reliably takes to social media within the hour positing with incredible confidence a conspiratorial context, employing an obvious confirmation bias." If the MSM would do its freakin' job and ask more questions of Uncle Ruslan about his CIA history, or ask what the hell all those mercs standing near the finish line were doing and what 'security' they provided, maybe we wouldn't have to 'rely' on Alex Jones or anyone else online to get at the facts on the Boston Bombing. Fact: there is strong evidence the reason the U.S. government ignored Russian warnings about Tamerlane T. was because they were aware of his travels, even back to a region that he had claimed asylum from. Fact: Tamerlane's father worked at one time for the administration of the pro-Moscow Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Why doesn't media do its job and dig a little bit deeper into stories? Why do they just go to press conferences where the FBI says (caught on YouTube) 'look at these images and these images only'.

There are good writers on PJM like Richard Fernandez and ocasionally despite his Ron Paul phobia David Goldman that I like. They keep me coming back despite the obvious fact that PJM was riddled with Rove-paid articles to smear Ron Paul and his supporters back in January 2012 when the national GOP was panicked that Paul might actually win the primary if they didn't massively rig it. I mean you people really think Rick Santorum magically got exactly as many votes as Mitt Romney? Seriously?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
PJM is jumping on the 'everything's a conspiracy theory' bandwagon to get conservatives and libertarians back on the GOP reservation with the Republican Party proving itself to be powerless to stop the systematic takedown of our country from within.

My rebuttal to Hudson? Believing nothing is a conspiracy is just as detached from reality and history as believing everything is a conspiracy. See Munich Beer Hall Putsch. See Wansee Conference. Or the Bolshevik Revolution. All CONSPIRACY facts.

Just because we're paranoid doesn't mean that there aren't actual hits on journalists like Hastings. Because after all Mercedes Benz cars constantly blow up when they get wrapped around trees by drunk drivers (takes another shot of Establishment koolaid).

As for the comment about Malkin, seems more the other way around. Brother Jones insists creepy people around Malkin started yelling 'Don't attack her Alex!' all of the sudden. Considering that the Daily Caller got caught trolling Alex Jones, I'll take his word over Malkins on that one.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"started yelling 'Don't attack her Alex!' all of the sudden. "

It's "all of a sudden", not "all of the sudden", or, even worse, "all the sudden".

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The dude behind him in that PJM video is a total provocateur.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
AJ is crazy and often spreads disinfo he's fed, but he's not the one yelling, 'Kill Michelle Malkin'. That's some a-wipe provocateur behind him.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here's Alex Jones trying to egg on a mob to attack Michelle Malkin:

The man is truly dangerous.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here's the video showing the 'kill Michelle Malkin' twerp and a PJM 'reporter' behaving like a thug in Denver.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Anyway I am not a huge Alex Jones fan. The man has a tendency to be loudmouthed, ridiculous, and hurt his own cause. But I'm tired of the neocon BS like this:

0:56 Jamie Weinstein Daily Caller FAIL trolling Alex Jones...and loses his cool

If Alex Jones is an a-hole, you're all bigger a-holes sticking your heads in the sand. The Obama regime or people connected to it offed Hastings. But let's pretend that can't happen in America and anyone who says otherwise is a conspiracy theorist. PS Bildeberg didn't even exist until a few years ago.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A lot of conspiracy "theories" were later proven to be real conspiracies, sometimes generations later after humans had forgot. Sometimes I wish I had taken the blue pill....
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
good stuff, conspiracy theories. love to examine them, look it all up, watch the videos, whatever it takes to get at the truth. many times you can't find the truth for all the obfuscation, but you always learn a lot. take a couple of recent ones for example:

fast & furious: luckily, i was personally in early on this one. no one would believe for over a year that the a.g., a.t.f., and the alphabetical rest would get involved in selling thousands of untagged assault weapons (and ammo) to mexican drug murderers. hundreds, maybe thousands killed? no way. even after holder/obungler refused to turn over documents and finally had to claim executive privilege to keep the real truth of it from getting out. diggers (what i like to call web investigators) on the net were all over this waaaay before the media was forced (by facts) to reluctantly climb aboard, kicking and screaming. people still haven't accepted the whole truth of was really behind it all, besides stupidity. and don't bother to mention that they used stimulus funding to pay for it all, or that it was a multi-state effort. who would believe that?

birthers: gosh, a prez that would forge his credentials/documents and lie to the 'sheeple'? how insane is that? a sheriff who would form a posse out of expert witnesses (professionals, computer experts) and retired law enforcement and claim to have the truth? run mass media run! a video online where a 30 yr. computer expert explains (in plain talk) how they did it all? childlike forgeries? that's crazy stuff, right?

benghazi: we left how many of our people out there to die while our military assets were primed and ready to support? who told them to stand down? that's just crazy talk, right? what do you mean nobody will talk about this either? oh, well, just claim c.t. (again).

my, my, there is a whole list of these type theories that have apparently come to fruition. let's see, there's the i.r.s. illegalities that were horribly true, and then we have the c.i.a. and everybody with a federal badge listening in on everything we do? attack drones? killing Americans? American enemies lists? friends of diplomats getting special gov. deals? and on and on it goes.

grandpa always said there is a silver lining built into every dark cloud. for diggers it appears that there are more than a few of these criminal conspiracies to go around in this administration. good digging my friends.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

Where is Carl Kolchak (aka Darren McGavin) of the Independent News Service when we need him?

If we didn't have conspiracy theories, we'd have to invent them to make sense of what is going on in our Federal Government and the World at large today. Otherwise our current march away from economic prosperity and freedom is all just madness and insanity; Mankind going insane and committing suicide.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 Next View All