That’s What They Want You to Think

By Marty Grumblis

0: Contact Established 

You, yes you, stop whatever you’re doing right now. I need to make sure you’re ready to listen to what I’m about to say. You’ve been living in a dream world, a world of lies and deception and mind control to keep the masses complacent. No, don’t act surprised when you read this, act as normal as possible. You wouldn’t want them to notice, would you? Good, yes, act totally natural, you’re just reading a normal article from the mainstream media, you’re just getting your daily dose of misinformation. Except, this time, you’re getting the truth. The truth that they’ve been hiding from you.  

But I must warn you, the truth you’re about to learn is shocking, heartbreaking, you may cry and scream and wish you had never bitten the forbidden fruit of knowledge. There’s a price to pay for everything, but with great risk and danger comes invaluable information that might even protect you from the future that’s been planned since the very beginning. But, if you want to remain ignorant and complacent in the face of the enemy who wishes to destroy freedom, democracy, and who won’t stop until they corrupt each and every aspect of your everyday life, you can stop reading now. There’s still time to bury your head in the sand and pretend this was all just a bad dream.  

…You’re still here? Very well, then, you must be committed to learning the truth. I trust you’re strong enough to endure the challenge faced before you, and if not… well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Get ready Dorothy, because once you take the red pill, you’ll see how deep this rabbit hole goes[1].  

I: Indoctrination 

Alright, let’s take off the sunglasses and trench coat for a second and get a little more… skeptical. It shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I love conspiracy theories, though I’m sure I’m sending a few mixed messages and potentially causing a few people to question my sanity[2]. When I say I love conspiracy theories, I mean this in a very specific way. Regardless of how much stock I actually put into the legitimacy of idea[3], I love the element of storytelling present in conspiracy theories. I find something so enthralling about sorting through some of the bigger conspiracy theories, how some of them change narrative and key figures depending on what type of worldview the conspiracy theorist subscribes to. There is something I find infinitely fascinating and compelling about the human brain’s ability to create its own reality, the amount of cognitive dissonance it requires for such reality to exist. The psychology and meta-narrative surrounding conspiracy theories is just as if not more interesting than the conspiracies themselves to me, at least in most cases.  

Putting the sunglasses back on, I would be lying if I said I approached all conspiracy theories with this mindset. The psychological research done on conspiracy theories often posits an axis where on one end is a rational person who mostly believes in the authority of the mainstream narrative, and on the other end there is the conspiracy theorist who distrusts authority and mainstream narratives. Maybe it’s just my personal anti-authority inclinations, but I find this to be a woefully incomplete analysis of the matter at hand. I’m in a unique position where 90% of my engagement with conspiracy theories is with ones that I think are fascinating and yet utterly ridiculous and nonsensical, and the other 10% involves me nodding along while donning a tinfoil hat[4]. Though I believe it’s easier and admittedly more rational to treat all conspiracy theories as one in the same, what happens when a conspiracy theory is right? How do you go about separating fact from fiction? What stories can you trust?  

I am qualified to answer absolutely none of these questions, but if I’ve learned anything from conspiracy theorists, it’s that I shouldn’t let that stop me in my pursuit for truth. Don’t give me that look. You agreed to this, remember?  

II: Training 

Turns out there’s actually a lot of ways to define a conspiracy theory. A quick search in Google reads “a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event”. However, those pesky psychologists seem to have made everything more complicated. The European Journal of Social Psychology believe four basic principles characterize conspiracy theories; they are consequential, universal, emotional, and social. Specifically, consequential in having a real impact on people’s lives, universal in belief of them being widespread across different times and cultures in human history, emotional in that negative emotions and irrational thought causes conspiracy beliefs to emerge, and social in that conspiracy beliefs reflect psychological motivations that underly intergroup conflict. I would also define a conspiracy as the belief in a nebulous “them”, and whoever “they” are, there’s something “they” are up to that “they” don’t want you to know about. Who exactly “they” are, what exactly “they” are up to, and the motivations behind not wanting you to know about “them” are all interchangeable depending on the conspiracy.  

There’s also an incredibly attractive element in the mindset of the conspiracy theorist. See, because there’s someone that doesn’t want you to find out about “their” secret, it puts the theorist in the driver’s seat. You get to make yourself The One and unravel all the juicy details, following each trail of breadcrumbs and finding out how our society really functions. You’re Sherlock Holmes, and in the digital age there’s an entire community of other Sherlocks all trying to solve the grand mystery and track each and every one of “their” moves. The most committed conspiracy theorists will constantly self-aggrandize the importance of their own work. The most influential ones with massive platforms will also coincidentally try to sell their audience something and insist that all of the profits will go to putting an end to “their” actions.  

Conspiracy theories, especially politically motivated ones, often seek to explain infinitely nuanced and complicated issues in an incredibly unnuanced and simple way. Calling conspiracy theories “simple” feels almost antithetical to the way a conspiracy theorist operates, but when you really think about it, all the details that go into explaining a conspiracy don’t actually make the belief all that complicated. I think this is because conspiracy theories take a certain approach in forming their arguments, an approach similar to how cryptozoologists or paranormal investigators operate.[5] In all of these cases, the supporting details of an argument are all interchangeable and numerous. Rather than forming a belief by observing the available facts and forming a conclusion based on the information, these beliefs rely on you coming to the conclusion first. Argument with a conspiracy theorist is often an unproductive exercise because no matter how many arguments you debunk you will never get them to accept defeat and admit their conclusion is wrong[6]. Whether a conspiracy theorist wants to admit it or not, there’s always a distinct bias or worldview present in the deeper iceberg of all conspiracies.  

Alright, got that? Sure, it’s a lot to take in, but this information is essential for the rest of your journey. We’re about to get hands on.  

III: Mission Zero 

While the universality of conspiracy theories posits that conspiracy theories have always been a part of human societies, modern conspiracy theories are almost always centered in and around the United States. The various political and social issues in the 60s sparked some of the first well known modern conspiracies. War in Vietnam had already inspired a counter-culture revolution to start taking hold of the US, hippies who protested the bloodthirsty establishment and questioned the validity of our institutions, wanting to establish an era of free love and peace. With the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the tragedy and uncertainty surrounding his death sending a shockwave felt by every American citizen, hippie or not. Nearly 40 years later, an ABC news poll still showed that 70% of the country believes in some kind of conspiracy relating to JFK. In retrospect, it’s not hard to see why either. Watergate would happen 10 years later, giving the American public concrete evidence and legitimate reason to distrust the actions of the Presidency. Further cultural and political strife would catch fire as enough people felt so disillusioned with the establishment that they sought other ways of explaining the world around them.   

While I do find JFK conspiracies compelling, it’s not actually my favorite conspiracy that came out of America in the 60s. See, while a lot of conspiracy theories have incredibly high stakes, such as some JFK theorists believing that the CIA was involved in the assassination, they don’t always have some great political significance. Case and point: Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1966 and the band, with the help of the British government, has been covering it up ever since. I’m sure someone out there has claimed Paul McCartney’s supposed death was covered up by the same shadowy entities that control all of society and therefore also did 9/11, but at face value it’s surprisingly contained. However, Paul merely dying in a car crash and being replaced by a look-alike is perhaps the most believable version of this conspiracy. The more you attempt to explain the belief, the more complicated and convoluted the story gets, and there seems to be an infinite amount of “evidence” to back it up.  

See, it wasn’t just enough that Paul died tragically in a car crash and his band members mourned him and that was that. No, the real meat of the story says that the band members were so torn-up emotionally by the events that they couldn’t help but place hints to the truth all throughout their music, album covers, and videos. Suddenly, every college stoner with a vinyl of Sgt. Peppers was holding a magnifying class up to the cover, noticing the small detail of the car with a red interior, symbolizing Paul’s tragic fate. Messages were engrained into the songs, from John mumbling “I buried Paul”[7] at the end of Strawberry Fields to a number of messages supposedly being heard when certain tracks were reversed. Indeed, the catalyst to this conspiracy might have been in 1969 when an anonymous caller on WKNR told Russ Gibb to play the introduction to Revolution 9 in reverse, revealing the haunting words “turn me on, dead man”. Paul isn’t wearing shoes on the album cover of Abbey Road, cue a complicated analysis that says every member of the band depicts an aspect of a funeral service[8]. A solo record by Paul McCartney played in reverse revealed a dramatic confession of “I was Willy Campbell”[9], and the fake bastard even dared to release an album titled Paul is Live, which he absolutely 100% would not do unless he wasn’t actually the real Paul McCartney. Nearly everything any member of the band did became evidence to support the conspiracy.  

And, with the conspiracy that one of the key members of the band died and was replaced, suddenly it became a lot easier to contextualize the conflict and dysfunction that eventually lead to the Beatles breaking up in 1970. John and Paul’s infamous fights got easier to stomach if you believed that it wasn’t the real Paul that John had a problem with, but it was rather his frustration with the imitator that could never replace the void Paul left. In this conspiracy lies a deceptively clear answer presented to a question many fans were having at the time, why did The Beatles break up? Rather than swallow some tough pills about the character flaws and personality clashes that lead to the breakup, for some, it felt easier to accept a reality in which there was one clear source of the band’s dysfunction. There’s a clear answer, the narrative has a clear good vs evil element, and despite the technical complexities of believing everyone’s ability to pull off and continue such a con job, there’s still a concrete narrative to follow. A question arises, a state of confusion and uncertainty, and from that a conspiracy follows intuition, gut reaction, and most importantly the vibes.  

Ah… do you feel it? Are you beginning to believe? Well, regardless, we don’t have much time left, and you better be ready for what comes next.  

IV: Execution 

I stand firm in the belief that if you know at least 2 of the many, many morally reprehensible things the CIA and/or FBI have done, it suddenly becomes much harder to immediately discount any conspiracy theory involving the corruption of political leaders in America. From destabilizing and interfering with foreign governments and constantly trying to overthrow their democracies because they might elect an unfavorable leader for the US’s economy, to conducting mind control experiments by using psychedelics and inflicting physical and sexual torture onto their subjects, to pretty much everything surrounding the Manhattan Project, it begins to get increasingly difficult to ignore some conspiracy theories.  

Let’s start with a conspiracy that’s gotten a lot of traction recently, Qanon. The conspiracy has been floating around the general space of the internet since Trump’s presidency started in 2016 and has grown increasingly more popular ever since. Qanon also encapsulates a lot of other conspiracy theories, everything from 9/11 truthers to flat earthers have a seat at the table. Figuring out who the “they” are in Qanon is a bit of a tricky task, but as is the case with most right-wing conspiracy theories, “they” usually ends up being liberals (or the entire Democratic party), the LGBT+ community[10], and Jewish people. Members of the Democratic party are often center stage, though let it be known any Qanon believer is always ready to bring in other enemies of the conspiracy. I’m not sure there’s a conspiracy theory with stakes as high as Qanon, because if you aren’t already aware, a big focus of this conspiracy theory involves the conviction that America is controlled by the wealthy Liberal Hollywood Democratic elite, all of which are also involved in a satanic cult that routinely engages in blood libel and sacrifice, and they also organize child torture and sex-trafficking operations. Belief in Qanon means fighting a war against a supposed definite group of people responsible for all the ills of society, and it just so happens the people involved were already people a majority of Qanon believers were inclined to already have negative feelings towards.   

I transparently think Qanon is one of the most unhinged conspiracies that exists in the modern day, and the fact that a conspiracy theory of this magnitude has resonated with a shockingly large part of the country, some of which are members of United States government, it sets an uncomfortable precedent for the future of American politics. However, I bring it up because one of the small kernels of truth that Qanon pulls from is… well…[11]  

I referenced MKUltra earlier, the infamous project documenting the illegal experimentation done on civilians by the CIA. Allegedly, there was another mind control program part of MKUltra called Project Monarch, though this project does not hold the same legitimacy and evidence that MKUltra does, as most of the evidence comes directly from the survivors. Alleged survivors of Project Monarch describe that through the use of psychedelics and hypnosis, they were often conditioned and sexually assaulted from an incredibly young age in order to participate in a wider ring of international pedophilia. Further still, supposedly the project still stands today and involves hundreds if not thousands of other children.  

Many were still uninclined to accept the validity of this conspiracy theory, which is essentially a bipartisan take on Qanon’s wider narrative. Some survivors had YouTube channels and would post videos about their experiences, detailing the secluded islands where the acts took place. And though there wasn’t any concrete proof anyone could point to supporting these claims, it had just enough legitimacy in falling under MKUltra that I couldn’t bring myself to discount it.  

And then a year or so later, the funniest thing happened. Jeffrey Epstein, a man with numerous connections to some of the most influential people in the world, including numerous politicians, was convicted of numerous charges of pedophilia and child sex trafficking. Suddenly, the pedophile island and Lolita express that the survivors of Project Monarch detailed were… substantiated. Claims of politicians and wealthy eccentrics being involved in pedophilia were substantiated. Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence came when Jeffrey Epstein managed to kill himself in jail, the camera just-so happened to also malfunction, and the guards who were supposed to check up on him also left him alone for upwards of 3 hours. To me and many others, this simply reeked of conspiracy, and the mainstream narrative of believing that Jeffrey Epstein just happened to kill himself before further parties involved could be fully implicated[12]… I’m really not sure what else I’m supposed to believe here, because the idea that he just killed himself really doesn’t do it for me. And suddenly having substantial, not bulletproof but substantial evidence supporting the claims made by survivors of Project Monarch… well, is it really that hard to believe that with enough money and power comes the ability to get away with any deed, no matter how morally reprehensible? If the government can convince our population that a nuclear bomb was the only way to stop World War 2, that killing tens of thousands of innocent lives was the morally correct course of action, truly, what aren’t they capable of?  

V: Departure 

So, do you feel like everyone is working against you? Do you feel like “they” are plotting your downfall, that “they” would love nothing more than to see you and all the ones you love suffering for “their” own amusement? Well, I can’t tell you what you do or don’t believe, but you probably shouldn’t let something like that become your entire belief system. Regardless of the validity behind any given conspiracy, there are still those who take these ideas to the absolute extreme and remain convicted in these grander stories about how the world works. An infinite amount of uncertainties surrounds existing in the modern world, and from that there will always be those who want to profit off of the confusion and spin a false narrative in the process. You will find absolutely no shortage of every Morpheus who claims to sell the redpill[13], liberation, and freedom from the system, when in reality all they want to do is profit off of people’s fears and deep-seeded frustration with their preconceived “ills” of the world. However, there’s a reason why conspiracy theories are so pervasive, and why they might even be right in some instances. Truth is often times stranger than fiction, and perhaps conspiracy theories believe that in some way the strangeness of their truth inherently gives it legitimacy. Ultimately, regardless of whatever secret societies may or may not exist, conspiracy theories sure aren’t going away anytime soon.  

Or maybe that’s what they want you to think.  

VI: Gathered Intel  

Albarracin, D., Albarracin, J., Chan, M., & Jamieson, K. (2021). Influences of Media and Anxiety in a Psychological and Sociopolitical Context. In Creating Conspiracy Beliefs: How Our Thoughts Are Shaped. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108990936.009  

van Prooijen, J. W., & Douglas, K. M. (2018). Belief in conspiracy theories: Basic principles of an emerging research domain. European journal of social psychology, 48(7), 897–908. 

  Douglas, K. M., Sutton, R. M., & Cichocka, A. (2017). The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(6), 538–542. 

The Week. (2015). A Brief History of Conspiracy Theories. Future PLC.  

  van Prooijen, J.-W., & Douglas, K. M. (2017). Conspiracy theories as part of history: The role of societal crisis situations. Memory Studies, 10(3), 323–333. 

Sheffield, R. (2019, October 11). ‘Paul Is Dead’: The Bizarre Story of Music’s Most Notorious Conspiracy Theory. In The Rolling Stone. Retrieved from  

[1] I hope you like references to The Matrix. 

[2] My therapist does more than enough questioning herself and you need not burden yourself with the task. 

[3] Spoiler alert: it’s usually none at all.  

[4] I’ve actually only worn a tinfoil hat twice in my life. Neither of which were actually related to being concerned with aliens reading my thoughts, or 5G radiation, or whatever reason people actually wear tinfoil hats.  

[5] In my experience these groups heavily overlap in their own right. I don’t think there’s that many Bigfoot hunters that don’t also believe in at least one of the conspiracies involving the US government.  

[6] An infamous example of this is in Behind the Curve, where flat earthers find not one but two ways to conduct scientific experiments to prove the earth is flat. One of these experiments involved spending $20,000 I should add. They both ended up proving that the earth was curved or had properties you could only observe through it being round, and instead of admitting their hypothesis was wrong, they waffled about how they couldn’t be sure what the results meant, and that they still knew they were right in their hearts. Some flat earthers will also respond to scientific experiments proving the curve of the earth with a “you did something wrong, pray about it and try again”, or insisting celestial or divine interference in the cosmos explains the results.  

[7] The line often attributed to being “I buried Paul” is actually the phrase “cranberry sauce” being misheard. Personally, I think this begs a greater question as to why John Lennon brought up cranberries in a song about strawberry fields.  

[8] Supposedly, Ringo is the gravedigger, Paul is the corpse, Harrison is merely attending the funeral, and John is the priest. Most of this is inferred because Paul McCartney isn’t wearing shoes, and some believe this is a nod to some cultures burying their dead barefoot.  

[9] It’s believed the look-alike who replaced Paul McCartney was previously named William Campbell.  

[10] There’s been significant eye on the transgender community specifically in recent years, and an entire conspiracy involving “transvestigators” who swear they can prove every celebrity is part of the evil transgender cult. I know this cult doesn’t exist because I haven’t gotten my invitation.  

[11] This is where the essay stops being fun.  

[12] I actually have full conviction that hitmen from Trump, Clinton, and other involved members ended up running into each other and had to draw straws on who actually had to do the deed.  

[13] I would also like to mention for those unaware, that the story of The Matrix was made by two transwomen as a direct metaphor for their transition. The redpill is supposed to be estrogen medication, and itself an allegory for accepting oneself for who they are in the face of a “matrix” of oppressive forces. The irony of bigots co-opting this phrase and adopting it to peddle their endless surge of conspiratorial content is utterly suffocating. 

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