Richard Belzer. UFOs, JFK and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to be Crazy to Believe. Ballantine Books, 1999.
Al Hidell, and Joan D'Arc (compilers). The Conspiracy Reader: From the Deaths of JFK and John Lennon to Government Sponsored Alien Cover-ups. Citadel Press, 1999.
David Southwell, and Sean Twist. Conspiracy Theories. Carlton Books, 1999.
Robert Anton Wilson, and Miriam Joan Hill. Everything is Under Control: Conspiracies, Cults and Cover-ups. Pan Books, 1999.
As the century lurches towards some kind of conclusion, and more and more people feel alienated from the institutions of power, grand conspiracy theories are on the rise. Not only that, they are, as these books I think testify, becoming fashion statements, and sources of entertainment. Life might seen to imitate the video game.
The great home of the conspiracy theory is the United States, thus three of these books are written there, and the title by Southwell and Twist relies chiefly on US conspiracy theories. Many reflect the fusion paranoia of recent decades, the left's fears of a great reactionary plot behind the death of JFK and the machinations of J Edgar Hoover, interacting with the right's fears of a New World Order run by those old favourites the Illuminati, the Masons, the bankers (left and right can agree on all of these), the repressive establishment, the black helicopters, and dreams of crashed flying saucers and secret technologies
There are common themes behind many of them, the hero, whether JFK, his brother, or John Lennon, could not be slain by a random act of self promotion or revenge, but must have been laid low by the incarnate forces of cosmic evil, the powers and principalities of the world, perhaps because the victim saw through the maya of history to the clockwork beyond. Or the hero is not dead, but has absconded from his fickle followers. There is the fear that They know something but won't tell me (Mummy and Daddy know where babies come from), or the hope that behind the random chaos of events someone, even if its a malignant someone, is in control. Everything is under control, or the darker fantasy, that all the pain, heartache and suffering in the world is caused by them, the terrible others, and if only they could be swept from the world, all would be well
There are of course, authorised conspiracy theories, wild fantasies about MJ12, crashed flying saucers, and the Masons being behind the Jack the Ripper murders have excitement, more down to earth ones are either too complex, requiring some background knowledge, or too sensitive to publish. Real conspiracies tend to derive either from a simple desire to hang onto the good life at any cost, or the consequences of adhering to the maxim 'My enemy's enemy is my friend, my enemies friend is my enemy'.
This leads to the conclusion that as my enemy is so terrible, indeed the incarnation of cosmic evil, I am entitled to do absolutely anything to thwart him, and as my enemy's enemies are often just as nasty, if not far nastier than my enemy himself, this means some pretty strange and unsavoury bedfellows. Better not let the naive, idealistic voters know anything about this, they might get the vapours. One conspiracy theory which you won't read in any of these or similar books, based on the same maxim, is the one in which the CIA and MI5 set up the Provisional IRA, because 'green' Irish Republicans were the enemy of the 'red' Official IRA
Of the books listed here, I would recommend Robert Anton Wilson's. There is real scholarship as well as mordent wit and a healthy scepticism in his dictionary of conspiracy theories. The entries also have bibliographies and lists of web sites, though I would advise you to access some of them in the privacy of your own home, and not in your local library, which is likely to have rules about that sort of thing. The entries in Southwell/Twist are longer, and follow a standard format, but I have to say I found that format rather tedious, and also I really don't think they know very much about what they are writing about in places
If you want to read some of the wilder shores of conspiracy theorising 'in their own words' then The Conspiracy Reader gives you some of the juicier items from Paranoia magazine, which the compilers edit. I couldn't possibly say whether they actually believe any of it, which also goes for Belzer, who played Detective Munch in the TV series Homicide, and is apparently one of those angry stand-up comics.
His book is basically a derivative Kennedy assassination book, padded out with a load of crap on crashed flying saucers and the like. This is very much through the eyes of Jim Marrs. If Belzer does believe it then he, a left wing Jew, is at one point endorsing the late Jim 'Black Helicopters' Keith, darling of the radical-right militias. For us Brits, I suppose this would be like Mark Thomas quoting, with approval, David Icke. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, first published online 2000.