By Nick Pope
This article was written for 20th Century Fox, who commissioned Nick Pope to write a number of such features as part of the PR campaign for The X-Files: I Want To Believe.
In June 1947 America had been gripped by the mystery of what the media dubbed "flying saucers". Then, on or around 2nd July 1947 something crashed in the New Mexico desert. It was found by a rancher who notified the nearest military base at Roswell. Personnel from Roswell recovered the wreckage and a few days later themselves let it be known, through the media, that they had recovered a "flying disc". Within 24 hours a statement was put out contradicting this and stating that the object had been a weather balloon. The story virtually disappeared for 30 years until in the late Seventies, one of the Army officers involved in the incident, Major Jesse Marcel, began to tell his story to UFO researchers. In 1994 the United States Air Force was forced to launch an investigation into these events. Their report concluded that the incident had involved the crash of a high altitude balloon being used in top secret tests to detect evidence of Soviet nuclear tests. They later concluded that any bodies seen were crash test dummies being used in high altitude parachute experiments. In a final twist, the public relations officer at Roswell who first gave the story to the media died in 2004 and left a signed affidavit saying that the object really had been an alien spacecraft.
On 23 November 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder but was himself killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby before he could be tried. The US government set up an official inquiry into the incident, known as the Warren Commission. The Warren Commission reported in 1964 and concluded that Kennedy had indeed been killed by a lone gunman, acting without assistance from any other party. Conspiracy theorists dispute this and suggest that others must have played a part. They claim that the assassination was either a plot by the Soviets, by rogue elements in the US government itself, or by the mafia - and in particular mob boss Sam Giancana, with whom JFK shared a mistress. In a bizarre twist, some people have even suggested that Kennedy was killed because he was about to reveal the truth about the UFO crash at Roswell. It is further suggested that JFK talked to another of his mistresses, Marilyn Monroe, about Roswell, and that this led to her being killed. Marilyn Monroe was found dead, of a suspected drug overdose, in 1962. Many of the conspiracy theories about JFK's death point to witnesses who recall seeing a second gunman on the so-called grassy knoll.
The Moon Landings
On 20th July 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, in the successful culmination to the Apollo 11 mission. Since then, many conspiracy theorists have questioned whether this and subsequent moon landings ever took place and have suggested that the entire operation was a colossal deception, with the landings being filmed in a studio. Conspiracy theorists claim that President Kennedy had committed America to a moon landing by the end of the decade and suggest that it subsequently became clear that this was too difficult, dangerous and expensive to achieve. They say that because this had become a race against the Soviets, who had put the first man into space, it was decided America must not be seen to fail and that the moon landings would have to be faked. Conspiracy theorists point to supposed anomalies in some of the photographs, including the absence of any stars and the fact that the flag appears to be waving - impossible in zero gravity. Opponents of these theories point to the fact that the moon rocks brought back have been assessed by geologists as being different to terrestrial rocks and highlight the fact that the astronauts left a reflector on the moon that scientists can fire a laser at, with the beam bouncing back to Earth.
When Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997 this quickly became one of the first conspiracies of the internet age, with people claiming she had been murdered by the Establishment. Many people suggested that she had been killed because she and her lover, Dodi Al Fayed, had planned to marry. Others suggested Diana was pregnant and that the Establishment had them killed to prevent a Muslim attaining a powerful position of influence within the UK. It's known that they purchased a ring from a Paris jewellers, but it's still disputed as to whether or not this was an engagement ring. Ex-MI6 officer and whistleblower Richard Tomlinson claims an assassination plan involving shining a laser at the driver of the car may have been a factor here. Conspiracy theorists point to the fact that a white Fiat Uno seen by numerous witnesses has never been traced. Others say that the police inquiries revealed the truth and say that a combination of a drunk driver, a high speed chase and people not wearing seatbelts is the explanation for these events.
This was the first truly modern conspiracy theory of the internet age and suggestions that all was not as it seemed appeared online within hours of the tragic events of that day. Many people instantly doubted that 19 hijackers led by a terrorist based in a cave in Afghanistan could have launched such devastating and successful attacks on the most powerful nation on Earth. Conspiracy theorists suggested that the hijackers had received assistance from the US government itself, looking for a "New Pearl Harbour" that they believed would lead to the Patriot Act, Guantanomo Bay and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many conspiracy theorists point to the collapse of Building 7, the collapse of which they state was announced by the BBC before the building actually came down. Conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 are probably the most prevalent conspiracy theories on the internet today, but the 9/11 Commission Report concluded that the attacks were indeed the work of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
The chemtrail controversy surfaced in the mid-Nineties. It's suggested that some of the contrails from aircraft aren't normal vapour trails, but involve chemicals that are being released deliberately for sinister purposes. Some people have claimed that these chemicals are part of ongoing efforts to control the weather, while others have suggested that this is part of a campaign to drug people and control their behaviour. Believers claim that there has been a massive increase in these trails over the last few decades, but sceptics point out that there are more flights now than in the past. The United States Air Force has a section of its website devoted to contrails, which includes a denial of what they refer to as "the Chemtrail hoax".
North American Union
This is one of the fastest-growing conspiracy theories on the internet. Many people believe that a secret plan has been hatched to merge of America, Canada and Mexico into a new superpower. Some people suggest this is a response to the growing economic power and influence of the European Union. Others claim this will be the first step in a wider plot to establish a New World Order with one world government. It's claimed that a new currency, the Amero, will be developed. Mock-ups of these have been circulated widely on the internet. Like many conspiracy theories, these claims have their roots in fact, because there are plans to establish closer economic and social ties between the three countries.
Many people believed that the prophet Nostradamus predicted that the world would end in 1999. When we got through this date unscathed, attention turned to 2012, because this marks the end of the Mayan calendar. A number of different predictions are being linked to this latest end of the world prophesy. Some people believe that destruction will be brought by the return of a mysterious 10th planet, dubbed Planet X, or Nibiru. Others believe that the flipping of the Earth's magnetic field - predicted by scientists and known to have happened many times before - may have a part to play. Some New Age people believe this will not be the literal end of the world, but a shift in human consciousness, linked with the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
All around the world, bees - particularly honeybees - seem to be disappearing. Beekeepers noticed it first, but ordinary people are now waking up to the fact that there are fewer bees around. What's going on? What started out as an internet conspiracy is now beginning to leak out into the mainstream media, with scientific phrases such as "Colony Collapse Disorder" being used. Some people blame a new virus or pesticide, while others suggest that radiation from mobile phones is interfering with bees' navigation systems. Much of our agriculture is based on pollination undertaken by bees, so the implications of bee disappearance is massive, with governments now spending millions of pounds on research. The bee disappearance mystery has been referenced on shows such as Doctor Who.