The conspiracy trap

Smoke billows at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The horror of the day and the bravery of those at Pearl should be what we remember, not conspiracy theories. National Park Service image found on Los Angeles Times.

Smoke billows at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The horror of the day and the bravery of those at Pearl should be what we remember, not conspiracy theories.
National Park Service image found on Los Angeles Times.

On the 7th of December 75 years ago, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, killing 2,403, crippling the Pacific fleet, and destroying 188 planes. The following day, the U.S. declared war on Japan.

Today we remember those who were there . . . well, some of us do. My grandpa wasn’t there at the time, but was there a time or two during the war while he was on a hospital ship in the Pacific. I can only imagine what those who were there that morning went through.

You would think this tragic event would be treated respectfully. But then, that wouldn’t be the new America, would it? Silly people.

This is one I remember from a high school history class; the dice in the ad that appeared in The New Yorker a few weeks before Pearl Harbor were believed (after the fact, of course) to indicate the time and date of the attack. But no, it was just a dice game being advertised. Image found on Unexplained Mysteries.

This is one I remember from a high school history class; the dice in the ad that appeared in The New Yorker a few weeks before Pearl Harbor were believed (after the fact, of course) to indicate the time and date of the attack. But no, it was just a dice game being advertised.
Image found on Unexplained Mysteries.

Instead, conspiracy theories have surrounded Pearl Harbor and other deadly events for years, and now that we have a president-elect who seems to buy wholeheartedly into such things, I don’t see logic returning any time soon. (Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post calls Donald Trump “the Old Faithful of fake news.” I wish I’d thought of that one.)

Hindsight lets us see all sorts of things, and for the conspiracy-minded, any stray bit of coincidence becomes proof of conspiracy.  Countless stories maintain that President Roosevelt knew the attack was coming, that Winston Churchill knew of the attack beforehand but withheld that information from FDR so he could pull the U.S. into the war in Europe, or that FDR provoked the attack in order to get Hitler to declare war on the U.S.

Was FDR an evil mastermind? Somehow I doubt it. Image found on The Unfolding Journey.

Was FDR an evil mastermind? Somehow I doubt it.
Image found on The Unfolding Journey.

Even innocuous documents have been interpreted as proof that FDR knew all about the attack far in advance. The McCollum memo, for instance, which contained a containment strategy for Japan, was instead an example of hypothetical war plans just about any nation would make in case war happened (in most cases it wouldn’t); there is no evidence the October 1940 memo (14 months before the attack) ever even got to FDR.

FDR delivers the "Day of Infamy" speech before Congress on Dec. 8, 1941. Image found on National Archives.

FDR delivers the “Day of Infamy” speech before Congress on Dec. 8, 1941.
Image found on National Archives.

Not that it matters to those who want to believe in an all-powerful cabal headed by—depending on your favorite theory—the UN, the Rothschilds, the freemasons, reptilian aliens, etc. Nor does it matter that national intelligence and government information-gathering and sharing in the U.S. at the time was dismal, leading to an overhaul of the intelligence community once the war was over.

Rob Citino of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans told NPR of the Pearl Harbor theories, “It’s ridiculous, but it’s evergreen. It never stops. My students, over 30 years—there’d always be someone in class [who’d say], ‘Roosevelt knew all about it.'”

This isn’t to say that conspiracies don’t exist, because they do. They’re just very rarely of the magnitude some people seem to believe, because the more moving parts there are, the harder it is to hold a conspiracy together.

D.C. police secure the area around Comet Ping Pong and other businesses on Sunday. The lockdown reportedly stayed in place for several hours after the arrest was made. Image by Sarah L. Voisin, Washington Post.

D.C. police secure the area around Comet Ping Pong and other businesses on Sunday. The lockdown reportedly stayed in place for several hours after the arrest was made.
Image by Sarah L. Voisin, Washington Post.

One of the dangers of believing conspiracy theories with no evidence was amply demonstrated Sunday when a North Carolina man was arrested after police say he walked into the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., with a rifle, shot off an inside lock, then pointed the gun in the direction of an employee. Luckily there were no injuries, but Edgar Welch told police he went to the restaurant to “self-investigate” the pizzagate conspiracy and rescue any children held there. Apparently that investigation needed three guns (reportedly two others were found), though police say he’s now satisfied no children were being harmed.

And just what is pizzagate? That would be the false allegation that Hillary and Bill Clinton, along with campaign manager John Podesta and restaurant owner James Alefantis, have been operating a pedophilia ring out of Comet Ping Pong, supposedly in tunnels under the restaurant.

That "hair" provides ample camouflage. Editorial cartoon by Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle (he's still the best at drawing crazies!).

That “hair” provides ample camouflage.
Editorial cartoon by Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle (he’s still the best at drawing crazies!).

Evidence? Nothing so far except strained suppositions concocted out of Podesta’s leaked emails, coincidence and a lot of imagination, but the rumors by themselves have prompted death threats against Alefantis and his employees. Businesses in the area have also been threatened by people who believe pizzagate is real. And now this. Though to hear some tell it Monday, the incident Sunday didn’t really happen and was only a “false flag” … you know, like Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and others. Because you know those weren’t real either, right?

Alefantis posted a lengthy note on Facebook Sunday thanking law enforcement and the restaurant’s customers, as well as addressing the rumors that appear to have been started by a white supremacy Twitter account and spread profusely by 4chan, Reddit and Facebook users:

The community has rallied around Comet Ping Pong and, more importantly, the truth. Image by Judy Taub, WTOP.

The community has rallied around Comet Ping Pong and, more importantly, the truth.
Image by Judy Taub, WTOP.

“What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.”

But as with the theories that have been repeatedly debunked about Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and others, there will be people who will never stop believing that the D.C. pizza place with a funny name is a haven for pedophiles. Because it’s much easier to blindly believe than to seek the truth.

It’s like we expect people to use that gray matter in their skulls. Crazy!


The kitten spent a lot of time climbing up to Steph's shoulder, and loved her hair.

Stephanie a few years back when she brought in a rescue kitten only a few days old (we called the kitten Scoop).

Finally today, a note of thanks to the Voices page’s longtime assistant, Stephanie Brown, who due to a reshuffling is no longer in our department (though still at the paper). Stephanie has been a rock and a wonder, and I’ll truly miss seeing my friend and fellow cat-lover every day.

For the Voices page, that means more work, and a plea to readers: Since I am now a one-woman operation, the rules for letters may have to change a little; I’ll figure that out as we go along. I will, though, not discontinue fact-checking, which means I may have to ask you for your sources if I can’t find something. Yeah, I know, horribly mean … but exceedingly necessary if there is any hope to stem, even slightly, the spread of fake news (like pizzagate).

For now, some reminders: We can only print letters from Arkansas residents, one per reader every 30 days, and no longer than 250-300 words. Please remember to include valid contact information and your name so I can reach you by email and/or phone (email frequent fliers will probably be contacted mostly by email). For those still sending in letters by snail mail, please, please, please write as legibly as possible as my skills at deciphering chicken-scratch aren’t as acute as Stephanie’s. And whether by email or snail mail, please, no missives in all capital letters.

Most of all, be patient and polite, as it will take more time to produce the page now. And I’m not nearly as patient as Stephanie, especially with bullies.

Well, unless you’re furry and cute and named Luke.

That's quite enough of that. Show yourself out.

I can bully my mom anytime I want. The key is having a fuzzy butt, fluffy tail and belly, and a pink nose.

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22 thoughts on “The conspiracy trap

  1. Another Pearl Harbor rumor (not really a conspiracy) was that we broke the Japanese code but too late to get all the ships out of Pearl–though the three carriers put to sea. Not preparing for the coming attack kept the Japanese from knowing we had broken their code.

    I’ve also been told (I lived in Hawaii for 12 years) that one of the American servicemen was shooting at the attacking fighter planes with a rifle and actually shot one down. For the rest of the war, our troops were trained in how to shoot down fighters with a rifle although there is no record of anyone succeeding.

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  2. I am going to share your column on my Facebook page today as a public service. The pizzagate conspiracy horrifies me because so many people believe this ridiculous “story.”

    Also, I’m so sorry that Stephanie has been moved to another department at the paper. Are you going to be able to hire another assistant? I can’t imagine doing your job with no assistant. Yikes! BTW – what happened to Scoop? I love the photo.

    Tell Luke to go easy on you for a few days.

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    • Thanks, Sarah!

      Eugene Robinson’s column really spoke for me, especially in his fear that more incidents like this are coming (and that Trump needs to take responsibility for the sort of thing he’s spawned). Even a cursory look at the rumor shows the illogic of it, but these people want to believe it, and that’s terrifying.

      Steph’s position was eliminated, so there’ll be no assistant. If I’m lucky, in time they’ll decide I can have someone for at least a few hours a day … hopefully before the next election. 😦

      The last we heard about Scoop, he’d been adopted, but I don’t know anything else, unfortunately. I hope he’s fat and happy now!

      Luke’s trying to decide if he wants to take care of me today or murder me. I’m hoping he goes for the former. 😉

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      • Robinson’s article scares the living daylights out of me. I’m fairly certain among many of my Facebook friends, few stop to fact check. My usual MO is to scroll through and ignore, partly because I don’t have time to refute all of the garbage people share. I’m going to try to be more proactive and call out blatant lies. That could be a full-time job, though.

        Speaking of jobs, I’m so sorry that Stephanie’s position was eliminated. I think you’re going to need someone sooner than the next election. The upcoming Arkansas legislative session is already making my stomach hurt.

        At least you have a precious kitty to watch out for you. I spent this evening alternating between fact checking an academic article and throwing balls for Charlie to chase.

        Thanks again for being a rational voice in a sea of crazy people.

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      • Every once in a while I’ll comment on the Post or Google+ or our site when I see fake stories being spread, but there’s only so much one person can do, unfortunately. We shouldn’t stop calling people out, though … it won’t stop them from believing them, but hopefully thinking people will realize they’re peddling crap.

        I hate the ledge session with a purple passion … the presence of people like Jason Rapert is ulcer-inducing, so I’m not at all looking forward to the session next month.

        When I was off today, I went by Target before picking up my prescriptions and got the boy his Christmas toys … he’s gonna be a happy kitty. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • The upcoming ledge session already has me in a tizzy. Rapert is one of the reasons, but I’m also ticked off at Rep. Hendren’s bill to ban cell phones in schools. Let the schools decide their policy. Sheesh. Central High seems to have an effective policy and is in year two of allowing kids to keep their cell phones with them.

        I will continue to be diligent in calling out fake stories on social media. That could be a full time job, though.

        What toys did you get for Luke for Christmas? I’d like to get Charlie a yurt. He likes to hide out.

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      • There are several of the pre-filed bills that are reason to worry … the ledge session will NOT be fun by an stretch of the imagination, that’s for sure. 😦

        Luke’s got balls, catnip mice, and a kicker toy, so he’ll be happy for at least an hour. 😉 If you get Charlie a yurt, you might have to get him an iPad, too, to get the full effect of spoilage. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I wondered if you had seen the cat in the yurt with the iPad. I looked at cat teepees and yurts online, and they are a bit pricey. Charlie may have to settle for occasional blanket forts.

        Luke’s toys sound great! Charlie loves catnip mice and balls. Yesterday he entertained himself with a piece of plastic he found on the floor. Luke and Charlie sound like they are brothers from another mother.

        Lately I’ve been playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I learned it right after the election, when I heard he died. Then, Kate McKinnon played it for the SNL cold open. I knew we were kindred spirits. It’s a therapeutic song to play these days.

        I’m keeping my eye on the pre-filed bills and also happen to go to church with my state rep. I won’t talk to him about politics at church, but maybe I can make an appointment to talk to him when the session starts.

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      • I got the boy a cloth tunnel once, and he absolutely loved it … for a few months. Then it was just this thing taking up space. But Luke can be entertained by weird things, just like Charlie. 😉

        Hallelujah is a great song … I listened to it pretty much on a loop for a week after Cohen died. It is indeed very therapeutic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Charlie has a tunnel too. I pull it out occasionally, and he acts like he has a new toy. It’s hard to keep an “only cat” entertained.

        I don’t play much by ear, but Hallelujah is easy to play with just a chord chart. If only I could sing….

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  3. The Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto supposedly tried to warn the government and his countrymen not to attack the United States but they did not listen to him. Yamamoto was a student at Harvard University for two years as well as serving as the Naval Attache at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. for a few years. Yamamoto and his wife traveled around the United States while they were here and they became well acquainted with this country.

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  4. Have any of you ever visited Pearl Harbor? I have–in November 2007. I recommend that you go there if you can. You can watch a presentation about the attack before you ride the boat out to the USS Arizona Memorial. You can see the ship in the water underneath the Memorial.

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  5. At my former sister-in-law’s church, we do the Lincoln Brewster version of “Hallelujah” by Cohen for the services. I used to have a tomcat who loved to chase marbles. The living room had a wooden floor and I would start the marble rolling across the floor. The cat would chase the marble all around the room and bat at it with his paws.

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    • That sounds gorgeous; I’ve heard some really good versions of “Hallelujah,” and I’ve always thought it would sound great in a church.

      When Luke’s claws are too long, he can never sneak up on me because of all the clacking against the wood floors. Ticks him off mightily. 😉

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