40. The term “conspiracy theorist” was not made up by the FBI or CIA.

Another talking point of the conspiracy crow is that the CIA (or the FBI in some versions of the story) invented the term, “conspiracy theory” to make anyone who criticizes the “official story” look like they are nuts. Like so many things that conspiracists say, this simply isn’t true, and even some conspiracy true believers are willing to admit it, but they put a new spin on the lie and claim instead that the CIA popularized the term and/or made it into a negative one, where it had previously been positive.

A typical conspiracy theorist meme on the subject.

These tales derive from CIA Despatch 1035-960, which became public in 1976 thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. The original dispatch was sent in 1967 to field offices abroad, advising them on how to deal with conspiracy theorists and baseless allegations against President Johnson, the Warren Commission, and the entire US Government, regarding the assassination of President Kennedy. The CIA rightly feared the danger that such fake history could do, and recognized that some of it was being fueled by the Soviets, so they wanted to do anything they could to counteract this propaganda. In retrospect, the dispatch is really fairly mild and probably did little to turn the tide of public opinion anywhere in the globe, but today’s conspiracy theorists want to believe that it was a significant action on the part of the Intelligence Community, with far reaching effects.

To quote the only passage that directly uses the words “conspiracy theories” or “conspiracy theorists” together: “Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for counter and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.” A few things are clear from any fair reading of these sentences. 1) The CIA is by no means creating or introducing a new and unfamiliar term here; they are simply talking about, “conspiracy theories” and “conspiracy theorists,” who are already understood to be negative things. 2) The CIA is not calling for anyone to take any action that will popularize or weaponize these terms; they are simply using the terms correctly. 3) The CIA is not asking anyone to lie or push any false stories; they are simply asking their people to counter lies with facts.

The dispatch goes on to complain about conspiracy stories and theories that people want to believe in, despite the evidence, but it never does anything remotely sinister, and the mischaracterization of the dispatch by conspiracy theorists is yet another example of why you should not listen to them.

For the record, the terms conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists have always been used in a negative way, and they predate the creation of the CIA by many decades. The Oxford English Dictionary records the first usage in 1909, in an article from the American Historical Review, which stated: “The claim that Atchison was the originator of the repeal may be termed a recrudescence of the conspiracy theory first asserted by Colonel John A. Parker of Virginia in 1880.” Other sources have found even older uses off the concept, and it was never seen as a positive thing.

Some conspiracy theorists have given up on the phony CIA connection to these terms altogether and instead claimed that society, for some unknown reason, just doesn’t understand them.

Another popular conspiracy theorist meme.

To hear the poor, downtrodden conspiracy peddlers tell it, they are purveyors of truth, fighting the establishment and thinking for themselves. Sadly, as they see it, the rest of us are just to dumb or close-minded to understand and must needlessly disparage them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Selectively removing facts from their context, distorting, twisting, and even making up evidence to bolster a baseless position is not an act of critical thinking. Predetermining your conclusion and then focusing on those details that purport to prove it, is not how you find the truth. And reflexively attacking the, “official story,” simply because it is official (i.e. because government personnel, scientists, historians, and other professionals have concluded it to be true) is not the definition of open-mindedness.

Unlike public officials, who are accountable to one another and the general public, conspiracy theorists are accountable to no one, and they live up to that low standard. Anything they can successfully sell, to make a buck, or push, to advance a political or persona agenda, is fair game. And when you call them out on the crap they have thrown into the public discourse, they try to say they are being persecuted for their public service. Don’t fall for it, and don’t let them get away with it. If they were as great as they believe themselves to be, they wouldn’t fall for, or repeat, lies like, “The CIA coined the term ‘conspiracy theory’ to discredit critical thinkers.”


Return to the complete list of 55 reasons to accept that Oswald acted alone.

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