The Business Of Conspiracy Theories

By Greg McFarlane | October 22, 2012 AAA

Freemasons cut the brakes on Princess Diana's Mercedes. Scientists at Area 51 have successfully reverse-engineered an interstellar spacecraft. And there's a fully-functional subterranean city underneath Washington, D.C., ready for the president and U.S. Congress to relocate to, should the Elders of Zion authorize their Beijing subsidiary to launch an ICBM first strike. If you believe that, or at least find any of it plausible, congratulations. You might be susceptible to being exploited for financial gain, which is exactly what they want you to think.

Conspiracy theories have probably been around for centuries, but it's only recently that the dissemination of the unverifiable has become an industry unto itself. While publicizing secrets to expose corruption and hypocrisy is a laudable goal, some conspiracy theorists don't seem all that concerned with the veracity of what they claim. If their fanciful theories and loaded questions can translate into money, all the better.

Conspiracy Theory Peddlers
The most "mainstream" conspiracy theory peddler operating today doesn't necessarily fit the stereotype of broadcasting via shortwave radio from an underground bunker. Quite the contrary. He's a former governor, and a speculative future presidential candidate. He also spent six years as an employee of the same federal government that he currently rails against - though granted, that time was spent in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy's Underwater Demolition Team, predecessor of the SEALs.

That'd be Jesse Ventura. The erstwhile non-partisan former chief executive of Minnesota is the most recognizable face of an industry committed to setting the record straight about such calamities as the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 and 9/11, even though the record as it stands is as straight as it'll ever be. (Note: Muslim terrorists, and not the White House, were responsible for the World Trade Center attacks). Ventura has written seven books since entering (and then exiting) politics, and as time has progressed, the book titles have gotten more provocative and shocking. His first book, written while in office, is subtitled "Reworking The Body Politic From The Bottom Up." More recent titles include "63 Documents The Government Doesn't Want You To Read" and "DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODicans."

Does Ventura make money from his books that threaten to uncover the truth about … well, almost everything? Ventura would be financially successful even if he'd never written a word, enjoying lucrative careers as both a professional wrestler and wrestling commentator (not to mention a brief film career in the 1980s). While it's easy for any famous person who wants one to get a publishing deal, especially when that famous person has plenty to say, the politically unaligned Ventura showed his independent streak by signing with an unheralded publisher.

Ventura's books have sold in the thousands. At an average list price of $15, and assuming standard author royalties of 15% for such a relatively successful print run, and then assuming that Ventura gets $3 for every $2 that his less famous coauthor receives, that's still a ton of money. That goes relatively far in Ventura's adopted home of rural Baja California, Mexico, but it isn't enough money to change an already affluent man's life.

Ventura's auditory counterpart is Alex Jones, host of an eponymous radio show that purports to tell the unvarnished truth about everything from the concentration camps that President Obama might be preparing to hold us captive in to the hypocrisy of the Federal Reserve. Jones's show is broadcast on 60 stations, distributed by a network far smaller than industry titans such as CBS Radio and Premiere. Jones boasts almost 300,000 YouTube subscribers, but that's hardly a financial indicator. (Rush Limbaugh, the most successful terrestrial radio personality in the nation, has no YouTube subscribers.) However, rough estimates put Jones's net worth at a not unsubstantial $5 million. Which is a lot of logo coffee mugs and t-shirts. Jones is a household name only in selected (and well-fortified) households, but his devotees are ardent in their fandom.

Exploiting Paranoia
That being said, is exploiting the paranoia of the misinformed a path to riches? Signs point to "No." For every brilliant self-promoter such as Ventura or Jones, there are dozens if not hundreds of others whose oddball theories about the New World Order and the Kennedy Assassination not only don't stand up to scrutiny, but can't be monetized. Concocting alternate realities almost never translates into wealth, a few notable exceptions notwithstanding. But tell that to the independent blogger who's convinced that his airtight explanation of how aliens brought the AIDS virus to Earth is being silenced by the media-industrial complex. To generalize, the same minds that consider fluoridated water to be a Communist plot are going to be similarly gullible regarding the success of for-profit endeavors.

The Bottom Line
It's fun and flattering to assume that you're privy to knowledge that the general population is not. And of course, it's not exactly news that politicians and their mouthpieces lie to us at least as often as they tell the truth. But if being among the few enlightened enough to know "the truth" is a path to making lots of money, the conspiracy theorists are hiding their riches awfully convincingly. I guess it's still the consumer's responsibility to recognize these scams, and stop them in their tracks if they want to avoid falling (and paying) for these deceiving lies themselves. Some are more obvious than others, however, and some are more entertaining than others, too.

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