"Totally coup, yo."

Annie Jacobsen opposes the kinds of conspiracy theories she started

Aug

09

by

It’s silly to believe they’re aliens… They’re clearly part of a Nazi/Communist alliance’s propaganda campaign!

If I were to write a BEAST editorial about how journalists these days are being too offensive to people of faith and spirituality, everyone who read it would rightfully think of me as a huge hypocrite. Or maybe they’d think I’d suffered some kind of brain injury. When you’ve written about faith issues in the way I have, you kind of forfeit your right to complain about people doing the same.

Similarly, if you write a book about Roswell and then promote it largely based on the final chapter which invents one of the most out-there conspiracy theories ever, you forfeit your right to complain about loony conspiracy theories. At least you should.

Apparently the NY Daily News doesn’t think so. Last Sunday they featured a mostly reasonable column by Annie Jacobsen about how America has become what she calls a conspiratocracy. It gives a crash course in the history of American conspiracy theories, and speculates as to why they’ve spread so rapidly recently.

There isn’t much with which to disagree in her piece, aside from that the subject she’s writing about is much too wide for a 450 word column. All of the conspiracy theories she mentions are definitely silly and deserving of increased mockery. But it’s definitely odd that Jacobsen would choose this as a topic given her recent past.

A few months ago, Jacobsen released a book about Area 51, the secretive military base which UFO believers claim is the headquarters of the government’s secret research on extraterrestrials and flying saucers. I have not read her book, but I did pay attention to how she promoted it, as authors do, in the media. Here she is on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but probably the most in-depth interview I heard was on NPR’s program Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I’ll get to that in a minute.

From what I’ve heard, most of the book is in the same vein as the NY Daily News column, rightfully debunking loony conspiracy theories about Area 51. But when you get to the last chapter, she introduces a bizarre conspiracy theory of her own to explain the 1947 Roswell incident which many believe to be a case of an alien spacecraft crashing in the New Mexico desert which was then quickly hushed up by the government. Here’s how she explained it to Terry Gross:

“The child-sized aviators in this craft [that crashed in New Mexico] were the result of a Soviet human experimentation program, and they had been made to look like aliens a la Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, and it was a warning shot over President Truman’s bow, so to speak. In 1947, when this would have originally happened, the Soviets did not yet have the nuclear bomb, and Stalin and Truman were locked in horns with one another, and Stalin couldn’t compete in nuclear weaponry yet, but he certainly could compete in the world of black propaganda — and that was his aim, according to my source. …

“What is firsthand information is that he worked with these bodies [of the pilots] and he was an eyewitness to the horror of seeing them and working with them. Where they actually came from is obviously the subject of debate. But if you look at the timeline with Josef Mengele, he left Auschwitz in January of 1945 and disappeared for a while, and the suggestion by the source is that Mengele had already cut his losses with the Third Reich at that point and was working with Stalin.”

So let’s count how many layers of absurdity we have here. The Soviets collaborated with the notorious Nazi Josef Mengele (1) in order to scare Americans by sending a flying saucer (2) across most of the continental US without detection until it crashed (3), presumably because it was piloted by mutated children disguised as aliens (4). And all of this is substantiated solely by one anonymous source speaking about something which allegedly happened over 60 years ago (5-infinity).

In that same interview, Jacobsen speculates that Mengele’s “child-sized aviators” were the subject of either surgical or genetic mutation. So the latter option would mean that Mengele rounded up people with odd genes in order to selectively breed them specifically for this program to be launched decades in the future in collaboration with the Russians. He must have had pretty amazing foresight in order to predict such an unlikely partnership.

Obviously this is all pretty ridiculous. If you have really low standards of evidence then it’s pretty easy to get away with this kind of “reporting” – all you have to do is find an old man far enough gone to make some kooky claims about having worked on this or that secret government project a lifetime ago, and you’ve got yourself a story. Make it the last chapter of your book and you’ll get on all the talk shows and sell lots of copies. It’s probably not a coincidence that “Con artist authors making up bullshit” doesn’t appear anywhere in Jacobsen’s explanation for why America’s become so obsessed with bullshit conspiracy theories lately. But it probably should be.

  • http://skepticalhumanities.com Bob

    I saw that! Hah! I wrote briefly about it on This Week in Conspiracy:

    http://skepticalhumanities.com/2011/08/10/this-week-in-conspiracy-8-aug-2011/

    RJB

  • Anthony

    Nothing like an uneasy alliance between villains. I guess this tends to appeal to the comic nerd in all of us.

  • super fun

    this reads like a harry turtledove novel. of course he prefaces his musings with what if.

    for example what if the south had acess to UZis during the civil war

    or what if hitler was really a time travelling re-incarnation of Galileo.

    how might these things influence history.

    but she claims it as a realistic theory, not fiction. good for her. good for her. she still has an imagination.

    so does anyone have a better theory?

    probably not, or are you just sticking with the old “spaceships landed here” bit?

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