How to rescue someone from a conspiracy theory

Charles: So what’s the first thing you did?

Colin: The first thing I would do is say, “Yes, I absolutely believe that there are conspiracies.” You know, Nixon and Iran-Contra. So I agree, because who knows? But once you start to understand how actual conspiracies are unmasked you start to see certain commonalities. Once there’s a hint of a conspiracy, the journalists are falling all over each other to break the story. Things come out. The Boston Globe broke the Spotlight story about the Catholic Church in January and I think that Cardinal Law had resigned by November of that year.

[So by pointing this out] what I was trying to do was amp up my friend’s own cognitive dissonance so that the buy-in for believing this got harder and harder for him. I even went so far as to say, “If it is true and you wanted to blow the lid off of it, here’s where I would look.” In this case, this was a bunch of powerful people in Oklahoma City in the 1980s. I said, “Go talk to journalists in the area at the time, see what they think.”

My favorite version of this is Bob Lazar, the guy who first claimed that Area 51 in Nevada was where the government kept the UFOs. Lazar claimed to work there and to have seen these aliens, where the aliens pulled out their laser guns and liquidated like 43 scientists or something like that. Responsible journalists were basically like, “Where are the obituaries to these dead scientists? Where are these dead scientist families protesting the veil of secrecy around their dead loved ones?” Lazar had to come back and say the government goes around to orphanages all around the country and finds young children who have no family, and then they raise them up to be scientists who work on these alien projects so that when they get killed, nobody misses them. There’s this kind of increasingly elaborate series of justifications.