Conspiracy Theory

A conspiracy theory alleges a coordinated group is, or was, secretly working to commit illegal or wrongful actions, including attempting to hide the existence of the group and its activities. In notable cases these theories contrast what is represented by the mainstream explanation for historical or current events, as well as the evidence that supports it.

The term "conspiracy theory" may be a neutral descriptor for any conspiracy claim. To conspire means "to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end." However, conspiracy theory is also used to indicate a narrative genre that includes a broad selection of (not necessarily related) arguments for the existence of grand conspiracies.

The word "theory" is in this usage is informal as in "speculation" or "hypothesis" rather than scientific. Also, the term conspiracy is typically used to indicate powerful figures, often of the establishment, who are believed to be deceiving the population at large. Although some conspiracies are not actually theories, they are often labeled as such by the general populace.

The first recorded use of the phrase "conspiracy theory" dates from 1909. Originally it was a neutral term but during the political upheaval of the 1960s it acquired its current derogatory sense. It entered the supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary as late as 1997.

The term "conspiracy theory" is frequently used by scholars and in popular culture to identify secret military, banking, or political actions aimed at stealing power or money from "the people". Less illustrious uses refer to folklore and urban legend and a variety of explanatory narratives which are constructed with methodological flaws. The term is also used in a pejorative sense to automatically dismiss claims that are deemed ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish or irrational. For example, the term "Watergate conspiracy theory" refers to the darker aspects of the assorted events connected to that burglary at the Watergate, not the generally accepted version in which several participants actually were convicted of conspiracy, and others pardoned before any charges were filed. The darker version proposes alternative and additional theories positing that the source(s) of information called "Deep Throat" was a fabrication.

Daniel Pipes, in an early essay "adapted from a study prepared for the CIA", attempted to define which beliefs distinguish 'the conspiracy mentality' from 'more conventional patterns of thought'. He defined them as: appearances deceive; conspiracies drive history; nothing is haphazard; the enemy always gains power, fame, money, and sex.