by Mick West
June 16, 2021
Credit: YURI KADOBNOV
of our minds,
we draw a
demarcation line between beliefs
and those that
Where do you
draw your line...?
The following is
an excerpt from the book
the Rabbit Hole'
by Mick West.
Conspiracy theories exist on a spectrum, from
plausible and mainstream to fringe and unpopular.
It's very rare to find someone who only believes in
one conspiracy theory. They generally believe in
every conspiracy theory that's less extreme than
their favorite one.
To some extent, we are all conspiracy theorists.
If you want to understand how people fall for conspiracy theories,
and if you want to help them, then you have to understand the
you need to know where their favorite theories are on the
broader spectrum of conspiracies.
What type of person
falls for conspiracy theories?
What type of person
would think that the World Trade Center was a controlled
demolition, or that planes are secretly spraying chemicals to
modify the climate, or that nobody died at Sandy Hook, or that
the Earth is flat?
Are these people
Are they just
Are they young and
No, in fact the range of
people who believe in conspiracy theories is simply a random slice
of the general population.
theory for everyone,
and hence very
Many dismiss conspiracy theorists as a bunch of crazy people, or a
bunch of stupid people, or a bunch of crazy stupid people.
Yet in many ways the
belief in a conspiracy theory is as American as apple pie, and like
apple pie it comes in all kinds of varieties, and all kinds of
normal people like to consume it.
My neighbor down the road is a conspiracy theorist. Yet he's also an
engineer, retired after a successful career. I've had dinner at his
house, and yet he's a believer
in chemtrails, and I'm a chemtrail
He even told me
after a few glasses of wine that he thinks I'm being paid to debunk chemtrails.
He thought this because he
googled my name and
found some pages that said I was a paid shill.
Since he's a
conspiracy theorist he tends to trust conspiracy sources more than
mainstream sources, so he went with that.
'Why do people believe
in conspiracy theories?'
Michio Kaku, Bill
Nye & more
I've met all kinds of conspiracy theorists.
At a chemtrails
convention I attended there was pretty much the full spectrum.
were sensible and intelligent older people who had discovered their
conspiracy anything from a few months ago to several decades ago.
There were highly eccentric people of all ages, including one old
gentleman with a pyramid attached to his bike.
There were people who
channeled aliens, and there were people who were angry that the
alien-channeling people were allowed in.
There were young people
itching for a revolution.
There were well-read intellectuals who
thought there was a subtle system of persuasion going on in the
evening news, and there were people who genuinely thought they were
living in a computer simulation.
There's such a wide spectrum of people who believe in conspiracy
theories because the spectrum of conspiracy theories itself is very
There's a conspiracy theory for everyone, and hence very few
people are immune.
The mainstream and the fringe
One unfortunate problem with the term "conspiracy theory" is that it
paints with a broad brush.
It's tempting to simply divide people up
into "conspiracy theorists" and "regular people"
- to have
tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoids on one side and sensible folk on the
other. But the reality is that we are all conspiracy theorists, one
way or another.
We all know that conspiracies exist; we all suspect
people in power of being involved in many kinds of conspiracies,
even if it's only something as banal as accepting campaign
contributions to vote a certain way on certain types of legislation.
It's also tempting to simply label conspiracy theories as either
"mainstream" or "fringe."
Journalist Paul Musgrave referenced this
dichotomy when he wrote in the Washington Post:
Less than two months into the administration, the danger is no
longer that Trump will make conspiracy thinking mainstream. That has
already come to pass.
Musgrave obviously does not mean that shape-shifting lizard
overlords have become mainstream.
Nor does he mean that flat Earth, chemtrails, or even 9/11 truth are mainstream. What he's really
talking about is a fairly small shift in a dividing line on the
conspiracy spectrum. Most fringe conspiracy theories remain fringe,
most mainstream theories remain mainstream.
But, Musgrave argues,
there's been a shift that's allowed the bottom part of the fringe to
enter into the mainstream. Obama being a Kenyan was thought by many
to be a silly conspiracy theory, something on the fringe.
But if the
president of the United States (Trump) keeps bringing it up, then it
moves more towards the mainstream.
Both conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists exist on a
If we are to communicate effectively with a
conspiracy-minded friend we need to get some perspective on the full
range of that spectrum, and where our friend's personal blend of
theories fit into it.
It's very rare to find someone
who only believes in one conspiracy
They generally believe
in every conspiracy theory
less extreme than
their favorite one...
There are several ways we can classify a conspiracy theory:
scientific is it?
How many people believe in it?
How plausible is?
But one I'm going use is a somewhat subjective measure of how
extreme the theory is.
I'm going to rank them from 1 to 10, with 1
being entirely mainstream to 10 being the most obscure extreme
fringe theory you can fathom.
This extremeness spectrum is not simply a spectrum of reasonableness
or scientific plausibility. Being extreme is being on the fringe,
and fringe simply denotes the fact that it's an unusual
interpretation and is restricted to a small number of people.
belief in religious supernatural occurrences (like miracles) is a
scientifically implausible belief, and yet it is not considered
Let's start with a simple list of actual conspiracy theories.
are ranked by extremeness in their most typical manifestation, but
in reality, the following represent topics that can span several
points on the scale, or even the entire scale.
Big Pharma: The theory that pharmaceutical companies conspire to
maximize profit by selling drugs that people do not actually need
Global Warming Hoax: The theory that climate change is not caused by
man-made carbon emissions, and that there's some other motive for
JFK: The theory that people in addition to Lee Harvey Oswald were
involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy
9/11 Inside Job: The theory that the events of 9/11 were arranged by
elements within the US government
Chemtrails: The theory that the trails left behind aircraft are part
of a secret spraying program
False Flag Shootings: The theory that shootings like Sandy Hook and
Las Vegas either never happened or were arranged by people in power
Moon Landing Hoax: The theory that the Moon landings were faked in a
UFO Cover-Up: The theory that the US government has contact with
aliens or crashed alien crafts and is keeping it secret
Flat Earth: The theory that the Earth is flat, but governments,
business, and scientists all pretend it is a globe
Reptile Overlords: The theory that the ruling classes are a race of
shape-shifting trans-dimensional reptiles
If your friend subscribes to one of these theories you should not
assume they believe in the most extreme version.
They could be
anywhere within a range...
The categories are both rough and complex,
and while some are quite narrow and specific, others encapsulate a
wide range of variants of the theory that might go nearly all the
way from a 1 to a 10.
The position on the
fringe conspiracy spectrum
instead gives us a rough reference point for the center of the
extent of the conspiracy belief.
Credit: "Escaping the Rabbit Hole"
by Mick West
Figure 3 is an illustration (again, somewhat subjective) of the
extents of extremeness of the conspiracy theories listed.
of them the ranges are quite small.
Flat Earth and Reptile Overlords
are examples of theories that exist only at the far end of the
It's simply impossible to have a sensible version of the
Flat Earth theory due to the fact that the Earth is actually round.
Similarly, there exist theories at the lower end of the spectrum
that are fairly narrow in scope.
A plot by
to maximize profits is hard (but not impossible) to make into a more
Other theories are broader in scope.
The 9/11 Inside Job theory is
the classic example where the various theories go all the way from,
"they lowered their guard to allow some attack to happen," to "the
planes were holograms; the towers were demolished with nuclear
chemtrail theory also has a wide range, from,
to the fuel are making contrails last longer" to "nano-machines are
being sprayed to decimate the population."
There's also overlapping relationships between the theories.
Chemtrails might be spraying poison to help big pharma sell more
JFK might have been killed because he was going to reveal
UFOs were (are) real.
Fake shootings might have been arranged to
distract people from any of the other theories.
theory spectrum is continuous and multi-dimensional...
Don't immediately pigeonhole your friend if they express some
skepticism about some aspect of the broader theories.
having some doubts about a few pieces from a Moon-landing video does
not necessarily mean that they think we never went to the Moon, it
could just mean that they think a few bits of the footage were
mocked up for propaganda purposes.
Likewise, if they say we should
question the events of 9/11, it does not necessarily mean that they
think the Twin Towers were destroyed with explosives, it could just
mean they think elements within the CIA helped the hijackers
Understanding where your friend is on
the conspiracy spectrum is not
about which topics he is interested in, it's about where he draws
The demarcation line
While conspiracy theorists might individually focus on one
particular theory, like 9/11 or chemtrails, it's very rare to find
someone who only believes in one conspiracy theory.
believe in every conspiracy theory that's less extreme than their
In practical terms this means that if someone believes in the
chemtrail theory they will also believe that 9/11 was an inside job
involving controlled demolition, that Lee Harvey Oswald was just one
of several gunmen, and that global warming is a big scam.
The general conspiracy spectrum is complex, with individual theory
categories spread out in multiple ways.
But for your friend, an
individual, they have an internal version of this scale, one that is
much less complex. For the individual the conspiracy spectrum breaks
down into two sets of beliefs - the reasonable and the ridiculous.
Conspiracists, especially those who have been doing it for a while,
make increasingly precise distinctions about where they draw the
The drawing of such dividing lines is called "demarcation"...
philosophy there's a classical problem called the "demarcation
problem," which is basically where you draw the line between science
Conspiracists have a demarcation line on their own
personal version of the conspiracy spectrum.
On one side of the line
there's science and reasonable theories they feel are probably
On the other side of the line there's non-science,
gibberish, propaganda, lies, and disinformation.
Credit: "Escaping the Rabbit Hole"
by Mick West
I have a line of demarcation (probably around 1.5), you have one,
your friend has a line.
We all draw the line in different places...