“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful,” writes Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “without insisting there are fairies at the bottom of it?” The same human impulse that drives such reality-ruining fantasies drives conspiracy theories. A conspiracy theory (or “an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful actors, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable,” — Wikipedia) often begins with unwarranted speculation, is then fuelled by a desperate, bias-confirmation scouring for “suspicious” coincidences, and then becomes with the passage of time, solidified and intractable in the human imagination. It is the passage of time that is most deadly — the longer a conspiracy theory remains stuck in the throat of humanity, the more likely it is to be regarded as venerable and therefore true. The John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory is an example of this, even though there are (literally) thousands of them, and most of those are mutually exclusive.
It is against the passage of time that we must take care. Long after Donald Trump is gone from office, four conspiracy theories that have grown up and been given traction around his latest scandal could very easily take hold of and become indelible in the imaginations of many of us, if we let them. They must be loudly and repeatedly debunked with the illumination of fact and reason in order to prevent this from happening.
The first of these is the so-called Crowdstrike conspiracy theory. The theory goes that Crowdstrike is a Ukrainian company owned by a wealthy Ukrainian that stole or acquired (the theories differ, as they so often do with conspiracy theories) the DNC server in order to hack the 2016 election. A fairly good précis of what happened except a) Crowdstrike is a California company, b) A Russian (who moved to California when he was a teenager), not a Ukrainian, is a member of its board, and c) there is no DNC server and there never has been. The DNC used cloudware for its email, and the FBI asked Crowdstrike to make a copy of it in order to analyze it for them. And of course it was the Russians and not the Ukrainians who hacked the 2016 election. Every American agency from the NSA to the FBI to the CIA to Homeland Security acknowledges this. The only people who dispute this are certain Trump-crazed republicans and — you guessed it — Vladimir Putin. There is absolutely nothing else behind this so-called conspiracy, and it needs to go away forever.
The second conspiracy that needs to die a quick and painless death is the one that alleges dirty dealings of Joe and Hunter Biden in Ukraine. That theory goes that Joe Biden bribed the Ukrainians by withholding aid from them in order to discourage them from investigating a company, Burisma, of which his son was a board member. The exact opposite is the case. Biden, together with most of the Ukrainian Parliament and the combined will of the European Union and the United States government wanted the Ukrainian prosecutor out because he was corrupt. It had nothing to do with Biden’s son. But, in the world of the conspiracy theorist, there’s no such thing as a coincidence, and since Biden’s son was at one time a member of the board of Burisma, Republicans conveniently see something sinister here when, to repeat the words of Wikipedia, “other explanations are more probable.”
Then there’s the “Black Ledger conspiracy.” The idea behind it is the Ukrainians doctored some books to make Paul Manafort look crooked and thereby hurt Donald Trump by association. There is absolutely no credible evidence to support this, not a shred. If there were it very likely would have produced a reasonable doubt in the minds of at least some of the jurors who instead unanimously voted for Manafort’s guilt. That is why Paul Manafort is behind bars today and he has, at this writing, another seven years to serve.
Finally there is former DNC consultant Alexandra Chalupa. She is accused of working with Ukrainians to hurt Paul Manafort and, by extension, Trump. There’s a small timeline problem with this. Chalupa began her investigation of Manafort’s shady dealings before Donald Trump even announced his candidacy for president. Even after Trump announced his candidacy the DNC wasn’t interested in what she had to offer. So it is a complete conspiracy nonstarter.
This is typical of conspiracy theories. I have found time after time after time that a proponent of any conspiracy theory (in the Wikipedia definition of the term) is actively opposed to the idea of spending so much as five minutes with Google researching alternative explanations to their pet theory. They shun it the way a seventeenth century man might shun a plausible explanation of why a particular woman defendant just might not be a witch. This stripe of ignorance is still alive in a different form, and we must fight it with the heft and might of reason and science if we ever hope to defeat it.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.