Is ‘conspiracy theory’ a conspiracy theory?

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MYSTERY WIRE — Chances are you have, at some point, called something a conspiracy theory or even called someone a conspiracy theorist. But did you know there’s actually a conspiracy about why the term ‘conspiracy theory’ even exists?

In a recent article published on theconversation.com, the term’s roots are examined. Upon looking at the origins of the term, they found out it’s not an old term in U.S. history. It actually seems to have begun in 1967, coined by none other than the CIA to discredit anyone questioning the government’s explanation of the JFK assassination and the story of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man the government accused of pulling the trigger. At least that’s the conspiracy theory about the term.

Now, the term did exist before the JFK assassination. But as some believe, it was the CIA that turned the term from an innocent explanation to having a negative connotation. The theory being that the CIA could make those questioning the Warren Report and assassination as outsiders who could not be trusted.

If you search Google Books for the term, you can find the term used as far back as 1870 and again gaining usage around 1950.

On theconversation.com’s web site, they write the following about the JFK version of the conspiracy theory … theory. Although they make differing claims about the origin and development of the term, the proponents of both versions invariably point to an official CIA document called Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report as their smoking gun. It was released in 1976 after The New York Times requested it under the Freedom of Information Act. The document expresses concern about the considerable number of people who doubted the official investigation into Kennedy’s murder, the Warren Commission, which found that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. It also aims to equip CIA contacts with arguments against those who challenge the findings and the official version of the event. For example, it emphasises that nobody in their right mind would have chosen someone as unstable as Oswald as a pawn in a larger plot. And it points out the logical fallacies of these alternative accounts. One may find the CIA’s attempt to influence public opinion problematic. But there is not a single sentence in the document that indicates the CIA intended to weaponise, let alone introduce the term “conspiracy theory” to disqualify criticism. In fact, “conspiracy theory” in the singular is never used in the document. “Conspiracy theories” in the plural is only used once, matter-of-factly in the third paragraph:

Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organisation, for example, by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us.

Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report
In this report, you can see the CIA wrote about concern of a conspiracy involving the Warren Commission.

The authors of the document deploy the term in a very casual manner and obviously do not feel the need to define it. This indicates that it was not a new term but already widely used at the time to describe alternative accounts. At no time do the authors recommend using the label “conspiracy theory” to stigmatise alternative explanations of Kennedy’s assassination. This suggests that the term had not yet acquired the same level of negativity it possesses today.

Conspiracies alone have been around for eons. But it really was the industrial age that propelled the conspiracies from person to person and eventually around the world in a matter of seconds. So it’s no wonder many see the JFK assassination and investigation to be the first time a similar theory was talked about across the nation.

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