A conspiracy theory is a theory that defies common historical or current understanding of events, under the claim that those events are the result of manipulations by two or more individuals or various secretive powers or conspiracies.
Colloquially, a conspiracy theory is any unconventional theory about current or historical events, with the connotation that that theory is unfounded, outlandish, or irrational or in some way unworthy of serious consideration. In this sense, the term is sometimes used to refer to events with which no association to an actual "conspiracy" in the legal sense (two or more persons plotting and one overt act related to the plot) is claimed. In this sense "conspiracy theory" is often simply an allegation of clandestine action, based on little or no solid evidence. Thus the expression "conspiracy theory" in common speech is often used as a term of derision for an allegation that the speaker considers unproven, unlikely, or false.
Conspiracy theories in general allege that some particular event — such as an assassination, a revolution, or even the failure of a product — resulted not solely from the visible action of overt political or market forces, but rather from intentional covert action.
Conspiracy in a legal and historic sense
The word conspiracy comes from the Latin "conspirare", ("to breathe together"), and in contemporary usage it is a situation where two or more people agree to perform an illegal or immoral act. Legally, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more parties on a definite plan to achieve an unlawful end or to achieve a lawful end by unlawful means. Secrecy is common but not an "essential element" of the crime. New parties can enter an ongoing conspiracy and are also guilty. A further element of the crime, in most jurisdictions is an 'overt act':
- Bob and Bill decide to break all the windows on Main Street, an illegal act. In order to make their plot an actionable crime, another element is necessary, other than merely planning to break windows. If either of the conspirators acts in furtherance of their plot, at that point their conspiracy becomes a crime.
- Bill gathers a sack full of rocks. At this point, regardless of whether windows are broken, both Bill and Bob could now be charged with the crime of conspiracy.
Conspiracy can increase the penalty for a given offense. Conspiring to commit a misdemeanor, for instance, can increase the act to a felony.
The actual existence of countless thousands of such conspiracies is well-known and includes organized crime and gangs as well as cartels in restraint of trade, organized political bribery, and so forth. At any given time, hundreds or thousands of conspiracies are afoot. Such conspiracies are crimes in most nations, and one can be prosecuted on the basis of conspiring to commit an illegal act or being part of a network that was engaged in doing so, or even, sometimes, for knowing about a conspiracy and failing to act to oppose it. (Note: The term "conspiracy theory" is thus sometimes also used to refer to sociological attempts to study the phenomenon of conspiracy.)
Historians generally use the term conspiracy to refer to a conspiracy that is considered to be real, proven, or at least seriously plausible and with some element of support.
When conspiracy theories combine logical fallacies with lack of evidence, critics refer to them as a form of Conspiracism, a worldview that sees major historic events and trends as primarily the result of secret conspiracies.[  (http://www.publiceye.org/tooclose/conspiracism.html)
Some people distinguish between falsifiable accusations of conspiracy and unfalsifiable conspiracy theories and argue that when conspiracy theories are proposed, the proponents bear the burden of proof. In justifying the classification of a conspiracy theory as conspiracism, detractors tend to level accusations that the theory is:
- Not backed up by sufficient evidence.
- Phrased in such a way as to be unfalsifiable.
- Improbably complex.
Defenders point out in response that:
- Those powerful people involved in the conspiracy hide, destroy, or obfuscate evidence.
- Skeptics / apologists are not (in their opinion) prepared to keep an open mind.
- Skeptics / apologists may be politically motivated and have a vested interest in the status quo.
The term conspiracists can be used disparagingly to refer to a person who is likely to believe in a conspiracy; psychologists note that a person who believes in one conspiracy theory can be a believer in other conspiracy theories as well. Ridicule, and even the diagnosis of schizophrenia has been used as a means of silencing political dissent, for example in the Soviet Union (see anti-psychiatry).
The waters are further muddied by the fact that powerful groups or individuals may have an interest in trying to discredit those who accuse them of real or imagined crimes. The label of "conspiracy theory" has been used to mock or denigrate social and political dissent, for instance when a powerful public figure is accused of corruption.
Conspiracy theory and urban legends
The overlap between conspiracy theory and the urban legend is considerable: one need only consult American supermarket tabloids such as the Weekly World News to see foremost examples of both. Many urban legends, particularly those which touch on governments and businesses, have some but not all of the attributes of conspiracy theory.
For instance, during the 1980s the story that the Procter and Gamble company was affiliated with Satanism was a common urban legend in some circles. Is this tale, too, a conspiracy theory? It does allege secretive and presumably harmful action (support of Satanism) on the part of a group (Procter & Gamble, or its leadership). However, it does not have the expansiveness or attempt at explanation of historical events which earmark a conspiracy theory. It is too simple.
Further reading critical of conspiracism
Michael Barkun. 2003. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley: Univ. of California.
Robert Alan Goldberg. 2001. Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Frank P. Mintz. 1985. The Liberty Lobby and the American Right: Race, Conspiracy, and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Karl Popper and Falsifiability
Karl Popper claimed that science is essentially defined as a set of falsifiable hypotheses; metaphysical or unscientific theories and claims are those who do not furnish any means for falsification. Critics of conspiracy theories sometimes argue that many of them are not falsifiable and so cannot be scientific. This accusation is often accurate, and is a necessary consequence of the logical structure of certain kinds of conspiracy theories. These take the form of uncircumscribed existential statements, alleging the existence of some action or object without specifying the place or time at which it can be observed. Failure to observe the phenomenon can then always be the result of looking in the wrong place or looking at the wrong time — that is, having been duped by the conspiracy. This makes impossible any demonstration that the conspiracy does not exist. Establishing a negative is philosophically problematic, though perhaps especially so in this context. Falsificationists might also claim that this makes such theories unscientific.
For example, consider how one would prove the widely believed UFO conspiracy theory (in which aliens are said to have visited Earth), followed by the official denials (perhaps chiefly because the U.S. Government, or others, is hiding the evidence) that any such thing has happened. Since the theory does not specify when or where or how the visits or the conspiracy occurred, it is not possible to show it to be false. Even if, for example, we were given the run of the Pentagon (or some other government agency's) archives, the possibility always exists that there is an archive somewhere else detailing the conspiracy, to which we do not have access.
Karl Popper used the term "conspiracy theory" in his two volume work, The Open Society & Its Enemies, 1938-1943. Popper used "conspiracy theory" to criticize the ideologies driving fascism, Nazism and communism. Popper argued that totalitarianism was founded on "conspiracy theories" which drew on imaginary plots driven by paranoid scenarios predicated on tribalism, racism or classism. Popper did not argue against the existence of everyday conspiracies (as incorrectly suggested in much of the later literature). Popper even uses the term "conspiracy" to describe ordinary political activity in the classical Athens of Plato who was the principal target of his attack in The Open Society & Its Enemies.
In response to this objection to conspiracy theory, some argue that no political or historical theory can be scientific by Popper's criterion because none reliably generate testable predictions. In fact, Popper himself rejected the claims of Marxism and psychoanalysis to scientific status on precisely this basis. (Many scientists today dispute the idea that Marxism is science at all; similarly, neurobiology and behaviorist psychology claim that classic forms of psychoanalysis have no scientific basis.) This does not necessarily mean that conspiracy theory, Marxism, and psychoanalysis are baseless, irrational, or false; it does mean that if they are false there is no way to show it, because they do not make testable predictions, and so are not science by Popper's criterion. Such arguments have raised a debate on whether Popper's criterion should be applied in the social sciences as strictly as in natural sciences. Falsifiability has been widely criticised for misrepresenting the actual process of scientific discovery by a number of scholars -mainly paradigm theorist Thomas Kuhn, Popper's former student Paul Feyerabend and Imre Lakatos- and is now not considered a tenable criterion for scientific status in epistemological circles, although it remains popular.
Conspiracy theory in fiction
Particularly since the 1960s, conspiracy theory has been a popular subject of fiction. A common theme in such works is that characters discovering a secretive conspiracy may be unable to tell what is true about the conspiracy, or even what is real: rumors, lies, propaganda, and counter-propaganda build upon one another until what is conspiracy and what is coincidence becomes an unmanageable question.
One of the more literarily-acclaimed novels that draws on conspiracy themes is Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, in which the staff of a publishing firm intending to create a series of popular occult books invent their own occult conspiracy, over which they lose control as it begins to be believed. Another is Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, whose background includes a secretive conflict between cartels dating back to the Middle Ages.
Illuminatus!, a trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, is regarded by many as the definitive work of 20th-century conspiracy fiction. Set in the late '60s, it is a psychedelic tale which fuses mystery, science fiction, horror, and comedy in its exhibition (and mourning, and mocking) of one of the more paranoid periods of recent history. The popular, humorous trading card game Illuminati New World Order is based in part on Shea and Wilson's fantasy.
Other authors who have dealt with conspiracy themes include Philip K. Dick and Robert Ludlum. Some might also categorize several of the Cthulhu Mythos stories of H. P. Lovecraft and others as conspiracy-related, though they might be more closely described as occult horror.
Oliver Stone's Academy Award-winning 1991 film JFK — based on books by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and conspiracy author Jim Marrs — suggests that President John F. Kennedy was not killed by Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone, but rather by a group opposed to Kennedy's policies, especially his supposed reluctance to invade Cuba to overthrow Fidel Castro, and Kennedy's purported eagerness to withdraw American armed forces from the Vietnam War. Members of the CIA, the Military-Industrial Complex, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson are implicated as responsible for Kennedy's assassination. Stone has stated that JFK was intended as a Fable to counter the Warren Commission's conclusions, with which Stone disagreed. In fact, most of the claims in "JFK" have been disproven, most notably by the History Channel.
The 1997 movie Wag the Dog involves a pre-election attempt in the US by a spin doctor and a Hollywood producer who join forces to fabricate a war in a Balkan state in order to cover-up a presidential sex scandal. Interestingly, it was made before the Clinton / Lewinski scandal and the US led Kosovo intervention.
The video games Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2 also contain a shadowy group known as "The Patriots" who manipulate politics in America. There are also references to numerous conspiracies in the game. The computer game Deus Ex is also filled with various references to conspiracies like the Illuminati, Majestic 12 and Knights Templar. The video game Broken Sword, based on Umberto Eco's book, also features the Knights Templar among other conspiracies.
The popular 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code draws on ideas of conspiracy involving the Catholic Church, including the real organization Opus Dei and the (probably fabricated) Priory of Sion.
Finally, the role-playing game and card game GURPS Illuminati, by Steve Jackson Games (www.sjgames.com), feature conspiracy theories from the humorous side. The illuminated pyramid is notably the company's logo. Pagan Publishing's Delta Green and Delta Green Countdown books provide a more serious perspective on conspiracies in role-playing game, and relate them with the works of the late H. P. Lovecraft.
Bible and conspiracy theories
Main article: Bible conspiracy theory
An entire literature has arisen that concerns conspiracy theories related to the Bible.
Real life imitates conspiracy theory
What provides conspiracy theories with their power is that sometimes real life does imitate conspiracy theory. A number of actual government organizations or plans have been described as resembling the stuff of particularly paranoid conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, these are fully acknowledged by their respective governments, or by a broad consensus of mainstream experts, as being, or having been, real:
- The United States Department of Defense Information Awareness Office (IAO) has many similarities to conspiracy theories. First, its avowed purpose is to gather and correlate information on ordinary citizens for the purpose of predicting terrorism and other crime. Second, its logo depicted the eye in the pyramid, a symbol associated with Illuminati and Masonic representations of power or divinity, casting a beam over the globe of the Earth. This has since been changed. The original logo is still widely available on the internet, however. Lastly, the name "Iao" is a Gnostic word for God, used in the Golden Dawn and Thelema among others.  (http://www.darpa.mil/iao/)
- The Mafia was essentially completely unknown to outsiders until Joe Valachi revealed them in 1963.
- Declassified papers as well as legal inquiries have shown that the CIA was involved in many coups d' tat, including the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman and Salvador Allende as well as into terrorist action, for instance in Italy by means of Gladio
- From the 1950s to the 1970s, the CIA and the U.S. Army operated a research program into mind control, codenamed MKULTRA. In this program, CIA agents gave LSD and other drugs to unwitting and unconsenting victims, in an effort to devise a working "truth serum" and/or mind-control drug. MKULTRA was uncovered by Presidential and Congressional research committees in 1975, and discontinued at that time. Many prominent writers and drug figures were first exposed to LSD under this program, including Ken Kesey of the Merry Pranksters, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Baba Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) and future 'Unabomber' Theodore Kaczynski. A source on this is the book "Acid Dreams" by Bruce Shalin and Martin A. Lee.
- ECHELON is a communications interception network operated by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is designed to capture telephone calls, fax and e-mail messages. New Zealand has openly admitted the existence of Echelon, and the European Union commissioned a report on the system.
- In the 2003 Iraq War, Iraqi resistance was strong at first and then collapsed suddenly. A conspiracy theory emerged in Iraq and elsewhere that there had been a safqah—Arabic for "secret deal"—between the US and the Iraqi military elite, wherein the elite were bribed to stand down. This conspiracy theory was ignored or ridiculed in the US media. In late May, 2003, General Tommy Franks, who had been the head of the US forces in the conflict, confirmed in an interview with Defense News that the US government had paid off high-level Iraqi military officials and that they had stated that "I am working for you now". How important this was to the course of the conflict was not entirely clear at the time of this writing (May 24, 2003).
- Operation Northwoods, a CIA plot to commit acts of apparent terrorism and blame them on Cuba to encourage support for a war, was long considered to be nothing but a conspiracy theory—until the project's documents were declassified and published. Carol Valentine, whose own unconventional theories about history frequently attack Jews and Israel, has claimed that the "declassified" documents are a hoax.  (http://public-action.com/911/northwds.html)
- The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. For a period of 50 years, the US Government used some members of the black population of a town in Alabama to observe the effects of untreated syphilis. The participants were not asked to participate and were not told they were being untreated for their syphilis.
Notable "conspiracy theories"
There are many instances in which the term "conspiracy theory" has been used, in either its pejorative sense, or in its actual legal/historic sense. In most cases these involve elements of mystery combined with both fact and supposition. Many of these theories remain a subject of controversy and sometimes even heated debate.
Assassinations are a classic subject of conspiracy theories. The assassination of a prominent figure is a singular event which can dramatically change the course of public affairs. Those drawn to conspiracy theory are led to ask, in the aftermath of an assassination, Who benefited from this death? Though some assassinations are committed by lone individuals, and many others by aboveboard governments (such as that of Leon Trotsky), and other assassinations are committed as the result of a provable conspiracy, there have been several assassinations whose purposes and evidence remain mysterious in the public eye — and suspicious to most people.
Best-known among assassination conspiracy theories in the United States are those dealing with a rash of seemingly politically motivated deaths in the 1960s, notably those of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Investigations and scientific testing and recreations into the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's death have not settled the question of who killed him. That U.S. public opinion considers this still to be an open issue is suggested by three polls in 2003. An ABC News random telephone poll found that just 32% (plus or minus 3%) of Americans believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, while 68% do not believe Oswald acted alone.  (http://abcnews.go.com/images/pdf/937a1JFKAssassination.pdf) The "Discovery Channel" poll (sampling method not given) reveals that only 21% believe Oswald acted alone, while 79% do not believe Oswald acted alone.  (http://poll.discovery.com/servlet/viewsflash?jfk=6&cmd=tally&pollid=jfk&results=data%2Fdsc%2Fpackage%2Fjfk.results.html&submit.x=51&submit.y=6) The "History Channel" poll (self-selected responses) details that only 17% of respondents believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, while 83% do not believe Oswald acted alone.  (http://www.historychannel.com/jfk/jfk_poll_results.jsp) It should, however, be noted that opinion polls of this type are often subject to selection and response biases.
Similar theories have arisen around the assassination of Beatle John Lennon and the attempted assassination of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. In recent years theories about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales have made headlines.
Related articles: Blood libel, Human sacrifice
One of the world's most persistent and longstanding conspiracy theories claims that clandestine religious groups (which may or may not actually exist in reality), carry out human sacrifice, usually of children. Such accusations are often levelled against those believed to be plotting against accepted religious and social norms. Notable groups accused of this include Jews (with whom the term is usually associated), Christians of various denominations, alleged witches, and most recently alleged "Satanic" groups.
A somewhat different version of this theory maintains that humanity is actually under the control of shape-shifting alien reptiles, who require periodic ingestion of human blood to maintain their human appearance.
In the United States of America, during the 1980s there was an upsurge in the old belief of "Satanic ritual abuse". Hundreds of thousands Americans, including Protestant Christians, feared that the United States was filled with child-sacrificing Satanists. Church sermons, newsletters and soon letters to newspapers and magazines, were filled with claims of tens of thousands of American children being kidnapped and murdered by supposed Satanists. These ideas soon made their way into the mainstream American media, where they initially were reported uncritically. This led to a wave of arrests against hundreds of American citizens, whose neighbors suddenly began accusing them of kidnapping, child abuse or murder. Hundreds of these people were accused of being witches or satanists, and were convicted by a jury. Only in the mid 1990s did the wave of witch hunts subside; since then the reports of tens of thousands of missing children have been proven false by official sources; there was no massive increase in kidnapping, abuse or murder. Most of the convicted "witches" or "satanists" have since been released from jail. The entire phenomenon is now considered by mainstream historians and psychologists to be an episode of mass delusion, and witch hunts, augmented by the pseudo-scientific "repressed memory syndrome" idea, which has also now been discredited by the scientific establishment. The "suppression of proof" argument could be raised as a counter-argument by conspiracy theorists critical of official sources.
Secret societies and fraternities
Secret societies and fraternal societies have aroused nervousness from some non-members since at least the time of the ancient Greeks. A secret society is a club or organization whose members do not disclose their membership, and may be sworn to hold it secret. However, the term is also used in conspiracy theory to refer to fraternal organizations such as the Freemasons or the Skull-and-Bones Society who do not conceal membership, but are thought to harbor secret beliefs or political agendas.
College fraternities such as Yale's Skull and Bones society are also popular suspects among conspiracists. Many men form lifelong friendships with their fraternity "brothers" which some believe often carry on into the political and business world. This particular conspiracy theory was presented in the movie "the Skulls".
Masonic conspiracy theories
Conspiracy theory about the Freemasons goes back at least to the late 18th century. The Masons were accused of plotting the American and French Revolutions, the Jack the Ripper killings, the downfall of religion, and of dominating republican politics. In fact, the historian Georges Lefebvre, generally considered an authoritative source on the subject, concedes that the Masons had a role in organizing the revolution in the city, but says it is unclear how important their role was. Worry about Masonic conspiracy grew to such an extent in the early United States as to spawn a political party, the Anti-Masonic Party. The Bavarian Illuminati, a German secret society related to Masonry, also figures into conspiracy theories of that time. Rosicrucianism and the Priory of Sion are popular topics of conspiracists.
All the Catholic Popes in the last three centuries are subjects of conspiracy theories. Some people believe that Freemasonry was condemned by the Church primarily because of its view that all religions are equal; this view was diametrically opposed to the Catholic belief that it is the only true religion. Since a number of Catholics and Protestants now agree with the Masonic principles condemned by the Church, new theories about the Masons have emerged, such as that they are devil worshipers. Others hold that these views about the origins of conspiracy theories about Masons are themselves conspiracy theories.
The Jewish world domination conspiracy theory
Ironically a real conspiracy concocted a conspiracy theory in creating the fraudulent document known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which has been for over 100 years used as proof positive of a Jewish world domination conspiracy.
In the mid-to-late 1890’s the Russian secret police, Okhrana conspired to instigate pogroms against Russian Jews. Often there appeared inflammatory articles in newspapers prior to the pogroms, and these were used to explain the seemingly unprovoked violence. This hoax document document purportedly reported the minutes or accounts of a secret meeting of the leaders of the Jewish people. The secret police tried to use the Jews as scapegoats, on whom to blame Russia's social ills of the time. Since then this false document and the conspiratorial theory it presents has often been accepted as truth, in spite of the evidence against its authenticity and in spite of the ludicrousness of its postulations.(See: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion).
"Babylon" and racist oppression
Some Rastafarians who take their beliefs to an extreme maintain that a white racist patriarchy ("Babylon") controls the world in order to oppress the black race. They believe that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia did not die when it was reported in 1975, and that the racist, white media (again, "Babylon") propagated that rumour in order to squash Rastafarianism and its message of overthrowing Babylon. Other Rastafarians, however, believe in peace and unity, and interpret Babylon as a metaphor for the established "system" that oppresses (or "downpresses", in Rasta terminology) minority groups such as blacks and the poor.
Suppressed inventions take conspiracy theory more into the realm of business, rather than strict politics.
Medicine and the FDA
The subject of suppressed-invention conspiracy also touches on the realm of medical quackery: proponents of more unlikely forms of alternative medicine are known to allege conspiracy by mainstream doctors to suppress their cures, particularly when faced with charges of medical fraud. Such conspiracies are often said to include government regulators, to the extent that a legal decision may be relevant. The experience of Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, who advocate the extensive use of supplements and drugs for life extension, contrary to FDA recommendations, may shed some light. They won a court case arguing that the FDA was preventing them from making medical assertions that were, in fact, well-supported.
Some medical conspiracy theorists argue that the medical community could actually cure supposedly "incurable" diseases such as Cancer and AIDS if it really wanted to, but instead prefers to suppress the cures as a way of extorting more funding from the government and donors, as well as the patients themselves. There are generally higher costs associated with long-term treatment than in a one-time cure.
The Phoebus cartel set up in 1924 certainly seems to have stopped competition in the light bulb industry for some years, and has been accused of preventing technological advances that would have produced longer-lasting light bulbs.  (http://www.andover.edu/aep/papers/610/pgaughen98.pdf) However, the Phoebus cartel also features in Thomas Pynchon's fictional Gravity's Rainbow, which has led some to blur fact and fiction.
The rocket experiments of Cuxhaven performed by the "Seliger Forschungs- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH" and the "Herrmann-Oberth-Gesellschaft mbH" were terminated in June 1964. The official reason therefore was a fatal accident at a show of post rockets of Gerhard Zucker on May 7th, 1964 at Braunlage. Indeed Gerhard Zucker did not work together with the "Seliger Forschungs- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH" and the "Herrmann-Oberth-Gesellschaft mbH" and no accident happened at their launches. The Herrmann-Oberth-Gesellschaft mbH had a good reputation at their insurances! However the Seliger Forschungs- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH made a flight demonstration of militarily usable rockets to members of military staff of non-NATO countries on December 5th, 1963. Although the shown rockets were not equipped with warheads and did not hurt the Allied laws concerning the development of military rockets in Germany, they had been easily transformed to military rockets, which would hurt Allied laws concerning the development of military rockets in Germany! Therefore this flight demonstration was very controversional and after it there were some protests by the former Soviet Union! After these launches the rocket experiments in the area of Cuxhaven were watched with much suspicion, but there was at first no adaquate reason to terminate these tests. The accident of Braunlage gave a good reason to stop them. The real reason was not the danger of the tests (between 1957 and 1964 the experimentators at Cuxhaven launched 500 rockets without accident, while Gerhard Zucker had caused trouble several times before with exploding rockets) but the danger of developing rocket weapons, which are against the law under camouflage of civil technology. Interestingly it was said in June 1964 that the rocket launches in the area of Cuxhaven can go on after new security measures are set up, which has not been done until now.
Suppressed automotive technology
A typical suppressed-invention story is that of the incredibly efficient automobile carburetor, whose inventor was supposedly killed or hounded into obscurity by petroleum companies desirous to protect their business from an engine that would make their product obsolete. It has been claimed that the Elsbett diesel engine running on plant oil had to put up against unfair competition practices.
Tesla and "free energy"
Nikola Tesla has been the object of several conspiracy theories, with claims relating to revolutionary energy generation and distribution technologies which may or may not have been utilised by 'HAARP', an American military research programme. Similarly, there are claims that Wilhelm Reich's 'orgone energy' was suppressed by the establishment.
There are occasional articles in print and on the Internet, regarding a research center in Ong's Hat, New Jersey that supposedly discovered a method of inter-dimensional travel, then vanished.
There are also some claims about secret experiments in this way at Camp Hero, Montauk (Montauk Project).
A sector of conspiracy theory with a particularly detailed mythology has become the basis for numerous pieces of popular entertainment: the Area 51/Grey Aliens conspiracy, and allegations surrounding the Dulce Base. Simply put, this is the allegation that the United States government conspires with extraterrestrials involved in the abduction and manipulation of citizens. A variant tells that particular technologies — notably the transistor — were given to American industry in exchange for alien dominance. The enforcers of the clandestine association of human leaders and aliens are the Men in Black, who silence those who speak out on UFO sightings. This conspiracy theory has been the basis of numerous books, as well as the popular television show The X-Files and the movies Men in Black and Men in Black II.
The X-Files based the plots of many of its episodes around urban legends and conspiracy theories, and had a framing plot which postulated a set of interlocking conspiracies controlling all recent human history.
A possible ET link to the crop circle phenomenon has been speculated upon, though proven to simply be locals who made the circles during the night as a joke.
David Icke's theory, which encompasses all the other conspiracy theories, is that humanity is actually under the control of dinosauroid-like alien reptiles who must consume human blood to maintain their human appearance, with evidence ranging from Sumerian tablets describing the "Anunnaki" (which apparently translates as "those who from heaven to earth came"), to the serpent in the Biblical Garden of Eden, to child abuse, fluoridation, and the genealogical connections between the Bush family and the House of Windsor. This theory has been the subject of several books (http://www.davidicke.com/icke/temp/reptconn.html).
The motivations for nations starting, entering, or ending wars is often suspect. Wars, after all, are by nature destructive of both people and property, and frequently have thoroughly undesirable consequences for the nations who start them. As with assassinations, the question that is often asked by conspiracists when a war breaks out is "who benefits?"
For decades, a common answer has been "munitions suppliers" — as argued by, e.g., Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler in the 1935 jeremiad "War is a Racket".  (http://lexrex.com/enlightened/articles/warisaracket.htm) According to this view, there is always a party within the nation which would benefit from going to war, on whatever pretext: the sellers of weapons and other military materiel. President Dwight Eisenhower referred to this source of potential conflict of interest as the military-industrial complex.
Related is the allegation that certain wars which are claimed by politicians to be in the national interest, or for humanitarian purposes, are in fact motivated by the conquest and control of natural resources for commercial interest. In 1898's Spanish-American War, the explosion of the USS Maine prompted the US annexation of Puerto Rico, The Philippines, and Guam. Opponents of the war, such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie, claimed that it was being fought for imperialist motives.
In recent times, wars in the Middle East such as the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq have been described as wars for oil. During the 20th century the United States has also often been accused of plotting foreign coups tat for commercial interest. In many cases, critics have accused the U.S. of engaging in realpolitik in the cynical sense of political action without regard for p