You might not believe this, but some people out there really believe in these conspiracies.
Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin speak at the G8 Conference. Photo: Reuters
Cast aside, dear reader, any notion of politics as it appears in the humdrum pages of your favorite newspaper. The truly shrewd among us know that nothing is what it appears. Look deeper! World events are really and truly driven by the secret machinations of the big men, the stonecutters, the illuminati behind the curtains…
In every society, underneath the normal discourse of the “public debate,” lies the murky undercurrent of conspiracy theories. These run the gamut from outright ridiculous to subtle, crafty ideological constructions. Some are intricate, even compelling (at least at first glance). Many of them are just more fun to believe than is our plain old, pedestrian reality.
Even the most conspiracy-minded must be selective, however, since many of the most exciting ones are mutually incompatible. However, like all good fairy tales, many motifs repeat across countries.
In the spirit of evenhandedness, Russia Direct offers a matching set of conspiracy theories, five each, about the Russian and the U.S. regimes.
Which might actually be true?
Well, gentle reader, choose your own adventure…
1) Vladimir Putin as an affiliate of God
Seriously. Those of you in the English-speaking world might not have heard this one. But the president's lineage goes directly back to David and Solomon – via Jesus Christ, who was never crucified, but fled to Europe, spawning France's Merovingian dynasty, whose descendants, through many adventures, ended up with a Russian princely title of Putyatin, and just took it from there. At least, that was a spoof theory by popular blogger Maxim Kononenko, who couldn’t stand the Dan Brown hysteria of the mid-2000s. But here’s the really funny part: the joke gradually began to circulate as a serious theory on the Internet. If you think that’s not enough, there is always Mother Fotinya – the head of a sect in central Russia, who holds the current Russian president to be the reincarnation of Apostle Paul, sent to Earth to aid Christ, who is now known (wait for it…) as Mother Fotinya.
What's wrong with it: Putin is a successful enough president, sure. But he is, um, not God. No more so than a faith healer with a criminal record is the Lord's offspring. The fact that some are actually willing to believe this is, however, indicative of Russian population's historical, and somewhat sad, devotion to irrational explanations for big, historical events. The occult services industry Russia has between 800,000 and 2,000,000 employees, by various estimates, and boasts a multibillion-dollar turnover.
2) Putin is a tool of the Jewish conspiracy
Russian anti-Semites gave the world the notoriously fake “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” So perhaps it figures that in Russia, the idea never really went away. Modern proponents posit that Putin's grandfather was a Jew, all his liberal associates in the government, down to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, are covert Jews. His political patron and predecessor Boris Yeltsin had a Jewish name, and he installed Putin after consultations with Zionist agent Condoleeza Rice to continue the task of destroying Russia's economy and public health while draining its resources.
What's wrong with it: This is an echo of Soviet-era anti-Semitism, when Jewishness was a career-crippling stigma. The anti-Semitic mood has dwindled in Russia. The meticulous study of Russian leaders' heritage is now a popular occupation only among the country's ultra-nationalist minority, which explains why their public support has remained negligible for two decades.
3) Putin and his KGB cronies destroyed the Soviet Union
This elegant theory, put forth by political commentator Andrei Gromov on Slon.ru, claims that around the early 1980s, the Soviet secret service got tired of managing party assets, especially in foreign trade. So they decided to appropriate them. To that end, they orchestrated Perestroika, snapped up most lucrative assets and top governmental jobs in the ensuing chaos of the 1990s, and completed the takeover under Putin. Putin himself tossed a little gasoline on this fire in 2000, when he famously joked at a meeting with top brass of KGB's successor FSB, “Mission accomplished.”
What's wrong with it: KGB officers, indeed, dominate Russia's ruling establishment. They filled the power vacuum in the bureaucracy. But ascribing the downfall of the Soviet empire, with its non-competitive economy and dependence on falling oil prices (and a fake ideology) to 30-year-long plot by a handful of spies is a bit disrespectful to the rest of the country.
4) Putin & the FSB were behind terrorist attacks of 1999
The second Chechen war began after terrorists blew up several residential complexes across Russia in 1999. Putin's opponents, especially the fallen “gray cardinal” of Russian politics, Boris Berezovsky, said the bombings were really work of the FSB, looking to boost the popularity of its then-leader Putin, who had already been picked by Boris Yeltsin as the presidential successor, but needed a boost in the polls.
What's wrong with it: There is no conclusive evidence to support the story. What's more, though Putin definitely capitalized on the war on terror to his political benefit, winning sky-high approval ratings with a “tough guy” image, Islamists have been blowing things up in Russia throughout the 1990s and 2000s and, indeed, they still are. They don't need anyone else doing their work for them.
5) Putin as the anti-Jewish champion
Putin has antagonized the United States quite a lot, a stance that has earned him considerable support in Russia and elsewhere. Some of his supporters actually believe that he is actually fighting the global Jewish conspiracy. This dovetails nicely with folk history theories, popular in Russia, about Russians being actually descendants of the Atlantis population who spawned Indo-Aryans, the forefathers of most Western nations. The narrative holds that somehow they lost their magnificent white empire (which, incidentally, gave the world the wheel and metalmaking) and they are only just starting to pull things back together.
What's wrong with it: Um, so Putin is either a secret agent of the Jews… or he is the world’s last hope to save the world from their devious plot? Got that? Seriously, though, ultranationalist folk history, though common in many ex-Soviet republics, has an unseemly popularity in Russia. This is partly due the decrepit education system and ideological emptiness that took hold in various parts of the country, for varying periods of time, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And there's the anti-Semitism again.
The United States:
1) Barack Obama is The Antichrist
The end is near. The radical Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas claims on its website, Beastobama.com, that the 44th US president is really the Beast from the Book of Revelations, which attested the ultimate enemy of God as a sweet, soft-spoken, passionate, admirable leader loved by the multitudes that he has fooled.
What's wrong with it: It’s hard to reason with something so unreasonable. But if every soft-spoken public figure were the Antichrist, they could have started a World of Warcraft clan by now. In fact, the planet could probably use more of them. Interestingly, this conspiracy theory is a reversal of the Putin-as-Christ one. Perhaps the Americans are truly more skeptical of their leadership than the Russians.
2) Barack Obama is a Jewish servant
Well, so is every U.S. president. Everybody knows the global Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG!) resides in Washington. Or so the U.S. white supremacists tell us. There is also the Bilderberg Group, a regular meeting of the world's top political leaders, tycoons and public leaders set up by the Rockefellers (well, okay, not really, but who cares) – obviously to run the world in private. And why do you think the United States is so supportive of Israel?
What's wrong with it: The United States is so supportive – or was, in fact – of Israel because it is an old geopolitical ally, because it shares the same democratic values and – okay – in part, surely, because of the Jewish lobby. That lobby, however, is well known by name, and it is just as focused on lobbying for its stated ends as is the agricultural lobby or those guys from the military-industrial complex, all of whom are vying for influence in Congress.
3) The Federal Reserve System works for the New World Order
This is something of a variation on the previous item, but more boring. While the Zionist Occupation Government is at least flashy and bizarre, employing war and secret murder as its tools, the FRS conspiracy theory posits that the central monetary authority of the United States – which is, in fact, not subordinate to the White House – uses the resources at its disposal to siphon off money from poor Americans and give it to the rich. The rich being those people who partake in that global conspiracy of capitalists (and, wait for it... yep, that’s the Jews again).
What's wrong with it: The income gap in the United States is increasing, the middle class is shrinking, and the US public debt, currently at $17 trillion, indicates that U.S. monetary policy may need fine-tuning to say the least. But as a wise man once said, “never attribute to malice that which may be adequately explained by stupidity.” Or, one could add, by poor management and long-term economic trends. The rich have been striving to get richer throughout history. That conspiracy is pretty much out in the open.
4) The U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks
This one has been mulled to death. But it refuses to go away, like a drunken party guest. Nineteen Arabs destroying two mighty skyscrapers by ramming the mammoth high-rises with a couple of flying metal tubes? Not unless the U.S. government helped them! All of which was to give George Bush a valid reason to go to war with the entire Middle East in a bid to suck out their oil. And he got to suppress public freedoms to boot.
What's wrong with it: First off, the Russians got dibs on the theory – they began blaming Islamist attacks on their domestic security services two years ahead of the Americans. Second, the rise of militant sentiment is a consequence of a slap in the nation's face that was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The people felt the need to retaliate. Any clever conservative leader knows how to channel that into a jingoistic ratings-boost. And third, just like in Russia, there is basically no proof.
5) The United States as the “Fourth Reich”
Thousands of Nazis fled to the Western hemisphere after World War II. Plenty of them actually ended up in the U.S. military-industrial complex. See the famous Wernher von Braun, the father of the American space program. But their reach went far beyond the rocket factories. National-socialism influenced American elites, who have never since stopped trying to accomplish what Hitler couldn't. That means, crushing Russia, including by expanding NATO to Moscow's former sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and disrupting nuclear parity by developing the U.S. global missile shield. Or so says bestselling conspiracy theorist Jim Marrs, who published his book about the “Fourth Reich” in 2008 with George W. Bush's administration in mind.
What's wrong with it: Most of the top Nazi ideologues who didn't kill themselves were hung at Nuremberg. Von Braun was a rocket scientist, not a supremacist. And geopolitical competition is as old as the concept of the state itself. No matter what kind of people are in power, they will always try to one-up a fellow state if they can pull it off. There’s need to drag fascism into it. But it’s interesting to note that while Russian conspiracy theorists approve of Putin as a quasi-Aryan champion, their American fellows criticize Bush on the same grounds. Thanks goodness, both theories are equally nonsense.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.