The Year of 2016 in Conspiracy Theories

December 21st 2016

Mike Rothschild

It was a year where conspiracy theories were mainstream, and nowhere was that more apparent than the 2016 election.

President-elect Donald Trump spent the year throwing out theories about the election being rigged to Ted Cruz's father being involved in the Kennedy assassination.

But Trump was also the target of conspiracy chatter that he was a Democratic double agent, planted to ensure an easy win for Hillary. That theory lost some steam once Trump actually won the election.

Trump, meanwhile, dismisses the U.S. intelligence community's belief that Russia sought to influence the election on his behalf as another partisan conspiracy theory, like the sort he recounted on the campaign trail.

Hillary Clinton was of course a subject of innumerable conspiracy theories herself, as she has been for decades.

Some were old standbys, like the "Clinton Body Count" — that the Clintons were killing off their critics. Internet doctors diagnosed her with Alzheimer's Disease, strokes, seizures, and other health problems, the speculation running wild that she had been replaced by a body double when she appeared in public again after a fainting episode.

Once the debates started, wrinkles on Clinton's jacket or reflections of light on her podium became "proof" that she had an earpiece and someone feeding her answers. None of these theories had any credible evidence to support them, yet became part of the election discourse to the point where Trump and his surrogates talked about them on major media programs. 

Clinton conspiracy theories didn't just come from the far right. Bernie Sanders supporters, fuelled by inflammatory emails taken from the Democratic National Committee, believed that Clinton stole the Democratic nomination. At the same time, Trump supporters accused her of "rigging" the election she ultimately lost.

Perhaps no conspiracy theory better illustrates the self-fulfilling echo chamber of the internet than "Pizzagate." This is the completely false theory that Clinton and her minions were running a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizza place in Washington, DC. The "evidence" for this was entirely based on strained misinterpretations of hacked emails, Instagram photos, a fake "pedophile code" and, above all, a willingness to believe Clinton was guilty.

Notably absent in the Pizzagate theory is anyone claiming to have been victimized.

Indeed, Pizzagate appears to be a conspiracy theory entirely driven by itself, based on faulty logic that since it can't be "proven false" then it must be true. But it's already had real consequences, with a gunman going to the restaurant at the center of the theory looking for answers. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but the incident demonstrated that these ludicrous theories are no joke.

Beyond the election, 2016 was a year full of purported false flags, shadowy plots, "mysterious deaths," and, above all, an alarming lack of critical thinking.

Given that it was the worst mass shooting in American history, the Orlando nightclub attack was bound to attract a host of conspiracy theories, and it did, ranging from alleged secret accomplices to the shooter having special forces training to the victims being actors. The same theories pop up with respect to the war in Syria, where first-responders are accused of staging rescues.

Remember Zika? Some also claimed we were being lied and that genetically modified mosquitos were spreading the virus. Others claimed birth defects were the result of a dangerous pesticide, not Zika. Scientists roundly rejected both theories, but that only meant they were in on it too.

Celebrity conspiracy theories also continued their absurd spread in 2016. Among the most popular were that singer Katy Perry is actually JonBenet Ramsey, an infamous murdered child from Colorado; that Beyonce is a secret CIA operative assigned to start a race war; and that Taylor Swift staged a summer romance to detract from the launch of Kanye West's new fashion line.

Befitting a larger than life performer who died young, rumors sprang up that Prince was killed by "chemtrail flu" because of a recent interview he have on the not-so-mysterious contrails that appear in the sky. In reality, chemtrails don't actually exist — it would be rather short-sighted for elites to control people's minds with aerial sprays when they all breath the same air — and the interview where the musician discussed them was from 2009.