As someone who has read and researched quite a few historical conspiracies, I tend to find that conspiracies to do things are far messier and far less successful than conspiracies of silence. After all, it is far harder a task to get people to cooperate than it is simply to encourage them to avoid talking about a subject because of mutual awkwardness. Nevertheless, when one reads writings that deal with various government conspiracies, there are definitely some patterns in terms of how these various matters are dealt with. I thought it would be worthwhile to address these approaches and patterns so that we may better understand the subtle communication that is sent even when there is a flimsy and obviously false cover statement as to what happened in a particular situation. And understanding this sort of subtle communication is definitely worthwhile when one deals with the question of how it is that governments and authorities seek to preserve power despite unpopularity and massive mistrust.
The first explanation that authorities wish to use to diffuse mistrust when it comes to conspiratorial behavior is that a given dead person killed themselves or died by accident. There are a variety of means where this may happen. There may be, for example, a fall out of a window (like the third defenestration of Prague, when Jan Maseryk was killed by Communists after World War II), an overdose on drugs, a single car accident, or a staged placing of a dead body with a gun placed in his hand. In all of these cases, the case is made that a given person was under such stress and in such distress that they despaired of life when in reality their existence was problematic for authorities for one reason or another and their life was snuffed out. Yet while such stories can easily be concocted, the efforts at staging things leaves trace evidence that others can use to understand that the story being promoted is a false one.
Yet this too has its purposes. The existence of a cover story, even where it is not believed by everyone, serves valuable purposes. For one, there are people who will believe such stories easily, and who will thus not be a part of any active opposition to a particular authority. And even for those who do not believe the story, the staging has a purpose, and that is the communication of the ability of those in authority to silence others and to make it look like suicide or an accident and the willingness of those in authority to do so if they should deem it in their best interests to do so. Thus the communication of the cover story, even if it is flimsy and contradictory and easy to uncover, serves a dual purpose, and that is calming those who are not opposed to government and avoiding a more widespread mistrust of those in authority while simultaneously seeking to intimidate those who see through the bogus cover story by communicating the ruthlessness of government in dealing with those who threaten their interests. Even when a lie is not believed, that lie can communicate something worthwhile.
There are times, though, when it is impossible for something to look like a suicide, and in that case the insistence is that there was a “lone gunman” who is usually an expendable part of the conspiracy who has been set up as a patsy. It should be noted that this sort of behavior is not limited to government conspiracies but also works in criminal conspiracies as well, where the government encourages lesser criminals in a conspiracy to flip so that the government can punish the most important figure that they really want to convict. This may be viewed as the inverse of the patsies who are fingered with the crime when conspiracies are committed by authorities, where the least important person takes the rap for a larger crime, but they are essentially the same sort of process, where that which was done by many people is viewed as being the result of a single mastermind who was working alone and definitely not in cahoots with anyone else. The use of cooperating coconspirators who fingered OJ Simpson for an attack on someone who had some of his memorabilia and the view that Lee Harvey Oswald was the only assassin of President Kennedy are both the same sorts of arguments that seek to simplify a larger mess to a single person who can be blamed for it.
And even when this is not believed, this story too has its purposes. For criminal conspiracies, it reduces the stress one feels if one knows that the government will not be interested in punishing oneself if one can finger someone higher up. Sniches are not a popular kind of person, but the reason why there are sniches is because it is appealing to be able to get out of trouble by providing information on more important people that the government is more interested in punishing. Likewise, for government conspiracies, the fact that individual and low-ranking members of a conspiracy can be blamed for everything is a way to encourage those who are a part of the conspiracy to be loyal and keep quiet and to avoid any of the blame themselves while some suitable patsy is found who is the most expendable member of the conspiracy and who can take the rap for everyone else. In both cases, the conspiracy seeks to act in ways that minimize its size and that reduce the scrutiny that is faced by those who are engaged in the various operations that are required to pull a complex plan off, even where the cover story may not be believed. Even with the disbelief of a cover story, it may be impossible to uncover enough evidence to know who was responsible for a given action even if someone must have been.
And that may be the most important thing to realize, that conspiracies are about the assertion of claims that the government can make people or make evidence disappear that contradicts with its interests, and that even where one can recognize the hand of authority figures in promoting a false picture of history that the truth may simply be impossible to know in any detail. Institutions that have the ability to create plausible cover stories and protect the anonymity of those involved in its dirty work preserve their ability to do more of such dirty work in the future, and this is true whether we are looking at criminal gangs or institutions of church and state. And if one sees through a cover story, one is still seeing communication that the responsible institution wants to convey, and that is a story of the power of the authorities to silence those whose speech threatens to blow the institution’s own cover, a message that can be successfully conveyed even to those who do not trust the authority or institution in question.