By George Johnson
Conspiracy theorists tend to cluster at the right and left of the political spectrum, so perhaps Hillary Clinton will attract at least a few voters from both the Trump and Sanders camps with her recent pledge to release documents about Area 51, the top secret military base in Nevada.
Some of her critics have been dubious, suspecting that her vow, made on forums like Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show, was intended to distract attention from her emails and Goldman Sachs speeches. But among the electorate, the antennas of some U.F.O. seekers must have perked up — polls have found that more than a third of Americans are believers — when they heard a presidential candidate actually talking about Area 51.
Suspecting that deep secrets are hidden there — in the form of captured aliens (dead or alive), crashed extraterrestrial spaceships and futuristic weaponry — U.F.O. die-hards have long pushed the government to come clean about the facility, which was established in 1955 as an annex of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Nevada Test Site. The official story — that Area 51 has been used for secret activities like testing the prototype of the U-2 spy plane and other experimental aircraft — seems to them like a cover-up, a suspicion fed by the government’s refusal to acknowledge the place’s existence until the release of a classified report in 2013.
There was no mention of extraterrestrials, of course. What else are our leaders, who may be aliens themselves, going to say?
The number of people fixated on Area 51 to the exclusion of other issues is probably not enough to swing more than a precinct here and there. But the fascination with alien cover-ups taps into a deeper vein. Maybe it’s different for the 0.1 percent at the top of the pyramid (you with your shining eye on the back of the dollar bill), but for most of us the world is a confusing, complicated, mind-numbing place over which we feel a dismaying lack of control.
Sometimes one suspects that a piece of the puzzle must be missing, or dangling cruelly beyond our reach. You can either muddle along without it, as most of us try to do, or put your mind into hyperdrive, making connection after connection and piecing together a hidden order — a conspiracy so immense that it threatens to be more convoluted and complex than what it seeks to explain.
The truth is out there or in there. Open the gates to the inner sanctum — whether it’s the Vatican, the Federal Reserve, the Masonic lodges or Area 51 — and suddenly everything will make sense.
Masters of the craft (there is no good word, at least in English, for conspiracy theorizing) could be found in the 18th century, busily writing tracts and tomes concluding that the French Revolution was plotted by Freemasons working with the Bavarian Illuminati. The hypothesis quickly grew to include the Rosicrucians, the Knights Templar, the Cathars and ancient Egyptian religious cults — ingredients that Dan Brown made lucrative use of in “The Da Vinci Code.” All were said to be players in a secret world history that had been unfolding backstage for centuries, while the masses were distracted like children with shadow plays.
From Europe this spider web of memes spread to the United States, where the existence of Masonic lodges led to suspicions of an Illuminati plot to surrender the country to France, a land teeming with Enlightenment philosophers with godless beliefs and cosmopolitan ways — the original secular humanists.
Protected in its cocoon, this style of thinking — the “paranoid style,” the historian Richard Hofstadter memorably called it — was carried intact into modern times, with the nexus of evil moving to the Soviet Union, the Trilateral Commission and other suspected agents of One World Government. The next step was surely surrender to the Galactic Empire. No wall — it would have to be a planetary shell — could stop the ultimate aliens. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was both a warning and a diversion. No wonder there are strange lights in the sky.
Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.