Will 2016 Go Down As The Beginning of a Vast Conspiracy Age?

Chances are that 2016 will go down as the year that conspiracy theories moved from the fringes and firmly to the middle of our national discourse. Earlier this month, a man entered a DC pizza restaurant with a gun, determined to investigate Comet Ping Pong’s non-existent connection to a child sex-ring. This “PizzaGate” conspiracy was born on Reddit just before the elections in a pro-Trump subreddit, explicitly naming the Clintons as ringleaders. Not a word of it was true, but that didn’t prevent Edgar Welch from entering the pizzeria and firing his rifle.

Children are often at the center of the most compelling conspiracy theories. The anti-vaccination movement has been fueled by these types of stories for over a decade.

In early 2015, a measles outbreak started in Disneyland and Mobius Loop, at four months of age, was the youngest victim. Though he and his entire family were up-to-date on their vaccinations, the measles vaccine is not administered until after a child’s first birthday. His illness spurred his mother, Ariel, to become involved in the pro-vaccine movement.

As a registered nurse with two degrees, Ariel was always an advocate for vaccination, but was unaware of how robust the anti-vaccine movement was until her child became ill. She went on to testify about his illness in Sacramento in support of SB227, a bill that eliminated the personal belief exemption that anti-vaxxers relied on to avoid giving their children vaccines.

Months passed and Ariel attended a Bernie Sanders rally with Mobius. There, she was approached by women with clipboards who asked her to sign a petition they had “to keep children safe”.

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“I humored her only because I was 90% sure it was for SB277. A lot of their tactics were completely misrepresenting the facts… So she flipped over her clipboard and it had the vaccine schedule on it and I laughed so hard… She started her spiel and I interrupted with something along the lines of, ‘He [pointing to Mobius] got measles when he was 4 months old and almost died. I went up to Sacramento to testify in support of SB277,’ to which she replied, ‘He didn't have measles; it's a conspiracy.’”

According to the woman, there was no Disneyland outbreak and the baby in Ariel’s arms never had measles. Later, Ariel found videos on YouTube about her family, calling them “crisis actors,” insisting their entire family was invented by the media, Big Pharma, the Illuminati and probably George Soros.

(If you think they’re invented, you have to question why these giants of misdirection didn’t give the wee victim a less distinct name than “Mobius Loop.” Or why the invented father insisted on wearing kilts in the various interviews they conducted with news outlets.)

2016 gave rise to conspiracies that took hold more tightly than ever. Justin Trudeau is Fidel Castro’s love child. And everything from the election to the leftover Chipotle in your fridge to the NBA championship is rigged. Oh, and don't forget that the chemtrail flu was what really killed Merle Haggard and Prince.

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Search for any event this year with the word "conspiracy” and you’ll find yourself in a world of people so committed to their particular worldview that they will reshape anything that doesn’t fit their narrative. Put it on the internet with some stolen graphics and -- boom! -- you’re a truth-teller.

As with so many things this year, conspiracy theories are suddenly being given a softer name: fake news. Calling it “fake news” puts it in the same category of diet sodas, Tupac holograms and butter substitutes, and perpetuates two bits of fiction: that the believers, who want things simplified to protect their worldview, fall for such "news" as an honest mistake; and that being fooled simply means “job well done” by the creator. And this is just the beginning.

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