The Belief in Conspiracy Theories with Emphasis on the Kennedy Assassination
by
Elise Stone
The University of Findlay
Abstract
This paper explores conspiracy theories and what makes them believable to people
seeking the truth. It has been a...
Introduction
Everyone has their own opinion on the validity of conspiracy theories. On
one end of the spectrum there are t...
government is hiding the truth from its citizens. It is due to the influence of today’s
media and contempt for the governm...
However, even though the explanation is not always clear, they can still be
described as independent or one-sided views or...
Although it is apparent that conspiracy theories are difficult to define it is
actually possible to categorize different t...
fair amount of psychological angst among the American public. Just like 9/11, it was
a significant event in U.S. history a...
it was considered a conspiracy. It was never even proven that a group such as the
Australian Committee existed. But becaus...
President John F. Kennedy. However, the conspiratorial aspect of the assassination
comes from the belief that the United S...
attack on 9/11 was engineered by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda due to amount of
evidence against the government's claim. Be...
to make up their own mind about what they want to believe. Crippled epistemology
refers to the fact that people know very ...
series, and video games are all sources that people pick up information from. This
can also include magazines, newspapers,...
sells. Fair-minded reports and impassionate arguments take a back seat (Farhi
2010).
A few examples of stories that made i...
As discussed earlier, government mistrust dates back at least to the French
and American Revolutions. Some of the first co...
central to these theories. Lack of trust and resulting paranoia is the basis for the
conspiracy theories present in the Fr...
anytime soon. We live in a world of too many unanswered questions; as long as
skepticism and paranoia exist, conspiracies ...
Two points are noteworthy. The first is that the people who were influenced
by the Kennedy speaker had a 78.7% (59 individ...
asked the participants whether they believed that the U.S. government was involved
in the Sandy Hook Elementary School sho...
not respond to the question. The percentage of participants who attended the
Kennedy event (Chart 8; N=130) was 57.7% and ...
In Charts 1 through 4, I gave an overview of each of the independent
variables and the distribution of respondents within ...
that the government keeps its activities from Americans. This was demonstrated in
Chart 4 (p< .01). The outcome was intere...
residents from coastal and non-contiguous states. However, ages of respondents
ranged from 17 to 74 years of age, providin...
In conclusion, although the sample taken was small in comparison to other,
more comprehensive studies, the results were un...
Appendix: Relevant Questions from the Survey
Do you believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of Presiden...
References
Blanusa, N. (2011). Depathologized conspiracy theories and cynical reason:
Discursive positions and phantasmati...
Wood, G. S. (1982). Conspiracy and the paranoid style: Causality and deceit in the
eighteenth century. The William and Mar...
Chart 1: Percentage of Event Attendees that Believe Oswald
Acted Alone; N=130
Chi square=71.369; P<.001
100.00%
90.00%
80....
Chart 2: Resondents Who Believe that the U.S. Government Was
Involved in the Sandy Hook Shootings by Those
Who Believe tha...
Chart 3: Repondents Who Believe the U.S. Government Conspires Against the
American People by Those Who believe Oswald Acte...
Chart 4: Respondents Who Think the U.S. Government Keeps its Activities from
Americans by Those Who Believe Oswald Acted A...
Chart 5: Percentage of Respondents by Gender
N=130

43.10%
56.90%

Male
Female
Chart 6: Respondent's Annual Income
N=130

100%
90%
80%
70%
60%
50%
40%

Percentage

30%
20%
10%
0%
0 to
9,999

10,000 20,...
Chart 7: Race of Respondents
N=130

0.80%

5.40%

Non-White
White
Missing
93.80%
Chart 8: The Number of Respondents that attended the
March 26 Event on Kennedy Assassination and Conspiracy
Theories
N=130...
The belief in conspiracy theories with emphasis on the kennedy assassination
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The belief in conspiracy theories with emphasis on the kennedy assassination

  1. 1. The Belief in Conspiracy Theories with Emphasis on the Kennedy Assassination by Elise Stone The University of Findlay
  2. 2. Abstract This paper explores conspiracy theories and what makes them believable to people seeking the truth. It has been argued that conspiracy theories once limited to the fringe element have now become much more commonplace and that a broad cross section of the general public gives them credence, sparking interest from sociologists, psychologists and others. Why is that the case when, although conspiracy theories cite information that supports their rationale, it is usually very limited in its scope and accuracy? This paper examines the modern phenomenon of conspiracy theories and its history. It researches the definition and types of conspiracy theories currently recognized. Also, this paper examines the effects of media on the population’s acceptance of conspiracy theories as well as the role of politics. It details the conspiracy theorist’s approach to gaining the information he or she needs to justify the theory and how it differs from that of a professional investigator. This paper also investigates the psychology of conspiracy theory and why people choose to believe the theories when many of them are illogical, improbable and inaccurate. Although most conspiracy theory is rooted in paranoia, there are other psychological factors at play. This paper also examines those issues, including such things as victim mentality and the loss of control many people feel as their lives move in directions they would not have chosen. With this said, what really influences people to believe in conspiracy theories? Is the tendency to believe still present in the current population? Can we determine what causes that tendency? After completing this research, a survey will be developed to answer these questions and prove the hypothesis that belief in conspiracy theories is alive and well.
  3. 3. Introduction Everyone has their own opinion on the validity of conspiracy theories. On one end of the spectrum there are those who believe the government is watching their every move and at the other end are those who don’t like to ask questions. The average person tends to fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. As human beings we are prone to asking questions. Sometimes we do not like the responses we hear and so attempt to come up with seemingly more fitting answers to our questions. This becomes especially true when it comes to controversial topics such as the assassination of President Kennedy and the terrorist attack on 9/11. Events such as these raise many questions that are not easily answered. And in some cases, instead of believing what we are told as citizens, we prefer to formulate our own answers. The media holds much influence over the way that people today formulate thoughts and beliefs. Today’s media is a powerful tool that controls much of how people articulate their thoughts into actions. The media often influences people to ask questions and make assumptions about things that they may not completely understand. Because of the evolution of television, movies, books, magazines, etc. peoples’ views have become distorted to the point where it is difficult to differentiate fact from that which is unreliable. The government also plays a role in how and to what degree we as citizens make assumptions. In today’s society, we hold much contempt for our system of government and the politicians who take part. This breeds lack of trust in the system and those who run it. Due to this, we find it even easier to conjure up our own stories of events with the belief that our
  4. 4. government is hiding the truth from its citizens. It is due to the influence of today’s media and contempt for the government that make conspiracy theories such as the Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 attack so controversial. Literature Review The term conspiracy theory offers up a mental picture of government agents, wild plots, assassinations, and secretive missions. Once upon a time these ideas would never have been accepted as the truth by any but those on the very fringes of our society. Why is it then that today conspiracy theories abound? And why is it that things thought to be totally unbelievable 50 years ago are now easily accepted by a broad cross section of the general public? Those changes in our belief structure are sparking great interest in sociologists, psychologists, and others, such as those in law enforcement. As an example, Ted Goertzel (1994)in his research on conspiracy theories found that, according to a national survey by the New York Times in 1992, only ten percent of the U.S. population believed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in his assassination of President John Kennedy. This compares to a Gallup Poll in 1966 in which 36 percent of the population believed that Oswald acted alone. This increase in belief of a conspiracy theory over the past almost 30 years has taken place in spite of the additional evidence gathered over the years to support the original supposition and arrest. Why? In order to answer that question, it is necessary to better understand the nature of conspiracy theories. Defining a conspiracy theory is not easy. Due to the lack of organization and systematic processing evident in a conspiracy theory, they are not simply explained.
  5. 5. However, even though the explanation is not always clear, they can still be described as independent or one-sided views or statements that are influenced by scientific theory and political pathology (Blanusa 2011). Another comparative definition of a conspiracy theory is a suggested alternative explanation of a significant event in history according to a limited group of believers (Keeley 1999). This definition uses the word theory because it offers a possible explanation to an event but is not the only explanation. It also states that conspiracy theorists are not omnipotent but significantly influence the spreading of the event. The small groups of believers that are usually involved take action secretly in fear of ruining their ideations. These definitions also correlate with the accuracy of a conspiracy theory simply because they are theories. Theories are defined as a set of facts in relation to one another (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. 2008). People who come up with the conspiracies are theorists that tend to place emphasis on unaccounted for and contradictory data, which is another way of saying errant data (Keeley 1999). The facts of the theory may be related but are inaccurate. Conspiracy theorists do not always investigate the truth before deciding what the truth really is. They tend to change and twist the outcome of their data to fit their own preconceived notion. Another way of putting it may be that nature is construed as a passive and uninterested party with respect to human knowledge gathering activities; the conspiracy theorist is working in a way that interferes with the true facts of the investigation (Keeley 1999).
  6. 6. Although it is apparent that conspiracy theories are difficult to define it is actually possible to categorize different types of conspiracy theories, for instance: superconspiracy, event conspiracy, and systemic conspiracy theories.Superconspiracy theories are multiple conspiracies that are linked together. A prime example of this would be the attack on 9/11 and the numerous theories that are associated with it. Many include the twin towers being brought down with explosives (controlled demolition), the collapsing of building 7, the failure of America's air defenses, and Osama bin Laden's denial of involvement. Also, there is the notion that there was never a proper investigation to ascertain the events of 9/11. It has been widely assumed that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorists were responsible (Everett 2010). Because 9/11 is one the most horrific experiences that has ever occurred in the history of the United States, there are many aspects of it ripe for misinterpretation and theorizing, but all the theories associated with 9/11 are more or less linked. Another type is an event conspiracy theory, which is one or more events that are unconnected and have a limited objective. A well-known example of an event conspiracy is the assassination of President Kennedy. It is commonly believed that the death of President Kennedy was covered up and several agents, as well as agencies, were involved; Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged shooter, did not act alone in the assassination. After the event, many books and articles were published that linked the assassination to the FBI, CIA, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, and other individuals and organizations (McHoskey 1995). This particular event caused much controversy because the killing of a U.S. President is almost unheard of and caused a
  7. 7. fair amount of psychological angst among the American public. Just like 9/11, it was a significant event in U.S. history and many aspects of the incident were attractive targets for conspiracy theorists. The last known type of conspiracy is a systemic conspiracy theory. This particular theory refers to a more expansive region of belief. It focuses more on the control of a country or ruling system. An appropriate reference to a systemic theory would be the disbelief in the occurrence of the Holocaust. It has become evident that some people believe that Hitler was not a dictator and the attack on the Jewish people never took place; Jews were not tortured, there were no concentration camps, the Gestapo, German police, did not exist, and the war never actually happened. Even though there is a substantial amount of proof that the Holocaust did in fact occur, some prefer to put their faith in a conspiracy theory. It is not obvious when the first conspiracy theory was conceived; however, it is known that they date back at least to the days of the American Revolution. One author, Timothy Tackett (2000), describes a potential conspiracy theory that affected the French Revolution and eventually all other revolutions worldwide, including the American Revolution. Beginning on May 23, 1792, Jacques-Pierre Brissot and Armand Gensonne gave a speech at the National Assembly. They spoke about a plan to bring down the Assembly and the entire revolution. The operation was supposedly pieced together by the Australian minister and accompanied by an Australian Committee. The committee was part of the king's court and took part in the majority of the upsets within the new French regime. There was not much evidence to believe this plan would be successful, but due to the secrecy of the plan,
  8. 8. it was considered a conspiracy. It was never even proven that a group such as the Australian Committee existed. But because of the threat to the revolution and the Assembly, the concern spread causing fear in all other revolutions. Its effect on the American Revolution led colonists to believe that members of the British government were conspiring to restrict their attempt at freedom (Tackett 2000). This also affected the Russian and Chinese Revolutions; they too believed that conspiracy existed within their revolutions. Due to the fear that developed during the American Revolution regarding the threat to their freedom, the Revolution itself became a psychological event. Colonists became fearful and paranoid that conspiracy was rampant within their revolution. One man, Richard Hofstadter, took this paranoid attitude and called it the paranoid style and related it to the Bavarian Illuminati scare of the 1790s. He used the term paranoid style as a way of seeing the world and expressing oneself (Wood 1982). He believed this applied to the American Revolution because of the colonists' feelings of tension and anxiety. Because of the original situation during the French Revolution, belief in political conspiracies became more common within revolutions. These beliefs were altering the nature of societal and political views. This change in political views throughout the years has most probably contributed to the reasons why today the government and politics are readily believed to be involved in conspiratorial plots. One event in particular that significantly altered the view of Americans was the Kennedy assassination. As previously mentioned, the issue of the Kennedy assassination revolved around the idea of Lee Harvey Oswald being solely responsible for the death of
  9. 9. President John F. Kennedy. However, the conspiratorial aspect of the assassination comes from the belief that the United States government was somehow involved. A Gallup poll conducted in 1993 showed that 75 percent of Americans believed there was a conspiracy behind the death of JFK (McHoskey 1995). In examining the different types of theories and a few examples, it becomes more apparent why people may believe in conspiracy theories. Each example given was somehow a psychological shock or other psychological wound to those involved. So how does this affect the thought process of a person who believes in conspiracy theories? Psychologists and other researchers offer several theories of their own. Most of these theories propose one or more of the following as possible reasons for people’s interest and belief in conspiracy theories: Betrayal and trust issues that lead to paranoia Coping mechanism for victims of psychological shock Lack of factual information Influence of the information age and media exposure to sensationalism It is certainly possible that since the people rely so heavily on the American governmental system, psychological events such as those described earlier have the potential to morph into betrayal, and paranoia. American government officials have given the American people good reason over the years to question their integrity, making it much easier to believe that they are capable of more than avoiding taxes and misuse of campaign funds. One example of possible government betrayal involves Osama bin Laden and the attack on September 11, 2001. Many people have trouble accepting that the
  10. 10. attack on 9/11 was engineered by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda due to amount of evidence against the government's claim. Because of this evidence, people have begun to question the government's involvement in the attack on 9/11. Matt Everett (2010), claims there are eight areas of evidence that contradict the true story of 9/11. The aspects of his evidence include the twin towers being brought down with explosives with the use of controlled demolition, the collapsing of building 7, the failure of America's air defenses, and Osama bin Laden's denial of involvement. As society becomes more and more exposed to evidential support of a claim, they begin to question what is real, whether that evidence is factual or not. And when faced with the known corruption inherent in our government, it becomes a short step to believing that evidence. Events such as the Kennedy assassination and 9/11 place a lot of stress on society and normally contribute to a negative psychological effect. These effects may include paranoia, high anxiety, tension, and the lack of trust in people. However, it is interesting that those same emotions may influence people positively. Some find interpretations within conspiracy theories fulfilling psychological function, which allows people to cope with different situations. It also may give them a sense of meaning and self-control (Newheiser, Farias, and Tausch 2011). When a situation is difficult to make sense of and a possible explanation is available, however implausible, it becomes a type of coping mechanism. Even though psychological change can alter a person's thought process, trust is a significant factor when looking at conspiracy theories. People do not normally have the resources to access trusted information. They have to rely on what other people say or think to be able
  11. 11. to make up their own mind about what they want to believe. Crippled epistemology refers to the fact that people know very little and what they actually grasp is incorrect or inaccurate (Sustein and Vermeule 2009). If people cannot determine what is true, they base a judgment on what they recognize, whether something is accurate or not. However, because people rely so heavily on others for information, which can potentially fuel a belief in conspiracy theories, another question arises as to why those people continue to believe in conspiracy theories, especially if there is no evidence to prove the theory is true. One author, Matt Goertzal (1994), claims that monological belief systems are an easy explanation for this. In a monological belief system, each preexisting belief relates to the evidence of another or new belief. A monological thinker is more likely to believe in latent conspiracy theories than the average person. Because they do not use factual evidence to distinguish the truth of theories, they tend to use the same explanation for every existing problem. This type of belief can also be strongly correlated with Anomia which, again, is the lack of trust in people. If there is lack of trust, then people are more prone to stick with a belief they are already familiar and comfortable believing. The question of trust appears to be central to the pattern with any conspiracy theory. It is evident that since people have very little and inaccurate knowledge about a topic, they tend to rely on information from other people. However, the people in reference are never identified as a specific source; a friend, family member, coworker, are never identified as an accurate source. This is where the influence from the media comes in. The news, talk shows, movies, television
  12. 12. series, and video games are all sources that people pick up information from. This can also include magazines, newspapers, periodicals, and books. The media significantly impacts how a person thinks and what he or she believes in today's society. One interesting question is why the media receives so much attention for scandals and conspiracy theories, especially when there is no real evidence to prove they are true. For Farhi (2010), the change in the media throughout the years has had a considerable impact on society. In the past, potential news media professionals were trained to provide only factual information free from spin or personal opinion; personal feelings were reserved for the opinion columns and pages only. It appears that the press has taken more liberties in recent years and the media takes advantage of the freedom of speech. Before there was internet and news commentary, ignoring stories that were not appropriate for society was much easier. Due to the ease of media dissemination, the information industry has become big business and competition is very much seated in sensationalism. To disregard a strange or sensationalized news story is akin to competitive suicide in today’s market. Some internet news sites actually have categories for weird news. Other reasons why certain information winds up in the media is just simply because of misinformation. With the sheer volume of information pushed out to the public, mistakes are commonly made. Too many debates and stories in the media go uncorrected; this misleads society. Making sure the facts are right and accurate is becoming more difficult because of the volume of information and also because the media benefits financially from reporting the more colorful aspects of the story; it
  13. 13. sells. Fair-minded reports and impassionate arguments take a back seat (Farhi 2010). A few examples of stories that made it into the media that got much attention involved two of our American Presidents. One was a recent trip Obama took to India and the controversy that resulted. The media reported that for each day he spent in India, it cost roughly $200 million. Another part of that story was that he was accompanied by 34 naval ships. The information to this story was only anonymously sourced. Another example is the role George W. Bush allegedly played in the attack on 9/11.He was blamed for possibly staging the attack to advance his war on terror. This story could easily be seen as fuel for a conspiracy against the United States former President. Another consideration is how gullible the public has become. Even though the media would rather inform the public of more colorful events than straight factual stories, people choose to believe the information they are offered. It has become increasingly difficult and time-consuming to ferret out the truth. Simply, it is easier to accept what is readily available. However, the more inaccurate and uncorrected information people are fed, the more their beliefs can be manipulated, using fear and paranoia as tools. Technology has also played a part. The motion picture and video game industries’ use of new video technology to tell a believable story makes it much more difficult to distinguish fantasy from fiction. Well-made movies such as Shooter and the Manchurian Candidate are easy to believe and after watching them along with other video games and movies often enough, the truth becomes harder to recognize.
  14. 14. As discussed earlier, government mistrust dates back at least to the French and American Revolutions. Some of the first conspiracy theories began with the government and continue to have a lasting effect on society today. However, even though the United States government is blamed consistently for being corrupt and keeping information hidden from the public, they are still listened to intently because of the power they wield. If the American government has so much influence, why do they not attempt to control these conspiratorial situations? Two authors, Cass R. Sustein and Adrian Vermeule (2009), offer suggestions that the government might follow or administer to ensure that conspiracy theories are no longer tolerated. A few examples are to impose a tax on anyone who spreads any type of conspiracy theory; another may be for the government to hire a person who is able to counter speak against the conspiracy theorists. Even though the government may be capable of influencing society, it does not mean that the way people think will change. There will always be people who blame the government for the issues that America faces and the government will always keep secrets from American citizens as a means to protect them. Conspiracy theories are fictional explanations of important events that have influenced the lives of people all over the world, most of them dealing with some aspect of government. This research asks why so many people believe in conspiracy theories when in truth, there is little reason to. As the research indicates, there are a number of reasons that people may feel more comfortable with a conspiracy theory than the facts. However, there is one recurring reason, lack of trust, leading to perceived betrayal and paranoia. Throughout the research, lack of trust has been
  15. 15. central to these theories. Lack of trust and resulting paranoia is the basis for the conspiracy theories present in the French and American Revolutions. This may be where the skepticism with our government began, although some of the officials in our modern-day government have certainly added to our suspicions. Other psychologically-charged events such as the Kennedy assassination and President George W. Bush's supposed involvement in the attack on 9/11 give us clues to several other reasons for the popularity of the conspiracy theory phenomenon. When something like the death of a president occurs, it is often followed by a real case of psychological shock. People are at a loss to explain such a thing and looking for an explanation becomes a coping mechanism. Whether that explanation is based in fact or fiction, humans have a need to be able to make sense of a situation. The problem lies in that individual’s ability to access the facts. When events such as assassinations occur, the general public is rarely given the sensitive factual information gathered by law enforcement until much later. The information gap is gladly filled by conjecture spinning its way into a conspiracy theory. Media, also many times without access to secured information, is happy to report those stories that sell papers and conspiracy theories are prime sources. And the final nail in the proverbial coffin may be that the conspiracy theory doesn’t sound too farfetched because something very similar to it was on television last night. There are multiple reasons why conspiracy theories exist. It is also true that not all are wrong, which makes them even more believable. However, as long as people choose to believe in the possibility, conspiracy theories will not go away
  16. 16. anytime soon. We live in a world of too many unanswered questions; as long as skepticism and paranoia exist, conspiracies will always be a part of society. Data I conducteda convenience sample of university students from The University of Findlay, which is a private university, as well as attendees of the event, “The Kennedy Assassination: An Evidentiary View.” The event was held on the campus of The University of Findlay and the speaker, Peter Piraino, discussed the Kennedy assassination and the conspiracy theories that were involved. My survey consisted of 25 questions, including a question that asked participants if they believed Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Administered in the spring of 2013, I was able to obtain a total of 130 responses. Of those participants who began taking the survey, only five failed to complete it. The distribution was as follows: The University of Findlay students compromised 42.3% of the sample and the attendees of the event, “The Kennedy Assassination: An Evidentiary View” comprised 57.7% of the sample. Variables Dependent Variable The dependent variable was whether or not respondents believed Lee Harvey Oswald acted as the lone gunman during the Kennedy assassination. In the survey, respondents were asked the following question: “Do you believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President Kennedy?” Respondents were provided three possible responses: yes, no, or don’t know. In Chart 1, I provided an overview of how all respondents answered the question.
  17. 17. Two points are noteworthy. The first is that the people who were influenced by the Kennedy speaker had a 78.7% (59 individuals out of 75) belief rate that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President Kennedy. However, out of the people who did not attend the event, only 7.3% believed that Oswald acted alone. This indicated that the people who attended the Kennedy event were educated and influenced by the information provided at the event. The people who did not attend did not have the same access to factual information and their responses significantly differed from those who did attend. The second point of note is the number of people who believed that Oswald did not act alone. Of the number of people who attended the event,only 6.7% of them did not believe Oswald acted alone. On the contrary, of the people who did not attend, 67.3% believed that Oswald did not act alone. The effects of the event showed that accurate information from a perceived legitimate source may change the opinion of someone believing in conspiracy theories. Independent Variables For my independent variables, I included the standard demographic variables of age, sex, race, annual income and also whether they attended the Kennedy assassination event. The remaining independent variables revolved around the following concepts: the Kennedy assassination event, conspiracy theories and trust in government. I included one measure of the Kennedy assassination by asking the participants whether they attended the event, “The Kennedy Assassination: An Evidentiary View”. For this question, the respondent had the option of yes or no. As another measure of believing in conspiracy theories, I
  18. 18. asked the participants whether they believed that the U.S. government was involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Participants were given the following choices: very likely, likely, neutral, unlikely or very unlikely. My final two variables involved trust in the government. I asked participants whether they believed the U.S. government is mostly transparent with the American people about its activities, as well as how likely it is that the American government conspires against the American people to keep them unaware of the truth. For the first question, regarding the American people and the government hiding their activities, the respondents were given the following options: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree or strongly disagree. In the second question, whether the participants believe the government conspires against the people, the respondents were given the following options: very likely, likely, neutral, unlikely or very unlikely. With the government-based questions, I was able to gauge the level of trust those believing in conspiracy theories may have toward their own government. Demographics of Dataset In my first demographic related chart (Chart 5; N=130) 43.1% of the respondents are male and 56.9% are female. The annual income (Chart 6; N=130) varies from 0 to 9,999 to 100,000 or more. 6.2% earned 0 to 9,999 per year, 1.5% earned 10,000 to 19,999, 3.8% earned 20,000 to 29,999, 30,000 to 39,999, and 40,000 t0 49,999, 14.6% earned 50,000 t0 59,999, 10.8% earned 60,000 to 69,999, 5.4 % earned 70,000 to 79,999, 6.2% earned 80,000 to 89,999, 5.4% earned 90,000 to 99,999, and 27.7% earned 100,000 or more per year. With respect to race (Chart 7; N=130), 93.8% of respondents were white, 5.4% were non-white, and 0.8% did
  19. 19. not respond to the question. The percentage of participants who attended the Kennedy event (Chart 8; N=130) was 57.7% and those participants who did not was 42.3%.The average age (Table 1; N=130) is 27.6, with the youngest participant being 17 and the oldest being 74. Given that I distributed my survey at a university, it is unsurprising that the majority of my sample is under age 25. Hypotheses H1: Belief in conspiracy theories is alive and well in America today. H2: Respondents with access to accurate information from a perceived legitimate source may change the opinion of someone believing in a conspiracy theory. H3: Those respondents who believe in one conspiracy theory are more likely to believe in others; this may fill a psychological need for them. Methodology To determine which variables were more likely to have an effect on the perception of conspiracy theories, I used bivariate statistics (crosstabs). Because I usedonly one dependent variable, whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, with 0=respondent not believing Oswald acted alone, 1=Oswald did act alone, and 3=don’t know if Oswald acted alone, and numerous independent variables, a bivariate analysis was appropriate. My independent variables were how many participants attended the event, “The Kennedy Assassination: An Evidentiary View,” whether participants believed that the U.S. government was involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, how likely it is that the American government conspires against the American people, and whether respondents believed the U.S. government keeps its activities from the American people.
  20. 20. In Charts 1 through 4, I gave an overview of each of the independent variables and the distribution of respondents within those variables. In the first chart, I provided the percentages of the variables as attendees and non-attendees for the Kennedy event; for the second chart, I provided the percentages by various categories relating to the Sandy Hook shootings; the third and fourth chart also provided the percentages by various categories relating to government questions. These charts expressed percentages with a cross between the dependent variable of who believed Lee Harvey Oswald did or did not act alone. Results and Discussion The results of each of my crosstabs were significant and have interesting implications. The percentage of people who did not attend the Kennedy event and tend to believe in conspiracy theories virtually mirrored the results of those who did attend and do not believe; this is shown in Chart 1(p< .01). The percentage of nonattendees who did not believe Oswald acted alone was 67.3%, while the percentage of attendees who believed that Oswald acted alone was 78.7%. The visual results on the chart look parallel to one another. Also, the percentage of people who believed the government was likely involved with the Sandy Hook shootings and believed Oswald did not act alone was above 50%, while those who believed Oswald acted alone thought this was very unlikely at 66.1%. This was demonstrated in Chart 2 (p< .001). In addition, 100% of those who believed it is that it is very unlikely that the government would conspire against the American people also believed that Oswald acted alone. This significance was confirmed in Chart 3 (p < .001).Lastly, the percentage of people who did not believe Oswald acted alonestrongly agreed 100%
  21. 21. that the government keeps its activities from Americans. This was demonstrated in Chart 4 (p< .01). The outcome was interesting because 73.3% of those who did not believe Oswald acted alone also strongly disagreed that the government kept its activities from Americans. Conclusion This study is based upon an earlier literature review inquiring into the phenomenon of conspiracy theory. There are a number of things that come into play when studying the genesis of conspiracy theories. Some of these are the effects of popular media, unsavory politics and the psychology of the individuals who partake in this peculiarity. However, this study focuses primarily on lack of or access to accurate information as an element in conspiracy theories. In an age when information is easily accessible, it is curious that conspiracy theories continue to exist. My study revealed three insights into the subject. The first of these is that conspiracy theories continue to exist among the modern-day American population in spite of easy access to facts. My survey of 130 individuals showed that a significant number of them still believe in the possibility that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and that the U.S. government may have been involved in the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School killings. They also believe that the American government may be hiding information from its citizens. This agrees with Ted Goetzel’s findings. These results may be somewhat suspect in that all of the survey responses came from mid-western residents or college students rather than from a mixture of
  22. 22. residents from coastal and non-contiguous states. However, ages of respondents ranged from 17 to 74 years of age, providing an adequate range. The second of these insights is that easily accessible factual information from a perceived legitimate source may have the power to sway opinion. This study was done after an open presentation at The University of Findlay campus on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, both the facts and fallacies in the associated investigation. The presentation was made by former Secret Service Agent and current Tiffin University Professor Peter Piraino. Survey results showed that a much higher percentage of those individuals who attended the presentation believed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that there were no others present on the grassy knoll. Inversely, there was a significantly larger percentage of those who did not attend the presentation that believed the opposite. Unfortunately, I was unable to poll attendees before the presentation to determine how many of the attendees may have changed their opinion after hearing Piraino’s report. Thirdly, it appears that those who believe in one conspiracy theory are much more prone to believe in others, which may be rooted in their psychological makeup. As stated in my earlier literature review, some find interpretations within conspiracy theories fulfilling psychological function, which allows people to cope with different situations. It also may give them a sense of meaning and self-control (Newheiser, Farias, and Tausch 2011). A pattern seemed to emerge in the survey results, showing that those who believed that Oswald did not act alone were much more disposed to believe in other conspiracy theories, such as government involvement in the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings.
  23. 23. In conclusion, although the sample taken was small in comparison to other, more comprehensive studies, the results were uniformly significant in the areas polled. I believe that my results, along with those of others like Ted Goertzel, can be considered accurate, especially in that conspiracy theories are alive and well in America today. I also believe that there is strong evidence that access to reliable and well-respected information may change a conspiracy theorist’s opinion, unless he or she has some psychological need to hold to those beliefs.
  24. 24. Appendix: Relevant Questions from the Survey Do you believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President Kennedy?   Yes   No   Don’t’ Know The U.S. government is mostly transparent with the American people about its activities.   Strongly Agree   Agree   Neutral   Disagree  Strongly Disagree How likely do you believe it is that the U.S. government was involved in The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings?   Very Likely   Likely   Neutral   Unlikely  Very Unlikely How likely do you believe it is that the American government conspires against the American People to keep them unaware of the truth?   Very Likely   Likely   Neutral   Unlikely  Very Unlikely Did you attend the “The Kennedy Assassination: An Evidentiary View” event on March 26?  Yes   No    Don’t Know
  25. 25. References Blanusa, N. (2011). Depathologized conspiracy theories and cynical reason: Discursive positions and phantasmatic structures. Politicka Misao: Croatian Political Science Review, 48, 94-107. Everett, M. (2010). 9/11: The greatest lie ever told. Journal of Psychohistory, 38, 133167. Farhi, P. (2010). From the fringe to the mainstream. American Journalism Review, 32, 32-37. Goertzel, T. (1994). Belief in conspiracy theories. Political Psychology, 15, 731-742. Keely, B. L. (1999). Of conspiracy theories. The Journal of Philosophy, 96, 109-126. McHoskey, J. W. (1995). Case closed? On the John F. Kennedy assassination: Biased assimilation of evidence and attitude polarization. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 17, 395-409. Newheiser, A. K. M. (2011). The functional nature of conspiracy beliefs: Examining the underpinnings of belief in the Da Vinci code conspiracy. Personality & Individual Differences, 51, 1007-1011. Sustein, C. R. (2009). Conspiracy theories: Causes and cures. Journal of Political Philosophy, 17, 202-227. Tackett, T. (2000). Conspiracy obsession in a time of revolution: French elites and the origins of the terror, 1789-1792. American Historical Review, 105, 691713.
  26. 26. Wood, G. S. (1982). Conspiracy and the paranoid style: Causality and deceit in the eighteenth century. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 39, 401441.
  27. 27. Chart 1: Percentage of Event Attendees that Believe Oswald Acted Alone; N=130 Chi square=71.369; P<.001 100.00% 90.00% 80.00% 70.00% 60.00% 50.00% 3/26 Non-attendees 40.00% 3/26 Attendees 30.00% 20.00% 10.00% 0.00% % who do not believe % who do believe Don't Know
  28. 28. Chart 2: Resondents Who Believe that the U.S. Government Was Involved in the Sandy Hook Shootings by Those Who Believe that Oswald Acted Alone; N=130 Chi square= 25.925; P<.001 Very Unlikely Unlikely Believe Oswald acted alone Neutral Do not believe Oswald acted alone Don't know Likely Very Likely 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
  29. 29. Chart 3: Repondents Who Believe the U.S. Government Conspires Against the American People by Those Who believe Oswald Acted Alone; N=130; Chi square=49.210; P<.001 Very Unlikely Unlikely Believe Oswald acted alone Do not believe Oswald acted alone Don't know Neutral Likely Very Likely 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
  30. 30. Chart 4: Respondents Who Think the U.S. Government Keeps its Activities from Americans by Those Who Believe Oswald Acted Alone; N=130; Chi square=21.984; P<.01 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% Do not believe Oswald acted alone 50% Believe Oswald acted alone 40% Don’t know 30% 20% 10% 0% Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
  31. 31. Chart 5: Percentage of Respondents by Gender N=130 43.10% 56.90% Male Female
  32. 32. Chart 6: Respondent's Annual Income N=130 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% Percentage 30% 20% 10% 0% 0 to 9,999 10,000 20,000 30,000 40,000 50,000 60,000 70,000 80,000 90,000 100,000 to to to to to to to to to or more 19,999 29,999 39,999 49,999 59,999 69,999 79,999 89,999 99,999
  33. 33. Chart 7: Race of Respondents N=130 0.80% 5.40% Non-White White Missing 93.80%
  34. 34. Chart 8: The Number of Respondents that attended the March 26 Event on Kennedy Assassination and Conspiracy Theories N=130 42.30% 57.70% Non-Attendee Attendee

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