You might be interested to know that according to an April 4 Facebook post on a page devoted to a solstice alignment in a Kentucky cave, a couple of weeks ago the crew from America Unearthed traveled to Kentucky to film the Red Bird Petroglyph, a chunk of sandstone that broke off of a formation in 1994. It is better known as the Manchester Marked Rock. The stone allegedly contains single-character carvings in eight Old World languages, including single letters in Punic, Libyan, South Semitic, Egyptian, etc., and a rebus in Ogham and a Christian monogram. In reality, the carvings bear little to no resemblance to the alphabets they supposedly represent and are geometric inscriptions. They could be Native or colonial or both; they have yet to be studies to determine their origin. Fringe theorists have simply scoured various Old World scripts looking for similarities, and didn’t do a very good job of it, either.
The stone head uncovered in a flash flood that the show is allegedly investigating according to that same post looks, from the art style, like an eroded architectural embellishment from the nineteenth century, though of course it is not possible to be definitive from a photograph.
Anyhow, moving on…
As I described a while back, I’m currently reading Michael Barkun’s A Culture of Conspiracy, and it’s taking me a bit longer than I’d like for such a short book because it’s hard to find the time to devote to reading while simultaneously editing a new book, doing full time work, writing a blog, and having any time for entertainment that doesn’t revolve around conspiracy theories. But right now I’m reading his chapters about the specific content of modern American conspiracy theories, particularly their cross-pollination with one another and with older conspiracy theories that Barkun explicitly identifies as racist, nativist, and anti-Semitic.
As Barkun notes, modern proponents of such theories take great pains to announce that they are not racist, nativist, or anti-Semitic while still employing the tropes of propaganda created for those purposes and citing those sources as authorities.
Now, I am not a scholar of modern conspiracy theories, and I’ve never studied them with the depth I’ve devoted to understanding ancient history and those who abuse it. That’s why, you’ll recall from my earlier blog post, I was struck by how the outline for conspiracy theories applied to America Unearthed. I’d like to take a moment to look at how the content of what Barkun describes as “conspiracy culture” also duplicates the H2 documentary format perfectly.
Because I am most familiar with America Unearthed and Ancient Aliens, I will use them for illustrative purposes, but I have no doubt most of the same apply to Hangar 1, America’s Book of Secrets, and similar shows. I’m going to restate Barkun’s points in the form of questions that can be applied to any fringe theory. The more “yes” answers, the more likely a fringe idea is to be a paranoid conspiracy with little grounding in fact.
Below, America Unearthed will be “AU” and Ancient Aliens “AA.”
Does your conspiracy involve the Catholic Church?
AU: Yes, they are suppressing the truth about Mary Magdalene
AA: Yes, they are doing the aliens’ bidding and preparing us for their return.
Does your conspiracy involve the Knights Templar?
AU: Yes, they are the key to everything.
AA: Yes, they had access to alien technology.
Does your conspiracy involve Freemasonry?
AU: Yes, they are secretly controlling history.
AA: Yes, they have access to alien secrets.
Does your conspiracy involve the Illuminati?
AU: Yes, they are part of the Masonic conspiracy.
AA: Yes, they are our alien overlords.
Does your conspiracy involve the Jews?
AU: Yes, they colonized America in ancient times and hid the Ark of the Covenant here.
AA: Yes, the Ark gave them a direct line to the aliens.
Does your conspiracy provide an explanation for UFOs?
AU: Not yet.
AA: Yes, multiple and contradictory.
Does your conspiracy involve tunnels or caves hiding ancient secrets?
AU: Where else are you going to stash ancient artifacts?
AA: Underground aliens live in the hollow earth.
Does your conspiracy involve occult reptiles?
AU: Yes, symbolically, in terms of a trans-Atlantic serpent-worshiping cult.
AA: Yes, in terms of reptilian aliens.
Does your conspiracy involve the U.S. government hiding the truth?
AU: Yes, because they are in league with the Freemasons.
AA: Yes, because they are in league with the aliens.
Does your conspiracy involve the Denver Airport?
AU: Maybe, but it isn’t certain. You never know about those Freemasons.
AA: No, not really, but try our colleagues at Hangar 1.
Does your conspiracy involve the New World Order?
AU: Yes, they are trying to forcibly reduce our population.
AA: Jim Marrs thinks so.
Does your conspiracy involve the street grid of Washington, DC?
AU: Yes, it’s proof of a Masonic conspiracy.
AA: Yes, it’s a signal to the aliens.
Does your conspiracy theory involve the Kennedy Assassination?
AU: Not yet.
AA: Only when the Hangar 1 ufologists are on.
Does your conspiracy rely on at least one nineteenth-century propaganda text of dubious scholarship?
AU: Yes, anti-Masonic tracts and anti-Golden Circle tracts.
AA: Yes, the ancient astronaut theory is pretty much born from the Secret Doctrine.
Does your conspiracy discuss at least one piece of fiction you claim is secretly true?
AU: Yes, the Book of Tephi, a fictional poem.
AA: Do I even need to answer that? I think we’ve seen enough to know the answer.
Does your conspiracy receive support from other conspiracy theorists?
AU: Of course.
AA: Like a black hole, it sucks all conspiracies inward.
Remember, these diagnostic criteria were published in 2006, before either show aired. I have to admit that it surprised me to see the DC street grid and occult reptiles on the list of diagnostic traits of American conspiracy culture, all the more so since they show up in America Unearthed and Ancient Aliens. Part of this is due to the nature of television, which keeps clawing for any and every piece of material that could possibly fill an hour. On the other hand, the chances of both of these conspiracy-oriented shows hitting almost all the diagnostic points of the modern American conspiracy culture by chance are exceedingly low. It would be possible, in theory, to focus on just one or even three or four of the content areas above while still operating for the most part in what the rest of us would view as a framework of solid evidence; but when you are involved with nearly all of them, you are operating in a completely different worldview that has moved beyond what non-conspiracy theorists would recognize as evidence.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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