Going paranoid in cyberspace

SUN JOURNAL

Conspiracy: Anyone with a computer and a modem can hatch a wacky theory on the Internet. But what if all these dire warnings are decoys to distract attention from the real danger?

February 27, 1999|By Eric Lipton | Eric Lipton,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Communist invasions. Mind-controlling "Furbies." CIA plots, feminist coups and the end of the world.

On the Internet, the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment of the president have provided fuel for conspiracy theories, from the outrageous to the ominous, and the publishing of home-based investigations has become as common as UFO sightings in Nevada.

"There's no one theory," says conspiracy buff Rayelan Allen of Aptos, Calif. "It's a puzzle, and everyone has a piece. The Internet sites let us share them, fit together the pieces, and figure out what's really going on."

In pursuit of "what's really going on," would-be sleuths, "X-Files" fans and those loosely tethered to reality seek answers -- or provide them -- on conspiracy-related Web sites and Internet news groups.

Is Clinton a CIA pawn who has outlasted his usefulness? Reports on the online mailing lists Conspiracy Nation and Rumor Mill News describe Clinton as a longtime CIA operative, even a former spy during his Oxford days.

Clinton, they assert, overshot his role in the New World Order -- the attempt to form a worldwide government ruled by a cabal of the rich and powerful -- and the impeachment was designed to remove him for failing to step down after his first term. Another theory has warring CIA factions clashing, with Clinton's presidency the battleground.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's striped robe caused quite a conspiratorial stir, despite the benign explanation that his stripes were inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan's "Iolanthe." Some suspect they were a sign that the Senate trial was actually a clandestine military court-martial -- the four stripes imply a naval ranking of captain -- trying Clinton for unstated crimes.

While Hillary Clinton has portrayed her husband as victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," some Internet conspiracy theorizers contend that she may be attempting a coup d'etat herself.

The Conspiracy Nation newsletter claims that she, as well as "[Linda R.] Tripp, [Lucianne] Goldberg and [Monica] Lewinsky all belong to a loosely based Feminist Intelligence Network." The network, which supposedly includes Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and poet Maya Angelou, seeks to control the government. With Hillary supporting husband Bill and keeping his poll numbers up, he's now in debt to her and her agenda, the theory goes.

And what if the entire impeachment was all part of Clinton's master plan? A national distraction over an indiscretion could be all that's needed to sneak more power.

That's the basis for the "Clinton/Y2K" school of thought, in which the country is so shaken by impeachment that a real or faked disaster, such as a year-2000 epidemic of computer shutdowns, would allow Clinton to declare martial law and proclaim himself president for life.

"Can we afford to allow this potential tyrant, this megalomaniac, this demagogue to remain in power?" asks Internet and talk radio host Joseph Farah.

Another version has Clinton prolonging the investigation until Y2K chaos sets in, and then escaping punishment in the anarchy that follows.

Even last Christmas' popular Furby phenomenon is suspect in postings in the alt.mind-control news group.

Some claim that the government programs televisions and computers to emit "orgone rays" -- a mysterious, scientifically debunked mind-control wave theorized by psychologist Wilhelm Reich.

This theory has it that through fluoride in water and toothpaste, American minds are being manipulated to see the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal as only about sex and thus miss the real implications, involving everything from the CIA to the Incan extraterrestrial religious sects that may still control the world.

To counter the "orgone," recommends a news-group respondent, "You should wear a helmet made of aluminum foil" whenever watching TV, using a computer or operating a Furby. The National Security Agency's banning of Furbies from its offices is seen as proof of their danger.

Independent prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr doesn't escape suspicion. Norman Olson, a commander in the Northern Michigan Regional Militia, writes that Starr may have been placed by the government to "create a diversion away from real criminal behavior." After all, how could a four-year, $40 million investigation bring only a sex scandal to light?

What if Bill Clinton is a Communist and the impeachment is a "diversion" to weaken the country before eventual invasion? So claims a Web site titled, simply enough, Conspiracy Theory. Clinton's support of China, his student trip to Moscow and the Justice Department's attempts to bring down Microsoft are considered evidence that the president is planning to trigger World War III, which the United States would ultimately lose.

Even the Bible, some say, offers clues. Proponents of "The Bible Code," a theory that the Hebrew letters of the Bible can be manipulated to augur the future, have found numerous examples with inferences to the president's predicament.

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