I get a lot of people requesting me to help them or to give them advice on how to help their friends/loved ones who are conspiracy theorists and believe things such as Alex Jones films and Zeitgeist. I try to help them as best I can and offer suggestions as to ways I think they can help their friend/loved one, but typically there isn't much I can do.
I decided to start keeping notes of email and chat exchanges with these people to see if I could come up with an article designed to answer the most common questions I get relating to helping people. This document may be updated in the future, as I haven't really found the best way to help people yet, so if you deal with conspiracy theorists often, I suggest checking this page from time to time.
There's no doubt real conspiracies happen - such as the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program, various things the CIA has done over the years, and so on. There is a level, beyond civil, criminal, and political conspiracies where most "conspiracy theories" rest. These tend to be vast cover ups involving a lot of people with complex scenarios having little or no direct evidence to validate them.
"Conspiracy theorist" is a generic term which includes people who create conspiracy theories, those that fallow them with undying faith, and also those who believe the conspiracy theories, but it's not an obsession. To help separate these kinds of people, in this article I will use three basic categories:
When I say "conspiracy creator", I really mean both people who create conspiracy theories, such as Alex Jones, and those who perpetuate them to the masses via some kind of media (usually video or book), such as Peter Joseph. These people tend to be rather large in the conspiracy theorist scene and have a decent amount of influence over those who follow them.
There can be all types of reasons for people to become conspiracy theorists - some have paranoid personalities, but the biggest names such as Alex Jones, David Icke, Peter Joseph, and so forth, tend to have a bit more involved than just that.
Alex Jones perhaps has showed us more about his personality than anyone else in the conspiracy theorists world. He seems to really enjoy the attention he gets as the vanguard against conspiracy theorists. While originally, in his older films, it seems as though he was a standard conspiracy believer, later on he spins information, or simply makes it up, in order to perpetuate his story. I believe that he does this because he thinks it's OK - he believes he's trying to get a real message out there, and therefore lying sometimes is OK, so long as the general message is still the same. There's no doubt, however that Alex Jones has made at least a modest fortune from his videos, web site memberships, and various other subscriptions. It's hard to say how deep Alex Jones is into his beliefs and whether or not he believes everything - and when I started researching his movies it seemed as though he wasn't a true believer. As time went on, however, and he created more films - it seemed as though he had convinced himself of some kind of mythical reality where anything he finds verifies his theory one way or another, and in the end he believes what he sees, and not the other way around. That is to say, he wanted to see a big satanic ritual at Bohemian Grove, so he saw that, and ignored all other signs against that around him. I believe that in the future, Alex Jones will create more delusions for himself, especially as he becomes more well known; if not, he sure will still bask in the glory of being the great leader of conspiracy theorists.
David Icke is another story. Sometimes I wonder if he's really crazy, but the more I think about his history, the more it seems as though he's simply a scam artist. At one point David Icke told the world he was Jesus Christ, and when that didn't work out, he disappeared for a while then came back talking about lizards. Fundamentally, I believe he's more conman than crazy.
Peter Joseph is extremely hard to classify as he tells us almost nothing about himself. I've never been certain of what his beliefs really are, but they do not seem to be conspiracy theories. After the second Zeitgeist film was released, he seemed to forget the first one, and has moved far away from it. I believe that if he actually believed those conspiracy theories, he would still promote the first film - but he hardly ever mentions it.
There's a vast range of people involved in creating conspiracy theories, and they have just as many reasons for creating them - most of them really have little regard for anyone they influence and often care more about the attention than their followers.
These are people who tend to watch a film or read a book and do believe the conspiracy theories there in, but are open to counter arguments. Many of them simply enjoy the conspiracy theories because they go against the official story - and the individual in question simply wants a reason to hate the "perpetrators". Most of the time the counter arguments sway them against their conspiracy beliefs, but not always. If it counter arguments do nothing, they might be a conspiracy nut (see below).
All conspiracy nuts started out as conspiracy believers, and at different speeds became conspiracy nuts. There's sometimes a decent overlap with conspiracy nuts and conspiracy creators, both tend to have a certain belief in infallibility when it comes to their theories. For example if a report comes out providing evidence against a given conspiracy theory (such as 9/11), then to these individuals it is simply a lie or cover-up; however if a report has any piece of information at all that a conspiracy theorist can use to help support their theories - no matter how miniscule or vague, then the report is valid (in respect to the information they believe) and is evidence. In essence they create a buffet of evidence where they pick out only things that help validate their claims, and simply ignore everything else.
Going further conspiracy theorists tend to only need one piece of a large puzzle to see the picture they want to see. For example, when the 9/11 conspiracies were extremely popular a few years after it happened, conspiracy nuts promoted all of them - however as time went on and many of them were debunked and it was difficult to argue the original theories, they simply started talking about Building Seven and the theories surrounding that. The belief is that if they can prove that Building Seven was brought down by a controlled demolition, then all other 9/11 conspiracies must also be true regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
Perhaps most interesting is how many will claim they want investigations into the conspiracies and cover ups. Following the logic above, they do not care about investigations which do not reach conclusions they have reached. They simply want an investigation that will validate their claims, and any investigation that doesn't isn't a valid investigation. Obviously, this isn't very scientific, and not very logical.
If you confront someone with this, and they reply with some kind of statement such as "if an investigation shows my claims are invalid, I will be the first to to admit I am wrong", then confront them with every counter argument you can find and see if they can explain why they do not believe each one. Most of the time many won't even read them. If they do read them, they already have the predetermined conclusion that the conspiracy is real, and the debunking is false, and therefore no matter what is said, the debunking is always wrong.
In certain situations you will have individuals who say "I simply want my questions answered", almost all their questions can be answered on debunking sites, but it may be a situation similar to above.
Even further, if you do confront someone with counter arguments and they do read them, typically they will ask about some other conspiracy theory. Say for example you show them the 9/11 page on my web site, then they read it and say "OK, well what about this", and then go on to describe a theory not listed; this simply validates what I said above. They only need one piece of evidence, one undebunked theory, and then the entire conspiracy theory is valid again, despite any other evidence - or in a few cases they simply adjust their conspiracy theory to fit the new situation.
A common scenario with conspiracy nuts and conspiracy creators is where they compare two seemingly similar events as a way to present evidence. For example, if I want to present evidence as to how light bulbs work, and I know how the Sun works I could say "well the sun produces light through fusion, therefore light bulbs also must use this same thing, considering they both give off light - it must be true." This is often the logic used by conspiracy theorists, "if it looks like a controlled demolition from another video, it must be, period."
You can find all kinds of videos all over the Internet of people yelling in the streets, telling people to "investigate themselves", "google 'X Conspiracy'", "learn their physics", and so on. They essentially fit into the category I mentioned above where they do not care about a real investigation, or real research, only research that takes place in the context that a conspiracy has indeed happened, no matter any evidence to the contrary. If someone does listen to them, and does google "building seven", the first entries tend to always be conspiracy sites (or in some cases Wikipedia), and so the person almost never sees any evidence debunking conspiracy theories, only pseudoscience that helps perpetuate them. People who claim "research" is reading conspiracy sites are only seeing one -- extremely bias -- side of an entire issue and are only hurting themselves in the long run.
It doesn't take long for people to start with one conspiracy theory, and then move on to many others. The deeper the person is into the conspiracy theory world the harder it can be to bring them out of it. Simply confronting them with information containing counter arguments will often push them away and make them untrusting of you.
One of the best ways I have found for helping someone come to terms with the logical problems of conspiracy theories is to get them to explain them. For example, if they believe in 9/11 conspiracies, have them explain the who, what, when, why, where, and how - down to the smallest detail, if they skip over something or talk about generalities, get them to explain it again in more detail. Helping them realize how many people it would take to be involved in a given conspiracy, or the complexity of oen, often helps with presenting them with counter arguments. If you can find ways for them to bring up counter arguments themselves then it isn't hard for them to to start to realize the broader logical problems with the majority of conspiracy theories.
Be prepared though, some people latch on to conspiracy theories like some people latch on to religion; nothing in the world can get them to see beyond a vast conspiracy involving thousands of people - they simply believe it and will create any argument or scenario in their mind to help validate it.
One of the conspiracies I help people confront others on most is the New World Order. Most of the New World Order conspiracy theories originate in some way or another from the Book of Revelations in the Christian Bible. If the person you want to help claims to not be a Christian or doesn't believe there's a connection (most common with Zeitgeist followers), then present them with web sites describing the scenario of the Book of Revelation. In the end, both are almost identical scenarios - a secret elite/the anti-Christ creates a one world government, with one currency, to control people via some kind of microchip/thumbprint/tattoo. Taking apart each one of these, it isn't hard for a conspiracy theorist or Evangelical Christian to see things such as the UN, Federal Reserve, National ID Cards, and so forth as a part of this Revelation/Conspiracy scenario and that is one reason they have been interlinked for so long - since the dawn of the UN, and in many cases even before, the NWO and Revelation have always been right around the corner and have yet to appear. The concept of the NWO, World Government being evil, etc originates from Christian end time scenarios, despite the religion of believers in the NWO believe today. In fact in the 1980s and prior, NWO conspiracy theorists were fairly limited to Evangelical Christians and the American Militia Movement.
If this wasn't much help, I'm sorry. It's extremely difficult to convince people of things without fancy videos, sexy stories, and helping them feel unique and special by seeing something that most people are blind to. Conspiracy theories are romantic and sexy to people, and that's why they're so attractive.
Here are some more resources: