In criminal law, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime at some time in the future.
Dictionaries may have somewhat different definitions, such as including agreements to do wrongful acts and excluding agreements that are not secret.
The phrase "conspiracy theory" has today a negative meaning, due to the existence of conspiracy theories that are argued to be "obviously" incorrect and absurd. The phrase is therefore rarely used by supporters of the existence of a conspiracy or some similar argued phenomena. The phrase is instead often used by opponents, as a guilt by association label, in order to summarily dismiss the theory or observation. This is often problematic, since there are real conspiracies and since members of a group do may behave similarly without being involved in a conspiracy.
Examples of real conspiracies include many assassinations, coups, and revolutions (or attempts), which were organized by various secret groups.
Redefining the term "conspiracy theory"
Wikipedia has redefined the term "conspiracy theory" to mean "an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful actors, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable", thus implying that there are always better explanations than the existence of a conspiracy. This claimed meaning contradicts that the term "theory" implies something with some form of argued supporting evidence, in contrast to terms such as "hypothesis", "conjecture", and "speculation". As the Wikipedia's definition implies not just lack of evidence, but evidence against the existence of the argued conspiracy, better terms for this Wikipedia definition would be "conspiracy misbelief", "conspiracy delusion", or something similar.
The above Wikipedia definition is not the definition given by, for example, Merriam-Webster, which instead states that a conspiracy theory is "a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators."
Furthermore, Wikipedia's definition implies that prosecutors are always stating an unlikely theory and an unlikely accusation when they state a theory on accused persons being involved in a conspiracy.
"There is always someone who will talk"
A common criticism against conspiracy theories is that there is supposedly always someone who will talk. A counter-argument is that this seem to imply that it is impossible to keep anything secret, since there is supposedly always someone who will talk, and who will be believed as telling the truth, and who will receive widespread publicity in "mainstream" sources.
In reality, some conspiracies may be small, with the conspirators all having strong personal interests in keeping silent, making it highly dubious that the conspiracy will be revealed. On the other hand, some conspiracies may be so large and powerful that they can intimidate those who may want to reveal something, and if that does not work, discredit/cover-up the revelations, so that they are mentioned only in "fringe" sources.
A notable example is conspiracies by Communists, with violent revolutions being an official part of the Communist ideology, and with this implying the presence of Communist conspiracies before the attempted violent revolutions. At least during the regime of Lenin and Stalin, Communist organizations in other countries were very often controlled by and took orders from the Communist Soviet Union, and they often committed numerous crimes while preparing for or attempting Communist revolutions. (See, for example, The Black Book of Communism, "Part II Word Revolution, Civil War, and Terror".)
Just one example of a Communist conspiracy (or several conspiracies) is the extensive Communist infiltration and espionage in the United States, which caused "McCarthyism".
Entryism, trying to take over or influence other, often larger, organizations, such as by covertly and conspiratorially infiltrating these organizations, is a semi-official part of Trotskyism. There are numerous examples of such attempts by Trotskyists.
Starting a war is often seen as requiring a provocation and there are many examples of fabricated false flag provocations, which are then used as an excuse for starting a war or attempting to start a war. Related methods include, for example, making false allegations of producing weapons of mass destruction (see Iraq War).
During a war, false propaganda is very common. One example is during the First World War, when large scale false propaganda was spread as psychological warfare and which falsely blamed Germans for various large scale atrocities.
The start of WWI itself involved a large Serbian conspiracy, the Serbian Black Hand organization with hundreds of members (many of them government officials and officers), which was involved in the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
Regarding the Second World War:
- Alleged German conspiracy to hide the Holocaust - a politically correct conspiracy theory
- Allied psychological warfare
- Anti-Holocaust revisionism: "Conspiracy theories" - on criticisms of Holocaust revisionism as conspiracy theories
Other examples of conspiracies include all forms of organized crime, terrorist organizations, and spying and other activities (such as Operation Mockingbird, COINTELPRO, and Project MKUltra) by intelligence and other government agencies.
The World War II British "Ultra" project which broke the German top secret communications codes involved at least 9,000 people, yet this large project remained an official secret for several decades after the war and was revealed only in 1974.
A seldom mentioned aspect of the most common view on the conspiracy theory stated in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that this writing was a forgery by the Czarist secret police, is that this is also a conspiracy theory.
Conspiracy theory regarding the recent meaning of the phrase "conspiracy theory"
The 2014 book Conspiracy Theory in America "investigates how the Founders’ hard-nosed realism about the likelihood of elite political misconduct—articulated in the Declaration of Independence—has been replaced by today’s blanket condemnation of conspiracy beliefs as ludicrous by definition. Lance deHaven-Smith reveals that the term “conspiracy theory” entered the American lexicon of political speech to deflect criticism of the Warren Commission and traces it back to a CIA propaganda campaign to discredit doubters of the commission’s report."
Similar behavior by group members without a conspiracy
It is possible for a large group of people to behave similarly without being involved in a conspiracy. For example, people from a particular ethnicity often tend to support policies seen as beneficial for the ethnicity. Thus, the absence of a conspiracy does not necessarily mean the absence of generally similar behavior by the members of a similar group, such as by the members of particular ethnicity or by the members of groups such as Freemasons.
Straw men "conspiracy theories"
- 33 Conspiracy Theories That Turned Out To Be True, What Every Person Should Know…
- Conspiracies: Fact or Fiction? at Running Cause I Can't Fly
- Conspire https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conspire
- conspiracy theory https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conspiracy%20theory
- Conspiracy Theorists vs. an Actual Giant Conspiracy: Bletchley Park In WWII https://vdare.com/posts/conspiracy-theorists-vs-an-actual-giant-conspiracy-bletchley-park-in-wwii
- Conspiracy Theory in America https://www.amazon.com/Conspiracy-Theory-America-Discovering/dp/0292757697