Why do people come up with conspiracy theories? Sure, sometimes they turn out to be true. But usually they just turn you into that person at the party who, when you talk to someone, the other person immediately begins giving their significant other the “save me” signal. (“Sure is hot in here, think I’m gonna FAN MYSELF WITH THIS MAGAZINE.”)
My theory on conspiracy theories is that they’re either the product of boredom – it’s just not interesting to acknowledge that the actual machinations of power are broadcast on C-SPAN, so why not spice things up with some Illuminati talk? – or fear, i.e. the idea that those mumbling yokels in bad suits on C-SPAN actually are the ones in the driver’s seat is so terrifying that it’s more comforting to believe in aliens. At any rate, conspiracy theories tend to spring up around centers of power, and there’s no place with more concentrated power and influence than DC. So for our amusement, let’s review the latest and wackiest conspiracy theories about our beloved city.
According to some people, there are terrorist training camps all over the US – and a couple of them are in the DC area. Donald Trump has promised to look into it if he’s elected president. Stop laughing. Why are you laughing? This is serious business. “Terrorists”! No, seriously. This is a real thing that people think. So where, exactly, are these DC terrorist camps?
Are you ready for this? Hyattsville. Yep, harmless, inexpensive Hyattsville, the location of DC’s best thrift stores and tied with Annandale for the best cheap ethnic cuisine in the area. I guess the logic here is poor people + un-American food = BIG TROUBLE. Obviously. You can watch a badly-edited “documentary” about it here. Remember “dirty bombs” and that color-coded “terror alert” thing? You know how you think back on those days and laugh with embarrassment, like when you think back on that time you dated a male cheerleader? This conspiracy theory was basically made up by people who look back on those times and don’t laugh. They actually feel nostalgic. They miss “orange” days. There’s also supposed to be a “terrorist camp” in Falls Church, which I would actually be okay with. Falls Church is so boring and blah that if you put a sleeper cell of terrorists there, they’d be shopping at Banana Republic and eating fro-yo within a month. Speaking of Banana Republic and fro-yo …
When home rule started in the Seventies, there were whispers that it was the start of a plan to displace African-Americans from the central neighborhoods to the suburbs, so that white people could move in. Now clearly this theory is ridiculous, far-fetched and … * checks demographic statistics *… uh yeah, what was I saying?
Whether or not there ever was “The Plan,” the predictions made as part of said plan have come to pass. The District, once known as “Chocolate City,” is well on its way to becoming “Vanilla City.” (Alliteration-enthusiast conspiracy theorists prefer “Vanilla Village.”) The 2013 census found that for the first time ever, the African-American population was no longer a majority. The crazy thing is that you don’t need a plan when you have institutionalized market forces on your side. Whoever came up with “The Plan” just saw the writing on the wall and added a spicy narrative. Reality is somehow more sinister but less interesting than the conspiracy.
Let’s face it; the Washington Monument is weird. It’s one of those things you’ve gotten so used to that you fail to realize how objectively bizarre and discomfiting it is, like how you talk to yourself when you drive. It’s a huge pagan obelisk that would look more at home on “Game of Thrones” than in the background of a tourist photos. So it’s not surprising that various weirdos have attached wacky conspiracy theories to it.
My favorite is the “Egyptian antenna” theory. The theory is that George Washington knew that the weather in swampy coastal areas was crappy, so he decided to do something about it, possibly by utilizing secret Freemason technology. According to this line of thinking, the monument “creates a sort of electrically charged shield through the channeling of various earth energies.” This shield then repels storms, hurricanes, et cetera. That’s just the beginning; supposedly there have always been eerie phenomena around these “pylons of power” (I literally laughed out loud when I typed that phrase), such as people hearing “maniacal laughter” and experiencing “feelings of dread.” I definitely can report both of those things happening when I’ve visited the Washington Monument, but usually it’s caused by running into a crowd of Southern tourists. The theory then expands to encompass Atlantis, the Pyramids, various constellations, and other things you read about on the internet at 4am after you get way too high. Check out the full story here if you have nothing to do, i.e. you’re at work.
This is the DC conspiracy I hear about the most; I swear at least once a month, someone posts this stupid graphic on Facebook. The thinking goes that the city was planned by a secret Satan worshipper, who hid a pentagram in the layout of the avenues, one point of which points at the White House. It’s true that the designer of the city, Pierre L’Enfant, was a Freemason, but that’s not quite the same as being a devil worshipper (unless you read too many Dan Brown novels).
The graphic is convincing, true – until you look closer. It’s not that there’s a pentagram in the map of DC, it’s more like someone took a map of DC and just drew a pentagram on top of it. Look at the lower point that supposedly points to the White House; it doesn’t even exist. The streets don’t go through. Someone literally just drew it on there and then hoped no one would notice. And the crazy thing is, no one did notice! If there’s a conspiracy theory here, it should address that inconvenient fact.