Not so crazy now: Five theories that dropped the ‘conspiracy’ in 2021

by Virginia Aabram,   Jan. 1, 2022

The world is a strange enough place without wild conspiracies, and it’s the exception that proves the rule.

In 2021, there were many (at least five) fears, social media movements, news stories, and legends first seen as implausible that, in the light of emerging evidence, proved not to be unfounded. In some cases, the media’s initial dismissal fueled further speculation and itself became part of the theory. While not all of these have been verified as 100% true, they were widely dismissed last year as conspiracy or fringe theories.

The #FreeBritney ‘conspiracy theorists’ were vindicated

People Britney Spears
A Britney Spears supporter holds a sign near a portrait of her outside a court hearing concerning the pop singer’s conservatorship at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on March 17 in Los Angeles. Attorneys for Spears and lawyers for her father Jamie Spears jointly asked the judge to delay an accounting and status report on the conservatorship until April 27.
(Chris Pizzello/AP)

Britney Spears made headlines this summer when she gave an emotional testimony to a Los Angeles court begging to be let out of the conservatorship that allowed her family and managers to control almost all aspects of her life.

“I’m telling you this again two years later, after I’ve lied and told the whole world, ‘I’m OK and I’m happy,’ it’s a lie.” she said in June. “I thought just maybe if I said that enough, maybe I might become happy, because I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized. You know, fake it till you make it. But now I’m telling you the truth, OK? I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry, it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day.”

Spears’s testimony was validation for thousands of fans who had been trying to sound the alarm about her conservatorship for years. They speculated and tried to raise awareness that she was being taken advantage of, but their allegations were often dismissed as “conspiracy theories” until the court testimony.

After the #FreeBritney movement gained momentum on social media in July 2020, USA Today fact-checked the claims and rated them false based on lack of evidence.

“Pop singer Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship, which allows others to make decisions for her, since her 2007 breakdown,” the article read. “The conservatorship is split between her father and a licensed professional and overseen by California courts. She has not publicly shared a desire to end the conservatorship and has continued to profit financially and expand her career. We found no evidence Spears is unwillingly being kept in an abusive conservatorship. We rate the claim as FALSE because it is not supported by our research.”

A judge ruled to end the conservatorship on Nov. 12.

The U.S. government takes UFOs seriously

UFOs
The image from video provided by the Department of Defense labelled Gimbal, from 2015, an unexplained object is seen at center as it is tracked as it soars high along the clouds, traveling against the wind. “There’s a whole fleet of them,” one naval aviator tells another, though only one indistinct object is shown. “It’s rotating.” The U.S. government has been taking a hard look at unidentified flying objects, under orders from Congress, and a report summarizing what officials know is expected to come out in June 2021.
(Department of Defense via AP)

Reports of unidentified flying objects have spawned decades of conspiracy theories and skepticism. Are humans being visited by aliens, or are these UFOs just new technology from another country?

In July, the Pentagon released a report that examined “unidentified aerial phenomena” and showed the U.S. government was just as baffled as anyone else.

The Pentagon report documented 144 sightings of these mysterious flying objects on June 25, though it did not provide the public an explanation for what most of them were, and established an organization last month to investigate them.

“The report is important because it opens the door for a serious look at UFOs,” wrote astronomer Christ Impey. “Specifically, it encourages the U.S. government to collect better data on UFOs, and I think the release of the report increases the chances that scientists will try to interpret that data. Historically, UFOs have felt off-limits to mainstream science, but perhaps no more.”

These objects “pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security,” the report read. The Pentagon did not explain what most of these objects might be, but it did find that one was “a large, deflating balloon.”

The Wuhan lab leak theory earned the backing of one U.S. government department

Virus Outbreak China WHO Mission
Security personnel gather near the entrance of the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by the World Health Organization team in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on Feb. 3, 2021.
(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The Wuhan, China, lab leak theory to explain the origins of COVID-19, once considered theory non grata in mainstream conversations about the disease, has earned prominent backing in recent months.

In August, a World Health Organization official admitted the Chinese government pressured him to turn away from the lab leak theory, and a House investigation found the United States had been aware of safety issues at the Wuhan Institute of Virology since 2018 and knew it housed experiments on bat coronaviruses. Later that month, one U.S. intelligence agency determined with “moderate confidence” the virus originated in the Wuhan lab, the highest confidence interval of any agency about COVID-19’s origins, and a Biden administration intelligence report released in October had “low confidence” that the disease originated in nature.

Fauci backtracked in June amid allegations he suppressed information about the virus’s origin, saying that “the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human, but I keep an absolutely open mind that there may be other origins” and conceding that “it could have been a lab leak.”

“The Wuhan Institute of Virology came on the United States’s radar in January 2018 after State Department officials visited the lab and were alarmed by the lack of proper personnel and protocol to operate a high-containment laboratory safely,” the Washington Examiner said in an editorial. “These cables also warned the WIV was working on bat coronaviruses that could ignite a pandemic similar to the 2002 severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, which also originated from a Chinese lab leak.”

Some in the media who had previously shunned the theory revisited the idea in 2021. A Washington Post op-ed discussed “how to investigate the lab leak theory without inflaming anti-Asian hate” in June, and comedian Jon Stewart joked about how obvious the connections were.

Although speculation about the possibility that the virus escaped from the institute existed from the beginning, it was widely dismissed in the media and by some scientists throughout 2020. When former President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders raised the idea in the early days of the pandemic, medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci contradicted the president, saying the virus looked “totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.”

In February 2020, the New York Times published a report that said Sen. Tom Cotton was repeating a “fringe theory” by raising the possibility that COVID-19 came from the lab, and others said they wouldn’t consider it for fear of embracing racist undertones.

Hunter Biden’s laptop is not ‘disinformation’

Hunter Biden, Joe Biden
Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
(Visar Kryeziu/AP)

On the eve of the 2020 election, reports emerged of a laptop believed to have belonged to President Joe Biden’s son Hunter containing materials detailing salacious elements of his personal life and foreign business dealings, a claim dismissed as “misinformation” by mainstream sources.

The laptop and hard drive were abandoned at a Delaware repair shop, and the shop owner turned them over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2019. The New York Post gained access to copies of the contents and investigated emails on the laptop relating to business deals in which the younger Biden bargained political connections with his father in exchange for money.

Initially skeptical publications such as Politico later reported that that the emails were genuine.

“A person who had independent access to Hunter Biden’s emails confirmed he did receive a 2015 email from a Ukrainian businessman thanking him for the chance to meet Joe Biden,” the outlet reported in September. “The same goes for a 2017 email in which a proposed equity breakdown of a venture with Chinese energy executives includes the line, ’10 held by H for the big guy?'”

But throughout the final months of 2020, large media outlets dismissed the story as “unsubstantiated” and “Russian disinformation” and wouldn’t vet the claims, instead bashing the New York Post for publishing the story. Twitter and Facebook banned the story for “misinformation” and locked the publication out of their social media accounts for days in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election.

Hunter Biden himself has never denied that the laptop is his, and a veteran FBI forgery expert concluded the signature on the repair invoice belonged to him.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she has “neither the time nor interest in exploring or reading” a book about the laptop and its implications.

Vaccine microchips are a real thing

In this March 14, 2017, file photo, Jowan Osterlund from Biohax Sweden, holds a small microchip implant, similar to those implanted into workers at the Epicenter digital innovation business centre during a party at the co-working space in central Stockholm.
In this March 14, 2017, file photo, Jowan Osterlund from Biohax Sweden, holds a small microchip implant, similar to those implanted into workers at the Epicenter digital innovation business centre during a party at the co-working space in central Stockholm.
(AP Photo/James Brooks, File)

When the COVID-19 vaccines became available last year, there were some who worried that they were part of a vast conspiracy to control people, perhaps with microchips in the serum.

So far, there’s no evidence of that theory, but thousands of people in Sweden are voluntarily embedding microchips the size of rice grains into their hands or arms that carry proof of vaccination. It’s part of a growing trend in the country to install microchips in the body to do things such as electronically unlock doors or show train tickets that existed before the pandemic.

A growing number of localities are requiring proof of vaccination to participate in nonessential aspects of daily life, such as gyms and entertainment centers.

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While it’s unlikely that dead Kennedys will return to cheering QAnon believers in Dallas or that there will be convincing proof that the Earth is flat, conspiracies range from plausible to impossible, and as the above cases demonstrate, it’s worth taking the time to review the evidence before drawing conclusions.

Today’s conspiracy theories may not seem so crazy in light of new evidence unearthed in 2022.

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