The story begins earlier than you might think.
1790s New England elites warn that a mysterious group known as the Illuminati threatens to overthrow society.
1865 Abraham Lincoln’s assassination sets off a frenzy of speculation that the president’s killing, by John Wilkes Booth, is part of a larger plot to restore the Confederacy.
1903 Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion purports to reveal a conspiracy by Jews to control the world. It is a hoax, manufactured by the Russian czar’s secret police.
1940s Conspiracy theorists claim that U.S. officials were in on the attack on Pearl Harbor.
1950s Joseph McCarthy accuses powerful figures inside the American government of being part of a massive Communist conspiracy.
1963 John F.Kennedy’s assassination spawns some of America’s most popular conspiracy theories.
1969 American astronauts walk on the moon. Conspiracy theorists argue that the landing was staged in a film studio.
1985 After the struggling New York Knicks franchise wins first pick in the NBA draft, basketball fans around the world postulate that the draft lottery is rigged.
1997 Princess Diana’s death in a car crash sparks theories that the crash was orchestrated by the royal family.
1998 A since-retracted study sets off one of the deadliest conspiracy theories of the modern era: that vaccines cause autism.
2001 Message boards, fringe media, and college campuses light up with theories that the September 11 attacks were an inside job.
2011 The future 45th president propagates rumors that U.S. President Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
2012 After 26 children and teachers are killed in Newtown, Connecticut, “false flag” theories posit that the massacre was staged.
2017 Slight changes in the first lady’s appearance usher in theories that Melania Trump has died and been replaced by a look-alike.
2019 A college student in California revitalizes one of the world’s most enduring conspiracy theories in meme form by inviting Facebook readers to “storm Area 51” in search of suppressed evidence of extraterrestrial life.
2019 The convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s prison suicide launches numerous arguments that he was murdered.
2020 Rumors swirl that the novel coronavirus is a plot by the “deep state” to hurt President Donald Trump’s chances of reelection.