The Anatomy of a Conspiracy Theory

How Conspiracy Theories Are Born

The Anatomy of a Conspiracy Theory: How Conspiracy Theories Are Born

Conspiracy: The War against The National Anthem

Conspiracy theories have a long history of being destructive to America and Americans.  Over decades, they have inspired hate, violence, and turmoil in the nation.  To protect the nation and its citizens, Americans have a duty to be accurately informed and to stop the spread of harmful misinformation (accidentally wrong information) and disinformation (purposefully wrong information). 

Understanding how conspiracy theories develop, even ones that occur somewhat innocently, helps Americans to live up to that civic duty.

An Incident

Several years ago, a prominent airline neared its destination and the pilot announced to his passengers that the flight included a Fallen Soldier and his friend, another military member.  The pilot asked for the cooperation of other passengers to allow the military member to depart the plane first, so he could meet the Honor Guard and his friend’s coffin at the rear cargo hold of the aircraft.

A woman on the flight had an idea.  She thought it would be nice if her fellow passengers would sing The National Anthem as the honor guard escorted the fallen soldier from the cargo area to the waiting hearse.  As the aircraft approached the landing strip, the woman circulated amongst the other passengers. She asked if they would join her in singing the anthem as the coffin left the aircraft’s cargo area with the honor guard.

The woman thought singing the National Anthem from inside the aircraft’s cabin was forbidden.

A Surprise?

The woman’s surprise came as she settled herself back into her seat and a stewardess told her she could not be doing what she was doing.  The woman asked why not and the stewardess responded that what she was doing was against airline policy.

The woman was aghast. She did not understand why a stewardess would tell her she was doing something wrong. The woman thought singing the National Anthem from inside the aircraft’s cabin was being forbidden.

In keeping with military protocol, the honor guard marched in perfect formation and in complete silence as the fallen soldier was taken from the tarmac to a waiting hearse.  In that same spirit, the pilot asked the passengers to stay seated and to remain silent to honor the deceased.

The woman, who had wanted to sing the National Anthem, took the pilot’s announcement as another message that The National Anthem was forbidden by the airline.

The Videos

What happened next is a story still circulating on social media…

The woman made an emotional video as soon as she could and posted it in on social media.  In an obvious state of upset, she stated she was blocked from singing The National Anthem by the airline as an airline policy.

She added that the head of the cabin crew had expressly forbade The National Anthem and said the airline policy had been justified to her as a means to avoid upsetting foreign passengers.

The Outrage

An Honor Guard escorting the deceased

The woman’s recount accused the airline of banning The National Anthem.  She said the head of the cabin crew had forbade The National Anthem and said the airline policy had been justified to her as a means to avoid upsetting foreign passengers.

The woman was interviewed about her experience on her local TV station.  The backlash against the airline grew as her video spread wildly on social media with well over 1 million views.  The mainstream media pounced upon the story, further spreading it across the nation.

The Missing Considerations

Those who heard her story did not consider that singing from an aircraft cabin would not be heard by those outside the aircraft.  They did not consider the traditional military protocol to honor the deceased with complete silence.  There wasn’t a thought given to the safety concerns of the woman circulating in an airline cabin prior to landing.  Movement in the cabin during landing is against safety policies of all airlines.

Over one million upset people did not ask why an airline would have a policy that forbade the singing of The National Anthem.  Was there a tremendous problem with passengers breaking out into song, specifically The National Anthem, to the point that the airline had a policy?

The first verse of The National Anthem

All that was considered was the outrage over a treasured patriotic song allegedly being banned.

The Backlash

When the backlash was felt by the airline, they reached out to the upset woman.  

The airline explained that they had no policy that forbade singing The National Anthem.  Further, the airline explained that it was her movements in the cabin prior to landing that was against their policy. They added that their employee would definitely be mistaken about saying The National Anthem was not allowed.  They explained that they were following long-standing military tradition by honoring the silence observed during the honor guard escort of the Fallen.  And, the big airline apologized to her.

The Headlines

In banner headlines, media said an airline blocked The National Anthem. Several other media outlets gave leading headlines to the big airline’s apology about blocking the National Anthem.  A few sources covered the details explaining the misunderstanding in a follow-up printed article.  The explanations of the misunderstanding were not front page news.

The woman’s local TV station again interviewed her and she stated she had accepted the airline’s apology.  Her local station explained about the misunderstanding and misinterpretations in an article they ran.  Their explanation also did not get the front page headlines the initial outrage or the apology had gotten.

Meanwhile, the woman removed her video from the internet, but copies of the viral video still circulate on social media.

“All that mattered to some was that they had a reason to hurl their anger against a preferred enemy.”

The Smear Lives On

The tongue-wagging continues and fuels theories that the airline is “anti-American”.  The story is retold and embellished with accusations of the airline being owned by those with an anti-America and anti-military agenda.  Despite the story being disproven years ago, the story and the conspiracy theories live on with no thought whatsoever given to the believability of the story.  

The Fallen…An Honor Guard carrying a Fallen Soldier 

The Real Problem

The woman’s misunderstanding of the situation was innocent and the stewardess’ alleged mistake is also obvious.  The viral retelling of the story, though, demonstrates a problem that has become rampant in the United States and abroad.

Too few bothered to consider the long-standing military tradition of the honor guard’s precision marching in complete silence.  Safety issues of moving about an aircraft cabin during landing were ignored.  They did not think how the loud noises of other planes would cover any attempts to sing from inside the plane. It also did not matter that this airline had historically been very supportive of the military and routinely used to bring its members home.

All that mattered to some was that they had a reason to hurl their anger against a preferred enemy.

Emotion Versus Thought

Big emotion…the Holy Grail for some media…consistently equates to public interest.  A woman, whose video noted she was a military widow, had a tale of a big corporation trodding on a patriotic symbol, The National Anthem.  

This is the stuff that causes an audience to watch and people to “click” a news story.  Audience draw and online “clicks” equal money.  And, media loves money almost as much as some people love an excuse to jump into emotional reactions.  The media helped this story spread even further resulting in more outrage, more “clicks” and more emotional upheaval.

But, this article is not about airlines or understandable human mistakes. The airline apologized and explained the misunderstanding.  The woman accepted the apology and took down her videos from the internet.  Those two entities resolved their issue.  

And, this article isn’t  about the role of media, who enjoyed the benefits of spreading an emotional story.  News about a national uproar will always be reported.  Some media will also gladly spread conspiracies, as long as consumers reward them for doing so. 

“Some media will gladly spread conspiracies, as long as consumers reward them for doing so.”

Instead, this article exposes how a conspiracy theory was quickly created from a video about a misunderstanding.  It was a video whose content should have been more carefully considered by each and every viewer BEFORE it became a fabricated plot against The National Anthem.  It is a video that some copied and continue to spread, even though the creator removed them from the internet, when she learned they were not accurate.

Conspiracy theories are born and continue because of unthinking emotion and a desire in some people to be mad, especially at an easily disliked entity.

Money, Emotion and Conspiracies

Conspiracy theories have a long history in America and some of the oldest and least believable ones still exist in citizens’ minds.  These fabrications bring a degree of harm to the nation by inspiring hate, inciting violence, destroying reputations, and even adversely affecting the health of citizens.

This particular conspiracy theory did not result in the financial benefit of the original source.  But, it certainly brought financial benefit to the media.  It should be noted though that those who DO purposefully begin conspiracy theories usually reap considerable monetary rewards. 

“Conspiracy theories equate to money, often big money, so there will be no motive for anyone to stop creating them.”

When Americans, collectively, decide to think before reacting, check sources, and consider all aspects of a situation BEFORE engaging in an emotional reaction, conspiracy theories can stop before they lead to the undue upset of millions.

The Responsibility of Freedom

Part of the responsibility of freedom is a requirement to be informed citizens.  Freedom can not be easily supported in an environment riddled with fabricated scandals and conspiracies.  

It is never the job of government to police media, thanks to The U.S. Constitution.

Rather, it is the job of citizens to refuse media they have researched and found to be inaccurate.  Only citizens have the power to unleash the Free Market against those purposefully using fabrications and conspiracy theories for their own benefit. 

Responsibility Balances Liberty

Citizens’ Accountability to Each Other

In America, citizens have a degree of accountability to each other to support liberty.  Without mutual accountability, a civilized and free society would quickly fall apart.  Part of that accountability is to protect the nation and its citizens from harm.  

Without mutual accountability, a civilized and free society would quickly fall apart. 

In the age of internet, Americans have easy access to the tools necessary to check the credibility of stories.  Every adult American also has the ability to avoid reacting emotionally. Americans can choose to think rationally before determining if an emotional response to information is necessary or needed.  Conspiracy theories do not have to be born to thrive, prosper and hurt our nation.  Citizens owe it to themselves and each other to stop conspiracy theories before they cause harm to America and Americans.


Sources:     Book: The American Spirit: Celebrating the Virtues and Values that Make Us Great by Edwin J. Feulner and Brian Tracy

Margo Louis
About Margo Louis 8 Articles
Margo Louis has been writing on newspapers since she was a teen and continued writing through college and her career, leaning toward technical writing in more recent years. She is pleased to be a part of The Founding Project and its support of civics education. When not working or writing, Margo enjoys cooking, travel, perusing antiques and especially loves spending time with her children and family.

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