Tag Archives: conspiracy theory

The Jersey Devil

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:

NK: So, there’s this urban legend in New Jersey, called the Jersey Devil. I’ve heard about it from different like conspiracy shows or websites, and just word of mouth. Um, and it’s one of those things like Bigfoot. The myth goes that there’s a woman – there’s some variations obviously – but she had one kid or thirteen, depending on who you ask, and she had a pact with the devil or hooked up with him, or something. And so either that one kid or the youngest one was born deformed, so he had like wings and a beak and was human-like but also bat-like. He grew up to huge sizes, and then would be seen around New Jersey, I’m not sure which area. And then there’s been sightings, I’m not sure when the first one was, but there were a lot in the 20th century. I wanna say it’s similar to Mothman: big wings, red eyes, part human. 

SW: Do you know anything about the origins of the story?

NK: I’m not sure, but I think there were some sightings that were hard to explain, so people kind of made up the lore to explain them. 

Thoughts:

I love urban legends. As NK pointed out, like many urban legends, it’s safe to assume that the legend of the Jersey Devil developed in response to some unexplained sightings in an effort to make sense of them. There are a few different variations of the Jersey Devil legend. Most seem to identify the woman NK mentioned as Mother Leeds, as Leeds was one of the first settlers in New Jersey, and family with the name Leeds can still be found there today. There have been numerous accounts and sightings of the Jersey Devil, many of which can be found all across the internet. For more background on this urban legend and personal sightings of the Jersey Devil, see “The Jersey Devil.”

Annotation:

“The Jersey Devil.” Weird NJ, Weird NJ, 13 Jan. 2017, weirdnj.com/stories/jersey-devil/.

Living by the Ocean Gives you Coronavirus

NA: So his first one was that if you live by the ocean you have the coronavirus automatically because people with corona when you go to the bathroom, when you poo, you pee, wash your hands, take a shower it just goes in the water with it and all that water just gets mixed in with the ocean. Then, it evaporates in the air and then it rains on land by the ocean. So, it is just everything is in the ocean. Um, so basically if you live by the water you have corona. 

CA: And where did he her that from?

NA: I don’t know, What’s App videos?

Context: 

NA is a USC student who comes from a Sindhi Hindu family from India. She grew up in Southern California as an active Hindu going to temple and fasting on Mondays. The information was taken from a casual conversation over zoom with two other friends. We were talking about coronavirus and the conspiracy theories surrounding it when she spontaneous told this story about a conspiracy theory her dad told her about. 

Analysis

It is significant NA was telling the story in a context to emphasis how ridiculous she felt this conspiracy belief was and kind of making fun of the fact that her father believed it. I think it represents the broader frustration many people have towards all the different conspiricies that are coming out of the chaos of coronavirus that seem completely ridiculous and impossible. 

On the other hand, for the people seeking out these conspiricies it seems to be a source of perceived control over the virus. Especially, since most of them are founded on scientific claims that sound intuitive and makes you feel like you understand more about the virus and how it spreads. If you know all the people and places that are more likely to get it then it makes you feel more secure in your position. In this example, since NA’s father does not live by the ocean it might make him feel that other people will get the virus instead of him and that the belief is based on “science.”

Coronavirus Pandemic – North Korean Biowarfare Conspiracy

Main Piece:

Subject: Okay… so basically how the Coronavirus started was this- and this is how it was told to me. Basically, if you look on the news, “Why are there no cases in North Korea? Kim Jong Un closed that off, he’s cutting that thing down to zero.” To which I replied, “Well no one can really go to North Korea but… okay.” But he said, “No. North Korea had a relationship with China. It started in China right? What happened was, the North Korean prisoners were let free into China. And you know how when you leave the army or prison you get a vaccine, you get shots, you don’t really question it. Come on if someone said I’ll give you this shot for freedom, or else you’re gonna stay here, then you’re gonna take the shot! You don’t care, you want freedom. So… those North Koreans took the shot or whatever thinking it was a vaccine. Then they went to China. What if that…. was the Coronavirus and they started giving it to people in China…”

Interviewer: Oh… So like biowarfare?

Subject: Exactly! “So China knows what the cure is because they’re friends with North Korea. So some of these Chinese people have the vaccine already… but it’s just spreading to everyone else.”

Interviewer: Wow… Wait who did you hear this from?

Subject: *laughter* My grandfather. But he was telling me, “Here’s another reason why it could be. What do you think about that? What do you think about that?” And I was like, “I don’t know about that.” He was like, “You think it’s possible?” I was like, “No.”

Interviewer: Hmm… Um… Okay. So… how’s that currently affecting your mental state? *laughter*

Subject: Um. When my mom was here- because it’s not just that story specifically. It’s “the 5G towers.” It’s “to protect yourself, breathe in steam.” It’s “get some ginger on your boiling pot and put your face over it…” It’s all these videos that are popping up, and all these whatsapp messages everywhere that are like these nurses who are like, “I worked at a radiation lab and they locked us out of our work places.” Basically like these CSI, Men-In-Black type things. It’s just annoying… the amount of bullshit conspiracy theories that are coming out.

Interviewer: The rare times I go on Facebook, that is all I see. It’s disturbing.

Subject: It’s so annoying. My mom keeps showing me them like not endorsing it but just showing me it. And it’s literally like… other medical people. Apparently. In their PPE. It’s like cat-fishing but with using their authority. It’s such a mistrust it’s annoying. Like I could care less if it was harmless… but the idea that 5G or random other stuff is happening is so annoying. And dangerous.

Context: The subject is a 20-year-old African American male in his sophomore year at Columbia University studying creative writing. The subject and I were best friends in high school, and we are both currently quarantined in our homes in Charleston. I asked the subject if he would like to meet up for a six-feet-apart walk one evening, and asked him if he had heard any folklore regarding the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Interpretation: I have heard many variations of this conspiracy theory regarding the Coronavirus outbreak. Like the subject, I am quite disturbed by the amount of misinformation, conspiracy, and racism that has spread along with the virus. I think times of such uncertainty and fear invite conspiracies. I found it interesting how the theory came from the subject’s grandfather, because while these types of theory are often tied more to the older generation, I have also seen so much of it coming from young people. I have seen so much misinformation and lies coming from people in the twenty to forty age-range, that the hysteria seems widespread across all demographics. Particularly, the racism thrown at China over the Pandemic has been abysmal. The biowarfare accusations have been pretty prominent on the Internet. I think people are just desperate to find a scapegoat when they lose control over a situation.

2 week trek

Main piece: If you turned 18 and wanted to sign out of your Wilderness Therapy program, the running conspiracy was that you had to walk from deep in the mountains all the way down to Main Base Camp in downtown Salt Lake City. That’s about a 2 week walk, but you weren’t allowed to hitchhike or receive any assistance or supplies, because a staff member would escort you to ensure you completed the whole walk independently.

Context: The informant (WB) is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Orem, Utah when he was 17 four years ago to receive addiction and mental health treatment. He ended up falling in love with the state and staying. WB’s father had Irish lineage and his mother was a first generation immigrant from Germany. Although he was raised Christian, he does not consider himself religious. Our conversation took place in our shared hotel room while smoking together on a family ski trip in Utah. The informant originally heard this rumor from the other boys in his Wilderness Therapy group (all of whom were minors or young adults) – it had been passed down from individuals with had been there longer to those who were newer to the program, who would then pass it onto the next batch of new kids. WB clarified that this urban legend did not end up actually being true, as when he reached the end of his stay in Wilderness, he got finally clarification from a staff member he was friendly with over whether this was true; it would’ve been “outlandish” if it were true. WB thinks this “treatment tale” came into existence because the majority of the boys in his group were there against their wills, and “when you’re in the middle of nowhere doing nothing but hiking and eating nothing but rice and beans, it’s more fun to buy into crazy stories like that rather than think about why your family sent you away.”

Personal thoughts: It’s important to note that the Wilderness Therapy program the informant attended involved spending months on end out in the wilderness, a lifestyle reminiscent of what many would consider “simpler times,” where the hustle and bustle of modern life and technology did not dictate life. Just as individuals of the past were prolific in their creation of myths and legends and tales when faced with bleak realities of mortality and suffering, WB and his group manufactured stories of their own to distract from the anguish and confusion they had to deal with without the escape of modern technology. In terms of the actual content of the tale, the outlandish idea of a difficult two week walk without help is reflective of the independence and perseverance the boys had to develop through months of hard living and involuntary treatment in the middle of nowhere. It makes sense that their form of “initiation” once you become a legal adult who is able to leave the program involves such a grueling task.

9/11: The TRUTH

Context: I was chatting with my roommate about his time in marching band in high school, and the following is one of the encounters he had during one of his festival trips.

Background: My roommate is a psychology minor, and one of the aspects of the subject he’s always been interested in is the part of the human brain that induces paranoia. Because of this, he’s been invested in conspiracy theories for a long time.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, B denotes my roommate)

C: So what about the van?

B: Oh, 9/11!

C: 9/11, tell me about 9/11!

B: OK! First of all, inside job. Second of all, I was in Victoria, British Columbia on a band trip, and, um, we were getting ready to march in this parade, and we saw this van driving around the– the– I guess the Parliament building? Um, and it said on the side of it, “9/11 was an inside job.” It was like a 9/11 truther van. And I thought, “Why… do you care? You’re in Canada… 9/11 did not happen in Canada.” I just thought that was interesting. I had a lot of questions, first of all… “What?” Second of all, um, like like like are these Americans doing this? Uh, if so, why are they in Canada, why are they in Victoria, British Columbia? Um… you know you’re not even near New York at this point!

Analysis: I actually debated with myself over what to categorize this piece as. The central bit of folklore revolves around a conspiracy theory regarding what “really” happened on 9/11, which is a tragic day in American history. However, the countless people who insist that 9/11 was an “inside job” (AKA a disaster orchestrated by the US government itself) have put such ridiculous and unreal theories out there, that it’s nearly impossible not to laugh at something like a “9/11 truther van” driving around. Because of this, and because of the fact that this theory is a belief shared in online communities without consideration for reality, I decided to categorize it as both Humor and as a Folk Belief.

Annotation: My roommate’s encounter is not nearly the first instance where the “9/11 was an inside job” belief popped up. In fact, in the same conversation, my roommate mentioned the documentary Loose Change as a good place to go deeper into the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11.

Louis Tomlinson – Babygate

Informant: I believe in conspiracy theories. Okay, um, can I do the conspiracy theory that Louis Tomlinson’s baby doesn’t exist?

Collector: Yes

Informant: Okay, so, Louis Tomlinson was in One Direction, and there’s always been rumors that he is dating Harry Styles. And, um, but they like obviously could not reveal that they were together because they were in One Direction, a controlling boyband. They had to be like single and into girls and all that stuff because that’s their claim, like why would they release that they’re gay? But One Direction just broke up, so now they can, so they needed a reason to break up, so Louis decided he was going to have a baby, so that way he could take some time away from the group to raise it, and the group would break up, and he could be with Harry Styles. So, the reason it does not make sense is because, so, first off, if you look at the dates of like when the girl says she had the baby and when he says she had the baby, it like doesn’t add up, like, they’re days apart. First of all when the girl was introduced to the public, like when they first hung out, she was already posing for pictures with him as if somebody was like, “hey you’re going to be important later on, like pose for these pictures.” And then, like, um, after she gave birth she was already really skinny, which like, people it’s not like that. And there was never really photos of her as she was pregnant. Also the photos from when she was leaving the hospital, she was not in a wheelchair, no nurses escorted her out of the hospital, and it also said that it was private property, which hospitals are not. And then Louis wasn’t there, the pictures he posted weren’t real or something. But also, all the pictures seem like they’re fake because the baby could be a baby doll because it has the same feet position and hand position in every single photo, and also in all the pictures that Louis posted, if you photoshop, like if you use photoshop to look at them, the baby isn’t even touching him, and it honestly could not even be him because some of his tattoos aren’t the same, and other tattoos are like noticeable, which brings me back to the Harry Styles thing. Harry Styles has a tattoo of half a heart, and Louis has a tattoo of half a heart, but in the photos of the baby, his tattoo of half a heart wouldn’t be showing but it’s photoshopped so it is. And also for the girl, all of her photos are literally exactly the same as one of a mom blogger’s photos as if she just took those photos and was like, “this is my baby.” Isn’t it trippy? It’s totally like, the baby doesn’t exist.

 

My informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is from San Diego, California. We had this conversation in the study room of my sorority house.

 

This is a really interesting piece because it’s so specific to this year, and continues to grow. The conspiracy that the two people in the boyband were in love with each other secretly dates back to when the band was founded, and many people analyze photos and interviews to point out ways that they could be in love. This conspiracy takes it to an entirely new level with many people claiming they’re aware of how types of metadata in photos work. This illustrates a way that a group of people can become so involved with a piece of folklore that they deceive themselves into thinking that it’s true.

Tunnels Under Edwards Air Force Base

Contextual Data: My informant had read this on the Internet, and he shared it with me over Spring Break one night after we came back from New York City. We had been chatting about his car, and as we got home, he remembered this story that he had recently read on the Audi forum of which he was a part. He said he thought it was a crazy story and I asked him if I could record it for the archive. The following is an exact transcript of his story.

“So Edwards Air Force Base has this like, you know, long history of being like this kinda creepy place that, you know, has like a very sketchy military history. They do a lot of really secret, you know, testing and all this other stuff there that, uh… Very classified things, cutting edge stuff happens in Edwards Air Force Base—‘cause it’s in the middle of the desert, and um… whatever. So, uh, it’s also one of the largest bases, so they have a lot of ground, so there’s like, you know, there’s like random buildings and just things from the sixties and when they’re doing all this random testing like way out in the desert of the base that, you know, it’s just land that they own.

“Um… So, this one guy, you know, he’s in the Air Force and, um… I guess he was like on a patrol duty at the base, so they go to this one like place where pretty much nothing has happened since the sixties. It’s like an abandoned, uh, building — couple of buildings way out there. Um, so they get out of the car and, you know, they’re checking around on foot, and uh, they go to this one building and it’s got no doors or windows—anything, except for just one door in the front of it, right? And it’s made of concrete. Uh, it’s just got a single door. And… the guy, you know, just pulls the door—you know, the door handle to make sure it’s locked. Figured it’s definitely going to be locked, and it was unlocked. It was open. And, uh… The door opens and he looks at his buddy and he’s like ‘…Should we?’ And the other guy’s like, ‘Hell yes.’ [Laughs.] ‘Let’s do—Let’s go.’ So they walk inside and it’s just, um, one giant room in this building, right? There’s just the one door on the outside, one giant room, it’s all concrete, and there’s nothing but a set of stairs just going down in the middle of the room, right? And uh… They pull their flashlights out ‘cause there’s no lights, that, you know—no light switches or anything. And they… And so they pull out, you know, their flashlights and their pistols, you know, the way that they — you see them in movies. [Mimes with his hands in front of him, the “flashlight” on top in his left hand and the “pistol” below it, in his right.] They kind of hold it like this—one over the other. And they start going down this stairwell. Now it’s, you know, it’s daylight outside but it’s dark in this thing and they’re going down these stairs. And he says the stairs go down for…What he thinks is like a hundred feet. Like ten stories. He’s just going down these stairs and they’re just like—it’s just like this narrow stairwell they keep going down. It’s like a tunnel basically. Um, and you know, he’s like at this point things are getting—already feel very weird. It’s already really sketchy.

“Um, and they get to the bottom, and then it’s just this hallway that goes forward and they go forward in the hallway and there’s this door. And he looks at the other guy and uh, then they walk in. And he says all that’s in this room—again it’s like this one large concrete room. They’re now like, you know, he thinks like a hundred feet underground. There’s nothing but cameras on the walls, like near the ceiling. And in the middle of the room is this giant chair. [Mimes really wide with his hands], like metal chair. It’s got like wrist straps and feet straps—like ankle straps or whatever. And underneath the chair is a drain, like a metal drain. And the whole concrete floor, the whole place just kind of slopes gently down in the middle. So you don’t know like… What was there, but there, you know—could’ve been torture, whatever. But, um, he… At this point he’s getting like really weirded out, and there’s this other room on the side, and he looks in there. And um… There’s like these huge stretchers and these huge things that are bigger than they’re—than the ones that are meant for people. It’s literally like—and the chair is bigger than one that’s meant for people. You know, it’s like, very freaky. And then he…He talks to the other guy, and he—The other guys just points up and one of the cameras had just turned and was looking right at them. Um… So they just freaked out. He’s like, ‘We gotta go.’ And they just got way—you know they went all the way back upstairs. And as soon as they got back upstairs, the guy’s cellphone rings. And it’s like the base telling him they need to get back to base right now. And they didn’t explain why or whatever. But they’re just like, ‘You need to get back. We’ve called you like three times. Why was your cellphone off?’ He’s like, ‘It wasn’t off. I just didn’t have service.’ And they’re like, ‘What’d you mean you didn’t have service?’ He’s like, ‘Wha—Never mind.’ [Laughs.] And then that was it. He, like, never found out anything more about it.”

– End Transcript – 

When I asked my informant about the significance of this story, he alluded back to how he began the story: that Edwards Air Force Base has a history of being this “creepy” place, surrounded with all sorts of conspiracy theories. He was a little skeptical of this story — he first read it online on the forum where he actually finds information about his car; some guy had posted it  there as a first hand account. But he’d read some of the guy’s other posts, and he seemed like a respectable enough person, who had “his head screwed on right.” Given all the other things that my informant has heard about military bases — especially the remote ones out in the middle of the desert — he wouldn’t be surprised if such a place as the one described actually existed, which is one of the reasons why he found it interesting to share. But he doesn’t believe the larger conspiracies surrounding the base (i.e. that there were actual alien encounters there.) Beyond that, he just thinks that this is a fun, creepy story to tell, and he has shared it with a few other friends.

On it’s own, this story is more of a memorate than a legend, as it’s a personal account that contributes to the larger urban legends and conspiracy theories that surround Edwards AFB. There are many different stories about such bases and military sites having underground tunnels and being the sites of extra terrestrial encounters. Some people would therefore enjoy telling this story because they think it’s true, others because they think it validates the conspiracy theories, and others simply because it’s a great story to tell to spook people out. For my brother, it was a combination of the first and the last reason.