Perhaps nothing shows that Occupy Wall Street has hit a nerve more than the growing number of conspiracy theories surrounding the movement. In fact, Occupy Wall Street "seems to have done more to fuel rumors than it has to end corporate greed," says Lyz Lenz at Tru TV. Here, five of the most head-scratching, pervasive conspiracy theories swirling around the protests — and how critics answer them:
1. George Soros is pulling the strings
Conspiracy theory: "Despite efforts to portray the movement as 'leaderless' or 'grassroots,'" says Alex Newman at The New American, liberal billionaire George Soros' "fingerprints... have been all over the anti-Wall Street campaign from the very beginning." The protests were the brainchild of Canadian anti-consumerist magazine AdBusters, which is partially funded by "the Soros-funded Tides Foundation." And other Soros "front groups" — MoveOn, Planned Parenthood, and Rebuild the Dream, for example — are actively involved in promoting Occupy Wall Street.
Rebuttal: It would be perfectly natural for Soros to have donated money to a movement he says he supports, says Felix Salmon at Reuters. But in fact, "there's no connection at all between Soros and OWS." Yes, he is one of many donors who gave money to the Tides Center, and yes, Tides gave some money to AdBusters. But that happened two years before OWS was even dreamed up. The truth is, OWS raises its money "through crowdsourced means like Kickstarter."
2. The Muslim Brotherhood is behind the protests
Conspiracy theory: "'Occupy Orlando' or 'Jihad Orlando'?" asks Tom Trento at anti-"Sharia Islam" group The United West. Trento claims the Occupy movement drew inspiration from the Arab Spring, points out that Muslim lawyer Shayan Elahi is Occupy Orlando's legal counsel, and notes that Elahi's has worked for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Trento says that's "the same CAIR that is HAMAS, the same HAMAS that was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood." And thus, Occupy Orlando is a vehicle for the "cultural jihad of the Muslim Brotherhood." CAIR also sponsored Friday prayer services at Occupy Wall Street, says Tiffany Gabbay at The Blaze. And "one can tell a lot about people by the company they keep."
Rebuttal: Elahi says he's volunteering his legal services as "just another proud American and a member of the movement," as well as a "well-known Democratic activist" in Orlando. He's not a leader of the leaderless protest. The desperate Right's attempts to tie the Occupy movement to the Muslim Brotherhood, though, is "a development that should surprise no one," says Jillian Rayfield at Talking Points Memo.
3. Wall Street is paying cops to crack down
Conspiracy theory: The New York Police Department was roundly criticized for its overly harsh crackdowns on the Occupy Wall Street protesters, so maybe it's no coincidence that one of OWS' big targets, JPMorgan Chase, recently gave a record $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation, says Jonathan Moormann at Ology. I mean really, NYPD, "this couldn't have looked worse if you took the donation in a manilla envelope with 'BRIBE' written on the front of it." Especially since the NYPD has a history of giving special protection to those who give to its charity, says Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism.
Rebuttal: The "bribe" story sort of falls apart when you learn that JPMorgan donated the cash and laptops between winter 2010 and spring 2011, says Justin Elliot at Salon. "So it was obviously not made in response to the Occupy Wall Street protests." At the same time, JPMorgan isn't the only Wall Street outfit that gave the NYPD charity big bucks in 2009-10.
4. The movement is fueled by anti-Semitism
Conspiracy theory: "The Jew-hatred among protesters and sympathizers is diverse and unapologetic," says Abe Greenwald at Commentary. "It is, in fact, atmospheric." With protesters holding signs about "Jewish money" and Nazis decrying "Hitler's Bankers," Occupy Wall Street is about scapegoating, and when it comes to wealthy financiers, "anti-Semitism is the preferred medium of the pitchfork crowd."
Rebuttal: Occupy Wall Street is a lot of things — "aimless," pointless, silly— but anti-Semitic isn't one of them, says Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. Even the Anti-Defamation League noted that despite the "odd Jew-hater on the periphery," anti-Semitism isn't a significant part of Occupy Wall Street. In fact, "possibly more representative is the fact that Jewish religious services were held at the protest site for the holidays of Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah."
5. Social media is censoring Occupy Wall Street
Conspiracy theory: Despite thousands of tweets about #occupywallstreet and #ows, a "corporate media blackout" kept the movement from gaining any traction on Twitter, says Alexander Higgins at his blog. JPMorgan invested $400 million in Twitter, but I'm sure "we will find the feds ordered it to be censored due to national security." Yahoo was "censoring emails relating to the protest," too, says Lee Fang at ThinkProgress. Yahoo has a history of censorship in China, and now you're out of luck if you want to email friends and family anything about Occupy Wall Street.
Rebuttal: Twitter faced similar accusations of censoring "Trends" with WikiLeaks, says Tarleton Gillespie at Social Media Collective. And while "it engages in traditional censorship" with its trending tweets list — blocking dirty words, for example — it isn't in Twitter's self-interest to quash political discourse. This "unshakeable undercurrent of paranoid skepticism" is just a movement wanting free publicity, and Twitter's algorithm not complying. Yahoo, meanwhile, apologetically blamed the email blackout on a "false positive" spam filter, and has fixed it.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Russia's new air force is a mystery
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- When it comes to ISIS, our Congress is full of cowards
- How I became a borderline hoarder
- How Hillary Clinton's 'smart power' turned Libya into a dumpster fire
Subscribe to the Week