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Conspiracy theories that haven’t come up in pretrial research (yet)

Friday, March 7, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

i want to believe posterConspiracy theories that arise during pretrial research are instructive for filling holes in the case narrative. Recently though, Popular Mechanics ran a feature on a number of conspiracy theories we haven’t heard arise in our work (so far). The conspiracy theories run the gamut from the government burying Atlanta, Georgia (very recently) in “poisonous snow that did not burn but instead, “blackens, twists like plastic, and stubbornly refuses to melt”, to sharks involved in attacks off the coast of Egypt really being “remote-controlled Israeli spies.  

Recently we wrote about Bigfoot believers and the fact that almost 1/3 of Americans believe Bigfoot exists. (As an aside, we have been told that Bigfoot used to exist but a Las Vegas hunter has since claimed to have killed the Bigfoot near San Antonio, TX and will soon be taking the body on the road so you can see it with your own eyes). Popular Mechanics does not include Bigfoot in their list of outrageous conspiracy theories. Among the theories they do include, like the moon really being a hologram, were a few that we would love to hear jurors or mock jurors share. In public. If for no other reason but to see the reactions of the others gathered, and possibly to see whether the judge would consider them too crazy to serve. Obviously, we don’t get out enough because most of these were completely new to us. Forewarned though, is forearmed.

The lizard people: We think it possible this one could arise in cases of government corruption or political malfeasance. Only four in a hundred Brits (allegedly) believe this theory but a close friend of Princess Diana claims Diana confided that the British royal family were actually lizard people. Apparently, “cleverly disguised reptilian aliens traveled to Earth thousands of years ago to infiltrate our highest echelons of government”. There are YouTube videos described as “terrifying” and also videos to debunk the videos. Popular Mechanics opines this one may actually be true due to “lack of any better explanation for Rob Ford”.

The Siri Apocalypse: This one could come up in a high-tech patent or IP dispute as jurors debate the merits of technology in society. If you read this blog regularly, you know we have a fondness for Siri (the iPhone personal assistant). But who knew she was scheduling events without our asking, like designating July 27, 2014 as the “appointed time for the Opening of the Gates of Hades”. We tried this one and it didn’t work but Siri seems to know a lot, so who knows what Steve Jobs might be orchestrating from beyond the pale?

Denver International Airport is, quite literally, hell on earth. As far as we know, this one wasn’t started by frustrated, stranded travelers. But one can never be sure. And, like many conspiracy theories, this one is quite complex. These theorists believe DIA to be the “den of the devil”, that a FEMA death camp is hidden beneath the airport, that the terminal runways form a swastika, and the walls are lined with satanic symbols (in the guise of artwork). There is even a two-part YouTube documentary on the coverup at DIA. It’s certainly worth a tour next time you are stranded in Denver. Just don’t undertake the tour alone!

In short, there are many topics about which conspiracy theories emerge, yet, in our experience, a good conspiracy theorist is very good at connecting the dots between your case and their bizzaro-world. We’ve seen cases where fairly routine facts led to proclamations of very unlikely sexual partners imagined, cocaine use assumed when a not well-liked witness sniffled, and a social media site being described as “the devil’s work” by a school teacher to the agreement of  a significant portion of other mock jurors in the room. Still, it is within the realm of possibility that you may hear about lizard people, Siri, and the devil’s den being in Denver.

When these sorts of comments are made, we always take time to make sure we understand how the connection was made and how others in the room reacted to the suggestion so we can then plug that hole in the narrative. Now, there may be no real hole in your narrative and you may just have an odd, idiosyncratic association on the part of a single juror. It is always to your benefit to consider when to plug a hole, when to leave it open (and maybe open it just a little wider), and when to add information when there isn’t a hole–but it’s better to not have jurors wondering and creating a hole where none really existed.


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