My name is Matthew Lazar. I begin this course with a personal account of an obvious place to begin, September 11th, 2001. It was a day of non-stop horror for the people of New York City for observers around the world. When the smoke had cleared 2,753 people had died from the attacks on the World Trade Center, 2,977 overall when you include the attack on The Pentagon. But some people did not die in the assault it was claimed. On radio stations, on Internet lists across the world reports came in that no Jews or citizens of Israel, Israelis, who worked at the WTC had died. Why? Because they had all been warned in advance by the Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad that the attack was happening that morning. The Mossad in fact being the masterminded the scheme. Four thousand Jews had been warned the report insisted. I heard this on radio stations. I got emails to the effect that this had happened. People I personally knew told me that it was possible. This is a remarkable claim I thought imagine if you will, how this supposedly worked. Every one of these Jews supposedly got a phone call or an email or a text from some operative something to the effect that, "We're going to blow up the World Trade Center tomorrow, don't go to work. Don't tell your friends. Look, we know you might be upset you'll probably lose your job, if you're dating someone at work they might die. Your close associates will die. Everything you worked for for years is going to be destroyed. Sorry, but we know that you are with us because we're all Jews and we're all on the same team, so don't say anything and don't forward this email or message, promise?" It was a pretty absurd thing on that level once you gave it any thought. But I know it was a logical for a much more personal reason. You see my maternal uncle an Orthodox Jew died in the North Tower or the World Trade Center. Abraham Zelmnanowitz or [inaudible] as I call him as a child, was a computer programmer for the Blue Cross Medical Insurance company. His mother, my grandmother, was born in Ottoman and then British Palestine and lived on and off both in the United States and then in Israel after it was established for years. On the days of the attacks, my uncle did not receive that phone call or email. He went to work on the 27th floor of the North Tower and when the chaos began his colleagues began to evacuate the building but there was a problem fall over him. His best friend Ed with whom he worked every day at Blue Cross had a disability and got around in a wheelchair and because the elevators had stopped working, emergency services needed to come up and get him. So Abraham called his brother and sister-in-law with whom he lived and told them that he wasn't leaving the building. His brother Jack and sister-in-law Evelyn became furious with Abraham begging him to leave but he wouldn't. "Don't worry." He said. "A medical team will soon be here to take care of Ed. It's all going to be okay." That's what my uncle insisted. Well, it didn't wind up being okay. Many months later the cities evacuation team identified Abraham's remains via DNA sampling. But this didn't matter apparently. The 4,000 Jews stayed home conspiracy theory had a life of its own, eventually the State Department issued a report debunking the claim complete with a list of the number of people of Jewish people who died during the September 11th attacks. As for my uncle, what was left of him is buried on the outskirts of Jerusalem not far from the graves of his parents, my grandparents. We live in a world of intense social conflicts. We live in a world of deeply polarized social orders nations and regions polarized over race and racism over inequality, over migration, over religion, over sexuality and gender issues, and often in the frontline of those conflicts those battlegrounds is the struggle over information about them. Who's news about them will be believed? Whose news about them will be most widely disseminated? What will the authority figures who we respect say about them, and from where will they get their information? The American Civil War general once famously declared that war is about getting there fastest with the mostest. Accompanying these struggles is the effort to get partisan information about those wars out there fastets with the mostest. Not infrequently that information is utterly patently false. Indeed truths has often been called the first casualty of war. The novelist Mark Twain supposedly once said that a lie can travel halfway around the world before it is stopped. Today a lie can spin around the world a million times at lights peed and still not be stopped. Situated in the middle of these information wars, is a peculiar but increasingly commonplace social actor, someone who we have come to call the conspiracy theorist. The conspiracy theorist knows that whatever they're telling you happened, whatever the official version is, forget about it. That's not what happened. It might be about why we really got into World War I. It might be about why we really started the Federal Reserve. It might be about who really killed the President of the United States or a Hollywood movie star, or the heir to the British throne. There's what they want you to think happened the conspiracy theorist says and there's what really happened. What really happened when you connect the dots? When it all comes together? When you take the blinders off of your eyes? Would you stop listening to the propaganda and think for yourself? When you stop being sheeple and start being the people? Today these appeals are often accompanied by pop-up advertisements and dietary supplements or gold futures. We should still take them quite seriously because in fact, at some point in the lives of most people, including this person who's speaking to you right now, we'll all believe in some conspiracy theory. For example, I have many students who believe that the single shooter version of the Kennedy assassination is false and if the actual killing was some multi-person conspiracy. As a possessor of this apigee, they tend to see themselves as intellectual outliers, as loners going against the grain or something like that and they're surprised and disappointed when I tell them that in fact, their beliefs put them solidly in mainstream public opinion in the United States. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans think that Kennedy was killed via some conspiracy. That's right, Mr. and Mrs. boring suburban America USA thing Kennedy was killed by some FBI CIA, mafioso, teamsters Las Vegas hit scheme involving Lyndon Johnson, Allen Dulles of the CIA, J Edgar Hoover of the FBI, union boss Jimmy Hoffa, mafioso Sam Giancana, various Hollywood movie ball goals and God knows who else. It's only a comparatively tiny minority of individuals like me who remained sympathetic to the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. When we go to parties and we say this, we are verbally assaulted by whole Santa is of no way, you're kidding, right? Come on, seriously? In fact most people I know are not willing to say out loud something like, as far as I can tell, Oswald was to do it because they don't feel fielding the endless what abouts this in that, what about this, what about that, that such an opinion will trigger. Poll there after 9/11, almost half the population of New York City said the government deliberately let it happen. Today around 12-15 percent of Americans think the US government was behind the attacks somehow. At any given time at least five percent of the US population thinks the United States did not actually go to the moon. A third of Americans think extraterrestrial aliens have visited Earth and the government knows this and there's surprising information about it. A woman I dated way back in college this is many years ago, thought this. She said the government was sitting on the fact that there are humanoid made pyramids on Mars and the intelligent services know this. As late as 2015, 20 percent of the US population thought President Obama faked his birth certificate and was born outside of the United States and was occupying the White House based on a conspiratorial fraud, and the guy who most prominently champion so-called birtherism, soon became President of the United States. Hey, how about that? Whatever we may think about these ideas, we can't dismiss them as marginal social phenomenon, strange interesting but of no consequence to history or our immediate lives. We can't afford to dismiss these idea. This is a course, a massive open online course about the widespread prevalence of conspiracy theories through the 20th century. The impact they've had on American politics and the impact that they've had on American culture. You take any major era in the United States is history, any major issue over race, over the economy, over some political campaign, and it wasn't formed in some way by the belief of a large portion of the population in some conspiracy theory. We can only begin in this class to touch upon the number of conspiracy theories that have been formed global politics. But at this point it's useful to ask some obvious questions like, what is a conspiracy theory?