The CIA created the term “conspiracy theory” to undermine people who question the status quo.
A number of social media users have been stating that the term “conspiracy theory” was coined by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to suppress people who are wise enough to question accepted truths. Some of these users have referenced scholarly analysis that allegedly supports this statement. A possible origin for the widespread of this belief is a 2018 blog that cites a Freedom of Information Act document from the CIA concerning the assassination of President Kennedy as proof that the CIA created/twisted the term.
These posts have gained significant interactions, with users on Twitter alone gaining hundreds of likes and retweets.
The term “conspiracy theory” was in use long before the foundation of the CIA, and it was also used in a negative way during these times. Dictionaries provide different initial sources for the term, but they highlight that “conspiracy theory” was in usage prior to the 1960s when the Kennedy assassination occurred.
For example, Merriam-Webster states that the earliest usage of the term “conspiracy theory” that it could identify is in 1863. This is likely to be a letter that appeared in The New York Times that stated that people who believed that the English were meddling with American politics over the secession of the Confederate states were engaging in a conspiracy theory, which the author also stated was impossible to be a reality due to the country’s focus upon Europe and Asia.
Additionally, the Oxford English Dictionary first cites a usage of the term “conspiracy theory” in 1909. This appeared in the American Historical Review in an article about the repeal of the Missouri compromise. “The claim that Atchison was the originator of the repeal may be termed a recrudescence of the conspiracy theory first asserted by Colonel John A. Parker of Virginia in 1880,” it reads. “No new manuscript material has ever been found to support the theory.”
The CIA was created in 1947, and it grew from the Office of the Coordinator of Information, which was founded in 1941. Obviously, this was long after the above documented terms of “conspiracy theory” was being used to describe a scenario that did not reflect factual evidence.
The document that some claim as proof of the CIA creating/twisting the term “conspiracy theory” does not do this. The only time the document uses the term is in the following sentence: “Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us.”
Clearly, this document does not direct anyone or any entity to create/distort the term.