Nothing proves the potency of instant Internet paranoia better than the sudden, shocking death of Britain's Princess Diana. Even after the massive public mourning over the death of Diana had abated, conspiracy theories of her "murder" raced along on-line like a drunk on speed.
The conspiracy theories run the gamut from the mundane (Diana as a threat to the royal family) to the mondo (Diana as sacrificial Satanic princess). The idea that Diana was murdered became so powerful that the billionaire Mohamed al-Fayed, the father of her also-dead boyfriend Dodi Fayed, espoused it himself.
Mohamed al-Fayed's craving for proof that Diana and Dodi were assassinated by British intelligence in cahoots with the CIA led to the case of an Austrian man attempting to peddle bogus documents to Fayed - that supposedly "proved" the plot.
That arrest led to the even odder occurrence of the CIA issuing an official denial that it had anything to do with Diana's death. Naturally, to many conspiracy theorists, the CIA's denial was taken as confirmation. And who can blame them?
On the other hand, here are the basic facts:
Diana Spencer, princess of Wales, died in a car accident on August 31, 1997. she had just finished dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Paris with her latest love interest, the previously noted Dodi Fayed. Dodi was the affable ne'er-do-well son of equally aforementioned, ridiculously wealthy Egyptian émigré Mohamed al-Fayed. The hotel was owned by Dodi's father.
Diana was always under intense surveillance by the press. Pictures of the princess in a candid situation commanded megadollars on the world tabloid-newspaper market. Since her romance with Fayed went public just weeks earlier, the pressure form photographers had grown even worse.
Seeking to avoid the media horde, Diana and Dodi sneaked out the rear of the Ritz into an idling Mercedes. They were accompanied by Diana's bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, and a driver hired by Fayed's family, Henri Paul.
After the accident, investigators found that Paul had a huge level of alcohol in his blood. Also, he was taking antidepressant drugs, which, investigators concluded, had nothing to do with his state of intoxication. However, the presence of those drugs could indicate something about Paul's state of mind and why he might take chances with his own life and the lives of his passengers.
Paul also apparently had, in addition to the large quantities of booze in his bloodstream, large quantities of cash in his bank account, deposited shortly before the fatal day.
Diana's car did not dodge the photographers. A group of them spotted the car and followed it. for some reason, the driver reached speeds reported as high as two hundred kilometers per hour. When the car entered the Point de l'Alma Tunnel, it went out of control. Everyone in the car dies except for Rees-Jones, who was wearing a seatbelt, which proves a whole other point.
At the time of her death, Diana was easily the most famous woman in the world (sorry, Madonna), thanks to her "fairy tale marriage to Britain's future king and the seemingly ceaseless sequence of sordid scandals that brought the fairy tale to a grim end. As beloved as she was by the public, she was despised by there royal ex-in-laws. For the price of a mere twelve years of marital agony, Diana won a permanent voice on the world stage.
But someone wanted to shut her up.
That is, if you buy that conspiracy theories. And there's a wide selection available for purchase. The theories range from the mundane to the bizarre. In the former category, the rather ho-hum theory that Diana was killed because the British royal family doesn't like Muslims and Diana, apparently, was about to get hitched to one. She had finally found a serious beau after her breakup with Prince Charles (and the previous boyfriends she'd cheated on him with). But Dodi wasn't a beau deemed proper for a princess.
Dodi Fayed's father owns London's famed Harrod's department store. The Fayeds always craved acceptance from the British aristocracy, but for the white-bread British establishment (not to mention the ultrastuffy royals) they were just too, well, swarthy. However, if Dodi had succeeded in wooing Diana, the Fayeds would finally have there entrée. Rather than risk having to treat these undesirables as equals, the powers behind the British scenes simply killed both Dodi and Di.
One of the most vocal proponents of the "anti-Muslim conspiracy" theory was Sherman Skolnick. In fact, Skolnick is one of the most vocal proponents of almost any conspiracy theory. He started as a Kennedy-assassination researcher and over the years has branched out. His writings on almost any subject (e.g., he wrote that the collapse of Britain's Baring's Bank bore the clandestine stamp of the pope!) can be found on the Internet these days.
Skolnick said that he had spoken to numerous British and European journalists in the days following Diana's death and they all told him basically the same thing.
"Diana was assassinated," he reports. "And the simple reason for the murder is, British intelligence is pledged to protect the monarchy. The monarchy was not going to have a new step-father for the heir to the throne, Prince William. They weren't going to have a Muslim."
Of course, one could ask the question, why not just kill Dodi? Why also whack Diana? But these sorts of conspiracy theories always leave a lot of loose ends.
In any case, Skolnick's is an example of a not-so-imaginative theory. Many of the Diana conspiracy theories were considerably more exotic. An anonymous writer using the pseudonym "Ru Mills" proposed the theory (on the Internet, of course), that "whoever controls Princess Diana controls the world."
In the murky concoction, Mr. Mills (or maybe Ms. Mills; it's difficult to tell) argues that a "Cult of Diana" has existed for many centuries, going back to ancient Rome. This particular Diana was a part of that legacy. Her sons, William and Harry, carry divine blood.
"The current British Royal Family are impostors," writes Mills. "The House of Windsor is a fraud. But the lineage of Lady Diana Spencer goes back to Charles II of the House of Stewart. The House of Stewart is of true royal blood."
And what is the origin of that "true royal blood?" It dates back, according to Ru Mills, to the Merovingian dynasty, a family of French royalty who ruled from about A.D. 500 to 750.
The history of the Merovingians, much like that of Britain's King Arthur, relies less on documentation than on legend, mystery, and mysticism. There is, however, one popular theory about these supposedly magical kings that Ru Mills buys without hesitation.
"All true European royalty is descended from the Merovingians," says Ru, "which are believed to be descendants of Jesus Christ."
Heavy! Diana, a great-great-great-great-etc.-granddaughter of the Big C himself! In other words, that car crash was more than just a tragic drunk-driving mishap. It was a crucifixion.
Diana was sacrificed, says this theory (if you can call it a "theory"). She left the masters of the New World Order no choice, see? They wanted her to take a husband. They had a certain man in mind. And that man?
None other than Bill Clinton.
Yes, according to this master plan, Bill Clinton divorces Hillary (or just kills her, which might have been easier), then weds Diana. The princess, says Ru Mills, has having none of it. She refused to marry Bill Clinton. (Good thinking!)
Her sons, William and Harry, now carry on the Merovingian legacy. They will start a new religion that will control the world. So whoever controls them rules the world. And with Diana's death they are controlled by the British royal family - the same family that saw Diana as an impertinent rebel.
The idea that the British royal family runs, well, everything is not new. If you study the Jack the Ripper page, I check out the possibility that the British royals are all Freemasons who commit murder in the name of their secret rituals.
Masons? Maybe. But Satanists? Apparently nothing is too evil and sordid for these royals. Kitty Kelley had nothing on a conspiracy theory that turned up (attributed to an anonymous author) in the winter 1998 issue of Paranoia (a magazine whose outlook is pretty much as advertised.
"If you think that the assassination of Diana was a tiff inside the Royal family - or a racist plot to keep the Egyptians out of Britain - you are wrong… The assassination was an act of ritual, and the ritual is so very effective because you are never looking out for it."
In other words, the "murder" of Diana was a Satanic rite. And because no one could ever believe anything so far-fetched, the conspirators are safe.
The anonymous author identifies an international cult of Satanists in high places. Not surprisingly, Bill Clinton is among them. British prime minister Tony Blair (the British Bill Clinton) is another devil worshiper, as is General Colin Powell, whom the article identifies as "the voodoo prince."
What possible evidence could exist that a routine (but for its victims) drunk-driving accident was the work of Satanists? One big tip-off, according to this conspiracy theory, was that Diana was killed on the last day of August and "last days of the month are significant in Satanism."
The anonymous author then lists a series of photographs which, he or she says, show Diana before her death dressed in occult attire - subtly. In one photo "she is wearing a dress decorated with sequined pentagrams, exactly 13 are visible on the top part of the dress." The author's conclusion: "Diana seems dressed as the bride of Satan."
Those two theories are among the most far-out and consequently the most interesting. Because most of the Diana conspiracy theories were simply, well, boring.
The first hint in the mainstream media of conspiracy theorizing surfaced a couple of days after Di's unfortunate joy ride when that zany party dude Qaddafi came up with a whacked-out theory that made the Reuters wire. Way to go, Mu'ammar! But 70 GCAT was way ahead of good old Mr. Green Book. Since the first edition of their book came out, they have been running a web site (http://www.conspire.com). all that their readers have to do is click on an E-mail link to beam whatever perverse notions occupy their minds directly to the gleaming, eight-by-ten-foot high-definition screen at 70 GCAT central.
They received their first Diana-conspiracy email within minutes (yes, that's right, minutes) of the initial news bulletins. That one was followed by dozens more. Elsewhere on the Internet, a handful of web sites and an entire newsgroup (alt.conspiracy.princess-diana) cropped up and was immediately filled with thousands of postings. Most of them focused on rather conventional themes. The "anti-Muslim conspiracy" was popular, as was the rather illogical notion that Prince Charles wanted Diana out of the way so that he could be "free" to wed his longtime paramour, the rapidly aging Camilla Parker-Bowles.
Then there's the "theory," such as it is, that Diana was killed by agents of the international arms cartels to stop her crusade against land mines (though far more people are now aware of that crusade than ever were before her demise).
Yet another version of the conspiracy scenario has it that Diana faked her own death. Kind of like our own king here in the United States - Elvis! (There's some profound insight to be drawn from that analogy. I'm just not sure what it is.)
Frankly, I'm a little disheartened by this whole phenomenon. This is a paint-by-numbers, prefab conspiracy theory if ever there was one. Back in the good ol' days when conspiracy theorists were still considered crackpots, it actually took some kind of evidence to get this type of frenzy under way. But somewhere along the line, in the last few years, it became cool to be a conspiracy theorist. Now anytime some poor say drops dead every frat boy with an Internet account races to be the first in his quad to post the conspiracy of the moment.
The first move is usually ascertaining a motive behind the postulated homicide - and because everyone's got a motive to kill somebody, this is the easy part. And then that motive is offered up with a knowingly cocked eyebrow as implicit proof that a conspiracy must have occurred.
Ironic, isn't it? In all of the research that I have done, it seems to me that people too often take what they read in the paper or heard on the nightly news as gospel. And, I felt, that's exactly what the big media wanted.
Think for yourselves! I cried out without much success. But now conspiracy theorists themselves have become just as predictable as any TV news anchorman interviewing a congressman.
I suppose we have to share some small amount of credit for the current conspiracy vogue, and needless to say, I'm not complaining. But his bandwagon is feeling a little bit crowded lately.
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