THE age of the internet has given a host of fascinating and bewildering conspiracy theories a new lease of life.
We take a look at of the most popular – and bizarre – claims that believers fritter away a large chunk of their lives trying to prove.
The JFK assassination
Out of all the events in American history, the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy has probably spawned the most widely held conspiracy theories.
A leading one is that there was more than one shooter involved.
This stems from the official investigation into the assassination that claimed Lee Harvey Oswald managed to kill the President as well as wounding fellow passenger Governor John Connally with just three rounds.
It was asserted that one bullet had passed through Kennedy before hitting Connally.
But sceptics call this fanciful and dubbed it “the magic bullet theory”.
Instead this group believe there was more than one shooter and that the fatal shot was fired from a grassy knoll near the route of the motorcade.
It has been claimed the FBI orchestrated the killing.
Other theories centre on who might have paid Oswald and given him orders.
Culprits include the Soviet Union, Cuba and the Mafia.
Vice-president Lyndon B Johnson, who was sworn in as president after Kennedy’s death, has also been accused with some suggesting he wanted to cover-up scandals or take control of the country in a coup.
The September 11 attacks were an ‘inside job’
The most well-known conspiracy theory concerning the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, relates to the collapse of World Trade Centre Tower 7.
It fell later after the collapse of the neighbouring Twin Towers after they were hit by hijacked airliners.
The official report into the tragedy cites flaming debris from the burning skyscraper crashing into the 47-floor Tower 7 and sparking fires on several floors.
The heat generated brought the tower down, concluded the National Institute of Standards and Technology – making it the first steel skyscraper in the world to collapse because of fire.
In November 2016, a group of top engineers from the University of Alaska said “office fires” could not have caused its destruction.
Presenting the team’s findings at the Justice In Focus Symposium in New York, leader Dr J Leroy Hulsey revealed: “It is our preliminary conclusions based upon our work to date that fire did not produce the failure at this particular building.”
Their verdict stoked theories that the World Trade Centre buildings were brought to the ground by controlled demolition explosions but there is no evidence to support such a theory.
The moon landings were faked
Theorists believe the US government and Nasa faked the moon landing on July 21, 1969, in order to win the “space race” against the Soviet Union after the Russians had successfully launched the first man into space in 1961.
It is claimed Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin never set foot on the moon and television images were filmed in a studio.
Many advocates believe that all six manned moon landings – from 1969 until 1972 – were faked and point to supposed “mistakes” in the official pictures from the Apollo missions to back up their wild theories.
Others claim that 1972’s Apollo 17 was the last Nasa moon mission because the crew made contact with aliens.
The Roswell incident
There are hundreds of conspiracy theories about aliens visiting the Earth.
The most famous case is the so-called Roswell incident.
In 1947, a flying saucer reportedly hurtled into the Roswell site in New Mexico – and the most famous alien legend of them all was born.
Shortly after the military sensationally announced in a press release it had found the remains of a crashed flying saucer in the desert.
But the following day it retracted the statement, saying it was in fact a damaged US Air Force air balloon.
The Roswell incident is one of the most discussed and controversial UFO theories in history.
Witnesses later claimed they had seen alien bodies within a crashed craft.
The Illuminati control the world
The Illuminati – said to be made up politicians, bankers, business moguls and celebrities – is a shadowy group controlling the world, according to the bonkers claims.
On the extreme end of the spectrum, some conspiracy theorists believe the group are a reptilian alien species who are attempting to control humanity.
The original Illuminati dates back to the mid-1700s when the society was founded by Bavarian law professor Adam Weishaupt.
His intention was to start an academic organisation of modern thinkers prepared to challenge the views of the church.
The Illuminati soon became a highly-secret society promoting enlightenment as well as moral progress for all.
However, the angered priesthood revoked Weishaupt’s academic credentials and banished him from the country.
The group was eventually banned in the country by the end of the 18th century.
Maps, measurements, satellite images and photos of the Earth from space clearly show the world is a sphere.
But the tin-foil hat brigade insist all such evidence is fabricated in a “round earth conspiracy” orchestrated by Nasa and other government agencies.
Members dedicate huge efforts to demonstrating the world is flat, compiling their proof in numerous websites and YouTube videos.
The Flat Earth Society says its membership, mostly in Britain and the US, has grown by 200 every year since 2009.
Planet X (or Nibiru) and the end of the world
Nibiru is another name for Planet X, which it is said will destroy all civilisation.
There are a few variants to the theory, but all claim that the menacing planet is bearing down on our Solar System.
Some think it will crash directly into Earth, shattering our planet into a cloud of dust.
Others claim it will scrape past us, but its size will drag the Earth off its axis, triggering chaos.
Zecharia Sitchin’s controversial 1976 book Twelfth Planet claims that Nibiru is inhabited by an alien race called the Anunnaki, who are referred to in the Bible as the Nephilim.
He claims ancient texts say these mysterious space travellers had come to Earth looking for gold and other minerals.
One story claims codes in the Bible and a “date marker” on the Great Pyramids of Giza pinpoint the 23rd of the month as the day of reckoning.
For this reason, believers in the Nibiru theory often claim the world will end on this date, with September 23, 2017, and April 23, 2018, recent examples.
The theories are so widespread, Nasa was recently forced to reassure the public there is no evidence Planet X exists.
Paul McCartney was killed and replaced with a lookalike
Legend has it that Beatles star Paul McCartney was killed in a car accident in 1966.
His record label feared the end of the cash cow that was the biggest band in UK history, so they covered it up and he was replaced with a lookalike.
The rest of the group are said to have struggled to deal with the “new” Paul, nicknamed Faul (Fake Paul) by theorists.
In memory of their late bandmate, they left subtle clues in their artwork and music to let fans know that Paul was dead.
This includes their Abbey Road cover which is considered a subtle hint at a funeral procession.
John Lennon is said to represent the priest (because he’s all in white), Ringo Starr is a pallbearer (because he’s in a suit), and George Harrison acts as gravedigger (because he’s in denim). Paul’s bare feet are said to be a sign he is no longer alive.
A number of points on the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album are also cited.
And in the single All You Need is Love, theorists claim you can hear the words “Yes he’s dead” and “We loved you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Paul has taken the conspiracy in his stride and released an album called Paul is Live.
He told David Letterman in 2009 that he was barefoot on the Abbey Road cover because he simply wanted to take his sandals off.
He added: “It was a little bit strange because people would start looking at me like ‘Is it him, or is it just a very good double?’”
Elvis, Jim Morrison, Tupac and a host of other celebrities are still alive
Sometimes celebrities have had enough of life in the spotlight, so fake their deaths to start again – at least, that’s what this conspiracy theory states.
Celebrities who have apparently done this include Jim Morrison, who was found dead aged 27 in a Paris hotel room by his girlfriend in 1971.
It is claimed there was no autopsy and he had a closed casket funeral.
Elvis Presley died in 1977 at his Graceland home, but despite having an open coffin funeral, some believe that he was replaced with a waxwork.
His family have asked that his autopsy report remain sealed until 2027 – so we have a long time to wait to discover the truth.
Tupac, who was shot dead in Las Vegas in a gangland murder in 1996, has been repeatedly “seen” since his death at the age of 25 – and is apparently living a new life in Cuba.
Suspicions were raised further when a photograph of a man who looks incredibly like the tragic star was also circulated online.
However, with death certificates handed out for all of them, and several people claiming to have seen their bodies, you can be pretty sure that this is just wishful thinking from upset fans.
False flag theorists
False flag theorists see darker forces behind whatever sinister world events are taking place.
They believe events such as gun massacres and terror attacks are staged to make it appear as if some other group designed and carried out the event – in effect planting a false flag at the scene.
In the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Dan Bidondi, a radio host on right-wing conspiracy network InfoWars, suggested that the atrocity was in fact “a staged attack to take our civil liberties and promote homeland security”.
The “false flag” concept can be virtually applied to just about any world event – the 9/11 attacks, so some believe, weren’t carried out by al-Qaeda but the Bush administration as an excuse for war in the Middle East.
The Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead, was carried out to push the cause for tighter gun control – so it is claimed – and student survivors were, supposedly, crisis actors.
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Water fluoridation was a communist plot
Opposition to putting fluoride in water began when it started in the 1940s to improve dental health.
During the Cold War in the 50s and 60s conspiracy theories claimed that it was a communist plot to undermine American health.
Activists claimed it was part of a far-reaching plot to impose a socialist regime in the US.
The fluoride plot was also part of a wider “Red Threat” that was believed to exist in the States and included public health programmes such as mass vaccinations and mental health drives.
The far right also saw this in the social welfare programmes that were introduced as part of the post-war New Deal.
Dr Charles Bett, a prominent anti-fluoridationist, claimed the additive was “better than using the atom bomb because the atom bomb has to be made, has to be transported to the place it is to be set off while poisonous fluorine has been placed right beside the water supplies by the Americans themselves ready to be dumped into the water mains whenever a Communist desires!”