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April Fools 2017: This Year in Branded Pranks

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Satire, The World of the Prank

April Fool’s Day brings a deluge of cleverness. For journalists covering the arts, entertainment, business, culture, or predictably tech (populated as it is by Stanford and MIT wiseacres), tracking the cuteness can be overwhelming.

At The Verge, Elizabeth Lopatto turns in a thoughtful rant on “the 500-year history of a troll holiday,” including an interview with Alex Boese of the Museum of Hoaxes, that explores why some of us are not big fans of 4/1.

Nevertheless, there’s plenty of fun to be had. The enormous display of creativity and break from the standard shilling grind can be inspiring. And a few marketing stunts shine through with transgressive humor, playful conviviality, or something genuinely important to say. (That, or they’re just joyously dumb.)

Here were a few that stood out in 2017.

MetBnB

The Metropolitan Museum’s fictitious partnership with the “sharing economy” startup was a lighthearted means of drawing attention to serious commercialization and fundraising challenges in the art world. (more…)

Joey Skaggs Promises Satirical Provocation for Donald Trump

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Prank News, Pranksters

As our founder prepares for his April Fools’ Day Parade Trumpathon, he gives us a look behind the scenes.


“Prankster Behind NYC April Fools’ Day Parade Says This Year’s Event Will Mock Donald Trump”
by Jillian Kay Melchior
Heat Street
March 28, 2017

For more than three decades, prankster Joey Skaggs has rejoiced in ensnaring the national media into covering fake news of his own invention. But this April Fools’ Day, he insists he’s absolutely serious about mocking Donald Trump.

“You can certainly accuse me of being the Boy Who Cried Wolf, given my past track record with this parade,” Skaggs told Heat Street. Indeed, for the past 31 years, Skaggs has sent out elaborate news releases announcing not only the April Fools’ Day Parade schedule and route but also describing floats—all fake, all for a parade that doesn’t actually happen.

“But the reality of this April Fools’ Day makes it absolutely essential that I finally show up along with, hopefully, hoards of Donald Trump look-alikes,” Skaggs said, adding that he’s hoping to earn a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest gathering of Donald Trump look-alikes.

For what it’s worth, we called the Guinness Book of World records, which confirmed there is an open application under Skaggs’ name. “But the category that he’s applying for is a new category, so the category would have to be accepted by the records team first, before he could attempt a record,” said spokeswoman Sofia Rocher. She said it’s not yet clear whether they’ll have an answer for Skaggs by April 1.

New York City requires a permit from the Police Commissioner for any parade. Skaggs says he has not gotten one, adding, “We’ve gone 32 years without a permit.” Read more.

Not #FakeNews, But an Incredible Simulation

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, The World of the Prank

A new video game brings your republic-wrecking fantasies to life.


If you were for some reason dying to play a video game about fake news, it’s here now
by Marissa Wenzke
Mashable
March 27, 2017

This fake news simulator is the depressing video game America deserves

It’s something that’s come to be reviled, the very thing that may have cost America a presidential election — fake news.

And the horrible phenomenon that’s been called out by everyone from former President Barack Obama to Apple CEO Tim Cook now has a video game all about it.

Yes, you can actually climb inside the minds of real-life humans who distribute lies for money. Fake It to Make It describes itself as “a social impact game about fake news.”

By that definition, it’s less a celebration of fake news and more a socially conscious dissection of it. Well, that’s at least what it’s intended to be, as its creator Amanda Warner explains.

“I think that better understanding how and why we are manipulated by others, for profit or power, is worthwhile knowledge to have,” she told The Verge.

The game takes you through a journey that mirrors the stories of real-life fake news creators. For instance, it starts by asking you to choose a purchase you want to make, like a $1,000 used car or $400 for a deposit on an apartment (deals we think questionably exist IRL). Read more.


In a Troubled Country, a Novelty Candidate Gains a Following

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Parody, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire

In the run-up to Serbia’s April 2nd presidential election, flamboyant joke candidate Luka Maksimovic has piqued the interest of disillusioned voters eager to shake up the system. On the international stage, Maksimovic is unique in that a) he displays some self-awareness, and b) he probably won’t win.


“Parody politician is new star in Serbia’s presidential race”
by Jovana Gec
AP
March 27. 2017

Ahead of Serbia’s presidential election on Sunday, a political parody has emerged as a true star.

His real name is Luka Maksimovic, but the 25-year-old student bidding to become the Balkan country’s next leader has won fame — and public support — appearing as a grossly exaggerated politician, complete with a white suit, oversized jewelry and a man bun.

Campaigning as a sleazy, loud character who makes wild promises and whose triumph is foretold by fortune tellers, Maksimovic has won over many in crisis-stricken Serbia, which has been plagued by political corruption and is eager for new faces and ideas.

Opinion polls have predicted that Maksimovic could win around 11 percent of the vote Sunday, trailing the powerful populist Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic but surpassing several other established candidates.

This, analysts say, already is a huge success for a newcomer with scarce political experience, no infrastructure and slim funds.

“It’s just my charisma!” the communications student joked in an interview with The Associated Press. “Citizens are so anxious to see me that I must sneak in unannounced to avoid huge crowds descending on me!” Read more.


An Off-the-wall Immodest Proposal

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire

Part of a proud tradition of construction-themed pranks, these morbid Canadian satirists have got a smoking hot deal for Donald Trump.


“Canadians’ Satirical Border Wall ‘Solution’ Designed to Drive Trump Up the Wall”
by Jim Brunner
Seattle Times
March 17, 2017

No, dead Nazi Albert Speer is not really bidding to build President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. But a group of Canadian pranksters who ‘figured some kind of parody submission was in order’ has created and submitted one in Speer’s name.

More than 700 businesses have signed up for possible work on President Donald Trump’s proposed “big, beautiful” wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But not everyone registering for the early-stage federal bidding process is serious. Some are looking to satirize or protest the controversial project.

Take “Trump Wall Solutions,” a firm ostensibly based in Toronto, Canada, which has signed up as an “interested vendor” in response to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) online solicitation.

The company’s listed principal? That would be Albert Speer, the Nazi war criminal who was Adolf Hitler’s personal architect. Speer, who designed the infamous Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg, died in 1981.

Trump Wall Solutions is actually a small group of Canadian pranksters mortified by the Trump administration and the border-wall plan, according to two men involved in the project who spoke with The Seattle Times by phone Friday.

“We just thought it was a bit absurd, this whole wall proposal. We figured some kind of parody submission was in order,” said Matt, one of the organizers, who said he works in architecture in Toronto. Read more.


The Full Dossier on the Right’s New Radical Kingmakers

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Donald Trump rose to power as a candidate in service to the people. Specifically, two of them: eccentric billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah. This essential long read goes deep into their background, motivations, and historically destructive power.


“The Blow-it-all-up Billionaires”
by Vicky Ward
The Huffington Post Highline
March 17, 2017

Last December, about a month before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Rebekah Mercer arrived at Stephen Bannon’s office in Trump Tower, wearing a cape over a fur-trimmed dress and her distinctive diamond-studded glasses. Tall and imposing, Rebekah, known to close friends as Bekah, is the 43-year-old daughter of the reclusive billionaire Robert Mercer. If Trump was an unexpected victor, the Mercers were unexpected kingmakers. More established names in Republican politics, such as the Kochs and Paul Singer, had sat out the general election. But the Mercers had committed millions of dollars to a campaign that often seemed beyond salvaging.

That support partly explains how Rebekah secured a spot on the executive committee of the Trump transition team. She was the only megadonor to frequent Bannon’s sanctum, a characteristically bare-bones space containing little more than a whiteboard, a refrigerator and a conference table. Unlike the other offices, it also had a curtain so no one could see what was happening inside. Before this point, Rebekah’s resume had consisted of a brief run trading stocks and bonds (including at her father’s hedge fund), a longer stint running her family’s foundation and, along with her two sisters, the management of an online gourmet cookie shop called Ruby et Violette. Now, she was compiling lists of potential candidates for a host of official positions, the foot soldiers who would remake (or unmake) the United States government in Trump’s image. Read more.


In the White House, Fake News Is Good News

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Satire, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

The Trump Administration loves good satire at its own expense… as long as it doesn’t get the joke. #45 isn’t just parody-proof; he’s literally unbelievable. Satire is dead.


“White House Shares Parody Article as Real News in Daily Briefing”
by Ryan Grenoble
The Huffington Post
March 17, 2017

On Friday, as part of its regular “1600 Daily” email briefing, The White House included a roundup of links of news friendly to President Donald Trump’s administration, as it regularly does.

First on the list was a Washington Post article titled, “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why.”

If that headline sounds suspiciously servile to you, there’s a good reason why: It’s satire.

The column, written by Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri, employs a clearly satirical tone in an attempt to justify President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to various departments.

“We don’t need to fund historic sites,” one section reads. “Those parks have sassed the administration enough and they must get what is coming to them.”

So either the Trump administration didn’t bother reading the actual article itself, or, even more troubling, read it but failed to distinguish it as parody. Read more.

Banksy Enters the Travel Business

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The Prank as Art, The World of the Prank

The often-imitated, never-duplicated, street art legend Banksy opens The Walled-off Hotel in Bethlehem.


“Banksy Opens Dystopian Hotel Near Bethlehem Separation Wall”
by Tara John
Time
March 3, 2017

Graffiti artist Banksy has opened a new inn in Bethlehem, located right by the barrier wall that separates Palestinian territories from Israel.

The ten-roomed Walled-off Hotel opened on Friday and is littered with the anonymous artist’s work. As the Guardian reports, Banksy’s team hopes the hotel will become a source of revenue for the town — whose economy has languished due strict Israeli controls. The rooms will be open for bookings on its website later in March, according to the Guardian.

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Banksy reportedly said: “Walls are hot right now, but I was into them long before Trump made it cool.”

The hotel was built in secrecy over the past 14 months and was converted from a pottery workshop. Styled to look like to “an English gentlemen’s club from colonial times,” the Walled-off Hotel hopes to spark dialogue, evidenced through its choice of artwork: Every room has what is touted as the “worst view in the world,” which is the 8-meter high concrete barrier.

There are also statues chocking on teargas, a painting of Jesus with a laser target on his forehead, a trophy wall of security cameras and an exhibition dedicated to the wall, that features art made by Israelis and Palestinians. Read the whole article here.


Meet New Alt-Right Media Power-Broker Robert Mercer

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

He made his money in tech and he’s investing it in new toys — data analytics and international politics. With his sights set on the media, his ultimate target is your heart and mind.


“Robert Mercer: The Big Data Billionaire Waging War on Mainstream Media”
by Carol Cadwalladr
The Guardian
February 26, 2017

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.

Prominent rightwing journalist Andrew Breitbart, who founded the site but died in 2012, told Bannon that they had “to take back the culture”. And, arguably, they have, though American culture is only the start of it. In 2014, Bannon launched Breitbart London, telling the New York Times it was specifically timed ahead of the UK’s forthcoming election. It was, he said, the latest front “in our current cultural and political war”. France and Germany are next. (more…)

R.I.P. Gustav Metzger

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

Gustav Metzger, a fiercely political artist, challenged and mocked consumerism and inspired several generations of creative “auto-destructivists”. He was 90 years old.


“Gustav Metzger, Pioneer of Auto-Destructive Art, Dies at 90”
by Mark Brown
The Guardian
March 1, 2017

Gustav Metzger, the inventor of auto-destructive art who spent a lifetime baffling, infuriating and thrilling audiences, as well as influencing generations of younger artists, has died aged 90.

A spokeswoman for the artist said he died at his home in London.

Metzger was born in Nuremberg to Polish-Jewish parents in 1926 and arrived with his brother in Britain on the Kindertransport in 1939. Much of his immediate family, including his parents, were murdered in the Holocaust.

He studied art in Cambridge, London, Antwerp and Oxford, and by the late 1950s was heavily involved in anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist movements, as well as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

This political activism was the motivation for his auto-destructive art manifesto of 1959 – which he described “as a desperate last-minute subversive political weapon … an attack on the capitalist system … an attack also on art dealers and collectors who manipulate modern art for profit”. Read more.


How to Diversify Your Biased News Portfolio

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Ever get the feeling you’re being pandered to? You don’t know the half of it. Here’s a company that hedges all bets in order to assure they get your ad dollars.


“This Is How Your Hyperpartisan Political News Gets Made”
by Craig Silverman
Buzzfeed News
February 27, 2017

The websites Liberal Society and Conservative 101 appear to be total opposites. The former publishes headlines such as “WOW, Sanders Just Brutally EVISCERATED Trump On Live TV. Trump Is Fuming.” Its conservative counterpart has stories like “Nancy Pelosi Just Had Mental Breakdown On Stage And Made Craziest Statement Of Her Career.”

So it was a surprise last Wednesday when they published stories that were almost exactly the same, save for a few notable word changes.

After CNN reported White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was “sidelined from television appearances,” both sites whipped up a post — and outrage — for their respective audiences. The resulting stories read like bizarro-world versions of each other — two articles with nearly identical words and tweets optimized for opposing filter bubbles. The similarity of the articles also provided a key clue BuzzFeed News followed to reveal a more striking truth: These for-the-cause sites that appeal to hardcore partisans are in fact owned by the same Florida company.

Liberal Society and Conservative 101 are among the growing number of so-called hyperpartisan websites and associated Facebook pages that have sprung up in recent years, and that attracted significant traffic during the US election. A previous BuzzFeed News analysis of content published by conservative and liberal hyperpartisan sites found they reap massive engagement on Facebook with aggressively partisan stories and memes that frequently demonize the other side’s point of view, often at the expense of facts. Read more.


Activism: Where the Action Is

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Filed under: Co-option (If You Can't Beat 'Em...), Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Prank News

The sprawling anti-Trump resistance movement has proven to be stronger, funnier, and more creative than any American countercultural force we’ve seen in decades.

As soon as the race was called, the backlash was inevitable. And, like ants at a picnic, the marketers were not far behind. The Guardian has a rundown on the new profits of rage.


“Sex Doesn’t Sell Anymore; Activism Does. And Don’t the Big Brands Know It.”
by Alex Holder
The Guardian
February 3, 2017

Three days ago I hadn’t heard of Lyft. Not until I was greeted on Monday morning by a right-on colleague demanding to know if I’d deleted my Uber app and replaced it with Lyft. On Saturday #deleteuber had been trending after many believed it had undermined a taxi strike at New York’s JFK airport protesting against Donald Trump’s immigration ban. By Sunday, with swift marketing prowess, Lyft’s CEO Logan Green tweeted that the company was donating $1m to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Which led to Lyft’s downloads surpassing Ubers for the first time ever. They used to say sex sells; now, evidently, it’s activism.

Lyft wasn’t the only company flaunting good deeds this week. In reaction to Trump’s immigration ban, Starbucks CEO wrote an open letter to staff committing to hiring 10,000 refugees and Airbnb’s Brian Chesky tweeted that it was providing free accommodation to anyone not allowed in the US. Even Uber, presumably in a bid to outdo Lyft, created a $3m fund to help drivers affected by the “wrong and unjust” ban.

Companies are now attempting to outdo each other with major acts of generosity, but there’s a catch; they’ll do good as long as they can make sure their customers know about it. There is no room for humility when a brand does a good deed. They’re always Larry David and never the anonymous donor. (more…)

Trump’s Security Detail Unimpressed With Ballsy Golf Course Stunt

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters

Noted British prankster Simon Brodkin hits Donald Trump where it hurts, and columnist Pat Kane reflects. (Feel free to share your own testicular puns through social media.)


“Why Serious Stuff Still Demands a Sense of Humour”
by Pat Kane
The National
February 4, 2017

So if you’re going to prank Donald Trump by chucking swastika-covered golfballs at him, as he opens one of his tremendous courses, you should do it at Trump Turnberry.

According to the comedian Simon Brodkin, whose stage name is Lee Nelson and who perpetrated said stunt last June, he was slumped in custody when a Scottish sergeant noted: “You’re that guy”.

“In that moment I realised I had an ally,” recalled Brodkin this week. “They loosened the cuffs so the blood went back to my fingers and asked if I wanted some Lucozade. Big love for the Scottish police.”

In next week’s Channel Four documentary Britain’s Greatest Hoaxer, Brodkin also relates that the Scottish police refused to let Trump’s secret service people interview him. Instead they sped him to the nearest airport and told him to “get the hell out of the country”.

As the furore rises around Trump’s potential state visit, the question of how modern dissent and protest is most effectively expressed comes to the fore. On this occasion, should it be a dignified boycott by political leaders (as all the Scottish political leaders did last June), and a protest action mutually agreed between activists and police? Or is Brodkin’s kind of hoax the best way to get an oppositional message under the plates of the Great Narcissist?

Watching the enthusiastic Brodkin’s preparations for his hoax – involving disguise, costume (a Trump Turnberry sweatshirt), bags hidden under hotel beds and the ludicrously easy detection of the Sunbed God’s itinerary – you imagine this kind of prank will never be achievable again.

The scene where his goons are scrabbling around the grass, filling red Trump caps with Nazi-balls, is inordinately pleasing. But no doubt the full apparatus – human and technological – of American and British national security will be sweeping and detecting every clump of cells that gets anywhere near the man-baby. Read more.


WhatsApp Fuels India’s #FakeNews Fire

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

India has a long history of politically motivated hoaxes and guerrilla propaganda. A popular messenger app has thrown it into overdrive.


“Viral WhatsApp Hoaxes Are India’s Own Fake News Crisis”
by Pranav Dixit
Buzzfeed News
January 19. 2017

The United States is currently experiencing a fake news crisis — bogus news articles disguised to look like real ones to mislead people, influence public opinion, and/or to simply use their massive reach to reap advertising profits. These operations are sophisticated, data-driven, and highly targeted. But in countries like India where internet penetration and literacy still lag far behind the US, misinformation tends to have a more grassroots quality. Twitter is a fertile ground for all kinds of rumormongering, but with just over 30 million users in the country, its impact is limited.

The primary vector for the spread of misinformation in India is WhatApp. The instant messenger is fast, free, and runs on nearly all of India’s 300 million smartphones. It’s also encrypted end-to-end, which means it’s nearly impossible to track what flows through it. Its real-world ramifications, nonetheless, can be brutal.

In November, WhatsApp rumors of a salt shortage sparked panic in at least four Indian states and caused stampedes outside grocery shops as people rushed to stock up. The government eventually debunked the rumours — but not before a woman died.

India’s misinformation problem predates the internet. In the early ‘90s, rabble-rousers in northern India trying to stir up tensions in Hindu and Muslim communities would mass-produce cassette recordings full of fake gunfire, screams, and chants of “Allah-ho-Akbar,” and then play them in car stereos at full volume in the dead of the night to incite communal violence. Read more.


Pizzagate: Cheesy Hand-tossed Lies

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

The bizarre tale of Comet Ping Pong restaurant and “Pizzagate” provides a case study in how fake stories proliferate online.
Update: And now it’s somehow gotten darker.
Another update: There is now a direct link between the spread of Pizzagate rumors and the nascent Trump Administration.


“The saga of ‘Pizzagate’: The fake story that shows how conspiracy theories spread”
BBC
December 2, 2016

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No victim has come forward. There’s no investigation. And physical evidence? That doesn’t exist either.

But thousands of people are convinced that a paedophilia ring involving people at the highest levels of the Democratic Party is operating out of a Washington pizza restaurant.

The story riveted fringes of Twitter – nearly a million messages were sent last month using the term “pizzagate”.

So how did this fake story take hold amongst alt-right Trump supporters and other Hillary Clinton opponents?

Let’s start with the facts.

In early November, as Wikileaks steadily released piles of emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, one contact caught the attention of prankster sites and people on the paranoid fringes.

James Alefantis is the owner of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington. He’s also a big Democratic Party supporter and raised money for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He was once in a relationship with David Brock, an influential liberal operative.

Alefantis – who’s never met Clinton – appeared in the Podesta emails in connection with the fundraisers.

And from these thin threads, an enormous trove of conspiracy fiction was spun. Read more.