There are plenty of conspiracy theories surrounding President Barack Obama. In just a few minutes of light Googling, one can find all manner of poorly proofread articles on Mr. Obama's true nature as a Kenya-born secret terrorist sympathizer and/or shape-shifting lizard man. Most of these misconceptions are easy to correct. According to all official documentation, Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii. He oversaw the killing of the most wanted terrorist in the world. And there's no way he could be a shape-shifting lizard, since those creatures are all remarkable bowlers.
Full disclosure: I made up that last part. The fact is, I cannot prove Mr. Obama isn't a shape-shifting lizard. Score one for the conspiracy theorists.
But the belief that the president belongs to a royal line of reptilian overlords may not be the strangest conspiracy theory about him. Last November, the website Exopolitics published a stunning exposé on Mr. Obama's secret past as a government "chrononaut" sent as a teenager to confront deadly beasts on the surface of Mars. Despite the mind-bending implications of this story, it took several weeks for most people to notice. This could be evidence of a massive government effort to keep a lid on the revelation. Or it's possible that not very many people read Exopolitics, a site devoted to the "science of relations between intelligent civilizations in the Universe".
Regardless, the world has taken notice. Wired.com even managed to force a comment out of the Obama administration, which denies the president has ever visited Mars.
No, seriously. It seems likely, since it matches up with all the known facts about both Barack Obama's life and everything else we know about reality.
The author of this Exopolitics article, Alfred Lambremont Webre, J.D., M.Ed., bases his entire story on hearsay, specifically the testimony of Andrew D. Basiago, J.D., M.C.R.P., M.Phil. and William B. Stillings, a man with a refreshing lack of letters after his name. Both of them claim to have served in a secret, DARPA-operated time travel program called Project Pegasus. According to Basiago and Stillings, a 19-year-old Mr. Obama served under this programas well and, along with several other time-hopping teens, was teleported to Mars in order to lay claim to the red planet for Uncle Sam and to acclimate the local, bloodthirsty fauna to human beings. As evidence, Stillings says that Mr. Obama took part in his Mars mission training class in 1980. Basiago corroborates this, then takes it a step further. He says he actually saw the president on Mars returning to home base after a hard day of exposing himself to alien wildlife.
No, not that kind of exposing himself. Get your mind out of the Valles Marineris system!
That's a system of canyons on Mars, you see. Anyway.
Yes, this story seems fishy. How could the government keep secret a decades-long program of time travel and space exploration when even their comparatively mundane attempt to clandestinely fly drones over Iran ended in a very public blooper? But even if this Burroughs-esque story of Martian adventure rang true to the average reader, we still can't accept it at face value. We need evidence beyond personal testimony. Until then, this tale is just as fact-based as my claim that not only are all reptilian shape-shifters talented bowlers, but that former professional bowler Billy Hardwick is, in reality, himself a shape-shifting lizard. Which would mean comedian and podcast impressario Chris Hardwick, as Billy Hardwick's son, is at least half shape-shifting lizard.
It's unlikely many will believe Barack Obama is a chrononaut based on such flimsy evidence. Probably just as many as will be inspired by that last paragraph to check Chris Hardwick's underbelly for scales. Spinners of bizarre conspiracy theories like this aren't usually as harmful as quack doctors, anti-vaccinationists, predatory "psychics", or any of the other fraudulent or virulently misinformed people against whom the James Randi Educational Foundation strives to inoculate the public. But they can certainly teach us a lot about how our fallible human minds can operate when we aren't made aware of its own inherent pitfalls.
Like most conspiracy theories, the "Obama visited Mars" story is an attempt to find a pattern in seeming randomness. Barack Obama couldn't be a man who worked his way through the political system until he eventually won a simple election to become president of the United States. According to Basiago and Stillings, he was a chosen member of the secret elite. His mother worked for the CIA. He was involved in a science fiction space program that only the innermost of the innermost circles knows anything about. In this Examiner article, Exopolitics proprietor Alfred Webre posits that 9/11 wasn't just a simple terrorist attack. It was a ruse orchestrated by military elites using extraterrestrial technology beyond the understanding of mainstream science.
From an outsider's perspective, these kinds of stories seem crazy. But they prove just how powerfully many people need to bring some kind of order to the things they don't understand. This is why they will always remain both compelling to believers and fascinating to skeptics. Not all of us spin conspiracy theories to cope with chaos, but we can all, on some level, relate to the need.
Brian Thompson is the Field Coordinator for the James Randi Educational Foundation.