Update: Someone who says he was present at the interview emailed me, worried people would believe this theory. I’ve pasted his note after the post.
If you’re a connoisseur of conspiracy theories like I am, when a new one comes along it’s interesting to ask not only what it claims, but how it claims it — that is, what are the intricate details that make it more likely to be believed and passed on? There was a really interesting example sitting at the top of r/AMA, the (much) smaller of Reddit’s two “Ask Me Anything” subreddits: “Ted Cruz: The Next American President. ‘We’ve already decided.’ I am witness to an active conspiracy AMA.” It was just removed (mysteriously?), but I saved a screengrab here.
The poster, a user named infinitestill who apparently created the account just to pass along his or her (let’s go with “his”) story, claims he was “hired by Stanford University to film an interview with casino mogul and Forbes multi-billionaire, Steve Wynn, on behalf of the Hoover Institution, for a web series called UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE.” After the interview wrapped, he overheard a conversation between Wynn and the interviewer, Peter Robinson, in which the former revealed some rather shocking things:
“America is doomed, Peter. This entire country is going to collapse if this continues. I’ve got enough money and enterprise to leave. My operations in Macau already produce more revenues than I’ll ever make in America again. But I’m an American and I will not give up. It’s up to us to fix this. We cannot and have already decided we will not allow America to collapse.” Peter pressed on this point, “How so?” Wynn casually countered, “We’ve already decided. At the last retreat [unknown], we already decided. There’s Ted Cruz in Texas and he’s going to be the next guy. He has all of our backing. Democrat and Republican and we’re pushing him right in. We already gave him our plan.”
Now, I’m not saying this is going to be a successful conspiracy theory — the commenters who have responded are skeptical, for one thing. But for anyone fascinated by how this sort of thinking spreads and thrives online, this one has some cool, revealing details. For one thing, there are all these weirdly specific details — “I arrived with camera equipment and met with the Stanford production team at 9:30a”; “Mr. Wynn sat down at his desk (Southeast-corner of the residence).” These remind me of the UFO stories I was fascinated by as a kid; inevitably, it was the ones laden with rich details that caught my attention, because who would make up something so specific?
But, more important and broad, this narrative here fits into multiple layers of current political paranoia and discontent:
“Obama has ruined everything. We can’t do anything in this country anymore. It is impossible to open a new business, carve out a piece of land, run a corporation, or do anything, any more, without having a mountain of regulators and red tape fouling it up. The entire country is withering and dying because of what he’s done. And we are all very pissed off about it.”
Wynn then went into greater detail about the problems he has expanding on American soil and the problems all of his enterprise vendors have supporting his empire with products and services. It was a fascinating depiction of a sincerely worried American business man, looking at the biggest picture, and seeing major projections of failure everywhere. He seemed to capture the true state of things from the perspective only a multi-billionaire could, while remaining firmly grounded and having the understanding and consideration to feel compassion for his lowest-level employee.
This is a common line on the hard right: Obama is a remarkably anti-business president, one who, it can only be assumed, hates hard work and achievement. So the structure of this conspiracy theory holds that, thanks to Obama’s radical politics, a billionaire conspiracy has taken hold — Obama was practically asking for such a coup, in other words. It’s all very Ayn Rand.
Speaking of Rand, this definitely reads like a conspiracy theory targeting tea partiers, since they’re furious at Obama’s (alleged) anti-business, anti-bootstraps policies. What complicates matters is that it leads to an outcome — a Ted Cruz presidency — that many tea partiers would probably be happy with. So on the one hand, you have a billionaire conspiracy (bad if you’re a tea partier), but it leads to President Cruz (good if you’re a tea partier). One has to imagine this will limit the rumor’s ability to gain traction. (An obvious alternate theory is that this is actually a rumor targeting lefty types who are scared of corporate influence, playing off those lefties’ knowledge of what conservatives have been saying about Obama; but when you read through the whole thing it just doesn’t have that flavor to it — the billionaire is portrayed as a genuinely good guy who just wants what’s best.)
Maybe what’s going on here is that the rumor is reflecting the tea-party movement’s own schizophrenic stance toward billionaire types. It’s a movement, after all, that rails against moneyed interests controlling everything, while also railing against any and all attempts to regulate or tax said moneyed interests, and while also worshiping the (mythical) endless productivity and industriousness of John Galt–type figures. The tea party has never really established a consistent stance on this whole billionaires issue, in other words, so it’s no wonder conspiracy theories targeting its members would suffer from a bit of the same incoherence.
Update: I didn’t mean to imply I found anything believable about this conspiracy theory; rather, I found it to be pretty ridiculous on its face, but also interesting and illustrative from a rumors-are-fascinating standpoint. Nonetheless, Michael Weaver, senior vice-president of marketing and communications at Wynn Casinos, emailed to say he was worried people would read this post and believe the sinister Reddit theory about his employer: “Sorry to disappoint you but the story is false,” he wrote. “I was in the room before, during and after the interview and no portion of the conversation ever occurred. Also, the details that so intrigue you about the interview set-up are inaccurate. Simply watch the interview; there is no desk.”
We are not into giving oxygen to unsupported rumors here at Science of Us, so, to be clear: No, billionaires are not conspiring to install Ted Cruz as our next president. Or if they are, they’re being savvy about it and are not speaking openly about their plot in the presence of web-series producers.