If something seems too good to be true, it probably is — and sometimes, it's just plain nuts. Although 2015 brought with it a flurry of viral news and trends, ranging from the exhilarating to the downright heartbreaking, it also managed to drudge up a whole mess of strange suppositions as well — some of them even trickling down from the offices of elected officials and, in our blessed election cycle, presidential candidates themselves. Sure, many of these tall-tales provided excellent comedic fodder for the masses, the most bizarre conspiracy theories of the bunch ended up doing much more harm than good.
Of course, there were the old faithfuls — 9/11, Obama's Kenyan birth, and the outrageous autism/vaccine connection — but there were new additions, too. Trivial Star Wars theories peppered social media like a plague and even a rumor that Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to implement an all-out ban on memes got its day in the sun. For conspiracy theory junkies, 2015 was a goldmine.
Giving the rumor mill a jolt was the arrival of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul with gobs of cash and a penchant for believing (or at leastsaying) the unbelievable. Combine the two, and a conspiracy king with way too much publicity was born. As the 2016 campaign really started rolling, it became increasingly clear that Trump wasn't the only one prone to believing in the bizarre — the political world as we knew it was just getting started.
From across the sociopolitical spectrum and beyond, here were some of the year's strangest flights of fancy:
Ben Carson’s Big Pyramid Theory
This year, retired neurosurgeon and current GOP candidate Ben Carson proved that he absolutely, 100 percent wasn't a history buff. In November, Buzzfeed published a commencement speech delivered by Carson to the Seventh-day Adventist Andrews University in 1998, in which he suggested that the Egyptian pyramids had been used to store grain, of all things.
"My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain," Carson told the crowd of graduates. "And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons ... various [sic] of scientists have said, ‘Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how—’ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you."
At a campaign event in Naples, Florida that same day, Carson reiterated to CBS reporters that the outlandish pyramid theory was "still [his] belief, yes." You can't make this stuff up.
Remember Jade Helm? Of course you do. But just in case, here's the basic gist: After a handful of instructions for a routine U.S.
(set for July 15 and dubbed "Jade Helm 15") were leaked back in March, paranoid citizens across the country began spreading the rumor that the government was preparing for a hostile takeover concocted by the White House to keep President Obama in the office for a third term. Accusations of secretive military maneuvers took the social media sphere by storm, and even Texas Gov. Greg Abbott seemed to fall victim to the conspiracy when he bizarrely ordering the Texas State Guard to take action and monitor the military's activities wherever possible.
Of course, nothing came of it, and the exercise ended with little to no fanfare two months later. But hey, at least we got some good late night comedy out of it, right?
Yes, this year even Pluto got in on the conspiracy game. After the first photos from the historic NASA mission New Horizons began rolling in back in mid-July — featuring the first ever close-up color photo of the dwarf planet — the rumor mill began churning. The basic thrust of the conspiracy theorists' claim was that the now-famous Pluto image had been photoshopped (no stars in the background!) and that NASA was actually hiding the real reason for the mission, which was a journey to the outer limits of our solar system to investigate Planet X (a large "dark" planet hiding from our telescopes).
Of course, as Huffington Post UK columnist Thomas Tamblyn hysterically pointed out, that was complete nonsense, especially given that "NASA's infrared scans of the night sky ... [have suggested] that there really is nothing out there, let alone a giant 'Death Star' planet that's imminently about to make us all sit in a pub with a paper bag on our heads." And as for the no-star theory—haven't we already been through all of this before?
The Trump-Clinton Sneak Attack
Let's be honest — if Donald Trump had been able to pull something like this off in real life, then maybe he really should be president. According to the rumor mill, bombastic braggart Trump — he of liberal infamy and right wing fame — only entered the 2016 presidential race to stamp out the competition and prop up longtime friend Hillary Clinton in her bid for the White House. Not convinced? Don't take my word for it, just listen to what his fellow Republicans said:
"Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton’s Christmas gift wrapped up under a tree," spouted GOP rival Carly Fiorina (who also called herself the "lump of coal" in Clinton's stocking in the same bizarre tweet). "Maybe Donald negotiated a deal with his buddy @HillaryClinton [because] continuing this path will put her in the White House," Jeb Bush flippantly tweeted that same day, wondering whether the two had signed some sort of accord. And while the two candidates were only remarking in jest, the rest of social media took wasn't so careful, citing the claim as truth and running with it.
Sorry guys — given the fact that no human being could ever possibly be that derogatory in real life without actually believing their own propaganda, nothing about this theory even remotely believable. But it is very hilarious.
Ted Cruz's Climate Change Denial
Despite being assigned chairman of the Senate's science and space subcommittee this year, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz seems to really be sticking to his guns on this whole climate change thing. In between sessions of a committee hearing on the realities of man-made climate fluctuation earlier this month, Cruz spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep, suggesting that there was no solid evidence to back up claims of global warming.
"You are incorrect, actually — the scientific evidence doesn't support global warming," Cruz told Inskeep. "For the last 18 years ... the satellites that actually measure the [Earth's] temperature showed no significant warming whatsoever. ... Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big government politician who wants more power [because] it is a theory that can never be disproven."
Yeah. OK. You probably should've told the UN that, Ted.
The Great Facebook Copyright Hoax
This one is less of a conspiracy and more of a “my friends can’t stop passing around false information” thing. Still, it warrants a place on this year’s list. In mid-September, Facebook users started noticing a viral post that allegedly kept Facebook from stealing photos and information from personal profiles. "I declare that my rights are attached to all my personal data drawings, paintings, photos, video, texts etc. published on my profile and my page," read one portion of the statement, which many users encouraged one another to copy and paste onto their own feeds.
Here's the rub: The whole thing was made up. For obvious reasons, simply posting a statement to your Facebook wall did absolutely nothing to protect your privacy — sort of the same way that posting a sign outside your apartment door that reads "I declare that you shouldn't steal my bike" will do nothing to stop a bike thief from, you know, taking your bike.
"There is a rumor circulating that Facebook is making a change related to ownership of users' information or the content they post to the site," the company later clarified in a statement. "This is false. Anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post, as stated in our terms."
The Notorious Red Cup Debacle
Ah yes. The conspiracy to beat all conspiracies, Starbucks' notorious red holiday cup. When the coffee chain first debuted its holiday design back in early November — a cheery red that faded to a subtly darker shade at the bottom — the ensuing uproar was really more of an isolated Internet groan-fest than a real conspiracy, with some outlandishly suggesting that the design was anti-Christmas. It wasn't until the news started catching fire on social media that the theories began rolling in.
Donald Trump indirectly suggest that the design was somehow a deliberate war on Christmas, explaining that if elected president, he would bring back the grand tradition of saying "Merry Christmas" rather than wishing one another happy holidays. "Maybe we should boycott Starbucks," he added during a campaign stop in Illinois that week.
Even Bristol Palin threw her hat into the conspiracy ring, angrily suggesting that the media circus was a grand liberal-fueled attempt to make Christians everywhere look bad. "Do not buy in to the media hype surrounding this story!!" Palin wrote in her Patheos blog that month. "It is just another attempt by the LEFT to make Christians look stupid."
That's some heavy thinking there — especially considering that liberals probably have better things to do during the holiday season than concoct ways to make Bristol Palin angry.