The Father of Modern Conspiracy Theory

William Cooper was killed by cops 20 years ago, at the age of 58. His ideas live on in fringe political movements like QAnon.

The conspiracist M. William Cooper (but you can call him Bill) was born in 1943. According to his bio, he was a Vietnam-era veteran of both the Navy and the Air Force, and later some sort of photographer, before making a name for himself in the “UFOlogist” counterculture of the 1980s with extraordinary tales of extraterrestrial races, secret human populations on the moon, and a predilection for championing known hoaxes (such as the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion) as documentary evidence of a worldwide global conspiracy of the rich and powerful, intent on enslaving every last one of us. Cooper even had a term for you and I, the everyday schlubs who refuse to see the truth in his message and join him on his crusade. We were mere “sheeple,” he’d say  —  a portmanteau of sheep and people  —  “cattle by choice and by consent.”

Conspiracy theorists all tend to draw on a common pool of elements, but few could match Cooper in his ability to account for almost every fringe idea out there. The effect, for those who accepted his message, must have been profound — like having the veil lifted from your eyes and, for the first time, seeing the world as it really is. Even though I thought the whole thing was nuts, his was still a compelling and highly entertaining alternate universe; one where every day the forces of good and evil were locked in conflict, where every question could be explained by invoking the Illuminati or the New World Order. Cooper described a world where everything had its place and everything was significant. No one  —  not the History Channel, not Steven Spielberg  —  could make history come alive quite like him. Even if his “history” was often no more real than the one where Kirk and Spock are caught infiltrating the Space Nazis in violation of the Prime Directive.

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