February 15, 2023 - 3:10pm

If ever there was a week to be conspiratorial, it was this one. First, four ‘unidentified flying objects’ were shot down in American airspace. Then there was the release of a dossier by veteran Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh claiming to prove America’s part in the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage. And finally, a freight train derailed in Ohio, causing a toxic plume of vinyl chloride to hang over the village of East Palestine. The exact area of the spill had been used just last year as the setting of White Noise, a Netflix adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel about an ‘Airborne Toxic Event’. 

If ever there was a week to be nostalgic, it was also this one. Western conspiracists seem to be returning to a retro set of stories about the mysteries of the universe. Aliens, an absolute mainstay of theorists of the ’90s and noughties like David Icke, are finally back in fashion. Reported sightings of extraterrestrial aerial phenomena are on the up, with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence recording 510 sightings in 2022 compared to 366 in 2021. 

A resurgent interest in vintage conspiracies can be traced back to the earliest days of the pandemic. In 2021 new footage alleging to be of ‘Bigfoot’ taken in Idaho coincided with a five-year high in US Google searches for ‘Sasquatch’. Such was the reignited interest in chemtrails in the same year that National Geographic felt compelled to publish a debunking by the US Air Force. The Loch Ness monster was ‘spotted’ (according to Scotland’s official ‘Sightings Register’) more times in 2021 than any other year, partly thanks to a webcam set up on the banks of the lake. 

The increasingly disassociated nature of post-pandemic conspiracy might be to blame. Polling released this week by UnHerd shows that 38% of the British population agrees that ‘the world is controlled by a secretive elite’. Biomedical disaster weaponised to curtail freedoms, the World Economic Forum making grand plans for a one-world-government and 5G towers spreading disease are all distinctly de-personalised and tech-inflected theories. Unlike Bigfoot or ET, these contemporary conspirators cannot be caught in the act or ‘come in peace’. When it comes to finding joy rather than nihilism in speculation, you can’t beat the classics.

is UnHerd’s Senior Producer and Presenter for UnHerd TV.