Why Do People Believe The Moon Landing Hoax Or Other Conspiracy Theories?

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin looks back at Tranquility Base during the 1969 Apollo 11 moon mission. MUST CREDIT: NASA handout photo

Forty-nine years ago Friday, the Apollo 11 spacecraft delivered the first astronauts to the surface of the moon. The footprints Buzz Aldrin left in lunar soil are still around – and so are the throngs of conspiracy theorists who claim the entire landing was faked. For one thing, they argue, the flag the crew planted seemed to flutter in videos, which shouldn’t happen since there’s no wind on the moon. Besides, wouldn’t mini-meteors have killed the astronauts the moment they ventured outside?

The “moon landing hoax” was among the first conspiracy theories to gain traction with the American public. In the years since, the theories have multiplied like jack rabbits, swarming all corners of the cultural landscape. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, some fringe activists insisted the U.S. government, rather than al-Qaida, had planned the attacks. Conspiracies about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia compete with all the real news on the topic. “Pizzagate” conspiracists claimed Hillary Clinton was operating a pedophile ring in a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor, leading one true believer to fire a gun in the restaurant.

It’s tempting to dismiss conspiracy theorists as tinfoil hat-wearers. But the theories should be taken seriously for their effects on political and social discourse – and research suggests that, under the right circumstances, many people are susceptible to their allure.

While people’s attraction to conspiracy theories might seem illogical, it stems from a very logical desire to make sense of the world. Assigning meaning to what happens has helped humans to thrive as a species, and conspiracy theories are internally cohesive stories that “help us to understand the unknown whenever things happen that are fearful or unexpected,” said Jan-Willem van Prooijen, a social psychologist at Vrije University in Amsterdam. For some believers, the sense of comfort and clarity such stories bring can override the question of their truth value.

Conspiracy theorists often have a high degree of tolerance for contradiction that allows them to ignore evidence against their theories. In one study at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, people who said Osama bin Laden had died before the U.S. raid on his compound were also more inclined to say he was still alive. The stories might have clashed, but both versions denied the Obama administration’s report that bin Laden had been killed during the raid.

Conspiracy theories also supply a seductive ego boost. Believers often consider themselves part of a select in-group that – unlike the deluded masses – has figured out what’s really going on. In a study at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, belief in conspiracy theories was stronger among people who said they wanted to stand out from the crowd. People with a high “conspiracy mentality” also expressed more belief in a conspiracy theory when they were told a minority of survey-takers believed it, as opposed to a majority.

Rejection and hardship can intensify people’s need to believe a story that empowers them or justifies their situation, whether the story is true. People who are dissatisfied with the state of the world – such as the unemployed or those who support extreme ideologies – are highly vulnerable to conspiracy theories, van Prooijen said: “If people are satisfied, they are less likely to pursue this sort of theory.”

While conspiracy theories have been around for millennia, they are thriving in a political moment that rewards those who reject established knowledge. “Conspiracy theories are becoming part of our national dialogue,” said University of Miami political scientist and conspiracy theory researcher Joseph Uscinski.

When such theories become entrenched in the public consciousness, however, they erode people’s trust in authorities and the status quo. In a vicious cycle, that creates fertile ground for the emergence of ever more outlandish conspiracy theories.

Part of the foundation of democracy, as writer Stephen Harrington points out, is a broad consensus about basic facts that persists even when the meaning of these facts is hotly debated. But conspiracy theorists operate from a set of facts untethered to reality, and people who call their bluff are often ignored or labeled as part of the proposed conspiracy. When people believe “there is no credible source of news,” said Peter Kreko, director of the Political Capital institute in Budapest, “there can be no real source of debunking.”

In 2016, Kreko and his colleague, social psychologist Gabor Orosz of Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University, tested the usefulness of various ways to counter conspiracy theories. First, they played participants a recording of a conspiracy “super-theory” stating that Jews, bankers and the European Union were exploiting Hungary. Then the researchers tried three debunking strategies: rationally arguing against the conspiracy theory; ridiculing those who believed in the theory; and empathizing with the people the theory targeted.

It turned out that both rationality and ridicule were somewhat effective in reducing participants’ belief in the theory, while empathy was largely ineffective. Showing concern for a conspiracy theory’s victims, the study suggests, isn’t a good debunking strategy – especially when the theory is racist, discriminatory, or otherwise harmful.

What’s the best way to put effective pushback tactics into practice? (Buzz Aldrin once punched someone who accused him of faking the moon landing, but that’s probably not the best solution.) If someone in your family or social circle is an ongoing fount of conspiracy theories, it’s worthwhile to counter their stories with the truth – which will often be at your fingertips. “Just check on our cellphone the story the other guy just told us,” Orosz said. “We can use these rational strategies in everyday situations, say, ‘These are the facts, my friend.'” The theorist may or may not prove willing to accept reality, but either way, others who are listening will be able to hear evidence against a conspiracy.

It makes sense to inoculate yourself against conspiracy theories as well, and people who exercise the logical parts of their brains seem to have some immunity. In one University of Westminster study, people who were primed to think analytically by playing a sentence-unscrambling game were less likely to endorse conspiracy theories afterward.

You can also give yourself an up-close look at how the sausage is made. Kreko has given some of his students a unique assignment: take two completely unconnected events (9/11 and North Korea’s nuclear bomb testing, for instance) and invent a plausible connection between them – which, as the internet shows, is exactly what real conspiracy theorists do. “Think about any tragic events in the past 100 years,” Kreko said. “Google this tragedy and ‘Jews,’ and you will find something.” His students find the theory-generating exercise surprisingly easy, and he hopes it makes them wary of future supposed conspiracies they catch wind of.

While it may be hard to remember in the heat of a debunking session, many conspiracy theorists’ motives are noble, even if their yarn-spinning is not. “People who believe conspiracy theories are deeply concerned about the future of society,” van Prooijen said. “Why would we [try to] make sense of events we don’t care about?”

Still, Uscinski doesn’t foresee much true evolution for the hardest-core believers. “They’re living in a different world,” he said, “and it’s very tough to bring them back.”

Special To The Washington Post · Elizabeth Svoboda 



  1. President Clinton in his 2004 autobiography, My Life, records a peculiar revelation in regard to this widely held belief. He states on page 156:

    Just a month before, Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had left their colleague, Michael Collins, aboard spaceship Columbia and walked on the moon, beating by five months President Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the moon before the decade was out. The old carpenter asked me if I really believed it happened. I said sure, I saw it on television. He disagreed; he said that he didn’t believe it for a minute, that “them television fellers” could make things look real that weren’t. Back then, I thought he was a crank. During my eight years in Washington, I saw some things on TV that made me wonder if he wasn’t ahead of his time.

    Obviously, he had seen something as President that now gives him reason to believe that the moon landings could have been falsified. If a former U.S. President is wondering about the authenticity of the claim, does it not make sense that we should wonder too?

    Think about that for a moment. Obviously this could only mean one thing – with presidential privilege, Bill Clinton had been given access to exclusive information about some form of mass deception.

  2. WaPo (and Snopes) will still try to convince the sheeple that steele structures from 1,368 and 1,362 feet buildings, 110 floors, collapsed and turned into dust in 102 minutes.

  3. Why did Neil Armstrong refuse to swear on the Bible that he walked on the moon?
    Why did Nasa delete tapes from their moon landings?
    How were the astronauts able to withstand a temperature from -225 to +243 every single day and night?
    How can there be wind on top of the moon blowing the flag?

    Perhaps Al Gore in his Global Warming theory can explain all this.

    Or Max Canard should give us a clue in his report: How I faked the Apollo moon landing.

  4. It’s not so much “believing” in conspiracies. It’s more of NOT trusting our government. As has been shown, the government, FBI, CIA, NSA, TSA, & especially the police are NOT our friends and really don’t have our best interest in mind. Unless they are caught, they will NEVER admit “we made a mistake”. Yes, they do cover-up actions of their own when things they’ve done turn out to be disastrous. As we have clearly seen recently with the biases and cover up within the corrupt FBI regarding actions taken in the last elections, shakes our believe in our government to the core!
    Killing Osama bin Laden after so many years and not one single picture?! We dumped his body in the sea?! Does the government really believe the average American is that stupid?!

  5. They deny history in many ways! The Holocaust never happened! More Ukrainians were killed, etc.
    Never mind that many of us watched it then in 1969. Let’s not confuse them with the facts!

  6. It’s the lies the government/DNC controlled media puts out. I would rather they say nothing, rather than lie to us time and again.
    For instance: the government/media claims many passengers on the doomed flight 93 (on Sept. 11th) allegedly made final calls to their loved ones USING CELL-PHONES while the plane was still in flight. Have YOU EVER been able to make a cell phone call while your plane is in flight???! EVER?! You were able to get reception?! Why was that lie necessary? It only makes one doubt the whole story. They wanted the narrative to be that “there were hero’s on that plane that tried to stop the terrorists”. Why was that necessary?! How in the world do we know that was true?! Everyone on that flight was allegedly killed so we’ll never know what really happened. Oh, “we have cell phone recordings of some guy Glick saying “let’s roll”. There was no such cellphone recording. There is never any cellphone reception when a plane is in flight. The alleged terrorists are certainly not going to give any free reception. It’s impossible. You mean a miracle suddenly happened?! Stop making up lies. Once the government/media complex throws out a lie, it puts the entire story into doubt. I’m not saying that flight 93 wasn’t allegedly “hijacked” but the lie about mass cellphone use puts the the whole narrative in jeopardy.

  7. The Pavlovian bell has been rung and our resident troll(s?) and conspiracy theorist(s?) have come to bay at the moon (which was never landed upon, has a secret Russian military base, and is made of green cheese, natch). Hooowwwwwllll!

    In all seriousness, excellent article. IMO, the following is the major reason for those who believe outlandish “Alternate News” tales: “Conspiracy theories also supply a seductive ego boost. Believers often consider themselves part of a select in-group that – unlike the deluded masses – has figured out what’s really going on.” Hence the “Sheeple” “MSM” and other code words for the so-called “deluded masses” and their alleged deluders, coupled with the belief that anyone who agrees with the mainstream is a member of one group or the other.

  8. Well if the guys got the American flag up there, I wonder what must be done now. I guess if the are really gay about going to the moon, dare they just put a frank rainbow flag up? It seems to me a terrible sin for a jew to go there. If you are biblical, its the moon; not a silly place but heaven itself illuminated.

    Really I can not think I would be angry enough if they did it in Elul or Nisan when I have holy moments to hope that the moon brings us good faith.

    Did the moons that Nixon sent missions to help the USA? Curious but one may surmise that the holy was violated by the reach of the U.S. In any sense, curious theory is does a man who runs the nation and puts men on the moon end up with the queer reciprocity of a full resignation and Watergate scandal by accident.

    If I was president, I compromise I would only send men up to the moon in Kislev or Av. That might be ok maybe. I would prefer not to even consider a mission anyhow. Av got 2 lunar landings. One was indeed on the 9th of Av.

    So are we religious or can man just do what he wants and go to the moon. He can it seems but should he? One is curious.

    Well well well.

  9. I can sanctify the moon. Buzz Aldrin or any else hero can be right there on a crater and I could still know its my moon.

    I must renege that maybe the lunar missions are wrong but maybe they are. I can wonder if Nixon was unpopular to heaven. He landed 6 missions.

    Still, I wont want to send a guy up if I was in Commander in Chief office. Its silly. Nasa wants all.

    Who knows. I will likely hope to be in shul. Sanctify as we do. Buzz Aldrin can be his adonis made man from years of athletic endeavor and I will eat a knish. I get the better bargain.

    Smart. Good hope. Maybe they do put that moon base up. I wonder if the real Donald Trump wants real history. If he does send a guy to the moon, is he daring the eternal. I would not know. Maybe the rabbinate can tell us what they are after.

    Science is fierce. Give it some thought or just learn anything else. Its a hard future but the whole world keeps advancing. They all want people on the moon, and mars and anywhere.

    Good. Knishes. Good steak. I will stay on Earth. A smart move. We have yeshiva to hope our children. No moon landing.

    Or else this matter is too odd to wonder if there is halacha. A guy on a moon. A Jew? I wonder. It might be just another Zuckerberg spirit. No jewish home.

    Thus we see, we do not believe in much sense that the bible was wrong. A world for people. World in ours.

    Sanctify and sanctify. Gentiles do anything else.


      • Hunter. Give the blood back. We will not write to you for humor. Jewish life was destroyed in a holocaust. Can we not make humor online? We survived.

  10. Who cares if they landed or not. They could of made it up but it does not make a difference except the tax payers money.

  11. I have it on good authority from the Illuminati from the planet Niburu, that all these conspiracy theories are wrong.


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