Bin Laden Death Conspiracy Theories?

By Chris Mooney | May 2, 2011 10:54 am

I just got this question through my Facebook page:

Hey Chris. You and a few others have been talking recently about how conspiracy theorists manufactured the birther controversy, partly out of a disbelief that a non-conservative, untraditional guy who doesn’t match their stereotype for a President could somehow be leader of their country. On Twitter, various people have been jokingly wondering whether Trump will ask for the death certificate of Bin Laden.

But, do you reckon the birther folks will, over the coming days, actually resort to trying to whip up a conspiracy theory about Bin Laden’s death, eg we haven’t seen the scientist’s report from the DNA tests, the photo of Osama’s body was faked, that he really died five years ago etc? Will they be so miffed that a Democrat-run military killed public enemy #1 instead of during the reign of Bush that they will be forced into denial? Or will this be one issue where everyone, whether liberal or conservative, can finally unite in celebrating a common goal having been achieved?

My answer is that, first, I would hope strongly for the latter. And second, I think the questioner is being a bit too logical, rather than emotional, about this.

The thinking seems to be that one conspiracy theory engenders another, so that one conspiracist (a birther) will generate new conspiracies (Bin Laden isn’t dead!). The question is also posed to imply that somehow conspiracy thinking comes first, and then come a bevy of conspiracies–but that’s not how it goes, in my mind. Rather, I would say beliefs in which we are emotionally invested come first–and then, maybe, conspiracy theories emerge to justify the beliefs.

So here’s how I would think about it. Birthers certainly have an emotional motivation to question President Obama’s legitimacy, but does this translate into a motivation to question Bin Laden’s death, just because they really hate Obama that much and don’t ever want to see him succeed? Don’t they have a strong emotional counter-motivation to want Bin Laden dead, and the U.S. triumphant?

If you want to find Bin Laden death conspiracy theories–and apparently they’re already hatching–it seems to me the pertinent question to ask is, who has a deep emotional motivation to question the fact that Bin Laden is actually dead? So I would tend to look first to Al Qaeda supporters, etc, not birthers. But this will be interesting to watch and I’m interested in what others think.

I will also add that I don’t know enough about 9/11 Truthers to guess what they will do in this situation.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Motivated Reasoning

Comments (32)

  1. Mikey

    I mean, we’ve hit the level of technology now where there is probably no amount of evidence that will cause a dedicated conspiracist to disavow their theories. Older conspiracy theories just explained events in terms of shadowy groups – Lee Harvey Oswald was working for a faction of the CIA loyal to the Reptilians, or whatever; CIA agents released AIDS to kill black people, 9/11 was an inside job. These are all conspiracy causes. Now, I think we’ve hit the point where events themselves are questioned: Osama’s not dead, the birth certificate is fake, the vaccines make kids autistic.

    The Moon Landing hoaxers represent an early conspiracy event, but I think it’s a unique situation, given the exotic nature of the event in question. But I think that any sufficiently dedicated conspiracist can deny any scientific study, photograph, document, video, confession, etc.

  2. Fingers

    The nutcases will remain nutcases no matter what information they get… They hate this president and will keep hating him…

  3. Tim

    SHOW ME REAL PICTURES! I sound like a ‘doubting Thomas’, but the SINGLE fake photoshop picture that is circulating now is ridiculous. How can any American believe that this is true – WITHOUT ACTUAL PROOF. Sorry, I have NEVER been drawn into conspiracy theories … but the TIMING of this is TOO necessary for Obama’s popularity.

  4. Matunos

    Sorry Chris, but I’ve already seen all of the conspiracy questions the letter-writer asked on social media and blogs (and look, one right in the comments).

    Yeah, the timing was just too good: more than a year away from re-election, against a lackluster field of potential candidates, Obama decided to unleash a massive conspiracy to convince us that bin Laden is dead, including enveloping the House Intelligence Committee (and presumably al Qaeda, since they could easily prove the administration wrong, which would presumably lead to impeachment), and the only one who will crack the case is Tim A. Blogger on the boards at

    I think these sorts of conspiracy theories are more about a desperate egotism than anything else. It pits the lowly anonymous voice against the mainstream world and the power establishment.

    Guess what, Tim: no matter how many caps you use, the rest of us are not really relying on your final word about what the facts are.

  5. Georg

    I “started” the story that Bin Laden has retired to the stronghold
    of Martin Bormann in Brasilian djungle today in a German forum.
    I’m looking forard whether the story will “flower” and grow :=(

  6. Tim-
    You will never get the chance to put your fingers into the bullet wounds of Bin Laden. Photos can be faked, or record faked things. If you indulge those paranoid impulses, then your mind will become a dark place with no doors.

  7. Wendy Darling

    I am a typical American woman, I am not one to jump to “conspiracy” thinking, but I can’t help but get a nagging feeling that something just doesn’t seem right with the story that Bin Laden is dead, and how it supposedly happened. My first thought when I heard the reports on the tv this morning was “Where are the pictures?” When Saddam Hussein was captured there were pictures of him in the pit, the disheveled pictures when he was arrested and then video of the hanging. We as Americans needed those pictures – it was our reward – to gawk at, laugh at, mock, or just witness the destruction of his existence. We deserved to see the same of the destruction of Bin Laden.

    I don’t care about Obama… I didn’t vote for him and I will be happy to see him leave office at the end of this term. To hear him take credit for bringing down Bin Laden and then show him the respect he deserves by worrying about Islamic burial rules just sickens me. Where is his loyalty?

  8. Jon

    If you indulge those paranoid impulses, then your mind will become a dark place with no doors.

    Some people really revel in this kind of thing, lost causes and all that.

  9. James

    Although motivational reasoning explains the persistance of crazy ideas in certain groups, conspiracy theories don’t just spontaneously arise from some kind of emergent behavior. If you look at the antivax movement, or Sarah Palin’s Death Panels, it is clear they start when someone with an agenda deliberatly speads them to a gullible audience. You can be assured that there are several conservative think tanks competing to craft the best conspiracy theory to take the wind out of Obama’s sails.

  10. Shawn

    Am I the only person that thinks the US has had Bin Landen for years, held him without a trial then once they were done with him, killed him. The story Obama put out was the only way they could get away with his murder and make Obama look better than Bush thus securing another 4 years in office. Of course it could be a load of crap from the get go and again Obama is saying look what I could do and Bush couldn’t, thus securing another 4 years in office. Now this is my best one, yes the found him, yes they raided the compound, but the killing no way. They have him in the deepest darkest hole they have and there’s no way they’re ever going to give him up and again it makes Obama look better than Bush thus securing another 4 years in office. See the pattern?

  11. I am still waiting for Trump to start demanding Bin Laden’s real long-form death certificate

  12. Sherry

    I’m an Obama supporter but the timing of this raises so many questions in my mind.

  13. TTT

    It’s very odd to see so many people questioning the timing of this. We are a year and a half away from the next election, in a country that has major elections every two years. If this is “suspicious timing,” then there is no possible time at which it could ever have been taken at face value.

  14. LRS

    @Wendy- I simply want to address your comment regarding President Obama’s loyalty. (And no, actually, I didn’t vote for him.)

    I feel that the decision President Obama made in choosing to respect the Islamic traditions was the correct one. By doing so, he has shown the world that this war we are fighting is not against the Islamic religion, nor is it against those who practice it. By awarding the body due process for burial rules and traditions, he has kept from angering the Islamic community as a whole. By treating the body with disrespect, it would have essentially proven to those who heard Bin Laden’s words about the arrogance and disrespect of Americans for other cultures that he was right. In a time where America and the UN need allies in these countries, showing respect for their culture was the best thing to do.

  15. Chris Mooney

    I just want to add one observation. This post seems to be getting very high search engine traffic, so people searching for “bin laden death conspiracy” etc are coming here. They may be already inclined to believe there is one. Still, some of these responses are very, very disheartening.

  16. mcb


    “Still, some of these responses are very, very disheartening.”

    Perhaps it is you who are “being a bit too logical, rather than emotional, about this.” The mob is releasing ten years of hurt and frustration, crying out for the blood they deserved but did not get to see.

    This is where conspiracy theories are born…

  17. osama bin laden


  18. jm

    The timing is suspicious? What are you folks talking about? It’s a year and a half before the election. The timing would be suspicious if it were summer or fall of the election year. The only thing that is annoying is the lack of photo evidence. If that isn’t released…then the conspiracy folks will be able to fan the flames of their suspicions, for sure. It’s already been reported that Bush and Co. faked a number of Obama videos. So…there’s certainly a precedent. And it doesn’t matter which party is in control since they both serve the same master.

  19. XXXXXX

    Okay, some of these conspiracy theories that people have made up are just shit. But if you looked into the 9/11 conspiracy theory(I am not going to tell you it, I’ll just just tell you that it is the one that involves the FBI knowing about 9/11)all the pieces of the puzzle seem to come together. If you don’t get it I will explain it to you.

  20. nidda

    put together the peices between the 9/11 conspiracy theory and the bin laden one.
    it all makes sense

  21. Chris Mooney

    Change that from “disheartening” to outright depressing, based on the latest comments. @18 brought a small grin though

  22. Adam

    I am not one to buy into conspiracy theories and the ones circulating about this are are no exception, however I do have one simple question that i think most americans deserve to know and that it:
    If they killed asama on sunday night, how could they have enough time to do a DNA test, dump him into the ocean and get all this info to the national and international media by the time we all woke up. A DNA test takes more than six hopurs to complete.

  23. Dave

    But there are pictures of the body – they were shown on the news yesterday a couple of hours after the announcement. Just put ‘bin laden body’ into Google image search. The Taliban have also confirmed bin Laden’s death – were they part of the conspiracy? I think not!

  24. Matt

    It is more realistic to expect the reaction to be that Obama is simply basking in the reflected glory of the real heroes: the Navy Seals, the CIA operatives and the military support personnel who did the heavy lifting. All Obama did was sign-off.

  25. Frank R

    “But there are pictures of the body” No Dave, there is a pethetic poor photoshop attempt that’s been circulating as a joke or hoax for years, that’s the picture you were shown. Just goes to show how gullible people are when they want to believe so badly. First the news report here said it was “confirmed” him by DNA test, now a day later they say they’re awaiting DNA results. And disposed of the non existent body at sea (how convenient, they can’t even dig it up if the DNA test is inconclusive or to silence conspiracies) and have no photos (claiming they’re too graphic, come on).

  26. JTaylor

    Most republicans will use this opportunity to smear the president. This is the same group that uses “theories” to explain everything without having any proof whatsoever. It is simply race baiting. They feel so incensed that a “black” man is our president that they will stoop to the lowest tactics to discredit his presidency, whether it is in the form of “bitherism”, college conspiracies, or his religion. Our ideals this for this great country are I’m afraid rather tarnished, unless we can pull together and support our president.

  27. dirk

    It’s sad that the crazy people are making it harder to simply ask questions without being lumped into that group. There was nothing wrong with questioning the Lynch and Tillman stories.

  28. "Its always good to ask questions"

    @Chris, i dont understand why you denounce people from thinkin logically and rather opt for emotion? So people should let their emotions wallow in what clearly doesnt seem convincing enough for the entire world? Ok, let the whole world and America celebrate his “death” just because we’re told he’s dead. Think thats pretty stupid! I dont support conspiracy theories, but im glad theorists make them, at least someone questioning the powers that be instead of just nodding your head all the time. Its without a doubt that theorists will question everything, but could they not show us video or sumin, no matter how graphic they’d be! for something as momentus as this, think the world, and most of all America deserves to see such. Not some below pathetic photo shopped image!


    IT IS HOW HE DIED!!!!!!!

  30. Chris Mooney

    After that last one, comments are closed on this post. it is bringing out things I didn’t anticipate and don’t want here.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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