It was just a weird message spray-painted on the Boone County administrative building, but for janitor Ken Roberts the graffiti has opened his eyes to a staggering conspiracy that permeates every aspect of life.
Roberts was doing his usual rounds on Monday when he saw the striking slogan in carefully painted red letters on the wall of a maintenance shed.
problem reaction solution ... get it yet?
As head of the Missouri county's facilities maintenance department, Roberts knew he had to take the graffiti seriously.
"Sometimes we get the basic 'f--k you cops' graffiti," Roberts told the Columbia Daily Tribune. "But nothing of the political nature or of the educated nature."
With skills learned from television shows such as "CSI" and his copy of "The Da Vinci Code," Roberts got himself to a computer and began his investigation.
What he found was terrifying.
"It's not your basic vandals; it's actually a conspiracy movement," he told the newspaper.
The secrets revealed to the janitor claim that the U.S. government -- or a shadow government of unelected elites who control the political circus to distract the masses -- is the perpetrator of the "terror attacks" in the United States and elsewhere.
Roberts is now pondering his discovery, although he's not yet ready to believe that everything he's been told since 9/11 is an elaborate fiction.
"I'm in denial, if such a thing exists; I just don't believe it," Roberts told the paper. "But there are people who believe it, and one of them stopped by the courthouse parking lot."
And that's where the graffiti leads to a completely new plot in Roberts' mind: He believes this "conspiracy movement" may be plotting a terrorist attack on the county building where he works -- which is either a new level of paranoia or a gross misreading of the "problem / reaction / solution" theory. Or both.
"When I see something like that, it concerns me," Roberts said. "It could be a bunch of kids playing, but if it's more that that we need to be aware of it and be vigilant."
Local police couldn't care less.
"It's just misguided artisans out there with spray cans, thinking that they're beautifying downtown with spray paint," Columbia Police Sgt. John White said.
Sgt. White dismissed the slogan as "anarchist stuff" done by "younger people who don't have much to do," even though 9/11 skeptics have no obvious ties to any American anarchy movements -- assuming there are any American anarchy movements.
Problem / Reaction / Solution
The "conspiracy theory" is known to philosophers as "thesis / antithesis / synthesis" and to Roman historians as Diocletian's Reign of Terror or Nero's Burning of Rome.
"There was no end to Nero's ambition," says the Great Fire of Rome Case File. "One of his grandest plans was to tear down a third of Rome so that he could build an elaborate series of palaces that would be known as Neropolis. The senate, however, objected ardently to this proposal."
Nero had a problem: Rank and file politicians wouldn't allow the Emperor to level much of his capital city. His reaction was to have his henchmen commit arson and mass murder, leaving two-thirds of Rome in ruins and killing countless innocent Romans -- Nero's thugs savagely attacked citizens who tried to fight the inferno, thus ensuring it would burn for days and do maximum damage.
His solution had arrived: The burnt out skeleton of Rome was now ready for his massive new palaces.
But there was another necessary part of his solution: a scapegoat. Nero chose a foreign religious minority -- a small Jewish sect known as the Christians. It was announced that they were the terrorists who started the fire because of their religious fanaticism and hatred of Roman freedoms.
The Roman mobs responded as planned. They rounded up the Christians and cheered as the innocents were brutally tortured and savagely murdered. Despite being ruled by a monster, Roman patriotism was back -- just as it came back 140 years later when the fascist Emperor Diocletian needed a crusade to distract Romans from harsh authoritarian rule and economic tsunamis.
(Another description of the term makes the reaction the public response to the manufactured crisis, with the solution being the action that wouldn't have been tolerated without the terrifying event.)
For the first two decades of his rule, Diocletian showed no interest in oppressing Christians, who lived in "peace and prosperity" throughout the Empire. But in 303 they were chosen as the new scapegoat, and an astonishing 10% of the Empire's population was viciously tortured and executed in the most horrific ways.
The campaign of terror was the brainchild of Caesar Galerius, according to Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."
"After the success of the Persian war had raised the hopes and the reputation of Galerius, he passed a winter with Diocletian in the palace of Nicomedia; and the fate of Christianity became the object of their secret consultations," wrote Gibbon. Diocletian was initially cool to the plot, but by season's end he had been convinced by Galerius and the outrageous edicts were written by Galerius and approved by secret council.
To earn public support for the vicious campaign, two suspicious fires were set within the Emperor's own palace in modern-day Split, Croatia. The Christians were blamed, of course, and the terror began in earnest across the western and eastern Empire.
The beauty of such crimes is that it's generally impossible to ever prosecute the killers, because only a small group of people make the decision. Better yet, the actions are so morally reprehensible that "normal people" find it impossible to believe.
Historians may have strong suspicions about such convenient mysteries as the explosion on the USS Maine that led to the Spanish-American War, the ignored Pearl Harbor warnings that allowed Washington to enter World War II, the fictional Gulf of Tonkin attacks on U.S. warships that led to 11 years of "all out war" in Vietnam, and the trillions of dollars earned by the U.S. defense business during the last bloody century right up to the current trillion-dollar nightmare in Iraq.
For 9/11 skeptics, the problem was outlined in great detail by a group of neo-con GOP insiders who needed a "new Pearl Harbor" to convince an isolationist-minded America that the United States must seize the Middle East and Central Asia. Once this group was installed in the White House in January 2001, the reaction was to either overtly plot or clandestinely encourage and allow a psychologically-devastating attack on New York and Washington. The solution is massive and ongoing: Endless profitable warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, a drastic limiting of American civil liberties and constitutional protections, intense surveillance of potential political enemies, and brutal campaigns against vocal adversaries.
But suspicion is rarely enough to see evil men hang, so the Problem / Reaction / Solution system remains almost foolproof.
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