Friday, August 14, 2020 -
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Down the rabbit hole

I love a good conspiracy theory. While I’ve never crossed over to fully believing any, I like going down the rabbit hole and eventually hitting the inevitable logical fallacy — or fallacies. If it’s a really good theory, it takes a while to get there, since the best conspiracy theories contain elements of truths. That’s how they hook people. Their authors hope that you’re so hooked you won’t see the holes.

I just encountered a new one. It’s quite the doozy.

Most people either never heard of or have forgotten Dag Hammerskjöld, the much admired UN Secretary General, who was killed in a plane crash in 1961. Not Danish journalist Mads Brügger. He spent six years investigating Hammerskjöld’s death, taking every twist and turn until, it seems, he himself lost faith in the veracity of the conspiracy theory.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t excellent material for his documentary, “Cold Case Hammerskjöld.”

The kernel of truth is this: In the post-colonial era, certain governments and corporations didn’t want to see African nations take control of their own rich mineral resources.

More truths: The Belgian company that controlled the mineral-rich Katanga region of Congo installed a puppet leader to oppose the growing independence movement led by Patrice Lumumba.

Almost certainly true: Foreign intelligence organizations — among them the CIA — conspired to topple governments in the developing world.

Then comes the dive off the deep end: British and South African military intelligence purposely infected black Africans with the AIDS virus.

How this all relates to Hammerskjöld’s death I won’t give away — not least because it is highly implausible, but also because the route to get there is so outlandish I don’t want to steal the fun.

As Brügger himself acknowledges at the start of the documentary: “This could either be the world’s biggest murder mystery or the world’s most idiotic conspiracy theory.”

Watch it and decide.

“Cold Case Hammerskjöld” is available on Hulu.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at

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Shana Goldberg

IJN Assistant Publisher |

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