Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. Every day this month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture and skepticism of pop culture.
Today, conspiracy theory researcher Bob Blaskiewicz takes a look at … whatever the hell is going on underneath Denver International Airport in James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds’ Department of Truth #5.
To the conspiracy theorist, it’s not whether something sinister is going on underneath the Denver International Airport (DIA), it’s which sinister thing is happening underneath DIA. As is the case with so many conspiracy theories, this one is both old and new — new in the sense that DIA only opened in 1995, but old in that it draws from a long literature of underground military bases and lost subterranean civilizations, as well the New World Order and other, earlier conspiracy theories.
In some versions of the DIA conspiracy theory, like the one pushed by bullshitteur Alex Jones, the airport is a prison or mass execution center built for upcoming social upheavals. Another version says the DIA is a sort of underground lifeboat that will be opened for elites to weather the coming global collapse; an alternative capital for the post-apocalyptic world.
The beginning of issue #5 of James Tynion’s The Department of Truth alludes to a version of the story where reptilian beings (sometimes aliens, sometimes just run-of-the-mill subterrestrials) inhabit the area deep beneath the airport. Tynion’s story harkens back to a similar one that the pseudonymous writer Branton put forward in a series of internet posts in the 1990s, in which reptilians and American military forces clashed beneath the Archuleta Mesa just south of the Colorado border, at Dulce. Depending on who you talk to, the underground network at Dulce is connected to the DIA complex.
While Branton’s information about the subterranean world was (supposedly) obtained through divine revelation, the most popular form of the conspiracy theory is rooted in a whimsical, close reading of the actual art which adorns the public areas of the facility. The New World Order conspiracy theory is a many-faced beast, the exact composition of which depends mostly on who’s making the claim. It’s a flexible enough story to accommodate both nativist secular conspiracy theories about the foriegn usurpation of American sovereignty, and religiously-inspired conspiracy theories in which the Devil is positioning pieces on the chess board of history. It also comports with New-Agey conspiracy theories of hidden aliens and lost, ancient civilizations.
In essence, however, the NWO conspiracy posits that some agent is going to consolidate power over the globe. Some think it may be through an environmental catastrophe, for others it’s the inexorable fulfillment of the Book of Revelation, for others still it’ll be due to a world-ending military engagement. In the case of DIA, the agent responsible for drawing the attention of conspiracy theorists appears to be the Freemasons, apparently because the local Grand Lodge laid a time capsule in the main hall of the airport, and its capstone bears the group’s square and compass emblem.
The Freemasons have been painted by conspiracy theorists as the authors of history since the 1790s, when the French Jesuit Abbé Augustin Barruel named them and an affiliated secret society, the Illuminati, as responsible for bringing about the French Revolution. Their reputation for disrupting world politics has only grown since, and they’ve been pointed to as a front for (or instrument of) other “malign” groups bent on world domination, like Satanists, the Jews, and reptilian space aliens — all of which have been implicated in the alleged dark doings in Denver.
The masonic version of the DIA conspiracy theory came into being very shortly after the airport’s construction. A Geocities site cached by the Internet Archive about four years after DIA opened has a list of observations and “facts” that suggest that something sinister is happening there. Even this early, the art features at the center of the conspiracy. Many airports now feature artwork and exhibits for travelers, but it must have seemed strange in the 1990s when Denver pioneered the practice.
A pair of murals by Leo Tanguma are especially striking, and have been subject to the most intense speculation by conspiracy theorists. One is a warning about the effects of environmental degradation (and includes images of dead animals and humans), and the other depicts children in a cartoon-like “dream bubble” gathering weapons (to be beaten into plowshares), a menacing military figure killing the dove of peace with a scimitar, a destroyed city, a line of refugees, and children lying on the ground (these are usually described as “dead” by conspiracy theorists, but the fact that one kid clutches a teddy bear and–crucially–the title of the work is “The Children of the World Dream of Peace,” we can reasonably infer that they are merely asleep).
This imagery is undeniably striking and strange, and the claim is that if you can decipher it, you’ll know what’s really going on underneath DIA. In this scenario, the commissioned artists would have to have been told what to paint/sculpt in order to convey the secret message to the public. But their construction is part of the public record, so we know that’s not what happened.
Remember that DIA is a public building run by Denver. In 1988, Mayor Federico Pena signed an executive order mandating that 1% of any public “capital improvement project” that costs over $1 million should go to public art, and this later became a local law. Since the airport was projected to cost about $3 billion, around $30,000,000 was set aside for art. The process by which art is commissioned by the city is outlined by the Denver Office of Public Affairs, and all of the records generated by this process can be reviewed through a public records request.
I’ve often wondered how folks manage to misinterpret these murals so badly. People know that art “means something,” but sometimes the conventions and expertise that informs good art criticism are not obvious to the casual observer. In place of informed interpretation, conspiracy theorists provide folk interpretations of art, which treat it like some sort of puzzle or cypher, not unlike Dan Brown’s “symbologist” Robert Langdon approaches Renaissance art.
In this view, there’s a definitive answer to what art means. The multiplicity of perfectly valid interpretations are a mere distraction, meant to throw the uninitiated viewer off the scent of the true meaning. The feeling that one has secret, inside knowledge must be strong enough to override more obvious interpretations, to be able to allow people to cling to fantastical claims about who really runs the world.
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