Depending whom you ask, Hillary Clinton is deathly sick, responsible for countless murders dating back decades, or poised to become the next reptilian to occupy the Oval Office. This week’s pneumonia diagnosis — preceded by a Clinton campaign cover-up — has spawned another batch of entries in the Clinton conspiracy file, a book of fantastical tales that scholars say may be larger than that of any other family in the United States, or perhaps the entire world.
The latest Clinton conspiracies center on her health, including rumblings that the former secretary of state is terminally ill or that she has resorted to using a body double on the campaign trail as a cover.
But the trove runs much deeper. Across the internet, there is talk that Mrs. Clinton is a closeted lesbian and has been having an affair for years with her top aide, Huma Abedin. Gennifer Flowers, reported to be one of Mr. Clinton’s former mistresses, said years ago that the 42nd president told her his wife was bisexual.
Conspiracy theorists also contend that the Clintons are behind the deaths of former Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster and dozens of political opponents. Mr. Clinton even joked about the couple’s rumored homicidal tendencies during a campaign stop Wednesday.
“Gosh, these people accused me of murder,” Mr. Clinton told a crowd in Las Vegas, referring to Republicans who support Donald Trump.
At the far end of the spectrum is the belief that Mrs. Clinton — and the entire Clinton family, along with the Bushes, Kennedys and a host of other global elites — are part of a secret ruling class of lizard people. A 2013 Public Policy Polling survey, one of the rare credible forays into the subject, found that 12 million Americans believe reptilians control the world.
Scholars say the sheer number and breadth of the Clinton conspiracies in the book are staggering and mostly can be attributed to two factors.
“Their longevity is clearly a big part of it. As they’ve been attacked more and more over the years, they’ve developed this greater penchant for secrecy. That probably fuels it all the more. Their lack of transparency contributes to it, ironically,” said Eric Oliver, a political science professor at the University of Chicago who studies conspiracy theories. “The remarkable thing with the Clintons is that their conspiracies are just all over the place. And I think that goes back to their political style. Hillary has a private server for emails; that must mean she’s doing something bad. Hillary is wearing dark glasses; she must be hiding something.”
While there is no evidence for the wilder theories, the Clintons undoubtedly have brought at least a part of the conspiracy avalanche upon themselves.
By vehemently denying the Democratic presidential nominee was sick last week and then being forced to reveal a pneumonia diagnosis, the Clintons gave new life to rumors that the former first lady could die any day. The campaign released a note Wednesday from Mrs. Clinton’s doctor declaring her fit to serve.
By routinely downplaying the implications of her private email server and the blurred lines between the Clinton Foundation and her State Department, Mrs. Clinton fuels the idea that she and her husband are in bed with wealthy movers and shakers from around the world — a group of people conspiracy theorists may refer to as the new world order.
And by blatantly lying about his extramarital affairs, Mr. Clinton in the 1990s gave life to speculation that his sexual indiscretions were far greater than he would ever admit, even leading to completely unproven accusations that he has fathered additional children.
For some Americans — particularly those in their 20s or 30s, who may have been too young at the time to understand Whitewater, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and other iconic Clinton debacles — this election cycle has provided an opportunity to dredge up every conspiracy theory ever associated with the family.
“This is their first serious exposure to the Clintons and all the things that Bill was alleged to have done. The Vince Foster thing seems new now, and the Clinton hit list, the death list of all the people who were around the Clintons. That’s all new,” said Mark Fenster, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and author of “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture.”
“I think it’s inevitable that anybody who runs for major public office is going to be the target of all kinds of cracked and scurrilous accusations. And you magnify it by having two of them,” he said.
The Clinton campaign has tried to reject many of the conspiracy theories by pinning them on the “alt right,” which the campaign describes as a collection of white nationalist fearmongers, almost all of whom back Mr. Trump for president.
Although Mr. Trump hasn’t promoted the most outlandish of Clinton conspiracy theories, he has, among other things, spearheaded the “birther” movement around President Obama’s supposed Kenyan birthplace, openly questioned whether Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy and peddled other discredited notions.
“He gives the blessing to his supporters that these narratives are perfectly acceptable ways of understanding the world,” Mr. Oliver said.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to requests for comment.