DIA Conspiracies Take Off

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"And they weren't hostile," he recalls. "They asked a lot of questions." They wanted to know about all the different symbols in the murals that he'd been commissioned to make for the still-unopened DIA. "And I explained it like I explain it to everybody," the artist says. The first part of the environmental mural is about the ways that humans destroy nature and themselves through destruction and genocide. The second part is about humanity coming together to rehabilitate nature and revive their own compassion.

Tanguma likes to keep things simple. He may be left-wing, but he says he's not a liberal intellectual. He's a Christian who thinks of his murals as painted sermons, depicting the virtues of the poor and hardworking, and warning against the evils of greed and violence. Like many painters trained in the Mexican style of mural art, Tanguma gears his work to the street and all of its elements, everyone from businessmen and college professors to people like his parents, who were all but illiterate. The last thing Tanguma wants is for viewers to mistake his meaning.

The visitors stayed for more than an hour, looking around his studio, talking. One of the women asked Tanguma if the airport had told him what to paint. He remembers that, because he remembers how she said it. He told her no, that he was given no instructions on content. And then the visitors began to talk about how the United Nations was another conspiracy to take over the United States.

"How do you figure that?" he asked.

Before they left, they went to the back of their van and pulled out a thick, photocopied book detailing the U.N. conspiracy. They gave Tanguma the book. He knew where it was until about ten years ago, when he moved his studio from the strip mall to a modest house in Arvada where he lives with his wife.

Now that his art has become so central to a growing group of conspiracies, he wishes he could find it.

Even before the U.N. came into being, the United States had a rich history of conspiracy movements. It stretches back to seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, where Puritans began executing witches in hopes of saving their crops and livestock from God's wrath. In a 1964 article for Harper's magazine, Richard Hofstadter labeled groups prone to such "exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy" as having "paranoid style," and he compared the anti-Masonic movements of the previous century with the McCarthyism trials of the 1950s. Hofstadter wrote this piece before the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance and the Apollo moon-landing hoax became mainstays of conspiracy subculture, but the assassination of John F. Kennedy was already providing plenty of fodder.

In the '90s, Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing massacre both prompted bumps in theorizing, but the events of September 11, 2001, really kicked government coverup conspiracies into high gear. The 9-11 Truth Movement points to purported incongruities in the official explanation of the attacks as proof that the events were actually conducted by elements within the U.S. government. And other large-scale disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, have also fallen under the microscope of conspiracy theorists.

It's not difficult to see why national disasters and global catastrophes would inspire suspicion, but a set of paintings at an airport in middle America? How the Tanguma murals became the focus of such a diverse spectrum of conspiracists is a mystery in itself. Still, whispers of shadowy plots, nefarious schemes and activities ranging from paranormal to extraterrestrial have been tied to DIA since even before it opened in 1995, and the growth of the Internet and the increased interest in conspiracies since 9/11 have combined to pull even the most cryptic oddities from the back of the web to the forefront of the conspiracy networks.

Today, dozens of websites are devoted to the "Denver Airport Conspiracy," and theorists have even nicknamed the place "Area 52." Wikipedia presents DIA as a primary example of New World Order symbolism, above the entry about the eyeball/pyramid insignia on the one-dollar bill. And over the past two years, DIA has been the subject of books, articles, documentaries, radio interviews and countless YouTube and forum board postings, all attempting to unlock its mysteries. While the most extreme claim maintains that a massive underground facility exists below the airport where an alien race of reptilian humanoids feeds on missing children while awaiting the date of government-sponsored rapture, all of the assorted theories share a common thread: The key to decoding the truth about DIA and the sinister forces that control our reality is contained within the two Tanguma murals, "In Peace and Harmony With Nature" and "The Children of the World Dream of Peace."

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Jared Jacang Maher