Skepticism

Nipsey Hussle, Conspiracy Theories, and the Cure for AIDS

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Transcript:

This week, rapper and philanthropist Nipsey Hussle was shot to death in front of his LA clothing store, apparently by a man named Eric Holder who had previously had beef with Hussle. This is awful, especially considering that Hussle worked hard to get out of the gang life and was set on giving back to his community, to the point that he was scheduled to speak to the LAPD commissioner about how to help curb gang violence. He also helped open Vector 90, a coworking space in his old neighborhood that he hoped would connect people in lower socioeconomic areas with Silicon Valley. He planned to open similar STEM spaces around the country.

He truly seems like he was an awesome person, and the world is a poorer place without him in it.

At the same time, his death has spawned a new conspiracy theory that we need to squash before it overshadows his great achievements. The theory is this: Hussle was murdered to stop him from completing a documentary about a man named “Dr. Sebi.”

Let’s start at the beginning, where there are even more conspiracy theories: Alfredo D. Bowman was a Honduran quack who established himself as “Dr. Sebi” (despite having no medical degree or much education at all) in New York City and claimed that he could cure basically any disease through diet and herbs. And I do mean “any disease,” from leukemia to sickle cell anemia to herpes to lupus (even though it’s never lupus). Most famously, he claimed he could cure AIDS (which he insisted did not come from HIV, a common conspiracy theory even today). He took out ads in several New York papers, including the Village Voice, with the headline “AIDS HAS BEEN CURED” in 1987.

To give you a clear picture, in 1987 America was deep within the AIDS epidemic. More than half a million Americans had HIV while the Reagan administration continued to plug their ears and hope it would go away. Not that there’s ever a good time for a fraudster to claim that they had a miracle cure, but this was a really, truly bad time.

Sebi had absolutely no proof of his claim, of course, because obviously if he had a cure for AIDS he would have become a Nobel prize-winning billionaire, but he didn’t need proof — he had an entire city of terrified people with a death sentence hanging over them, willing to spend every last penny they had on the long shot cure.

It’s tough to say how many people he destroyed, how many people he stole from and let die with no real treatment. 1987 was when the first real HIV antiviral hit the market, so who knows how many desperate people tried Sebi’s useless vegan diet and overpriced herbs instead of getting real medicine.

What we do know is that the New York attorney general tried to stop him, at first suing him for practicing medicine without a license. That trial was a disaster, with a jury deciding that the state failed to prove that he was actually diagnosing people. The laws are better now, and no quack could get away with outright stating that they have cured AIDS, but back then it was easier to wriggle away, and so he did, at first (even getting a glowing summary of his trial in one of the papers he paid for advertising in, the Amsterdam News). But the state then won a later civil case ensuring that he could no longer make therapeutic claims for any of his products.

Sebi moved to California and continued to sell overpriced herbs with more wishy washy language to skirt the law. Three years ago he was arrested and thrown in jail several times by Honduras authorities for money laundering, caught carrying upwards of $50,000 in cash onto private planes. While in prison, he contracted pneumonia and died at the age of 82. Not a bad run, all things considered.

But of course, this absolute monster had attracted his gullible fans, and they started spinning conspiracy theories to explain what happened and to helpfully ignore that whole “money laundering” thing. They decided he was silenced by Big Pharma, who were scared that he had manage to cure literally every disease and that they’d be put out of business.

Because we all know how much Big Pharma hates to find an effective treatment for anything. That’s not how they make money, by selling treatments for diseases. And they would never sell “natural” treatments, or pay good money to buy up “mom and pop” supplement companies like Nature’s Bounty and Puritan’s Pride, and of course the alt med industry isn’t nearly as powerful as Big Pharma, despite being in the same bed and worth on its own about $34 billion a year.

So yeah, obviously Big Pharma arranged to have Sebi caught with thousands in laundered cash, and then arranged to have him thrown in prison, and arranged for him to get pneumonia and die of it.

At this point you may be wondering why I’m talking about all this in a video about Nipsey Hussle. Well, I regret to inform you that Hussle is one of the people who believed in that conspiracy theory. He believed that the trial in New York (the first one, not the second one) was where Sebi proved he had a cure for AIDS, and he was making a documentary about the trial for the world to see the truth. He even went on record to say that if “they” kill him for making the documentary, people had to continue on to reveal the truth.

And wouldn’t you know it, Nick Cannon posted on Instagram that he would take up that challenge and make sure the documentary gets released.

America may have escaped the AIDS crisis but other countries are still in it, and promoting this utter quack, whose company still exists today and sells jars of herbs for thousands of dollars, could actually cost people lives.

Sebi was a dangerous fraud and even though he’s dead, he’s going to continue to appeal to marginalized people who are most in need of science-based medicine, not fairy tales. If this documentary does come out, please don’t believe the hype.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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