There has been a great deal of scholarship recently on conspiracy theories, their many varieties and the reasons people might believe in them. But, for all the studies and speculation out there, I can’t for the life of me understand why someone would embrace this one.

Here’s the elevator pitch: Until the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the entire world was under the control of a single, benevolent empire founded in central Asia, the existence of which was erased in a massive, global cover-up, which for some reason left standing numerous examples of “Tartarian Empire” architecture. Basically, according to believers, any large public building in a style older than mid-century Brutalism, from the Taj Mahal to the Iowa State Capitol, is irrefutable evidence of the vanished Tartarians.

I hesitate to directly link to any primary source for this stuff but, as an example, here is the product description for the book, “The One World Tartarians: The Greatest Civilization Ever To Be Erased From History” from its Amazon listing, punctuation and capitalization preserved:

This book could very well be the greatest revisionist history book ever written in modern times to date about the Greatest Lie about our common world history. The Tartary civilization encompassed most of the World we know today. From Russia to China to Africa to India to Australia and New Zealand to the North and South America’s. There have been swept from modern his-story books and were likely destroyed in the 19th-20th centuries along with many of their amazing buildings. There are numerous documents proving that there were also Giants amongst them. The people of Tartary were destroyed by the same advanced technology that controls our weather were flooded, fire bombed, earthquaked and likely had directed energy weapons (DEW) used against them and many of their bones are buried under our cities today. Their “Old Word Order” was a benevolent society where they used sacred geometrical designs, pipe organs and catillion bells to help and to heal and to achieve higher consciousness. All of the architecture and technology we know of today was developed by the Tartar’s. The 18th and 19th centuries were final book burning and removal from historical knowledge of this once great civilization that flourished up until just 100 years ago.

You can, naturally, find countless reddits, pins and youtubes on the lost wonders of the Empire. Zach Mortice’s article in Bloomberg is a useful overview of the phenomenon, though unfortunately paywalled. Some bits:

The Tartarian milieu is an intensely visual medium, occupied with riffing on photos and maps, picking out apparent inconsistencies and making one-off conjectures instead of weaving together comprehensive timelines. The theory is notably light on reasoning as to why and how the greatest cover-up in history was undertaken, but it does offer a few options for how Tartaria was erased and the great reset propagated. Many say that an apocalyptic mud flood buried its great buildings; some suggest the use of high-tech weaponry to tactically remove Tartarian infrastructure. A consistent theme is that warfare is an often-used pretext to wipe away surviving traces of Tartarian civilization, with the two world wars of the 20th century finishing work that may have begun with Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.  

Despite their interest in architecture, most Tartaria theorists do not appear to have backgrounds in the building trades: Many of the more easily refuted arguments spring from very basic misunderstandings of how the built environment works, as well as broader confusion about how buildings function in the economy and culture. An abundance of posters appear convinced that below-grade basement windows in older buildings, for example, are evidence that the building had been “mud flooded,” and the rest of the structure is actually buried deep underground. Sometimes this will get some skeptical pushback (“I think they didn’t have lights in the cellar so they build in windows for them?” was how one poster responded), but that’s more of an exception than the rule.

Mortice responds to the believers’ questions of how people who rode horses and carriages could make such expensive, elaborate buildings: in the 19th Century and before, the costs of labor and materials were very different than by mid-20th. Hiring a crew of artisans to make elaborate buildings wasn’t an unrealistic expense, even for a factory or post office. He then gets into the deeper question: What is the appeal of such an oddly mistaken view of history and architecture?

At its core, the theory reflects a fear of how quickly things change. As they look at today’s cityscapes, Tartaria believers see an eerie and alienating place, filled with abstract monoliths that emerged out of nowhere in a brief period of time. They’re skeptical of the rapid rise and development of the U.S., and even more suspicious of how quickly Modernism came to dominate the landscape. One favorite case study, useful for illustrating this aesthetic whiplash, is the grand domed Henry Ives Cobb Chicago Federal Building, built in 1905. Like the Singer Building, it was razed after just 60 years in favor of an icy black Mies van Der Rohe tower. 

In one sense, the Tartaria theory is right: With modern architecture, a revolutionary new consensus on how the built environment should look and work did take hold in a very short period of time, conveniently overlapping with the world wars that these theorists see as the tail end of Tartaria’s influence. The world of 1960 indeed looked radically different from the world of 1920. Led by obscure and poorly understood forces (architects), architecture schools truly did throw out the history books to build a new world. But instead of making this excision the work of a colossal global mega-conspiracy worthy of a pulpy airport mystery novel, they wouldn’t shut up about it.

I have no idea if the people following these posts and videos actually believe the spiel. I’m sure many treat it as an alt-history thought experiment or live action role playing game. No matter how many or few actually believe in it, Tartarianism has some elements that make for a successful conspiracy theory. Like QAnon, it is not fixed or rigid. Individual players can add to the game’s rules and canon, enabling the system to evolve around each debunking.

And, no matter how many are treating this deranged set of hypotheses as a lark, a LARP, or performative criticism, it is nearly certain that some have added Tartarianism to the growing list of alternative realities available for today’s “information” consumers.

Move over, ancient astronauts.

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