Since the protests erupted in late May, Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at a wide range of alleged culprits, including Israel ("Those against whom we said 'one minute' are now delighted"), Western financiers ("We will make the necessary sharp responses against the interest-rate lobby"), and Twitter ("a scourge to society"). Lately, he has taken to slamming the foreign press, which he accuses of misrepresenting the protests. "If the international media wants a picture of Turkey, here is your picture," he said at the June 16 rally, pointing to the sea of people massed around the stage from which he spoke. "CNN, Reuters, BBC, hide this picture too, and go on with your lies. Turkey is not a country on which international media institutions can conduct operations." A week later, he alleged that the same forces that had sparked the protests across Turkey were at work in Brazil, where widespread protests had also broken out in several cities. "It is the same game, the same trap, the same goal."
Others have dug even deeper. During a TV appearance on June 5, Yigit Bulut, a pro-government commentator, accused Lufthansa, Germany's national air carrier, of conspiring to prevent Erdogan from building a new airport in Istanbul. "The airport would divert a hundred million passengers from Germany to Turkey," Bulut reasoned. "One of the protesters' demands is to stop it from going ahead, so it is obvious that Germany has its finger in the pie." Appearing on the same program, Bulut later likened the protests themselves to the so-called "post-modern coup" that toppled the AKP's predecessor, the Welfare Party, in 1997.
A few days later, Sedat Laciner, a prominent academic, opined in a newspaper column that the West was using the protesters to get even with Turkey. "Turkey had criticized NATO, the Security Council, the EU, Germany, the United States, and Israel," he wrote. "This was not easy to swallow. The biggest mistake Ankara made was to think this would remain unanswered."
On June 16, AKP spokesperson Huseyin Celik pointed the finger at the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington-based conservative think tank which, he alleged, had drawn up scenarios for a possible "Istanbul rebellion" during a meeting in February with Turkish activists. A newspaper run by followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Erdogan ally, subsequently reported that Turkish police had arrested "a dozen Iranian agents" in connection with the anti-government protests. The Islamic Republic, one of its columnists concluded (unwittingly making bedfellows of Iranian fundamentalists and American neocons), had been caught red-handed trying "to derail an environmental protest and try to turn it into social upheaval."
Another Gulen outlet, Samanyolu TV, took a generous spoonful of some of the conspiracy theories floated by the AKP and its supporters, added the government's narrative of the protests, and whisked both into an episode of Ekip 1, one of the station's soap operas. Onscreen, it went a bit like this: a calm and docile police force meets a group of violent, confused protesters; a foreign agent lurks amid an army of provocateurs; while an old auntie's trust in the state can survive any amount of inhaled tear gas.
Unfortunately, the conspiracy theory narratives have progressed beyond the sound-bite stage: they're being acted upon. In the past 10 days alone, the ministry of interior has announced that it would begin work on a law allowing it to investigate and prosecute those who publish "false and provocative" posts on the Internet; the national intelligence agency has launched an official investigation into "foreign links" to the Gezi protests; and the mayor of Ankara has taken to Twitter to launch a hashtag campaign against a BBC journalist, Selin Girit, whom he accuses, on the basis of a quote that wasn't even her own, of being a British agent. Finally, Turkey's Capital Markets Board has launched a probe into brokerage transactions concluded at the height of the protests -- presumably to expose, once and for all, both the identity and the secret machinations of the "interest rate" lobby.
The plot rumors appear to be falling on fertile ground. At the June 16 rally, Adem Demirel, 62, pulled me aside after I finished speaking to Kemal Karabacak and his sister. "Our people have to know," he said, speaking hurriedly, the words ramming into each other like cars in a frenzied pile-up. "They're giving agents a million dollars each to stir things up here, and in the region." It was only a month ago, he said, that Turkey had paid off the last of its $23.5 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund. "We paid $1.5 billion in interest rates, and now we don't want to pay any more interest. That's what this whole fight is about."