Unraveling Markovian Parallax Denigrate, the Internet’s oldest and weirdest mystery
Spam. It’s the Internet’s most resilient parasite. Millions of messages pollute the Web’s pipes every day. Grow a monster penis. Lose 20 pounds. Help out an African prince. You know the drill.
A lot of it is garbled junk, sentences that read like a computer ingested the Oxford English Dictionary and vomited it back out. The results are bizarre and often unintentionally hilarious, a favorite subject of forwarded emails or, in the age of Twitter, cult celebrity. Spam account @horse_ebooks boasts 120,000 thousand followers thanks entirely to the accidental and absurdist poetry of its tweets.
But back in 1996, users of the proto-Web community Usenet got spammed with messages that reached an almost transcendent level of bizarre—a weirdness so precise it implied the influence of a very human intelligence. “Markovian Parallax Denigrate,” read the title of each post, followed by a mountain of seemingly meaningless word spew:
jitterbugging McKinley Abe break Newtonian inferring caw update Cohen
air collaborate rue sportswriting rococo invocate tousle shadflower
Debby Stirling pathogenesis escritoire adventitious novo ITT most
chairperson Dwight Hertzog different pinpoint dunk McKinley pendant
firelight Uranus episodic medicine ditty craggy flogging variac
brotherhood Webb impromptu file countenance inheritance cohesion
refrigerate morphine napkin inland Janeiro nameable yearbook hark
According to later accounts, hundreds of these messages flooded Usenet discussion groups on Aug. 5, 1996, launching the type of intense rigorous inquiries you’d expect from the geeky academics who frequented Usenet back then—none of which turned up any answers. And the event was soon mostly forgotten, washed away in the deluge of information and culture ushered in by the burgeoning popularity of the World Wide Web.
Then, around 2006, the event’s Wikipedia page became a favorite bullet point for any number of “creepy Wikipedia” lists that made their way across blogs and obscure Web forums. Soon bloggers had dug up something even more curious.
At Google’s public Usenet archives, only one message remains with a subject line that reads “Markovian Parallax Denigrate.” And the name on the sender’s email address was curiously familiar to anyone who happened to be a national security wonk: Susan Lindauer, a former journalist who was arrested in 2004 after allegedly serving as an agent of Saddam Hussein’s government. She’s has since become a purveyor of sundry conspiracy theories, from a Lockerbie bombing cover-up to 9/11 trutherism.
Shortly after Lindauer’s connection to all this was dug up, the Wikipedia page disappeared. You needn’t have been a conspiracy nut to connect the dots, to think something fishy was going.
Was the Markovian Parallax Denigrate a message—a cipher hiding a deep government secret?
This is a story of two Susan Lindauers and how they accidentally gave a second life to one of the Internet’s oldest and weirdest mysteries.