Benghazi Consulate
The U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is seen in flames during an attack by terrorists. Reuters

The word Benghazi has taken on a whole new meaning ever since Republicans adopted it as a stand-in for what they see as U.S. President Barack Obama’s failed foreign policy, as well as a one-word explanation of what many conservatives see as a conspiracy for which the Obama administration needs to be held accountable.

In recent days, the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi last Sept. 11 that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, has been making headlines again as congressional hearings on the topic have gotten under way.

According to the persistent right-wing storyline, the Benghazi incident brings to light chilling questions about the Obama administration’s ability to keep the nation and its citizens safe, as well as the disturbing lengths to which it will go in keeping unflattering details from reaching the press and the public.

The hearings so far have been something of a bust, falling far short of exposing damning details of a high-level scandal that many Republicans had promised, but they have thrust Benghazi back into the spotlight, and the administration is working hard (and unsuccessfully) to shift the focus to other issues, as indicated by the Blaze.

At first, the White House blamed the deaths on a “spontaneous protest” over an anti-Muslim video making the rounds at the time, but it later emerged that it was in fact a planned attack by terrorists.

In the intervening time, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken responsibility for the Obama administration’s failure to beef up security at the consulate in advance of the attack, as noted by U.S. News & World Report, but that hasn’t stopped the onslaught from Republicans looking to make political hay out of the mistakes associated with the Benghazi incident.

Genuine fact-finding and hearings are one thing, while wild conspiracy theories are another. Here’s a breakdown of some of the top conspiracy theories being pushed by more extreme (and sometimes more moderate) right-wingers:

1. It was all a cover-up of a secret weapons operation: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has pushed this storyline repeatedly. He has admitted he can’t even begin to prove it, but he has postulated more than once that the confusion among Obama officials regarding the reason the Benghazi consulate was attacked may be rooted in a secret CIA operation.

The basic gist of Paul’s hypothesis is that the so-called cover-up of the fact that terrorists -- and not protesters -- were behind the attack was launched to deflect attention from a covert movement of weapons by the CIA annex in Libya.

“I have a feeling that it had something to do with the CIA annex. You know, a week before the ambassador was killed in Libya, a ship left Libya and docked in Turkey and it actually interviewed the captain of that ship who said there were arms on board and that he actually witnessed the rebels taking the arms and disputing over who got what. That there were grenade launchers; that there were significant arms being transferred,” Paul told WABC Radio in March. “Now that doesn’t say the CIA was involved, but that begs the question (what) was the CIA annex there. The Libyan government is said not to have known that they were there. And is that the reason for the cover-up? So there are a lot of unanswered questions.”

Paul went on to clarify his remarks during an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett this month, according to Raw Story.

“I mean, they had talking points that they were trying to make it out to be a movie when everybody seemed to be on the ground telling them it had nothing to do a movie. I don’t know if this was for political reasons,” Paul said. “I’ve actually always suspected that, although I have no evidence, that maybe we were facilitating arms leaving Libya going through Turkey into Syria.”

It would seem that the “no evidence” part of that statement should be taken more seriously by many who continue to parrot this hypothesis.

2. The deaths at Benghazi were a botched kidnapping attempt: Speaking of no evidence, here’s another claim that seems to have little to back it up.

Back in November, retired U.S. Navy Adm. James Lyons floated the idea that Stevens was supposed to be kidnapped so he could be traded to the U.S. government for Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called Blind Sheikh who is serving a life sentence in an American prison for his role in the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. When things went wrong, however, Stevens was killed instead.

“I speculate that Ambassador Stevens was supposed to be kidnapped, held hostage, in exchange for the release of the Blind Sheikh that we’re currently holding in prison,” Lyons told Lou Dobbs on the Fox Business channel. “That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”

Well then.

He went on to question why the ambassador was taken to a hospital by people who were present after the attack, an occurrence that he believes plays right into his theory.

If they meant to kill him right out, why bother taking him to the hospital that Ansar al -- the terror group that conducted the attack -- controlled?” he asked. “They controlled that hospital. If they wanted to kill him, why take him to the hospital?”

The world may never know.

3. The Benghazi scandal will prove to be “Watergate-level” once all the details emerge: As the Benghazi story lingers in the public eye, all the usual conservative talking heads are coming out of the woodwork to add their two cents to the controversy.

Even Pat Buchanan emerged to offer his own opinions on the issue, and it appears that he believes the stakes are as high as they were when President Richard Nixon was implicated in the Watergate scandal, as the Daily Caller noted.

Here’s what Buchanan said on the Fox News channel Thursday: “The break-in at Watergate was a stupid burglary, political burglary, nobody got killed. This is a horrible atrocity. Killing an American ambassador; killing another diplomat; two Navy SEALs; destroying and burning that compound. Driving us out of a part of a country we have liberated. But you are right, the real thing here is the cover-up. And the reason I think is similar to the cover-up in Watergate, which was Barack Obama said -- what was his storyline? ‘We got Bin Laden and now al Qaeda is on the run.’”

Reading between the thinly veiled lines, it seems that Buchanan thinks Obama will -- or at least should -- be impeached over this “scandal.”

4. The Obama administration orchestrated the Benghazi attack: The idea that Obama and his minions set up the Benghazi assault in hopes of making the president look good heading into the 2012 presidential election is likely the kookiest, and most irresponsible, of the Benghazi conspiracy theories.

And it’s a popular and persistent one, as it’s been repeated and reworked by a wide range of observers and theorists.

Essentially, it holds that the administration’s “plan was to make Obama look like ‘a bada--’ and a [sic] to have him revel in this through October and into the November election,” according to a HillBuzz post last October.

And Kris Zane wrote for the Western Center for Journalism the same month that he had a source -- an unidentified one, of course -- within the administration who corroborated the theory.

“What is most shocking, however, is that a source within the White House states that it was arranged as an October surprise by Barack Obama,” Zane wrote.

That source has not come forward in the months since the allegation. Big surprise.