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Vast Conspiracy or Widespread Conspiracism?

Conspiracist movements in the US are dedicated to the proposition that common citizens are held down by a small network of secret elites manipulating a vast legion of corrupt politicians, mendacious journalists, propagandizing schoolteachers, and nefarious bankers. This conspiracist subculture has a long historical pedigree, and makes a periodic appearance on the US political scene, usually accompanying a right-wing populist upsurge such as the country is currently experiencing.175 Conspiracism is not merely a marginal "extremist" phenomenon, but is deeply imbedded in our culture. There is an entrenched network of conspiracy-mongering information outlets spreading dubious stories about Clinton and other public figures and institutions through printed matter, the internet, fax trees, radio programs, and video/audio tapes.176

As the political scene shifted to the right over the past twenty years, and the culture of conspiracism spread into prime time, the apocalyptic prophets of the right-wing paranoid style reintegrated themselves into the Republican Party.177 The conspiracist wing of the Republican right had been pushed back following the disgrace of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his reign of error and false accusation, and again after the Barry Goldwater campaign where their alarmist charges about Lyndon Johnson and liberalism helped make Goldwater's candidacy a dud.178 Academic studies have shown that conspiracist groups on the right such as the John Birch Society are not "marginal" to the electoral process, but have members with above average income, status, and education who are often long-term activists within the Republican Party.179

An unnerving number of our fellow citizens have seen symptoms of secret conspiracies afoot during the 1990's. These include restrictions on gun ownership, government abuse of power, federal health and safety regulations, abortion, homosexuality, the feminist movement, sex education, new age spirituality, modern educational curricula, environmentalism, rock or rap music, to name just a few. The conspirators were many: politicians and law enforcement officials above county level, game wardens, internal revenue agents, judges, lawyers, bankers, journalists, unionists, leftists, the Rockefellers, the UN, Trilateralist Commission, Bilderberger banking discussion group, Council on Foreign Relations, Federal Reserve bank officials, Jews, Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, and Asians.

Anti-Clinton advocates in the conspiracist subculture can be found in groups that range across the political spectrum and incorporate both secular and religious motifs. Dubious allegations of wrongdoing appeared in media ranging from publications of the hard right patriot and armed militia movements to more mainstream information sources. A number of alarming allegations came from people who in some way were funded or encouraged by ultraconservative activist and millionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.

The resurgence of the conspiracist subculture created a political constituency that supports official investigations such as those of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr into claims of Clinton wrongdoing. During the Cold War, Starr's political patron, Jesse Helms, was in the forefront of purveying conspiracist allegations of a global "red menace" allied with domestic subversives to undermine the US. Those who are immersed in this hard right conspiracist discourse frequently believe that liberals are engaged in criminal conspiracies. The charges against Clinton were influenced by historic right-wing conspiracist theories linking liberalism, sexual immorality, statist intrusion, collectivism, and treason.

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