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It is very effective to mobilize mass
support against a scapegoated enemy by claiming that the enemy is
part of a vast insidious conspiracy against the common good. The conspiracist
worldview sees secret plots by tiny cabals of evildoers as the major
motor powering important historical events; makes irrational leaps
of logic in analyzing factual evidence in order to "prove" connections,
blames social conflicts on demonized scapegoats, and constructs a
closed metaphysical worldview that is highly resistant to criticism.~1
When conspiracist scapegoating occurs,
the results can devastate a society, disrupting rational political
discourse and creating targets who are harassed and even murdered.
Dismissing the conspiracism often found in right-wing populism as irrational
extremism, lunatic hysteria, or marginalized radicalism does little
to challenge these movements, fails to deal with concrete conflicts
and underlying institutional issues, invites government repression,
and sacrifices the early targets of the scapegoaters on the altar of
denial. An effective response requires a more complex analysis.
The Dynamics of Conspiracism
The dynamic of conspiracist scapegoating
is remarkably predictable. Persons who claim special knowledge of a
plot warn their fellow citizens about a treacherous subversive conspiracy
to attack the common good. What's more, the conspiracists announce,
the plans are nearing completion, so that swift and decisive action
is needed to foil the sinister plot. In different historical periods,
the names of the scapegoated villains change, but the essentials of
this conspiracist worldview remain the same.~2
George Johnson explained that "conspiratorial
fantasies are not simply an expression of inchoate fear. There is a
shape, an architecture, to the paranoia." Johnson came up with
five rules common to the conspiracist worldview in the United States:~3
"The conspirators are internationalist
in their sympathies.
"[N]othing is ever discarded. Right-wing
mail order bookstores still sell the Protocols of the Elders of Zion...[and]
Proofs of a Conspiracy [from the late 1700's].
"Seeming enemies are actually secret
friends. Through the lens of the conspiracy theorists, capitalists
and Communists work hand in hand.
"The takeover by the international
godless government will be ignited by the collapse of the economic
"It's all spelled out in the Bible.
For those with a fundamentalist bent, the New World Order or One
World Government is none other than the international kingdom of
the Antichrist, described in the Book of Revelation.
Conspiracism can occur as a characteristic
of mass movements, between sectors in an intra-elite power struggle,
or as a justification for state agencies to engage in repressive actions.
Conspiracist scapegoating is woven deeply into US culture and the process
appears not just on the political right but in center and left constituencies
as well.~4 There
is an entrenched network of conspiracy-mongering information outlets
spreading dubious stories about public and private figures and institutions.
They use media such as printed matter, the internet, fax trees, radio
programs, videotapes and audiotapes.~5
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If you want to jump out of this article, try these related pages:
The Conspiracism Collection:
The Sucker Punch Collection