Just because you’re paranoid…

January 23, 2004

If you’re still looking for helpful tools to get you through this campaign season (think “Tivo”, I say), Orcinus has decided to post this dandy Field Guide to Telling Actual Conspiracies from Conspiracy Theories

What has happened, however, is that as these abuses have occurred and the conspiracies unraveled and were exposed, critics of the government on both right and left have conflated the nuggets of fact involving these incidents into “proof” of much wider-ranging conspiracies — stretching, eventually, into UFO and Protocols of the Seven Elders of Zion territory. These constitute what we commonly call conspiracy theories. The culture of paranoid conspiracism (see, e.g., The X-Files) has now become almost ingrained in popular culture, and it continues to contribute to irrationalism in the national discourse in a significant way.

Anyone who’s read In God’s Country is probably aware that I’ve dealt with conspiracy theories a great deal over the years. I’d estimate that I’ve examined, in the course of research, in excess of 200 different theories and urban legends. My method was consistent: examine the factual content and the analytical structure, assess the logic, and reach a balanced conclusion about its validity.

The bulk of the conspiracy theories I studied originated on the far right, though not always — in addition to far-left theories such as those linking the CIA to every misery in the world, there were also the UFO, phony health care, “contrail,” and various national-disaster theories, which were in most cases also adopted by conspiracy theorists on both right and left and woven into their respective universes. In many cases, there became a distinctive crossover between right- and left-wing extremists in this territory; the far-left conspiracists David Icke and Johnny Liberty (his real name is John Van Hove), for example, traffic in theories that clearly originate with the anti-Semitic far right.

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