What do Adolph Hitler, Osama bin Laden and the birthers have in common? They’re all conspiracy theorists.
People look around themselves, find things that trouble them, and they attempt to understand why things went bad. Scientists use the scientific method; conspiracy theorists connect dots. The scientific method has controls to reduce the likelihood of running off on some crazy tangent. Conspiracy theorists just find more and more patterns to weave into their theory. The bad thing about conspiracy theories is that they end up identifying some one or some group to blame for what’s wrong; they choose a scapegoat.
The Nazis were presented with some serious social and economic problems in the Germany following World War I. There was huge unemployment, crushing war reparations and hyperinflation. Who was to blame? How about a conspiracy consisting of an elaborate secret hierarchy of controlling Jewish influences creating both financial ruin and attempting to undermine Aryan racial purity. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a fraudulent document detailing just such an international Jewish conspiracy, was a major influence on the Nazis.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were major proponents of the text: It was studied, as if factual, in German classrooms after they came to power in 1933, despite having been exposed as fraudulent years before.
In its golden age, a Muslim empire stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. What happened? Conspiracy theories run rampant in Islam and the Jews are also central characters in Muslim conspiracy theories.
Reported [Al-Qaeda] beliefs include that a Christian-Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam, which is largely embodied in the U.S.-Israel alliance…
Today Al Qaeda, along with neo-Nazis and birthers look to conspiracies of a New World Order for an explanation to all that’s wrong, and all look to Barack Obama as part of the conspiracy.
I chose these two rather extreme examples (Hitler and bin Laden) to make a point: when conspiracy theorists get real power, bad things happen. I don’t predict that birthers will ever get real political power, but maybe one of them will get their hands on a really big bomb.