Conspiracy theories are a pervasive part of the American experience. Why is that? The literature is replete with attempts to explain conspiracy theories by historians, sociologists, political scientists, psychologists and even neurophysiologists. While the United States may not be the most conspiracy minded country in the world, it’s right up there.
The American Revolution was a time of conspiracies on both sides. Conspiracy historian Peter Knight wrote in 2002:
From the anti-Masonism of the 1820s and 1830s to the anti-Catholicism of the 1830s and 1840s, and from the anti-Mormonism of the 1850s to the anticommunism of the 1950s, fears of invasion and infiltration by un-American influences have repeatedly dominated the American political scene.
The United States was founded in the midst of conspiracies and intrigues (it’s one of the reasons that we do not allow an alien-born person to be our president). The idea that conspiracy theorists are just a few crazies infecting an essentially “normal” American culture just doesn’t match the historical record.
Knight’s lists suggest an “us v. them” mentality where “they” is defined as something different, other. If he had written that list today, I don’t doubt that anti-Muslim would have been added.
We value the rugged individualist—the frontiersman and the cowboy. A culture that values individualism is less likely to see the State as benign, but rather as something to be mistrusted and even feared.