I’ve just started reading Michael Barkun’s 2003 book, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. I’m looking forward to it, having read and thoroughly enjoyed his earlier book, Religion and the Racist Right. One of the themes in the newer book is the inroads that one conspiracy theory is making into another, and in particular right-wing conspiracies about the New World Order gaining traction among UFO types.
If belief in crank ideas is the result of how some of our brains are wired, as Michael Shermer argues in The Believing Brain, then it follows that susceptible individuals would embrace more than one conspiracy theory. We’ve seen this to some extent with birthers and truthers, Vattelists and tax resisters, and one comment I heard by a birther on Internet radio that mentioned the Illuminati.
This all came to my attention this morning because of a link I received in email to a web site that had a link to a web site called Educate-Yourself: The Freedom of Knowledge, the Power of Thought. A quick look at their conspiracy topic menu lists everything from Chemtrails to HAARP. They carry this paranoid-sounding warning:
It is strongly recommended that visitors to this web site print out hard copies of the information that is of interest. Do not assume that your hard drive, this web site, or even the Internet itself will always be there to serve you….Ken Adachi, Editor
While Educate-Yourself doesn’t focus on birther issues, rather more on health-related conspiracies, they are quite eclectic and include Obama conspiracies from time to time, such as in the articles: Soetoro Produces Certified Long Form Birth Certificate Copy, a tongue in cheek ridicule of the long form and this Video Highlights Obama’s Ineligibility to be President (the video was from PPSimmons, a WorldNetDaily so-called document expert).
The other web site was The White Hats Report: Reporting What The Main Stream Media Refuses To Report. This site seems oriented toward the Bilderberger/New World Order side of conspiracies. Obama, we learn, is wheeling and dealing with billions of dollars internationally in cahoots with George Soros. In explosive report # 18 from April, 2011, Soros, Obama and the rest of the cabal about to be Trumped? we see that none other than George H. W. Bush has Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate and is using it to blackmail him.
With Donald Trump’s new investigations proceeding into Obama’s citizenship issue, will this, in one fell swoop, remove Bush Senior’s powerful grip over Obama by diminishing the affect of his holding the certified copy of Obama’s Kenyan Birth Certificate? What will happen when Trump starts investigating and tracking Obama’s offshore bank accounts? What will happen when Trump starts investigating Mitt Romney’s Achilles Heel? In one combined sweep, Trump could take out both contestants and begin cleaning up America!
These anecdotal examples lead one think that conspiracy-minded people naturally latch onto any conspiracy based on distrust of the main-stream official explanation of things. Whether birthers on the whole are just conspiracy-minded people, or whether something else is going on there, I’m still considering.
I’d say it’s definitely a somewhat mixed bag. Big helpings of fear and anxiety, driving people to buy into what sounds reassuring (i.e., what feeds denial). I have been reading Backlash by Will Bunch … interesting collection of vignettes into various mindsets, various parties/persons radicalized by the last election. He has an odd habit of slipping changing from non-fiction reporting mode into second person present tense narrative … good anecdotes if you can get past that.
As I continue to catch up on the history of the radicalization on the right, I find myself becoming a bit paranoid. I was reminded of the case of Charles Dyer … local Tea Party action, the Oath Keeper rallies …. things that have been part of the background noise. Yesterday morning, while leaving my neighborhood, I noticed someone had defaced the STOP sign with infowars.com bumper stickers! LOL I take that to read “STOP infowars.com”
The darkness should recede back into the shadows as the economy recovers.
Assuming the economy recovers.
It was interesting to read Jon Ronson’s account of him and talk show host and New World Order conspiracy theorist Alex Jones infiltrating the Bohemian Grove annual outing (a men’s retreat of the the powerful and rich). It was then sobering to read that later a man, armed with an assault rifle and a bomb launching device, was arrested trying to get in too.
My own experience with conspiracy paranoia…
In the early/mid 1990’s, I was helping a well-known Roswell UFO book author edit together his various witness interviews into a cohesive audio documentary.
I received a cassette tape in the mail (remember those?) with no return address. I popped it in the deck and it turned out to be a recording of an ABC news broadcast announcing the Army had captured a flying Saucer. (it also had a broadcast from a few days later updating the saucer as a mere weather balloon).
I had no idea how many copies there were of this tape, and there was no real WWW yet to research it on. It was a brutal thunderstorm that night, and my imagination ran away with me, wondering if it might be possible that someone would show up to “request” the tape from me. I made a backup copy of it, and the next day mailed it to a friend out of state. ( I was peeved at him for something, and reasoned that if “they” came after him and killed him for it- too bad! It was worth the risk. 😉
Of course if this happened today, a quick mp3 upload would solve the problem.
I very much enjoy this series of articles you’ve been researching and blogging about Dr. C. Thanks for posting them & keep up the good work!
Me too … it is with much self-reflection I try to find the reasons of my falling in the birther CT (conspiracy theory).
And as you educate us all on predispositions, symptoms and other pockets of CTs, I can’t help but notice the similarities to the most overlooked one of all … and the most effective one of all. See, if the birthers were as effective, they would get the MSM on their side and keep pounding away generation after generation, teaching it in the schools form a young age and indoctrinating all college graduates with their CT. Then they could edge over to the nice pontification of “every educated person knows its the truth” and turn the non-birthers into the ignorant minority in the public view.
I’m sure, with just a little bit of thought, it would be fairly easy to come up with an example of where some people want to do exactly that. I think Texas comes to mind.
I have been thinking about sustainability these last few months. Once the 2012 election is over, however it turns out, I cannot see much ongoing activity in the birtherverse. I have to figure out what I’m going to do with my blogging hobby. The kind of navel gazing blogging I used to do back at BlogOrDie.com isn’t going to be interesting to anybody, and if nobody is interested, I might as well just keep a diary to exercise the brain cells.
The idea that I came to was to broaden the Dr. Conspiracy brand to cover other conspiracy theories, not as a debunker, but as an armchair psychologist. Toward that end, I’ve been collecting and reading the literature on the subject, both popular and academic. In the short term, I’m gaining all sorts of small insights about birthers, and I hope to be able to make a more general contribution at DrConspiracy.com in the future. My Understanding the Birthers series is an exercise at a broader understanding.
The most effective conspiracy theory ever perpetuated, that I reference above, would be a great one to address in your follow-ons. A greater starter into that field is Ben Stein’s “Expelled”.
Hi doc, I thought you might get a chuckle given your recent interest in the pattern seeking mind.
Here is what Roger Ebert has to say about Ben Stein’s “documentary” about intelligent design (ID):
This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.
And there is worse, much worse. Toward the end of the film, we find that Stein actually did want to title it “From Darwin to Hitler.” He finds a Creationist who informs him, “Darwinism inspired and advanced Nazism.”
Stein’s film failed to get even one poositive review from film critics, as reported at rottentomatoes.com.
Doc, when my note gets out of moderation, please correct the typo on the spelling of “positive” in the last sentence.
I’m glad you said that!!! As you probably know from some much older, prior conversations on this thread, I’ve always been a fan of following certain conspiracies as a hobby (not a believer) for years myself. Although, I have to admit that the whole Birther thing is a whole different level of stupid not really quite like any of the conspiracy movements I studied or monitored in the past… (well, the closest would be stuff like the John Birch Society or some of the failed “Judgement Day” groups…but outside of historical readings of those, I never found such groups interesting enough to keep following up on, once I learned about them).
I agree with you that for now, the key focus is the Birther stuff…and that should carry us easily through 2012…and who knows…they are such die hards, that we might be surprised at their reaction to digging in and pulling more crazy stunts if he is reelected…so that could take up the bulk of your reporting into 2017 for all you know! 😉
Once it truly dies down, I too would love to see the sight remain around as a place to follow and address other conspiracy stories that come up or are still floating around… or even just provide review & analysis of some of the existing/previous ones in a scholarly and comparative context.
Anyways, long way of saying kudos, atta boy and keep up the good work! 🙂
I understand what you are trying to say, but here is why I disagree that would work long term:
There are 2 major problems with birtherism. The one you are focusing on – their gross incompetence is really the lesser reason to why they are not “effective”. The major reason is really the bottom line – there is no actual TRUTH to their claims. The facts, evidence and laws are simply contrary to what they try to claim.
Orwellian propoganda can work to brainwash and fool a number of people for awhile, but eventually someone stumbles upon the truth…and often repeatedly. Endless coverups really don’t happen successfully for extended durations (except in conspiracy theories…LOL!). No amount of propoganda would change the actual evidence, facts and laws. Sure..maybe enough people could be “convinced” by propoganda to CHANGE the laws to suit their purposes…but they still have to make those changes and that doesn’t remove the historical facts of how the law was prior to that. Nor does it make the evidence magically disappear.
Physical reality and evidence based truths are real things…not subjective like opinions , philosopies, ideologies and emotions. Many people don’t like a lot of real world truths and realities and so try to pervert the use of such terms, as if phsyical reality and facts are malleable to their desires and emotions. They really aren’t. The only thing that is malleable is people’s willingness to deceive or self-deceive.
Put it this way – no amount of wishing the earth was flat by the “Flat Earthers” can in any way change the real physical truth of the world’s shape and place in our Solar System. Yet despite almost 500 years of ever increasing solid evidence of the truth of our round world orbiting the sun, the Flat Earth Society and people who believe in “geocentricism” still exist and hold fast to their beliefs… (yes, they really do. They just had a major conference on *this* very issue in Chicago just last year!)
I never considered Intelligent Design to be either a conspiracy or a theory, just one of those junk science things like ESP, pyramid power and ancient astronauts. I hesitate to call ID a “theory” because theories are supposed to explain things, and ID just waves its hands and says “a miracle happens” which is not a testable hypothesis.
Once again, I strongly recommend Everything Is Under Control: Conspiracies, Cults, and Cover-ups
It is encyclopedic in its coverage of conspiracies. OK, its a few years old now and doesn’t know about Truthers or Birthers, but it is excellent. Just beware of the “Cult of Bob”.
I recommend RAW’s fiction books as well, they are a hoot. One of the ‘conspiracies’ first described in his Iluminatus! trilogy (which is ‘probably’ fiction) is that of the Discordians, who exist mainly to play elaborate grand scale practical jokes. I have often thought that the very existence of Birtherism could very well be one of their more successful undertakings.
There are many possibilities for research based tools in the realm of conspiracism.
Perhaps a susceptibility assessment tool? Do some comparative / correlative work to determine some key indicators for runaway pattern recognition, etc. I imagine this would take the form of a personality test rather than directly asking whether given statements are true/false. Of course, the results of such a test wouldn’t likely be heeded, and if it were, how would it be used? To assess job candidates / potential spouses / politicians? “I can’t vote for him, he scored a 93 out of 100 on the Davidson scale!”
Perhaps a conspiracy “shopping” center, answer a short questionnaire to indicate level of belief/interest in widespread, higher-profile conspiracy hypotheses to get referrals to others. “Based on your interest in these conspiracies, may we also suggest these other thrilling delusions?” Of course, the suggestion widgets at online book reailers already do this to a degree, but, to my knowledge, there is no referral engine for blogs, or other as yet print-unpublished schools of conspiratorial thought.
The Roswell project I spoke of above is listed in the Robert Anton Wilson book you mentioned. I stayed at his house and recorded a project with him.
I often wonder what he would think of birthers.
If you follow certain of these conspiracies it really does loop around; one conspiracy theory that’s been around for years (PROMIS / “the octopus”) has grown to include a Mafia/Mossad/Bush family/New World Order plot of genocide-by-vaccine, by way of a company owned by a certain Yosef Taitz … and that’s not even where it gets weird!
How do you cope with all the flashbacks 😉
“How do you cope with all the flashbacks?”
Never had a bad trip, so any flashbacks would be welcome!
Btw- Dr. Timothy Leary’ autobiography “Flashbacks” is a great read.
Btw#2: I highly, highly recommend the lesser known “Historical Illuminatus” trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson.
I’ve got the Historical Illuminatus. I’m pretty sure I got “The Earth Will Shake” about the time it came out, and I just happened to find “The Widow’s Son” at some obscure bookshop that was mostly into remainders about 5 years later. But it took me close to 20 years to finally find “Nature’s God” – thank Bob for “Falcon Publishing” picking up the baton on a troubled series. Too bad RAW didn’t get to finish the “Historical” series, it has always left me unsatisfied in its current state.
I asked Bob if he was ever going to finish the fourth book. He said “Do you want me to finish it?” When I eagerly said” yes”, he told me “Sigismundo drowns when his boat sinks in the Atlantic”.
He was teasing me and making a very Bob-esque point. As the author, whatever he said was the ending had to be considered as such. He said he tells everyone who asked him a different ending.
PS- I am currently at a “Pulp” convention. I just found 9 used copies of RAW books, including the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, for a buck each. As you know, Bob loved coincidences. He also coined the term “Coincidence Theorists” for people who always dismissed every alleged conspiracy as a mere coincidence.
Great story. Thanks.
Saying something is a lie no more makes it a lie than saying something is true makes it true. If you want to dispute what Ebert has to say about Ben Stein’s movie, point out where he is wrong and produce evidence to back up your claims.
The fact that you consider the Theory of Evolution to be an explanation of the origins of life tells me that you don’t know what you are talking about. As for me, I am not a scientist, but when 99.9% of the scientific community declares that evolution is a fact, I am inclined to believe it, just as I believe the scientific community when I am told that Earth is approximately 93 million miles from the sun.