What is Conspiracism?

There are conspiracies throughout history,
but history is not governed by conspiracies

Conspiracism is a way to view power relationships in the world that does not rely on verifiable facts or logic

Jump to the list of pages on conspiracism and conspiracy theories
(Conspiracy Theory Generator – Create your own)
See book covers of conspiracist books in English
See also: What is Antisemitism?

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.[i]

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.[ii]

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:[iii]

“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 system.

“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.[iv] 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.[v]

[i] Although they often disagree with my conclusions, my thinking on conspiracism has been shaped by comments and critiques from S. L. Gardiner, Loretta Ross, and Leonard Zeskind.

[ii] Higham, Strangers, pp. 3-11; Hofstadter, Paranoid Style, pp. 3-40; Davis, Fear of Conspiracy, pp. xv-xviii; Bennett, Party of Fear, pp. 1-16; George Johnson, Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics, (Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1983), pp. 17-30.

[iii] George Johnson, “The Conspiracy That Never Ends,” The New York Times, 4/30/95, Sec. 4; p. 5. The full text of Johnson’s rules is longer and far more erudite and entertaining.

[iv] On Christian right fears of a liberal secular humanist conspiracy, see Chip Berlet and Margaret Quigley, “Theocracy & White Supremacy: Behind the Culture War to Restore Traditional Values,” chapter in Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash, Chip Berlet, ed. (Boston, South End Press, 1995) p. 60–61; On growing right/left conspiracism, see Michael Kelly, “The Road to Paranoia,” The New Yorker, June 19, 1995, pp. 60–70; Janet Biehl, ”Militia Fever: The Fallacy of “Neither Left nor Right,” Green Perspectives, A Social Ecology Publication, Number 37, April 1996; Michael Albert, “Conspiracy?…Not!,” Venting Spleen column, Z Magazine, Jan., 1992, pp. 17–19; Michael Albert, “Conspiracy?…Not, Again,” Venting Spleen column, Z Magazine, May,. 1992, pp. 86–88.

[v] Kintz & Lesage, Culture, Media, and the Religious Right. Detailed articles on the general theme of right-wing media can be found in Afterimage (Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY), special issue on “Fundamentalist Media,” 22:7&8, Feb./March 1995; and Extra! (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), special issue on “The Right-Wing Media Machine,” March/April 1995. Jim Danky and John Cherney, “Beyond Limbaugh: The Hard Right’s Publishing Spectrum,” Reference Services Review, Spring 1996, pp. 43-56. For radio conspiracism, see Leslie Jorgensen, “AM Armies,” pp. 20–22 and Larry Smith, “Hate Talk,” p. 23, Extra! March/April 1995; Marc Cooper, “The Paranoid Style,” The Nation, April 10, 1995, pp. 486–492; William H. Freivogel, “Talking Tough On 300 Radio Stations, Chuck Harder’s Show Airs Conspiracy Theories,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 10, 1995, p. 5B; David McHugh and Nancy Costello, “Radio host off the air; militia chief may be out,” Detroit Free Press, 4/29/95, p. 6A; Far Right Radio Review online at <http://www.clark.net/pub/cwilkins/rfpi/frwr.html>. For Internet, see: Devin Burghardt, “Cyberh@te: A Reappraisal,” The Dignity Report (Coalition for Human Dignity), Fall, 1996, pp. 12–16;. A regularly updated list of links to web pages of various groups on the right is posted by Political Research Associates. at <http://www.publiceye.org/lnk_dem.html> and by Hatewatch at <http://hatewatch.org>.

The Political Assumptions of Conspiracism

by Matthew N. Lyons

Radical politics and social analysis have been so effectively marginalized in the US that much of what passes for radicalism is actually liberal reformism with a radical-looking veneer. To claim a link between liberalism and conspiracism may sound paradoxical, because of the conventional centrist/extremist assumption that conspiracist thinking is a marginal, “pathological” viewpoint shared mainly by people at both extremes of the political spectrum. Centrist/extremist theory’s equation of the “paranoid right” and “paranoid left” obscures the extent to which much conspiracist thinking is grounded in mainstream political assumptions.

Consider a message sent through a computer bulletin board for progressive political activists. Following an excerpt from a Kennedy assassination book, which attributed JFK’s killing to “the Secret Team–or The Club, as others call it…composed of some of the most powerful and wealthiest men in the United States,” the subscriber who posted the excerpt commented,

“We, the American people, are too apathetic to participate in our own democracy and consequently, we have forfeited our power, guided by our principles, in exchange for an oligarchy ruled by greedy, evil men–men who are neurotic in their insatiable lust for wealth and power….And George Bush is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Scratch the “radical” surface of this statement and you find liberal content. No analysis of the social order, but rather an attack on the “neurotic” and “greedy, evil men” above and the “apathetic” people below. If only we could get motivated and throw out that special interest group, “The Club,” democracy would function properly.

This perspective resembles that of the Christic Institute with its emphasis on the illegal nature of the Iran-Contra network and its appeals to “restore” American democracy. This perspective may also be compared with liberal versions of the “Zionist Lobby” explanation for the United States’ massive subsidy of Israel. Supposedly the Lobby’s access to campaign funds and media influence has held members of Congress hostage for years. Not only does this argument exaggerate and conflate the power of assorted Jewish and pro-Israel lobbying groups, and play into antisemitic stereotypes about “dual loyalist” Jews pulling strings behind the scenes, but it also lets the US government off the hook for its own aggressive foreign policies, by portraying it as the victim of external “alien” pressure.

All of these perspectives assume inaccurately that (a) the US political system contains a democratic “essence” blocked by outside forces, and (b) oppression is basically a matter of subjective actions by individuals or groups, not objective structures of power. These assumptions are not marginal, “paranoid” beliefs-they are ordinary, mainstream beliefs that reflect the individualism, historical denial, and patriotic illusions of mainstream liberal thought.

What is the Sucker Punch?

A “Sucker Punch” is when someone poses as a friend and then when they get close they knock you to the ground with their fist.

So when right-wing ideologues and organizers suggest a coalition on any topic other than broad-based civil liberties, just say no.*

Why? Read the following:
Right Woos Left:
Populist Party, LaRouchite, and Other Neo-fascist Overtures To Progressives, And Why They Must Be Rejected 


* The exception is important, because civil liberties for all is what allows democracy to be built in the first place

Pro-Republican fanatic Denounces Hillary as Communist

A writer for the vicious Islamophobic website Front Page run by ex-leftist David Horowitz has smeared Hillary Clinton as a communist.  According to writer Daniel Greenfield, described as an expert on “radical Islam” Clinton in her nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic convention on Thursday gave “a speech that could have been given in Moscow during the Cold War

“Yesterday’s crazy radical idea is tomorrow’s Democratic slogan. Yesterday’s Alinsky disciple is tomorrow’s moderate Democrat. Yesterday’s Communist notion is tomorrow’s DNC speech.”

The headline for Greenfield’s hit piece is “Welcome to the Communist Party, U.S.A.”

According to Greenfield, “Hillary Clinton embraced wealth redistribution and re-appropriation from people who aren’t her. She embraced it with verve and gusto. She pushed Communism dressed up in references to the Founding Fathers. It takes a village to take away all our political and economic freedoms.

The sneering essay by Greenfield concluded with the charge that there is a name for the ideology behind Clinton’s speech and apparently the Democratic Party platform:

It comes with a hammer and sickle, with the color red, with gulags and firing squads, with little red books and big black prisons, and the death of the human soul.”

Read the full Greenfield essay here

Ode to Trump

(Use a Talkin’ Blues cadence)
 
Trump suffers from TMS
Testosterone Madness Syndrome’s pest
At Trump’s rallies, shake his hand
You’re pumping up an inflated gland
Trump’s Hard Rain better not fall
 
Trump compares himself to Tricky Dick
and makes Mike Pence his VP pick
Women in the kitchen, gays back in closet
Pence is the Christian Right’s deposit
Trump’s Hard Rain better not fall
 
Trump’s slapping his phallus on the table
We have to stop him if we’re able
Trump’s nasty rhetoric provokes violence
Which corporate media tunes to silence
Democracy, freedom? We’re in trouble
 
Time to organize, on the double!
Trump’s Hard Rain better not fall
 
(apologies to Bob Dylan)
 


p.s.
Pacifica Radio needs some bread
So write a check before we’re dead
 
-Chip Berlet
CC: by-nc-nd/4.0
 

Trumped Up

Under Construction

A Random Collection of articles on Trump


The Trump Collection Landing Pages:


 

Analyses

Trumping Democracy

by Chip Berlet

 

 

Notes on the Election

by Linda Burnham, April 15, 2016, Portside
Unfolding events of the past several months have confirmed that the presidential contest now underway is the most historically significant in at least the last 50 years. The reasons for this are several according to long-time activist Linda Burnham in this piece.

Trump Is Tricky Dick Nixon Redux, Running as the “Law and Order” Candidate

by BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT, Tuesday, July 12, 2016

 

 


 

 

Trumping Democracy

This set of resources will help you understand
the mass support for Donald Trump

The Trump Collection Landing Pages:


 

What are the Core Elements of Right-Wing Populism in the United States that Produced Trump?
  • White Nationalist Racism and Ethnocentrism
  • Vilification and Demonization of a Scapegoated “Other”
  • Authoritarian Demagoguery & Scripted Violence
  • Xenophobia and Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric
  • Dividing the Nation into the “Producers” and the Parasites
  • Conspiracy Theories Claiming a Subversive Threat
  • Apocalyptic Warnings that Time is Running Out
  • Aggressive Misogynist and Heterosexist Male Egocentrism
  • Mobilizing Resentment for Political Gain
  • Undermining Democracy Itself

Producerist White Nationalism

Demonization & Scapegoating

Conspiracism

  • Elites, Banksters, & Intellectuals
  • Money Manipulation
  • Liberal Treachery
  • Leftist Totalitarian Plots
  • Islamophophobia
  • Antisemitism

Apocalyptic Narratives &
Millennial Visions

  • Christian Nationalism
  • Apocalyptic Aggression

 


This page is based on my article “‘Trumping’ Democracy: Right-Wing Populism, Fascism, and the Case for Action.” 2015, December
http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/12/12/trumping-democracy-right-wing-populism-fascism-and-the-case-for-action/

and the book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort with my co-author Matthew N. Lyons.


Who Predicted Trump? Really?

With American Journalism having a research memory that at best extends back to the age of the Internet, here is a selective bibliography of serious work that anticipated the rise of a right-wing populist or proto-fascist Presidential candidate exploiting White Nationalism.


Annotations and more titles coming soon.


Clever Jumps:
Bibliography of books by George Seldes
Ernie Lazar’s Most Excellent Bibliography on the US Right
Political Research Associates Searchable Bibliography
Gigantic collection of bibliographies


—Chip Berlet: “From the KKK to the CCC to Dylann Roof:
White nationalism infuses our political ideology.”


Interview Ideas: Trump, Right-Wing Populism, and White Nationalism
—Kathleen Blee, University of Pittsburgh
—David Cunningham, Washington University (St. Louis)
—Bill Fletcher, Jr., racial justice, labor and international activist
—Gerald Horne, University of Houston
—Rory McVeigh, Notre Dame University
—Cas Mudde, University of George
—Ruby Sales, Spirit House, racial justice and human rights activist
Richard Steigmann-Gall, Kent State University


Curated Bibliography

Sinclair Lewis. (1935). It can’t happen here: A novel. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Company.

George Seldes with Helen L. Seldes (1943). Facts and Fascism. New York: In Fact.

George Seldes (1947). One Thousand Americans. New York: Boni & Gaer.

Peter Fritzsche, Rehearsals for Fascism: Populism and Political Mobilization in Weimar Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990)

Margaret Canovan. (1981). Populism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Dan T.Carter. (1995), The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY.

Peter Fritzsche, Germans into Nazis (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998).

Jean V. Hardisty. (1999). Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. Boston: Beacon.

Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-wing populism in America: Too close for comfort. New York: Guilford Press.

Chip Berlet. 2003. Into the mainstream: An array of right-wing foundations and think tanks support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable. Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center, no. 110, (Summer): 53-58.

Jean V. Hardisty. (1995). “The Resurgent Right: Why Now?” The Public Eye, Fall–Winter. Revised and included in Hardisty, Mobilizing Resentment.

Robert Altemeyer, The Authoritarian Specter, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1996.
Whole Book (PDF version 1.35Mb)
Postscript on the 2008 Election (PDF)

Robert Altemeyer, April 20, 2010, Comment on the Tea Party Movement
Comment on the Tea Party Movement (PDF)

Neiwert, David A. 2009. The eliminationists: how hate talk radicalized the American right. Sausalito, CA: PoliPoint Press.


Background Materials

L. Noël, Intolerance, A General Survey, trans. A. Bennett, Montreal: McGill–Queen’s Univ. Press, 1994;

E. Young–Bruehl, The Anatomy of Prejudices, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1996.

For an excellent overview, see E.R. Harrington, “The Social Psychology of Hatred,” Journal of Hate Studies, 2003/04, vol. 3, no.1,
http://guweb2.gonzaga.edu/againsthate/journal3/GHS110.pdf

Conspiracism

Robert Alan Goldberg. Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001);

Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2003);

Daniel Pipes, The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996).

Early Work

Dollard, John, Leonard W. Doob, Neal E. Miller, Orval Hobart, Mowrer, Robert R. Sears, and Yale University Institute of Human Relations, Frustration and Aggression, (New Haven; London: Pub. for the Institute of Human Relations by Yale University Press; H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1939);

Theodor W, Adorno, Else Frenkel–Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford with Betty Aron, Maria Hertz Levinson, and William Morrow. The Authoritarian Personality, (New York: Harper, 1950);

Gordon W. Allport,  1954. The nature of prejudice. New York: Basic Books.

Milton Rokeach, The Open and Closed Mind; Investigations into the Nature of Belief Systems and Personality Systems, (New York: Basic Books, 1960);

Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, (New York: Harper and Row, 1951).


The Trump Collection Landing Pages:
>>>The Trumping Democracy page for in-depth analysis of Trump’s use of right-wing populism
>>>Trumped Up: A collection of articles on Trump in reverse chronological order starting from July 2016
>>>Trumpism: Resources on Trump’s Voter Base

Fascism, Populism, and the Middle Class

Middle Class Right-Wing Populism as Core Element of Fascism

Fascism is a complex political current that parasitizes other ideologies, includes many internal tensions and contradictions, and has chameleon-like adaptations based on the specific historic symbols, icons, slogans, traditions, myths, and heroes of the society it wishes to mobilize. In addition, fascism as a social movement often acts dramatically different from fascism once it holds state power. When holding state power, fascism tends to be rigidly hierarchical, authoritarian, and elitist. As a social movement fascism employs populist appeals against the current regime and promises a dramatic and quick transformation of the status quo.In interwar Europe there were three distinct forms of fascism, Italian economic corporatist fascism (the original fascism), German racial nationalist Nazism, and clerical fascism exemplified by religious/nationalist movements in Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and the Ukraine, among others.

Right-wing populism can act as both a precursor and a building block of fascism, with anti-elitist conspiracism and ethnocentric scapegoating as shared elements. The dynamic of right-wing populism interacting with and facilitating fascism in interwar Germany was chronicled by Peter Fritzsche in Rehearsals for Fascism: Populism and Political Mobilization in Weimar Germany. Fritzsche showed that distressed middle-class populists in Weimar launched bitter attacks against both the government and big business. This populist surge was later exploited by the Nazis which parasitized the forms and themes of the populists and moved their constituencies far to the right through ideological appeals involving demagoguery, scapegoating, and conspiracism.

===”The Nazis expressed the populist yearnings of middle-class constituents and at the same time advocated a strong and resolutely anti-Marxist mobilization….Against “unnaturally” divisive parties and querulous organized interest groups, National Socialists cast themselves as representatives of the commonweal, of an allegedly betrayed and neglected German public….[b]reaking social barriers of status and caste, and celebrating at least rhetorically the populist ideal of the people’s community…”

This populist rhetoric of the Nazis, focused the pre-existing “resentments of ordinary middle-class Germans against the bourgeois ‘establishment’ and against economic and political privilege, and by promising the resolution of these resentments in a forward-looking, technologically capable volkisch ‘utopia,'” according to Fritzsche.

As Umberto Eco explains, however, the populist rhetoric of fascism is selective and illusive:

===”individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is a theatrical fiction….There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People….Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell…Fascism.”

Fritzsche observed that “German fascism would have been inconceivable without the profound transformation” of mainstream electoral politics in the 1920’s “which saw the dissolution of traditional party allegiances.” He also argued that the Nazis, while an electorally-focused movement, had more in common rhetorically and stylistically with middle class reform movements than backwards looking reactionary movements. So the Nazis as a movement appeared to provide for radical social change while actually moving its constituency to the right.

The success of fascist movements in attracting members from reformist populist constituencies is due to many complex overlapping factors, but key factors are certainly the depth of the economic and social crisis and transformation of, and the degree of anger and frustration of those who see their demands not being met. Desperate people turn to desperate solutions.

A Collection of Links in no apparent order

 

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_revenge_of_the_lower_classes_and_the_rise_of_american_fascism_20160302

 

http://democracyjournal.org/arguments/who-are-trumps-supporters/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/15/what-donald-trump-and-dying-white-people-have-in-common-2/

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/who-are-donald-trumps-supporters-really/471714/

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/09/09/who_are_trumps_supporters.html

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/03/5-myths-about-trump-supporters-220158

http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/09/politics/new-hampshire-primary-exit-entrance-polls/

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/12/09/the-american-middle-class-is-losing-ground/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/09/are-you-in-the-american-middle-class/

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/03/secret-donald-trump-voters-speak-out

http://prospect.org/article/what-super-tuesday-means-establishment-politics

 

 

https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=2090

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/12/donald-trump-fascism-islamophobia-nativism/

http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/donald-trump-and-the-ghost-of-totalitarianism

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/how-one-most-extreme-groups-within-religious-right-remaking-gop-race-presidency

http://fair.org/home/heidi-beirich-on-white-supremacy/

 

 

Special treat:

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/04/bernie-sanders-burlington-vermont-activist-1970s

 

Trump, Right-Wing Populist Demagoguery, and Bigoted Violence

What’s Going On?

Right-wing Republicans, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz,
Fox News, Talk Radio, the Koch Brothers, the Tea Parties,
the Patriot movement, the Oath Keepers, the Oregon Standoff,
the New World Order conspiracy theories,
Obama is a Muslim?

It’s not one big conspiracy folks, but there are linkages and processes that are as old as the Presidency of Andrew Jackson
and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War.

Here is more bad news…even if Trump loses, the toxic bigotry he spews is a form of “scripted violence” that encourages angry people to harm and perhaps kill the scapegoated targets he identifies slyly as enemies of the “real” Americans: Angry White Men

How the Rhetoric of Right-Wing Populism
with its “Producerist” Conspiracy Theories
Fuels a Bigoted Right-Wing Juggernaut
Promoting White Nationalism

Available in these formats:

A Full Slide Show on Right-Wing Populism & “Producerist” Conspiracism:
As Web Pages (html)
MP4 VideoDownloadable PDF File

A Single-Page Chart
A Set of Connected Charts




The Trump Collection Landing Pages:


Progressive Security and Safety:
Threats from Right-Wing fanatics spurred on by demagogic political rhetoric have turned into isolated acts of violence against progressives. Pick up your self-defense homework here.

Ted Cruz, the Christian Right, and Dominionism

How the Right Took Power and the Failure of Liberal Infrastructures

Read more about it!