Tag: Conspiracy theory

Anti-Semitism and the Alt-Right

Back in 2008, I wrote a book that took a skeptical look at the phenomenon of paranoid conspiracy theory. Most of it, I learned, still follows the template that was laid down in THE PROTOCOLS OF THE LEARNED ELDERS OF ZION a century ago, which purports to reveal that organized Jewry is using socialism, popular culture, and its vast money power to undermine the moral and economic foundations of the Christian West, with the ultimate goal of ruling over it from a Davidic Superstate in Jerusalem. Dig past the surface of any subsequent New World Order conspiracy and you will soon recognize this same basic narrative, whether the antagonist is international Communism, the UN, race-mixing integrationists, or shape-shifting lizards. Since 9/11, Islamic Jihad and creeping sharia have been squeezed into the template as well.

The alt-right is a loose movement, born on the Internet, that has brought together and catalyzed a lot of the people who subscribe to these conspiracy theories. I see it as a product of a kind of Intersectionality in reverse. For all their differences with each other, its members see themselves as victims of a hegemonic Cultural Marxism that seeks to undermine whiteness, the traditional state, traditional religion, and traditional masculinity, and replace it with a globe-spanning reign of totalitarian political correctness.

Among their number are anti-feminist mens’ rightists, War of Civilization Islamophobes, scientific racists, Christian dominionists, classic anti-Semites, self-styled Libertarians, and even some radical Zionists. Donald Trump, a casual trafficker in conspiracy theories, racist dog whistles, and vulgar sexism, was their chosen candidate in 2016. After his victory, he installed Steve Bannon—the former chief executive of the Breitbart Report, the premier platform of the alt right—in the West Wing of the White House.

The election and its aftermath have been enough to make anyone believe in conspiracy theory, but I don’t and you shouldn’t. As Masha Gessen wrote in The New York Times last week, “the 2016 election was unimaginable…but we seem to have fallen into a trap: The unimaginable, happening out in the open day after day, not only continues to dull our defenses but also creates a need to see a conspiracy big enough, a secret terrible enough to explain how this can be happening to our country.”

Conspiracy theory has more to do with theology or literature than it does with history-as-it-is-lived, which is to say, politics. Conspiracy theory sees history as a well-crafted story, in which every character knows his or her role, and every twist propels the plot forward to a certain end. Jews have often been its antagonists, but we are not immune to the conspiracist temptation ourselves.

After Trump issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that undercut Jewish ownership of the Holocaust, many were quick to connect the dots between his election and the cemetery desecrations and bomb threats against JCCs that were being reported in the news. When Trump floated the ridiculous idea that his Jewish enemies were planting false flags to discredit him as an antisemite, many believed that he had proven that he was.

I believe that too, but now I also know that, for whatever reason, an Israeli Jew phoned in some of those bomb threats. We live in a world in which there are Jewish victims and Jewish perpetrators, Jewish by-standers and Jewish allies, and in which some Jew-haters are Zionists and many anti-Zionists are Jews. Reality requires us to hold all sorts of things in our heads at once. The fact that some of them seem to contradict each other doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t all be true. Reality is not an equation.

Most of all, reality demands that we acknowledge that everything that happens isn’t about us. Antisemitism was and continues to be a real thing, but it is not the only thing. At our present moment, Islamophobia and racism loom much larger.

We Have Met the Enemy and It is Us

A critical distinction and one that we should keep in mind as the JFK anniversary approaches: The problem with conspiracy theory isn’t that it believes that the government is not to be trusted.  The trouble with conspiracy theory is its simplism; its simple faith that by holding a mirror up to the power structure its shadow opposite can be discerned–that the enemy isn’t the hegemon we know, but a hidden hegemon that can be known.

Our big trouble isn’t that outsiders (Communists, Fascists, Jewish globalist bankers) have secretly subverted our otherwise flawless system–it’s that the system itself is systemically corrupt.


Conspiracy Theories: The Republicans’ Last Refuge

Though the GOP remains the “party of business” in its policies, its outreach to economic populists and neo-secessionist states rightists has created a coalition that includes groups that are openly hostile to Wall Street and other economic elites, that see the Federal Reserve, for example, as a critical node of the Jewish conspiracy. This is an idea that goes all the way back to the Fed’s founding in 1913; it was trumpeted by conspiracy theorists like Henry Ford in the 1920s and the Republican Congressman Louis McFadden in the 1930s; it even played a role in Richard M. Nixon’s thinking, though he was more of a classic paranoid than a conspiracy theorist.

The GOP’s alliance with the Christian right has brought premillennial dispensationalists into its fold—people who believe that the world is not only coming to an end, but that the sooner civil order breaks down, the sooner Jesus will return. Dominionists like Ted Cruz’s father, who believe that the U.S. government should be run on a biblical basis, are increasingly prominent in the GOP. As believers in the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11), it’s not surprising that fundamentalists would be especially susceptible to conspiracy theories.

For more, go to The Washington Spectator.

More on conspiracy theories

Here is my third and final Rewire Me post on the neurology of hate, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. As I said on Facebook, I would like to start a campaign to eliminate the term “conspiracy theory” as a descriptive/pejorative for this kind of paranoid thinking. Conspiracies–some of them very big and very evil–do of course exist; it isn’t crazy to believe in conspiracies per se. What is crazy is to believe that one global conspiracy suffices to explain everything. That’s what Fundamentalists and Extremists do.

Conspiracy Theory and the Boston Marathon Bombing

As a “hate expert,” I am less interested in the who, what, or why of yesterday’s terror bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line (you can take this to the bank: it was a person or persons who hates the US, and who at some point, whether driven by personal demons or ideology, concluded that maximally-publicized maimings and killings would advance their cause), than about the people–also driven by personal demons and/or ideology–who are certain that they already know all there is to know.

If you’re a hammer, as the saying goes, you see nails. Naturally Pamela Geller sees Arabs and Jihad (and of course she identifies herself and Robert Spencer as the attack’s real victims–“the Twitter hyenas are rushing to blame Robert Spencer and me, as if we originated the idea that a jihadi did this,” she writes). Alex Jones sees both the hand of the US government in the attack and an occasion to boost his profile (when he was still vamping on his radio show yesterday afternoon, he connected the incident to the falling price of gold; by this morning, the consensus in Alex Jones land appears to be that this is a “planned event to justify a TSA lockdown…. the run-up to the TSA occupation of America, which has always been the goal of Obama”).

Dan Bidondi, a host of Alex Jones’s Infowars, managed to inject the phrase “false flag” into a question to Governor Deval Patrick at one of the police press conferences yesterday.

Atlantic Wire has a good rundown of “false flag” accusations and conspiracy theory.

Indignation junkies on the right are angry that the likes of Charles Pierce used his Esquire blog to point out that the date was Patriot’s Day; Jim Hoft rushed up a post headlined “Awful… Esquire Mag Blames ‘Patriots Day’ Supporters for the Boston Bomb Blasts.” For the record, this is what Pierce really posted. Pretty temperate, all things considered.

Obviously, nobody knows anything yet, but I would caution folks jumping to conclusions about foreign terrorism to remember that this is the official Patriots Day holiday in Massachusetts, celebrating the Battles at Lexington and Concord, and that the actual date (April 19) was of some significance to, among other people, Tim McVeigh, because he fancied himself a waterer of the tree of liberty and the like.

Also for the record, the Waco siege ended April 19, which, not un-coincidentally, is also the date of the Oklahoma City bombing. If the date was that important to the bomber(s), I’d think they would have gotten it right, but that’s just my two cents. Of course April 15 is also Tax Day–and there are a number of militant right wing groups who style themselves tax protestors. Back in 2009, the Tea Party (not a militant group per se, though many Tea Party members have much to say about guns, tyranny, and the necessity of armed uprisings) designated April 15 as a day of protests and resistance.

Who else are people blaming? The lead post on the extreme anti-Semitic site Wake From Your Slumber this morning is headlined “Mossad Pulls off Boston Marathon Attacks.” Mossad’s handiwork, the piece goes on to explain, is discernible in the attack’s “use of deceptive tactics.” For example, the explosives used were “barely military-grade in terms of the depth of the explosives that would amass the kill counts” (who writes this stuff? they could really use an editor). Something tells me that if the bombs had been made of the highest grade C-4, that would have also pointed to Mossad, because who else has access to it and can move it around the US–and is callous enough to want to kill so many innocents?

I could go on, but there isn’t much point. Most of the people I quoted are professional demagogues and haters…. They are like actors who can cry on command, or pop stars who deliver the same spontaneously exuberant performance night after night. They don’t have to work themselves up into a lather when something like this happens; they know exactly what to say and they say it–and pretty soon the echo chamber of the Internet and the 24/7 news channels disseminates it around the world.

More interesting to me, as someone who has struggled to understand the underlying psychology of conspiracy theory, are the ways that civilians rush to make sense of the inexplicable. A couple of months ago, a woman in my neighborhood was killed as she walked out of a bakery where she’d just bought some cookies. The driver of an SUV had passed out and driven up on the sidewalk, possibly because he’d gone into insulin shock. The comments on the neighborhood blog were rife with speculation and anger: the police don’t investigate pedestrian fatalities (true); the drivers of the vehicles that kill them are almost never prosecuted (true); diabetics should be aware of their condition before they get behind the wheel (true); someone should be punished (maybe). No one blamed the victim that time, but when another woman was killed by a left-turning truck as she rode her bicycle through a green light, many posters took the time to note–in a public forum that the victim’s family members were likely to read–that they have frequently biked that route themselves and are always careful at that exact corner, because drivers are always turning without looking.

All of it is true, none of it is crazy or hateful–but to me it’s revealing that so many people feel the need to broadcast those thoughts out loud. What they are saying, in effect, is that the world is still rational and meaningful, even if terrible things happen from time to time. There is always an explanation; there are never victims, only martyrs or fools, and someone is always to blame. It’s a spontaneous act of theodicy, as if they all want to let God off the hook–and/or to reassure themselves that they are too smart to ever be a victim themselves.

I’m not criticizing the tendency; I’m just noting it. Alex Jones wouldn’t have the megaphone or the resonance that he has if there wasn’t a little bit of him in all of us.