A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America

A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America

A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America

A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America


American society has changed dramatically since A Culture of Conspiracy was first published in 2001. In this revised and expanded edition, Michael Barkun delves deeper into America's conspiracy sub-culture, exploring the rise of 9/11 conspiracy theories, the "birther" controversy surrounding Barack Obama's American citizenship, and how the conspiracy landscape has changed with the rise of the Internet and other new media.

What do UFO believers, Christian millennialists, and right-wing conspiracy theorists have in common? According to Michael Barkun in this fascinating yet disturbing book, quite a lot. It is well known that some Americans are obsessed with conspiracies. The Kennedy assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the 2001 terrorist attacks have all generated elaborate stories of hidden plots. What is far less known is the extent to which conspiracist worldviews have recently become linked in strange and unpredictable ways with other "fringe" notions such as a belief in UFOs, Nostradamus, and the Illuminati. Unraveling the extraordinary genealogies and permutations of these increasingly widespread ideas, Barkun shows how this web of urban legends has spread among subcultures on the Internet and through mass media, how a new style of conspiracy thinking has recently arisen, and how this phenomenon relates to larger changes in American culture. This book, written by a leading expert on the subject, is the most comprehensive and authoritative examination of contemporary American conspiracism to date.

Barkun discusses a range of material-involving inner-earth caves, government black helicopters, alien abductions, secret New World Order cabals, and much more-that few realize exists in our culture. Looking closely at the manifestations of these ideas in a wide range of literature and source material from religious and political literature, to New Age and UFO publications, to popular culture phenomena such as The X-Files, and to websites, radio programs, and more, Barkun finds that America is in the throes of an unrivaled period of millenarian activity. His book underscores the importance of understanding why this phenomenon is now spreading into more mainstream segments of American culture.


The original manuscript of A Culture of Conspiracy was virtually complete in September 2001, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked. In the time that remained before the manuscript had to be submitted, I added chapter 10 (along with interpolations of brief passages in some other chapters), which describes the reactions of what might be termed “professional” conspiracy theorists. But the book went to press well before the 9/11 conspiracy subculture had developed.

That would not prove to be, of course, the only development on the conspiracy scene over the next decade or so. Rather, the following ten years witnessed conspiracism more complex and widespread than anything I had anticipated when I began this project. The spectacular growth of American conspiracism after the first publication of this book eventually convinced me that an expanded edition was necessary, although the four new chapters, 11 through 14, provide only a glimpse into some of the new dimensions in conspiracist thinking. In short, the new sections should be regarded as representative snapshots rather than encyclopedic surveys. The sheer volume of talk and activity about plots and cabals might otherwise have turned each chapter into a full-blown volume of its own.

The 9/11 attacks were surely one catalyst of these developments. Another was the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president. While conspiracy theories have almost always been woven around chief executives, including Bill Clinton and both Bushes, the . . .

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