When Conspiracy Theory Replaces Thought the US Is Threatened by Americans Who Believe Washington Is Part of a Plot to Enslave Us in a 'New World Order'

By Ira Straus. Ira Straus is Us Coordinator of the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia . | The Christian Science Monitor, May 13, 1996 | Go to article overview

When Conspiracy Theory Replaces Thought the US Is Threatened by Americans Who Believe Washington Is Part of a Plot to Enslave Us in a 'New World Order'


Ira Straus. Ira Straus is Us Coordinator of the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia ., The Christian Science Monitor


What is the milieu in which criminal groups of "freemen" and Oklahoma City bombers grow? It is the underworld of conspiracy theory, a subculture in which people share fantasies of fighting heroically against a huge Conspiracy that is taking over the world.

For decades, the John Birch Society has spread word of the Conspiracy: The international bankers who pull all the strings. The ones who really control both the Communist conspiracy and the United States government. The Trilateral Commission. The Federal Reserve, which is ruining our money. The Council on Foreign Relations - psst, they're out to destroy the Constitution, take away our guns, and enslave us in a United Nations One-World Communist government. Their code words: "New World Order."

So runs the Birchist fantasy, spun out in dozens of books distributed in millions of copies. An estimated 5 million to 10 million Americans believe this stuff. Tens of millions more are under its influence. Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan have built on it, mixing it in with popular fears of elite cults and alien cultures. The NRA has fanned it with mass TV ads about how "they" are going to take away all our guns and all our freedoms. Once a mind is trapped in the circular logic of conspiracy theory, it rarely finds a way out on its own. Even those who only half-believe in the conspiracy are deeply affected by the suspicions it arouses.

Reams of 'evidence'

Imagine reading a deadpan serious book about a Conspiracy that has orchestrated all the horrors of the last century, with hundreds of pages of documentation; that appeals to your suspicions of government; that offers you a chance to stand up for your country against overwhelming forces of evil; that includes some obvious truths of a suppressed, politically incorrect character; that warns that all its other claims are also suppressed truths.

Many people don't know enough arcane facts to refute such a book. They also lack the stamina to refute the insinuating logic at each turn of the page. The book leaves an imprint on them. Thereafter, whenever any normal political effort is made that fits the supposed pattern of the Conspiracy - anything, say, that is done in the name of world order - they cannot help but feel a suspicion that behind this lies the hidden hand of the Conspiracy.

When President Bush spoke of "a new world order" in 1990, he scared the daylights out of these people. They did not hear in it the normal wish of good Americans ever since the Founding Fathers. …

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