Why Right-Wing Demagogues Are Trying to Peddle Ludicrous Conspiracy Theories
Even before Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, the internet was seething with lurid conspiracy theories exposing his alleged subversion and treachery.
Among the many false claims: Obama was a secret Muslim; he was not a native U.S. citizen and his election as president should be overturned; he was a tool of the New World Order in a plot to merge the government of the United States into a North American union with Mexico and Canada.
Within hours of Obama’s inauguration, claims circulated that Obama was not really president because Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts scrambled the words as he administered the oath of office. A few days after the inauguration came a warning that Obama planned to impose martial law and collect all guns.
Many of these false claims recall those floated by right-wing conspiracy theorists in the armed citizens’ militia movement during the Clinton administration — allegations that percolated up through the media and were utilized by Republican political operatives to hobble the legislative agenda of the Democratic Party.
The conspiracy theory attacks on Clinton bogged down the entire government. Legislation became stuck in congressional committees, appointments to federal posts dwindled and positions remained unfilled, almost paralyzing some agencies and seriously hampering the federal courts.
A similar scenario is already hobbling the work of the Obama administration. The histrionics at congressional town hall meetings and conservative rallies is not simply craziness — it is part of an effective right-wing campaign based on scare tactics that have resonated throughout U.S. history among a white middle class fearful of alien ideas, people of color and immigrants.
Unable to block the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, the right-wing media demagogues, corporate political operatives, Christian right theocrats, and economic libertarians have targeted healthcare reform and succeeded in sidetracking the public option and single-payer proposals.
A talented environmental adviser to the Obama administration, Van Jones, was hounded into resigning Sept. 5 by a McCarthyite campaign of red-baiting and hyperbole. Support for major labor law reform has been eroding.
With a wink and a nod, right-wing apparatchiks are networking with the apocalyptic Christian right and resurgent armed militias — a volatile mix of movements awash in conspiracy theories. Scratch the surface and you find people peddling bogus conspiracy theories about liberal secular humanists, collectivist labor bosses, Muslim terrorists, Jewish cabals, homosexual child molesters and murderous abortionists.
This right-wing campaign is about scapegoating bogus targets by using conspiracy theories to distract attention from insurance companies who are the real culprits behind escalating healthcare costs.
Examples of right-wing conspiracy theories include the false claim that healthcare reform will include government bureaucrat “Death Panels” pulling the plug on grandma. Another is the claim that Obama is appointing unconstitutional project “Czars” More fraudulent conspiracy theories are being generated every week.
The core narrative of many popular conspiracy theories is that “the people” are held down by a conspiracy of wealthy secret elites manipulating a vast legion of corrupt politicians, mendacious journalists, propagandizing schoolteachers, nefarious bankers and hidden subversive cadres.
This is not an expression of a healthy political skepticism about state power or legitimate calls for reform or radical challenges to government or corporate abuses. This is an irrational anxiety that pictures the world as governed by powerful long-standing covert conspiracies of evildoers who control politics, the economy, and all of history. Scholars call this worldview “conspiracism.”
The term conspiracism, according to historian Frank P. Mintz, denotes a “belief in the primacy of conspiracies in the unfolding of history.” Mintz explains: “Conspiracism serves the needs of diverse political and social groups in America and elsewhere. It identifies elites, blames them for economic and social catastrophes, and assumes that things will be better once popular action can remove them from positions of power. As such, conspiracy theories do not typify a particular epoch or ideology.”