By Zack Rubin
Conspiracy in America is nothing new. Since the 1820s, the new political parties of the New Republicans, Democrats, and Whigs have weaponized confusion through the use of misinformation.
With fingers pointed elsewhere, slanderous accusations and baseless claims became commonplace as elections transformed the Democratic process into appeasing the ethos of public trust. In 1835, a failed assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson resulted in numerous theories. The gunman, a house painter named Richard Lawrence, was overtaken by Andrew Jackson himself after both of Lawrence’s firearms failed and Jackson fought him off with his cane. Lawrence claimed to be seeking vengeance because Jackson was actually King Richard III and had murdered his father. Following the attack, Lawrence was painted by most as a lone wolf and he was placed into a mental asylum for the remainder of his life.
However, theories rumbled and echoed through the nation that Jackson hired the assassin to fake the attack and improve Jackson’s public image. Others claimed that the attempt was orchestrated by the southern plantation elites, colloquially known as the “Slave Power”. This theory claimed that the Slave Power intended to enslave the free states and white citizens by eliminating civil liberty with a slave economy aristocracy.
Paranoia ran rampant as the country’s politicians and academics slung stories about the elite underground, coup d’etat in the woodwork, tampering of elections, and Free-Mason assassinations. These were now the socio-political commonplace, long before 21st-century leaks of government dossiers by hacktivists, Jeffery Epstein’s suicide, and QAnon. Before anti-vax, 5G, and jet fuel melting steel beams; politicians and other influential characters used fear of the unknown to exploit the minds of the masses.
In the year 2020, conspiracy theories are no longer mere whispers about bribes and lies through the grapevine. Now, mass media disseminates an altered reality in which there is no choice but to question everything. In the age of deep fakes, hacking, and perpetual news cycles our ethos of public trust has turned to anarchy.
Invaders from Elsewhere
On Halloween 1940, renowned film-maker Orson Welles read a radio play adaptation of the science-fiction classic War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. In this story, Martians invade Earth and the military lacks the defence systems to fight back until microbes from Earth’s climate overtake the alien invaders.
As 32 million listeners were tuned into their radios, Welles recited the story with such vigor that across the country, panic ensued as people believed this radio cast was real. Welles, Koch, and a team of actors portrayed the story using realistic, but ultimately fabricated news report cutaways and overdubbed audio cut from reporting of the Hindenburg Disaster. The manufactured news reports described UFOs falling from the sky, Martians attacking crowds with heat rays, and clouds of poisonous gas spewing from mechanical robots in the middle of New York City.
Welles wanted to thrill the listeners with a hyper-realistic radio play. He successfully tricked the listeners’ minds with the intention of entertainment. But what if these same tactics were utilized on a grand scale with a political and ideological motive?
What if the alien invaders from Mars were instead non-resident aliens from foreign countries? What if the Martian ray guns were 5G Signals controlled by Bill Gates and his elite Illuminati cabal? What if the cloud of poisonous gas were replaced with COVID-19?
Smoke and Mirrors
In present times, we often associate conspiracy theories with Alex Jones. As the leader of the extreme right-wing media outlet Infowars, Alex Jones has facilitated claims consistent with thematic conspiracy theory basics and beyond. His vast extreme ideology consists of such claims as globalist sex trafficking rings, Obama birtherism, Sandy Hook as a false flag operation, and even claiming that aborted babies are being used in women’s cosmetics and Pepsi flavouring.
When the spectrum of reality is so drastically skewed, it is impossible to argue the validity of Alex Jones’ claims without the complete debasement of the universal truths that most have already accepted as fact. In order to validate conspiracy theory, we must first reject our comfortable knowledge of politics, history, science, mathematics, anthropology, and sociology to accept a different reality. Communication is shrouded by immediate doubt, and through a lack of clarity comes discomfort; discomfort leads to fear; and fear leads to hatred. When authoritative and persuasive voices give direction and answers to our confusion, fear, and hatred, ideological warfare and manipulation follow.
Through the use of divisive and intentionally vague language, powerful figures can shape the opinions and actions of the vulnerable masses. Through the use of dog whistles and “fill in the blank” calls to action, those in power allow their audiences to create their own reality or are indoctrinated into the realities provided by those powerful figures.
The Power of Influence
The calculated exploitation of the public’s vulnerable minds obstructs the progress and function of our society. This exploitation shapes the elections of politicians, the outcomes of judicial hearings, the status of public health, and even influences the exploited to commit crimes.
The ethos of the public becomes one of pure doubt and denial. The cynics and the skeptics empower figureheads who debase and denounce all they oppose with carefully constructed theories that challenge the public trust in institutions and other public figures.
In politics, this means that the politicians who can appeal best to the fears of their constituency while denouncing opponents effectively will often reign. Those who can best convince the public that the politician’s perception of reality controls the court of public opinion. Those who can convince the public that the news sources they trusted are enemies of the state, will retain the utmost trust of their supporters and establish themselves as the only reliable source of information.
When it comes to conspiracy theories, reality is flexible if you have a microphone, an audience, and a fearful fire to stoke. Truth is irrelevant when public opinion is based on fear, not fact. With the bombardment of information of influence through mass media, the public is overwhelmed with a barrage of misdirection.
What do you believe, when the plains of reality are flooded with confusion and skepticism?
Recommended reading on the topic:
- You’re Living in the Golden Age of Conspiracy Theories – Politico
- The Paranoid Style in American Politics – Harper’s Magazine
- In lockdown with a conspiracy theorist – The Economist