Arthur Goldwag: Big C and Little C Conspiracy Theories

(In 2010, Boing Boing was pleased to feature as a guestblogger Arthur Goldwag, author of Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies: The Straight Scoop on Freemasons, The Illuminati, Skull and Bones, Black Helicopters, The New World Order, and many, many more. The following is an excerpt from Arthur's latest book, The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right. – dp)

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Conspiracy theories often resemble a kind of misbegotten, debased form of theology — one that begins with a set of suppositions and then reverse engineers a fantastical version of reality that comports with them. History does not dispute, for example, the fact that Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's mother's father was Jewish. But in the auto magnate and arch-conspiracist Henry Ford's telling, this genealogical detail held the key not only to Lenin's entire character and political philosophy but to the vicissitudes of the former Russian Empire circa 1920 and to the historical development of Bolshevism worldwide. Lenin's wife is Jewish, and his children all speak Yiddish, Ford insisted, a little hysterically. Russia's yeshivas are the recipients of lavish subsidies from the Bolshevik state:

The Bolsheviks immediately took over all the Hebrew schools and continued them as they were and laid down a rule that the ancient Hebrew language should be taught in them. The ancient Hebrew language is the vehicle of the deeper secrets of the World Program.

And for the Gentile Russian children? "Why," said these gentle Jewish educators, "we will teach them sex knowledge. We will brush out of their minds the cobwebs. They must learn the truth about things!" with consequences that are too pitiable to narrate.

Viewed through Ford's monistic frame, Lenin's grandfather's one-eighth contribution of Jewish "genes" was sufficient to neutralize the very Russianness of the Russian Revolution, to reduce it to just another local skirmish in Judaism's global war against the Gentiles.

Richard Nixon was forced to resign his presidency because of a small-c conspiracy to cover up the illegal activities carried out by his reelection campaign. But to conspiracists on his right, his whole presidency had been the enactment of a long-standing conspiracy to destroy America's sovereignty; his breakthrough trip to China was just the latest in a long line of betrayals. "If Mr. Nixon has been only kidding about his devotion to forging the links in the chain of the World Superstate that is to be welded around America's wrists, then he is a consummate hypocrite," the John Birch Society's Gary Allen wrote in 1971, a year before Nixon's epochal meeting with Mao. "But his commitment to world government goes back nearly a quarter of a century and indeed he would not now be in the White House if he were not committed to this ultimate goal of the Insiders."

Conspiracism, like racial bigotry, is almost always a murky undercurrent in the mainstream of politics, its propositions only glancingly acknowledged by the establishment and summarily dismissed. But as cartoonish as its heroes and villains might be, as disordered and disreputable and deranged as its proponents and its premises so often are, they are rarely without pertinence to an understanding of the social and political environment that spawned them.

If op-ed columns, position papers, think tank monographs, and State of the Union addresses are politics' superego, paranoid conspiracy theories and blind, irrational hatreds, as often as not, are its id. Politicians – even some sober, fair-minded, consensus-seeking public servants – know that and take full advantage of it when they have to. Even a dyed-in-the-wool Communist like Richard Nixon engaged in Red-baiting when it suited his purposes.

Before the dust had even settled, the terrible events of September 11, 2001, gave birth to conspiracy theories that were every bit as labyrinthine and obsessive as the body of lore that's accreted around the Kennedy assassination. When the Web site Boing Boing invited me to be a guest blogger in November 2009, I dedicated one of my first posts to the so-called 9/11 Truth movement. Paraphrasing F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous dictum about the test of a first-rate intelligence, I noted that you don't have to be a genius to simultaneously hold two separate and not necessarily opposing ideas in your mind: (1) that the Bush administration told all kinds of untruths about 9/11 after the fact, and (2) that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had not been an "inside job."

It opened up a floodgate. Links to YouTube documentaries and interviews and articles by scientists, architects, engineers, physicists, political thinkers, actors, and at least one theologian (David Ray Griffin is an eminent process theologian) came pouring in, along with testimony from disillusioned combat veterans and survivors of the day's events. Discussion forums on 9/11 Web sites were buzzing for days. Many of the Truthers that I heard from (or 9/11 skeptics, as most of them now prefer to be called) were earnest and idealistic and driven by a missionary zeal; some were openly hostile; others, I suspect, were quite insane.

But what took me by surprise was the outsize role that Jews played in the anecdotes that so many of them related: warmongering Jewish neoconservatives in Washington, D.C.; the World Trade Center's owner, Larry Silverstein, in New York City; even well-known Jewish leftists like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Amy Goodman, who had stubbornly and, to their accusers' minds, unaccountably refused to endorse the agenda of 9/11 Truth. Binding them all together was the Zionist entity of Israel.

There were stories about the four thousand Jewish office workers who were supposedly told to stay home that day (just for the record, my brother-in-law, whose office was in WTC 7, didn't get the memo— traced the rumor back to Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station in Beirut, Lebanon) and about the Israeli moving men with alleged links to Mossad who were arrested in New Jersey after they were seen celebrating the collapse of the twin towers. A disconcerting number of links led to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forged "smoking gun," produced in Tsarist Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, that proves that organized Jewry is bent on world domination. Boing Boing's beleaguered moderator posted a comment himself, about "the moistly glistening comments and links that I have in my refuse bin. I assure you that they are studded with feculent tidbits of loathsome vileness, mostly in the form of links to websites explaining how Obama is exactly the same as Hitler and why it's important to defend white culture."

This isn't to say that all or most or even many 9/11 skeptics are anti-Semites and white supremacists. Surely they're not. But even after writing Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies, I hadn't realized to what extent even fringes have fringes – and I had failed to appreciate how potent and dependable a driver of conspiracy theory old-fashioned bigotry continues to be.

Adapted from the book THE NEW HATE by Arthur Goldwag

©2012 Arthur Goldwag

Reprinted with the permission of Pantheon Books, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.