“Because it’s part of our national identity,” eh? Well that’s what “expert” Professor Mark Fenster says, anyway, as part of a report at NPR:
From birthers to jobbers to those who believe pollsters are in cahoots with President Obama, some on the right have been gaining a reputation as particularly prone to conspiracy theories.
But the last time a Republican was in the White House, the party of conspiracy was often reversed. And there are still some who maintain that President Bush stole the 2000 election and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.
Conspiracy theory experts say that the tendency toward distrust of power is neither uniquely partisan nor entirely detrimental. In fact, they say, it’s par for the course for minority political parties.
And Mark Fenster, a professor at the University of Florida and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power In American Culture, says that not all conspiracy theories are created equal. He notes that some recent claims didn’t start out sounding all that far-fetched — but that they suffered by being looped in with truly fringe theories, like “birtherism.”
“The claims about Libya and about the job numbers begin at a place that seems legitimate,” Fenster says. “When they continually get trumpeted even after they have been disproven and when they are then tied to things that are illegitimate, it’s at that point they can become illegitimate.”
James Broderick, an assistant professor at New Jersey City University and co-author of Web Conspiracy: A Guide to Conspiracy Theory Sites on the Internet, says it’s far too easy today to dismiss the impulse toward suspecting conspiracy as merely rooted in kookiness or ignorance. Generally, he says, a healthy distrust of power is useful — and necessary — in a democracy.
In the past half century there have been conspiracy theories — the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair, for example — that have turned out to be true, Broderick points out…
[continues at NPR]