So This Is What Makes Conspiracy Theorists Tick

Photo taken from USS Maddox during the Gulf of Tonkin incident, showing three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats.

“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]

  • William Andrews

    I just really think that we are lied to on a regular basis,and kept so much in the dark that we pretty much by anything that the mass media sells us.
    I truly respect your site for helping us weed through the crap
    Thanks

  • Joe

    I agree a mistrust is healthy and necessary. What I don’t like is the creation of flat out lies for political gain. I believe those who start these lies and those who spread them should somehow be held accountable.

  • honu

    I love how when professors or psychiatrists talk about the nature of conspiracy theories they like to do the ‘both sides do it’ in regards to political conspiracy theories. I think it can at the very least be demonstrated that the 2000 election recount wasn’t handled properly and that there’s ample evidence for a controlled demolition on 9-11 which puts those ‘conspiracy theories’ squarely in more of a “needs to be investigated” category whereas Obama’s birth certificate and other right wing conspiracy theories about him clearly are bogus. At least this article was fair enough to say that not all conspiracy theories are equal.

    • kowalityjesus

      This is one of those stories that NPR sometimes runs when it feels the need to metaphorically sprinkle dirt over the numerous rotting corpses that underlie society. It stokes their listener’s fireplaces for that warm feeling which helps fight off the cold reality closing in around them.

    • pocoTOTO

      The two you listed are not even close to equivalent. The Florida election was riddled with purposeful irregularities, including but not limited to the
      1) striking of mostly minorities off the voting roles in what was claimed to be a purge of “felons” (around 54,000);
      2) providing a butterfly ballot that was confusing as possible leading to an inordinate number of votes for Patrick Buchanan in Palm Beach;
      3) providing ballots with contradictory instructions, such as telling voters to vote on every page of a ballot with presidential candidates who appeared on more than one page resulting in spoiled ballots, in Duval County;
      4) And a refusal to allow recounts to go forward.
      This is just scratching the surface. Saying Bush “stole” the election is not an intelligent way to talk about what happened. Rather, it was a massive undertaking on behalf of elected and appointed election officials to disenfranchise likely democratic voters. IMHO, this is far less sexy but far more sinister, and not a conspiracy at all. It was largely conducted in the open.

      Point to one single bit of evidence regarding 9/11 aside from the claim “the buildings might have been brought down this way because our overlords are evil.” Please provide the names of those you are accusing of wrongdoing (a la Katherine Harris, James Lee, etc.), otherwise please leave controlled demolition in its own swamp fever category.

      • Sydd Stone

        are you serious poco? for anyone to say where is the evidence for 9/11 is clearly seeing what they wanted. Alot of disinformation is out there yes, but if you want proper research, go look up jeff pragers books on what was found in the dust, im sure a google of his name will come up with his books.

        its people like you who make the country sound stupider then what it really is

      • Evan Eleven

        Where have you been the last 11 years? How did you get your head so far up your ass? I think I lost a couple of IQ points just from reading your comment.

      • dude

        Building 7.

        Look it up.

        That’s all I have to say.

    • bobbiethejean

      “I think it can at the very least be demonstrated that the 2000 election recount wasn’t handled properly”

      Are you familiar with the Katherine Harris debacle in Florida?

  • BuzzCoastin

    the thinking man’s Voice of America, NPR
    No Martha, the world’s not totally insane
    Garrison Keister is giving us the reasonable, rational, NewSpeak version
    we should trust NPR implicitly, they gave me a coffee mug
    and repukricans hate it, so it’s gotta be

    oh wait, that’s being conspiratorialist

  • Malk

    If people would stop confusing the word theory with unfounded garbage of the mouth, we theorists wouldn’t get such a bad rep. Just because a 14 year old on the web hates some random group of people it doesn’t make him a conspiracy theorist. If something is clearly disproved, it no longer has the right to be questionable; unfortunately there is a lot in this world that has not been successfully explained, or rather legitimately explored. I don’t personally use the word “believe” but I will for the internets sake when I say yes I believe Bush was in on 9/11, yes the world governments have known of E.T. entities existing for generations, yes there is a God and no he does not judge. I consider them well proven facts to my persons, but you’re welcome to call them what you will.

    I expect no more out of the American government than I did four years ago, very little. We might see some real change when the world goes into full riot ignited by its less than tactful bullshit, but it may yet not be for a couple years.

  • bobbiethejean

    Part of the conservative party? Pfft. Try HALF! At least! some-odd 50% or so believe Barack is a Muslim, socialist from Kenya. Anyway, excellent article.

  • Anahata

    Hey, NPR, the official version of 9/11 *is* a conspiracy theory.

  • sgtdoom
  • dude

    Yeah, conspiracies don’t really exist. What an absurd concept. They’re all theories. Please just remove the word from the dictionary and the law books.

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