The Roots of Conspiracy Theories

Featured imageReading history, the thought has occurred to me that violent political revolutions release a kind of free-floating anxiety that never dissipates and that subsequently attaches to all sorts of random events, many of which are then perceived as dire threats to the principles affirmed by these revolutions.

The United States, a nation conceived in bloody revolution, provides a host of examples.

Native Texan Mimi Swartz, a New York Times contributing opinion writer and executive editor of the Texas Monthly, follows a somewhat similar tack. She explores how the paranoia expended over the ongoing military exercise, Jade Helm 15, occurring in Texas and much of the Southwest — is deeply rooted in Texas’ violent revolutionary past.

Swartz attributes the present-day paranoia associated with Jade Helm 15 to several factors: the healthy dollop of Scots-Irish prickliness among the early Anglo settlers in Texas, the ways Mexican authorities responded to what they perceived as the revolutionary intentions of these settlers, and, how these cantankerous Anglo settlers, in turn, responded to the Mexican authorities.

All of this mutual suspicion culminated in the bloody but fortunately short-lived Texas Revolution, the effects of which are still playing out today.

But I’m also fascinated by how emergence plays a part in the formation of conspiracy theories — a process that is being stoked and vastly accelerated by social media.  In the case of Jade Helm 15, it started with handful of Internet conspiracy buffs who perceived the military exercise as a cover for declaring martial law and extending Obama’s presidency. Then another conspiracist stepped in with another troubling facet of the narrative:  that vacant Walmarts are being converted into detention centers to imprison thousands following the declaration of martial law.

In no time, a refined, compelling narrative emerges.

Thinking about it, didn’t the highly riveting Roswell UFO account unfold in a similar way?  Skeptics contend that a series of unrelated activities — the dropping of test dummies from high altitudes,  the retrieval of surveillance balloons from the New Mexico dessert, and test pilots in pressurized suits parachuting back to earth off gondolas that had been floated up to the deepest reaches of the atmosphere — were woven into the riveting account that we know today as the Roswell UFO Conspiracy.

A few years ago, after completing “How Jesus Became Christian,” by Barrie Wilson, I was struck by how the world’s major religions appear to be products of emergence, too — the results of disparate morality tales and miracle accounts merging with others over decades, if not centuries, to form similar riveting narratives, compelling enough to transfix minds and to inspire countless millions of followers.

But I’ll leave this to another post.


About Jim Langcuster

A Southern late-Baby Boomer whose post-retirement focus is on building a post-racial, post-Confederate Southern regional identity. If the election of 2016 underscored one thing, it is that this country is intractably divided and that radical devolution of power to localities and states is the only way to save the American Union.
This entry was posted in The Passing Scene and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s