Conspiracy Theories Gain Acceptance


Conspiracy Theories Gain Acceptance

The cynicism generated by conspiracy theories is leading to a decline in Americans’ allegiance to their country.

Though conspiracy theories have always been around, they have generally inhabited only dimly lit pockets of society. In the past, most people considered the average conspiracy theory an off-the-wall explanation—perhaps concocted by a wild-eyed, jittery, ex-government employee—of an event to which there was already a generally accepted and more plausible explanation. Conspiracy theories had trouble gaining traction among the general public, and the “crazy” theorist was a source more of entertainment and fascination than credible news.

But that’s the past.

In recent years, many conspiracy theories—while no less radical and implausible—are being accepted and believed by a growing portion of the general public.

Conspiracy theories explaining the “real” events behind September 11, 2001, for example, have become especially popular. Explanations include: 9/11 was the workings of the Bush administration; 9/11 was an inside job; the World Trade towers were brought down by a “controlled demolition”; the Pentagon was hit by a missile, not a plane; and the list goes on.

Michael Lopez-Calderon, writing on this subject in American Thinker, quoted a controversial poll of over 1,000 Americans that showed that “36 percent suspect the U.S. government promoted the [9/11] attacks or intentionally sat on its hands. Sixteen percent believe the explosives brought down the towers. Twelve percent believe a cruise missile hit the Pentagon” (December 3, emphasis ours throughout).

The facts about 9/11, many of which were revealed from the mouths of the true perpetrators, clearly show that the attacks were perpetrated by Islamic terrorists. Even still, a sizeable portion of America believes the U.S. government had some level of complicity. Events like September 11 provide ideal fodder for anti-government conspiracy theorists.

The issue here isn’t that some believe the American government precipitated 9/11; the issue is the extent to which these theories are being believed and embraced. As intriguing as they might be, conspiracy theories such as the ones seeking to explain 9/11 would have been dismissed out of hand by nearly everyone just 10 or 20 years ago. Today, these theories are being seriously considered and even accepted by a small, but not insignificant portion of the population. Why?

The facts about 9/11, many of which were revealed from the mouths of the true perpetrators, clearly show that the attacks were perpetrated by Islamic terrorists.
Lopez-Calderon identified two reasons for the growing acceptance of conspiracy theories in America.

The first is the rise in anti-government sentiment in America since the 1960s—especially since September 11, 2001. “[T]he undercurrent of the subculture of conspiracy theory runs deep, and the argument can be made that since the decline of public confidence in government that began during the Vietnam-Watergate era, many Americans have turned to alternative explanatory models, including conspiracy theory.” Anti-government sentiment has infected American sub-culture for decades. Since 9/11, however—thanks in part to media bias against the government and the efforts of Democratic politicians to undermine the credibility of the current administration—anti-government sentiment has become a torrent gushing into mainstream America.

This environment is ideal for the conception and propagation of anti-government conspiracy theories. Mistrust of government is the common thread in popular conspiracy theories explaining 9/11. “Today’s 9/11 conspiracy theories not only differ [from those in the past] in their near singular, unified conviction that the attacks were self-inflicted by a venal U.S. administration, but also in their claim that America itself is hopelessly tainted by an irredeemable past and corrupted by a cabalistic power elite” (ibid.). Though the details may be contradictory, they are all underpinned by the same core belief: The U.S. government played a role in the attacks. When all theories point to the same perpetrator, they become easier to believe and gain wider acceptance.

The second reason Lopez-Calderon pinpoints is the advent of the Internet and the blogosphere. The fact that most conspiracy theories are developed through conjecture rather than facts makes them unreportable, as far as most mainstream news outlets are concerned. That is not the case, however, on the unregulated and unaccountable Internet.

One of the downsides of this great, global forum of free speech, as Lopez-Calderon noted, is that it is an “opening for every conceivable crackpot writer.”

In the past, such writers and their theories often were relegated to coffeehouses, salons, and obscure, dilapidated radical bookstores commonly found in college towns and or near major university campuses. They were a fringe relegated to relative obscurity. Today, thanks to the Internet’s incredible freedom as well as reach, no toiler is condemned to obscurity but on the contrary, with some talent, hard work, and catchy writing, he can reach audiences that may range in the millions.

Mistrust of government is the common thread in popular conspiracy theories explaining 9/11.
The Internet, accessible by hundreds of millions of people, has become a megaphone in the hands of the conspiracy theorist.

How worrisome is this trend? Lopez-Calderon closed his article showing the most serious ramification of the growing proclivity among Americans to accept conspiracy theories:

When so-called scholars [conspiracy theorists] charge their government with complicity in an enormous crime that then leads to war overseas, the stage is set either for their dismissal as crackpots or an increasing erosion of public trust in the national leadership and institutions. In the latter, such cynicism ultimately leads to indifference, inaction, and a general decline in patriotism. During peacetime, this might be reflected in a reduction in civic participation and voter apathy. In wartime, this could be the difference between victory and defeat.

Consider: If over one third of Americans suspect the government of playing a role in committing or allowing the 9/11 attacks, it is not unreasonable to assume that these sentiments measurably affected voting trends in the last congressional elections. Those elections, which are widely viewed as a public rebuke of the White House’s war policy, precipitated a dramatic change in the government and pointed toward a significantly altered foreign policy in the months and years ahead. How much of a role did lies, such as those circulating about the cause of 9/11, play? It would be easy to underestimate.

Given the unprecedented level of general antipathy for the government, combined with the freight-train force of the Internet as a source of information and social connectivity, it doesn’t appear we will see a substantial renewing of public trust and national pride in the government anytime soon.