Time and again you may wonder whether or not the findings and experiences of conspiracy theorists made them become political animals or whether they were already political animals. In other words, did their political nature make them become attracted to - or made them believe in - specific conspiracy theories? More specifically, did the fact that they were political animals (of a particular flavour) help determine which political conspiracies they would research into and then eventually accept?
It's of course the case that people can accuse me of having political reasons for rejecting conspiracy theories. They may say that it's my own politics which is determining my rejection - rather than my acceptance - of conspiracy theories.
For a start, I'm not sure if I do reject all conspiracy theories; just as most conspiracists don't accept all of them. (Though a lot of conspiracists do accept a lot of very different conspiracy theories.) In addition, there are some theories which I don't completely reject: I'm simply sceptical towards them. What's more, I certainly don't reject the existence or reality of political conspiracies.
The main problem is that your spoiled for choice when it comes to conspiracy theories. That is so because the same event (such as 9/11, Bobby Kennedy's assassination, the death of Princess Diana, Pearl Harbour, the landing on the moon, AIDs, the Free Masons, etc.) can often have many (indefinitely many) mutually-contradictory theories which explain them.
In any case, what I really don't like is the quasi-Marxist (or neo-Marxist) analysis of conspiracy-theory sceptics.
According to believers, sceptics are supposed to have their own ideology. (Do all of the have the same ideology?) Apparently, they buy into something that's called “contingency theory”. (The term is used in business studies and there's also something called “the contingency theory of history”.)
The basic (political) idea is that conspiracy theories fire people up; whereas conspiracy-theory scepticism subdues them. In other words, conspiracy theories are revolutionary and contingency theory is, well, reactionary or simply serves the status quo.
Yet surely it doesn't need to be pointed out that one can be a revolutionary and still be highly sceptical about most - even all - conspiracy theories. (Noam Chomsky is a sceptic about 9/11 conspiracy theories.) Similarly, one can be a reactionary (or in favour of the status quo) and still believe all sorts of conspiracy theories.
Another aspect of contingency theory is the idea that its exponents deny that there are many – or even any? - “social antagonisms” or conflicts within society. Or as a Professor Skip Willman puts it, contingency theory
“salvages the American status quo by turning a blind eye to the social relations underlying 'large events' and spinning these often traumatic moments as the product of 'addled individuals'”.
Yet you can accept that society is full of profound divisions and problems and still be highly sceptical about most - or even all - conspiracy theories.
One central argument against the contingency theory theory is that states themselves (as well as “reactionaries” throughout history) have themselves concocted various and many conspiracy theories in order to sustain the status quo. Indeed in other contexts many conspiracy theorists (especially left-wing ones) have acknowledged this.
(Retired) Professor David Ray Griffin
When David Ray Griffin was a professor of the philosophy of religion, one of his aims was to argue against what he took to be “conservative-fundamentalist theology”. And guess what, George Bush himself was deemed – by “postmodern theologians” like Griffin - to be a conservative-fundamentalist American president.
Not only that: you had writers like Derek Kaill saying (in 2005 and in relation to 9/11) that
“the flag-waving, war-minded, fundamentalist Christian adminstration currently in control of the United States would do almost anything to retain and expand their control of the world”.
David Ray Griffin himself has said that before he accepted his later theory about 9/11 he had already intended to write a book which would have claimed that the 9/11 attack was simply “blowback” for America's aggressive foreign policies.
So perhaps Griffin thought to himself:
Why not trump the America-is-to-blame theory by claiming that the US government itself was responsible for 9/11?
Surely that would beat the assertion that 9/11 was a justifiable response to America's misdeeds. (Or as Chomsky - in the Mexican journal La Jornada - put it: “For the first time in history the victims are returning the blow to the motherland.”) After all, the foreign misdeeds of the United States wouldn't register on the collective consciousness of Americans anywhere near as much as a government-planned domestic attack which claimed the lives of 2,996 people.
To put this simply: Griffin began with an anti-American (or at least an anti-American “imperialism”) political theory about 9/11 and he ended with a (different) anti-American political theory about the same event.
The Dean of Conspiracy Theories also cited his own deepening politicisation as being a result of reading various political books which advanced various (left-wing) conspiracy theories.
Griffin said that he “happened to read” Gore Vidal's Dreaming War (“blood for oil and the Cheney-Bush junta”). That book “pointed” him to another book: The War on Freedom by the the left-wing Guardian writer Nafeez Ahmed. Then Griffin was pointed in the direction of a real politico: a “French researcher” and conspiracy-theory addict by the name of Thierry Meyssan (who wrote a book which claimed that the Pentagon was never hit by a plane).
After all that, it's perhaps not a surprise that Griffin came out with these explicit and hyperbolic political words:
“The welfare of our republican and perhaps even the survival of our civilization depend on getting the truth about 9/11 exposed.”
(Retired) Professor James Petras
In the case of Professor James Petras it's clear that he was as political before he propagated his particular conspiracy theories as he was after he did so.
This is especially clear because James Petras formulated two completely different theories about the same event: 9/11. However, both theories belonged to the same Leftist world-view and both had the same targets in their sights: Israel and the United States.
At first James Petras believed that Muslim Arabs were indeed responsible for 9/11. However, these jihadists did what they did for fully understandable reasons (i.e., fully understandable to Petras and to many other card-carrying Leftists). As James Petras puts it:
“This was not an indiscriminate attack against America, but a political attack against a major military-financial target which is central to US global empire.
“... The terrorists acted with rational forethought: if the intention was to challenge the empire, they chose a significant target... Some of the victims of the WTC are known swindlers.”
However, only a few months after saying all that, Petras changed his mind. Instead of the US making the 9/11 Arab terrorists do what they did (i.e., the devil made them do it), now Petras believes that the US and Israel might have done it themselves. He then said:
“The lack of any public statement concerning Israel's possible knowledge of 9/11 is indicative of the vast, ubiquitous and aggressive nature of its powerful diaspora supporters.”
And the anti-US/Israel political nature of James Petras's conspiracy theories was again shown in 2006 when he claimed that 'Zioncons' and Mossad were behind the publication of the cartoons of Muhammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
Professor Mark Fenster
A Florida law professor, Mark Fenster, also shows a left-wing bias towards conspiracy theories.
According to Fenster, he simply couldn’t understand why there were “at least as many wild conspiracy theories” aimed at Bill Clinton and his administration as there were aimed at George Bush's government.
For some strange reason Mark Fenster believed that the conspiracies about Bush were “more grounded in logic and fact than those about Clinton, which often seemed so utterly beside the point”. (It's hard to fathom what he means by “beside the point”.)
On a more practical level, surely a conspiracy theory which stated that Bill Clinton had one or two sorry souls bumped off is “more grounded in logic and fact” than the theory that George W. Bush did the same - and in broad daylight - with 2,996 innocent American citizens.
So you can't help making a very simple and obvious point here.
Professor Mark Fenster was more attracted to conspiracy theories about (or against) Bush than he was about those aimed at Clinton quite simply because he had more political time (as it were) for Clinton than he had for Bush. In other words, Mark Fenster's prior politics was determining which conspiracy theories he believed or accepted.
Robin Ramsay (Editor of Lobster)
The blatant nature of conspiracy-theory bias (as it were) is shown in the case of the British editor of Lobster, which is, according to Robert McCrum, "a left-wing journal that offers succour to conspiracy theorists”.
According to Robert Ramsay, right-wing conspiracy theories are “bad” and left-wing ones are “good”.
Robin Ramsay rejects the thesis that there is a “Left-Right fusion... an ideologically neutral conspiracy mindset”. According to Ramsay, bad right-wing conspiracies are “aimed at scapegoats, such as “Communists and Jews”.
Left-wing conspiracies, on the other hand, are aimed at the state or authority generally.
As Robin Ramsay himself puts it:
“The Right is interested in conspiracies.... against the state.... The liberal Left, on the other hand, is chiefly interested in conspiracies by the state.”
The idea that all right-wingers - conspiracists or not - are blind supporters of the state is plainly ridiculous. And if that's the case, then there's no special reason that right-wing conspiracists should be “chiefly interested in conspiracists against [my italics] the state”. Only something like Marxist theory could possibly make it seem to be the case that all right-wingers - or even all conservatives - always supported the state. Which state and when?
I have asked this question: Which came first, the politics or the conspiracy theory?
In the case of Dylan Avery, it can be said that propagating a conspiracy theory about 9/11 was a good way of bringing about what he called a “second American Revolution”.
Basically, once the Americans accepted the 9/11 theory, Dylan Avery thought that there would be a revolution. Or as Avery himself put it:
“The shit is gonna hit the fan. People are going to be upset. You can't stop it. People say, Aw, we need a peaceful revolution. We need to peacefully change things. …. Americans are violent, especially when they've been lied to, especially over something like this...”
Again, it can be asked whether or not Dylan Avery was a revolutionary before adopting his particular theory about 9/11. Alternatively, finding out the truth about 9/11 might effectively have made him a revolutionary. It's hard to say in Avery's case. For one, he claimed to have started “researching” 9/11 at the age of eighteen. (He was born in 1983, so that means he did so almost immediately after 9/11.)
However, it's clear that Dylan Avery – like other Leftist or Left-Liberal theorists - didn't like “right-wing conspiracy theories” about 9/11. He had no problem, on the other hand, with left-wing theories (even if he didn't accept them). Of course in the case of 9/11 and theories about Jews/“Zionists”, capitalism and various New World Orders, the (extreme) Left and the (extreme) Right often share their theories.
i) Did the conspiracy theorists' experiences and findings (“research”) about political conspiracies politicise them?
ii) Alternatively, did they view such experiences and findings through their pre-existing political or ideological prisms?
Finally, I'm more than willing to accept that there are other factors (psychological and emotional) involved in conspiracy-theorising. I'm also aware the those on the Right and Left often share the same conspiracy theories (though they do so for equally political reasons). Nonetheless, politics often does seem to be in the driving seat when it comes to the conspiracy theories people accept.
*) I relied a fair bit on David Aaronovitch's excellent book Voodoo Histories for this piece. More accurately, I relied on that work for some quotations and facts rather than for ideas and arguments.
**) Conspiracies occur when people get together and conspire... for whatever reasons and in whatever way. They happen all the time. I myself have conspired. So have you.
Conspiracy theories are about conspiracies.
You can argue that there can be acceptable theories about conspiracies; though not all of them are conspiracy theories. However, it's very hard to distinguish theories about conspiracies from conspiracy theories about conspiracies. It would take a long time to do so and I don't think anything anybody would say would please everyone. It's not a science.
The bottom line is that conspiracy theorists don't accept all conspiracy theories. And, from what I've seen, they tend to accept the ones that concur with – or advance - their political world-views. Of course there will be exceptions. The cases I covered aren't exceptions. At least I don't think so.
“Ramsay's distinction does not survive scrutiny. John T. Flynn's Right-wing conspiracism was aimed at the state as represented by the treacherous Roosevelt, and at Owen Lattimore, the supposedly infiltrating pro-Mao Communist. Right-wing US militia movements are both anti-state and anti-minority. Liberal-Left defenders of the Soviet Union (and there were many) swallowed the idea of an international gang of infinitely wicked Trotskyites attempting to subvert the world's first socialist state.” (300)
“The idea that long ago it was great men's deeds that drove world affairs gave place to the notion that much bigger historical and social forces were at stake. Now, once again, it is being recognised that plans, projects, conspiracies and even conspiracy theories can change the world.” (4)
“And when is it no longer 'conspiracy theory'? When you have the acts documented, the perps' mug shots up on the wall, and confessions recorded, it's STILL C.T to their fanatic followers. What does it take?”