In the late ’80s, I dismissed the theories surrounding the JFK assassination, the “moon hoax,” flat-earthism, and the NWO as fringe-group nuttiness. And as long as these ideologies stayed at the fringe, I really saw no great harm; it’s a free country, after all. However, I have always drawn the line at Holocaust denial and “Judea’s war on Germany.”
In the ’90s, I met my first LaRouchies, and I must say I was grateful that Lyndon LaRouche was serving jail time for credit card fraud. Shortly thereafter, I met my first Libertarian. As I watched him getting stoned and drunk, I was struck by how easily I could sell him even the most off-the-wall junk as fact, as long as it fit into his ideology. I fed him lines from Wilson and Shea’s “Illuminatus!” trilogy, and he accepted them hook, line, and sinker.
Waco and Ruby Ridge happened. I did not see a government conspiracy. Instead, I witnessed two horrific tragedies whose primary responsibility rested solely with the egocentric fanatics who had created them: David Koresh and Randy Weaver. Did the government make mistakes that exacerbated these events? Possibly. Did innocent people die in these disasters? Absolutely. However, it was Koresh and Weaver who placed them in harm’s way to begin with. When they occurred, I saw these events as isolated tragedies. I had no concept of the horrific damage a few nutty ideas harbored by a few fringe groups could generate.
In what he felt was an act of retaliation for the Waco tragedy, right wing radical Timothy McVeigh decided to bomb the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Expressing a shocking lack of empathy, McVeigh referred to his victims as “collateral damage.” It was the first time I ever heard the term. He died unrepentant, reciting Henley’s poem “Invictus” as a final insult to his victims and their loved ones. When I heard the first murmurings of the attack being the result of a “high level conspiracy” (and this was why McVeigh had to be “eliminated”), I countered jokingly, it was a conspiracy leading to the offices of Jesse Helms and Bob Dornan. I have no evidence for their involvement in this crime whatsoever, and I do not mean to implicate them now. It was an ugly joke I made many years ago.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 traumatized the nation’s psyche. Everything had been going so well for so long, and G.W. Bush was doing an okay enough job in the White House. I would have preferred to see Gore in the Oval office, but “W” wasn’t a terrible president yet. At least, he was smart enough to surround himself with some pretty smart people. All this ended when those planes were hijacked, when the Twin Towers came crashing down, and even the Pentagon building proved to be vulnerable. It seemed, some ugly caricature Tom Clancy’s novel “Debt of Honor” sprung to life. Surely this could not have been the work of a few Mullah-inspired fanatics. Was it another Reichstag burning, the beginning of the Fourth Reich? I admit, that thought was briefly on my mind. But I was not the only one who made this speculation. Many otherwise reasonable people did.
I decided to scour the Internet. I was not surprised to find Islamists dismissing the attack as an inside job. What did surprise me, however, was that the only other types of websites espousing this theory were those operated by Neo-Nazi groups and other organizations that operated on the far-right end of the political spectrum.
9/11 was the event that gave the CT movement its critical mass. No, I don’t believe a coalition of conspiracy theorists is responsible for these attacks. I do not believe Alex Jones and David Icke hired the terrorists or helped plan these events in any way. But 9/11 was a pivotal event that allowed these fringe theories to penetrate deeper into the national consciousness than they ever deserved. I have also seen that people who espouse extreme and dangerous ideologies, such as David Duke, Ernst Zundel, and Mahmud Ahmadinajad, have seized the opportunity to offer their positions as valid alternatives to the status quo. After all, who isn’t disaffected with the status quo at one point or another? And if the institutions who perpetuate it cannot protect us from the 9/11 tragedy, isn’t it understandable that some people will look for alternatives?
On more than one occasion people finding themselves in deep crisis have been willing to (figuratively speaking) make a deal with the devil without caring about the long-term consequences. The Germans, who previously had been known as a people of poets and thinkers, allowed themselves to be seduced by Adolf Hitler. He promised them the way out of the deep, economic crisis. And it wasn’t until Germany’s cities lay in ruin that her people were marched through the death camps to witness the crimes their blind allegiance to the Fuhrer had supported.
As the US economy struggles through its current crisis, those who feel disaffected often find an ideological foundation in conspiracy theories that allows them to place the responsibility for their actions on something else — not their own poor business decisions or their own medical conditions — but the government. This allows them to reframe desperate actions as revolutionary ones. Worse, similarly disaffected people can now reframe these criminals as heroes and revolutionaries. My fear is that this dangerous combination of irrational fringe-ideology combined with run-of-the-mill bigotry and an increased willingness to commit acts of violence, as evidenced by the deeds of Stack and Bedell, will escalate into a more widespread phenomenon.