Why conspiracy theories are not just a harmless joke

16th November 2018

As October drew to a close, two acts of far-right terrorism took place on American soil. A pipe bomb was sent to the Jewish philanthropist George Soros, with further bombs posted to a series of prominent US liberals. Shortly afterwards, a lone gunman murdered 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The prime suspects in each case – Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers – had something in common: both understood the world through the prism of conspiracy theories.

Most commentators treat conspiracy theories as a harmless joke, a signifier of naivety. We crack a wry smile when we think of David Icke, the former footballer and Green Party spokesman, who now makes a living by telling anyone who will listen that members of the Rothschild family are blood-drinking, Satan-worshipping lizards in disguise.

However, our research suggests that there is a worrying sincerity and consistency to the theories, which centre around an anti-modern, anti-democratic world-view, whose anti-Semitic heritage is never far away. Social media is the primary means by which this perspective has spread across the political spectrum. Alarmingly, it is clear that many of the conspiracists’ followers are not engaged in a harmless diversion, but take their theories seriously.

Read the rest of the article by Daniel Allington and David Toube in the New Statesman