On other believers – James Meek in LRB:
“In the spring of 2020, while the world stayed indoors to suppress Covid-19, arsonists attacked mobile phone masts in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. They set fire to nearly a hundred masts in the UK, or tried to; there were twenty attacks over the Easter weekend alone, including one on a mast serving a Birmingham hospital. The arsonists believed that the latest mobile phone technology, 5G, was the real cause of the pandemic. They imagined a worldwide conspiracy: either the unexpectedly genocidal effects of the 5G rollout were being covered up by faking a pandemic, or 5G was being used deliberately to kill huge numbers of people and help enslave whoever was left. In the actual world, 5G’s feeble radio waves aren’t capable of any of this – you’d get more radiation standing near a baby monitor – but the fire-setters are unheedful of that world.
As well as the anti-5G insurgency, the conspiracist assault on the mainstream approach to coronavirus takes the form of a suspicion of vaccination, an older concern than 5G-phobia and more of an obstacle to governments’ plans to contain the virus. But the encounter between conspiracy theory and Covid-19 isn’t as clear-cut as that. When the pandemic hit, social media, hyper-partisan broadcasters, Trump-era populism and conspiracy theory were already creating a self-contained alternative political thought space conducive to the cross-fertilisation of conspiracist ideas. Covid-19 and government efforts to control it – an extreme event, accompanied by what can seem baffling and intrusive restrictions – appear, in the conspiracist mind, as the most open moves yet by a secret group of sadistic tyrants who want to reduce the human population and enslave those who remain. The pandemic and official countermeasures are interpreted as proof, and Covid becomes the string on which any and all conspiracy theories may be threaded. Seen through the conspiracist filter, by forcing us to wear masks, by closing bars and isolating the frail elderly, by trying to terrify us over, as they see it, a dose of flu, or by microwaving us with 5G, the secret elite has shown its hand.”
“A large survey in May conducted by researchers in Oxford found that only about half of English adults were free of what they termed ‘conspiracy thinking.’ Three-quarters of the population have doubts about the official explanations of the cause of the pandemic; most people think there’s at least a chance it was man-made. Almost half think it may have been deliberately engineered by China against ‘the West’. Between a fifth and a quarter are ready to blame Jews, Muslims or Bill Gates, or to give credence to the idea that ‘the elite have created the virus in order to establish a one-world government’; 21 per cent believe – a little, moderately, a lot or definitely – that 5G is to blame, about the same number who think it is ‘an alien weapon to destroy humanity’. Conspiracy beliefs, the researchers concluded, were ‘likely to be both indexes and drivers of societal corrosion ... Fringe beliefs may now be mainstream. A previously defining element that the beliefs are typically only held by a minority may require revision ... Healthy scepticism may have tipped over into a breakdown of trust.’
A friend, a BBC journalist, told me about a conversation he’d had with an acquaintance who began talking about the dangers of 5G and claimed that ‘every time a new kind of electromagnetic energy is invented, it causes a new kind of disease, like the invention of radar caused Spanish flu.’
‘But Spanish flu happened in 1918, and radar wasn’t invented till the 1930s,’ my friend said.
‘You would say that, wouldn’t you?’ This was uttered without a trace of a smile.”
“Icke was a BBC sports presenter in the 1980s, smooth, bland and remarkable only for a certain glassy coldness of manner. Before that he’d been a professional footballer. At a time when Britain had a handful of TV channels, everyone knew his face. Shortly before he left the BBC in 1990 he experienced a metaphysical epiphany in a newsagent’s on the Isle of Wight. Not long afterwards, via sessions with the late Betty Shine, a self-proclaimed psychic and bestselling writer of New Age books, and a transcendental episode in a storm on a hilltop in Peru, he declared he’d been chosen by a benign godlike agency as a vehicle for the revelation of truths essential to the survival of Earth and humanity. In an appearance on Terry Wogan’s chat show – notorious for Icke’s turquoise tracksuit and Wogan’s observation to his guest, about the sniggering audience, ‘They’re laughing at you, they’re not laughing with you’ – he denied claiming to be Jesus Christ, insisting he was merely the latest in a line of prophets that numbered Jesus as one of its more distinguished old boys.
That was in 1991. Since then, Icke has worked on his material and his brand, developing his following, writing books, and giving lectures and interviews around the world. Last year he was banned from entering Australia but in 2018 he was still welcomed by large audiences in municipal venues in English towns, where his fans sat peaceably as slides showed George Soros with reptilian eyes, in a corona of hellfire, with the caption: ‘George Soros: Personification of Evil.’ Covid-19 has boosted his profile. In May, following an appeal from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which pointed out that millions of people had been exposed to online material in which he blamed Jews for the pandemic, denied the reality of Covid-19, played down the infectiousness of viruses in general and lent support to 5G conspiracists, both Facebook and YouTube – though not Twitter – took down Icke’s pages. The action had no appreciable effect on his profile, except perhaps to give him the lustre of the martyr. YouTube, and YouTube wannabes like BrandNewTube, are still thick with Icke interviews by small-time videocasters. Google will point you to them. And although he has been banned from Facebook, his fans haven’t, nor have links to his material. The first thing I saw when I last checked the TruthSeekers UK Facebook group was a video interview with him. Amazon still distributes his books.
The conspiracy narrative Icke began to weave in the early 1990s is a sprawling affair that changes to follow the headlines, veers off on tangents and is full of internal inconsistencies, but some core elements remain. Icke’s story bears similarities to the influential American conspiracist text Behold a Pale Horse by William Cooper (which was published at about the time Icke reinvented himself as a prophet), and to the pseudo-leaks that drive QAnon, though QAnon tends to avoid the extraterrestrial. A cursory and much rationalised summary of Icke’s conspiracy theory goes like this: thousands of years ago, a race of reptilian beings from another world drew up a marvellously slow plan for the enslavement of humanity, to be carried out by a tiny elite of either – the exact mechanism varies – human proxies of surpassing wickedness, or reptiles in human form. (‘I once had an extraordinary experience with former prime minister Ted Heath,’ Icke told the Guardian in 2006. ‘Both of his eyes, including the whites, turned jet black.’)
The plan continues to unfold, regularly missing prophesied deadlines. Only an awakening of ordinary humans from the slumber of ignorance, prompted by heeding the truths revealed by Icke and his ilk, can save humanity. Many of the elite, according to Icke, are Jewish, and his conspiracy theory, like so many conspiracy theories, has a strongly antisemitic slant.”
“Dominic, who I guess is in his late twenties, once read better books. In our email exchanges he told me he had a degree in psychology and a social work diploma. He never told me whether he had a day job. He dated the origin of his current state of mind to his late teens and early twenties when he had been troubled by the world’s problems and looked for their root causes. He took out a subscription to New Internationalist. He read Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Greg Palast. ‘It slowly dawned on me,’ he wrote, ‘that there could be a hidden hand behind seemingly random, unconnected events. I came to this realisation myself, long before hearing of the term “conspiracy theory” or “new world order” etc.’ He read George Monbiot and Mark Curtis and took away the lesson that whoever is in power in the US and Britain carries out the same policies.
Cooper’s Behold a Pale Horse was his gateway to another world. To me – and I would have imagined before this to anyone – the works of radical social critics like Chomsky and Monbiot, eloquent, internationalist, hallowing the communal, have nothing in common with Cooper’s jittery libertarian screed, reeking of cordite and the Bible, infused with nationalist ideals of American individualism, packed with descriptions of UFOs and giving a detailed history of America’s secret dealings with alien races. And yet, to Dominic, it was ‘the missing piece of the puzzle’, introducing him to echt conspiracy totems like the New World Order, the Illuminati and the Freemasons. He was particularly taken with the chapter titled ‘Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars’. Cooper, who went on the lam to dodge tax and died in 2001 in a shoot-out with sheriff’s deputies in Apache County, Arizona, presents this as a secret Bilderberg Group policy document from 1954, outlining how the US was to be a test bed for the elite’s discovery that societies could be run like electrical networks. ‘It all made logical sense,’ Dominic wrote. ‘If you are the few and you want to control the many, you would need to form secret networks that are able to funnel down into society the agendas you formulate, which will then allow the gaining of greater power and control.’ This echoed a passage in Cooper’s book: I cannot and will not accept the theory that long sequences of unrelated accidents determine world events. It is inconceivable that those with power and wealth would not band together with a common bond, a common interest, and a long-range plan to decide and direct the future of the world. For those with the resources, to do otherwise would be totally irresponsible. I know that I would be the first to organise a conspiracy to control the outcome of the future if I were such a person and a conspiracy did not yet exist.
The seer of conspiracies, in other words, identifies with the imaginary conspirator. The goals of the secret enslavement programme are crude because they reflect the limited imagination, and life experience, of the conspiracist. This goes against Eydlin’s claim that conspiracy theorists’ willingness to integrate contradictions disproves the notion that they’re trying to find easy explanations for complex events. ‘The contortions that many conspiracy theorists must accept in order to integrate events into their image of the world do not attest to a desire for simple explanations,’ he writes. But is this true? Conspiracists describe epiphanies where they start to see the big picture, the universal meta-conspiracy that explains and links everything. But the picture isn’t big. It’s small. It’s the result of an effort to shrink the answer to every mystery until it can fit whatever doll’s house furniture version of that answer the conspiracist is capable of holding in their head.”
“Karl Popper coined the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ in 1952, in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies. He framed it as something that would always be singular, like game theory or chaos theory: it was only later that people started talking about ‘conspiracy theories’. The change shifted the concept in the conspiracists’ favour. To speak of conspiracy theories in the plural anchors them in the concrete, even if the person speaking thinks they’re nonsense: they’re still theories about a particular thing. Popper’s notion of conspiracy theory referred to a personal predisposition that could attach itself to anything, precisely because it was nested in the holder’s brain.
Popper saw conspiracy theory as something very old, connected to the religious impulse. ‘The belief in the Homeric gods whose conspiracies explain the history of the Trojan War is gone,’ he writes. ‘The gods are abandoned. But their place is filled by powerful men or groups – sinister pressure groups whose wickedness is responsible for all the evils we suffer from – such as the Learned Elders of Zion, or the monopolists, or the capitalists, or the imperialists.’ At the same time he made clear that he wasn’t denying the existence of actual conspiracies: On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena. They become important, for example, whenever people who believe in the conspiracy theory get into power. And people who sincerely believe that they know how to make heaven on earth are most likely to adopt the conspiracy theory, and to get involved in a counter-conspiracy against non-existing conspirators. For the only explanation of their failure to produce their heaven is the evil intention of the Devil, who has a vested interest in hell.
To some this will sound like what Trump is doing now, leading a more or less open Republican conspiracy to hamper the Democrat vote in November, using as his excuse a baseless conspiracy theory about ‘vote rigging’. The darker example is the rise of the Nazis, a movement that transmitted its conspiracism to the majority of the German population, then carried through the most hideous and complex real conspiracy in history, the murder of millions of Jews.
Conspiracy theory fixes on diverse manifestations of injustice, technology and strife, on anything that’s hard to explain. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a dominant key. The othering of ethnicities or particular groups and accusations of Satanism or child abuse are frequent markers of conspiracies, but they all have in common an anarchic, nihilistic libertarianism that takes government as its ultimate enemy – specifically the kind of social democratic or socialist government that shifts resources from the wealthiest to the less well off, that offers a trade-off between curtailments of personal freedom for the rich and greater equality.”
“There’s a danger that in writing about QAnon – a social phenomenon not just in the US but in Britain, Germany and many other countries, and endorsed by a number of Republican candidates – you make it sound more interesting and mysterious than it is. It is interesting, but in the way hitting yourself in the face with a hammer is interesting: novel, painful and incredibly stupid. It began in October 2017 as a series of posts on 4Chan, a bulletin board where lonely young men competed to amuse one another with sniggering memes, racist jokes and outré porn, in which an anonymous person or persons, signing themselves as Q, predicted the imminent arrest of Hillary Clinton. Since then, Q has posted almost five thousand times, reassuring followers of his/their identity by using a series of codes that only Q has the password to generate. Q has shifted from 4Chan to another bulletin board, 8chan, which later rebranded as 8kun, each incarnation more sniggering, racist and porny than the last (8chan was also used by the white supremacist terrorists responsible for killings in Christchurch, El Paso and Poway to post their hate manifestos).
Although Q watchers have noted changes of style over time, the basic elements of the conspiracist fantasy have stayed the same. A network of evil child-trafficking Satanists controls most of the country’s institutions, including the CIA and the FBI, but is strongest in the Democratic Party and Hollywood. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – usually referred to as ‘Hussein’ – are among the ringleaders. Concealing his true mission by disguising himself as an ordinary president of the United States, Trump is preparing to take them on. Most of the information given by Q comes in the form of cryptic hints, acronyms, code words and questions which followers are expected to interpret.”
“Opposing pandemic-justified social control doesn’t make you a conspiracy theorist, but among the anti-lockdown, anti-mask movement outside the US, signs of QAnon are ubiquitous. One of the prominent faces of Covid scepticism in the UK, Louise Hampton, presents herself in videos as an NHS call centre worker who found she was fielding calls from people in medical distress because they were terrified of going to hospital, but not from people with symptoms of Covid-19. This does not explain why her posts are tagged with the QAnon acronym #WWG1WGA, referring to the movement’s Three Musketeers-style slogan: ‘Where We Go One, We Go All.’ The charity Save the Children has been struggling to disassociate itself from another ubiquitous QAnon tag: #SaveTheChildren. At the rally I attended someone put their protest signs in the window of the Trafalgar Square branch of Pret A Manger. ‘Save Our Children – Stop Fucking Our Kids!!’ one sign read.”
“To talk to conspiracy theorists like Dominic and Martin is to find yourself pitied as a credulous centrist, relegated to the world of ‘No, but ...’ ‘Do you think kidnapping, raping and murdering children and drinking their blood is OK?’ ‘No, but ...’ ‘Do you like the increasing control faceless corporations, unaccountable billionaires and remote authorities have over our lives?’ ‘No, but ...’ ‘Are you happy about the relentless spread of incomprehensible, intrusive technology?’ ‘No, but ...’ The Covid-19-is-fake movement is strongly opposed to Boris Johnson, who might have hoped for more sympathy as the midwife of the conspiracist project of Brexit. In their recent book about conspiracy, A Lot of People Are Saying, Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum have a way of characterising delegitimation – ‘The people associated with these institutions, it is believed, no longer have standing to persuade or legislate, to reason or coerce, to lay claim to our consent or at least compliance’ – which made me think: ‘That’s exactly the way I feel about Boris Johnson right now.’ But my scepticism doesn’t extend to complete cynicism about the institutions themselves. ‘It doesn’t matter who you vote for, it never did,’ Dominic writes in his leaflet. ‘Governments are criminal cartels for interconnected global elites who’ve an agenda ... complete enslavement of humanity by a small group of psychopaths.’ In a way the saddest aspect of the epidemic of conspiracism is not the delusions about conspiracy but the delusions about what it is to learn. As Muirhead and Rosenblum write, ‘knowledge does not demand certainty; it demands doubt.’ How did it get to the point where a smart young man like Dominic can believe in a binary, red pill-blue pill world of epistemics, in which there are only two hermetically distinct streams of knowledge to choose from, his preferred ‘truth’ and the other, ‘mainstream’, ‘official’ version, which all those who reject his truth believe without question?”
Read the article here.
So the believer starts with concerns that are fairly common and justified, concerns about the power of big companies, the power of technology et cetera, this makes it possible that reading Chomsky, John Pilger, a rather passionate, old-fashioned leftwing journalist I would say based on his tweets, with some bizarre notions in between, and Greg Palast, also old-fashioned leftwing can create a basis for the conspiracy.
This doesn’t mean that the criticism of Chomsky of Palast is always unjustified, but the idea that our governments are mainly evil forces can easily create the idea that all authority is an evil force.
Skepticism, the base of critical thinking, is also the mother of the conspiracy theory. One could argue, that the conspiracy theory is skeptical thinking gone wrong, the celebration and glorification of paranoia.
As James Meek rightly points out, the attraction of the conspiracy theory is that it reduces the world to a sheer bipolar system, the sheeple who believe the lies of the evil forces i.e. everything that is considered mainstream and the seers, those who are rescued by prophets in different guises, they see reality.
You can feel chosen by believing in the conspiracy theory.
And it allows you to feel good about your own anger and your own powerlessness, your own misery.
It rationalizes resentment.
Some believers might be willing and working to overthrow the powers that be, but a true revolution will make it harder to continue the conspiracy theory.
The secret elite must remain in power one way or the other, because this power is the raison d’être for the conspiracy theory. The theorists don’t have a real plan to save the world or to run their countries, all they have is an enemy, and the weirdest theories about the perceived enemies.
They need their illusionary enemy.
It’s a very crude form of purely negative mythology, which is what scapegoating always is.
Moderate monotheism exist, the majority of the believers in the monotheistic god consist of moderates.
But how to be a moderate conspiracy theorist? I believe that 5G caused the virus, but I know that this belief is a metaphor.
It’s hard to see how the belief in conspiracy theories can become an ironic belief, a tool to find meaning and comfort in a story, while accepting that it’s a story.
To be a non-fanatic believer is to be an ironic believer, in one way or another.
The conspiracy theorist is blind to irony, because he cannot live with uncertainty.