NEW YORK – Is this the Age of the Conspiracy Theory? Plenty of evidence suggests that we are in something of a golden age for citizen speculation, documentation, and inference that takes shape – usually on the Internet – and spreads virally around the globe. In the process, conspiracy theories are pulled from the margins of public discourse, where they were generally consigned in the past, and sometimes into the very heart of politics.
I learned this by accident. Having written a book about the hijacking of executive power in the United States in the Bush years, I found myself, in researching new developments, stumbling upon conversations online that embrace narratives of behind-the-scenes manipulation.
There are some major themes. A frequent one in the US is that global elites are plotting – via the Bilderberg Group and the Council on Foreign Relations, among others – to establish a “One World Government” dominated by themselves rather than national governments. Sometimes, more folkloric details come into play, broadening the members of this cabal to include the Illuminati, the Freemasons, Rhodes Scholars, or, as always, the Jews.
The hallmarks of this narrative are familiar to anyone who has studied the transmission of certain story categories in times of crisis. In literary terms, this conspiracy theory closely resembles The Protocols of the Elders of Zion , featuring secretive global elite with great power and wicked aims. Historically, there tends to be the same set of themes: fearsome, uncontrolled transformative change led by educated, urbanized cosmopolitans.