Category Archives: Conspiracy Theories

THE “GREAT REPLACEMENT”. 60% of Britons believe in conspiracy theories – Esther Addley * Critical Thinking Skills. Why more highly educated people are less into conspiracy theories – Christian Jarrett.

Leavers are more likely to doubt immigration figures and think there is a plot to make Muslims the majority in UK.

Sixty per cent of British people believe at least one conspiracy theory about how the country is run or the veracity of information they have been given, a major new study has found, part of a pattern of deep distrust of authority that has become widespread across Europe and the US.

In the UK, people who supported Brexit were considerably more likely to give credence to conspiracy theories than those who opposed it, with 71% of leave voters believing at least one theory compared with 49% of remain voters.

Almost half (47%) of leave voters believed the government had deliberately concealed the truth about how many immigrants live in the UK, versus 14% of remain voters. A striking 31% of leave voters believed that Muslim immigration was part of a wider plot to make Muslims the majority in Britain, a conspiracy theory that originated in French far-right circles that was known as the “great replacement”. The comparable figure for remain voters was 6%.

The disparities between those who voted for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the US was even more stark, where 47% of Trump voters believed that man-made global warming was a hoax, compared with 2.3% of Clinton voters.

The figures were the result of a large-scale international project conducted over six years and in nine countries by researchers at the University of Cambridge and YouGov, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The study was the most comprehensive examination of conspiracy theories ever conducted, and marks the first time academics have explored questions of conspiracy beliefs, social trust and news consumption habits across different countries.

. . . The Guardian

Conspiracy and Democracy: History, Political Theory and Internet Research

The Leverhulme-funded project based at Cambridge University at CRASSH

Directors: Professor Sir Richard J Evans (History), Professor John Naughton (CRASSH), Professor David Runciman (Politics and International Studies)

Theories and beliefs about conspiracies are an enduring feature of modern societies. This is partly a reflection of the fact that real conspiracies do exist, and have existed in the past. But the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories in the twenty-first century suggests that many other factors are also at work, And studying them provides opportunities for understanding how people make sense of the world and how societies function. What does the prevalence of conspiracy theories tell us about trust in democratic societies, and about the differences between cultures and societies? How have conspiracies and conspiracy theorising changed over the centuries and what, if any, is the relationship between them? Have conspiracy theories appeared at particular moments in history, and why?

This ambitious, five-year, interdisciplinary research project aims to explore these and related questions. It sets out not to debunk particular theories but to provide a “natural history” of conspiracy theorising. To do that, the project combines the perspectives, investigative methods and insights of historians, political theorists, network engineers and other disciplines to produce what we hope will be a deeper and richer understanding of a fascinating and puzzling phenomenon.

Conspiracy and Democracy Study


Critical Thinking Skills. Why more highly educated people are less into conspiracy theories – Christian Jarrett

Debunking the Conspiratists. The Federal Reserve System, Illuminati and The New World Order. Real Facts.


I KNOW WHAT I KNOW! Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization: The Effects of Prior Theories on Subsequently Considered Evidence – Charles G. Lord, Lee Ross, and Mark R. Lepper, Stanford University, 1979.

People who hold strong opinions on complex social issues are likely to examine relevant empirical evidence in a biased manner.

They are apt to accept “confirming” evidence at face value while subjecting “disconfirming” evidence to critical evaluation, and as a result to draw undue support for their initial positions from mixed or random empirical findings. Thus, the result of exposing contending factions in a social dispute to an identical body of relevant empirical evidence may be not a narrowing of disagreement but rather an increase in polarization.

Our beliefs can survive the complete subtraction of the critical formative evidence on which they were initially based. In a complementary fashion, the present study shows that strongly entrenched beliefs can also survive the addition of nonsupportive evidence.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that important social issues and policies generally prompt sharp disagreements, even among highly concerned and intelligent citizens, and that such disagreements often survive strenous attempts at resolution through discussion and persuasion.

To test these assumptions and predictions, subjects supporting and opposing Capital punishment were exposed to two purported studies, one seemingly confirming and one seemingly disconfirming their existing beliefs about the deterrent eficacy of the death penalty. As predicted, both proponents and opponents of capital punishment rated those results and procedures that confirmed their own beliefs to be the more convincing and probative ones, and they reported corresponding shifts in their beliefs as the various results and procedures were presented. The net effect of such evaluations and opinion shifts was the postulated increase in attitude polarization.

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to he found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate. (Bacon, 1620/1960)

Often, more often than we care to admit, our attitudes on important social issues reflect only our preconceptions, vague impressions, and untested assumptions. We respond to social policies concerning compensatory education, water fluoridation, or energy conservation in terms of the symbols or metaphors they evoke (Abelson, 1976; Kinder 8: Kiewiet, Note 1) or in conformity with views expressed by opinion leaders we like or respect (Katz, 1957). When “evidence” is brought to bear it is apt to be incomplete, biased, and of marginal probative value, typically, no more than a couple of vivid, concrete, but dubiously representative instances or cases (cf. Abelson, 1972; Nisbett & Ross, in press). It is unsurprising, therefore, that important social issues and policies generally prompt sharp disagreements, even among highly concerned and intelligent citizens, and that such disagreements often survive strenous attempts at resolution through discussion and persuasion.

An interesting question, and one that prompts the present research, involves the consequences of introducing the opposing factions to relevant and objective data. This question seems particularly pertinent for contemporary social scientists, who have frequently called for “more empirically based” social decision making (e.g., Campbell, 1969).

Very likely, data providing consistent and unequivocal support for one or another position on a given issue can influence decision makers and, with sufficiently energetic dissemination, public opinion at large. But what effects can be expected for more mixed or inconclusive evidence of the sort that is bound to arise for most complex social issues, especially where full-fledged experiments yielding decisive and easy-to-generalize results are a rarity? Logically, one might expect mixed evidence to produce some moderation in the views expressed by opposing factions. At worst, one might expect such inconclusive evidence to be ignored.

The present study examines a rather different thesis, one born in an analysis of the layperson‘s general shortcomings as an intuitive scientist (cf. Nisbett 81 Ross, in press; Ross, 1977) and his more specific shortcomings in adjusting unwarranted beliefs in the light of empirical challenges (cf. Ross, Lepper, 81 Hubbard, 1975).

Our thesis is that belief polarization will increase, rather than decrease or remain unchanged, when mixed or inconclusive findings are assimilated by proponents of opposite viewpoints.

This “polarization hypothesis” can be derived from the simple assumption that data relevant to a belief are not processed impartially. Instead, judgments about the validity, reliability, relevance, and sometimes even the meaning of proffered evidence are biased by the apparent consistency of that evidence with the perceiver’s theories and expectations. Thus individuals will dismiss and discount empirical evidence that contradicts their initial views but will derive support from evidence, of no greater probativeness, that seems consistent with their views. Through such biased assimilation even a random set of outcomes or events can appear to lend support for an entrenched position, and both sides in a given debate can have their positions bolstered by the same set of data.

As the introductory quotation suggests, the notions of biased assimilation and resulting belief perseverance have a long history. Beyond philosophical speculations and a wealth of anecdotal evidence, considerable research attests to the capacity of preconceptions and initial theories to bias the consideration of subsequent evidence, including work on classic Einstellung effects (Luchins, 1942, 1957), social influence processes (Asch, 1946), impression formation (e.g., Jones & Goethals, 1971), rtxognition of degraded stimuli (Bruner 81 Potter, 1964), resistance to change of social attitudes and stereotypes (Abelson, I959; Allport, 1954), self fullilling prophecies (Merton, 1948; Rosenhan, 1973′, Snyder, Tanke, & Berscheid, 1977), and the persistence of “illusory correlations” (Chapman & Chapman, 1967, 1969).

In a particularly relevant recent demonstration, Mahoney (1977) has shown that trained social scientists are not immune to theory based evaluations. In this study, professional reviewers‘ judgments about experimental procedures and resultant publication recommendations varied dramatically with the degree to which the findings of a study under review agreed or disagreed with the reviewers’ own theoretical predilections.

Thus, there is considerable evidence that people tend to interpret subsequent evidence so as to maintain their initial beliefs. The biased assimilation processes underlying this effect may include a propensity to remember the strengths of confirming evidence but the weaknesses of disconfirming evidence, to judge confirming evidence as relevant and reliable but disconfirming evidence as irrelevant and unreliable, and to accept confirming evidence at face value while scrutinizing disconfirming evidence hypercritically.

With confirming evidence, we suspect that both lay and professional scientists rapidly reduce the complexity of the information and remember only a few well chosen supportive impressions. With this confirming evidence, they continue to reflect upon any information that suggests less damaging “alternative interpretations.” Indeed, they may even come to regard the ambiguities and conceptual flaws in the data opposing their hypotheses as somehow suggestive of the fundamental correctness of those hypotheses. Thus, completely inconsistent or even random data, when “processed” in a suitably biased fashion, can maintain or even reinforce one’s preconceptions.

The present study was designed to examine both the biased assimilation processes that may occur when subjects with strong initial attitudes are confronted with empirical data concerning a controversial social issue and the consequent polarization of attitudes hypothesized to result when subjects with differing initial attitudes are exposed to a common set of “mixed” experimental results. The social controversy chosen for our investigation was the issue of capital punishment and its effectiveness as a deterrent to murder. This choice was made primarily because the issue is the subject of strongly held views that frequently do become the target of public education and media persuasion attempts, and has been the focus of considerable social science research in the last twenty years. Indeed, as our basic hypothesis suggests, contending factions in this debate often cite and derive encouragement from the same body of inconclusive correlational research (Furman v. Georgia, 1972; Sarat & Vidmar, 1976; Sellin, 1967).

In the present experiment, we presented both proponents and opponents of capital punishment first with the results and then with procedural details, critiques, and rebuttals for two studies dealing with the deterrent eficacy of the death penalty, one study confirming their initial beliefs and one study disconfirming their initial beliefs.

We anticipated biased assimilation at every stage of this procedure. First, we expected subjects to rate the quality and probative value of studies confirming their beliefs on deterrent efficacy more highly than studies challenging their beliefs. Second, we anticipated corresponding effects on subjects’ attitudes and beliefs such that studies confirming subjects’ views would exert a greater impact than studies disconfirming those views. Finally, as a function of these assimilative biases, we hypothesized that the net result of exposure to the conflicting results of these two studies would be an increased polarization of subjects’ beliefs on deterrent eficacy and attitudes towards capital punishment.

Figure 1. Top panel: Attitude changes on capital punishment relative to start of experiment as reported across time by subjects who received prodetcerrence study first. Bottom panel: Attitude changes on capital punishment relative to start of experiment as reported across time by subjects who received antideterrence study first.


The results of the present experiment provide strong and consistent support for the attitude polarization hypothesis and for the biased assimilation mechanisms postulated to underlie such polarization. The net effect of exposing proponents and opponents of capital punishment to identical evidence-studies ostensibly offering equivalent levels of support and discontinuation, was to increase further the gap between their views. The mechanisms responsible for this polarization of subjects’ attitudes and beliefs were clearly suggested by correlational analyses. Subjects’ decisions about whether to accept a study’s findings at face value or to search for flaws and entertain alternative interpretations seemed to depend far less on the particular procedure employed than on whether the study’s results coincided with their existing beliefs.

The Normative Issue

It is worth commenting explicitly about the normative status of our subjects’ apparent biases. First, there can be no real quarrel with a willingness to infer that studies supporting one’s theory based expectations are more probative than, or methodologically superior to, studies that contradict one’s expectations. When an “objective truth” is known or strongly assumed, then studies whose outcomes reflect that truth may reasonably be given greater credence than studies whose outcomes fail to reflect that truth, Hence the physicist would be “biased,” but appropriately so, if a new procedure for evaluating the speed of light were accepted if it gave the “right answer” but rejected if it gave the “wrong answer.”

The same bias leads most of us to be skeptical about reports of miraculous virgin births or herbal cures for cancer, and despite the risk that such theory-based and experience-based skepticism may render us unable to recognize a miraculous event when it occurs, overall we are surely well served by our bias. Our subjects’ willingness to impugn or defend findings as a function of their conformity to expectations can, in part, be similarly defended. Only the strength of their initial convictions in the face of the existing inconclusive social data and arguments can be regarded as “suspect.”

Our subjects’ main inferential shortcoming, in other words, did not lie in their inclination to process evidence in a biased manner. Willingness to interpret new evidence in the light of past knowledge and experience is essential for any organism to make sense of, and respond adaptively to, its environment. Rather, their sin lay in their readiness to use evidence already processed in a biased manner to bolster the very theory or belief that initially “justified” the processing bias. In so doing, subjects exposed themselves to the familiar risk of making their hypotheses unfalsifiable, a serious risk in a domain where it is clear that at least one party in a dispute holds a false hypothesis, and allowing themselves to be encouraged by patterns of data that they ought to have found troubling. Through such processes laypeople and professional scientists alike find it all too easy to cling to impressions, beliefs, and theories that have ceased to be compatible with the latest and best evidence available (Mahoney, 1976, 1977).

Figure 2. Top panel: Belief changes on capital punishment’s deterrent efficacy relative to start of experiment as reported across time by subjects who received prodeterrence study first. Bottom panel: Belief changes on capital punishment’s deterrent efficacy relative to start of experiment as reported across time by subjects who received antideterrence study first.

Polarization: Real or Merely Reported?

Before further pursuing the broader implications of the present demonstration, it is necessary to consider an important question raised by our procedure: Did our subjects really show change (i.e., polarization) in their private beliefs about the desirability and deterrent efficacy of capital punishment? Certainly they told us, explicitly, that their attitudes and beliefs did change after each new piece of evidence was presented, and from the beginning to the end of the experiment. Moreover, they did show a willingness to report a shift in their attitudes in the direction of findings that were contrary to their beliefs, at least until those findings were exposed to methodological scrutiny and possible alternative interpretations. Nevertheless, it could be argued that subjects were not reporting real shifts in attitudes but instead were merely reporting what they believed to be a rational or appropriate response to each increment in the available evidence.

Although we believe that it remains an impressive demonstration of assimilation biases to show that contending factions both believe the same data to justify their position “objectively,” the potential limitations of the present measures should be kept in mind in evaluating the relationship of this study to prior polarization research. As noted earlier our intended strategy of assessing direct changes from our initial selection measures of attitudes and beliefs, rather than asking subjects to report such changes within the experiment, was neither feasible nor appropriate, given the necessity of selecting subjects with strong and consistent initial views on this issue. Potentially such methodological problems could be overcome in subsequent research through the use of less extreme samples or, perhaps more convincingly, by seeing whether biased assimilation of mixed evidence will make subjects more willing to act on their already extreme beliefs.

Belief Perseverance and Attribution Processes

The present results importantly extend the growing body of research on the perseverance of impressions and beliefs. Two of the present authors and their colleagues have now amassed a number of studies showing that, once formed, impressions about the self (Ross et alt, 1975; Jennings, Lepper, 81. Ross, Note 2; Lepper, Ross, 81 Lau, Note 3), beliefs about other people (Ross et 3.1., 1975), or theories about functional relationships between variables (Anderson, Lepper, & Ross, Note 4) can survive the total discrediting of the evidence that first gave rise to such beliefs. In essence, these prior studies demonstrate that beliefs can survive the complete subtraction of the critical formative evidence on which they were initially based. In a complementary fashion, the present study shows that strongly entrenched beliefs can also survive the addition of nonsupportive evidence.

These findings pose some fundamental questions for traditional attribution models. To the extent that beliefs and impressions can be shown to persevere in the face of subsequent challenging data, we need a “top down” rather than, or perhaps in conjunction with a “bottom up” approach (ctr Bobrow 81 Norman, 1975) to the question of how individuals extract meaning from their social environment. Instead of viewing people as impartial, data driven processors, the present research suggests our models must take into account the ways in which intuitive scientists assess the relevance, reliability, representativeness, and implications of any given sample of data or behavior within the framework of the hypotheses or implicit theories they bring to the situation (Lepper, 1977). In everyday life, as well as in the course of scientihc controversies (cf. Kuhn, 1970), the mere availability of contradictory evidence rarely seems sufficient to cause us to abandon our prior beliefs or theories.

Social Science Research and Social Policy

We conclude this article, as we began it. by considering the important links between social policy, public attitudes and beliefs about such policy, and the role of the social scientist. If our study demonstrates anything, it surely demonstrates that social scientists can not expect rationality, enlightenment, and consensus about policy to emerge from their attempts to furnish “objective” data about burning social issues. If people of opposing views can each find support for those views in the same body of evidence, it is small wonder that social science research, dealing with complex and emotional social issues and forced to rely upon inconclusive designs, measures, and modes of analysis, will frequently fuel rather than calm the fires of debate.

See also:

Debunking the Conspiratists. The Federal Reserve System, Illuminati and The New World Order. Real Facts.

The enduring appeal of conspiracy theories – Melissa Hogenboom.

Critical Thinking Skills. Why more highly educated people are less into conspiracy theories – Christian Jarrett * Suspicious Minds. Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories – Rob Brotherton.

Critical Thinking Skills. Why more highly educated people are less into conspiracy theories – Christian Jarrett * Suspicious Minds. Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories – Rob Brotherton.

In this era of “fake news” and rising populism, encountering conspiracy theories is becoming a daily phenomenon.

People usually shrug them off, they find them too simplistic, biased or far-fetched but others are taken in. And if a person believes one kind of conspiracy theory, they usually believe others.

Psychologists are very interested in why some people are more inclined to believe in conspiracy theories, especially since the consequences can be harmful: for example, by avoiding getting their kids vaccinated, believers in vaccination conspiracies can harm wider public health; in other cases, a belief in a conspiracy against one’s own ethnic or religious group can foment radicalism.

One of the main differences between conspiracy believers and nonbelievers that’s cropped up in multiple studies is that nonbelievers tend to be more highly educated. For a new study in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Ian-Willem Van Prooijen at VU Amsterdam has conducted two large surveys to try to dig into just what it is about being more educated that seems to inoculate against belief in conspiracy.

For the first survey, Van Prooijen recruited over 4000 readers of a popular science journal in the Netherlands, with an average age of 32. He asked them about their formal education level and their belief in various well known conspiracy theories, such as that the moon landings were hoax; he tested their feelings of powerlessness; their subjective sense of their social class (they located their position on a social ladder); and their belief in simple solutions, such as that “most problems in society are easy to solve”.

The more highly educated a participant, the less likely they were to endorse the conspiracy theories.

Importantly, several of the other measures were linked to education and contributed to the association between education and less belief in conspiracy: feeling less powerlessness (or more in control), feelings of higher social status, and being sceptical of simple solutions.

A second survey was similar, but this time Van Prooijen quizzed nearly 1000 participants, average age 50, selected to be representative of the wider Dutch population. Also, there were two phases: for the first, participants answered questions about their education level; feelings of power; subjective social class; belief in simple solutions; and they took some basic tests of their analytical thinking skills. Then two weeks later, the participants rated their belief in various conspiracy theories.

Once again, more education was associated with less belief in conspiracy theories, and this seemed to be explained in part by more educated participants feeling more in control, having less belief in simple solutions, and having stronger analytical skills. Subjective social class wasn’t relevant in this survey.

Taken together, Van Prooijen said the results suggest that “the relationship between education and belief in conspiracy theories cannot be reduced to a single psychological mechanism but is the product of the complex interplay of multiple psychological processes.”

The nature of his study means we can’t infer that education or the related factors he measured actually cause less belief in conspiracies. But it makes theoretical sense that they might be involved: for example, more education usually increases people’s sense of control over their lives (though there are exceptions, for instance among people from marginalized groups), while it is feelings of powerlessness that is one of the things that often attracts people to conspiracy theories.

Importantly, Van Prooijen said his findings help make sense of why education can contribute to “a less paranoid society” even when conspiracy theories are not explicitly challenged.

“By teaching children analytical thinking skills along with the insight that societal problems often have no simple solutions, by stimulating a sense of control, and by promoting a sense that one is a valued member of society, education is likely to install the mental tools that are needed to approach far-fetched conspiracy theories with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

Suspicious Minds


Rob Brotherton

Down The Rabbit Hole

ALL is not as it seems. There is a hidden side to reality, a secret realm buzzing with clandestine activity and covert operations. This invisible network constantly screens, sifts, and manipulates information. It conjures up comforting lies to hide the real, bewildering truth. It steers what we think and believe, even shapes the decisions we make, molding our perception to its own agenda. Our understanding of the world, in short, is an illusion. Who is behind this incredible scheme? Some sinister secret society? Psychopathic bureaucrats in smoke-filled boardrooms? The Queen of England? The intergalactic shape-shifting lizards who she works for? All of the above?

No. This is an inside job. It’s not them, it’s us. More specifically, it’s you. More specifically, it’s your brain.

Everything Is a Conspiracy

There’s a conspiracy theory for everything. Ancient Atlanteans built the pyramids. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on the orders of his vice president, Andrew Johnson. The Apollo moon landings were filmed on a sound stage in Arizona. Area 51 is home to advanced technology of alien origin. Alex Jones, a conspiracy minded radio host based out of Austin, Texas, is actually the alterego of comedian Bill Hicks (who faked his death in the early 1990s to pursue a career in conspiracism). And then there’s Big Pharma, black helicopters, the Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Grove . . .

The rabbit hole runs deep. The conspiracy allegedly extends to the air we breathe (tainted by chem-trails), the food we eat (monkeyed with by Monsanto), the medicine we take (filled with deadly toxins), and the water we drink (spiked with mind-warping fluoride). Elections are rigged, politics is a sham, and President Obama is a communist Muslim from Kenya.

These are a few of the theories, but who are the theorists? According to cliché, conspiracy theorists are a rare breed, a small but dedicated lunatic fringe of basement dwelling, middle aged men, intelligent outsiders with an idiosyncratic approach to research (and, often, a stockpile of Reynolds Wrap).

Most elements of the stereotype, however, don’t hold up. On the whole, women are just as conspiracy minded as men. Education and income don’t make much difference either. The ranks of conspiracy theorists include slightly more high school dropouts than college graduates, but even professors, presidents, and Nobel Prize winners can succumb to conspiracism. And conspiracy theories appeal to all ages. Senior citizens are no more or less conspiracy minded than Millennials, on average. At the low end of the age bracket, legions of American teens suspect that Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles of the inordinately popular boy band One Direction are secretly an item, and that the band’s corporate overlords invented a fake girlfriend for Louis as part of the cover-up.

As for the idea that conspiracy theories are a fringe affair, nothing could be farther from the truth. All told, huge numbers of people are conspiracy theorists when it comes to one issue or another. According to polls conducted over the last decade or so, around half of Americans think their government is probably hiding the truth about the 9/11 attacks. Almost four in ten suspect that climate change is a scientific fraud. Something like a third believe the government is likely hiding evidence of aliens. More than a quarter are worried about the New World Order.

In a 2013 survey, 4 percent of the people polled (which, extended to the entire population of the United States, would mean twelve million people) said they think “shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies.” A further 7 percent said they just weren’t sure.

These sorts of public opinion polls, it’s worth bearing in mind, only provide a rough indication of any particular theory’s popularity. Estimates vary depending on exactly who you ask, how you ask them, and when. But this much is crystal clear: There are more conspiracy theorists out there than you might expect. Chances are you know some. Chances are you are one.

It’s not just Americans. People in the United Kingdom and Europe are similarly suspicious. And it’s not just Westerners. Conspiracism is a global phenomenon. According to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, between half and three quarters of people in various Middle Eastern countries doubt that Arab hijackers pulled off the 9/11 attacks. In many parts of the world, vaccines and other Western medicines are viewed with suspicion. Four out of ten Russians think that America faked the moon landings, according to a 2011 poll. In India, shortly after the country’s prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated in 1984, her successor told an audience of a hundred thousand people gathered in New Delhi, “the assassination of Indira Gandhi is the doing of a vast conspiracy whose object is to weaken and divide India.” And in Brazil, a popular conspiracy theory asserts that the American military is planning to invade the Amazon rain forest and take control of its rich natural resources. As part of the propaganda campaign to prepare American citizens for the impending invasion, the theory goes, maps of South America in American junior high school textbooks show a huge swath of the Amazon under the control of the United Nations.

So, was there a gunman on the Grassy Knoll? Is Elvis alive, relaxing by the pool with Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe, and Princess Diana in some secret resort for aggressively reclusive stars? Who really rules the world, and what did they do with flight MH370?

If you’re looking for answers to these questions, then I’m afraid you’ve picked up the wrong book. The truth might be out there, but it’s not in here. If there really are sinister schemes taking shape behind closed doors at this very moment, if the real perpetrators of atrocities have not yet been brought to justice, if everything we think we know is a lie, it’d be nice to know. But there are plenty of other books dedicated to compiling evidence of some alleged conspiracy, and almost as many books that purport to tear the theories to shreds. That’s not what this one is about. In fact, this book isn’t really about conspiracy theories at all (though we’ll encounter plenty of theories along the way).

It’s about conspiracy thinking, about what psychology can reveal about how we decide what is reasonable and what is ridiculous, and why some people believe things that, to other people, seem completely unbelievable.

Of course, if you ask someone why they believe, or why they don’t believe, some theory or other, they’ll probably tell you it’s simple: They’ve made up their mind based on the evidence. But psychology tells a different story. It turns out that we’re not always the best judge of why we believe what we believe.

Tidy Desk, Tidy Mind (or: The Unexpected Virtue of Neatness)

In a recent experiment, psychologists at the University of Amsterdam had students think about something that they felt ambivalent about, any topic about which they had both positive and negative feelings. Imagine, for instance, eating an entire tub of ice cream. It would be a nice way to spend twenty minutes, but it’d also be pretty bad for you in the long run. You know there are pros and cons. That’s ambivalence.

Each student sat at a computer, thought about whatever it was that made him or her feel ambivalent, and typed up a few of the pros and cons. At that point, an error message appeared on the screen. Fear not-it was all part of the psychologists’ devious plan. The researcher monitoring the experiment feigned surprise, and told the participant that they would have to complete the next (ostensibly unrelated) questionnaire at a different desk. The unwitting subject was led to a cubicle across the room, where they encountered a desk in disarray, strewn with pens, books, magazines, and crumpled pieces of paper. Then, nestled comfortably amid the detritus, the participant was shown a series of pictures.

Some pictures, like the one on the left, had a faintly discernible image, in this case, a sailboat. Others, like the one on the right, consisted of nothing but random splotches. The students weren’t told which were which; they simply had to say whether they saw a pattern in the static. Pretty much everyone spotted the boat and all the other real pictures. More interestingly, a lot of the time people said they saw images where, in reality, there was only randomness. There were twelve pictures that contained nothing but random blobs. On average, the students saw imaginary images in nine of them.

At least, that’s how the experiment went for one group of students. For another group, things started out pretty much the same. They had to think about something that made them ambivalent, they saw an error message, they were led to the messy cubicle. Then there was one crucial difference. Before carrying on with the experiment, the experimenter asked each student to help tidy up the mess. Once the desk was straightened up, the students saw those same pictures. Compared to students who had worked amid the clutter, these students consistently saw fewer phantom images. They saw imaginary patterns in just five of the twelve meaningless pictures, on average, which was about the same number as people who hadn’t been made to feel ambivalent at the start of the experiment.

Feeling conflicting emotions about something is unpleasant, the researchers explained. We habitually seek order and consistency, and to be ambivalent is to experience disorder and conflict. When that happens, we might try to change our beliefs, or simply ignore the issue. Or we can use more roundabout strategies to deal with our unwanted emotions. Ambivalence threatens our sense of order, so, to compensate, we can seek order elsewhere. This is why the first group of students saw so many imaginary images. Seeing meaning in the ambiguous splotches, connecting the dots, allowed them to satisfy the craving for order that had been triggered by their sense of ambivalence. And it also explains why the second group of students saw fewer imaginary images. The simple act of tidying the desk, transforming the chaos into order, had already satisfied their craving. They were no longer on the lookout for patterns in the static. They didn’t need the dots to be connected.

What does this have to do with conspiracy theories? In another experiment, the researchers again made people feel ambivalent. This time, instead of looking at strange pictures, the students were asked to imagine they had been passed over for a promotion at work. What are the chances, the researchers asked, that a conniving co-worker had a hand in the boss’s decision? Compared to a group of people who hadn’t been made to feel ambivalent, the ambivalent students were more likely to suspect that a conspiracy was afoot.

Sometimes, it would seem, buying into a conspiracy is the cognitive equivalent of seeing meaning in randomness.

A bit of clutter isn’t the only thing that can subtly influence our beliefs. In another recent study, almost two hundred students at a college in London were asked simply to rate how plausible they found a handful of popular conspiracy theories. For half of the students, the allegations were written in an easy to read font, regular old Arial, size twelve, like so:

For the other half of the students, however, the allegations were written in a font that was a little harder to read, like so:

The students who read the theories in the clear, legible font consistently rated them more likely to be true. The students who had the harder to read font found the claims harder to believe.

The remarkable thing is that if you were to ask the students who took part why they rated the conspiracy theories the way they did, they might have told you something like “I heard a rumor about the New World Order the other day,” or “Conspiracies happen all the time,” or “It just makes sense that people are up to no good.” None of the Dutch students would have told you that feeling ambivalent about a bowl of ice cream had influenced their judgment. None of the Londoners thought to themselves, “This is an attractive font, so I suppose the New World Order really is planning to take over.” They didn’t consciously choose to see the theories as more or less plausible. Their brains did most of the work behind the scenes.

Who Is Pulling the Strings?

As neuroscientist David Eagleman points out in Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, there is a complicated network of machinery hidden just beneath your skin. Your body is chock full of organs, each with its own special job to do, all working together to keep you alive and healthy, and they manage it without any conscious input from you. Whether you’re paying attention or not, your heart keeps on beating, your blood vessels expand and contract, and your spleen does whatever it does. Our detailed scientific understanding of how the body works is a relatively recent development, and yet, for some reason, the idea that our organs can go about their business without us telling them to do it, or even being aware of what they’re up to, doesn’t strike us as particularly hard to believe.

Your brain seems different, though. The brain is the most complicated organ of them all. It is made up of billions of specialized cells, each one in direct communication with thousands of others, all ceaselessly firing off electrical signals in cascading flurries of activity. Somehow, it’s still largely a mystery, out of this chaos arises consciousness: our experience of being us, of being a thinking, feeling, deciding person, residing just behind our eyes, looking out on the world, making important decisions like when to cross the road and where to go for lunch.

Consciousness is all we know about what’s going on inside our head, and it feels like it’s all there is to know. Masses of psychological studies, however, lead to a surprising conclusion. Consciousness is not the whole story. We are not privy to everything, or even most, of what our brain is up to.

The brain, like its fellow organs, is primarily in the business of keeping us alive, and, also like its less mysterious colleagues, the brain doesn’t need much input from us to get the job done. All sorts of activity goes on behind the scenes, outside of our conscious awareness and entirely beyond our control.

But just because our brain doesn’t let us in on all of its antics doesn’t mean its subconscious processes are unimportant or inconsequential. On the contrary, our perception, thoughts, beliefs, and decisions are all shaped by our brain’s secret shenanigans. Imaginative psychologists have come up with various metaphors for our mistaken intuition that we’re aware of, and in control of, everything that happens in our brain. As David Eagleman put it:

“Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot.”

Social scientist Jonathan Haidt likened consciousness to a rider on the back of an elephant: The rider can coax and cajole the elephant to go one direction or another by pulling on the reins, but at the end of the day, the elephant has whims of its own, and it’s bigger than we are.

Daniel Kahneman, one of the pioneers of the psychology of our brain’s hidden biases and shortcuts, described the division of labor between our conscious and unconscious mental processes in cinematic terms. “In the unlikely event” of a movie being made in which our brain’s two modes of activity were the main characters, consciousness “would be a supporting character who believes herself to be the hero,” Kahneman wrote.

I’d like to propose a similar metaphor, one more in keeping with our theme.

We imagine ourselves to be puppet masters, in full control of our mental faculties. In reality, however, we’re the puppet, tethered to our silent subconscious by invisible strings, dancing to its whims and then taking credit for the choreography ourselves.

Suspicious Minds

Does this mean that conspiracy theories are inherently irrational, nutty, harebrained, confused, crackpot, or pathological? Some pundits enthusiastically heap this kind of scorn and ridicule on conspiracy theories, painting them as the product of faulty thinking, which disbelievers are presumably immune to. Because of this dim view, tensions between conspiracy theorists and their critics can run high. As far as some conspiracy theorists are concerned, looking for psychological reasons for believing conspiracy theories is worse than simply challenging them on their facts. It can seem like an attempt to smear believers’ credibility, or even to write conspiracy theorists off as mentally unbalanced.

That’s not my goal.

This book isn’t about listing conspiracy theories like some catalog of bizarre beliefs. It’s not about singling out conspiracy theorists as a kind of alien species, or as a cautionary tale about how not to think.

The scientific findings we’ve amassed over the last few years tell a much more interesting story, one that has implications for us all. Michael Billig, an early trailblazer of research into conspiracy thinking, warned that when it comes to conspiracism, “it is easy to overemphasise its eccentricities at the expense of noticing what is psychologically commonplace.”

Conspiracy theories might be a result of some of our brain’s quirks and foibles, but, as we’ll see, they are by no means unique in that regard. Most of our quirks simply slide by unnoticed. Psychology can tell us a lot, not only about why people believe theories about grand conspiracies, but about how everyone’s mind works, and about why we believe anything at all.

So here’s my theory: We are each at the mercy of a hundred billion tiny conspirators, a cabal of conspiring neurons.

Throughout this book, we’ll be pulling back the curtain, shining a light into the shadowy recesses of our mind, and revealing how our brain’s secret shenanigans can shape the way we think about conspiracy theories, and a whole lot else besides.

Whether conspiracy theories reflect what’s really going on in the world or not, they tell us a lot about our secret selves. Conspiracy theories resonate with some of our brain’s built-in biases and shortcuts, and tap into some of our deepest desires, fears, and assumptions about the world and the people in it. We have innately suspicious minds. We are all natural born conspiracy theorists.

Chapter 1

The Age Of Conspiracy

“THIS is the age of conspiracy,” a character in Don DeLillo’s Running Dog intones, ominously, “the age of connections, links, secret relationships.” The quote has featured in countless books and essays on contemporary conspiracism, reflecting a belief, widely held among laypeople and scholars alike, that conspiracy theories have never been more popular than they are right now. As one scholar put it, “other centuries have only dabbled in conspiracy like amateurs. It is our century which has established conspiracy as a system of thought and a method of action.”

There’s no shortage of guesses about what ushered in this alleged golden age of conspiracism. The prime suspect, as far as many twenty-first-century pundits are concerned, is the rise of the Internet. Political scientist Jodi Dean began an article published in the year 2000 by asserting that “as the global networks of the information age become increasingly entangled, many of us are overwhelmed and undermined by an all-pervasive uncertainty.” Presumably things have only gotten worse since then; a 2015 study of the spread of conspiracy theories on social media dubbed this the “Age of Misinformation.”

Other pundits point to tangible events. For journalist Jonathan Kay, the collapse of the Twin Towers opened up “nothing less than a countercultural rift,” a sort of intellectual black hole that has sucked in “a wide range of political paranoiacs.” Others trace the rise of conspiracism back farther. Maybe it started in the 1970s, with a crisis of faith in government that followed the unraveling of Richard Nixon’s paranoia-tinged presidency. Or maybe the sixties, and the collective loss of innocence that came with the death of John F. Kennedy and the escalating debacle of Vietnam. Or maybe it began with the creeping Cold War paranoia of the fifties.

Until recently, this kind of hand-waving guesswork was all we had to go on. But in 2014, two political scientists, Joe Uscinski and Joseph Parent, undertook an inventive and ambitious project to find some solid answers.

It’s not immediately obvious how to go about measuring the rise and fall of conspiracy thinking over a long stretch of time. In our digital age, getting an idea of what people are talking about is as easy as checking which hashtags are trending or how many “likes” a Facebook page gets. It’s less obvious how we might figure out how much people were talking about conspiracies a century ago. But Uscinski and Parent realized that our analog ancestors left behind a rich trove of data: letters to the editor. The letters page of the newspaper, it’s fair to say, is often overlooked, and is sometimes seen as a repository for the emotional outbursts of cranks. Yet social analysts have shown that letters to the editor are a good barometer of public opinion writ large, and therefore an invaluable research tool.

And so Uscinski and Parent set about analyzing more than a century’s worth of letters to the editor published in the New York Times. They gathered a sample of a thousand letters per year, from 1890 to 2010, amounting to more than a hundred thousand letters in total. Then a team of welltrained (and, hopefully, well-compensated) research assistants painstakingly combed through each letter, checking for conspiracy theories. It didn’t matter if a letter was promoting or debunking a conspiracy theory; either way, Uscinski and Parent reasoned, reciting the theory shows that the writer deemed it a topic worthy of discussion, and that the editor deemed it important enough to everyone else to be worth publishing.

Out of the hundred thousand or so letters, 875 mentioned conspiracies. At less than 1 percent of the entire sample, that might seem like a tiny fraction but, as Uscinski and Parent point out, the letters page is open to any subject under the sun. It’s no surprise that singling out any particular niche, be it conspiracies or comedy or cooking, results in a relatively small slice of the pie.

In terms of the allegations that the letter writers were throwing around, the researchers discovered some real peaches. Among the accused conspirators there were all the usual suspects, such as presidents, big business, and the media, as well as a fascinating array of lesser spotted culprits, including dairy farmers, post office workers, the Walt Disney Company.

In the 1890s, people worried that England and Canada were conspiring to reclaim territory from the United States, or that Mormons were rigging elections in favor of Republicans. For the first few decades of the twentieth century, typical theories involved financial interests attempting to subvert democracy. From the thirties until the sixties, many of the alleged plots featured communists. For the last fifty years or so, suspicion has shifted toward the American government itself, particularly its various intelligence agencies.

So what about the questions at hand? Has talk of conspiracies increased since the Second World War? Did it gain traction with the Kennedy assassination, the Watergate scandal, or the 9/11 attacks? Has it skyrocketed since the advent of the Internet? “Despite popular hoopla,” Uscinski and Parent report, the answer to all these questions was a resounding no.

There were a couple of bumper years for conspiracy theories, but they weren’t the ones you might expect. The number of conspiracy-themed letters shot up in the mid-1890s, when fears about big business flourished, and in 1950, when the Red Scare hit fever pitch. But these spikes were short-lived, and the number of letters quickly fell back to baseline. There has been no exponential increase over the years. If anything, people are talking about conspiracies a little less than they used to. The researchers counted slightly fewer conspiracy-themed letters per year, on average, in the five decades since the Kennedy assassination compared to the seven decades before it. The overall trend, however, was long-term stability. The amount of conspiracy talk was, for the most part, a stable background hum, remarkably impervious to political events, the economy, or advances in communication technology.

“The data suggest one telling fact,” Uscinski and Parent concluded. “We do not live in an age of conspiracy theories and have not for some time.” So if our current fascination with conspiracies is not new, how far back does it go? Pretty far, it turns out.

While Rome Burned

July 19, CE. 64, was a scorching summer’s day in Rome, according to historian Stephen Dando-Collins. It was the eve of the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris, the immensely popular annual Roman Games. The Circus Maximus, a giant stadium with capacity for a quarter of a million spectators, was already being prepared, and visitors were flocking into the city. That evening the fast-food joints that lined the narrow streets around the stadium stoked their ovens, busily preparing to feed the dawn crowds. It is impossible to say where exactly, but somewhere in the vicinity of the stadium, a fire broke out. Fires were not uncommon in Ancient Rome, but this one proved to be different.

Fanned by strong wind, the blaze quickly spread through the narrow, winding streets, consuming the tightly packed buildings. The inferno, which would become known as the Great Fire of Rome, raged on for almost a week. Countless people died in the flames, and half the city’s population was made homeless. All told, two thirds of the city was reduced to rubble and ash.

Even before the embers had cooled, conspiracy theories began to spread. Suspicion immediately settled on the emperor, Nero. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, who had lived through the fire as a child, “nobody dared fight the flames. Attempts to do so were prevented by menacing gangs. Torches, too, were openly thrown in, by men crying that they acted under orders.” As for Nero, Tacitus reports that he had been thirty-six miles away, in his hometown of Antium, when the fire broke out. When he got back to the city, he quickly organized shelter and food for the homeless masses. Yet his relief efforts earned him little gratitude from the public. Rumors were already spreading that while the city was burning, the young, immature, self-involved emperor had been in Antium giving a singing recital.

Tacitus stayed on the fence about Nero’s involvement in the fire, reporting the rumors without explicitly endorsing them.

Others were less reserved. Suetonius, who was born five years after the fire, had at one time been a respected historian with unfettered access to Rome’s official archives. After offending Emperor Hadrian, possibly by having an affair with the empress, his access to the archives was revoked. As a result, his biography of Nero, written fifty years after the fire, was based largely on gossip. “Pretending to be disgusted by the drab old buildings and narrow, winding streets of Rome,” Seutonius wrote, Nero “brazenly set fire to the city. Although a party of ex-consuls caught his attendants, armed with [kindling] and blazing torches, trespassing on their property, they dare not interfere.” In a dramatic flourish, Suetonius adds that, after arriving back from Antium, “Nero watched the conflagration from the Tower of Maecenas, enraptured by what he called ‘the beauty of the flames,’ then put on his tragedian’s costume and sang ‘The Sack of Ilium’ from beginning to end.”

Cassius Dio, writing 165 years after the fire, went even farther, claiming that Nero had a team of well-organized lackeys torch the city out of sheer malice. Dio was clearly taken by the idea of Nero singing with demented glee while the city burned around him, too, and added embellishments of his own. His melodramatic retelling of the fire is worth quoting at length:

“Nero set his heart on accomplishing what had doubtless always been his desire, namely to make an end of the whole city and realm during his lifetime . . . Accordingly he secretly sent out men who pretended to be drunk or engaged in other kinds of mischief, and caused them to first set fire to one or two or even several buildings in different parts of the city, so that the people were at their wits’ end, not being able to find any beginning of the trouble nor to put an end to it . . . While the whole population was in this state of mind and many, crazed by the disaster, were leaping into the very flames, Nero went up to the roof of the palace, from which there was the best general view of the greater part of the conflagration, and assuming the lyre-player’s garb, he sang the Capture of Troy, as he styled the song himself, though to the eyes of the spectators it was the Capture of Rome.”

Whether the fire was an inside job or not, and whether Nero really serenaded it with his lyre, we do know this: He was not happy to be the subject of conspiracy theories. In an effort to scotch the rumors, he came up with a conspiracy theory of his own. According to Tacitus, “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.” False confessions were forced out of a few Christians, on the basis of which many more were rounded up. They were convicted, Tacitus reports, “not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.” Nero’s treatment of the scapegoats was ruthless. “Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths,” Tacitus reports. “Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”

The Great Fire was far from the only event in Roman history that gave rise to conspiracy theories. Rome’s infatuation with conspiracy goes back to the very beginning of the empire. Romulus, one of the city’s founders and its first king, supposedly disappeared under mysterious circumstances. It was rumored that his political advisers, the senators, had assassinated their leader in a bid to increase their own power. Cassius Dio described the deed in his signature lurid style, writing that the power-hungry senators had surrounded Romulus as he was giving a speech, and “rent him limb from limb” right there on the floor of the senate-house.

Adding an ironic twist, Dio claimed that the deed had been concealed “by a violent wind storm and an eclipse of the sun, the same sort of phenomenon that had attended his birth. Such was the end of Romulus.”

As historian Victoria Pagan has cataloged, the entire history of ancient Rome is suffused with stories about suspected plots. Many of the stories were based on truth; assassinations and other nefarious schemes were par for the course in ancient Roman politics. But many, such as the sensational rumors of Nero’s pyromania or Romulus’s dramatic demise, were unquestionably embellished, or fabricated entirely.

It wasn’t just Rome. The ancient world was teeming with conspiracies and conspiracy theories. Going back at least as far as the fifth century B.C.E., historian Joseph Roisman points out that the work of the famed orators and playwrights of ancient Athens was riddled with “tales of plotting that involve almost every facet of Athenian life. There are plots against people’s lives, property, careers, or reputations, as well as against the public interest, the regime, and in foreign affairs.” Just about everyone was on the receiving end of charges of conspiracy, from politicians and businessmen to immigrants and slaves, and both the establishment and the masses seem to have taken such stories seriously.

Fascination with conspiracy endured throughout the Middle Ages. As before, conspiracy theories were popular among the unwashed masses and the aristocratic establishment alike. Famine-struck peasants often saw their plight not as “simply the result of bad weather, or poor distribution methods, but of the nefarious actions of speculators,” as historians Barry Coward and Julian Swann put it, while the ruling elite frequently blamed unwelcome change on “the plotting of courtiers, ministers, favourites, heretics or freemasons.”

Though the names and dates changed, the thread of conspiracism runs unbroken through the centuries.

Coward and Swann point out that “English MPs in the early seventeenth century, for example, often drew on Tacitus and Roman history to interpret the politics of their own day.”

The Great Fire of London, which ravaged the city for four days in the year 1666, offers a striking example of history repeating itself and conspiracism regurgitating itself. Even as the fire was still raging, Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that rumors had begun to flourish “that there is a plot in it.” There were those who suspected it was an inside job, started on the orders of King Charles II himself, some even drew “an odious parallel between his Majesty and Nero,” according to a contemporary report.

Others suspected that the fire was a terrorist attack by Catholic conspirators or England’s European enemies. A Frenchman, Robert Hubert, was soon arrested, and confessed to having started the fire acting in league with a cabal of French popish spies. His confession didn’t quite stack up. For instance, he claimed at first to have started the fire in Westminster. When he was informed that the fire had actually started on Pudding Lane, and had never even reached Westminster, his story changed. Regardless, Londoners, and the authorities, seized the opportunity to lay blame for the fire at the feet of a willing scapegoat. With his questionable confession as the only evidence against him, Hubert was hanged on October 27, 1666, in front of a mob of delighted spectators.

As this potted history goes to show, the golden age of conspiracy theories goes back thousands of years, and shows no sign of letting up. Some of the theories of antiquity bear a remarkable resemblance to contemporary conspiracy theories. There are some noteworthy differences, however.

For classical conspiracy theorists, alleged plots generally concerned local, isolated issues, and the motives behind the ostensible plots were fairly petty and personal. It’s also worth noting that, even though many of the theories were unquestionably embellished, they weren’t all that farfetched. When absolute power was invested in emperors or monarchs, taking up cloak and dagger against them was often the only way to effect any meaningful change.

Over time, people’s conspiratorial concerns broadened. There was a shift from theories about local and petty conspiracies of self-interest, to altogether grander theories. The proposed plots became more mysterious, subversive, and universal. The conspirators were imagined to be working toward less tangible, and more sinister, ends.

The road from the trivial theories of old to the allconsuming theories of today was marked by two major milestones, the first of which came courtesy of a young German idealist named Adam Weishaupt.

Illuminati Panic

In 1772, following in the footsteps of both his father and godfather, Adam Weishaupt became a professor of law at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria. Law was never his real passion, though. At just twenty-four years of age, Weishaupt was restless and idealistic. Disillusioned with his strict, mechanical Jesuit education, and inspired by the blossoming Enlightenment, he had developed a headstrong ambition to improve society using the power of reason to dispel religious superstition. He was also a “cynical and unscrupulous careerist and liar,” the historian John Roberts wrote; “All the evidence of this period of his career reveals him as a familiar hazard of academic and collegiate life: the clever, cantankerous, self-absorbed and selfdeceiving bore.”

According to Roberts, Weishaupt’s true passion was for intrigue. From an early age, he had been fascinated by secret societies like the Pythagorean Brotherhood. He joined a Masonic lodge in 1774, but found himself disappointed by the Freemasons’ lack of political aspirations or genuine secrecy, and by the high membership fees. He decided to start a secret society of his own. The inaugural meeting was held on May 1, 1776, with just Weishaupt and four of his students in attendance. He called it the Order of the Illuminati.

Weishaupt’s dual personality was woven into the fabric of the Illuminati. Its philosophy was idealistic to the point of na’iveté. The sole goal of the order, according to the statutes Weishaupt drew up, was

“to render unto man the importance of the perfection of reason and his moral character . . . to oppose the wicked designs in the world, to assist against the injustice suffered by the unfortunate and the oppressed, to encourage men of merit, and in general to facilitate the means of knowing and science.”

On the other hand, being the supreme leader of his very own secret society allowed Weishaupt to indulge his taste for attention and subterfuge. He carefully curated an aura of mystery for his sect. Initiates were required to take false names, learn a secret vocabulary, go through an elaborate set of initiation rites, and were instructed to sever ties with family and friends. To recruit new initiates, Weishaupt had Illuminati members infiltrate Masonic lodges and pick off their members. Weishaupt developed an elaborate hierarchy, which was itself concealed from all but the most senior members. Advancement required complete, unquestioning obedience. The true political goals of the order, the peaceful transformation of society, were only gradually revealed as a member climbed up the many ranks.

By the early 1780s, the order had gained around three hundred members spread across Europe. But the expansion came at the cost of secrecy. Weishaupt’s pedantic, domineering personality rubbed some recruits the wrong way. A few members spilled the beans about Illuminati activity to nonmembers, often with alarming exaggerations.

By 1784, rumors about the order had caught the attention of the authorities. The Bavarian government issued an edict banning unauthorized associations, and Weishaupt suspended the Illuminati’s meetings. Material continued to leak, and scurrilous rumors were increasingly published by journalists and repeated by preachers, accusing the Illuminati of “irreligion, disloyalty to the dynasty, political intrigue and moral corruption.”

In a last-ditch effort to exonerate his order, Weishaupt personally approached Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria, and told him most of the Illuminati’s secrets. It proved to be in vain. On March 2, 1785, Theodore issued another edict, specifically condemning the Illuminati. Weishaupt fled Bavaria. Investigations commenced, arrests were made, and masses of the llluminati’s secret documents, including Weishaupt’s personal letters, were published for all to see. The Illuminati was gone, but not forgotten.

The discovery of a very real secret society with very real political aspirations, combined with the many horribly embellished rumors about its sordid, subversive activity, was a recipe for confusion and alarm. Already it was rumored that Weishaupt’s secret society continued to operate, and had simply gone underground. Freed from the hassle of actually existing, the Illuminati grew to mythic proportions in the fretful imaginations of its critics, not only in Bavaria, but across Europe and as far afield as the newly independent United States.

The exposure of Weishaupt’s Illuminati tarnished the reputation of the Freemasons, too. A few lodges really had been infiltrated, after all, and who was to say that all the Illuminati operatives had been ferreted out. The conspiratorial machinations of subversive secret societies increasingly looked like a viable explanation for troubling events. And then the French Revolution happened.

“It is very easy today to underrate the emotional shock of the French Revolution,” Roberts notes. “Because it opened an era of revolution in which we still live, we are used to the idea of revolution in a way in which the men of the eighteenth century were not.” Over the course of ten violent, chaotic years, between 1789 and 1799, the age-old ways of hereditary aristocratic privilege crumbled, to be replaced with a new, more egalitarian, secular society. The revolutionary ideas began to spread across Europe, and soon millions of people had been granted basic human rights that they had never before enjoyed, while the aristocracy suddenly found their power and wealth decimated.

It was a profound and unprecedented transformation, the rapid emergence of an entirely new political reality. People understandably struggled to come to terms with it. “The scale and violence of the changes . . . seemed to exhaust all conventional and familiar categories of explanation,” Roberts wrote. “Some new dimension of understanding was needed.”

At the tail end of the Revolution, in 1797, two authors published, almost simultaneously, books that provided that new dimension of understanding. One was Augustin de Barruel. Barruel was a French nobleman, an ordained Jesuit priest, and a polemicist. He had already earned some literary success for his publications criticizing the Enlightenment philosophy, based on his staunch religious views.

In 1789, the year the French Revolution broke out, Barruel had published a pamphlet blaming it on the corrupting ideology of the Enlightenment and the weakness of the French clergy. But by 1797, when he published the first two volumes of his Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, Barruel had become convinced that the whole thing had actually been carefully engineered from behind the scenes. “Even the most horrid deeds perpetrated during the French Revolution, every thing was foreseen and resolved on, was premeditated and combined,” he wrote; “they were the offspring of deep thought villainy.” The villains, he claimed, included the Enlightenment Philosophers, the Freemasons, and the Jacobins. But these groups, Barruel wrote, were only the “most obvious villains in a great plot whose authors and agents have been far longer at work and are far more widespread.” Lurking behind them all, coordinating the whole scheme, Barruel said, was an even more powerful, sinister enemy: Adam Weishaupt’s dreaded Illuminati, whose “aim is not merely the destruction of the French monarch but universal dissolution, the overthrow of society and religion itself.”

Scotsman John Robison, a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, had the same idea. He published his book shortly after Barruel, under the snappy title Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free-Masons, Illuminati and Reading Societies, etc., Collected from good authorities. Though Robison disagreed with Barruel over a few of the details, his premise was the same. The Illuminati was behind the French Revolution, he said, and it was only their first step toward inciting total, worldwide anarchy.

According to Robison, the Illuminati leaders “disbelieved every word that they uttered, and every doctrine that they taught . . . Their real intention was to abolish all religion, overturn every government, and make the world a general plunder and a wreck.” In case his readers weren’t alarmed enough, Robison warned that the Illuminati “still exists, still works in secret . . . Its emissaries are endeavoring to propagate their detestable doctrines among us.”

Rob Brotherton is an academic psychologist and science writer who likes to walk on the weird side of psychology. Rob completed a doctoral degree on the psychology of conspiracy theories, and taught classes on why people believe weird stuff and science communication as a member of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. He now lives in New York City. Rob writes about conspiracy theories on his website


Suspicious Minds. Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories

by Rob Brotherton

get it at

Debunking the Conspiratists. The Federal Reserve System, Illuminati and The New World Order. Real Facts.

The Federal Reserve, often referred to as “the Fed,” is the central bank of the United States, established in 1913 by the Federal Reserve Act.

While the source of countless outlandish conspiracies, the very existence of it completely goes against the ethos of the American founding fathers. Despite this, the establishments of both the Democratic Party and, of course, the Republican Party absolutely love central banking, although they have their own reasons. Pretty much all libertarians, and many civic-nationalists and antiestablishment liberals, want to see it brought down. John F. Kennedy notably tried to do so in 1963, following in the footsteps of the great American hero Andrew Jackson, but the King of Camelot was shot six months later.

In 2016, the one true successor of Old Hickory and outspoken economic nationalist vowed to follow in their footsteps and finally kill the bank, once and for all. So, basically, because of the Fed, [the mint producing its own currency] is a crime, and people need to share it fairly without taking a piece of the bank’s pie. Money, so they say, to quote the old adadge, is the root of all evil today. But if you ask for a rise, it’s no surprise that they are giving none away. Figures.


From 1836, when the Second Bank of the United States lost its congressional charter, to 1913, when the Federal Reserve Act passed, the US. was without a central bank. 11 Major financial panics (and their accompanying recessions) occurred in 1873, 1884, 1893, 1901, 1903, and the Panic of 1907 led to a demand that Congress take action. The Aldrich Commission was dispatched to make a study, and shortly after its final report was made Congress changed hands from the big government Republicans (those were the days) to the more grassroots oriented and anti-federalist Democrats. Instead of one central bank located in New York as the Commission recommended, twelve regional banks were created throughout the country, with a Board of Governors, which is the bank’s present form.

What does it do?

The Fed essentially controls the amount of cash money in the United States and sets monetary policy. It has 12 branch banks (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco) which loan money to banks within their respective regions. This money is then lent at an interest rate to banks who then lend it to people and businesses. The Fed buys bonds to increase the money supply, lowering interest, and sells bonds to decrease money supply, increasing interest. This is the key part of the open-market operations for the Fed, allowing it to control inflation and growth to a certain extent. Previously the money supply was effectively in the hands of various Wall Street movers and shakers (e.g. JP Morgan).

Oh, the irony! The chairman of the Federal Reserve Board for two decades (1986-2006) was Alan Greenspan, a former disciple of Ayn Rand.

Maiden Lane, AIG, and aid to central banks

During the banking crisis of 2008, the answer to “What does it do?” became “buy loads of toxic assets from failing banks.” The Fed created a number of dummy corporations (sorry, “special purpose vehicles”) called Maiden Lane I, II, and III to buy up crap from Wall Street and government sponsored entities Fannie and Freddie. Some question the legality of the Fed’s actions, however the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 Section 13(3) gives it authority “under unusual and exigent circumstances” to extend credit to individuals, partnerships, and corporations. A subsequent, full audit of the Fed revealed numerous alleged conflicts of interest in the deals.

After drastically increasing the size of its balance sheet, in what became nicknamed the “backdoor bailout,” the Fed was able to provide $3.3 trillion in liquidity and a peak of over $9 trillion in shortterm loans and assistance to Wall Street firms and foreign central banks, over several years. Total commitments were over $29 trillion, an amazing feat considering the GDP of Earth is estimated at $70 trillion.

Common arguments against the Fed

There are many criticisms of the Fed, varying in levels of coherence. Some criticism arises from a conspiratorial worldview that falsely attributes malicious motives to the Fed instead of incompetence or bad luck. The American monetary system is difficult to understand, even for someone in the financial industry and/or someone with an advanced degree. In fact, many principles that people were taught in schools before the 2008 crisis were turned on their head (e.g. big bank debt was risk free). The 2008 crisis and subsequent growing income inequality has furthered a greater distrust of the Federal Reserve.

Conspiracy theories

The Fed has been a frequent subject of conspiracy theories, alleging the Fed deliberately creates inflation, recessions, and even the Great Depression, through manipulation of the money supply.

Father Coughlin, the John Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, Eustace Mullins, Pat Robertson, Alex Jones, Texe Marrs and several others have frequently expressed such conspiracy theories. Many of the popular claims made today are recycled from G. Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island.

In some (but not all) cases these conspiracy theories have an anti-Semitic component, alleging “Jews” secretly or openly control the Fed. These theories are furthermore sometimes tied in to other conspiracy theories about the Trilateral Commission or the New World Order, or manipulation of the US. economy by the Rockefeller and Rothschild banking families.

It seems like one of America’s nutjob dominionists, ‘True Scholars of the Faith‘ has come up with a new completely insane theory in 2011 about the Federal Reserve, borrowing some points from Lyndon LaRouche.

Apparently the Federal Reserve is now a foreign banking institution controlled by the British, and Britain is now firmly in control of (who else?) the Rothschild family. Through their control of the Federal Reserve, they are making the national debt increase (apparently the Federal Reserve controls fiscal policy) to the point where they can take their former colony back (apparently being indebted means England wins you). Only the Constitution Parteh can save you now!


There is also the misconception that the Fed is independent or private, sometimes called “no more federal than FedEx.” This is not entirely true as it is a quasi-public entity. The Fed, like most central banks in the world, is considered “independent,” which is basically a term of art meaning that its day-to-day operations are not overseen by the federal government; it’s similar to how state broadcasters (say, the BBC) are protected from becoming propaganda outlets. However, its chairman and board of governors are appointed by the president subject to 2/3 Senate approval, with regular 30 day reporting and Congressional oversight,“ and its mission of maintaining price levels and full employment is determined by Congress.

The extent to which banks “control” the Federal Reserve is that they technically “own” it, but not in the way that shareholders own Microsoft. Since the Federal Reserve was created by Congressional charter, they are not organized like a normal corporation. Shareholder banks have no voting power, and all decisions are made by aforementioned government-appointed policy wonks. Shareholder banks elect 6 out of the 9 members of each regional Federal Reserve Bank’s directors, but these regional directors have no power over monetary policy; that power lies solely in the hands of the central Board of Governors.

However, the Board of Governors are appointed by lists which are given to the President by the staffs of banking committees of Congress and private sources. The most powerful of these groups are the financial institutions (which includes prominent members of the Fed itself) and the media corporations over which they have control. Thus, the appointment of these members is highly susceptible to political interests. The President does not select these people from his own personal address book, nor does he ask the public to submit nominations.

Trouble with accounting identities

Some monetary conspirators claim that the Fed creates money out of nothing and lends money to the government at interest, thereby stealing “the people’s” money and selling us into debt slavery or some similar nefarious scheme to take over the US government.

The way this works, however, is not quite the same as your regular commercial bank. The interest on debt held by the Fed actually goes to two places: One, the Fed pays itself out of this interest to cover its own operating costs, and two, the rest of the interest is rebated to the Treasury.

Typically, the Congress authorizes the U.S. Treasury to issue debt obligations, usually 90 day T-bills or longer term bonds, to cover its operating deficit. The Federal Reserve then purchases these obligations out of its reserve account with Federal Reserve Notes, aka U.S. currency.


This usually ties into the above point. The basic idea is that the Constitution gives Congress the power to coin money, so the Fed is unconstitutional because it is not the Congress. This is a pseudolegal argument because the Congress may delegate its powers. This is similar to pseudolegal arguments made by gold bugs. It also raises the question that if they were right, then do all 535 members of Congress (or 541, counting the non-voting delegates) have to personally make the coins and bills?

Congressional involvement

Sometimes a big deal is made of the fact the law bringing the Fed into existence was passed December 23, 1913, implying that most of the Congress was away for Christmas. The reality is quite different -the House passed the law 298-60, with 76 not voting but with 34 announced pairs, while the Senate passed it 43-25, with 27 not voting but with announced pairs.

For those not aware, an announced pair is where a member of the House or Senate who will be absent arranges with another member who will be present and is on the opposite side of the issue to form a “pair” with the absent member, thus allowing the absent member to have recorded how he would have voted had he been present. This means that at best only 42 more House members and 15 more Senate members could have said no to the creation of the Fed.

Although the vote would have passed even had everyone been present, some denizens claim that legislating on one of the last days of the session circumvented the possibility of challenges and debate. Why Congress would meet on days it thought off limits when the two houses could, each with the consent of the other, choose to adjourn is beyond them.

Austrian school and free banking proponents

Much of the opposition to the Fed in nonconspiratorial circles (though there is some overlap) comes from the Austrian school, who are free banking proponents and generally draw on Ludwig von Mise comments against central banking. Ron Paul is particularly known for his multi-decadal anti-Fed crusade in Congress.

In short, they claim that the Fed creates the business cycle through the expansion of the money supply which leads to “market distortion” and “malinvestment” due to easy money.

Ignoring lessons from the US Free Banking Era (1837 to 1864)

The biggest flaw with the free banking proponents is they either are ignorant or ignore the many problems seen in the Free Banking Era of the US.

The first problem was that during this era banks issued bank notes based on the gold and silver in their vaults, effectively printing money. Since these bank notes could only be redeemed at face value at the bank that issued them the result was the actual value of the note decreasing the further from the bank it got. Then there was the issue if the bank failed these bank notes became worthless. This made any form of long distance commerce difficult, if not impossible.

The second problem was since the laws were set up by the individual states there was no consistency with regard to reserve requirements, interest rates for loans and deposits, capital ratios, or anything else. Worse, enforcement of what laws there were was highly variable within a state. This resulted in some states what was late called “wildcat banking,” where the bank notes were not backed by precious metal at all, but by mortgages or bonds. In other words the exact same problems as are claimed regarding the Fed but with even less oversight.

Ignoring the original Great Depression (1873-79 or 96)

Before the Crash of 1929, the term “Great Depression” referred to the period of 1873-96 which was marked by deflation (largely because the US shifted from a bimetallic standard to a de facto gold standard in 1873) and the rapid industrialization of the country.

The term Gilded Age is also applied to this period and sometimes in a pejorative manner a shiny golden cover hiding a rotting or rotted core.

The deflation that marked this period is why some wanted to return to a bimetallic standard, as hammered home in William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech in 1896. Even the shorter range of 1873-79 stated by the NBER is longer than the 1930’s Great Depression by 22 months. This era is now called “the Long Depression”; the lesson it gives us is that switching over from a bimetallic standard to a gold standard (which the Coinage Act of 1873 effectively did) triggers deflation for extended periods of time.

After the establishment of the Fed

The US only saw three major banking crises after the establishment of the Fed (Great Depression, S&L crisis, 2008 financial crisis) and only two since the creation of federal deposit insurance, compared to one about every decade prior to that. The business cycle had also seen shorter and smaller contractions.

Essentially, what this demonstrates is that the minority of libertarian and Austrian schoolers who believe in free banking, like Ron Paul, seem to love the idea of going back to the 19th century and having us all stuff gold bricks under our mattresses every time it looks like there’s going to be a run on the bank.

Congressional criticism

Louis Thomas McFadden, a former United States Congressman and a former Chairman of the United States Banking and Currency Committee, who believed that Jewish bankers were plotting with others against the United States, testified before Congress in 1934 outlining his criticism of the Fed. He also submitted a petition for articles of impeachment against the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Banking System for numerous criminal acts including conspiracy, fraud, unlawful conversion, and treason. These charges went exactly nowhere.

Ron and Rand Paul have been trying to shove legislation requiring an audit of the Fed and a review of its monetary policy (apparently independence from the political bickering on the Hill is a bad thing after all) through Congress since 2011. Although three versions of this legislation have passed the House, they all failed miserably in the Senate. The 2015 version was a fail, with Bernie Sanders even voting on it.

Fractional Reserve Banking


“As a model of how money is actually created, it is ‘neat, plausible, and wrong. The fallacies in the model were first identified by practical experience, and then empirical research.” Steve Keen

Fractional reserve banking is a relatively simple but wrong way of describing the banking system. As always with bad economics, it is popular partly because older academics have a vested interest in defending the idea, but also because it serves a useful political purpose for plutocrats. Namely, it basically denies that banks control the money supply of the modern economy. This allows the rich to place the onus of controlling the money supply upon governments, specifically by cutting expenditure on the grounds that it creates infiation (it can, but it presently doesn’t).

“Banks do not, as too many textbooks still suggest, take deposits of existing money from savers and lend it out to borrowers: they create credit and money ex nihilo extending a loan to the borrower and simultaneously crediting the borrower’s money account ” Lord Adair Turner, formerly the UKs chief financial regulator

When they lend money, banks create money out of nothing. They can do so with no deposits at all, since that money is in electronic form. Obviously, this would be impossible if this was done physically, as in pre-electronic banks. The difference between lending $100,000 and $10,000,000 of physical objects is the difference between handing someone two handfuls (2.4 kilos) of gold and shipping them a truck laden with 240 kilos of it. The difference between lending those sums electronically is a single keystroke. Accidentally creating millions of dollars’ worth of objects is rare. Doing so electronically happens all the time, such as when instead of giving this man the $100,000 overdraft he asked for this bank manager gave him $10,000,000.

Neat, Plausible

Monetarists assume that the Federal Reserve can influence banks’ lending by setting the Fractional Reserve Rate. They assume that this is possible because they assume that banks can’t lend without deposits. Ergo they believe that increasing the amount of each deposit that a bank must ‘keep’ and not lend reduces the amount of lending, that decreasing the Fractional Reserve Limit increases lending, and that using a central bank to directly increase or decrease a bank’s reserves will cause it to increase or decrease the creation of new loans respectively. More broadly this belief sits well with their assumption that banks and lending don’t affect the economy, or that if they do then it is in a way which never changes and can therefore be safely ignored.

This sounds plausible because Neoclassical economists have a holistic ideological vision in which everyone’s economic activities including those of governments and banks are just like those of the individual person or household. It seems like common sense that if you cannot physically lend $50 to your friend who has forgotten their wallet, then banks must not be able to lend money unless they already have some. Likewise, it seems like common sense that governments can’t spend money unless they take the same amount or more in the form of taxes. While some people are aware that it is possible for governments to spend more than they take, Neoclassicists ensure that these people believe that it will create hyperinflation, which is Satan.

At an academic level, the Fractional Reserve theory has only been able to survive through the ongoing process of purging and no-platforming its critics. Even before the concept was created in the 1970s, it was manifestly apparent that the lending did not require deposits. Yet the inconvenient reality was simply assumed away.


If Fractional Reserve Banking really explained how the actual banking sector worked, there would be a credit crunch every few minutes as the banks waited for people to make deposits. Everyone would pay for almost every ordinary expense with cash, and no-one would ever use credit cards unless they were willing to wait minutes, hours, or even days for the payment to go through.

Instead, banks just create the money they need to get by without paying much or any attention to the level which they are nominally supposed to ‘keep’. This is why the top-down Quantitative Easing implemented by Japan for two decades and Bernanke-0bama et al. in the Great Recession did not increase lending to businesses and consumers.

“The quantity of reserve balances itself is not likely to trigger a rapid increase in lending. The narrow, textbook money multiplier does not appear to be a useful means of assessing the implications of monetary policy for future money growth or bank lending. Seth Carpenter, Federal Reserve associate director. Money, reserves, and the transmission of monetary policy: does the Money Multiplier exist?”

Just as they did in Japan, EU-US banks used the vast majority of the QE funds for the productive (for them) purposes of lending the money to each other with above-inflation rates of interest, where it has sat ever since. In both cases they used a little to buy back their own stocks, buy each other’s stocks, buy stocks in other companies, and inflate asset bubbles. Nowhere have they increased lending to businesses or consumers, because the present and predicted future returns on doing so were lower.

Of course, Neoclassicists are divided between saying that neither of these examples count because we didn’t allow them to create enough QE money or that all the things which happened instead of what they predicted must actually be good things because anything which can be done to make money must be good for society, or else it couldn’t be done. Classic!

Stopped Clock

Austrians hate the Franctional Reserve concept not because they understand that it does not apply in reality, but because they have their own equally nutty model of how things ‘should be done’ instead.

The very thought that a bank may do something other than sit in front of your money and watch it grow mold makes some people foam at the mouth. Many get very quiet if you ask where the interest on their liquid savings accounts would come from then.

The same people often howl that government intervention in the banking system is filthy socialism because it is not their favored economic policy. Safe to say this is often ignoring history, when before there was regulation of fractional reserve banking by the Federal Reserve things were much more exciting for depositors, what with all the constant banking crises and all.

Macroeconomic effects

In the USA, UK, Australia and much of the developed world all economic growth requires the exponential increase of private debt. This is the ultimate product of the banking system created by the Neoliberal-Neoclassical revolution, which has allowed debts to compound and wealth extraction from the population to increase.

Banking is one of the three principal sectors which maximise the unearned income of plutocrats by extracting value from the wage earning population, the others being Insurance and Real Estate.

Without a biblical style cancellation or restructuring of debts, this process will continue until de facto plutonomy and debt slavery of virtually the entire world population result.

Historical existence

Fractional Reserve Banking did actually exist in the days when banks kept physical objects such as gold and paper currency which could be withdrawn. In those days it was important for regulators to ensure that banks kept more than the bare minimum of valuable objects to hand, since the banks naturally wanted to keep as little of them in-house as possible in order to maximise their profits yet those could be withdrawn, possibly causing a bank run. While many imposed limits on how much could be withdrawn at once in order to limit the amount that they had to keep on hand, lowering the withdrawal amount in a crisis could actually cause more panic and therefore more to be withdrawn as a larger number of depositors showed up demanding their money back.

Many small banks in the US went bust as a result of depositors losing confidence in them, which is why the Federal Reserve bank was created to establish Fractional Reserve limits and give gold or cash money to insolvent banks in an emergency. It also limited the risk that the depositor’s insurance (FDIC) would kick in every time one too many people came into the bank asking for cash.


While banks can’t literally print their own money in a system with a central bank, they can increase the money supply. In a system of fiat currency, banks’ monetary base (i.e., what is actually in the “vaults”) is made up of money which can be supplied by the central bank in time of need. However, when banks make loans above their reserve (which is pretty much always), it adds to the money supply, specifically what economists call “M2” and “M3” (depending on the type of loan), which are considered less “liquid” than the monetary base. Thus, lending can (but not necessarily will) cause demand-pull inflation.

In the world of electronic banking, banks can now create “money” out of thin air, through creating accounts. When someone spends these accounts, they are transferred to another bank, then this is lent on an interbank market (FED funds, LIBOR), to give reserves to banks who need it.

It is always possible to still get a run on the bank if too many people demand money in excess of the reserve. A simple analogy is airline seating. Airlines know a few people will cancel, so they overbook flights by selling more tickets than seats. A run on the bank is like everyone showing up to the flight and no cancellations. (Or the plot of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, when the play they’d oversold shares of unexpectedly became a hit.) Bank runs are prevented in modern banking systems by the creation of a lender of last resort to avoid short-term liquidity shortfalls.

The fractional reserve system itself takes no account of the risks of the loans banks make. If the reserve requirement was set to 100%, interest accumulated in deposits and the generation of loans would be nearly nonexistent. However, no banks would run out of money, as long as they had absolutely no costs. This has traditionally been policy favored mostly by Scrooge McDuck, and Austrians, but has gained currency in certain circles following the 2008 crash, and has been advocated by economists Laurence Kotlikoff, John Kay and John Cochrane as well as the Financial Times’ chief economics commentator Martin Wolf, and Iceland look to be heading towards implementing full reserves.

The Conspiracy Theories

Fractional reserve banking is the subject of numerous conspiracy theories. They usually revolve around or have their roots in anti Semitism in the form of Jewish banker conspiracies like the Rothschild family controlling the world. This usually ties in to conspiracies about the Federal Reserve as well as gold buggery or sound money.

Sometimes the cry of “fractional reserve banking is fraud!” is a cover for some kind of economic woo or scam usually of the “don’t trust banks, put your money in my Ponzi scheme instead” variety.

Sometimes these theories are just the result of people failing to understand abstract concepts.

Multiplier effect

The multiplier effect, or money multiplier, refers to the effects of a bank lending money over its reserve requirements as explained above. By law, banks are required to keep x% (depending on the locale and type of bank) of the total money they lend out in reserve. The resulting amount of money is 1/x multiplied by an original deposited amount, where x is the required reserve ratio in decimal form.

For example, a bank is required to have a 20% reserve. Alice deposits her $1000 paycheck into the bank. The bank is able to lend out $800 to Bob, who buys a used car from Charlie, who deposits the $800 into another bank. The bank turns around and lends $640 to Denise, and so on down the line until there is $5000 in the system.

While it may seem a bit like smoke and mirrors to someone unfamiliar with economics, imagine instead of cash it was something with ‘obviously’ more use such as tools. We all need tools to work, but the vast majority of time we own the tool we aren’t using it. So we put the tools in a tool bank, so that others can use it while we are not. If we only need the tools for about 20% of the time, the result is that the bank causes there to be effectively 5 times as many tools in the system. That it’s currency instead of tools doesn’t change the effect.

The multiplier effect is generally regarded as a simplification in academic and policy making circles. The Bank of England has stated that “while the money multiplier theory can be a useful way of introducing money and banking in economic textbooks, it is not an accurate description of how money is created in reality”, and the multiplier model “has not featured at all in the recent academic literature”.

Charles Goodhart, the UK’s preeminent monetary economist and former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Comittee has stated that “as long as the Central Bank sets interest rates, as is the generality, the money stock is a dependent, endogenous variable. This is exactly what the heterodox, Post-Keynesians have been correctly claiming for decades, and I have been in their party on this.”

In the Post-Keynesian view, the multiplier is an expost facto accounting identity (or, in other words, a legal fiction). The reason for this is that a bank can make any loan it deems worthy and then borrow money from either the interbank loan market (a market in which banks lend excess reserves to each other) or the Fed discount window to meet reserve requirements.

Bank capitalization, charters, and the Glass-Steagall Act

Banking regulation is much stricter than regulation in other industries and the financial sector. To apply for a bank charter, the owners (usually bank holding companies) of the bank’s capitalization are required to be debt free. Banks are supposed to be unencumbered rock solid investments. Once the charter is granted the bank then can receive deposits, ie, a debt owed to depositors encumbered by the bank’s capitalization. The combined value of the banks capitalization, along with its ability to lend other peoples money (depositors money) equals the bank’s balance sheet.

If a part owner of a bank holding company were to take on private debt, and sold his stake in the bank to satisfy the debt, that could reduce the bank’s capitalization, drive down the value of other shareholders stake, curtail the bank’s ability to lend, and affect the economic growth and activity in the surrounding neighborhood. Thus holders of bank charters are strictly regulated and supposed to be responsible with a proven track record in managing their own financial affairs.

The Glass-Steagall Act strictly regulated bank’s and bank charter owners ability to use bank assets (ie, a bank’s capitalization, depositor’s money, and earnings from its capitalization and depositors money). Under Glass-Steagall banks were limited to collecting interest off of lending depositors money (which a portion was paid back to depositors) or brokering deals, bringing buyer and seller together and making a fee off the transaction without using the bank’s own cash.

Repealing Glass-Steagall opened the door to proprietary trading, removing the heretofore strict requirements of banks to only invest or engage in the most conservative activities, and allowing them to purchase with bank stock and earnings, riskier assets with potentially more lucrative return, such as sub-prime mortgages and insurance companies loaded with potential risk and liabilities.

The Volcker Rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and part of the Dodd-Frank Fin Reg bill aimed at Wall Street reform, is an effort to allow the Federal Reserve stricter oversight of bank holding companies ownership and activities, which is difficult due to confidentiality agreements and privacy rights.

The United States is the only country in the world to have ever imposed the segregation of consumer banking and investment banking which existed under Glass-Steagall.

The New World Order. Conspiracy Theorists, Crackpots and people who need to get a Life


The reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States (1776).

The Latin phrase “novus ordo seclorum”, appearing on the reverse side of the Great Seal since 1782 and on the back of the US. one dollar bill since 1935, translates to “New Order of the Ages” and alludes to the beginning of an era where the United States of America is an independent nationstate; conspiracy theorists claim this is an allusion to the “New World Order”.

The New World Order or NWO is claimed to be an emerging clandestine totalitarian world government by various conspiracy theories.

The common theme in conspiracy theories about a New World Order is that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, which will replace sovereign nation states, and an all-encompassing propaganda whose ideology hails the establishment of the New World Order as the culmination of history’s progress.

Many influential historical and contemporary figures have therefore been purported to be part of a cabal that operates through many front organizations to orchestrate significant political and financial events, ranging from causing systemic crises to pushing through controversial policies, at both national and international levels, as steps in an ongoing plot to achieve world domination.

World Domination 😂

Before the early 1990s, New World Order conspiracism was limited to two American countercultures, primarily the militantly antigovernment right and secondarily that part of fundamentalist Christianity concerned with the end-time emergence of the Antichrist.

Skeptics such as Michael Barkun and Chip Berlet observed that right-wing populist conspiracy theories about a New World Order had not only been embraced by many seekers of stigmatized knowledge but had seeped into popular culture, thereby inaugurating a period during the late 20th and early 21 st centuries in the United States where people are actively preparing for apocalyptic millenarian scenarios.

Those political scientists are concerned that mass hysteria over New World Order conspiracy theories could eventually have devastating effects on American political life, ranging from escalating lone-wolf terrorism to the rise to power of authoritarian ultranationalist demagogues. Think Trump.

There are numerous systemic conspiracy theories through which the concept of a New World Order is viewed. The following is a list of the major ones in roughly chronological order:

End Time

Since the 19th century, many apocalyptic millennial Christian eschatologists, starting with John Nelson Darby, have predicted a globalist conspiracy to impose a tyrannical New World Order governing structure as the fulfillment of prophecies about the “end time” in the Bible, specifically in the Book of Ezekiel, the Book of Daniel, the Olivet discourse found in the Synoptic Gospels and the Book of Revelation.

They claim that people who have made a deal with the Devil to gain wealth and power have become pawns in a supernatural chess game to move humanity into accepting a utopian world government that rests on the spiritual foundations of a syncretic-messianic world religion, which will later reveal itself to be a dystopian world empire that imposes the imperial cult of an “Unholy Trinity” of Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet.

In many contemporary Christian conspiracy theories, the False Prophet will be either the last pope of the Catholic Church (groomed and installed by an Alta Vendita or Jesuit conspiracy), a guru from the New Age movement, or even the leader of an elite fundamentalist Christian organization like the Fellowship, while the Antichrist will be either the President of the European Union, the Secretary General of the United Nations, or even the Caliph of a pan-Islamic state.

Some of the most vocal critics of end-time conspiracy theories come from within Christianity. In 1993, historian Bruce Barron wrote a stern rebuke of apocalyptic Christian conspiracism in the Christian Research Journal, when reviewing Robertson’s 1991 book The New World Order.

Another critique can be found in historian Gregory S. Camp’s 1997 book Selling Fear: Conspiracy Theories and End-Times Paranoia.

Religious studies scholar Richard T. Hughes argues that “New World Order” rhetoric libels the Christian faith, since the “New World Order” as defined by Christian conspiracy theorists has no basis in the Bible whatsoever. Furthermore, he argues that not only is this idea unbiblical, it is positively anti-biblical and fundamentally anti-Christian, because by misinterpreting key passages in the Book of Revelation, it turns a comforting message about the coming kingdom of God into one of fear, panic and despair in the face of an allegedly approaching one-world government.

Progressive Christians, such as preacher-theologian Peter J. Gomes, caution Christian fundamentalists that a “spirit of fear” can distort scripture and history through dangerously combining biblical literalism, apocalyptic timetables, demonization and oppressive prejudices, while Camp warns of the “very real danger that Christians could pick up some extra spiritual baggage” by credulously embracing conspiracy theories.

They therefore call on Christians who indulge in conspiracism to repent.


Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest secular fraternal organizations and arose during late 16th, early 17th century Britain. Over the years a number of allegations and conspiracy theories have been directed towards Freemasonry, including the allegation that Freemasons have a hidden political agenda and are conspiring to bring about a New World Order, a world government organized according to Masonic principles and/or governed only by Freemasons.

The esoteric nature of Masonic symbolism and rites led to Freemasons first being accused of secretly practising Satanism in the late 18th century.

The original allegation of a conspiracy within Freemasonry to subvert religions and governments in order to take over the world traces back to Scottish author John Robison, whose reactionary conspiracy theories crossed the Atlantic and influenced outbreaks of Protestant anti-Masonry in the United States during the 19th century.

In the 1890s, French writer Léo Taxil wrote a series of pamphlets and books denouncing Freemasonry and charging their lodges with worshiping Lucifer as the Supreme Being and Great Architect of the Universe. Despite the fact that Taxil admitted that his claims were all a hoax, they were and still are believed and repeated by numerous conspiracy theorists and had a huge influence on subsequent anti-Masonic claims about Freemasonry.

Some conspiracy theorists eventually speculated that some Founding Fathers of the United States, such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were having Masonic sacred geometric designs interwoven into American society, particularly in the Great Seal of the United States, the United States one-dollar bill, the architecture of National Mall landmarks and the streets and highways of Washington, DC, as part of a master plan to create the first “Masonic government” as a model for the coming New World Order.

Freemasons rebut these claims of a Masonic conspiracy:

Freemasons rebut these claims of a Masonic conspiracy. Freemasonry, which promotes rationalism, places no power in occult symbols themselves, and it is not a part of its principles to view the drawing of symbols, no matter how large, as an act of consolidating or controlling power. Furthermore, there is no published information establishing the Masonic membership of the men responsible for the design of the Great Seal.

While conspiracy theorists assert that there are elements of Masonic influence on the Great Seal of the United States, and that these elements were intentionally or unintentionally used because the creators were familiar with the symbols, in fact, the all-seeing Eye of Providence and the unfinished pyramid were symbols used as much outside Masonic lodges as within them in the late 18th century, therefore the designers were drawing from common esoteric symbols. The Latin phrase “novus ordo seclorum”, appearing on the reverse side of the Great Seal since 1782 and on the back of the one-dollar bill since 1935, translates to “New Order of the Ages”, and alludes to the beginning of an era where the United States of America is an independent nation-state; it is often translated by conspiracy theorists as New World Order”.

Although the European continental branch of Freemasonry has organizations that allow political discussion within their Masonic Lodges, Masonic researcher Trevor W. McKeown argues that the accusations ignore several facts. Firstly, the many Grand Lodges are independent and sovereign, meaning they act on their own and do not have a common agenda. The points of belief of the various lodges often differ. Secondly, famous individual Freemasons have always held views that span the political spectrum and show no particular pattern or preference. As such, the term ”Masonic government” is erroneous; there is no consensus among Freemasons about what an ideal government would look like.


The Order of the Illuminati was an Enlightenment age secret society founded by university professor Adam Weishaupt on 1 May 1776, in Upper Bavaria, Germany. The movement consisted of advocates of free thought, secularism, liberalism, republicanism, and gender equality, recruited from the German Masonic Lodges, who sought to teach rationalism through mystery schools.

In 1785, the order was infiltrated, broken up and suppressed by the government agents of Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria, in his preemptive campaign to neutralize the threat of secret societies ever becoming hotbeds of conspiracies to overthrow the Bavarian monarchy and its state religion, Roman Catholicism.“ There is no evidence that the Bavarian Illuminati survived its suppression in 1785.

In the late 18th century, reactionary conspiracy theorists, such as Scottish physicist John Robison and French Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel, began speculating that the Illuminati had survived their suppression and become the masterminds behind the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The Illuminati were accused of being subversives who were attempting to secretly orchestrate a revolutionary wave in Europe and the rest of the world in order to spread the most radical ideas and movements of the Enlightenment anti-clericalism, antimonarchism, and anti-patriarchalism, and to create a world noocracy and cult of reason.

During the 19th century, fear of an Illuminati conspiracy was a real concern of the European ruling classes, and their oppressive reactions to this unfounded fear provoked in 1848 the very revolutions they sought to prevent.

During the interwar period of the 20th century, fascist propagandists, such as British revisionist historian Nesta Helen Webster and American socialite Edith Starr Miller, not only popularized the myth of an Illuminati conspiracy but claimed that it was a subversive secret society which served the Jewish elites that supposedly propped up both finance capitalism and Soviet communism in order to divide and rule the world.

American evangelist Gerald Burton Winrod and other conspiracy theorists within the fundamentalist Christian movement in the United States, which emerged in the 1910s as a backlash against the principles of Enlightenment, secular humanism, modernism, and liberalism, became the main channel of dissemination of Illuminati conspiracy theories in the US. Rightwing populists, such as members of the John Birch Society, subsequently began speculating that some collegiate fraternities (Skull and Bones), gentlemen’s clubs (Bohemian Club), and think tanks (Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission) of the American upper class are front organizations of the Illuminati, which they accuse of plotting to create a New World Order through a one-world government.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an antisemitic canard, originally published in Russian in 1903, alleging a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy to achieve world domination. The text purports to be the minutes of the secret meetings of a cabal of Jewish masterminds, which has co-opted Freemasonry and is plotting to rule the world on behalf of all Jews because they believe themselves to be the chosen people of God.

The Protocols incorporate many of the core conspiracist themes outlined in the Robison and Barruel attacks on the Freemasons, and overlay them with antisemitic allegations about anti-Tsarist movements in Russia.

The Protocols reflect themes similar to more general critiques of Enlightenment liberalism by conservative aristocrats who support monarchies and state religions. The interpretation intended by the publication of The Protocols is that if one peels away the layers of the Masonic conspiracy, past the Illuminati, one finds the rotten Jewish core.

Numerous polemicists, such as Irish journalist Philip Graves in a 1921 article in The Times, and British academic Norman Cohn in his 1967 book Warrant for Genocide, have proven The Protocols to be both a hoax and a clear case of plagiarism. There is general agreement that Russian-French writer and political activist Matvei Golovinski fabricated the text for Okhrana, the secret police of the Russian Empire, as a work of counter revolutionary propaganda prior to the 1905 Russian Revolution, by plagiarizing, almost word for word in some passages, from The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, a 19th-century satire against Napoleon III of France written by French political satirist and Legitimist militant Maurice Joly.

Responsible for feeding many antisemitic and anti-Masonic mass hysterias of the 20th century, The Protocols has been influential in the development of some conspiracy theories. including some New World Order theories, and appears repeatedly in certain contemporary conspiracy literature.

For example, the authors of the 1982 controversial book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail concluded that The Protocols was the most persuasive piece of evidence for the existence and activities of the Priory of Sion. They speculated that this secret society was working behind the scenes to establish a theocratic “United States of Europe”. Politically and religiously unified through the imperial cult of a Merovingian Great Monarch, supposedly descended from a Jesus bloodline, who occupies both the throne of Europe and the Holy See, this “Holy European Empire” would become the hyperpower of the 21 st century.

Although the Priory of Sion itself has been exhaustively debunked by journalists and scholars as a hoax, some apocalyptic millenarian Christian eschatologists who believe The Protocols is authentic became convinced that the Priory of Sion was a fulfillment of prophecies found in the Book of Revelation and further proof of an anti Christian conspiracy of epic proportions signaling the imminence of a New World Order.

Skeptics argue that the current gambit of contemporary conspiracy theorists who use The Protocols is to claim that they “really” come from some group other than the Jews, such as fallen angels or alien invaders. Although it is hard to determine whether the conspiracy-minded actually believe this or are simply trying to sanitize a discredited text, skeptics argue that it does not make much difference, since they leave the actual, antisemitic text unchanged. The result is to give The Protocols credibility and circulation.

Round Table

During the second half of Britain’s “imperial century” between 1815 and 1914, English born South African businessman, mining magnate and politician Cecil Rhodes advocated the British Empire reannexing the United States of America and reforming itself into an “Imperial Federation” to bring about a hyperpower and lasting world peace. In his first will, written in 1877 at the age of 23, he expressed his wish to fund a secret society (known as the Society of the Elect) that would advance this goal:

To and for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom, and of colonisation by British subjects of all lands where the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labour and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the Islands of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South America, the Islands of the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America, as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament, which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire and, finally, the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity.

In 1890, thirteen years after “his now famous will,” Rhodes elaborated on the same idea: establishment of “England everywhere,” which would “ultimately lead to the cessation of all wars, and one language throughout the world.” “The only thing feasible to carry out this idea is a secret society gradually absorbing the wealth of the world [“and human minds of the higher order”] to be devoted to such an object.”

Rhodes also concentrated on the Rhodes Scholarship, which had British statesman Alfred Milner as one of its trustees. Established in 1902, the original goal of the trust fund was to foster peace among the great powers by creating a sense of fraternity and a shared world view among future British, American, and German leaders by having enabled them to study for free at the University of Oxford.

Milner and British official Lionel George Curtis were the architects of the Round Table movement, a network of organizations promoting closer union between Britain and its selfgoverning colonies. To this end, Curtis founded the Royal Institute of International Affairs in June 1919 and, with his 1938 book The Commonwealth of God, began advocating for the creation of an imperial federation that eventually reannexes the US, which would be presented to Protestant churches as being the work of the Christian God to elicit their support. The Commonwealth of Nations was created in 1949 but it would only be a free association of independent states rather than the powerful imperial federation imagined by Rhodes, Milner and Curtis.

The Council on Foreign Relations began in 1917 with a group of New York academics who were asked by President Woodrow Wilson to offer options for the foreign policy of the United States in the interwar period. Originally envisioned as a group of American and British scholars and diplomats, some of whom belonging to the Round Table movement, it was a subsequent group of 108 New York financiers, manufacturers and international lawyers organized in June 1918 by Nobel Peace Prize recipient and US. secretary of state Elihu Root, that became the Council on Foreign Relations on 29 July 1921.

The first of the council’s projects was a quarterly journal launched in September 1922, called Foreign Affairs. The Trilateral Commission was founded in July 1973, at the initiative of American banker David Rockefeller, who was chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations at that time. It is a private organization established to foster closer cooperation among the United States, Europe and Japan. The Trilateral Commission is widely seen as a counterpart to the Council on Foreign Relations.

In the 1960s, right-wing populist individuals and groups with a paleoconservative worldview, such as members of the John Birch Society, were the first to combine and spread a business nationalist critique of corporate internationalists networked through think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations with a grand conspiracy theory casting them as front organizations for the Round Table of the “Anglo American Establishment”, which are financed by an “international banking cabal” that has supposedly been plotting from the late 19th century on to impose an oligarchic new world order through a global financial system. Antiglobalist conspiracy theorists therefore fear that international bankers are planning to eventually subvert the independence of the U.S. by subordinating national sovereignty to a strengthened Bank for International Settlements.

The research findings of historian Carroll Quigley, author of the 1966 book Tragedy and Hope, are taken by both conspiracy theorists of the American Old Right (W. Cleon Skousen) and New Left (Carl Oglesby) to substantiate this view, even though Quigley argued that the Establishment is not involved in a plot to implement a one-world government but rather British and American benevolent imperialism driven by the mutual interests of economic elites in the United Kingdom and the United States. Quigley also argued that, although the Round Table still exists today, its position in influencing the policies of world leaders has been much reduced from its heyday during World War 1 and slowly waned after the end of World War II and the Suez Crisis. Today the Round Table is largely a ginger group, designed to consider and gradually influence the policies of the Commonwealth of Nations, but faces strong opposition.

Furthermore, in American society after 1965, the problem, according to Quigley, was that no elite was in charge and acting responsibly.

Larry McDonald, the second president of the John Birch Society and a conservative Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives who represented the 7th congressional district of Georgia, wrote a foreword for Allen’s 1976 book The Rockefeller File, wherein he claimed that the Rockefellers and their allies were driven by a desire to create a one-world government that combined ”supercapitalism” with communism and would be fully under their control. He saw a conspiracy plot that was “international in scope, generations old in planning, and incredibly evil in intent.”

In his 2002 autobiography Memoirs, David Rockefeller wrote:

For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as ‘internationalists’ and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure-one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of stand guilty, and I am proud of it.

Barkun argues that this statement is partly facetious (the claim of “conspiracy” and “treason”) and partly serious, the desire to encourage trilateral cooperation among the US, Europe, and Japan, for example, an ideal that used to be a hallmark of the internationalist wing of the Republican Party (known as “Rockefeller Republicans” in honor of Nelson Rockefeller) when there was an internationalist wing. The statement, however, is taken at face value and widely cited by conspiracy theorists as proof that the Council on Foreign Relations uses its role as the brain trust of American presidents, senators and representatives to manipulate them into supporting a New World Order in the form of a one-world government.

In a 13 November 2007 interview with Canadian journalist Benjamin Fulford, Rockefeller countered that he felt no need for a world government and wished for the governments of the world to work together and collaborate. He also stated that it seemed neither likely nor desirable to have only one elected government rule the whole world. He criticized accusations of him being “ruler of the world” as nonsensical.

Some American social critics, such as Laurence H. Shoup, argue that the Council on Foreign Relations is an “imperial brain trust” which has, for decades, played a central behind-the-scenes role in shaping US. foreign policy choices for the post-World War II international order and the Cold War by determining what options show up on the agenda and what options do not even make it to the table; others, such as G. William Domhoff, argue that it is in fact a mere policy discussion forum which provides the business input to US. foreign policy planning.

Domhoff argues that “it has nearly 3,000 members, far too many for secret plans to be kept within the group. All the council does is sponsor discussion groups, debates and speakers. As far as being secretive, it issues annual reports and allows access to its historical archives.”

However, all these critics agree that “historical studies of the CFR show that it has a very different role in the overall power structure than what is claimed by conspiracy theorists.”

The Open Conspiracy

In his 1928 book The Open Conspiracy British writer and futurist H. G. Wells promoted cosmopolitanism and offered blueprints for a world revolution and world brain to establish a technocratic world state and planned economy. Wells warned however, in his 1940 book The New World Order that:

When the struggle seems to be drifting definitely towards a world social democracy, there may still be very great delays and disappointments before it becomes an efficient and beneficent world system. Countless people will hate the new world order, be rendered unhappy by the frustration of their passions and ambitions through its advent and will die protesting against it. When we attempt to evaluate its promise, we have to bear in mind the distress of a generation or so of malcontents, many of them quite gallant and graceful looking people.

Wells’s books were influential in giving a second meaning to the term “new world order”, which would only be used by state socialist supporters and anti-communist opponents for generations to come. However, despite the popularity and notoriety of his ideas, Wells failed to exert a deeper and more lasting influence because he was unable to concentrate his energies on a direct appeal to intelligentsias who would, ultimately, have to coordinate the Wellsian new world order.

New Age

British neo-Theosophical occultist Alice Bailey, one of the founders of the so-called New Age movement, prophesied in 1940 the eventual victory of the Allies of World War II over the Axis powers (which occurred in 1945) and the establishment by the Allies of a political and religious New World Order.

She saw a federal world government as the culmination of Wells’ Open Conspiracy but favorably argued that it would be synarchist because it was guided by the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, intent on preparing humanity for the mystical second coming of Christ, and the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

According to Bailey, a group of ascended masters called the Great White Brotherhood works on the “inner planes” to oversee the transition to the New World Order but, for now, the members of this Spiritual Hierarchy are only known to a few occult scientists, with whom they communicate telepathically, but as the need for their personal involvement in the plan increases, there will be an “Externalization of the Hierarchy” and everyone will know of their presence on Earth.

Bailey’s writings, along with American writer Marilyn Ferguson’s 1980 book The Aquarian Conspiracy, contributed to conspiracy theorists of the Christian right viewing the New Age movement as the “false religion” that would supersede Christianity in a New World Order.

Skeptics argue that the term “New Age movement” is a misnomer, generally used by conspiracy theorists as a catch-all rubric for any new religious movement that is not fundamentalist Christian. By this logic, anything that is not Christian is by definition actively and willfully antichrist Ian.

Paradoxically, since the first decade of the 21st century, New World Order conspiracism is increasingly being embraced and propagandized by New Age occultists, who are people bored by rationalism and drawn to stigmatized knowledge, such as alternative medicine, astrology, quantum mysticism, spiritualism, and theosophy.

Thus, New Age conspiracy theorists, such as the makers of documentary films like Esoteric Agenda, claim that globalists who plot on behalf of the New World Order are simply misusing occultism for Machiavellian ends, such as adopting 21 December 2012 as the exact date for the establishment of the New World Order for the purpose of taking advantage of the growing 2012 phenomenon, which has its origins in the fringe Mayanist theories of New Age writers José Argiielles, Terence McKenna, and Daniel Pinchbeck.

Skeptics argue that the connection of conspiracy theorists and occultists follows from their common fallacious premises. First, any widely accepted belief must necessarily be false. Second, stigmatized knowledge-what the Establishment spurns-must be true. The result is a large, self-referential network in which, for example, some UFO religionists promote anti Jewish phobias while some antisemites practice Peruvian shamanism.

Forth Reich

Conspiracy theorists often use the term “Fourth Reich” simply as a pejorative synonym for the “New World Order” to imply that its state ideology and government will be similar to Germany’s Third Reich.

Conspiracy theorists, such as American writer Jim Marrs, claim that some ex-Nazis, who survived the fall of the Greater German Reich, along with sympathizers in the United States and elsewhere, given haven by organizations like ODESSA and Die Spinne, have been working behind the scenes since the end of World War II to enact at least some principles of Nazism (e.g., militarism, imperialism, widespread spying on citizens, corporatism, the use of propaganda to manufacture a national consensus) into culture, government, and business worldwide, but primarily in the US.

They cite the influence of ex Nazi scientists brought in under Operation Paperclip to help advance aerospace a manufacturing in the US. with technological principles from Nazi UFOs, and the acquisition and creation of conglomerates by ex Nazis and their sympathizers after the war, in both Europe and the U.S.

This neo-Nazi conspiracy is said to be animated by an “Iron Dream” in which the American Empire, having thwarted the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy and overthrown its Zionist Occupation Government, gradually establishes a Fourth Reich formerly known as the “Western Imperium”, a pan-Aryan world empire modeled after Adolf Hitler’s New Order, which reverses the “decline of the West” and ushers a golden age of white supremacy.

Skeptics argue that conspiracy theorists grossly overestimate the influence of ex-Nazis and neo-Nazis on American society, and point out that political repression at home and imperialism abroad have a long history in the United States that predates the 20th century. Some political scientists, such as Sheldon Wolin, have expressed concern that the twin forces of democratic deficit and superpower status have paved the way in the U.S. for the emergence of an inverted totalitarianism which contradicts many principles of Nazism.

Alien invasion

Since the late 1970s, extraterrestrials from other habitable planets or parallel dimensions (such as “Greys”) and intraterrestrials from Hollow Earth (such as “Reptilians”) have been included in the New World Order conspiracy, in more or less dominant roles, as in the theories put forward by American writers Stan Deyo and Milton William Cooper, and British writer David Ickenham.

The common theme in these conspiracy theories is that aliens have been among us for decades, centuries or millennia, but a government cover-up enforced by “Men in Black” has shielded the public from knowledge of a secret alien invasion. Motivated by speciesism and imperialism, these aliens have been and are secretly manipulating developments and changes in human society in order to more efficiently control and exploit human beings.

In some theories, alien infiltrators have shapeshifted into human form and move freely throughout human society, even to the point of taking control of command positions in governmental, corporate, and religious institutions, and are now in the final stages of their plan to take over the world.

A mythical covert government agency of the United States code-named Majestic 12 is often imagined being the shadow government which collaborates with the alien occupation and permits alien abductions, in exchange for assistance in the development and testing of military “flying saucers” at Area 51, in order for United States armed forces to achieve full-spectrum dominance.

Skeptics, who adhere to the psychosocial hypothesis for unidentified flying objects, argue that the convergence of New World Order conspiracy theory and UFO conspiracy theory is a product of not only the era’s widespread mistrust of governments and the popularity of the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs but of the far right and ufologists actually joining forces. Barkun notes that the only positive side to this development is that, if conspirators plotting to rule the world are believed to be aliens, traditional human scapegoats (Freemasons, Illuminati, Jews, etc.) are downgraded or exonerated.

Brave New World

Antiscience and neo-Luddite conspiracy theorists emphasize technology forecasting in their New World Order conspiracy theories. They speculate that the global power elite are reactionary modernists pursuing a transhumanist agenda to develop and use human enhancement technologies in order to become a “posthuman ruling caste”, while change accelerates toward a technological singularity, a theorized future point of discontinuity when events will accelerate at such a pace that normal unenhanced humans will be unable to predict or even understand the rapid changes occurring in the world around them.

Conspiracy theorists fear the outcome will either be the emergence of a Brave New World-like dystopia, a “Brave New World Order”, or the extinction of the human species.

Democratic transhumanists, such as American sociologist James Hughes, counter that many influential members of the United States Establishment are bioconservatives strongly opposed to human enhancement, as demonstrated by President Bush’s Council on Bioethics’s proposed international treaty prohibiting human cloning and germline engineering. Furthermore, he argues that conspiracy theorists underestimate how fringe the transhumanist movement really is.

The enduring appeal of conspiracy theories – Melissa Hogenboom.

While some conspiracy theories are largely harmless, others have damaging ripple-effects. With new insights, researchers are getting closer to understanding why so many people believe things which are not true.

In certain pockets of America, measles diagnoses have been spreading at previously unprecented rates.

In 2017 there were 58 confirmed cases of the illness in Minnesota – the largest outbreak the state had seen in 30 years. Similarly, in 2008, a large outbreak occurred in California, which was thought to originate from a seven-year-old boy, who had not been vaccinated.

Less than a decade earlier, measles had been largely eliminated in the US. The gradual resurgence can, researchers say, be directly attributed to people who were not vaccinated.

Before measles vaccinations were introduced in 1963, the illness could be deadly. In the 1960s, there were several million cases, thousands of hospitalisations and 500 deaths per year. Meanwhile in Australia, a 2016 report concluded that 23 deaths from a host of diseases could have been prevented by vaccination between 2005 and 2014. And what’s more, such vaccinations were readily available.

Those that do not vaccinate often choose not to. They are called “anti-vaxxers” and they largely believe that vaccinations are harmful – and, often, that pharmaceutical companies (and others) cover up damaging effects of vaccinations. It is but one of many conspiracy theories that flies in the face of scientific evidence – a quick internet search throws up hundreds.

Similarly, climate change deniers are convinced that the Earth is not warming, and some say that scientists are tweaking evidence to make it appear so. Those that believe in one conspiracy, are in turn more susceptible to believing others.

While some conspiracy theories are relatively harmless – the argument that Nasa faked the Moon landing, or bizarrely, that Beatle Sir Paul McCartney died long ago with a doppelganger taking his place ever since – others have damaging ripple-effects.

With new insights, researchers are getting closer to understanding more of the factors involved. This will, they hope, help mitigate some of the very real dangers and societal divides that conspiracy theories encourage.

Anti-vaxxers believe that vaccinations can be harmful

There is nothing new about conspiracy theories. As early as the 3rd Century BC, a once-lost Gospel of Philip purported that Jesus and Mary Magdalen were married, a myth which has been perpetuated in popular fiction, such as The Da Vinci Code. Some trace the mysterious brain-washing Illuminati conspiracy to a secret society in 1776, but that society was nothing like the ‘Illuminati’ of today. More recently, some even deny that the Holocaust happened. Despite the harrowing evidence, they maintain that the Nazis did not kill six million Jews during World War Two.

The question psychologists like Karen Douglas, a professor at the University of Kent, ask themselves is why do such beliefs persist?

There is no simple answer. Considering the range of conspiracy theories that abound and the fact that up to half of all US citizens believe at least one of them, there is no immediate set of unifying traits that makes up a “profile” of such a person. Who hasn’t at some point wanted to believe that a deceased favourite artist might still be alive? Elvis Presley and Tupac Shakur have both been subjects of such debate.

“On some level, we are all predisposed to be suspicious or mistrustful of government,” says Douglas. That we are wary of groups or people we do not understand makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. “In some ways, it is quite adaptive to be suspicious of other groups for your own personal safety,” she says.

The Da Vinci Code suggests that Jesus married Mary Magdalene

But when Douglas probed a little deeper, she started to uncover a smorgasbord of explanations for why some people are more drawn to conspiracies than others. For one, they seem to have an intrinsic and almost narcissistic need for uniqueness, one study showed. This is the idea that a person feels like they have access to scarce information or alternative ‘secret’ explanations about certain world events, such as the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris.

As the scholar and author Michael Billig put it in 1984: “The conspiracy theory offers the chance of hidden, important, and immediate knowledge, so that the believer can become an expert, possessed of a knowledge not held even by the so-called experts.” Douglas’ work has now shown what Billig alluded to.

Other studies reveal that conspiracy theories help people make sense of the world when they feel out of control, are anxious or feel powerless if their needs are threatened. People can find it difficult to accept that we live in a world where random acts of violence, such as mass-murder, can take place. That is why, says University of Bristol professor of psychology Stephan Lewandowsky, it can be psychologically comforting for some to believe that “powerful people” are behind random events. People are literally “addicted to answers,” according to one study.

Take the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass-shooting in US history in which 58 people were killed. It has been blamed on Muslim terrorists, the violent group Antifa, and it has been suggested it was part of an Illuminati blood-sacrifice ritual. The fact-checking website Snopes has a longer list of falsehoods it has debunked.

“We do not like the idea that out of the blue something terrible can happen, therefore, it is psychologically comforting for some people to believe in a well-organised conspiracy of powerful people who are responsible for those events,” says Lewandowsky.

Upbringing may also play a role in world beliefs. Individuals who grew up insecurely attached to their parents – where they experienced a negative relationship with one or both of them, also seem to be more likely to support conspiracy theories. That’s according to a study being published in April 2018 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Some people believe that Elvis Presley faked his own death

“These people exaggerate threats compared to others,” explains Douglas, in part because they use an inflated perception of global threats as a coping mechanism. “They help people explain or justify their anxieties.” Whether or not it works is another matter. The current evidence at least, suggests it does not help with anxiety. It might even make people feel less in control. In fact, conspiracy theories can make people feel more uncertain, powerless, and disillusioned. Once in that state, they are then also more likely to continue believing them.

That so many people do choose to believe conspiracy theories, comes with potentially dangerous consequences, despite the fact that some are absurdly silly or even comical.

People who are party to them feel more disengaged politically and are therefore less likely to vote. Climate sceptics are also less inclined to reduce their carbon footprint and support the politicians who promise to do so. Similarly, anti-vaxxers contribute to the spread of disease, which can harm and even kill the very young or those with compromised immune systems. These are the very real effects of an age where there is a “blizzard of misinformation” out there, says Lewandowsky, where the nobility of truth itself is being undermined.

There does not seem to be an easy way for the truth to rule supreme. Frustratingly for scientists, presenting accurate facts which “disprove” a conspiracy theory does not usually help. In fact, it can even make a false belief stronger. Lewandowsky found that the stronger a person believes in a conspiracy, the less likely they are to trust scientific facts. It is more likely they will think the person attempting to reason with them is in on it. “What that means is that any evidence against a conspiracy theory is reinterpreted as evidence in favour of it.” The rejection of science is, in part, fuelled by conspiracy theorists, he further found.

Conspiracy theorists say signs on the US dollar bill shows Illuminati influence

This highlights the extent to which we live in a polarised world. One study looking at how conspiracy theories spread online, revealed that there is no overlap between those who share scientific news, and those who share conspiracies or fake news. “We are living in separate echo chambers,” says physicist David Grimes, from Queens University, Belfast. He was so frequently trolled by conspiracy theorists in his science writing that he developed an algorithm to show how unlikely it is that big secrets can be kept for any significant length of time. The more people involved in a cover-up, the quicker it would unravel, he showed.

“We all share a single world, and the consequences of what we decide from a policy or ethics perspective, affect all of us. If we cannot even agree on basic science, things that shouldn’t even be controversial, we [will] have serious problems making decisions,” says Grimes.

While there may not be a single solution, research looking into the psychology behind conspiracy theory participation is a start. We now know that a person’s ideology is often related to their beliefs.

The strongest predictor of climate denial, for instance, is a free-market ideology, Lewandowsky discovered.

Through the work of Douglas and others, we now also know many of the traits that make people more susceptible to believing something without evidence. We need to realise that we are “drawn to patterns,” even when there are none, says Grimes. “The reality is, we live in a stochastic Universe. It’s tempting to draw a narrative, but there’s no narrative, there are no waves, we are joining dots in the sand,” says Grimes.

The vast majority of scientists agree that climate change today is caused by humans

Although technology has created the many echo chambers and filter bubbles we see today, it could also help overcome them. One pioneering experiment in Norway introduced a quiz to make sure the person understood what they had read before they were able to comment on an article. This might help people “calm down” before distributing random noise, says Lewandowsky, but at the same time it is not censoring anyone from having a voice.

Another strategy that could help is educating people to better understand trusted sources, as well as holding public figures to account when they spread misinformation. Several fact-checking websites and journalists already attempt to do this, but it doesn’t always work. Grimes has found that people set in their beliefs are unlikely to change their opinions, but those who “aren’t fully committed” can be swayed when presented with evidence. That, he hopes, means we can overturn many conspiracies if people are provided with compelling, fact-based evidence.

Lastly, we can all look more closely at what we share on social media ourselves. People often share a clever-sounding headline without actually reading the contents of the article.

“We’ve got the information of the world at our finger tips and yet we’re obsessed with empty fictions,” says Grimes. That’s exactly how misinformation and conspiracy theories can so easily spread.

This means that we really cannot always believe what we read and hear. If something sounds peculiar or contrived, chances are it might well be. If you are aware of just how many conspiracy theories circulate, then you are already ahead of the game in preventing them from spreading further.


The Evidence: Debunking FEMA Camp Myths – Popular Mechanics.

This photo of a supposed FEMA concentration camp in Wyoming is actually a satellite image of a North Korean Forced Labor Camp.

PM editor-in-chief James Meigs appeared on Glenn Beck’s FOX news program twice to debunk conspiracy theories regarding supposed “concentration camps” being built by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You can read transcripts from those here and here. But PM’s research went beyond what could fit in the short segments. Below are more details regarding some of the most prevalent claims, and facts, uncovered through PM’s independent investigation.
CLAIM: “There is a minimum of one confirmed concentration camp built on American soil in rural Wyoming. ” The (Department of Homeland Security) accidentally placed these photos on a publicly accessible portion of their website ” (but) they were pulled within one hour.” The images are not gone forever though.”
FACT: These actually are legitimate images of “forced-labor colonies, camps, and prisons”–in North Korea. The images were taken from “The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps,” a report prepared by the Washington D.C.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
Then someone manipulated the headers, photo dates and annotations. The original five images, showing a dorm for prisoners, forced-labor shops and guard towers, are here. “When we first got the photos, we had no idea they were prison camps,” said Matthew McKinzie, one of the men responsible for collecting the imagery. “The North Korean gulags are work gulags; the prisoners are forced to work and live in what look like North Korean villages. It wasn’t until we began interviewing former prisoners that we knew what we were looking at.” In the fakes, original maps and geographic coordinates have been covered by poorly pasted DHS logos. The whole thing may have been a hoax–the name of the made-up facility, “Swift Luck Greens,” is an anagram for “Left Wing Suckers”–but it’s evidence that once things get passed around the Internet, they can lose context and the wildest theory wins.
CLAIM: “More (evidence of) Concentration Camps in America for Americans. Yes, they are real. More (photographic) proof ” read it and weep, it’s coming!”
FACT: Camp Grayling, located in northern central Michigan, is the largest National Guard training center in the U.S. The National Guard, active and reserve components of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard all train there, practicing everything from helicopter gunnery to processing and care for prisoners of war. “The ‘camps’ you are referring to are used by our military police for training,” said Maj. Dawn Dancer, a public information officer for the Michigan National Guard. “In fact, one of our MP units just returned from a 12-month deployment where they oversaw the operations of a POW facility in Iraq. We are fortunate to have such a great training facility here.” This is also evidence of the life span of these theories: Far from being new, or even inspired by post-9/11 government buildup, Dancer first began responding to these photos in 1999. “I cannot believe this rumor about Camp Grayling is still alive,” she said.
A) “The Amtrak Railcar Repair Facility at Beech Grove, Ind., contains high security NSA-style people turnstiles, and high intensity/security lighting for 24-hour operation. These buildings have been sealed airtight and constructed to allow gas to be blown into all the buildings via the newly installed, two-story, hot air heating furnaces. [T]he (jobs) of Americans who were laid off there will be filled with foreigners, who will have no qualms about gassing Americans in the newly renovated gas chambers, in the Dachau and Auschwitz of America.”
-2:03-2:15 / 2:30-2:50: “This small building is the only way into a particular fenced area. Inside this building, we see more of the motion-activated detectors, electronic turnstiles, and prison bars. ” All of the renovations to this property have involved putting in new fencing, electronic turnstiles, concrete flooring in unused warehouse buildings, and putting in large gas furnaces in buildings that were never heated anytime in the past 20 years.”
-4:10-4:40: “In yet another fenced area, we see a large warehouse building at the end with the electronic turnstiles in front of it. The building is one that has a new concrete floor–and its doors and windows have all been blocked. Outside there are new gas pipes.”
-4:57-5:17: “The gas lines and gas pipes at the facility run the length of the buildings–and come out at some very, very large brand-new furnaces that have been installed at the buildings throughout the facility.”
A) This footage, which appears in multiple videos on YouTube, is from a “documentary” filmed 15 years ago—yet today, it’s been viewed nearly 1.5 million times online. The woman who made the video, Linda Thompson, was one of the pioneers of the militia movement in the United States–except that she was so extreme, the Southern Poverty Law Center says she embarrassed even her fellow milita members. (Most famously, she called for an armed march on Washington, D.C., to “take U.S. senators and congressmen into custody, hold them for trial, and, if necessary, execute them.”). Far from a death camp, Beech Grove is the primary maintenance facility for Amtrak’s long-distance trains, overhauling and repairing approximately 700 passenger cars a year. Company officials, who’ve heard these theories for years, welcomed our film crew, and John Grey, the superintendent of the facility, showed us anything we wanted to see.
B) The turnstiles and “prison bars”:According to Grey, that system was the company’s initial attempt at an electronic system to log in and out its 500 employees. They’re similar to a pair of subway turnstiles. As the technology evolved, so too did the Amtrak infrastructure: There are no more bars to funnel employees through one set of gates; now there are electronic kiosks across the property where workers can clock in and out. “That system was short-lived,” Grey says. “Now there are kiosks everywhere.”
-The “large warehouse” with windows and doors that are blocked: When the original footage was filmed, the “Coach 3” building, one of three original repair facilities on the property, was in the process of being emptied and consolidated into the other two massive warehouses on the property. That’s why it was boarded up. The building was demolished about seven years ago.
-New gas pipes and furnaces: In 1993, the existing centralized power plant for steam heat was deemed too expensive and inefficient. That year, the company upgraded to localized forced-air gas heaters. (Hence the “new gas pipes” seen in 1994.) “The volume of gas use went up, so we rerouted the gas line from a front entrance to the back entrance,” Grey said, “just like you would at your house.”
CLAIM: “500,000 plastic air-tight coffins in the middle of Atlanta Georgia. Apparently the Government is expecting a Half Million people to die relatively soon, and the Atlanta Airport is a major airline traffic hub, probably the biggest in the country, which means Georgia is a prime base to conduct military operations and coordination. It is also the home of the CDC, the Center for Disease Control. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but usually you don’t buy 500,000 plastic coffins ‘just in case something happens,’ you buy them because you know something is going to happen. These air tight seal containers would be perfect to bury victims of plague or biological warfare in, wouldn’t they?”
FACT: The black polypropylene products purported to be coffins are grave liners, or burial vaults, manufactured by Convington, Ga.-based Vantage Products. (In this case, they are examples of the company’s Standard Air Seal model.) The use of a burial vault, which prevents the collapse of cemetery ground and protects the casket, is a common requirement when a body is interred.
The filmed lot in Madison, Ga., is a Vantage storage facility. Of the 900,000 or so in-ground burials in the U.S. each year, a small percentage of those people prearranged their own caskets and vaults–which Vanguard holds at the storage facility until the appropriate time. According to company Vice President of Operations Michael Lacey, there are approximately 50,000 vaults in storage in Madison. “It’s nowhere near the quantity they talk about on the Internet,” he told the local Morgan County Citizen newspaper. Furthermore, Lacey has said the company maintains detailed records of product ownership and is audited annually, to insure all vaults are accounted for.
CLAIM: “FEMA is the executive arm of the coming police state and thus will head up all operations. The Presidential Executive Orders already listed on the Federal Register also are part of the legal framework for this operation.” (The site then lists 14 executive orders as examples.)
FACTS: In 1962, while juggling conflicts in Cuba and Vietnam, and the potential for nuclear war with the Soviets, President John F. Kennedy signed a series of executive orders that outlined the basic framework for agency responsibilities during a national emergency. Most of those have since been revoked, or rolled into a single, more comprehensive executive ordersigned by President Reagan. Safeguards were written into the current framework of responsibilities, declaring that any emergency preparation or actions “shall be consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
According to Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale Law School, “The question of whether executive power could be abused so as to act inconsistently with the law has been a central constitutional concern for years. But the question in this case is whether it’s right to look at 47-year-old executive orders without studying what came after them. And the answer there is obviously no.”
The idea of the government seizing all the nation’s farmland or forcing Americans into labor camps is without basis–except in Hollywood. In the first X-Files movie, the character Dr. Alvin Kurtzweil meets agent Mulder in a dark alley. “Are you familiar with what the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s real power is?” Kurtzweil asks. “FEMA allows the White House to suspend Constitutional government on declaration of a national emergency. Think about that!”
Speculation about the agency was rampant after the film came out, leading a FEMA spokesman to tell The Washington Post in an article published on June 24, 1998: “You may emphatically state that FEMA does not have, never has had, nor will ever seek, the authority to suspend the Constitution.” In fact, it led to an internal FEMA memo, reading: “While entertaining and somewhat humorous to the employees of FEMA, some moviegoers may not understand that they are watching a fictional portrayal of the agency. ” Most people know us as the agency that responds to natural disasters, others believe we have a somewhat sinister role. For the latter, it is not realistic to think that we can convince them otherwise and it is advisable not to enter into debate on the subject.”
The FEMA camps conspiracy theory holds that the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is planning to imprison US citizens in concentration camps.
This is typically described as following the imposition of martial law in the United States after a major disaster or crisis. In some versions of the theory, only suspected dissidents will be imprisoned. In more extreme versions, large numbers of US citizens will be imprisoned for the purposes of extermination as a New World Order is established.
The conspiracy theory has existed since the late 1970s but it has picked up greatly in popularity since the late 1990s.
FEMA was established in 1979 under executive order by President Jimmy Carter. It was established to coordinate the response to a major disaster that has occurred in the United States and that overwhelms local and state authorities. However, proponents of the conspiracy theory argue that this is merely a cover for the organization’s real purpose. This plan is to assume control of the United States following a major disaster or threat, either a genuine one or a manufactured one. Once a disaster or threat of one comes into being, the theory goes, martial law will be declared and FEMA’s emergency powers will come into operation. FEMA will then effectively be the government. The constitution will be suspended and FEMA will move US citizens into specially constructed camps, many of which have already been built. The organization has been described in this context as ‘the executive arm of the coming police state’. Proponents of the theory often play into racial fears, asserting that FEMA will use ‘urban gangs’ as auxiliaries to ensure order.
In many versions of the theory, ‘dissidents’ (typically defined as constitutionalists/patriots etc. rather than left-wingers) will merely be imprisoned. Others have gone so far as to argue that they will be sent to these camps to be murdered. Extreme versions of the theory state that plans are in place to imprison and kill apolitical American citizens in FEMA camps as part of a ‘population control’ plot. FEMA conspiracies are often worked in larger conspiracy narratives about ushering in a ‘New World Order’, meaning a totalitarianglobal government.
As evidence of the conspiracy, theory proponents point to supposed FEMA camps already existing in the United States. These, however, often have known, established purposes such as Amtrak facilities and Armed Forces training centers. In some cases, genuine internment camps have been pointed to but these have always been outside the United States.
Proponents have also cited a contingency plan (Rex 84) drafted in part by Oliver Northcalling for the suspension of the Constitution and the detainment of citizens in the event of a national crisis. This was aimed at left-wing activists, not the libertarians and right-wingers generally associated with FEMA theories. This has been linked to a 1970 document by Louis Giuffrida (years later, the director of FEMA) calling for the establishment of martial law in the event of an uprising by African American militants and the internment of millions of African Americans.
Conspiracy theorists have used the actual internment of Japanese Americans during World War II in specifically constructed camps as evidence that such a scenario at least has historic precedent. Similarly, the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands is an earlier precedent.
One of the first known references to FEMA concentration camps comes from a newsletter issued by Posse Comitatus in 1982, with the warning that ‘hardcore patriots’ were to be detained in them. The prevalence of the conspiracy theory increased in line with the rise of the militia movement in the 1990s. A supposed FEMA camp was featured in Linda Thompson’s influential film America Under Siege (in reality, the ‘FEMA camp’ was an Amtrak repair facility). Following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the conspiracy theory was discussed by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Domestic Terrorism. The theory’s inclusion in the plot of the 1998 X-Files movie showed its growing reach.
Fears of FEMA declined in the early 2000s as foreign terrorists were perceived as the major threat. However, the late-2000s recession and the 2008 election of Barack Obama has renewed opposition to the federal government. In this context there has been a resurgence in the militia movement and, with it, the FEMA camps conspiracy theory. This time, however, the theory has been able to reach more mainstream right-wing circles while it had previously been confined to the far-right. FOX News personality Glenn Beck, for example, devoted airtime to it on three shows, saying that he could not debunk it (although he later stated that he did not believe the theory). Emails from the magazine National Review have also promoted the theory. Sitting Congresswoman Michele Bachmann alluded to the theory while in office, as have other Republican Party politicians.
Such has been the upsurge that FEMA itself has gone on record saying that it has no plans to detain citizens. However, in an internal memo, FEMA conceded that it could not hope to convince a large number that it had no sinister plans and cautioned that it was ‘better not to enter into debate on the subject.’ The magazine Popular Mechanics has published debunks of the various claims of the conspiracy theorists.
FEMA concentration camps exist in the mind of a particularly loopy bunch of conspiracy theorists who believe that mass internment facilities have been built across the continental United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in preparation for a future declaration of martial law (or similar nefarious ends).
The camps allegedly come complete with barbed wire fences straight out of World War II, boxcars for moving people around, and plastic coffins for burying them. (Why not just burn the corpses Nazi-style? Is FEMA concerned about its greenhouse gas output?
While FEMA facilities exist, they usually consist of storage and temporary-housing locations. The number of FEMA facilities is far lower than conspiracists would have you believe, and FEMA itself is a bumbling bureaucratic nightmare. If this is the New World Order, at least it’ll be quite inept at being Orwellian.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) is a United States government agency tasked with the effective management of major emergencies within the country, including ensuring the continuity of governmentduring a large-scale disaster such as a nuclear war. It provides federal relief to areas afflicted by natural disasters, and has drawn a great deal of criticism for its face-palming incompetence in doing so, which is largely a result of its being used as a dumping-ground for political lackeys too important to ignore (but not important or dangerous enough to make Secretary of State) than of any incompetence of the members


FEMA was originally a weird bureaucratic anomaly – set up by a series of executive orders (1978-1979) rather than by an act of Congress. In 2002 it was finally codified into law and made a component of the Department of Homeland Security. As well as providing large-scale emergency-management, FEMA is also the largest flood-insurer in the United States, mainly because most private insurance companies don’t offer flood-insurance since it is generally expensive.
FEMA has been the focus of a great number of nutbar conspiracy theories, documented below.
Exact claims about the purpose and nature of the camps vary from one crank to another. Here are some favorites:
Shadow government
FEMA, naturally, is the shadow government which will run the show after the puppet government dissolves through a series of executive orders issued by the President. The idea that FEMA could pull off such a masterstroke is surprisingly widespread — especially considering their massivedisplay of incompetence during Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA supposedly has the power to declare martial law and round up half a million American citizens into concentration camps (the subject of this article). In fact, Centers for Disease Control actually doeshave the power to intern large numbers of citizens pretty much immediately as needed. (And they’d even have a better cover story — it’s for your health and safety!)
This claim is usually backed up by noting that Mount Weather, FEMA’s headquarters in Virginia, is a sort-of spare Washington, D.C. (in case the real one gets nuked) — and the purported location of the US Shadow Government.
Taking our guns!
A common supposed motivation for FEMA camps is to allow the evil UN to take away everyone’s guns. Given that 1 in 4 Americans own at least one gun, how this would be an efficient method whatsoever is anybody’s guess.
North American Union / One-World Government
What use could FEMA camps possibly have? Why not use them to detain dissenting US citizens after the consolidation of the North American Unionin preparation for the establishment of a one world government (or New World Order).
Straight up genocide
… Except all the ones who fled Germany.
They are concentration camps, after all.
Imminent world-ending disaster
This theory, at least, assumes that FEMA is kinda-sorta a good actor. FEMA is in on the know: a looming disaster will render most of the world unusable and billions will die. Thankfully, FEMA will be there to keep America chugging along!
Unfortunately for those seeking a unified fascist one-world government, FEMA is not your guy.
There are several videos purporting to show footage of the camps, as well as shots of ominous-looking fences and webpages listing locations of over 800 camps, allegedly all fully guarded and staffed full-time despite being completely empty. The intrinsic implausibility of people simply being able to walk up to the sites of heavily-guarded camps that the dystopian fasci-state wants to keep secret, videotape them, walk away unmolested, and disseminate the videos without any consequences, is apparently not considered, even though it flatly contradictsthe central premise of the conspiracy theories in question.
In addition to the implausibility of such a massive conspiracy being kept relatively well hidden (the sheeple haven’t woken up yet, have they?), the evidence is damaged by the fact that the videos and pictures actually depict everything from National Guard training centers to Amtrak repair stations to North Korean labor camps. (Hell, when FEMA actually did lock up Katrina survivors in a trailer park and refuse to let them speak to the media, both the local news and FAIR reported on it.)
H.R. 645
A recent claim is that House Resolution 645 from 2009’s 111th Congress authorizes the creation of FEMA concentration camps. There really is a H.R. 645, and a careful reading of the bill shows that they are making camps and that FEMA is involved. However, anyone with reading comprehension beyond the average third grader will notice that the bill is to authorize the creation of refugeecamps for humanitarian assistance and temporary housing after disasters (and “other appropriate uses”), and that FEMA is only involved in the sense that the locations of the camps are set up along FEMA’s districts. Furthermore, the camps for practicing responses to national disasters are with coordination between federal, state, and local authorities. The reason you don’t have private access to the camps is that they’re on military installations, which are generally not open to the public. Not scary.
Google Earth
Proponents of FEMA camps tend to take one of two perspectives when it comes to Google Earth.
A common tactic used as “proof” of FEMA camps is to quote mine bills that have the words “FEMA” and “camps” in the same paragraph, and zoom in to the point you can only see the quote-mined sentence. This applies to all instances this happens, not just FEMA Camp bills: If they cite the bill, look up the bill, and read it yourself to see the context. If they don’t cite it, then the bill either doesn’t exist, or they don’t want to be embarrassed by the quote-mined sentence when some sheeple comes in.
So far, the only flaw in this otherwise brilliantly executed conspiracy was the mistake of publicly advertising jobs to work at the camps. It’s always the small details the conspirators slip up on.
The FEMA camp conspiracy theory has been alluded to by Republican leadership candidate Michele Bachmann, though she did not say FEMA. Glenn Beck, who to his credit later backpedaled and hosted a debunking segment featuring a guest from Popular Mechanics, promoted the theory as well. Still, the theory remains popular among the survivalist community and the militia movement, and there’s no shortage of adherents on the Internet.
The idea that the US government is planning to intern masses of people has some history, and is not just limited to the far-right. In the 1980s, opponents of Ronald Reagan‘s Central America policy on the far-left thought that FEMA was planning a mass roundup of them just before the imminent U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. (See Rex 84 below.) Barely skipping a beat, it became a theory on the right-wing black helicopter/militia circuit in the ’90s, among Alex Jones followers and truthers in the 2000s, and today by the more insane opponents of the Obama administration.
Real-life internment plans
ADEX Lists
During the early years of World War II in the years 1939 to ’41, the FBI did maintain lists of “subversive” people, collated from files on political activists and immigrants. These people were divided into three groups: “A” for those to be arrested immediately upon outbreak of war or other hostilities, “B” for those deemed less dangerous, and “C” for enemy sympathizers. The attorney general of the time, Francis Biddle, found out about the lists and deemed them “dangerous” and “illegal”. J. Edgar Hoover, however, just covered up their existence and continued the program under another name, telling his agents to just not mention it.
Rex 84
Readiness Exercise 1984, or Rex 84 for short, was a “scenario & drill” created under the Reagan administration by Oliver North and FEMA deputy director John Brinkerhoff. Throughout the Reagan administration, the black ops of the US military and intelligence agencies effectively ran wild, especially in Latin America, where Reagan’s aggressive intervention many times verged on intentional genocide by right-wing “death squads” with CIA backing. In this violent environment, the “scenario” described in Rex 84 is rather disturbing. It called for the rounding up and preemptive detention of human rights & anti-war activists, as well as Latino immigrants.
The ironic part about Rex 84, which many wingnuts seem not to grasp, is that the program was targeted against civil rights groups, anti-war groups, organized labor, immigrants, and minority communities in support of hegemonic, capitalist, right-wing American business interests (see Allen Dulles). FEMA camps are not, as conspiracy theorists would have it, some grand plot against conservative American patriots; rather, the only administration to seriously consider interning dissidents was planning on doing so against the sorts of left-wing activists that the American far-right despise the most (next to the federal government, the NWO, and the “international bankers”, that is


Internment in the past
There has been one time in America’s history when the government did send its own citizens to internment camps. During World War II, about 110,000–120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from the West Coast to internment camps in the interior of the country, on the grounds that they would act as a fifth column against the American war effort. Privately, many white farmers on the West Coast also viewed it as a way to get rid of their Japanese competitors. This incident is often brought up by those who claim that the government has the will to do it again (occasionally claiming that some of the planned FEMA camps are renovated Japanese internment centers), neglecting to mention the fact that the backlash against internment very quickly sapped that very will.
In the 1830s, the US also deported many Native Americans of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations) from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida to the “Indian Territory” in what is now Oklahoma, in what has come to be called the Trail of Tears, one of the most notorious episodes in the American Indian Genocide. Notably, this happened despite the Supreme Court explicitly declaring the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to be unconstitutional. A similar, albeit smaller-scale, episode occurred with the Navajo tribe’s “Long Walk” in the mid-1860s from their homeland along the ArizonaNew Mexico border to Bosque Redondo, a reservation/internment camp in southeastern New Mexico. In this case, fortunately, the Navajo were able to successfully reclaim most of their land, albeit only after experiencing a massive loss of life. Despite the atrocities done in both instances, they weren’t US citizens at the time