This morning the first thing that I saw in my inbox was a link to the story of how a neighbor of the elementary school in Newtown who sheltered a group of kids and a bus driver for several hours while the horror unfolded next door has been harassed by people who believe that the shooting of 27 people was a government hoax. These are the same people whose obsession is to uncover the “conspiracy” behind every tragic event in order to either line their pockets or to build a case for an overthrow of the powers that be. Of course the fantasy of conspiracy isn’t backed by any sort of political or cultural awareness. All one needs is a superficial, if fantastical view of a world made only of victims and those in control.
A very dark climate is rising in the wings since the election and re-election of a black president and in the wake of a steady repetition of the scenario of mass killings. The cloud of distrust is more extreme than anything I’ve seen since the early seventies, and in several ways is much more divorced from reality. From the buzz that prevails in the news and online I’d make a guess that at least a quarter of the American population is at this moment suffering some form of psychosis. By that I mean that their interpretation of reality is radically at odds with any sort of objective measure of what is really going on. Of that quarter precent probably at least half represent the most heavily armed non-military segment of the population. They are afraid, very afraid. The unfolding of events in the real world so contradicts their expectations that they must go to extraordinary lengths to construct scenarios and story lines that explain it. If they have even a casual relationship with rationality is a matter entirely secondary. I may be that a storm is coming. I can very easily see a scenario of federal troops facing right wing militias as we saw repeatedly throughout the eighties and nineties in rural counties Deep in red state America. There have already been many threats.
Of course Glenn Beck and Alex Jones and David Icke are ready and waiting to feed all of our fantasies of victimization with their fast-growth industry based on the promotion of conspiracy theories. Both on the political left and the right and even among the New Age fantasists of Santa Fe their float variations of essentially the same narrative. In every version of the story somewhere at the nexus of all important world events a single nefarious cabal meets together in various hidden skyscraper penthouses in order to map out the ultimate future for us all.
I recently finished Umberto Eco’s latest novel The Prague Cemetery, an historical fiction about a hypothetical figure in the late nineteenth century who is responsible for the creation of one of the world’s most notorious ‘political’ tracts. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the most infamous conspiracy document of all time, as it was used by everyone from the Catholic church to the Nazis and the Stalinists as an excuse to persecute and eventually attempt to exterminate the someone (usually the Jews) designated as the servants of evil. It purports to be an account of a secret nighttime meeting between all of the rabbis of Europe in an obscure Jewish graveyard in order to map out their plan for total world domination. Eco’s book, which is based extensively on historical records, indicates that the document was patched together over several years from previous works that attributed the ‘plot’ to everyone from the Jesuits to the Masons to french anarchists…to anyone that someone in power needed to be a convenient scapegoat for covering their own crimes. Eco’s main character is a thoroughly despicable figure named Simonini, who is devoid of moral center or any scruples when it comes to dealing with others, who views everyone else with contempt and whose sole pleasure in life is the consumption of fine foods. As an excellent forger and impersonator he finds himself in the middle of much of the political turmoil of the time, employed by all sides to help incriminate their enemies. The essential revelation he gains along the way is that there is really only a single conspiracy theory which can be reworked to fit any historical circumstance and directed against anyone we prefer to view as our villains. Just give it a few tweaks here and there…
I’ve been hearing various variations on the same theory since I was a teenager in Cleveland and peered into the front window of the local John Birch Society office across the street from my church. There were all the familiar players: The Federal Reserve and the IRS, the One World Government, the Rothchilds and the Jews, the Illuminati, etc., etc. The same cast used by Hitler and Mussolini and Stalin and which is now used by tax evaders, gun toting militias and Fox News.
Eco’s character of Simonini is an apt model for modern creatures like David Icke and Alex Jones who make their living by spreading paranoid narratives to the frightened and gullible. Perhaps the biggest irony in the recent Newtown shootings was that the perpetrator was brought up in an atmosphere of conspiracies and end times paranoia laced with automatic weapons, and his first victim was his mother, a true believer who spent her time on ‘prepper’ web sites. I look around me, here in ‘progressive’ Santa Fe, a land of many a mystical fantasy and wonder how any of my acquaintances spend similar hours tracking the unfolding of some ‘master’ plan. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of this as a conspiracy. Like the work of Simonini it’s really nothing but commerce. However, the product being sold, as can be seen in the vicious threats and attacks on a man who helped people fleeing from the slaughter, is poisonous in the extreme.
*Note: It is with some trepidation that I’ve included links to the web sites of those who I regard as some of the worst people in the world. On consideration, if you’re gullible enough to dine on this stuff you’ll have probably discovered them already.