No Such Thing as Paranoia

On the culture of conspiracism

Like conspiracies themselves, conspiracy theories are as old as gossip and politics. To understand the world one inhabits, it is impossible to credit the idea of contingency or chance as the root of all weirdness. Just as any psychotic tends to utter something true in the process of saying something crazy, there is usually a kernel of reality in even the most far-fetched conspiracy theory.

While it is easy to distinguish a belief that aluminum foil wrapped around one's head filters out alien brain waves from rational but dissident ideas, some modern writers on conspiracy theory tend to conflate nonconformity with the most bizarre and cognitively defective extremes of it. So-called "consensus historians," following the lead of Richard Hofstadter's famous 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," have effectively pathologized any suspicion of active conspiracies, however defined, into a synonym for "nut job" in public discourse.

Our mass media, its ownership consolidated among a handful of billionaires whose interests are identical with those of corporate cronies (globalized "free trade" for the wealthy nations, peonage for the third world, Chomsky's "manufacture of consent" via a constant torrent of propaganda for the status quo), reflexively dismiss the most obvious or credible explanations for ugly phenomena as the perfervid fantasy of "conspiracy cranks"—for instance, the idea that successive "preemptive" wars might be launched against demonized enemies in order to award reconstruction contracts to corporations formerly helmed by, say, the vice president of the United States and other exalted government employees, or that the strategic purpose of one such war might be the economic colonization of former Soviet republics rich in oil and mineral resources, and to guarantee a secure pipeline for the exploitation of said resources. Instead, the altruism and democracy-spreading goodness of the American power elite are portrayed as self-evident, taking all other motives off the media table.

Skull & Bones Society
Skull & Bones Society


  • Part Two: Opus Heyday The success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code excites interest in a secretive Catholic lay groupóand further notes on the culture of conspiracism
  • Part Three: Disorganized Conspiracy When you've got money and power, who needs meetings in secret boardrooms?
  • Lost in America
    From Nicholas Berg to Abu Ghraib, the search for something to trust
    by Kareem Fahim

    The necessary proof of such a conspiracy, if we choose to call it that, often turns up 25 or 50 years after the fact, when the release of classified documents churns up no public outcry or indictments. Such was the recent case with the declassified revelation that the late Connecticut senator Prescott Bush, grandfather of the current president, along with his law partner W. Averill Harriman, a former governor of New York, managed a number of concerns on behalf of Nazi industrialist Fritz Thyssen. These included the Union Banking Corporation, seized under the Trading With the Enemy Act on October 20, 1942 (Office of Alien Property Custodian, Vesting Order No. 248), Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation (Vesting Order No. 259), and the Holland-American Trading Corporation (Vesting Order No. 261).

    The Knights Templar
    The Union Banking Corporation financed Hitler after his electoral losses in 1932; the other Bush-managed concerns have been characterized as "a shipping line which imported German spies; an energy company that supplied the Luftwaffe with high-ethyl fuel; and a steel company that employed Jewish slave labour from the Auschwitz concentration camp." Fuller details are documented in George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, by Webster G. Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin; in Kevin Phillips's American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush; as well as in the colorful, conspiracist history Fleshing Out Skull & Bones, by Anthony Sutton et al., and further confirmed by John Loftus, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department's Nazi War Crimes Unit. Since only the Nazi partners in the Bush-Harriman interests were permanently deprived of their frozen stock, Prescott Bush and his father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, waltzed off with $1.5 million when the Union Banking Corp. was liquidated in 1951. (This was, in effect, the foundation of the Bush family fortune: once a Snopes, always a Snopes.) Briefly picked up by the Associated Press and buried deep in the pages of American newspapers, this half-century-late disclosure led to no media follow-up and left no impression on the potential electorate for the 2004 U.S. presidential contest.

    The Illuminati

    Contingency theorists would declare that the activities of one Bush 50-some years ago have nothing to do with those of subsequent Bushes. Yet the story confirms a pattern of corrupt profiteering through abuse of power that runs continuously through the Bush family dynasty. They would likewise find nothing "conspiratorial" about the duck-hunting trip Vice President Cheney took with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during the week of January 4, 2004, "three weeks after the court agreed to take up the vice president's appeal in lawsuits over his handling of the administration's energy task force" (Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2004). "I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned," Scalia hilariously told reporters, perhaps believing they had already forgotten his sordid role in fixing the 2000 presidential election for George W. Bush. Perhaps the brazen lack of ethics and truthfulness displayed by everyone in or associated with the Bush administration shouldn't be characterized as "conspiratorial," since this implies a secrecy that Cheney et al. believe unnecessary, given the monumental apathy and programmed ignorance of at least half the American public. (Cheney may not want to release transcripts of who said what, but that isn't a secret—it's a crime in defiance of American jurisprudence. There are no secrets, only things we know about that we don't know all the little details of.)

    Next Page »
    New York Concert Tickets