In my blog of 9/In 17/13, I wrote about the latest research on why people are drawn to conspiracy theories. Interestingly, a new book on the subject is just out, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory by Jesse Walker. It recounts some of the best imagined plots in the history of our country. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), oddly enough, was founded because of one.
In the early 20th century, lurid tales abounded concerning an international syndicate that was snatching white girls off the streets and selling them into foreign bondage. The public panicked and in 1910, the Mann Act was passed. To quell rising fears, it boosted the investigative power of one federal agency. That agency later became the FBI. (“Conspiracy theories,” excerpt from The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, by Jesse Walker, The Week, September 22, 2013, pg. 41)
Another interesting rumor of the past had to do with slave power. Slave power was a conspiracy theory that flourished around the time of Andrew Jackson’s attempted assassination. Senator John Calhoun of South Carolina was suspected to be one of the chief instigators. His purpose, it was said, was to extend white as well as black slavery to the north and the remaining free territories. (Ibid, pg. 40).
(Courtesy of blog.newsobserver.com)
One conspiracy theory that refuses to die surrounds the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A recent poll taken by ABC news shows that 70% of Americans continue to believe he was the victim of a well developed plot. ( Ibid, pg. 40)
Ironically, conspiracy theories abound in peaceful times as often as in times of crisis. David Gerber, an anthropologist, observed that peaceful societies are haunted by their fears of perennial war. (Ibid, pg. 41) Walter Lippmann, a journalist, warned about the human heart with its capacity to be caught up in any winds that blow. From such hurricanes, he said, “new Caesars are born.” (Ibid, pg. 41.) As he was writing at the time of Hitler’s rise to power, his words were prophetic.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt agreed with Lippmann. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”