Are Conspiracy Theories Central to U.S. Political Debate?

Anne Applebaum's piece in Slate argues that we have been blessed in recent history by a political system that has, for the most part, kept them [conspiracy theories] outside the mainstream of American political life. With the possible exception of the anti-masonic movement in the 19th century and some of the madder moments of the …

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Debunking the Lincoln-Kennedy Federal Reserve Meme

There is a meme circulating on Facebook that seems to be based on the conspiracy theory that Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were assassinated by the Rothschilds because they wanted to "end the federal reserve banking system." Let's pick this meme apart to see how historically accurate it is. 1. There was no federal …

The Freemasonic Conspiracy and the U.S. Government Shutdown

During last night's vote to reopen the U.S. government, one of the House of Representatives' stenographers took control of the microphone and began denouncing the U.S. Constitution and its writers because of their Freemasonic ties. No one seems to know her motivation for making the pronouncements at that time, although stress certainly seems a plausible …

Essential Readings on Conspiracy Thinking

I've written previously about the usefulness and necessity of examining conspiracy theories, and I also provided an outline of my conspiracy theories course. Several weeks ago, a student approached me asking for reading suggestions  about conspiracy theories. The request provided a good opportunity to write a blog post that I've wanted to write outlining the essential …

Americans’ Belief in Conspiracy Theories

Researchers at Fairleigh Dickinson University recently demonstrated what my regular readers already know: Americans believe in conspiracy theories. According to their telephone poll of registered voters across the United States, 63% of those polled believed at least one of the following conspiracy theories: Barack Obama is hiding something about his background George W. Bush had …

The 40th Anniversary of Jesus’ Rapture

This year marks the anniversary of the Christian cult film A Thief in the Night. In the 1980s, I watched this film and at its sequels during a string of Saturday night showings at Highland Park Baptist Church. The irony of seeing these films, which featured "worldly" dress Christian rocker Larry Norman's music, at the …

Mitt Romney and the White Horse Prophecy

Recently, I invited three LDS missionaries to speak to my American Presidency students. Considering the possible "Mormon moment" that might arise from a Romney campaign win, I thought it made sense to hear the church's perspective. The three young men, who took time from their personal day to make the visit, were polite and gracious, …

How Useful Is a Course on Conspiracy Theories?

The conspiracy theories course wrapped up yesterday with a discussion about the differences between actual conspiracies and conspiracy theories and the students' evaluation of the most influential conspiracy theories. We closed out by listening to songs by 2Pac and Green Day that contain conspiratorial allusions and claims. Based on students' reactions and my own observations, …

Brief Review of Kathryn Olmsted, Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11

Kathryn Olmsted's Real Enemies is an excellent survey of conspiracy theories in the 20th-century United States. A history professor at UC-Davis, Olmsted makes three arguments. First, the U.S. government perpetrated conspiracies against American citizens in response to alleged anti-government conspiracies. In response, Americans constructed alternative conspiracy theories to explain the conspiracy theories that the government …