The Explosion of Christian Conspiracy Theories in Obama’s America

Conspiracy theories have always been popular in America to one degree or another. Way back when, they proliferated by word of mouth. Fast-forward to the late 20th century and the preferred mode of dissemination became fax machines. Today, the Internet.

Scanning the post-election comment threads at Breitbart.com has been instructive. The mindset of hateful conspiracy theorists who flood that site on a regular basis (its influence continues to expand) is worthwhile for the skeptically-minded to grok, because they provide insight into how the fundamentalist religious mind functions. (Many of these commenters are themselves Christian fundamentalists.)

Step 1: Accept a premise, consciously or unconsciously — e.g. “Barack Obama is bringing about the downfall of America” /// “Traditional America as I understand it is being destroyed by the Secular Left” /// “Christianity is under broad-scale attack” /// “Miracles happen on Earth everyday”

Step 2: Process all new data as confirmation of those pre-existing premises — e.g. “Barack Obama signed the healthcare law merely to aid his quest to bring about the downfall of America” /// “Traditional America could not possibly have voted for the reelection of the Secular Left as personified by Obama, therefore chronic “voter fraud” must be the culprit” /// “Chick-fil-A was involved in some controversy related to the owner’s view of same-sex marriage, so we should stage an entire day devoted to signaling our support for Chick-fil-A” /// “I heard a rustling in the bedroom. Because miracles are known to happen everyday at God’s direction, that rustling must have been my deceased grandma, because God loves me and knows I miss my grandma.”

The conspiracy theory-based worldview involves crafting an epistemic framework that is self-justifying. Claims are non-falsifiable. Every new piece of evidence is interpreted as corroboration of the original premise — Obama is a Manchurian Candidate, the Illuminati are who really run the show, etc. While some variations of Christianity certainly do allow space for good-faith reasoning — Roman Catholicism being one example, at least in theory — other sects posit an unalterable worldview that shares much in common with what are putatively regarded as conspiracy theory-based worldviews.

Scanning Breitbart this morning, here are a few good examples of what I’m talking about:

Obummer divided the country by race. Big mistake. The white male is responsible for most of the job creation. When they refuse to create jobs, it is the Obama voters who will be hurt most. Many business owners and doctors are simply going to quit and retire early.

Many people believe that Obama has been hellbent on “dividing the country by race” from the moment he rose to national prominence. This, of course, notwithstanding the fact that Obama has conspicuously refrained from discussing race as president. And as a candidate, his most lauded speech was one in which he movingly called for racial reconciliation. There is simply no evidence for the allegation of racial divisiveness, but evidence is of course immaterial to this commenter. “White male” hegemony has been threatened, to this person’s mind, and Obama/”Obama voters” are somehow responsible.

I would bet that if you gave all these cult islams a obama-phone and food stamps they would vote for the Fraud in the WH…….maybe they did!….they didn’t get any goodies.

Again: Obama hates and wants to undermine America, therefore he distributed “Obama-phones” and foodstamps to poor blacks in order to bribe them, committed ambiguously-defined “fraud,” and so forth, because he wanted a second term to carry on undermining America. In fact, this view is not so different from Mitt Romney‘s theory of the election, which he blamed on minorities wanting “gifts.” (How about all the constituencies to whom Romney promised “gifts,” like Defense Contractors, Wall Street tycoons, and elderly Medicare recipients?)

The Breitbart alternate media-sphere functions in a cult-like manner. Andrew Breitbart, their dead patriarch, is viewed as a martyr who had the unique courage to stand up to the “Secular Left.” His followers wear masks and displayed Twitter icons bearing his heroic visage. But it turns out Breitbart’s “slash-and-burn” strategy backfired and helped lose the election for Romney. Most remarkable is that the Romney campaign chose Breitbart as an official partner to steer the daily political discourse and proliferate talking points. In doing so, Romney attempted to deceive enough Americans that they would vote Obama out of office. It’s really that simple.

As John F. Kennedy declared in 1961:

Now we are face to face once again with a period of heightened peril. The risks are great, the burdens heavy, the problems incapable of swift or lasting solution. And under the strains and frustrations imposed by constant tension and harassment, the discordant voices of extremism are heard once again in the land. Men who are unwilling to face up to the danger from without are convinced that the real danger comes from within. They look suspiciously at their neighbors and their leaders. They call for a ‘man on horseback’ because they do not trust the people. They find treason in our finest churches, in our highest court, and even in the treatment of our water. They equate the Democratic Party with the welfare state, the welfare state with socialism, and socialism with communism. They object quite rightly to politics’ intruding on the military — but they are anxious for the military to engage in politics.

Maybe Obama should take a cue.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • Octoberfurst

    Conspiracy theories have always been popular in America. I am old enough to remember how the John Birch Society would come up with new conspiracy theories about what the “commies” were up to on a regular basis. Most of it was paranoid nonsense.  (Their whole “fluoride in the drinking water is a commie mind control plot” was one of their most famous ones.)
      But the Religious Right also lives in paranoid conspiracy land. I was once a member and let me tell you they will believe anything!  They are certain that the anti-Christ and a one-world government is just around the corner and they find “proof” of that everywhere.  I know some Religious Right folks and they are convinced that Obama is evil and is working for Satan. They believe that any minute now he will be sending Christians to FEMA camps, ban Christmas, make Sharia the law of the land and instituting a one-world government with UN soldiers patrolling our streets. They truly believe this and no amount of logic or rational arguements by me will change their minds. They are stuck on stupid.
      If you want to read truly crazy stuff go to Worldnetdaily or Free Republic. That is where the serious loons hang out. (But Breitbart.com is up there with them on the crazy scale.)  They are all a collection of Bible-thumping, tin-foil hat wearing rubes. Go there for a laugh.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      @Octoberfurst:disqus wrote: They are stuck on stupid.

      You didn’t have to type much more than.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BG6ZTGNF7JV3O3VFSL2DPF6CVA D Biggs

        That would be “then”…stupid.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

          I left off “that”

          Oops!

      • http://www.facebook.com/darren.nolen Darren Nolen

        Oh, _like_ the tagline! Growing up, how many times did I hear the “…personal relationship with Jesus…”

        I am going to blatantly steal it and use where called for; I will do my best to attribute it to you, but considering how bad I am with names, it will probably be just, “some guy on a blog”. Consider yourself thanked, though. :)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

          I wish I could take credit for it but I also stole it from someone. I also use it on Facebook under the religious views section.

  • http://twitter.com/TruthByTrial TruthByTrial

    Tragically I’m loosing my sister to this exact issue – more and more every day.  I can’t reason with her because her premise is so off base from reality, but she is deeply committed to her skewed reality that I cant even begin to have a logical conversation with her.  I feel that she can be reasonable outside of her political and religion blinders.  Is there a book or any recommended articles that approach how to identify fallacy thinking in one’s self? 

    • Marella

      You could find something suitable by Michael Shermer I would think. http://www.michaelshermer.com/books/

    • Philbert

      “Secrets, Plots & Hidden Agendas: What You Don’t Know about Conspiracy Theories” by Paul Coughlin. He’s a Christian so it might carry some extra weight with your sister. I read it when I was a Christian, he shows how the same themes from some very silly (Cabbage Patch dolls are the work of the devil) and very nasty (anti-Semitic propaganda) theories get rehashed over and over and spun into new conspiracies du jour. 

      Also the classic “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” by Hofstadter. Shorter than a book and again impressive because of how it was written in 1964 but talks about how the conspiracy crap wasn’t new even then.

      There is very little that is original in all this conspiracy BS.

  • Riverrunner

    You forgot Step 3??? Step 4. Profit!

  • Sumwulf

    Check out these wackjobs – exactly the mindset you describe.

    http://www.fivedoves.com/

    The real crazies inhabit the ‘letters’ section – here is one of the more recent slices of idiocy:

    http://www.fivedoves.com/letters/nov2012/nov_14_2012.htm

     

    • Bdole

      I think Bob Ware et. al. have Aspergers.
      This is truly an unhealthy preoccupation. He should set that focused mental effort energy to work solving actual mathematical quandries instead of wasting his time on this bullsh*t.

    • Sumwulf

       Yup. And it goes back years. It’s interesting to see how the self-delusion persists over time – it’s a pretty small group of the same crazies, repeatedly quoting scripture at each other (‘Paul N.F’ for example seems to do nothing but regurgitate (via copy & paste) chunks of other evangelists ‘wisdom’), obsessively look for codes and secret messages, make numerous incorrect Rapture date predictions and moan on and on about the government, Obama, yada yada yada. They have excuses aplenty as to why they are wrong with a 100% success rate.

      As you say, a shame they have not decided to focus their wits on more useful things.

  • RevWubby

    I am engaged in my own “Christian Conspiracy Theory”, but of another kind.  I am firmly convinced that within my lifetime there will be subtle but strong push by the hard-Right to institute theocratic rule and they will succeed due to the existing momentum and their ever-growing tax-exempt war-chest.  Using the currently in play combination of encroaching on local government politics,  and the sensationalism and hysteria of demonizing anyone non-christian they will eventually have enough control to push “morality” laws.

    I expect that, similar to Taliband controlled countries, para-militarized morality squads will roam cities punishing those that offend “Christian” sensibilities.  At some point in my life I also expect to be dragged from my home at gun point while my neighbors either watch idly or even cheer.  I live in the “liberal NorthEast”.

    The Press could prevent this, but they chase sensationalism or what their corporate owners direct them to.  People will either go along with it or be too scared to speak out. While Atheist groups are steadily growing, I don’t see them as gaining enough power to ever overcome the momentum. Even today they attacks on them are increasing and getting bolder.

    As the wise Dr Johnny Fever once said: When everyone’s out to get you, paranoia is just good thinking.

    • Baal

       You know the neo-cons more or less floated a white paper on crashing the US gov and instituting a Christian Monarchy early in Bush the Lesser’s first term.  It’s outline included purging non-christians from key positions in the fedgov including military generals and it looks like the Air Force Academy’s overt religiosity grew out of it.  Part of the bafflement of the bush admin for the attorney general firings was that it was one of the later purge rounds.  They didn’t get much push back when they went through HHS and other places.

  • Bellj

    Here’s a conspiracy theory for you. 
    The people spreading them know exactly what they are doing, how to do it, and how to achieve the ends they are going for. 
    Too many people have fallen for this crap and have gone to la-la land to ignore or dismiss it.  From the outside it seems like a very successful social psychological experiment.
    How do you make such a large group of people believe such obvious and ridiculous lies? Are they predisposed? How?

  • Dubliner

    A large section of the US appears to require the services of a cult de-programmer.

    • Aspieguy

       It wouldn’t work. America is the land of crazy cults. You could start a church here that worships Cthulu and it would receive tax exempt status.

  • http://www.facebook.com/darren.nolen Darren Nolen

    Well, growing up Evangelical, you nailed the self-reinforcing reality filter. Except there should be demons, lots, and lots of demons, responsible for every bad thing you can point out.

    Obama elected? Demons giving flat tires to all the Christian voters. Left the mayo out on the counter overnight? Satan trying to give you food poisoning. Dead bird on your porch? Demons trying to break through the barrier of spiritual protection around your home (you _do_ have a barrier of spiritual protection, right?). Found a snake in the crawlspace? A demon that God allowed into your home because you let your child read that Harry Potter book…

  • Ne_Oublie

    There are tragically radicalized elements on both the left and right. There is evidence, however, to support the claims of the media oligopoly. The whole Benghazi tragedy, for example, went virtually unreported until the addition of a tawdry adulterous affair. Heaven forbid the press should defame the POTUS.

  • Aspieguy

    I have never understood conspiracy theories.
    President Nixon and his closest aides conspired to hide the Watergate affair. The conspiracy lasted five days until some of them began talking with reporters.  We are to believe that the secret Illuminati has been directing human affairs for centuries?
    I need to go. I think a chupacabra is in my backyard again and is attacking my goats. I’ve got another alligator in my sewer line.

  • Aspieguy

    Visit http://www.fstdt.com   Fundies say the darndest things. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

    As Richard J Hofstadter identified in the 60s in his classic article The Paranoid Style In American Politics, there is something about my American chums that makes them vulnerable to believing in conspiracy theories. Here it is….. this should be taught to all US schoolkids in civics class. What was true in the 60s is ever more true in the Information Age.

     http://karws.gso.uri.edu/jfk/conspiracy_theory/the_paranoid_mentality/the_paranoid_style.html

    We could exchange essay after essay on the whys as to why Hofstadter’s assertions are true. As an outsider (a Brit) I find it fascinating.

    But really, read the article and spread it wide and far amongst friends.

  • Thumper1990

    I am fast becoming of the opinion that JFK was your greatest President.