Conspiracy Theories and Tea Parties

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Jonathan Kay is the managing editor for comment at The National Post, a conservative Canadian newspaper. He says “I consider myself a conservative and arrived at [the Tea Party in Nashville] as a paid-up, rank-and-file attendee, not one of the bemused New York Times types with a media pass.” But he’s concerned that what he saw was dominated by crazy conspiracy theories:

This world view’s modern-day prophets include Texas radio host Alex Jones, whose documentary, The Obama Deception, claims Obama’s candidacy was a plot by the leaders of the New World Order to “con the Amercican people into accepting global slavery”; Christian evangelist Pat Robertson; and the rightward strain of the aforementioned “9/11 Truth” movement. According to this dark vision, America’s 21st-century traumas signal the coming of a great political cataclysm, in which a false prophet such as Barack Obama will upend American sovereignty and render the country into a godless, one-world socialist dictatorship run by the United Nations from its offices in Manhattan.

Sure enough, in Nashville, Judge Roy Moore warned, among other things, of “a U.N. guard stationed in every house.” On the conference floor, it was taken for granted that Obama was seeking to destroy America’s place in the world and sell Israel out to the Arabs for some undefined nefarious purpose. The names Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers popped up all the time, the idea being that they were the real brains behind this presidency, and Obama himself was simply some sort of manchurian candidate.

A software engineer from Clearwater, Fla., told me that Washington, D.C., liberals had engineered the financial crash so they could destroy the value of the U.S. dollar, pay off America’s debts with worthless paper, and then create a new currency called the Amero that would be used in a newly created “North American Currency Union” with Canada and Mexico. I rolled my eyes at this one-off kook. But then, hours later, the conference organizers showed a movie to the meeting hall, Generation Zero, whose thesis was only slightly less bizarre: that the financial meltdown was the handiwork of superannuated flower children seeking to destroy capitalism.

I see some of Glenn Beck’s show almost every day at work, and it’s been fascinating to me to watch the extent to which the conservative mainstream has embraced a program that’s an only very slightly prettied up version of this kind of conspiracy-mongering. Beck’s ratings, though impressive by daytime cable news standards, still amount to basically a small niche audience. In a country of 300 million people it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that a few million people may subscribe to nutty Beck-style views, but it’s odd and disturbing that conservative elites have actually taken to pushing this stuff.