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Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture

Mark Fenster
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, Second
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Conspiracy Theories
    Book Description:

    In this new edition of the landmark work, and the first in-depth look at the conspiracy communities that formed to debunk the 9/11 Commission Report, Mark Fenster shows that conspiracy theories play an important role in U.S. democracy. Fenster has demonstrated once again that the people who claim someone’s after us are, at least, worth hearing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6645-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction We’re All Conspiracy Theorists Now
    (pp. 1-20)

    Two propositions dominate discussions of conspiracy theory. The first maintains that conspiracy theory, which I will define simply here as the conviction that a secret, omnipotent individual or group covertly controls the political and social order or some part thereof, circulates solely on the margins of society. Holding incredible, dangerous beliefs, conspiracy theorists are political extremists and unsavory characters—Oliver Stone, for instance, or members of the John Birch Society. They question whether the United States is a benign, pluralistic democracy, reject the notion that history moves through the triumph of progress and leadership and the vagaries of coincidence and...

  5. PART I. Conspiracy as Politics

    • 1 Theorizing Conspiracy Politics The Problem of the “Paranoid Style”
      (pp. 23-51)

      Grand conspiracy theories propose that the existing order is a sham and nothing short of a comprehensive political, social, and economic transformation of the nation—and perhaps the world—is necessary. They may not focus solely on politics in its relatively narrow, classically liberal sense because the conspiracy’s secret control of the government is merely one aspect of its power. Nevertheless, the capture of the state looms as one of the conspiracy’s great triumphs.

      Unsurprisingly, then, the prevailing academic and intellectual accounts of conspiracy theory (at least until the cultural turn in conspiracy theory studies that began in the late...

    • 2 When the Senator Met the Commander From Pathology to Populism
      (pp. 52-90)

      On June 15, 1995, less than two months after the explosion that demolished the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Government Information, a subcommittee of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, held a hearing on the increasingly visible national militia movement. The event took place at the height of media coverage of the militias, a loose conglomeration of populist right-wing groups operating throughout the United States who had been largely ignored by the media only two months earlier. After the bombing, the militias had suddenly begun to appear on a regular basis...

  6. PART II. Conspiracy as Cultural Practice

    • 3 Finding the Plot Conspiracy Theory as Interpretation
      (pp. 93-117)

      In early 1994, when asked by CNN’s Larry King about rumors of foul play in the suicide of his friend and deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster, President Bill Clinton responded by saying, “I don’t think we know any more than in the beginning because I just really don’t believe there is anything more to know.”¹ On the surface, it seemed that Clinton just hoped to shut off the innuendos and accusations that had been circulating among some of his opponents. Various theories, spread by radio talk shows and partisan political periodicals, the editorial section of theWall Street Journal,...

    • 4 Uncovering the Plot Conspiracy Theory as Narrative
      (pp. 118-154)

      Few recent films have faced the voluminous and vituperative criticism that met the release of Oliver Stone’sJFKin 1991. If a conspiracy theory concerning the assassination of an American president can become a top-grossing film produced by a major Hollywood studio, film reviewers, op-ed columnists, and former and current government officials explicitly asked, what troubled future lies ahead for the political education and beliefs of American citizens? The film’s commercial success was worrying enough, but what does that success say about Americans’ ability to distinguish the real from fiction? For some commentators,JFK’s popular appeal and the confusion it...

    • 5 Plotting the Rush Conspiracy, Community, and Play
      (pp. 155-194)

      A somewhat oddball collection of predominantly young (fifteen to thirty years old), predominantly white, and predominantly male convention-goers, most of them affiliated with a number of different but overlapping “underground” interests, wandered the halls and gathered in the ballrooms of a relatively small, mid-priced Atlanta hotel in September 1992. They were attending “Phenomicon: America’s Most Dangerous Convention,” a weekend gathering of cyberpunks, hackers, conspiracy theorists, members of the Church of the Sub-Genius, book and fanzine publishers, role-playing game players, and fans of science fiction and underground comic books. This was one of the world’s largest gatherings of hip–nerd subcultures...

  7. PART III. Conspiracy Communities

    • 6 The Prophetic Plot Millennialism and Christian Conspiracy Theory
      (pp. 197-232)

      Christian eschatology and millennialism—the study of and belief in the end of human history and the return of Christ that inaugurates a glorious age lasting one thousand years—have been central to Christianity since its beginnings, and can be traced back at least to Jewish apocalyptic belief. A large segment of the American public, along with many other fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Protestants throughout the world, await the imminent return of Christ and the establishment of his millennial kingdom as prophesied by certain biblical passages. An exact or even approximate figure of those who believe in an imminent millennium...

    • 7 A Failure of Imagination Competing Narratives of 9/11 Truth
      (pp. 233-278)

      When President Bush named former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean as chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States on December 16, 2002, he placed Kean in a nearly impossible position. Kean’s 9/11 Commission faced great expectations. Congress, the media, and, in all likelihood, the majority of the American public viewed the Commission in the way faithful Americans since the early twentieth century have tended to see newly established, independent, expert agencies—as the necessary and perhaps only appropriate tool to solve a complex public issue. The troubling but nebulous questions surrounding the events of 9/11,...

  8. Afterword Conspiracy Theory, Cultural Studies, and the Trouble with Populism
    (pp. 279-290)

    This book has argued that a culturalist analysis of conspiracy theory’s practices and attractions yields more insight into conspiracy theory’s role in popular political culture than does the traditional blanket condemnation of it, whether made by humanist historians or social scientists.The Turner Diaries(1978), an infamous white supremacist novel, challenges this argument.¹ Written by the late William Pierce (1933–2002), under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald, the novel achieved widespread notoriety first in the 1980s, when a violent, revolutionary organization called The Order patterned its tactics on those of an organization described and celebrated in the book, and then again...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 291-360)
  10. Index
    (pp. 361-372)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 373-373)