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Jonathan Kay’s compulsively-readable new book Among The Truthers is as definitive a book on the American conspiracy culture as we are ever going to get.
Kay, a managing editor for Canada’s National Post, jumped right into the oddball world of the so-called Truthers who doubt Osama bin Laden’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks and instead suspect an “inside job.” Kay spent years in this world, going to Truther conferences, interviewing prominent Truthers in depth, and pouring over their literature.
In Part I, Kay describes the history and rise of American conspiracism, noting the powerful effects of the ambiguity of the JFK assassination, the real conspiracy of Watergate, and the shattering of a consensus media reality with greater technological development. He then positions the wide variety of Truther narratives in this context, noting the multitude of different stories. For some Truthers, Osama bin Laden really was responsible for 9/11, except that he did so under the orders of his American government handlers. For others, the hijacked planes were controlled by remote control and all the passengers and hijackers were secretly unloaded before they crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The motive for the attacks is generally the same – a cabal of “neo-cons” wanted to make money, colonize the Middle East, defend Israel, and transform the United States into a police state. (Though, for prominent British Truther David Icke, 9/11 was engineered by his unique boogeymen, the most creative and entertaining in all of conspiracy culture: blood-drinking, child-molesting, shape-shifting lizard humanoids from the fifth dimension.)
More interesting – and important – than the specific stories are the people themselves and the psychological conditions that drive them. Kay does not ridicule his subjects but analyzes them with affection and precision. In Part II, he creates a Truther taxonomy, identifying the following types: Midlife Crisis Case, Failed Historian, Damaged Survivor, Cosmic Voyager, Clinical Conspiracist, Crank, Evangelical Doomsayer, and Firebrand. Those who familiarize themselves with Kay’s profiles will be more than equipped to recognize which type of conspiracist they are dealing with when they bump into one on Facebook or the comments section of a blog.
Kay does an especially good job of carefully threading the needle on the subjects of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party. The claim that Beck is an Alex Jones-style conspiracy kook has been one of the Left’s favorite rhetorical weapons to use against the popular talk radio host. Kay acknowledges that Beck has sometimes explored conspiracist themes but he does not position him amongst the Truther mainstream. Similarly, he does not cast the Tea Party as a conspiracist movement, instead defending it while noting that conspiracists have found a place at the margins – as they have with most political and religious movements:
It would be entirely wrong to call Tea Partiers a straightforward conspiracist movement – and I don’t want to stand accused of doing so here. Many of their political gripes about big government are shared by tens of millions of mainstream Americans: In a September 2010 survey, 71 percent of Republican respondents said they have a “positive opinion” of the Tea Party movement.
But as with all populist uprisings, it has attracted a fringe of angry extremists who will swallow just about any accusation launched against the nation’s elite.
The book’s most important contribution is the way Kay effectively traces the origins of all of America’s conspiracy narratives to a single document: the notorious, fraudulent Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.
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