‘The United States of Paranoia’ book
New book from author Jesse Walker entitled The United States of Paranoia just dropped:
Jesse Walker’s The United States of Paranoia presents a comprehensive history of conspiracy theories in American culture and politics, from the colonial era to the War on Terror.
The fear of intrigue and subversion doesn’t exist only on the fringes of society, but has always been part of our national identity. When such tales takes hold, Walker argues, they reflect the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe them, even if they say nothing true about the objects of the theories themselves.
With intensive research and a deadpan sense of humor, Jesse Walker’s The United States of Paranoia combines the rigor of real history with the punch of pulp fiction.
This edition includes primary-source documentation in the form of archival photographs, cartoons, and film stills selected by the author
Here’s more on it from Salon.com: http://www.salon.com/2013/08/18/a_nation_of_truthers/singleton/
“Educated elites have conspiracy theories, too” and the nation’s long history of “moral panics” illustrates the ways that “influential social institutions” — from the government to churches and political parties to the press — engage in paranoid thinking, sometimes with lethal results. “When I say virtually everyone is capable of paranoid thinking,” Walker writes, “I really do mean everyone, including you, me and the founding fathers … It is even possible to be paranoid about paranoids.” He then proceeds, in lively and often witty fashion, to prove it. Some of what Walker has to say will be familiar, but few readers are likely to get to the end of the book without having cherished notions challenged.
“The United States of Paranoia” divides conspiracy theory into five modes: the Enemy Outside, the Enemy Within, the Enemy Below, the Enemy Above and the Benevolent Conspiracy. These categories tend to ooze into and around each other: For example, the early colonists’ belief that Native Americans worshiped or were in league with the Christian Devil fed the furor of the witch hunts of the late 1600s. (For a fuller development of how the crisis in Salem can be seen as a manifestation of anxieties about the Indian Wars, see Mary Beth Norton’s excellent “In the Devil’s Snare.”) Walker’s labels are mostly self-explanatory, but, FYI, the Benevolent Conspiracy encompasses notions of secret societies, like the Rosicrucians, or unseen forces, like wise aliens or angels, who supposedly guide or protect humanity.
Walker would need six more volumes to provide a comprehensive account of the various conspiratorial beliefs that have seized Americans, so don’t expect to find every crank hoedown accounted for here. Many of these beliefs, he notes, have some basis in fact: While it’s highly unlikely that “night doctors” prowled cities looking for African-Americans to kidnap, kill and dissect (a widespread rumor in early 20th-century black communities), it is certainly a documented truth that the white medical establishment, being a white-dominated establishment, had a cavalier attitude toward its black patients and sometimes used them inhumanly, as in the infamous Tuskegee Experiment of 1932 to 1972. White people really have conspired against blacks and lied about it, which is one reason why conspiracy theories about everything from AIDS to fast food have flourished in African-American communities.
Walker regards conspiracy theory as a form of “folklore,” because “it says something true about the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe and repeat it, even if it says nothing true about the objects of the theory itself.” Perhaps the rich and powerful are not giant space lizards in disguise (as noted kook David Icke — not covered in this book — claims), but they do seem to treat the rest of us with a coldblooded detachment that’s rather reptilian, so the theory has its resonance. For this and other reasons, Walker states, “I’m not out to espouse or debunk any particular conspiracy theories,” but rather to tease out what they reveal about our collective psyche.
This is a tricky brief because, as Walker himself admits, some conspiracy theories — such as the activities of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program to investigate “anti-American” groups in the 1960s and ’70s — are documented, while some of the undocumented ones are more credible than others. “It would be absurd,” he writes, “to deny that conspiracies can be real … The world is filled with plots both petty and grand, though never as enormous as the ancient cabals described in the most baroque conspiracy literature.”
This book is part Greatest Hits — you find discussions of JFK, Watergate, the Freemasons, birthers and the Satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s — and a few lesser-known oddities, like a subculture that believes “certain digital time displays, particularly 11:11, might be messages from another planet.” For the connoisseur, an entire chapter on John Todd — a lecturer on the evangelical circuit during the late 1970s who revealed the “secrets” of the vast witchcraft-practicing conspiracy from which he’d defected — offers a delicious farrago of crackpotiana. According to Todd, the Illuminati (aka the Council of Foreign Relations, aka the Rothschild family) had everything from Standard Oil to the John Birch Society to the ACLU dancing from its puppet strings. Ayn Rand, a mistress of Philippe Rothschild, wrote, at his order, a novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” which was mostly read by “Communists.” The Denny’s logo is really the symbol for the “eightfold path of what a witch must master to be a powerful witch” and Elton John “has never written a song that was not written in witch language.” Also, Todd claimed to have personally seen a copy of the Necronomicon — which was, in case you didn’t know, an inspiration for the Book of Mormon (the religious text, not the Broadway musical).
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