What is the milieu in which criminal groups of "freemen" and Oklahoma City bombers grow? It is the underworld of conspiracy theory, a subculture in which people share fantasies of fighting heroically against a huge Conspiracy that is taking over the world.
For decades, the John Birch Society has spread word of the Conspiracy: The international bankers who pull all the strings. The ones who really control both the Communist conspiracy and the United States government. The Trilateral Commission. The Federal Reserve, which is ruining our money. The Council on Foreign Relations - psst, they're out to destroy the Constitution, take away our guns, and enslave us in a United Nations One-World Communist government. Their code words: "New World Order."
So runs the Birchist fantasy, spun out in dozens of books distributed in millions of copies. An estimated 5 million to 10 million Americans believe this stuff. Tens of millions more are under its influence. Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan have built on it, mixing it in with popular fears of elite cults and alien cultures. The NRA has fanned it with mass TV ads about how "they" are going to take away all our guns and all our freedoms. Once a mind is trapped in the circular logic of conspiracy theory, it rarely finds a way out on its own. Even those who only half-believe in the conspiracy are deeply affected by the suspicions it arouses.
Reams of 'evidence'
Imagine reading a deadpan serious book about a Conspiracy that has orchestrated all the horrors of the last century, with hundreds of pages of documentation; that appeals to your suspicions of government; that offers you a chance to stand up for your country against overwhelming forces of evil; that includes some obvious truths of a suppressed, politically incorrect character; that warns that all its other claims are also suppressed truths.
Many people don't know enough arcane facts to refute such a book. They also lack the stamina to refute the insinuating logic at each turn of the page. The book leaves an imprint on them. Thereafter, whenever any normal political effort is made that fits the supposed pattern of the Conspiracy - anything, say, that is done in the name of world order - they cannot help but feel a suspicion that behind this lies the hidden hand of the Conspiracy.
When President Bush spoke of "a new world order" in 1990, he scared the daylights out of these people. They did not hear in it the normal wish of good Americans ever since the Founding Fathers. No, they heard a coded signal for the Conspiracy to move in and take final control of the world. It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. The time for resistance had arrived! Time for Paul Revere to make his midnight ride and rouse the militia! Time for patriots and gun-owners to organize!
The rise of the militias was no accident. These people were utterly serious about organizing against the impending federal-NWO tyranny.
The collapse of Soviet communism made matters worse. While fear of communism provided a breeding ground for the conspiracy theory, it also kept it in check. After all, as long as a real Soviet Union threatened America, it was impossible to avoid relying on the federal government for defense.
The Birchers used to explain that the Conspiracy was in total control of Moscow but only working control of Washington. It was gradually undermining America's resistance to communism. The head office of the Conspiracy was in Washington, but the immediate threat came from the branch office in Moscow. The feds were two-timing Conspiracy agents, but it was necessary to support their legitimate functions.
No more Soviet buffer
When the Soviet Union collapsed, this convoluted logic became obsolete. We no longer needed the feds to defend us from communism. The paranoids could act out their old theory that the real enemy was Washington.
The crackpots suddenly became dangerous - capable of blowing up federal buildings.
Conspiracy theory is doing America real harm. Long incubating underground, it has grown into the greatest enslaver of human minds since communism. It irrationalizes thinking on every issue. It kills. It turns millions of Americans against their own country. It undermines foreign policy by vilifying our government's every effort. It even aligns its followers, unwittingly, with the most dangerous anti-Americans abroad - Islamic fundamentalists, Russian Communists, the Zhirinovskys, the Saddams - for they all share its hatred of the American-led New World Order.
It takes courage to go down into the muddy trenches and answer the conspiracy-mongers, but America needs this courage from its politicians and journalists. It cannot afford to go on ignoring the conspiracy theory any longer. All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.