by Robin Ramsay
The commercial success of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9-11, $150 million and rising at the box office,
has provoked another wave of conspiracy-bashing.(1) Moore may look like some kind of leftie on this side of the
Atlantic, but to the American left he looks like something quite different. The American left’s hostility to conspiracy
theories or conspiracism as it is being named is intelligible. Here’s a well known American left writer, Norman Solomon,
on the dangers of conspiracism:
”[it] encourages people to fixate on the spectre of a diabolical few plotters rather than on the profoundly harmful realities of
ongoing structural, institutional, systemic factors.”(2)
And here’s Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates:
“...we believe that conspiracism impedes attempts to build a social movement for real social justice, economic fairness, equality,
peace, and democracy.” (3)
In other words, conspiracy theories are a distraction and a form of false consciousness.
Here’s the whole of Berlet's comment on “conspiracism” in the context of the explosion of conspiracy theories about 9-11:
”People with unfair power and privilege generally try to hold onto that unfair power and privilege. Sometimes they make plans that
are not publicly announced. Sometimes they engage in illegal plots. Real conspiracies have been exposed throughout history.
History itself, however, is not controlled by a vast timeless conspiracy. The powerful people and groups in society are hardly
a ‘secret team’ or a tiny club of ‘secret elites.’
In his desire to turn us back towards decent, respectable leftism “a social movement for real social justice,
economic fairness, equality, peace, and democracy” Berlet fudges some important distinctions. His targets are, variously:
The tendency to explain all major world events as primarily the product of a secret conspiracy is called conspiracism.
The antidote to conspiracism is Power Structure Research based on some form of institutional, systemic or structural analysis
that examines race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, class and other factors that are used to create inequality and oppression.
Political Research Associates does not criticize conspiracism because we want to shield those with unfair power and privilege;
but because we believe that conspiracism impedes attempts to build a social movement for real social justice, economic
fairness, equality, peace, and democracy.
There are many unanswered questions about the attacks on 09/11/01, the obvious failures of existing security systems, the
decisions regarding the assessment of terrorist threats; the wisdom, morality, and legality under international law of the
unilateral attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq; the implementation of repressive domestic measures such as the Patriot
Act and the confinement of immigrants and undocumented visitors without due process; and the reluctance and refusal of key
government officials to fully cooperate with congressional and media investigations. Political Research Associates fully supports
the vigorous investigation of these matters.”
These are not the same thing. The notion of a secret team was first used by the late L. Fletcher Prouty in a
specific context: he saw an unofficial group, a network, within the CIA. Other people, the Christic Institute for example,
during the Reagan administration, have claimed to see something similar. (Of the two, Prouty’s was much the more convincing.)
In the London Metropolitan Police a network of corrupt police officers in the 1970s was known as “the firm within a firm”.
A “secret team” is just a step away from the older term, secret society. In Italy, P2 was precisely “a secret team” or a
secret society. In an early Lobster, in 1985 I published Jonathan Marshall’s “Notes on the political importance of
secret societies”. Nearly 20 years on this could be massively expanded.
- “a vast timeless conspiracy”
- “all major world events as primarily the product of a secret conspiracy”
- “a secret team”
- “a tiny club of ‘secret elites’
As for “a tiny club of secret elites”, there are elites, some of which are secret or would like to be secret
(Bilderberg, Bohemian, Le Cercle, the Sahara Club, for example). To my knowledge no-one has ever described them as being a “club”,
big or small. And “a vast timeless conspiracy” and “all major world events as primarily the product of a secret conspiracy”,
are beliefs held by very few indeed and are of no consequence.
Treating conspiracies as an epiphenomenon, when they are clearly a central feature of society, Berlet and Solomon
et al are making an intellectual mistake and a political misjudgment. Rather than berating conspiracy theorists for their false
consciousness, they would surely be better applauding their perception that the world isn’t as it is presented by the mass media,
and trying to encourage them towards the more rational areas of conspiratorial thinking and seeing how conspiracies fit into the
wider structure of American society.
In the midst of this recent ritual flogging of conspiracy theories, Justin Raimondo came up with the term
“conspiracy chic”. http://www.antiwar.com/justin/j091003.html
Kenn Thomas adds:
“Fletcher Prouty often pointed out that the word ‘conspiracism’ contains a subtle slur against people with an interest in conspiracy:
“racism”. The existence of parapolitics, “conspiracies”, is common sense reality worthy of everyone’s interest. Any attempt to turn
the study of the phenomenon into a social movement based on divisive notions of race and class is propaganda of the most
transparent variety. I would also point out that generalities about ‘power structure research’ have little value compared to the
kind of concrete detail offered by the best writers on conspiracy.”