Conspiracy theories have been woven into the fabric of American society since before the signing of the Constitution. But what was once dismissed as the amusing ravings of the tin-foil-hat crowd has in recent years crossed a threshold, experts say, with delusions, fictions and lunacy now strangling government policies and creating national health risks. “These kinds of theories have the effect of completely distorting any rational discussion we can have in this country,’’ says Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center who recently wrote a report on the impact of what is known as the Agenda 21 conspiracy. “They are having a real impact now.”
I’m skeptical any time someone makes an argument along the lines of this has always been a problem, but now it’s really taken a turn for the worse. Is it true that the nutters and hardline ideologues now have faster, more efficient ways of spreading their whacko theories? Of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s any bigger of a problem. If anything, the conspiracy theorists of yesteryear had to work much harder to spread their beliefs; today’s army “truth” spreaders are lazy. Anyone with an internet connection and a disenfranchised sense of fear can be a “conspiracy theorist.” And as for politicians now subscribing to these beliefs? Same thing. Politicians are everywhere now. All of the words that come out of their mouths are cataloged, tweeted, blogged, and debated. Of course we’re more liable to find them spouting off.