Conspiracy Theories

October 23, 2009 • Volume 19, Issue 37
Do they threaten democracy?
By Peter Katel


Obama's U.S. citizenship: A conspiracists' issue in 9–12 Washington march (Jeff Malet)
A demonstrator questions President Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship — a popular conspiracists' issue — at the recent “9–12 March on Washington” sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots and other conservatives opposed to tax hikes. (Jeff Malet)

President Barack Obama is a foreign-born radical plotting to establish a dictatorship. His predecessor, George W. Bush, allowed the Sept. 11 attacks to occur in order to justify sending U.S. troops to Iraq. The federal government has plans to imprison political dissenters in detention camps in the United States. Welcome to the world of conspiracy theories. Since colonial times, conspiracies both far-fetched and plausible have been used to explain trends and events ranging from slavery to why U.S. forces were surprised at Pearl Harbor. In today's world, the communications revolution allows conspiracy theories to be spread more widely and quickly than ever before. But facts that undermine conspiracy theories move less rapidly through the Web, some experts worry. As a result, there may be growing acceptance of the notion that hidden forces control events, leading to eroding confidence in democracy, with repercussions that could lead Americans to large-scale withdrawal from civic life, or even to violence.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Government Secrecy
Feb. 11, 2011  Government Secrecy
Oct. 23, 2009  Conspiracy Theories
Dec. 02, 2005  Government Secrecy
Jan. 16, 1987  National Security Council
Sep. 20, 1985  Protecting America's Secrets
Feb. 16, 1979  Freedom of Information Act: A Reappraisal
Aug. 18, 1971  Secrecy in Government
Aug. 18, 1971  Secrecy in Government
Feb. 07, 1968  Credibility Gaps and the Presidency
Aug. 07, 1957  Secrecy and Security
Dec. 21, 1955  Secrecy in Government
Feb. 23, 1955  Security Risks and the Public Safety
Jun. 24, 1953  Access to Official Information
Feb. 25, 1948  Protection of Official Secrets
Jan. 29, 1929  Secret Sessions of the Senate
Radio and Television