[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
For anyone fascinated by the spectacle of colorful conspiratorial minds at work, the last decade has provided for some gripping snorkeling. The growth of the 9/11 Truth movement, the reemergence of the John Birch Society, the persistence of Birtherism and its variants — there’s been no shortage of conspiracy activity at which to gawk and attempt understanding. It was Arthur Goldwag’s fate that this bubbling in the fever swamps turned furious just he was submitting a manuscript to his publisher entitled Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies.
The sudden dynamism in a subject he had just written about historically left Goldwag with a choice. He could curse his luck and take a vacation, or he could turn his just-completed manuscript into the first half of a two-book project. The fruit of his decision, The New Hate, is the subject of today’s salon.
Goldwag’s book might have more accurately been titled with ellipses, The New Hate…, which would have implied the book’s central premise: the new hate, same as the old hate. Both are united, writes the author, in their drawing from a “toxic brew of racial, religious, gender, and nationalistic chauvinism, as often as not buttressed by foundational [conspiracy] myths.” While conspiracy theorizing per se is not unique to the right, this “toxic brew” is. Conspiracies about the dastardly scheming of all-powerful “others” — requiring exposure, forceful exclusion, or worse — date to the colonial period and have been with us ever since. Over the centuries, hysteria over subversive Masons and Jacobin Illuminati have given way to hysteria over Catholics and Jews and Communists. The specifics may be in constant flux, Goldwag argues, but certain groups have long maintained a pride of place in the populist right imagination. He sees the Jewish George Soros as the new Lord Rothschild, and ACORN and the SEIU as the new IWW and Third International. Many of the arguments heard today on WorldNetDaily and Fox News targeting Barack Obama are repackaged attacks first tried out against FDR and JFK.
The New Hate is full of historical echoes of the present, including some in perfect pitch with today’s news. In the book’s chapter on Henry Ford’s popularization of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, we learn that after the carmaker was successfully sued for defamation, he claimed ignorance about anti-Semitic articles that appeared under his byline in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. Like the more recent denials of authorship made by Ron Paul — a modern hero in many conspiracy subcultures — Ford claimed he had never authored or even read the articles in question.
Goldwag believes that rightwing conspiracy culture should be understood, if not quite accepted, as an outgrowth of aspects of human nature. As such, he expects it to be a permanent fixture of our social and political landscapes. “Conspiracism, like racial bigotry, is almost always a murky undercurrent in the mainstream of politics,” he writes. This is especially so, he believes, during periods of economic crisis and rapid social change like the one we’re living through now. Which seems like a good place to welcome Arthur and begin the discussion with a question about demographics and the new hate:
“In the book you discuss the relationship between previous outbreaks of conspiracy-tinged bigotry and immigration. How has the browning of the American population, symbolized by the election of Barack Obama, contributed to the current ‘fear and loathing’ you discuss on the populist right?”