Suspicious Minds: Conspiracy Theories And US Politics
This article was originally featured in tmrw magazine #19.
Conspiracy theories have interested men and women for generations, infiltrating a country’s national discourse and turning the heads of many. Often these theories can maintain a core following through playing on people's innate paranoia and general mistrust towards a single being or a group. Left to their own devices these theories generally have a short shelf life, either hastily disproven or just generally being ignored by the masses until they're eventually forgotten, leaving a mild legacy summed up in a rarely visited Wikipedia page.
Longevity, in the age of Google fact checking, is still a possibility though. Even today, many years after both events have taken place, the truth behind the 1969 moon landings and the assassination of John F Kennedy is still often the cause for discussion for frequenters of internet message boards and small pub gatherings. Conspiracy theories that have managed to maintain an everlasting presence within the public consciousness usually have one thing in common: they can be traced back to ongoing political unrest at the time. These theories thrive and grow when they find common ground and become linked with people's anger and mistrust of certain groups, which if you really think about it, is what political opponents do in the run-up to every single election – attempt to turn their opposition into figures of contempt, becoming nothing more than pantomime villains.
Take the recent US election; in which the much maligned Republican candidate Donald Trump faced off against the equally maligned Democrat candidate Hilary Clinton in a battle to become the least respected president elects ever. Media outlets followed the candidates’ each and every move, reporting on every speech and reviewing every finite detail of what was said in the hope of finding that one crumb that would set social media ablaze and set the theorists minds racing. Reporters were in luck, as the 2016 Presidential campaign became possibly the most controversial election race of all time – and when there’s controversy, conspiracy is never far to follow.
What was strange about this election was that the conspiracies weren’t consigned to one particular political parties. Moving from the fringes of the political spectrum, the conspiracies were now becoming an important tool in their campaign arsenals, with high profile leaks from both sides being utilised in an attempt to galvanise supporters. Alt-right supporters decided to focus on #Pizzagate, which revolved around the WikiLeaks leaked emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta which were allegedly written in a code which when cracked detailed links to human trafficking and connecting a number of restaurants in the United States and members of the Democratic Party with a fabricated child-sex ring. Gung-ho left supporters chose #Russiagate as their cause, which alleges that the Russian President Vladimir Putin, personally ordered an "influence campaign" to denigrate and harm Clinton's electoral chances and potential presidency utilising disinformation, data thefts, leaks, and social media trolls in an effort to give an advantage to Trump.
There was a noticeable hike of interest in these sort of theories during the last American political campaign, mainly due to the rise of social media and the celebrity status that political commentators received. Once relegated to the murky corners of the internet, political conspiracy theories are now front and centre, with every new one trending worldwide in a matter of hours and then consumed by supporters and rejected whole-heartedly by opponents. Discussion on these sort of topics is now instantaneous meaning as soon as one is debunked or lost its use as a political tactic there’ll be another one discovered ready to join the cycle one again.
As social media becomes even more influential to the general public we will soon be warned about new theories every day, from a political figures’ secret dalliance with a neighbouring country to media outlets being targeted for hidden messages within articles. You never know where the next one will turn up, and isn’t that really, part of the fun!