Why are Conspiracy Theories so Popular in America?

We’ve all heard the stories. Was JFK assassinated by the government? Was 9/11 a black ops operation? Is Obama a Socialist Kenyan Lizard? Conspiracies are almost the norm rather than the exception in American political life. This begs a few questions. Why are there so many conspiracy theories, and why do so many of them focus on the United States? There is something very American about conspiracy theories. Explanations range from the American values of Democratic openness and anti-elitism, to the legacy of the paranoid pilgrims of yesteryear. Conspiracies have been with American culture from the beginning. The first English settlers in America were extreme hard-line protestants, who saw the devil behind every dark corner. Not only did this result in seeing the pope as the anti-christ, but also witch hunts against their own flock. That’s not metaphor, I mean literal witch hunts. Elements of this paranoia carry to today as the list of anti-christs and apocalypse dates increase year by year. Along with religious fear, there was a massive distrust of secretive groups. One of the favourite targets from the earliest days of the American republic to today are the freemasons. Anti-masonry exploded after a murder in the 1820s of someone who supposedly leaked freemason secrets. It went as far as inspiring an anti-masonic political party. The cast of boogeyman grew as anticommunist paranoia swept the US. Seen as a threat to American culture, everyone just a bit too left of center would be suspected of being a Communist spy or secret agent. Organizations like the John Birch Society and politicians like Joseph McCarthy stoked these fears for their own ends. Historians consider this anti-communist red scare of the 1950s as the reason why social democracy, and other leftist politics seem to be absent in American political discourse. How do these carry forward to today? Many of the old favorites are still around, with a few new gems. The 1990s added many of the more sci-fi conspiracies to the mix. Some would argue that today, conspiracies run the gamut of American culture. In 2015, nearly half of American believe in at least one conspiracy theory, and popular conspiracies make the mainstream news. Just think about Donald Trump’s secret evidence of Mexico sneaking people into the US, or the oncoming martial law from war games in Texas. What are the major themes of conspiracies? Many use control-through-debt to build their theories. Often corruption is assumed on the part of the government or corporate controllers. Conspiracies act as a form of counter-subversion, attacking targets already subjugated by mainstream society. Other big targets tend towards internationalist organizations like the United Nations, the World Bank, or the International Monetary Fund. Let’s not forget our favorite big fat cat capitalists! Major deaths tend to spawn new theories. Every major death in American history from Abraham Lincoln to Marilyn Monroe have a conspiracy behind them. One ironic aspect is that groups trying to expose conspiracies tend to become conspiratorial. The Know Nothing Society that attempted to expose the evil plots brought by immigrants became cloistered, exclusionary, and secretive in their own right. The Ku Klux Klan often warned about conspiracies to strip real Americans of their constitutional freedoms while conspiring behind white sheets to deprive black, jewish, and catholic Americans of their rights. Conspiracies are now big business. It is a thriving industry of books, magazines, symposiums, and radio shows. It has built up a subculture of intellectual dissent to the mainstream. Why do people believe in these theories? Psychologists attribute it to many causes. The search for meaning in life might make combating conspiracies life affirming. Confirmation bias, where we disregard evidence that doesn’t fit preconceived notions strengthens the connections. These are further reinforced by conspiracy communities. It also makes the world understandable, taking ambiguity and turning issues into simple understandable moral struggles. Some psychologists see the theories as projection. Often the undesirable characteristics of the theorist are projected on to the conspirators. One of the common evil attributes of these conspirators is sexual freedom. Christopher Hitchens had an alternative claim. He called conspiracies the ‘exhaust fumes of democracy’ and simply the end result of free and open discourse. It seems that America with it’s story of a grand national mission leads to theories that go alongside with that mythology. It’s dedication to individualism, and anti-elitism are powerful cultural catalysts. Add in some pilgrim paranoia, xenophobia, and racism in the states’ history and you have a perfect recipe for a population that sees conspiracies in every dark corner. Regardless of why people believe them, conspiracies are as American as apple pie, and are likely to shape the political landscape of their quirky country for years to come. What’s the craziest conspiracy you know of? Be sure to let us know about it down in the comments. Thanks for watching, and check out the channel for more episodes of Step Back.

Maurice Vega

51 Responses

  1. Nice graphics, you rank amateur! Your objective is pretty obvious here. Lizard? No. Kenyan? YES! Socialist? ADMITTEDLY! You would group BIGFOOT with the JFK Assassination! Jam this garbage up your silly ass!

  2. My favorite conspiracy theory these days is the "Back to the Future Predicted 9/11" that's been going around. Hilarious. https://youtu.be/P1ULjJ3EqyY

  3. Craziest? If you wanna see some crazy ones, just take a look at Mark Dice on YouTube, he's always got something new and crazy.
    My favorite is that Amy Schumer is an Illuminati priestess.

  4. I was heavy into AI research in grad school. In one project, I looked at complex application of simple rule sets. One of the things I encountered was that rather dumb complex systems exhibit eerily biological behavior. The more "smart" the system, the closer the biological analogy.

    I think that one aspect of conspiracy theories is that observers of complex systems (like geopolitics) see what appears to be hidden control of events where there really is only a predictable behavior of an incomprehensibly complex system. Because it's "obviously" controlled, there must be a hidden controller.

  5. Conspiracies are not American, they are Human.
    Turkey, Italy, Greece and Russia are countries with a high conspiracy count ,
    among the public on a daily basis.
    And those came up just so, there will be more for sure on every continent.
    Add Mexico , Venezuela and Brasil to the list.
    Indonesia is doing great too.

  6. Have you read Kathy Olmsted's Real Enemies? She posits that conspiracy theories have a historical genealogy beginning with the theories about why the US joined WWI and their public investigation in the late-1920s. She says the conspiracy theories surrounding groups like the Masons prior to WWI, were fundamentally different from those afterward. Kind of an interesting take.

  7. I suspect that most people who fall for conspiracy theories (some people seem to believe all of them) have low self-esteem. They probably struggled in school or don't get the joke, or feel mentally inferior to those around them. By buying into these crazy theories they can then create an inner-narrative that they are 'smarter than everyone else', : that everyone else is a foolish 'sheep'. They like the persona that allows them to present to society, and they probably also feel better about themselves because they have 'tricked themselves' into feeling smarter relative to those around them

  8. Have you read Among the Truthers by Johnathan Kay? Another Canadian whose does a really good job of examining Conspiracy Theories in America (I agree with you that while other countries have their theories the US just take them to a whole new level), and their role in society.

  9. I think Americans (I am one) tend to have the biggest megaphone. And it is easier here than in many 300,000,000+ person countries, to find a platform. Now most countries have access to the internet, but the States were/are interesting in its ability to find some entity to amplify the fringe groups.

    Here were joke about how the media will find the craziest person they can to give their account of a situation. The most common one is about right after a natural disaster…. The media seemingly does the following..

    1. Locate trailer parks
    2. Find most run down trailer.
    3. Inhabitants MUST have no more than 50% of their teeth.
    4. If it is a male then he must be wearing a tank top
    5. If female, she must either look like a 1980's prostitute, or "honey boo-boo"'s mother.
    6. Prepare your popcorn folks.

    So, I think it is because Americans are proud to be as individual as possible UNLESS there has been a national travesty or soldiers are marching in a parade. Then we either tear up and/or find someone we can agree no longer needs to exist.

    All that being said. Once we are finished with medical school, I really wanna check out Vancouver.

  10. So, I will assume that you agree with the Oswald acted alone in the assassination of JFK storyline then?

  11. Could it be that conspiracies are ubiquitous? You cite the Klan, are they not conspiritors? What organized crime does us conspiracy. Every covert operation of every intelligence agency ever is a conspiracy. If you've ever planned a surprise party you were part of a conspiracy.

  12. Anyone notice the apocalypse dates normally have a 30 year gap between them? Except the last few.

  13. I think the lizard conspiracy is just so crazy. The fact literally millions of people around the world believe in it is just insanity.

  14. Because you're american centric and probably never browse let's say german conspiracy forums. You only mostly know the english world of conspiracies as an american. And by the way McCarthy turned out to be right on many actors and artist in hinsight. And most of the KGB's budget was spend in the west after all. Marthin Luther King Jr. was member of a communsit movement too. Ohwell.

    Also how are jews already subjugated by mainstream society? We are 2% of the US population and are incredibly overrepresented in goverment, media (especially actors and directors etc) and finance. 48% of US billionairs are eating kosher! I wouldn't call that being subjected. I wish blacks had the level of representation we jews enjoy. They're the real underdogs. Maybe we should cut back a bit on our own success and let them have a bigger piece of the cake. Anyways, saying jews are in anyway underprivileged is waaaaaay off.

  15. Theres conspiracy theories everywhere you just only hear about the american ones because of the overexposure of american pop culture world wide. Also Trumps evidence is not exactly secret, mexican goverment has literally made printed leaflets with instructions for how to illegally immigrate to america.

  16. The emotional appeal of conspiracy theories is the thrill of righteous indignation and confidence of possessing hidden knowledge. The big nefarious They provide an easy adversarialism with a simple emotional high that doesn't actually require you do anything. Because really, what can you do about transnational oligarchs, reptilians, or the CIA? And juggling the sometimes-contradictory "facts" of the subject matter (putting together the "big picture") is interesting. I misspent my teenage years on paranormal/conspiracy forums and saw firsthand how "facts" get dropped and reintroduced according to the rhetorical needs of the believer. It's basically a genre of political (and sometimes sci-fi) storytelling.

  17. You already briefly mention psychology, but if I may offer a slightly different psychoanalytical (and thus more philosophical than scientific) explanation: In many conspiracy theories the bad guys are part of the government or some nefarious elite. So rather than a projection of one's own undesirably tendencies, I sometimes see it as a projection of an overly dominant superego inside oneself. Here I mean "superego" in the Freudian sense, i.e. those moral and ethical constraints that one imposes upon oneself. As many in the U.S. can be overly religious, the accompanying moral constraints can subconsciously be experienced as oppressive. This sensation of an invisible, oppressive force is then projected outward and imagined as a secretive authoritarian power. Of course, this does not only apply to religious morality, but also secular/humanistic morality.

  18. I know a guy that claims clouds are unnatural. His evidence is that he never read about them in the bible, so they must not have existed back then, and therefore must be some secret military project. Except I read his bible, and it does mention clouds.

  19. People seem to be obsessed with conspiracy theories. Of course, I too have some reasons I am interested in conspiracy theories. My reasons may be the same as many others. I am not poorly educated and I am not just wishing for something bad to happen. I can't help to think there must be something more to life than just working and paying bills just to have a small window of time for enjoyment. I think conspiracy theories arise as a product of feeling oppressed. I don't feel like I am reaching my full potential in life because of oppression, a system designed to keep me under control. Many times the conspiracies I am interested in seem to paint a story of that control or oppression being removed. I feel like once its removed I can finally have the chance to live life the way it was meant to be. Anyway, I just thought I would share.

  20. Learn more about when history meets conspiracy theory here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEAwYkvZ5og&list=PLnpoOo7lhNnEAi75mgBjZ2ESW8WXOuqAj

  21. +Step Back You know, I dont believe in 99% of the conspiracy theories I've heard.
    I don't believe 9/11 was an inside job, I dont believe aliens work with our government, I dont believe in chem trails (jet fuel is already nore toxic and destructive to the environment then what is claimed to be in chem trails. so, you dont really need a conspiracy.)
    ….you get the idea.
    But do conspiracies exist in America and through out our history. Absolutely!
    Our nation was founded in conspiracy. The founding fathers absolutely conspired against the Crown.
    I mean, if there are no conspiracies, why do so many rich, famous and powerful people belong to secret organizations they wont talk about?
    Why has every single U.S. president in History been related to European royalty? Why, out of 44 presidents, have all but one been related to each other?? ….haven't researched Trump's family origions yet.
    For instance, Obama and Bush are cousins. look it up.

    Do conspiracies exist in this country?? …..Absolutely.
    Are most conspiracy theories BS??…yeah, I think so, but don't kid yourselves, conspiracies are absolutely real. There are so many examples of it in history. Even modern history. I just don't think they are as diabolical as many people make them out to be.

  22. What's the craziest conspiracy theory I know of? Well, I listen to a podcast that read David Icke's book. Yeah, him. So the craziest conspiracy theory I've heard is what some call, the grand unified conspiracy theory because it includes, the Illuminati, the race of reptiles, the Bilderbergs, the Freemasons and all manner of silly beliefs, none of which is based on any clear evidence that I can tell. Icke seems to think that if things are connected to other things in a coincidental manner, that absolutely must mean something very very big and very very important.

  23. I agree with you on most parts of this. But for the part of illegal immigration into the United States. It cannot be ignored that over 11 million have immigrated illegally ever since the immigrant legalization Act. Which turned all illegal immigrants that were living in the US currently into citizens. Afterwards more immigrants pour it in because they knew that they could get legalized if they sneaked in at the right time

  24. I think it has more to do with the bad reputation our government has there have been conspiracies that turned out to be true like the NSA domestic spying now that it is proven true people shrug it off and say "well if you have nothing to hide" It was once just a conspiracy theory that the government was running guns for criminals and guess what Senator Leland Yee gets busted for running guns for criminals. Leland Yee was a big advocate for gun control too. Even MKultra was proven to be true there is video evidence of soldiers being experimented on with LSD. Eric Snowden and Wikileaks as well as other prove the conspiracy theories right. there are government officials who think Snowden is a traitor and should get death even though he exposed the government violating our right to privacy

  25. The sealed truth.!Roosevelt and Churchill are war criminals. Colonial nobility. Opium, looting, colonial rule.Hoover, hamilton fish, Confession of MacArthur, History of Kennedy. The truth of Tokyo Trial. Please look at the truth of Hull note.

  26. I would say conspiracy theories are far more common all around the world than this video lets on. There are certain unique American qualities of them and their pervasiveness. Also, I think for this video or series to be fair, you should do a video detailing the "conspiracies"" that have been proven true. Equally, a clarification of the term should help. Many facets of our society use that term with a derogatory connotation, but by legal definition, a conspiracy merely is " a secretive plan by one or more persons to engage in either unlawful or coercive actions towards another party."

  27. Conspiracy theories can in some cases be a balm to society against its greatest fear – the individual. Except his action while considered to be "just" is wholly at odds with societal laws. But he is focused on a goal and will not be dissuaded by any rational means. It is necessary then to protect ourselves from the notion that our lives cannot be altered by the actions of this single person. There must be "others" involved who aided him or used him as a patsy. This person also is seen as "average" or "normal" in most respects, so they do not stand out as someone capable of the action that occurred.

  28. a lot of these conspiracy seam to be distraction flak the rich elite throw at the middle class to distract them from the social warfare campaign to relentlessly move wealth to the top.

    and on top of that since they are always up to evil shit that only goes to confirm the unreliability of those in charge of the government.

    basically it's the circus part of bread and circuses… but no one get the bread because that to much like communism!!! the poor are supposed to starve to death! or freeze to death! and ideally work slave labor jobs while they are at it.

    that or be forced into the military to serve as an excuse to expend very expensive ammunition somewhere (not important where unless US corporations can grab up any oil) so the war profiteers can get more money that they can then use to bribe of politicians by campaign financing.

  29. Most people killed during the witch trials were hanged, with one exception, Giles Corey, was pressed to death (ie forced to lay on the ground and have rocks piled on him. He also spoke what may very well be my absolute favorite last words "more weight," basically flipping the bird to the judge trying to get him to confess to witchcraft.

  30. Aren't the KKK a faction of the Freemasons? I heard they were supposed to be connected to the Skull and Bones lodge?

  31. Maddest conspiracy I know… Hmmm… The Earth is a Donut, or The Earth is Flat… Or the Moon isn't real, apparently it's a hologram… But I think the craziest ones are Holocaust denial, and Jews run everything. o.O;

  32. But there really was a conspiracy behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. That is a matter of historical record. Also, witches in America were hanged, not burned. This is the first video from your channel that I have sampled, and I am disappointed that a specialist in history would be so careless about it.

    From Wikipedia: "the assassination [of Lincoln] was part of a larger conspiracy intended by Booth to revive the Confederate cause by eliminating the three most important officials of the United States government. Conspirators Lewis Powell and David Herold were assigned to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward, and George Atzerodt was tasked with killing Vice President Andrew Johnson. Beyond Lincoln's death the plot failed: Seward was only wounded and Johnson's would-be attacker lost his nerve."

  33. There is no Finland. Its a lie fabricated by the Russians and Japanese so they would have exclusive fishing rights in the Baltic sea. Japan had been over fishing and Russia was hungry after World War 2. GET WOKE.

  34. The Irony is that so many of the people believing that Obama was born in Kenya actually supported Ted Cruz despite him being born in Canada.

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