Of Panic and Paranoia

Colin Dickey on the enduring power of secret societies and conspiracy theories


The litany of contemporary conspiracy theories runs long: Pizzagate, QAnon, chemtrails, “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams,” “birds aren’t real.” Some of these are funny—the rumor that Avril Lavigne and/or Paul McCartney have been replaced by doppelgängers—and some have deadly consequences, like the mass murders motivated by replacement theory or the Chronicles of the Elders of Zion. We might like to think this is a recent phenomenon, but the first American president to espouse a conspiracy theory was actually George Washington, a Freemason who believed that the Illuminati caused the French Revolution. In his new book, Under the Eye of Power, Colin Dickey asks, “What if paranoia, particularly a paranoia of secret, subversive societies, is not just peripheral to the functioning of democracy, but at its very heart?”

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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