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 Some of these are funny—the rumor that Avril Lavigne and/or Paul McCartney have been replaced by doppelgängers—and some have deadly consequences, like the mass murders motivated by replacement theory or the Chronicles of the Elders of Zion.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?”
Go beyond the episode:
- Colin Dickey’s Under the Eye of Power: How Fear of Secret Societies Shapes American Democracy
- Listen to our previous conversation about cryptids, aliens, and other weird encounters
- Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from conspiracy theories? Belief in quack Covid cures and New Age elixirs, which Dickey wrote about for us last year
- The “groomers” conspiracy draws on a long history of trans- and homophobia
- For more about the Satanic Panic, listen to this episode of the You’re Wrong About podcast
Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.
Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)
Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes!
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.