The problem with conspiracy theories is that they are an outgrowth of paranoia and religious thinking. Do these have any place in an activist movement? No! Of course not— especially if this movement sources itself from ostensibly secular and skeptical roots. Conspiracy theories exist as a way for entrenched power structures to perpetuate themselves by attempting to convince easily frustrated people that there is a simple answer for every question. Yes, it’s a lot easier to digest the theory that “the Jews did 911” rather than take the time to meticulously unravel the complex, onion-like structure of 30 years of central Asian geopolitics, the opium trade and Reagan/Thatcher era fanatical anticommunism. The ease by which a conspiracy theory can be consumed does not lend any support for its validity, regardless of however many appeals to the size of the audience the purveyor of the theory makes.
The irony of conspiracy theories is that even though they do not stand up to even cursory examination or skepticism, these easy challenges provoke a fevered response from their supporters. If, for example, one attempts to point out that not all bankers are Jews, the person doing this will be immediately labelled one of a number of flowery, absurd insults— “Zionist stooge for the banksters” comes to mind— and any hope for rational discourse is lost. This is a pattern echoed in religious thought wherein people who attempt to point out that the earth could not be only six thousand years old are labelled “satanic.”
The “conspiratorial mindset” thrives on martyrdom and oppression. When persons who are spouting racist conspiracy theories inside activist groups are subsequently removed from these groups, they will run howling and screaming to their theorist comrades about the “harsh injustices and fascist oppression meted out by a decidedly non-revolutionary sock-puppet group which is probably entirely composed of agents from a variety of government intelligence agencies.” The purpose of this action is, of course, to provoke said activist group to stop “censoring” these demonstrably false activities and allow another venue of message delivery— after all, the conspiracist will claim, the “lamestream media” actively works to suppress the activities of these “activists for truth” and what ostensibly anti-authoritarian activist group wants to be tarred with any accusation of hypocrisy?
All of these claims operate around false suppositions. Yes, there is little mention of every half-baked conspiracy theory in mainstream media, just like there is no serious consideration of anything that challenges the dominant social, political and economic order— but this does not mean that the two are linked, nor does it mean that there is some sort of wide-ranging governmental policy to stifle talk about “Reptilian shape-shifters from the Pleidean cluster.” Mainstream media does not discuss alternative political, social or economic processes because doing this invites debate and uneasiness— where it is easier to sell products to a calm, assured audience than an agitated one. The role that conspiracy theorists play in the grand scheme of things is that they fill a niche market in the capitalist system— namely, the market of people who prefer to be easily agitated or frightened and will buy product. Because of this, the conspiracy theory community has created its own media ecology, with an endless array of talk show hosts and websites delivering 24/7 live content to a voracious audience. Conspiracy theorists not only have plenty of bandwidth to push their ideals, they demand that all venues be open to them.
The irony of being labelled a “fascist” by someone who is removed from a group for attempting to push racist conspiracy theories is that the person doing the labelling has probably never read the Encyclopedia Britannica definition of Fascism— written by Benito Mussolini. The common talking point among most conspiracy theorists today is a general advocacy against an intrusive, big-brother style authoritarian government. This is strangely pursued by supporting politicians like Ron Paul who openly advocate for a halt to governmental oversight of businesses and corporations under the guise of “liberty” and “freedom.” This pairs nicely with Mussolini’s definition of fascism being the merger of corporate and state power. The conspiracy theorist then refers to themselves as an “anti corporatist” which only furthers their absurdist image.
The presence of conspiracy theorists wouldn’t be a problem if not for their desire to find possibly receptive audience members to whom the conspiracy theorist lifestyle can be sold— and for the subsequent practice of hijacking movements and changing their goals and purpose to suit their own ends. Put plainly, the conspiracy theorist moves to activist groups because they believe some form of affinity exists between two groups of supposed “anti-corporatists.” In reality, their presence is a product of an unconscious realization that they have exhausted all of their possible social networking potential within the insular conspiracy theorist scene. In other, slightly more rare cases, their presence is due to an effort by a sect of conspiracy theorists to piggy-back on the successes and momentum of the group they are “targeting.”*
The primary danger that conspiracy theorists pose to activist groups is a dereliction of message and reduction in effectiveness. This can manifest itself in many different ways, from an anti-war group turning into an explicitly anti-Semitic group, to an anarchist media collective turning into another mirror of Alex Jones’ propaganda, to an anti-globalization group being turned into a money farm by a new-age cult scam. What must be done is to perform the admittedly unpleasant task of distancing one’s group from elements which will hurt the overall message. It is possible to weather any storm of criticism from the conspiracy theorists as their complaints against the group will last until they have found a new home. It is not “fascist” to not want to be associated with elements that hold no logical sense or purpose for their existence within your group.
*My use of the word “targeting” in this case should not imply that all sects of conspiracy theorists that engage in this behavior do so consciously or with a clear and direct motive or directive from any form of leadership or heirarchy within said sect, although notable examples of intentional hijacking by conspiracy sects/cults has occurred.