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by Anna Merlan
It's probably not surprising that the content of this book Is somewhat US centric because the subtitle does say "American conspiracy theorists", but there is still a lot that is relevant to Australia (and probably the rest of the world). Many of the US conspiracists rely on (deliberate?) misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the US Constitution, but I suppose that's more understandable than Australian conspiracists citing the same document. I've heard Australians claim their 2nd Amendment right to carry guns and their 5th Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. (The second amendment to the Australian Constitution allowed the Commonwealth to take over debts incurred by the states prior to federation; the fifth extended the rights and responsibilities of citizenship to the indigenous population.)
All the usual suspects are there - the 9/11 truthers who know that the Twin Towers were destroyed by the US government to create an excuse for a war against Arabs or by Arabs as a reaction to US foreign policy and support of Israel or by Jewish agents to force a war with Arabs (or in the case of the buildings' owners, to collect on insurance) or [pick your own conspiracy]; the vaccine opponents who also don't want fluoride contaminating our precious bodily fluids; the Freemen Of The Land who know that governments are corporations who own the citizens as assets to back the currency after the end of the Gold Standard; the militant militias who are preparing for the government to declare war on the citizens they own to take away their guns; the UFO believers who know that absence of evidence is evidence of evidence being concealed; the crisis actors who travel the world to be photographed at mass shootings (that didn't really happen of course, except when they are staged as part of a program of banning guns).
A common thread running through almost all conspiracy theories is that information is being withheld by governments and corporations and can only be revealed by brave whistleblowers who risk their lives to expose the truth. Some of these whistleblowers, like Mike Adams, Alex Jones, Andrew Wakefield and Joe Mercola, are unfortunately forced to make businesses out of this and attract significant amounts of personal wealth but being rich is better than being dead and presumably these people were able to make the choice or buy off their assassins.
There is no doubt that governments and corporations have acted badly and deceptively in the past, and this is used by conspiracists as evidence that they are probably still doing this. Even when organisations come clean it is always possible to claim that matters are still being hidden. The fact that it is impossible to prove a negative doesn't matter - the US government might have released the Project Blue Book UFO investigations and admitted to the existence of Area 51 but what was redacted from the documentation and are the alien bodies and bits of crashed spaceships now just stored in an even more secret place? Merck behaved badly with their Vioxx clinical trials but just because they admitted it doesn't mean that the vaccines they manufacture don't cause autism. How could the Holocaust have happened if no order for it signed by Hitler can be found? (But he ordered fluoride to be used in the camps even though no actual signed order can be found - things get lost in the aftermath of wars.)
One useful aspect of this book is that it goes into the history of many of today's conspiracy theories to show the sorts of things that have happened that allow conspiracists to claim that they must still be going on, and the things that didn't happen but might have. When you read this the word "surprising" in the book's subtitle becomes a bit confusing, because many conspiracists are simply following a long tradition of believing what they want to believe. And because these beliefs are firmly ingrained they are difficult to change. Maybe those wanting to change the conspiracist beliefs of others are part of the conspiracy themselves, or maybe just actors hired for the day by hidden bosses in the background.
I thoroughly recommend this book, both for its coverage of the state of conspiracy thinking (I use the word loosely) and for the background it provides into why such thinking persists in the face of evidence and critical thinking. I wish I'd written it, but New York publishers don't answer my emails. I wonder why?
Disclaimer: I was once exposed on the web site of renowned conspiracist David Icke (he of the reptilian Royal Family revelation) as a member of the most secret secret society ever, the Illuminati, so any denial I make about the truth of conspiracy theories should be viewed with suspicion.
A version of this review was published as the Naked Skeptic column in the July/August 2019 edition of Australasian Science