Conspiracy Theories: Fringe History in America
Long popular in the fringe segements of any society are conspiracy theories, meant to explain the unexplainable to those terrified by events but unable to understand them.
Obviously a conspiracy advocate can come from any one of many backgrounds but certain common characteristics seem to be generally found across the board throughout history and regardless of geography. I believe many conspiracy advocates are frustrated individuals lashing out at an imagined enemy because they are unable to comprehend complex situations. At the core of the conspiracy advocates’s personality isa desire for simplicity. The world, as they see it, is faced with simple problems with simple solutions. This simplistic mentality is shown by these two quotes from CA literature.
History repeats itself because there has been perfect continuity of purpose in the struggle which has been going on since the beginning of Time between the forces of Good and Evil to decide whether the Rule of Almighty God shall prevail, or whether the world shall literally go to the Devil. The issue is just as simple as that.(1) As Phyllis Schlafy put it, “Civilization progresses, freedom is won and problems are solved because we have wonderful people who think up simple solutions.(2)
What conspiracy belief comes down to is a theory based on the assumption that things go wrong because they are planned that way. Frustrated by failure they begin to search for a villian. Dynamics of Prejudice points out that those who are becoming poorer also become more prejudiced.(3)This, however, fails to take into account the growing number of socially upward mobile individuals who are also conspriacy advocates. This problem is best answered thusly, “The amount of frustration depends less on the amount of deprivation than on the size of the gap between what a person has and what he expects or believes he is entitled to have.”(4)
Conspiracy theories and their inherent prejudicial attitudes are basically ethnocentric in the sense that “the American way of life” isbeing subverted by sinister forces. The sinister forces usually are pointed out to be individuals or groups different from the prevailing culture. To Protestant America of the 1800’s Roman Catholicism was the threat while 100 years later Irish Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists joined in their denunciation of Jews.
Faced by change, or the threat of it, simplistic individuals retreated into the world of intrigue and conspiracy. ‘’The image of a vast subversive force subtly appropriating and transforming American institutions might well reflect anxiety over the problem of preserving a consistent sense of national identity in the face of rapid social change. In other words, it is possible that men might find reassurance in blaming unsettling change on a secret, satanic force and trying to restore a sense of communal solidarity by a struggle against internal enemies.”(5)
The fact that an individual is a member of a group once considered conspiratorial is no assurance he or she will not become a conspiracist and pin the blame on another group. When the John Birch Society republished a 1798 book “exposing” the secret order of the Illuminati and Freemasonry they were quick to point out in the forward that Freemasonry’s “adherents today certainly number among our staunchest patriots and anti-Communists.” In the 1800’s large numbers of Catholic immigrants challenged Protestants in the jobmarket causing various institutions and groups, including the Republican Party, to make vitriolic anti-Catholic remarks concerning the Romanist conspiracy; one generation later Father Coughlin was on the radio saying the same things about Jews. American blacks in increasing numbers flowed into the conspiracy advocates ranks in spite of the prejudice they have had to face. The Blackman’s Development Center of Washington, D.C. , in its Blackman’s Defense Newsletter published an article entitled “Zionist Jews and American Communists Plan Death Trap for All Blacks.”(7) MalcolmX even blamed the black economic plight on the claim “ Jews sap the very life-blood of the so-called Negroes to maintain the State of Isreal.”(8)
The conspiracy (spelled with a capital C in Birch publications) must have certain traits before it falls into the category I am discussing. First it must be international in scope; a conspiracy to rule the world. Secondly it reaches back far into history and finally, the vast majority of problems, if not all, can be attributed to it. One conspiracist discussed these traits when he admitted “contemporary Americans are inclined to react with shocked incredulity to any discussion of the great size, age, reach, and power of THE Conspiracy, which we call the Great Conspiracy.”(9)
It is my contention that conspiracists must eventually focus on one group as the masterminds of the conspiracy. Their logic is if “Disorders, revolutions, economic convulsions and political upheavals do not happen, they result from planning.”(10) If the bad things are planned someone plans them. Find out who plans them and bad things will stop happening. Henry Ford even claimed if the top conspirators were rounded up wars would end overnight.
The conspiracy is headed by any one of many different groups. These groups, however, tend to be racial or religious minorities, At different times in American history the conspiracy has been run by different minorities. When no recognizable minority is present to scapegoat a conspiracy of occultic manifestations is invented. In the U.S. the first great conspiracy theory was that of the Illuminati. Satan, leading a group of dedicated Illuminists, was trying to overthrow Christian America, which is the same as attempting to overthrow God. In December of 1800 a Grand Jury was called in Pennsylvania to look into the charges that “the pride of Reason has Been constantly making” impious attempts “to disturb that order established by God himself.”(11)Accordingly “The Revolutions now operating in Europe sprung not from the impulse of a day, nor a sudden concurrence of random passions and circumstances. Their foundations were long laid deep and widein an extensive and systematic operation … The full extent of the force of this combination was not at first seen.It wasdeveloped only by degrees; and success in one step opened the view, led the way, and spurred the diligence to another; tillit acquired a gigantic force, that, it would seem, only the hand of Heaven can arrest.”(12)
Americans in the 1800’s, like many today, needed an enemy more concrete than some esoteric conspiracy—flesh and blood conspiratorialists were needed. One authority on conspiracy theory put it this way : “Since the first vague image of the Illuminati conspiracy in the eighteenth century… the effective conspiracy theories in America have involved two dimensions; a mysterious cabal and some less mysterious, more visible target group associated with the cabal.”
In America, the more concrete conspirators took on the form of Freemasonry. Masonry over the now defunct Illuminati. Masonry, having a more concrete form and yet having the appeal of being occultic in appearance was the obvious scapegoat in a basically homogeneous America. The major form of opposition to the Masonic “conspiracy” was the Anti-Masonic Party, which claimed it would bring about “the complete prostration of the institutions of freemasonry. We would break up its lodges, its chapters, and its encampments. We would strip from its officers their gaudy trappings, and bloated titles, and mock dignities, and bring them upon a level with the plain, untitled citizens of the republic.”(14) In 1828 the Massachusetts Anti-Masonic Party, which controlled 150 seats in the state’s lower house, appointed a committee to investigate the ties between Masonry and Illuminism. Two years later the Party passed the resolution which said: “Resolved, on the report of the committee appointed to inquire how far Free Masonry and French Illuminism are connected. That there is evidence of an intimate connection between the high orders or Free Masonry and French Illuminism.”(15)
Modern day conspiracists have, in some prominent cases, still been theoretically stuck in the 1800’s. Father Clarence Kelly of the John Birch Society, as well as a follower of Archbishop Lefevbre, says “to disregard the role played by continental Masonry in the program of the Conspiracy is to be less than honest.”(16) The Catholic Cardinal of Chile wrote a book entitled The Mystery of Freemasonry Unveiled in which he disclosed the supposed dangers of Masonry. Protestants, not to be left in the cold, in 1868 formed the National Association of Christians Opposed to Secret Societies, which until within the last few months continued to operate out of offices in Chicago.
The Cardinal of Chile, in his book, does show the ease with which conspiracies can be created. In America, anything threatening White Protestant culture was deemed conspiratorial, including, as we shall see, the Catholic Church. Cardinal Rodriquez, in a Catholic culture with a Protestant minority claimed “Masonry, which wages an implacable war of lies and violence against the Catholic Church whenever it can do so, manifests the greatest good will if not favors toward the Protestants, whatever sect they may be. How can this fact be explained? The explanation is quite obvious. [It always is to the conspiracist.] Protestantism is a rebellion against the authority established in His Church by Our Lord Jesus Christ, expressly contained in the Bible, and indirectly and logically it is a rebellion against the same authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Rationalism and Deism continue the work commenced by Protestantism and the denial of God Himself favored by Masonry or openly professed by it, it is the complement of these rebellions and denials.”(17)
Freemasonry was quickly replaced with a new enemy by conspiracists. Between the Civil War and 1900 almost 25 million immigrants entered America,the overwhelming majority of whom were Catholic—something the Donald Trumps of the day, proclaimed would destroy the country, lead to increased crime and destroy freedom. Change, in the form of rapid industrialization ended rural dominance and established the great cities. A visible Catholic minority of foreign extract, along with the rapid social change was breeding ground for new conspiracy theories. Masons were dropped in favor of the Romanist Conspiracy.
Harpers Weekly charged “the Romanish population of our chief cities” were guilty of “unpatriotic conduct.”(18) Books began to circulate which “proved’’ President Lincoln had been assassinated by the Catholic Church. Rutherford B. Hayes before becoming President “worked fiercely to smear Democrats as subservient to Catholic designs.”(19) Later when Hayes ran for President the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee published a number of anti-Catholic tracts for distribution.
1887 was the year the American Protective Association was founded in Clinton, Iowa. Made up of farmers and lower class workers the APA claimed “Papist societies” armed with rifles and bayonets were being established across the United States for the express purpose of altering our government and bringing it into subservience to the Pope. Accordingly the APA was formed to protect America from this dangerous foreign power. Interestingly enough, the APA adopted the secret rituals formerly associated with Freemasonry.
Once another group was present, which was socially inferior, the “plain People” had no problems engaging in the pomp they criticized only a few years earlier. The APA was the first American group to engage in the practice of distributing bogus documents.(20) In the 1890’s the APA distributed what supposedly was an address by Pope Leo XIII calling on all Catholics to exterminate Protestant heretics. So widespread was the belief in the authenticity of this document Toledo’s mayor put the National Guard on duty for one week to protect Protestants from nonexistent Catholic assassins. When the uprising failed to materialize the APA pointed out that this was a Jesuit trick to catch Protestants off guard so that a later mass murder would be unopposed.(21)
The APA grew slowly during the prosperous years between 1887 and 1893 though it picked up support in cities where Protestants faced increased Catholic competition in the job market. In 1893 the country suffered a severe depression, which the APA blamed on Catholics. Suddenly with severe financial problems, especially among the less educated lower classes, the ranks of the APA swelled with hundreds of thousands of anti-Papists.
One method of documenting conspiracy theory is to tie the present conspiracy to the preceding popular conspiracy theory, For instance, by claiming Masonry is the same as Illuminism and then quoting an anti-Illuminist source from the previous conspiracy craze you can document the diabolical nature of Masonry, This gives a false air of accuracy to the claims of conspiracy. A novice in the field of history can be easily led astray by the fact the author (Clarence Kelly) of Conspiracy Against God and Man (1974) quotes extensively from Cause of World Unrest(1920) and from Secret Societies and Subversive Movements (1924).The fact that an accusation is footnoted satisfies the average reader. However Causeof World Unrest is a non-footed book, which would not be accepted as ample proof that any of things contended by Kelly are true.
It should also be noted Kelly selectively uses an ellipsis in many of his documentations because the source he quotes claims the conspiracy to be Jewish and Kelly prefers to blame the Illuminati instead. Kelly’s use of Secret Societies and Subversive Movements as documentation also stumps novices in that this book is fond of quoting French and German pieces from the 1700’s and the 1800’s, which Kelly’s readers will find impossible to obtain. If by chance a reader where to find one of these French or German pieces chances are the quote in question may be from another source or of little substance in the wider aspects of the conspiracy being alleged.
The late 1800’s were a time when this method was used to tie Romanism and Masonry. One author of the time claimed “there is a most remarkable coincidence between Freemasonry and Romanism…Neither the Mason on the one hand nor the Catholic on the other, dare think and act for himself in matters pertaining to either system, and in this total subjugation of the will and judgment we discover the real secret of that terrible power which both Masonry and Romanism exercise over their members…. “(22)
The early 1900’s provided an escape for American Catholics because of the massive influx of European Jews. One conspiracist mentioned that at this time in history “the flood of Khazar Jews into the U.S. continued with increased vigor.”(23) Suddenly the Catholic conspiracy became a thing of the past and Protestants with their new Catholic allies, such as Father Coughlin, turned their attentions toward the Jewish menace. Old anti-Jewish literature from Europe as well as some newer American editions flooded the market.
Henry Ford began his campaign against Wall Street and the Jews he felt controlled it. “Round up the fifty wealthiest Jews and there will be no more war” was the statement that got Ford off on his campaign. This was followed with a four volume book The International Jew, which promised in the preface that wouldn’t spare’’TheInternational Jew and his satellites….”(23) The book contained such chapters as “Jewish Gamblers Corrupt American Baseball;” “Jewish Jazz Becomes Our National Music;” “How Jews Gained American Liquor Control;”and “The Economic Plans of International Jews.” Elizabeth Dilling, a vicious anti-Semite, was frequently entertained by the top brass of Ford and Henry Ford contributed as much as $5,000 to her campaigns.
The Jews had the unfortunate experience of immigrating to the United States just prior to World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution. Needing a scapegoat for these disturbing events conspiracists pointed their fingers at them. Judge Armstrong pointed out “The real cause of the war was Jewish ambition and avarice; it had been planned for a long period of time….”(24)
Since the 1900’s CA’s have continued their exposes of the conspiracy. For some the conspiracy is Illuminist, for others it is Jewish. Some still contend it’sRomanist conspiracy and some are able to tie all the theories together and toss in a few extra theories of their own creation to create a unique view of history.
One new theory to gain attention in recent years contends the conspiracy is homosexual. The first attempts to propagate this theory came in the early 1970’s in the form of a secret document distributed anonymously to only top right-wing leaders in the country. Entitled “Dequello” the document, expensively printed and bound, dedicated itself to exposing the “Homosexual conspiracy.” It claimed, “Like the socialist and Jewish parts of the anti-Nationalist conspiracy, the homosexual conspiracy is as old as history. The priests of ancient Egypt lived in homosexual relationships, never perpetuating their own blood but constantly recruiting the nations most attractive young men into their ranks … The homosexual cult religions of Egypt penetrated deeply into the social life of ancient Greece and contributed significantly to the decline of both Greek democracy and Greek culture.”(25) The document went on to claim the Illuminati no longer exists but that it is often confused with the homosexual “International Brotherhood.”
The John Birch Society in their monthly publication called homosexuality “a sin of violence and conspiracy in its typical course….” The Birchers went on to say “homosexuals constitute within the nation-state a separate, and intrinsically hostile, society. This is the natural consequence of their unnatural association.”(26) Anita Bryant picked up on this by claiming “It’s part of a big Conspiracy. That’s obvious even in the short time I have been aware of it. I was idealistic. I had never seen the tentacles of the octopus trying to destroy America.”(27)
Another right-wing publication, Alert Sheet, published a report that homosexuality is rampant among politicians claiming one million homosexuals held positions in government.(28) Homosexuals are a new visible minority in a time of social change and they are accussed of repudiating everything considered American. Traditional Christianity is anti-gay so gays must be anti-Christian and since they are not heterosexual they must be anti-family. These two accusations alone are enough to work simplistic, frustrated conspiracists into a frenzy. The biggest difference is no conspiracist can be sure their own child isn’t gay.
1.William Guy Carr, Pawns in the Game (Glendale, St. George Press, 1970), p.1.
2. Phyllis Schlafly, A Choice Not an Echo (Al ton , Ill.: PereMarquette Press, 1964 ), p. 90.
3. Social Psychology (New York: Random House, 1974), pp. 221–222.
4. Butler D. Shaffer, Violence as a Product of Imposed Order, (Menlo Park , CA: Institute for Humane Studies, 1976, p. 17. Shaffer is quoting Jerome D. Frank’s article ‘’Psychological Aspects of International Violence,” in Dynamics of Violence.
5. David Brion Davis, ed. The Fear of Conspiracy(Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1971), p.1.
6. John Robison, Proofs of a Conspiracy (Boston, Western Islands, 1967), Publishers introduction p. xiv.
7. Arnold Foster and Benjamin Epstein, The New Anti-Semitism(New York, McGraw-Hill, 1974), p. 49.
8. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America (Boston, 1961), p. 166.
9. Clarence Kelly, Conspiracy Against God and Man (Boston, WesternIslands, 1974) p.1.
10. Gerald B. Winrod, Adam Weishaupt: A Human Devil (Hollywood, Sons of Liberty, no date), p.7.
11. Alexander Addison, Rise & Progress of Revolution: A Charge to the Grand Juries of the County Courts of the Fifth Circuit of the State of Pennsylvania(Philadelphia, PA William Young Bookseller,1801), p .4.
12. Ibid., p.6.
13. Seymour Lipset and Earl Rabb, The Politics of Unreason, (NewYork, Harper & Row, 1970), p 221 .
14. David Brion Davis, ed. The Fear of Conspiracy, p. 79.
15. Seymour Lipset and Earl Raab, The Politics of Unreason, p. 42.
16. Clarence Kelly, Conspiracy Against God and Man, p, 41.
17. Cardinal Caro y Rodriquez , The Mystery of Freemasonry Unveiled,(Hawthorne, CA,: Christian Book Club of America, 1971), p. 198.
18. Seymour Lipset and Earl Raab, The. Politics of Unreason,p. 79.
19. John Higham, Strangers in the Land, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1955, p. 28.
20. Forged documents are a favorite technique of CA’s throughout history. The most famous case being that of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion which supposedly exposed the Jewish plot to take over the world. The Protocols are a plagiarized version of an anti-Napoleonic book written by Maurie Joly entitled Dialogue aux Enfers enire Machiavel et Montesquieu, ou la Politigue de Machiavel au XIX.Siecle. Par un Contemporain. Beginning on August 16, 1921 and continuing until the 18th the London Times ran a series of articles exposing this fraud.
In more recent years conspiracists have forged The Occult Technology of Power, which claims to be a series of lectures given by a top conspirator to his son educating him on the workings of the international conspiracy of which he is to become a part. This book was serialized in the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby’ s National Spotlight, with a circulation of 100,000.
21. This is a technique used by Conspiratorialists to this day. Predictions of takeovers by Communists, Insiders, the Illuminati, or the Jews have arisen in conspiracy literature time after time only to be unfulfilled. The typical conspiracist response follows the APA line that the Conspiracy changed its mind or better yet, it was successfully averted by the actions of the true believers themselves.
22. Edmond Ronayne The Master’s Carpet; or Masonry and Baal-WorshipIdentical (Reprint of 1879 edition with no publisher listed),pp. 114–115.
23. Henry Ford The International Jew, (Dearborn, MI,: The DearbornPublishing Co., 1920), p.6.
24. George Armstrong, The Rothschild Money Trust (Metairie, LA,:Sons of Liberty, 1978 reprint ), p. 59
25. This quote is from a copy of the “Dequello” document on pages 24 and 25. No author, publisher or date of publication is listed.
The document is unique in that it implicates right wing leaders in the homosexual conspiracy. Evidence points to Robert DePugh of the Minutemen as the author and publisher but no concrete evidence to this effect has been produced.
26. Medford Evans. “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Fairy,” American 0pinion, May, 1977, pages 23 and 27.
27. “Right Women,” American 0pinion, October, 1978, p . 101.
28. Ron Branson, “The Horrors of a Homosexual America,” Alert Sheet,issue #20, no date of publication or pagination.