What conspiracy storylines are helping create the beliefs that justify the cause of the radical right?
Conspiracy theories create insecurity. If malevolent forces are said to manipulate everything on earth—the economy, politics, society, vaccination, agriculture, education, media and life itself—it affects the sense of security and normalcy that people need to feel in order to live ordinary lives.
If such a threat is said to be against culture and the identity of a group of people, threat perceptions can become personal. If governments are said to be puppets in the hands of such malevolent forces, it affects public trust in the democratic political system. Public servants who were once trusted and elected by the people could suddenly be seen as strangers—members of a secret cabal who plot against their citizens.
Conspiracy theories create beliefs that teeter on the edges of a real world and a fictitious one. If the difference between the real world and an imaginary one can no longer be recognised (due to the shadowy forces that are said to be at work), then it’s no longer a normal state of affairs; reality has become alien.
Such a strange place can justify extreme reactions that are simply not necessary in an ordinary world. The breakdown of normal state of affairs, real or imaginary, is crucial to making people wary and letting them develop threat perceptions to the point where they justify and even resort to extreme reactions.
What are the ideas behind the key conspiracy storylines that help create beliefs framing and justifying the cause of the radical right? Why does the radical right have to embrace radical traditionalism, achieve ethno-nations for the ‘master races’ (or majority ethnic groups), and defend ethno-cultural identities in the first place?
It’s due to a perceived threat: the potential elimination of ethno-cultural identities of the European people and then the ethno-cultural identities of the rest of the world. In fact, ethno-cultural identities are part of individual and group identities. In the real world, there is no arbitrary threat that tries to strip a person of his or her ethno-cultural heritage, made up of one’s ancestral customs, beliefs, and traditions. In fact, racial and ethnic identity development is an effortless process similar to language acquisition that runs through children’s infancy to adolescence and is considered a major cognitive milestone.
Though it’s understandable that in the current complex world of heightened global interactions and the resulting increased intercultural exposure, the social construct of ethno-culture may not stay the same, in the long run it might evolve into better, stronger and more adapted forms specific to its environment.
Accepting the evolving nature of any social construct, such as ethnicity, is not the same as claiming that there is a sinister plot to wipe out ethno-cultural identities. The radical right storyline of defending ethno-cultures is based on an imaginary scenario—the doomsday of ethno-cultural heritage.
The conspiracy landscape is the only place that provides complete (dis)information on this cultural doomsday scenario. How do conspiracy theories put together a story on so-called cultural annihilation, using a series of dominant and supplementary conspiracy narratives?
The main plot begins with a backstory: the Illuminati, an 18th-century Bavarian secret society, determined the future of humanity and came up with a plan to establish a new world order, bringing all of humanity under one world government. Ever since, the storyline says, the elite secret societies manipulate the course of history with the aim of achieving this cardinal goal.
With this background established, countless supplementary stories provide evidence. If one wants to eradicate human cultures and morph them into one, it’s necessary to abolish cultural differences. This task is said to be underway through several phenomena: cultural Marxism, set against traditional western culture; homosexuality, which is said to deface traditional culture; abortion, to get the global population at manageable levels; radical feminism, which is said to destroy traditional western family values; vaccinations and opioid epidemic to create easily controllable masses; immigration, to mix and eradicate cultures; and globalisation and climate change agenda, which is said to aim at creating global hierarchies at economic, political and societal levels.
Despite YouTube’s efforts to remove millions of videos as part of its fight against the conspiracy boom, plenty of content still exists on these topics. The most outlandish theory in January 2020 appears to claim that NBA star Kobe Bryant was ritually sacrificed despite the obvious fact that he died of a helicopter crash.
Conspiracy beliefs can influence narratives to conform with those underlying beliefs; the belief in a secret cabal of elites working to usher the New World Order (NWO) can become so entrenched in a person that everything from a helicopter crash to climate change action may be seen as evidence.
This is how beliefs work: beliefs become one’s reality and when that false reality sets in, everything that happens in the world becomes part of that reality. The depth to which one can fall in this conspiracy rabbit hole—of their own choice—is mind boggling; the mind can create dangerous realities.
How do false realities create opportunity for the radical right? It’s the false reasoning that arises from these distorted realities that does the real harm. That’s how climate change can be interpreted as a ‘new globalist religion’; it would not be possible without having belief in a wider globalist conspiracy. At Davos, US president Donald Trump harangued radical socialists for trying to use climate change as a means to dominate every aspect of life. Such an idea isn’t possible without believing in a climate conspiracy.
The conspiracy mindset promotes democratic alienation, which in turn works for the radical right. Most conspiracy theories lead to the promised land of the radical right. As more and more people distrust democracies, the radical right grows in prominence as defenders of traditional culture, a role only made possible by the made-up threat: the malign globalist agenda to eradicate cultures.
Dr Chamila Liyanage is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR and Researcher/Content Developer at Radical-R: Radicalisation Research. See her profile here.
© Chamila Liyanage. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
This post is also hosted by our partner organisation, Open Democracy, here.