Conspiracism as Scapegoating

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One can argue on a metaphoric level that when demonization, scapegoating, and paranoid-sounding conspiracist allegations permeate a society it is a sign of societal distress and dysfunction, but this is a sociological--not a psychological--diagnosis. Societal outbreaks of conspiracism are a distinct form of scapegoating in the political arena rather than an outcome of a paranoid psychological pathology. In conspiracist discourse, the supposed conspirators serve as scapegoats for the actual conflict within the society.~6

There are certainly mentally-unbalanced individuals who promote paranoid-sounding conspiracist theories, however it is simplistic to contend that these suspicious and often anti-social individuals periodically join together to form large mass movements around shared goals. It is also naive to argue that power elites or government agencies are populated by clinically paranoid leaders who see subversion behind all social change and therefore unilaterally activate the repressive agencies of the state. Conspiracist scapegoating certainly involves psychological processes, but it has an objective reality as a useful social and political mechanism in actual power struggles throughout US history.

By blaming a small group of individuals for vast crimes or simple evil, conspiracism serves to divert attention from the institutional locus of power that drives systemic oppression, injustice and exploitation.

As explained by Frank P. Mintz:

"Conspiracism serves the needs of diverse political and social groups in America and elsewhere. It identifies elites, blames them for economic and social catastrophes, and assumes that things will be better once popular action can remove them from positions of power."~7

Right wing conspiracist scapegoating not only identifies and blames elites, but also identifies and blames alleged subversives and parasites from groups that have relatively lower social or economic status. This is the classic producerist stance. Conspiracist allegation can also be used to attack the status quo by outsider elite factions seeking power.

Conspiracist scapegoating is not a process found only on the fringes of society among so-called extremists. Richard O. Curry and Thomas M. Brown, in their anthology, Conspiracy, stress that "It is extremely important to note that fears of conspiracy are not confined to charlatans, crackpots, and the disaffected. Anticonspiratorial rhetoric has been a factor in major-party politics throughout most of our history.~8

When scapegoating appears in the form of a conspiracist theory, it follows the same trajectory as other forms of scapegoating. As is typical of scapegoating, the choice of alleged conspirators often reflects pre-existing sentiments and prejudices already ingrained in the larger society. When persons with a conspiracist worldview are prejudiced, the allegations of a subversive conspiracy are often linked to the groups seen as inferior or threatening, resulting in allegations of a Jewish banking conspiracy, vast conspiracies of Arab terrorists, or plots by militant Blacks to pillage and burn suburban communities. Persons alleging subversive conspiracies can span the political spectrum, but in this country the largest number of such persons appear to have intersected at some point with militant ultraconservative and far right groups. This is true whether the conspiracist is in the private sector or employed by the government.

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