*Editor’s Note: Because being a paranoid, delusional dumbass is as American as apple pie!
While it’s difficult to fathom why anyone would deny the deaths of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary last month, the conspiracy theories surrounding the massacre actually follow a fairly common pattern, experts who study them say, and may be more understandable they first appear.
“This whole thing is bringing a variety of conspiracy theories from American history together,” explained Robert Goldberg, a historian at the University of Utah who has written a book and lectured extensively about American conspiracy theories.
While there are many flavors of conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting, one thread that unites many of them is the notion that this was a government hoax aimed at taking away peoples’ guns. “Whether it’s the Oklahoma City bombing, or the Waco incident, or Ruby Ridge, or 9/11, or Sandy Hook, the idea is that these are modern Reichstags (the event that occurred in Germany in 1933), which is an excuse that the government is going to use to declare an emergency to take the guns away from the patriots, and then confine the patriots,” Golderberg said.
Indeed, similar theories were floated after the shooting in Aurora, Colo., and even Gun Owners of American head Larry Pratt flirted with the notion. But the theories quickly sputtered away when Aurora didn’t lead to any meaningful action on gun control. Sandy Hook is different. The Obama administration seems likely to force some action, perhaps even by executive order, as Obama will announced today.
Conspiracy theories are not unique to America — Hitler built and an entire genocidal regime by convincing his people to believe anti-Jewish conspiracy theories — but the prevalence and potency of anti-government paranoia is particular to the U.S., and it’s a product of our history.
America’s paranoid style
In fact, you could argue that the United States was founded on a conspiracy theory. “The conviction that the English colonial policies of the 1760s and 1770s constituted a conspiracy to enslave America played a major role in the outbreak of the American Revolution,” scholar Peter Knight writes in his comprehensive encyclopedia of American conspiracy theories. In The Declaration of Independence, the Founders wrote that King George was executing a secret plot with the “direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
And after the Revolution, we established a centralized government while Europe’s capitals remained hamstrung by a series of quarreling gentry and competing religious authorities. Soon Washington replaced London as the object of concern for conspiracists on the fringes of both the right and left. This dynamic helped created a culture where fearing the government is not only accepted, but patriotic. Richard Hofstadter famously explored this in his seminal 1964 essay on the “paranoid style in American politics.” “You heard it with Barry Goldwater, you heard it Ronald Reagan, and you hear it today, particularly in regards to the gun rights people,” Goldberg said.
Add to that the American sense of mission and exceptionalism, and people begin to fear that outsiders are trying to destroy our specialness (“They hate us for our freedoms,” as was often said of terrorists in the past decade). And when that’s combined with the country’s diversity, some people now fear the enemy is already inside the gates. This helps explain the paranoia about Sharia law, or even the Birther movement, which essentially assumes that President Obama is a Manchurian candidate planted to destroy America. When that perceived enemy takes the reins of the already suspicious federal government, as Obama did, you have a volatile conspiracy brew.
But anti-government paranoia alone doesn’t get you to thinking the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. For that, we need to take a look at the psychology at play here.