Just How Dangerous Are Conspiracy Theories — An Historical Perspective


Feb 08

By Jared Yates Sexton (Originally posted as a thread on Twitter)

For people who want to know just how dangerous conspiracy theories like Qanon are, and want to know how and why we must defeat them, let’s talk about the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and what these paranoid appeals are capable of doing.

We need to start back in 1682, with a cartoon printed by Francis Barlow called “A True Narrative of the Horrid Hellish Popish Plot.”

From the beginning of the printed word conspiracy theories about deep states and international plots were being disseminated.

This “Popish” conspiracy theory claimed that the Pope and the Catholic Church planned on overthrowing England using a “state within a state” that would undermine the nation and turn its citizens into Catholic slaves.

That’s right. It’s Qanon in the 17th century.

The actual text claims there’s an assassination or coup attempt brewing. BUT GET THIS.

There was already a murder (ala Seth Rich and the Clinton Body Count) that was covered up!

Can you believe it!?

Again. Qanon. In the 17th century.

Popish conspiracy theories would reach their fever pitch in 1688 as James II, a Catholic monarch, used his powers to make his Catholic son the heir to his thrown.

It was a *sign* and power-hungry officials looking to gain advantage used conspiracy theories to attack.

Believing they were “saving their country from a conspiracy,” wealthy elites in England invited William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant, to invade their country.

Follow this. To save their country they invited an outsider to invade it and take it over.

William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant, took advantage of the invitation and, backed by Dutch military, actually invaded England and took it over.

It wasn’t an internal revolution. English nobility actively invited outsiders to invade and conquer their own country.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was a result of conspiracy theories focused on Catholic “plots” that had been aggrandized in the literature and writings of the time and it led to the total overthrow of the English monarchy by foreign invaders.

It’s . . . stunning.

Think about this the next time individuals like Mike Flynn, who swear they’re patriots, swear allegiance to movements like Qanon.

It’s literally a fealty to a system and idea that legitimizes coups and government overthrows by framing them as patriotic.

It’s the same story over and over and over again. Paranoia bred by propaganda allows the powerful to position themselves to gain more power and more advantage. There’s nothing new about Qanon except for its online interaction. It’s the evolution of the printing press.

We’ve seen this paranoid framing time and time again. It’s the same thing as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It’s the New World Order. It’s the Deep State.

It’s a “state within a state” theory that legitimizes violence, oppression, and coups. 11/

What Fox News and the Right are peddling is a tradition of reactionary fearmongering. These “plots” and “crime syndicates” are the same thing that the powerful have been communicating for centuries now.

It’s the same narrative and for the same purposes. 12/

Even the Qanon narrative’s “adrenochrome” and “child abuse” narrative can be traced back to Ancient Rome, where Romans believed the Christians in the catacombs were sacrificing children and abusing them for mystical powers.

The point is this: we’re not dealing with some new novelty. We’re dealing with the dark side of humanity, a narrative/political tactic that has worked for centuries.

This isn’t something to ignore, it’s something to understand, study, and counteract. 

Again, what we find is when new modes of communication occur, whether it’s the printing press or the internet, people finds a means to pump out these toxic, poisonous narratives.

And when they work, they can destabilize societies and lead to crazy consequences.

And, for those paying attention, these are absolutely the conspiracy narratives that fuel fascism, that inspired Nazism, and led to the Holocaust and mass murder.

These are powerful, powerful narratives that keep reoccurring and plaguing humanity. 16/

America is in trouble. Our flagging system, coupled with these fascistic narratives, means we could be sprinting towards a dangerous period of violence.

Only by understanding these truths, these histories, can we effectively combat this and ensure we don’t fall victim

Jared Yates Sexton is the author of The Man They Wanted Me to Be and The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore. His political writing has appeared in publications including The New York TimesThe New Republic, Politico, and Salon.com. Sexton is also the author of three collections of fiction and is an associate professor of creative writing at Georgia Southern University.