Raising Suspicion

The Commonalities between Conspiracy Theories and White Nationalism

by Dennis West and Ernesto Castañeda

Conspiracy theories are everywhere. Once fenced off in personal conversations, private internet bubbles, forums, and chatrooms, we are all being exposed to narratives that question the mainstream version of what is happening. This is in part because Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have placed billions of people just one click away from critical analyses but also from “sources” that are constantly peddling lies and falsehoods. Social media has become the place where a growing majority of Americans get their news, far outpacing print newspapers. In a world drowning in information sources, your choices on whom to place your trust in gains importance. Public discourse becomes almost impossible when the two sides debating have two different sets of “facts” and doubt the validity of the facts presented by the other side. This has given the White Nationalist movement a potent new foothold in our society because some of their foundational tenants of this ideology is based on a conspiracy.

The theory at the base of White Nationalism states that Jews are attempting to commit genocide against the white race through the browning of America and Europe. In this narrative, Americans have swallowed the “myth” of multiculturalism as a sought-after goal. Liberals and minorities who embrace race-mixing are all colluding to take down the white race. While this theory seems particularly far-fetched, in the current climate of distrust in authority figures, more and more people are falling victim to fake news and conspiracies. White Nationalism and the conspiracy of white genocide are seeing an alarming resurgence — a resurgence that often leads to violence and harm for Jewish communities and other minority groups.

There is the manifesto of the San Diego Synagogue shooter, which echoes this conspiracy. The ongoing array of Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories linking George Soros to wrecking US society and economies around the world. And the chants of “ Jews will not replace us “ that rang out in Charlottesville and epitomize this sentiment.

In a world and a time in which anything can be faked, is it really that hard to blame people for believing untruthful reports. Deep Fakes, Photoshopped Images, and data mining make it seem like almost anything can happen. When there is so much contestation about what is fake and what is not, our skepticism rightfully grows. Therefore, if images and videos lie to you, if politicians, and the news media lie to you, who can you trust but yourself? Thus, sometimes uninformed opinions and anecdotes become the basis for strong beliefs. Appealing directly to a common personal experience it is easy to gain influence and establish credibility.

According to professor Nancy Rosenblum, one of the main purposes of conspiracy theories is to “ erode trust in public figures or institutions.” Assaults on science have also created a variety of conmen willing to capitalize on the mistrust of institutions. Debating over who gets to say what is true and how they came to that conclusion has led to the questioning of everything. A paramount example of this type of trend has been the sudden sprouting of the flat earth movement. This framework of thought, rejection of certain scientific notions, and heavy reliance on personal experiences is parallel to the idea of White Nationalism.

Similarities Between White Nationalists and other Conspiracy Theories

  • Rejection of the overriding scientific consensus.
  • Heavy reliance on personal experiences.
  • Belief of an overwhelming conspiracy by a group of people to fool the masses.
  • When presented with evidence that contradicts their worldview, either considers it a fake or discredits the source.
  • Government and the scientific community are set up in opposition to the “truth” and “real people.”
  • Distrust of Authority Figures, intellectuals, and elites.
  • Concurring beliefs connect the group. A strong communal bond is formed by this shared belief in an alternative truth. A sense of family and comradery keeps the group together

So, what do these similarities show us? We hate being lied to. But furthermore, we attach reasons to why these lies are being told to us. To lie, is to cover something up, and from politicians to the cable news anchors, across the political spectrum, people are angered by the fact that they believe they are being lied to. Being lied to or being made to believe in something false is the foundation of both White Nationalism and Flat Earthers, a new movement arguing that the Earth is, well, flat.

While White Nationalists ultimate goal is for a White Homeland and Flat Earthers’ goal is for an acceptance of the world not being round, their outrage and energy comes from the perception that they are being lied to. For White Nationalists, the lie is multiculturalism and the myth of equality among races. For Flat Earthers, the lie is that we live on a globe and scientific consensus. For both groups, the reason others believe these myths is because of a world-wide conspiracy. White Nationalists assign this blame to Jews while Flat Earthers are more vague with their villains and the puppet-masters range from The Rockefellers, the Illuminati, to local school boards and yes, the Jews too.

So, what do we do? Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer. As the routine denial of humans’ role in climate change shows, it is almost impossible to force widespread acceptance of facts, especially not by simply presenting more facts.

Freedom of expression is a right we defend. Tolerance is paramount in diverse societies. Disagreement is paramount for the advance of science. However, White Nationalism often leads to violence and intimidation. It cannot be tolerated. The only way to fight these dangerous exclusionary and genocidal views is to delegitimize and challenge these ideas and conspiracies at all times. Do not grant them media attention and treat them with the same respect as other minority opinions. Do not take a two-sided approach and do not agree to disagree. We must fight these lies and conspiracies so that they cannot gain a wider appeal.

Dennis West is a recent graduate of the Master in Sociology Research and Practice at American University.

Ernesto Castañeda is author of Building Walls: Excluding Latin People in the United States (Rowman and Littlefield 2019)

Originally published at https://medium.com on June 5, 2019.

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Ernesto Castañeda

Ernesto Castañeda

Ernesto Castañeda is the author of “A Place to Call Home” and “Building Walls.”