Conspiracism is a
Narrative form of Scapegoating

Some Basic Rules of Conspiracism

A number of authors have noted patterns and trends in the various historic U.S. conspiracy theories, with the most noted being Hofstadter. While some scholars are critical of Hofstadter’s analytical conclusions, his discussion of the details of the conspiracist genre remains a pioneering and remarkably useful body of research.

George Johnson spent years researching a variety of groups in the United States that used a conspiratorial analysis, and arrived at a set of common beliefs:

Johnson goes on to observe that:

Right-wing mail order bookstores still sell the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the anti-Semitic fantasy hatched in Russia a century ago. Another big seller is “Proofs of a Conspiracy, “ a 1797 book reprinted by the John Birch Society, which fueled speculation that a Freemasonic group called the Order of the Illuminati plotted with the Jeffersonians to turn over the fledging United States to followers of French Enlightenment philosophy—the 18th century equivalent of secular humanism.”

Michael Kelly has called this process of amalgamation and accretion “fusion paranoia,” while Michael Barkun refers to an “improvisational style” used by conspiracy theorists to construct their narratives.

Conspiracy theories are not merely additive mélanges; they are less like a conspiracist Pot-au-feu and more like a meal selected from a smörgåsbord of conspiratorial snacks.


Some conspiracists are purists, blaming just Jews or Plutocrats for despoiling the ideal community. Others prefer to combine scapegoats on their plate so there is overlap. Jews, Freemasons, and Communists are a popular combination. David Icke seems to favor Plutocrats, Space Aliens, and Jews. There are an infinite number of possible scapegoats, thus there are an infinite number of variations.

George Johnson, “The Conspiracy That Never Ends,” New York Times (April 30, 1995), Sec. 4, p. 5; extended paraphrase and quote used with permission of the author.


Michael Kelly, “The Road to Paranoia,” The New Yorker (June 19, 1995), pp. 60-70; Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy.