Conspiracy Theories

See Jesse Walker, Sam Tanenhaus, and Gene Healy Discuss Conspiracies at the Cato Institute

A conversation about The United States of Paranoia.


On September 11, I'll be speaking about my most recent book at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.; Sam Tanenhaus of The New York Times will provide additional comments, and Cato's Gene Healy will moderate. Here's the official description of the event:

You haven't seen the last of me.

In the conventional wisdom, conspiratorial thinking lurks mainly on the fringes of American politics—the "preferred style only of minority movements," as Richard Hofstadter put it in his influential 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." In his new book, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, Jesse Walker begs to differ.

Walker insists, contra Hofstadter, that "the Paranoid Style Is American Politics." From the colonial era, through sundry Red Scares, militia scares, and post-9/11 panics, he writes, "the fear of conspiracies has been a potent force across the political spectrum, at the center as well as the extreme." What's more, some of the most dangerous forms of political paranoia are "the kinds that catch on with people inside the halls of power." Please join us for a lively and timely discussion of political paranoia Right, Left, and Center.

Admission is free but RSVPs are a must; you can let Cato know that you want to come by registering here.

In related news:

• The website Voice of San Diego has interviewed me about the book.

So has the radio show Inside Charlottesville.

Wisconsin Public Radio will be interviewing me this evening at 5 Central Time, 6 Eastern.

• And tomorrow I'll be on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC.

• Bob Banner, who appears in the book, has reprinted his cameo on his website.

NEXT: Nidal Hasan Sentenced to Death for Fort Hood Shooting

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  1. Did I write a book? Why wasn’t I informed?

    (Saving ya’ll the trouble.)

    1. Partypooper =-(

    2. It’s like someone giving himself a wedgie so nobody else will.

      1. Maybe he should hire an illegal immigrant to give him the wedgie Americans won’t give him…

    3. (Saving ya’ll the trouble.)

      Right! I’ll do you for that!

    4. Did you write your own smart ass Amazon review also?

    5. Made me laugh.

    6. When are you going to interview yourself?

      1. “Mr. Walker, the sales of your book are like a runaway freight train. What makes this book so great?”

    7. You haven’t seen the last of us!

      1. We’ll just have to be quicker next time.


    8. That is some well executed smart-assery, Walker.

    9. THAT was fucking awesome! Ima buy TWO copies now.

      Well done, Walker, you reslient BASTARD!

      /John Lithgow

    10. Jesse Walker| 8.28.13 @ 3:17PM |#|?|filternamelinkcustom

      Did I write a book? Why wasn’t I informed?

      Whatever. Just tell me when Gillespie and Welch write something.

      1. Whatever. Just tell me when Gillespie and Welch write something.

        I bet they would be interesting co-authors. What a great idea, Irish.

    11. I bought one copy, but I might have to buy another for that comment. Wait, what kind of car does Walker drive?

  2. Does the book cover the modern delusions like NESARA and the ever-impending revaluation of the Iraqi dinar?

    1. Wow. I had never heard of the NESARA conspiracy.

      That’s some crazy shit.

  3. In all (mostly) seriousness, it’s time someone discussed the influence of conspiracy theories on the powerful, not just on people protesting the status quo. Delegitimizing minorities by basically calling them so paranoid the establishment can’t deal with them is just *too convenient* to the powers that be. Time to expose the conspiracy conspiracy!

    1. South Park did it.

  4. Speaking of Hofstadter, here’s one a textbook of mine had to say about Herbert Spencer:

    The strain of completing [Principles of Psychology] led him to suffer a nervous breakdown that left him incapacitated for about 18 months; modern readers who wish to plough through Spencer’s writings might be warned of a similar risk.

    Elsewhere Darwin is less impressed and complained… that Spencer’s essay on population was ‘dreadful hypothetical rubbish’. …he confessed that ‘Mr. Spencer’s terms of equilibration and so on always bother me and make everything less clear’. History has sided with [those] two views…

    I came armed to class with talking points refuting Hofstadter’s BS, as I had (correctly) anticipated that Spencer would be smeared as a social Darwinist.

    1. How’d that go? Enjoy your C.

      1. The lecturer (the syllabus just says so-and-so PhD, not professor) just kind of nodded. She didn’t appear to have much idea what I was talking about, except that Spencer was a Lamarckian and not a Darwinist — which was in the textbook (though the author never explicitly called out that obvious discrepancy).

        If she did have any idea what I was talking about she wasn’t very invested in it. I made a conscious effort to leave politics out of it, except for calling Hofstadter’s work a hit piece.

  5. From Obama’s speech today:

    The twin forces of technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that once provided a foothold into the middle class, reduced the bargaining power of American workers.

    And our politics has suffered. Entrenched interests — those who benefit from an unjust status quo resisted any government efforts to give working families a fair deal, marshaling an army of lobbyists and opinion makers to argue that minimum wage increases or stronger labor laws or taxes on the wealthy who could afford it just to fund crumbling schools — that all these things violated sound economic principles.
    And then there were those elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth, that government was somehow itself to blame for their growing economic insecurity — that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant.

    This man has no shame.

    1. Forget that. The real problem is in the first paragraph. Technology and trade are making us poor? FUCK. YOU. SCUM.

      1. Luddites got to lud.

        1. “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”

          Thomas Sowell

          1. Doesn’t apply to tax cuts I presume. Always enough of those to go around.

            1. Were you a real person you would be tired by now of having the backwardness of that statement pointed out to you. But since you’re just a masochistic sock I guess we’ll all just have to continue seeing you swing by to regularly shit all over every other thread with your mind bogglingly haughty ignorance.

        2. No, I’m wrong. He’s not even saying that trade is bad because it’s making people poor, he’s saying trade is bad because it reduces union power. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU SCUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM.

      2. Are you suggesting that increased overseas labor competition and increased automation can’t contribute to higher unemployment or lower wages?

    2. Rage…building…

    3. This man has no shame.

      Well, he is a politician.

      Ever notice how politics is the only profession where the people who engage in it claim to not be professionals?

      Having no shame is a requirement.

    4. So I saw Obama speechifyin’, Jesse Jackson, too, and now Clinton is doing the same. I saw a bunch of arthritic Baby Boomers screech out “folk music” with Trayvon’s parents.

      Upon watching this three ring circus, i asked myself, “Where’s Colin Powell? Where’s Condi Rice?” I would think they might have something insightful to say about the legacy of the Civil Rights movement.

      I wonder why the organizers of this event never thought to invite them…

      1. I would have thought they would at least invite Powell. He is both an acceptable Republican and an acceptable black person.

        1. According to some you can’t be a Republican and an acceptable ANYTHING.

    5. And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on earth for every person. (Applause.) With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit and prepares them for the world that awaits them. (Applause.) With that courage, we can feed the hungry and house the homeless and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.

      And if you disagree with him on how to achieve these ends, well you’re a racist and practicing the politics of division.

      But his base is fawning over this speech, which means he ought to start the Syrian bombing ASAP.

      1. You don’t have different means to those ends, you disagree about the ends in the first place.

        You are freedom minimalists, after all.

        1. But you still post comments. How does that square with minimal freedom for thugs like you?

        2. Yes, we want people to starve to death and lack homes, and live in bleak wastelands of poverty. Oh wait, for a second I got us confused with environmentalists.

    6. And then there were those elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth, that government was somehow itself to blame for their growing economic insecurity — that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant themselves.


    7. that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant.

      He got that part right. They were actually taking them to benefit cronies of the president.

      1. And the bureaucrat himself, let’s not forget.

    8. You would be the ones duped by the “great untruth.”

      I’m sorry.

    9. Character provides a foothold to the middle class. Understandable that a con artist would have no idea about this.

  6. At least Hofstadter got to be the boyfriend of that hot chick on *Big Bang Theory,* lol

  7. In other news…

    Revenge porn set to be outlawed in California where people who upload demeaning videos could be jailed…..ailed.html

    1. The banned Charles Bronson movies?

    2. How much is CA’s firewall going to cost?

    3. A Serious Man beat you to it in the Links After Dark.

      1. You flatter me, but I know you’re just trying to get “Links After Dark” to catch on.

        1. I can multitask.

    4. The key is to post it while still in the relationship, just in an obscure location that they wont find.

      Then make the location more well known after the relationship ends.

  8. You know who else was concerned with conspiricies…

    1. The Warren Commission?

    2. People being conspired against?

    3. The Hit and Run commentariat who are still wondering what happened to Lucy?

      1. You got some ‘splainin’ to do.

        1. Welch beat you to it. While not a witness, based on her Twitter feed, I imagine the firing started with a backhand, followed with a brutal mansplaining. And that’s why there are no libertarian women.

  9. I have a couple issues of Critique that I read way back, but honestly when I saw the name Bob Banner I thought of the Hogan’s Hero. Interesting to learn that it continued as a New Agey publication, but that makes sense considering its slogan, “Challenging Consensus Reality”.

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