Conspiracy Theories: Diffusion or Accumulation

Lucas Lang

This week’s readings examined the role of conspiracy theory in influencing the radical right. Conspiracy theory is a complicated element of society. It is typically an indicator of mistrust directed either at groups, classes, or individuals who are deemed to be a threat to society. The readings examined what could be examined as two very different versions of the use of conspiracy theory. One version they examined was conspiracy propagated by government. The example focused upon was from Hungary and observed the Fidesz party’s use of conspiracy surrounding George Soros. The party depicted him as being the propagator of not only Hungary, but also many of Europe’s “problems”, such as multiculturalism, immigration, and cultural decay. Through utilizing this rhetoric, the party is able to portray itself as being the people’s protector against the threats that it creates. By diffusing these ideas to the citizenry, they can create support. The second version examined was conspiracies propagated by the people. These theories tend to be suspicious of governments and the establishment. They are often spread by word of mouth and though external sources. While some conspiracy theories are exchanged in closed groups, others have become so popular that political parties have formed and adopted their beliefs in order to appeal to greater groups of people. In this second version, it is therefore the accumulation of belief within the people which is adopted by the government.

Ironically, part of the reason that conspiracy theories spread so well is that they are often given credit due to persecution. When theories are actively denied or repressed, adherents to the conspiracies will often interpret repression as evidence that they were correct and are being persecuted to prevent the truth from being spread, thus increasing outsiders curiosity.

2 Replies to “Conspiracy Theories: Diffusion or Accumulation”

  1. Hi Lucas,

    I just wanted to add on to your last paragraph.
    Conspiracy theories absolutely thrive on attention, and their reception by society will absolutely influence their development. If one conspiracy theory is tacitly backed by the government, adherents take that as proof that they have ‘friends in high places’; if it is opposed by the government, adherents feel they are ‘onto something’, and they are ‘asking the right questions’ and ‘making people nervous’. It gets even more complicated when the government is seen to be backing one theory over the other: what comes to mind is the situation in the Balkans, where governments will react differently to individuals going to fight in Ukraine (for far-right groups) than to individuals going to fight in Syria (for Islamist reasons). The former are generally treated more leniently than the latter, leading to the far-right fighters feeling vindicated because their governments are backing them, while the Islamists are vindicated in feeling targeted by the world.

  2. Hi! I liked how you separated the spreading of narrative, from the government to the people, and among people which eventually creates or finds its way into bigger movement. These two approaches to conspiracies remind me of the top-down/bottom-up way of studying a phenomena, which you show applies well here. And in both cases, there is manipulation and false perceptions to rally people to a certain narrative.

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