Friday, January 14, 2011

Conspiracy theories

So far, we are encountering a form of analysis [from the liberal mainstream] that privileges political beliefs over others as the basis for human agency, as we did recently in regard to Julian Assange. Assange has publicized confidential records that embarass the US, so, ergo, the Swedish attempt to extradite him to Sweden on possible sex crime charges must be a pretext for delivering him into the custody of the US. The possibility that Assange may be a publicly heroic figure and a privately despiccable one capable of sexually abusing women is dismissed. In this instance, we see the process taken a step further: the insistence upon imprinting a political explanation for Loughner's violent actions in the absence of any evidence in support of it. The more compelling explanation, that Loughner is a confused, mentally disordered person who didn't receive the care that he needed, is subordinated to this quest. - American Leftist
1. Jared Loughner and the Tucson shootings
The liberal orthodoxy on the assassination attempt and murder in Arizona has been to point the finger at Sarah Palin and the American conservative right. In the US, this forms part of the generally unpleasantly polarised kulturkampf that distorts political discourse, with vitriol and "bilious filth" liberally slung about by the left as much as the right. In the UK and Europe, the same orthodoxy forms part of a wider anti-Americanism in the discourse, a snobbish sense of superiority about the gun-toting bumpkins across the Atlantic, a discourse fed by the upper middle class metropolitan East Coasters that feed us our images of America.

However, it is also worth noting that the conspirationist fantasies that seem to have fuelled Jared Loughner's madness don't come from the tea party movement exactly, but from that tangled trans-Atlantic political space of parapolitical weirdness that transcends left and right.

One commenter at Louis Proyect writes: “Loughner’s beliefs are from fringe rightwing groups: the grammar obsession seems to come from David Wynn Miller, the dreaming reality and new currency from David Icke. The currency thing is also an obsession of Alex Jones and Lyndon Larouche and Glenn Beck. Loughner’s antiabortion concern is shared with Beck”. David Icke's background is of course in the Green movement, while Lyndon LaRouche has a Trotskyist background and is arguably extremely influential on the left. Other key influences on Loughner include the films Zeitgeist and Loose Change, which come from the strange area of left-right convergence in the 9/11 Truth Cult.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists themselves are of course holding forth on the shootings, using them as a platform to promote their cultic beliefs. Here's Adam Holland, indispensable as ever on this topic, on LaRouche's reaction, and on Michael Rivero and Gordon Duff. Expect more.

Update: More from Slack Andy.
**UPDATE 2: Also read River's Edge.**

2. Julian Assange, Wikileaks, Israel Shamir, Anna Ardin

I meant to post a follow-up to my much-read Wikileaks post at Contested Terrain. That post looked at some of the conspiracy theories circulating among Wikileaks' enemies, including antisemitic ones. My follow-up would have looked at the conspiracy theories circulating among Wikileaks' supporters, including antisemitic ones. I never got around to writing it, but I collected this big bundle of links along the way, which included some of the following:
Modernity: Conspiracies, the CIA and the racist Shamir. // Michael Moynihan: Olbermann, Assange and the Holocaust denier. // Michael Moynihan: The boring truth about those Assange smears. // Terry Glavin: Wikileaks & Michael Moore: A Lesson In Propaganda And Mass Idiocy. // Jackie McDonagh: Pilger and similar sexists taken apart. // David Lerter: Assange and Shamir. // All of Modernity's Assange posts. // Lots more from Kellie.

My comment at Modernity's blog would have formed the basis of what I wanted to say about the CounterPunch connection: Counterpunch is disgusting. The Shamir/Bennett article contains four of their pathologies in one: Stalinophilia, exhibited here both in its softcore Castroite variety and in its demonisation of Trotskyists and other independent leftists for being “anti-Communist” (why is “anti-Communist” a term of abuse?); enabling of antisemitism under the alibi of anti-Zionism and pseudo-radical conspiracy theories; misogyny, as in the idea that feminism is nothing more than “the sport of male-bashing”; and the paranoid idea that history and politics is not driven by the dynamics of class and the interests of capital but rather the conspiracies of shadowy occult forces. 

Anyway, I decided to come back to the Assange topic when I read an Independent article making a rather hysterical and hyperbolic claim about Assange's possible risk from the death penalty. An identical article appears in the Mirror. The source? News agency PA has basically cut and paste Assange's lawyer's comments into a wire article, which the Independent and Mirror have in turn regurgitated as "news". (The article is so badly written whole paragraphs appear twice - shameful that the two papers' sub-editors did not even spot that.)

The point I want to take up, though, is this:
Mr Robertson [Assange's lawyer] noted how one of the alleged victims wrote a blog which several months prior to the allegations set out a seven-stage plan for revenge against an ex-lover.
The "steps" included apparent advice or plans on how to cause misery to a former partner, including sending letters and photographs to him to make it look as if the relationship continues.
Quoted in the document, the blog apparently encourages others to "use your imagination" and to "get to work".
It added: "And remember what your goals are while you are operating, ensure that your victim will suffer the same way as he made you suffer."
Mr Robertson said: "Clearly these text messages and extracts from blogs significantly undermine not only the prosecution's case but the request for his extradition.
"Yet they have not been disclosed to Mr Assange or his legal team."
As far as I can tell, what Mr. Robertson "notes" is in fact completely untrue. Anna Ardin wrote one blog post linking to an article that had a 7 step guide to getting revenge legally, on a "how to" site. (Here's her post:  use Google translate to read it in English, although half of it already is). The press agency and the papers should have checked Robertson's story before publishing it as "note that" rather than, say, "alleges that". I'm not sure how they jump from one post to "these text messages and extracts from blogs", or who they think should have "disclosed" them.

These articles are an example of the way the internet has facilitated the ability of untruths to travel fast, and I thought I should blog about it to help truth put on its boots.

Further reading: David Aaronovitch on recent anti-Zionist conspiracy theories (trailing behind Johnny Guitar and Paul Stott). More like this from AGT and Contested Terrain.
Previously: A taxonomy of believers and unbelieversGuardian gets its moral panics in a twist.


Darren said...

" . . . while Lyndon LaRouche has a Trotskyist background and is arguably extremely influential on the left . . ."

You sure about this, Bob? Maybe I'm not dipping my toe in the same left circles that you are.

bob said...

The Trot background? Yes I'm sure.

The influence? No, I'm stretching a bit. But I think he, for example, really shaped the way the left understands "neoconservatism" - it is him, I think, that disseminated the term "neocon" and hyped up the nonsense of Leo Strauss's influence which much of the left swallowed. That's probably about it.

Darren said...

Sorry, I should have been clearer in my comment.

I know about his Trotskyist background from Wohlforth's Prophet's Children, I'm just unsure aout the claim that he is influential on the left.

louisproyect said...

Larouche has not been influential on the left since 1972 or so, just around the time that his cult organized fascist-like assaults on the Communist Party in NYC.

BenSix said...

I'd be more sceptical of these supposed "conspiracist" influences. Maybe Loughner was a mad-keen fan of the Zeitgeist movies, for example, but as they claim we should abandon monetary systems and Loughner is said to have been furiously advocating a return to the gold standard it's at least a matter of some doubt.

Also, the fact that some "conspiracy theorists" talk crap doesn't mean that all "conspiracy theorists" do. A scrappy parallel: we've all seen people charge their interlocutors with being "shills" on the oddest pretexts but that doesn't mean there aren't undercover cops.

Finally: "9/11 Truth Cult"? They make Trots look harmonious.

Waterloo Sunset said...

I'd broadly agree with BenSix. Not all conspiracy theories are created equal. (And there's the murky question of where the dividing line is between "conspiracy theory" and "parapolitics").

I think Aaronovitch is a good example of this approach. He has a tendency to treat "conspiracy theory" as a monolithic bloc, where Lobster Magazine and David Icke come from roughly the same place. That isn't the case.

JM said...

Here's more conspiracy silliness from us yanks:

granted, I am keeping an eye on Damas en blanca, but otherwise, I don't think you can connect Mrs. A herself to them directly.

modernity said...


Ahh, if I had known you were going to do this post, I have a draft waiting to be fleshed out on Julian Assange as we speak.

I think WS got it right:

"Wikileaks has played a valuable role in exposing government secrets.

Assange is, on all available evidence, more than a bit of a cock.

I don’t think there’s anything mutually exclusive about those two statements."

The Israel Shamir in Russia connection in Russia is worrying, as Assange doesn't seem to have use the web to look him up, then again Shamir is welcome at the on-line rag, CounterPunch, so he might have taken him on good faith.

It seems that some of the American "Left" are a bit less choosy on the company they keep, CounterPunch, eg. tends to push some wierd PaleoCons if memory serves.

bob said...

Ben/WS -

I agree that not all conspiracy theories are the same, and that just because something is a conspiracy theory it is wrong. I agree that there are conspiracies, which sometimes do dramatically alter the course of human history. I also agree that none of the currents I mentioned are homogeneous.

However, I think there is such a thing as a conpiricist worldview (or should it be conspirationist, whatever) which is dangerous for clear thinking. This worldview crosses the left/right divide, and it is the space of convergence that is both particularly interesting to me, and also significant in relation to things like what I was blogging about here.

Yes, I probably exaggerated!

Thanks. Will E is the "commenter" linked to in the post. By the way, every time I visit your blog, I wonder why you don't like to put clickable links in your posts? It's not that difficult!

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Good review, Bob. As for Assange, if I am allowed a prediction: Assange is developing a completely new business model: profitable publishing of secret documents. (By now we can all safely agree that whatever ideology has driven Assange to start with is safely forgotten).

Since Assange is not the most astute businessman, he will be soon overtaken by a slew of new, much slicker entrepreneurs that are already jumping on the idea. And, accordingly, left in the dust. Ithinkso...

Waterloo Sunset said...

I'm not sure, having read various interviews with him, that Assange was ever really ideological.

Which makes him and Anonymous perfect partners. In geek terms, they're both undoubtably "chaotic neutral".