A dark, shadowy organization has a TOTALITARIAN ploy to TAKE OVER THE WORLD, the US government warns.
They’re FOREIGNERS doing it by telling positive stories about their community! Oh no!
The US rightly dismisses conspiracy theories pushed by people like Alex Jones, yet has now published its own conspiracy theory – and it is one that stands on virtually non-existent foundations, reports Michael Edesess.
EXTREME CONSPIRACY THEORIES have run rampant in the United States.
They are embraced most strongly by the lunatic fringe. For example, a conspiracy theory about the “New World Order” has been championed by functionally insane people with millions of deluded followers and loud radio and online bullhorns, like Alex Jones (pictured), who, on his radio broadcasts, pushed for many years a related conspiracy theory that the family members of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shootings, in which 20 children between 6 and 7 years old died, were actors in a hoax and that their children were still alive.
For these slanders the family members sued Jones. Finally, after a long legal battle, they won a court judgment against Jones for almost US$1.5 billion.
DEFINING THE CONSPIRACY
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to “reversing the rising tide of polarization, extremism and disinformation worldwide” defines the New World Order conspiracy as follows:
The ‘New World Order’ conspiracy theory argues that a shadowy elite force is trying to implement a totalitarian world government. Proponents of the ‘New World Order’ conspiracy believe a cabal of powerful elite figures wielding great political and economic power is conspiring to implement a totalitarian one-world government.
“It is believed that this is taking place through a grand ongoing conspiracy to influence the media, press, civil society and democracy from the shadows.”
Conspiracy theories claim that the shadowy forces behind the conspiracy are somehow perfectly unified in their tactics and goals; and yet they are pervasive in society and so secretive that their evil conspiracy is imperceptible to the average person. Hence, the conspiracy theorists need to harp constantly on the danger to awaken people to it.
VAGUE ACCUSATIONS LACKING IN SPECIFICS
Conspiracy theories like the New World Order often accuse the conspirators of dark plots in vague terms rather than of specific actions in concrete terms. If specific, concrete actions could be attributed to them then they could not have been so secretive and could not have been pulling the strings from so deep in the shadows.
Although occasionally the alleged conspirators are accused of specific actions – even verifiably false ones like the Sandy Hook “hoax” that Jones campaigned against for so many years – the overwhelming weight of the allegations rests on the secretive, evil machinations of the conspirators, on the ways in which they disguise their true goals so that no one realizes what they are doing until it is too late.
Conspiracy theories like the New World Order are fantasies. They tend to fall apart or recede into pale shadows of themselves when their perpetrators are questioned on the specifics.
AND HERE’S ONE ABOUT CHINA
On September 28 the US Global Engagement Center, an arm of the US State Department, published its own wild conspiracy theory, in a report entitled “How the People’s Republic of China Seeks to Reshape the Global Information Environment.”
In all the ways described above by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the report resembles very closely a fringe conspiracy theory. It would be indistinguishable from the “New World Order” theory except that it is about the People’s Republic of China instead of the New World Order.
For example, it alleges that, like the New World Order, the PRC is trying to implement a totalitarian world government, and that this is taking place through a grand ongoing conspiracy to influence the media, press, civil society and democracy from the shadows. These phrases that were used by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue to characterize The New World Order theory fit almost perfectly the Global Engagement Center report’s allegations.
The report’s main claim is that “The PRC’s approach to information manipulation includes leveraging propaganda and censorship, promoting digital authoritarianism, exploiting international organizations and bilateral partnerships, pairing cooptation and pressure, and exercising control of Chinese-language media.”
‘TELL CHINA’S STORY WELL’
But when one drills down past these vague accusations into the body of the report it is difficult to find anything truly nefarious going on, though the language constantly implies that there is.
China’s leader Xi Jinping (right) meets Ma Ying-Jeou in 2015. Image: Taiwan Presidential office.
The report repeatedly refers to the PRC’s “manipulation” of information. For example, directly under the section heading, “The PRC’s Approach to Information Manipulation,” the report states, “President Xi has significantly expanded PRC efforts to shape the global information environment. In 2013, he directed state media to ‘tell China’s story well’.”
Is it fair to call this “manipulation” of information? From 1950 to the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991 the United States government funded Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty to broadcast inside the Soviet Union and the Eastern European states that it dominated.
The chief mission of those broadcasters was to tell the United States’ story well, especially to counteract misinformation about the United States that was disseminated in the Soviet Union, such as that people were poorer in the US.
Of course, the information was biased in favor of the US – there would have been little in it about the half million Black men incarcerated there. Were these broadcasters “information manipulators”? It is doubtful they would be perceived that way by most people in the US.
FALSITY CLAIMS ARE WEAK
The information that the PRC purveys is repeatedly referred to by the phrase “false or biased pro-PRC content,” implying that much of it is false. But it is difficult or impossible to find anything in the report that shows that the PRC has disseminated information that is provably false. For example, it says that “The PRC first began to experiment with coordinated foreign-facing disinformation campaigns in its response to the 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.”
What disinformation? It footnotes an August 2019 New York Times article that presents information about the protests that is contested, to say the least; indeed has been disproved. So its meager claims of real disinformation purveyed by the PRC are in fact instances in which the determination of what is true is legitimately contested. But they are presented as if the truth had been firmly established and the PRC is lying about it.
The insinuations and allegations of misconduct in this report are laid on in vague but intensely accusatory language in verbiage that is thick as molasses. But there is little or no substance to it.
Even lunatic fringe conspiracy theories occasionally have something buried deep within them that is realistic; this one has very little even of that. It should be dismissed by the rational majority as the looney conspiracy theory that it is.
Michael Edesess is an adjunct associate professor and visiting faculty member at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and former cofounder and chief economist of financial organizations.