. . .Paranoia isn’t new to American public life. Its most violent manifestations are of course rare, but what the historian Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style” has always been part of American political culture, in part because America has always been complex and chaotic. Conspiracy theories bring order and solace, they make sense of the chaos and reorient the world along moral and logical lines. For this reason, the appeal of the paranoid style has always been particularly strong among Americans.
The difference now is that the paranoid style has gone mainstream. Evidence abounds in recent decades, but one need look no further than Trump’s own political career, which began with him wading into the Obama birther conspiracy in 2011. More recently, QAnon followers have been turning up at Trump rallies, from Texas to Florida to Pennsylvania, all with the same talking points: QAnon is a “community,” a “movement,” a “great awakening.” Their movement, as they will freely attest, is intimately bound to Trump’s presidency.
Although it’s unfair and irresponsible to implicate Trump in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, as some major media outlets were quick to do, there’s no question that Trump’s occasional allusions to conspiracy theories have given political paranoia more room to breathe, in much the same way that the rise of social media has given conspiracy theorists a platform and a powerful new way to connect to one another.
Still, to blame the mainstreaming of paranoia on Trump or social media is to misunderstand the role that political paranoia plays in our national life. In 1995, the late Michael Kelly wrote an essay for The New Yorker entitled, “The Road to Paranoia,” about a militia group that had risen to prominence in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. The main subject of Kelly’s article was a man named Bob Fletcher, the “investigative researcher” and spokesman for a group called Militia of Montana, or MOM. Fletcher and MOM espoused a sort of proto-QAnon conspiracy—a grand, all-encompassing conspiracy that has shaped the course of history and threatens to reduce all Americans to slavery under a New World Order.
Just as they did for the Pittsburgh shooter, “globalists” played a prominent role in the conspiracy worldview of Fletcher and his fellow militiamen of the mid-1990s—a worldview shared by the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and those who sympathized with him. (Read more from “We Are Living in an Age of Political Paranoia” HERE)