Conspiracy sites are a gateway drug leading to the far-right

I’ve always rejected out of hand the notion that the political spectrum is a horseshoe, that the far-right and far-left are close to one another in various ways. However, what I’ve seen in Facebook groups on both sides of the Atlantic is that the far-right is stealthily digging a tunnel in order to insinuate its ideas into the far-left and beyond.

This mostly takes the form of memes promoting conspiracy theories which target ‘privileged elites’. Superficially persuasive videos blame (most commonly) the Rothschild family (a long-standing anti-semitic canard) and The Vatican for the world’s chaos and corruption. Such videos are distributed by sites which a moment’s investigation reveals to be teeming in pro-Putin/Trump and climate denial material. However, the conspiratorial tone in which they are presented is like catnip to online audiences desperate for easy explanations of troubling but confusing events.

Conspiracy thinking has often been called ‘the poor man’s ideology‘. It’s easier to understand the notion that a secretive group of powerful people controls the world than it is to pick apart the myriad ways in which capitalism preserves itself as a chaotic but impersonal system, in terms of both interacting repressive institutions and also via conservative ideas which circulate at every level – including the ideas that we ourselves hold.

It’s also deeply comforting to think that someone, somewhere is in charge, partly because it lets our own roles in preserving that system off the hook. The problem is always other people’s corruption and venality, none of which can even be addressed directly because They Control Everything. This enables the consumer of conspiracy theories to do nothing but read, watch and share the hidden truth, and to remain in every other way politically passive. Like the ultimate function of a dream, conspiracy theorising works to keep you asleep.

The conspiracist worldview also, ironically, makes those who subscribe to it easy manipulable. Trump’s anti-‘MSM’ tweets are a very clear sign that widespread hostility towards all mass media suits the needs of those who hold formal office. It means what they do and their reasons for doing it face no scrutiny. The fact that he calls all media which questions his power ‘fake’ and instructs his supporters to ignore whatever it says should remind us how essential a free media is to democracy.

What Trump is doing in his blundering way has already been done in a much more sophisticated manner by the Kremlin, with Russia Today. With its line-up of charismatic rebels such as Max Keiser, RT is consistently entertaining. Like all such media, it provides simple but compelling explanations of complex events. Much of its coverage is relatively innocuous, following the same line as other channels. But there is a clear and very clever conspiratorial line in its reporting which dovetails with the content of explicitly right-wing outlets like Infowars and Breitbart, with their pseudo-radical insinuations of a secret Jewish liberal agenda known as the New World Order. That narrative is not coherent, because it doesn’t need to be: it just needs to titillate to the point of being shareable. It is a very short succession of clicks from RT videos showing the ‘truth’ about Russia’s involvement in Syria to ones promoting the idea of a jew-run plot to dominate humanity or denying climate change. It and the videos which (not by coincidence) exist in its orbit are a gateway drug to the far-right.

A key element of media literacy is knowledge of who owns a particular outlet. We need to know who is telling us a given story. Those of us on the Left know to steer clear of Fox News, The Sun, etc. People are also right to be suspicious of the BBC’s coverage of UK politics, given the compromises and connections at the level of personnel. Westminster journalists are often too close to their subjects to have a wider perspective, and they often come to identify with the worldview of those they cover. But the question of whose media we are consuming is even more important on the Internet, because there we are exposed to much more and much more sophisticated means of manipulation.

We need to know which sites to avoid. In particular, those who moderate left-wing forums need to know which sites to automatically block. A good rule of thumb is that if something mentions the Rothschilds or talks about the NWO, it comes from a far-right source and has no place in a left-wing group. However, given the sophistication of attempts to insinuate reactionary ideas into radical circles, we need to be more precise. That’s why this list (helpfully posted by a friend on a pro-Corbyn forum) is so very useful. It consists of a checklist of sites, identifying which are legitimate and which are known to be pushing an insidious agenda. It flags up, for example, the sites and anonews, both of which I have seen linked to several times in nominally left-wing Facebook groups over the last few days. On each occasion dozens of people who see themselves as progressive have been taken in, liking and sharing material which a moment’s inspection reveals to be far-right propaganda. The Left needs to be much more vigilant about the danger such videos represent. Jeremy Corbyn may represent many things to many people; those who see him as the new David Icke need to be made actively unwelcome in left-wing circles.

Here’s what the illiberal media doesn’t want you to know about the Finsbury Park attack


My wife and I used to live just up the road from the Finsbury Park Mosque, but now we live in Rome with our four-month-old daughter. How will we cope with bringing up a child in a time of mounting global turmoil, with terrorist attacks and climate disasters assailing us on almost a daily basis? In much the same way that previous generations have: by telling her stories which introduce and explain the world as comfortingly and as gently as possible, tales which allow her to gradually sense the dangers but also to imagine herself into the world as a protagonist as well as (we hope) a responsible citizen.

Adults tell each other stories in much the same way. The internet has sped up the process of the fabrication of fairy tales. Within minutes of an event like the attack in Finsbury Park, there are already rumours circulating online. Why did the police take so long to arrive? Could it be connected to the Grenfell Fire, or to London Bridge? Did it really happen? Is it all a distraction, a ‘false flag’?

Such gossip reassures people. It tells them who they are and situates shocking events in a familiar context. It reminds people they are powerless, that the world is under control, while also allowing them to pose in their heads as both initiates and heroes, privy to and sharers of occult and dangerous truths.

But while as parents we have our daughter’s best interests at heart, wanting to protect and prepare her for the joys and hazards of existence, purveyors of internet fairy tales do not. They use stories to manipulate, to promote an view of the world which benefits particular interests.

The mainstream media can operate in similar ways, but without as much blatant dishonesty and manipulation. Where that does exist, it tends to be infinitely more complex and sophisticated and not by any means always conscious. Recent exceptions to this, most notably Blair’s dodgy dossier and the lies of the Brexit campaign, have discredited democracy and the media and encouraged people to get their information about the world from even less trustworthy sources, ones that make a virtue of their antipathy towards formal media standards and regulations.

Someone in a Jeremy Corbyn Facebook group this morning was quick to blame the Finsbury Park attack on the “New World Order”. His kneejerk recourse to that phrase suggests he may have come under the spell of that most fraudulent of all tricksters, Alex Jones, who just by coincidence (really, Richard? Is that what you think?!) was the subject of a horribly misguided puff piece on NBC just last night. Jones is prominent nowadays as he has the ear of the President* and also because for the last few years he has been telling the world that the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre didn’t happen, that the children who ‘died’ and their ‘grieving’ parents were all actors. In promoting this story Jones achieves several objectives: drawing attention to himself, posing as someone who’s wise to what ‘The Establishment’ is secretly up to, and (most importantly) letting gun-lovers off the hook. The NRA is, of course, one of the most powerful and dangerous organisations in US history.

You don’t have to dig very far to see how the fledgling roots of these online fairy tales connect to some of the most powerful reactionary interests in the world. Online conspiracy theorising is, after all, a deeply conservative phenonenon, even though its often those on the Left who fall prey to it. Yesterday someone in the same Facebook group someone posted a link to an article which promised to tell you the facts that the ‘liberal media’ want to keep hidden about the Grenfell Fire. The article cut and pasted a post from the far-right website The Daily Caller which blamed environmental regulations for the disaster. The same material has been published days earlier by the right-wing British tabloids the Daily Mail and Express. While we can choose to ignore news outlets which we know to be controlled by political and/or business interests and place our critical trust in more independent, transparent and accountable publications, the internet exposes us to much more insidious attempts to hack our brains and install ideologically toxic misinformation.

No wonder Jones’ ‘friend’ Donald Trump instructs his supporters to ignore everything the ‘liberal media’ writes about him, while boasting that all he knows about the world he learned online. Progressives have to be cleverer and more critical than him when dealing with information about news events. That shouldn’t be too difficult, in theory. Just stick to news and commentary sites designed for adults, learn to question what you read without rejecting facts and arguments out of hand for no good reason, and steer well clear of those purveying internet fairy tales.

ps. If you’re seeking the facts as they stand in relation to the Finsbury Park terrorist attack, here are some sources which can help you:

Ps. This, from the University of Sheffield politics blog, is a very compelling argument which we Labour members and supporters ignore at our peril:

The ‘rigged economy’ conspiracy theory

In a previous critique of Corbynism, I examined the ‘personalised’ critique of capitalism which underlies the worldview of Corbyn and many of his supporters. This perspective sees poverty, economic crashes, inequality and even war as being the result of the conscious behaviour of shadowy ‘global elites’, usually in the financial sector.  Such a viewpoint, common amongst right and left, fails to grasp capital as an abstract social relation, dominating both rich and poor alike, and at its most extreme can lead to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of Jewish plots to rule the world through control of the banks.  The prevalence of this kind of foreshortened critique of capitalism (or neoliberalism, as popularly understood) goes some way to explain the spread of conspiracy theories about the ‘Rothschilds’ and ‘Zionists’ through much of the ‘Canary’/‘Skwawkbox’ left, as well as the alt-right – they are not contingent or accidental, but the consequence of pushing an analysis of capitalism as conspiracy to its logical conclusion.

Since his ‘populist turn’ at the start of the year, Corbyn has severely ramped up this kind of talk.  Throughout the election campaign there were endless references to the ‘rigged economy’ set up by elites which had ‘ripped off’ the British people.  Like the isolationist foreign policy, this discourse has an appeal to both the ‘anti-vax’ wing of the Green left and the Trumpian-UKIP right, with the vagueness of the ‘rigged’ concept allowing people to point the finger of accusation at whatever scapegoat fits their particular prejudice.  While it can be effective, there is an inherent risk in this kind of approach to politics, in that it can rapidly spiral out of control and in unexpected directions if not strictly supervised.  There is no guarantee that once let out of the bottle this kind of personalised critique of capitalism will inevitably lead in a progressive direction.  If it is true that Corbyn has managed to patch up a right-left electoral alliance on these grounds  –  along with implied migration controls and an isolationist foreign policy  –  it will require extreme vigilance to ensure it does not veer onto a regressive track.