Dr. Tom Konda presented his lecture “Conspiracism in American Politics” for a crowded audience in the Angell College Center. Konda, Professor Emeritus of Political Science discussed the research subject of his upcoming book, the growing presence of conspiracy theories in American political discourse. His presentation centered around addressing three central components; first, what is a conspiracy theory; second, why do people believe in these theories; third, tracing the substance behind conspiracy theories. The prominence of the subject matter in contemporary American political discourse attracted a substantial audience, testing the capacity of the Alumni Conference Room.
Konda began by telling the story of Edgar Maddison Welch. On Dec. 4, 2016 Welch entered Comet Ping Pong, a pizza store located in Washington D.C, armed with an AR-15 and discharged several rounds before he was apprehended. He did so because he believed Comet Ping Pong was acting as a front for child trafficking and pedophilia, organized by former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign John Podesta. The viral conspiracy theory was born from speculation that coded exchanges contained within Podesta’s emails released by WikiLeaks, gained public attention when former National Security adviser Michael Flynn tweeted a link to the conspiracy theory. “An event that almost cost him his job.”
Konda then observed that if Welch truly believed that child abuse was occurring within Comet Ping Pong than his subsequent actions are rational. This is the danger contained in these narratives, despite an absence of credible evidence, Welch believed in the theory.
Critical to understanding the personalities behind these theories, Konda listed several recurring characteristics that can be observed within the personalities of zealous conspiracy theorists; first, reliance on paternity to explain meaning of life; second, perceptions of increasing loss of control over one’s life; and third, attraction to far right wing authoritarianism.
In relation to the third characteristic, Konda emphasized the role conspiracy theories occupy within the alt-right, a group described as “rooted in white supremacy” that relies on conspiracy theories claiming the existence of a group of global Zionist elite class of financiers to replace the outright condemnation of Jews.
Konda’s conclusions as to the source of the substance behind the conspiracy theories; anti-Semitism – occult beliefs – while supremacy – premillennial Add to dictionary. The last of which he presents contrasting postmillennial Add to dictionary which exists absent any religious foundations.
The concept of conspiracy theories can be traced back to as for as the 17th century. Originating out of the French Revolution, Dr. Konda explained the emergence of public sovereignty and it’s search for answers resulted in the genesis of theories that remain to this day. Prior in history “conspiracy was just politics” existing within the power struggles of the elite classes, the general population simply had no time.
After the presentation concluded, Dr. Konda fielded questions from the audience. One woman inquired as to what can be done when countering conspiracy theorists. The answer Dr. Konda explains is far from simple. He explained that these theories are self sealing systems, meaning that attempts to present counter arguments are dismissed as products of the conspirators themselves.
The final question came from a self-described conspiracy theorist, he challenged Dr. Konda by asserting that throughout American history conspiracies have existed, always beginning as theories themselves until the conspirators were unmasked. In response, Dr. Konda agreed that conspiracies do exist today, the critical difference is that these conspiracies did not base themselves on a belief system that required a leap in logical reasoning to reach their conclusion in substitution for tangible evidence. The exchange demonstrated the extent of proliferation and the strength of the seductive appeal contained within contemporary conspiracy theories.
As the event concluded Political Science student Nat Emery expressed his enjoyment of Dr. Konda’s presentation, or as he describes it as the “theory about theories”. Emery observed that the attendance at the presentation was the highest he had seen, crediting Dr. Konda’s reputation and interesting subject matter.
Former colleague of Dr. Konda within the Political Science department Professor Lake echoed Emery’s sentiment and admiration for Dr. Konda who Professor Lake credited for mentoring him during his first years in the department. Both Emery and Professor Lake commented on enjoying his “dry humor”, a characteristic which was on full display throughout Dr. Konda’s presentation.
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