I used to think that conspiracy theorists were just silly. I must have made countless jokes about people who think the moon landings were faked, that Prince Philip ordered Diana’s death or that, despite NASA’s protestations, the Earth is in fact flat. But it’s become clear for some time now that conspiracy theories have reached a whole new level of influence.
9/11 was an inside job, Mossad created ISIS, George Soros is controlling the news — this kind of stuff is getting more and more mainstream. Just recently right-wing conspiracists sent bombs to George Soros and anti-Trump Democrats, and murdered several worshippers in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Right now, an extensive conspiracy theory about Soros, a Hungarian-American financier and business magnate, organising the destruction of western civilization by funding liberals, pro-abortion groups and seas of immigrants, has reached the levels of the White House. So I went with interest to see ‘Conspiracy Theory: A Lizard’s Tale’, a one-man-show written and performed by Marlon Solomon, a Manchester-based actor and performer.
Solomon has been performing across the country and at various CLPs and Labour Party events, and his show discusses the content and the appeal of conspiracy theories throughout history. Naturally the show focuses on the world’s oldest (and at various times, murderously consequential) conspiracy theory: antisemitism. Solomon makes the show very touching and personal, and discusses his own experiences as both a former conspiracy theorist and as a Jew in Britain who, while for a long time not particularly involved in politics, has recently taken a more active role in tackling antisemitism, including on the left and in the Labour Party.
Much of the talk discussed the singly person most synonymous with modern conspiracy theories, David Icke (yes, the lizard guy). While I had previously regarded David Icke and his lizard theories as laughable nonsense, I was astounded to find out how much coverage he gets, including on some ostensibly “progressive” platforms, and the fact that he sells out thousand-seater stadiums for his talks. Most shocking of all was how blatant and explicit the antisemitic nature of his “theories” were.
Icke’s speeches had simply unending talk of “Rothschild Zionists” controlling the world and fomenting wars. I was at once pleased and saddened when Solomon discussed, as an example of a very recent conspiracy theory, the plight of the White Helmets, a Syrian volunteer group of first responders who have saved countless Syrian casualties from buildings that had been pounded mercilessly by Assad and Putin’s air forces. Thanks in part to Russian intelligence backed online trolls, increasing number of people including those on the left (almost invariably, but not entirely Stalinist types) have either ignored the White Helmets or actively accused them, on the basis of completely made up evidence, of being Al-Qaeda or jihadists.
There are both right-wing and left-wing conspiracy theorists, but it seems you are just as likely to be a conspiracy theorist if you are on the left as if you are on the right. Possibly if you believe, quite rightly, that the world is an unjust place, then you are more susceptible to trying to find a quick and easy scapegoat.
When we see conspiratorial type rants on the internet, or comments about how the “Zionists” control the media, these days it’s often difficult to tell whether the writer is someone who considers themselves a “progressive”, say, an Occupy type, or someone who spends their free time on neo-Nazi forums. This is a sign of an urgent problem that needs addressing.
In the Middle East numerous conspiracy theories are quite popular. Take the theory, held by many pro-Shah Iranians, that the Ayatollah Khomeini was in fact a Western agent (wasn’t it the French that flew him into Tehran in 1979? is a comment that is recurrent in these circles) and that he was used by the West to get rid of a Shah that was becoming increasingly powerful and independent.
Conspiracy theories don’t have to make a whole load of sense. They just have to provide a comforting worldview where there is always a simple cause for the world’s ills. The need for political education and for a left that bases its critiques of capitalist society on the material realities of exploitation, not on theories of shadowy cabals, has never been more vital. ‘Conspiracy Theory: A Lizard’s Tale’ by Marlon Solomon provides an informative and hugely entertaining resource to help root out this problem.