"... an excellent guide to logic and credibility for all who are curious about this complex and urgent subject." Booklist Starred Review
America is awash with alleged conspiracies. It seems like today, no one with a cell phone escapes the vortex of skepticism, cynicism, paranoia, and fear that occupy our thoughts almost constantly. Seeking out valid answers in this cacophony can be confusing and deeply frustrating. In this book, historian Michael D. Gambone provides case studies of popular conspiracy theories in America from the past 100 years, from Protocol of the Elders of Zion to #stopthesteal. He offers an approach based on basic logic and historical case studies, not designed to win arguments, but to help readers separate truth from the avalanche of nonsense descending on us every day. In each case, Gambone outlines the conspiracy claim, provides historical context for the conspiracy, presents evidence of the conspiracy claim, and analyzes the claim, context, and evidence.
Modern Conspiracies in American History will appeal to a broad audience of readers interested in American history and those seeking to become better informed consumers of news in an era when social media spreads misinformation widely and quickly.
Michael D. Gambone, professor of history at Kutztown University is the author of several books including, most recently, Long Journeys Home: American Veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam(College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2017) and Small Wars: Low-Intensity Threats and the American Response Since Vietnam (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2012).
Table of Contents
Introduction:Enemies Among Us
Chapter #1 Building a Toolbox for the Logical Mind
Chapter #2 The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
Chapter #3 The Russians are Coming!
Chapter #4 The Kennedy Assassination
Chapter #5 9/11
Chapter #6 Sandy Hook
Chapter #7 Contrails and Chemtrails
Chapter #8 The 2016 Election
Chapter #9 The 2020 “Plandemic”
Chapter #10 QAnon: Enemies Inside the Gates
Chapter #11 Stop the Steal! The 2020 Election
Conclusions Finding a Way Forward
Glossary of Terms
Gambone has written a timely primer on how conspiracy theories have entered mainstream US political discourse and how to confront them. In this valuable work, Gambone defines conspiracy theory as "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful" (p. 72). In describing the staying power of these theories, he admits that providing facts, data, or rational arguments may not be sufficient to convince true believers, such as those who maintain that the 2020 election was rigged. Gambone concludes that conspiracy pundits are "masters at manipulating emotions, not just facts" (p. 174). So what is the solution? Having spent years teaching college students, the author suggests that when confronted with conspiracy theorists, one must use "listening, patience, persistence, and unclenched fists" (p. 175). Recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals.
There are real conspiracies in America, secret plans for unlawful or harmful acts. Historian and professor Gambone’s premise is that there is also a vigorous industry of fake conspiracy theories that are projected onto actual tragedies and social problems to serve political agendas and/or make a profit. Gambone applies scholarly methods and shares case studies and other findings to illuminate the facts and help readers distinguish between actual and alleged conspiracies. Well-known conspiracy theories of the past century are scrutinized, including the Red Scare and JFK’s assassination, on to the lies surrounding 9/11 and Q-ANON. This is a wild ride through the fevered imaginations of many conspiracy theorists and partisans. Gambone informs readers with the reassuring style of a great teacher, grounding many fantastical claims in historical context and defining terms that are often opaque or malleable in service of ever-morphing debates and propaganda. While there may be no easy way to bring conspiracy theorists back to reality or rebuild trust in targeted institutions, Gambone's inquiry is an excellent guide to logic and credibility for all who are curious about this complex and urgent subject.
Historian Gambone expands on a course he teaches at Kutztown University in this accessible study of “modern conspiracy beliefs. Noting that “Donald Trump and the Tea Party before him brought conspiracy beliefs to our living rooms and kitchen tables,” Gambone discusses how the internet fosters the search for unifying theories that “make the vastness out there easier to handle” and cites research suggesting that “establishing patterns satisfies the desire to impose some type of control over our environment.”…. Though Gambone sticks to well-trod ground, he succinctly summarizes and contextualizes each conspiracy. Readers will gain a better grasp on how central conspiracy thinking is to American politics and culture.
Careful, meticulous, and balanced, this book engagingly presents several popular conspiracy theories from 1920s to the present, and explains how they’re right, how they’re wrong, and why people believe them. A delightful read with obvious relevance for understanding American politics today.
Modern Conspiracies in America is an eloquent and engaging look at the panoply of modern conspiracy theories. Starting with their roots in anti-Semitic propaganda and working through the 'Red Scare,' JFK, 9/11 and others, Gambone details the evolution of conspiracism up to our current afflictions of QAnon, COVID, and Election Fraud conspiracies. Opening with an overview of the mental tools needed to understand conspiracy theorists, and ending with insightful thoughts on finding a way forward, Modern Conspiracies In America is a fascinating read and an essential toolbox for anyone interested in conspiracy theories and how to do something about them.
As conspiracy theories become ever more mainstream, divisive, and dangerous, the more important it becomes for us to learn to recognize and deal with them. Gambone takes it to a higher level: dissecting today's most immediate and relevant conspiracy theories and laying them bare to an almost uncomfortable degree, treading farther than most authors would risk.
C-SPAN is featuring video of Michael Gambone’s panel at the Organization of American Historians conference.