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Conspiracy theories don't have to be wacky; some are real

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“It’s a Conspiracy.” Just saying that phrase in polite conversation can make people look at you differently and then slowly back away.

Your audience will brace as they expect a wild rant about who really killed John F. Kennedy, how Elvis is still alive and that the earth is actually flat, but NASA is covering up the truth.

But what about the conspiracies that Jeffery Epstein didn’t kill himself and had been given special protection from prosecution for being a pedophile and child sex trafficker? There’s evidence that supports a reasonable suspicion that Epstein didn’t die by his own hand. We don’t know for certain what actually happened, but it sure is weird that none of the surveillance cameras were working.

And if what the government told us about Epstein isn’t true? Then what else could they be lying about? And it’s off to the rabbit hole races.

Although many Americans believe that conspiratorial thinking is reaching new heights in the twenty-first century, conspiracy theories have been commonplace throughout U.S. history.

In the colonial and early republic eras, Americans feared that Catholics, Jews, Masons, Indians, and African Americans were plotting against them. In the nineteenth century they added international bankers, rich businessmen, and Mormons to the list of potential conspirators. Today conspiracy theories have evolved, and many Americans suspect the U.S. government itself of plotting against them.

Social media has given the distortions of truth that many conspiracy theories rely on a new life. The spreading of conspiracies on the internet makes them almost impossible to eliminate even when there is powerful overwhelming evidence countering their claims.

But has the spread of fake conspiracy theories become a tool of those who perpetrate real conspiracies in order to keep everyone off balance? That could be the ultimate conspiracy.

Guest: Sarah Kendzior is an American author and anthropologist. Her latest book is “They Knew: How a Culture of Conspiracy Keeps America Complacent”, which was a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She is also the author of “The View from Flyover Country” – a collection of essays first published by Al Jazeera – and is co-host of the Gaslit Nation podcast. In 2020, she published her second book, Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America.

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call833-877-8255 or email thesource@tpr.org.

*This interview will be recorded on Monday, July 31.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi