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    Demonization, Scapegoating, Conspiracism

    By Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons

    Adapted and expanded fromRight-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort
    Guilford Press, 2000

    Rumor, Demonization, Scapegoating, Conspiracism, and Scare-Mongering
    are not Investigative Journalism

    Demonization and Scapegoating

    Gunning down children in a Jewish community center in Los Angeles makes sense if you think Jews run the world and are thus responsible for all that is wrong in the country as a whole and your life in particular. Shooting a postal worker who is a person of color makes sense if you think lazy people of color are conspiring with the Jewish-controlled Zionist Occupational Government to rob the hard-working taxpayer. The gunman accused of committing both these acts in California in 1999 is Buford O'Neal Furrow Jr. He emerges from a neonazi milieu where Christian Identity is the dominant religious philosophy. Christian Identity argues that Jews are in league with Satan and that Blacks and other people of color are subhuman. Identity's version of the battle of Armageddon prophesied in the Bible is a race war. This is an extreme example of demonization, but it is hardly new. An earlier example happened during the depression of 1837-43 when there was a wave of attacks against Catholic immigrants to the US. Catholics were demonized in popular culture as lazy and treacherous and the resulting scapegoating generated violence. Jean Hardisty argues that the contemporary right has frequently relied on "mobilizing resentment" as an organizing process.

    Demonization of an enemy often begins with marginalization, the ideological process in which targeted individuals or groups are placed outside the circle of wholesome mainstream society through political propaganda and age-old prejudice. This creates the binary Us/Them Good/Bad dynamic of dualism or manichaeanism, which acknowledges no complexity or nuance and forecloses on meaningful civil debate or practical political compromise.

    The next step is objectification or dehumanization, the process of negatively labeling a person or group of people so they become perceived more as objects than as real people. Dehumanization often is associated with the belief that a particular group of people is inferior or threatening. The final step is demonization; the person or group is framed as totally malevolent, sinful, and evil. It is easier to rationalize stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, and even violence against those who are dehumanized or demonized.

    In The Origins of Satan, Elaine Pagels points out that today:

    "Many religious people who no longer believe in Satan, along with countless others who do not identify with any religious tradition, nevertheless are influenced by this cultural legacy whenever they perceive social and political conflict in terms of the forces of good contending against the forces of evil in the world.”

    Casting enemies in the role of evil demons is hardly original to Christians or the Bible. “Nothing is more common in history than the change of the deities of hostile nations into demons of evil,” says Paul Caras, who noted that Beelzebub, a Phoenician god, “became another name for Satan,” for the early Jews. In fact, the word Satan means “enemy.”   More on apocalyptic and millennial forms of demonization later.
    Scapegoating in the form of the ritualized transference and expulsion of evil is a familiar theme across centuries and cultures. In western culture the term “scapegoat” can be traced to an early Jewish ritual described in the book of Leviticus in the Bible.

    As Gordon W. Allport explains:

    “On the Day of Atonement a live goat was chosen by lot. The high priest, robed in linen garments, laid both his hands on the goat’s head, and confessed over it the iniquities of the children of Israel. The sins of the people thus symbolically transferred to the beast, it was taken out into the wilderness and let go. The people felt purged, and for the time being, guiltless.”

    The word scapegoat has evolved to mean a person or group wrongfully blamed for some problem, especially for other people’s misdeeds. “Psychologically,” Richard Landes explains, “the tendency to find scapegoats is a result of the common defense mechanism of denial through projection.” People redirect frustrated aggression or guilt over their own misconduct, onto the scapegoat. But scapegoating does not necessarily work the same way at the personal level, such as within a family, as it does at a societal level, where in Susan Fisher’s words “the scapegoated group serves more as a metaphor.” Nor does scapegoating by large groups and social movements indicate mass mental dysfunction.

    We use the term scapegoating to describe the social process whereby the hostility and grievances of an angry, frustrated group are directed away from the real causes of a social problem onto a target group demonized as malevolent wrongdoers. The scapegoat bears the blame, while the scapegoaters feel a sense of righteousness and increased unity. The social problem may be real or imaginary, the grievances legitimate or illegitimate, and members of the targeted group may be wholly innocent or partly culpable. What matters is that the scapegoats are wrongfully stereotyped as all sharing the same negative trait, or are singled out for blame while other major culprits are let off the hook.

    Scapegoating often targets socially disempowered or marginalized groups. At the same time, the scapegoat is often portrayed as powerful or privileged. In this way, scapegoating feeds on people’s anger about their own disempowerment, but diverts this anger away from the real systems of power and oppression. A certain level of scapegoating is endemic in most societies, but it more readily becomes an important political force in times of social competition or upheaval. At such times, especially, scapegoating can be an effective way to mobilize mass support and activism during a struggle for power.


    Conspiracism is a narrative form of scapegoating that frames the enemy as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good; and at the same time valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm. Like other forms of scapegoating, conspiracism often, though not always, targets oppressed or stigmatized groups. In many cases, conspiracism uses coded language to mask ethnic or racial bigotry, for example, attacking the Federal Reserve in ways that evoke common stereotypes about “Jewish bankers.” Far Right groups have often used such conspiracy theories as an opening wedge for more explicit hate ideology.

    On a local level, Herman Sinaiko observes that “The most decent and modest communities have people in their midst who are prone to scapegoating and who see the world as run by conspiracies. A healthy community is organized in a way that controls them and suppresses their tendencies.” But there are times when “the standards and control mechanisms are weakened, and these people step forward and find their voice and an audience.” This model of conspiracism is common to the far right, such as when it went into the economically devastated farm belt in the 1980s with conspiracy narratives scapegoating Jewish bankers.

    Mark Fenster describes how some people use conspiracy theories to construct a theory of power that fails to recognize how real power relations work in modern society, and argues the phenomenon "should not be dismissed and analyzed simply as pathology." He suggests that "conspiracy theory and contemporary practices of populist politics require a cultural analysis that can complement an ideological and empirical 'debunking'."

    According to Fenster, “just because overarching conspiracy theories are wrong does not mean they are not on to something. Specifically, they ideologically address real structural inequities, and constitute a response to a withering civil society and the concentration of the ownership of the means of production, which together leave the political subject without the ability to be recognized or to signify in the public realm.”

    Certainly, real conspiracies exist: plotting in secret is one of the ways in which power is exercised (and resisted). The U.S. political scene has been littered with examples of illegal political, corporate, and government conspiracies such as Watergate, the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of spying and dirty tricks against dissidents, the Iran/Contra scandal, and the systematic looting of the savings and loan industry. But as Bruce Cumings argues,

    “…if conspiracies exist, they rarely move history; they make a difference at the margins from time to time, but with the unforeseen consequences of a logic outside the control of their authors: and this is what is wrong with “conspiracy theory.” History is moved by the broad forces and large structures of human collectivities...”

    Conspiracism differs in several ways from legitimate efforts to expose secret plots. First, the conspiracist worldview assigns tiny cabals of evildoers a superhuman power to control events; it regards such plots as the major motor of history. Conspiracism blames individualized and subjective forces for political, economic, and social problems rather than analyzing conflict in terms of systems and structures of power.
    Second, conspiracism tends to frame social conflict in terms of a transcendent struggle between Good and Evil that reflects the influence of the apocalyptic paradigm.

    Third, in its efforts to trace all wrongdoing to one vast plot, conspiracism plays fast and loose with the facts. While conspiracist theorists often start with a grain of truth and “document” their claims exhaustively, they make irrational leaps of logic in analyzing evidence, such as guilt by association or treating allegations as proven fact.

    Conspiracist attacks can be directed either “upward” or “downward.” Anti-elite conspiracism (or anti-elite scapegoating) targets groups seen as sinister elites abusing their power from above. Countersubversive scapegoating targets groups portrayed as subversives trying to overturn the established order from below or from within.

    Anti-elite conspiracism has deep roots in U.S. political culture. In some versions, anti-elite scapegoating attacks groups who do not really dominate society (such as Jews or Catholics); in other cases, it targets sub-groups within the elite power structure (such as bankers, the Trilateral Commission, the Central Intelligence Agency, or the World Trade Organization). What these versions share, and what especially defines anti-elite conspiracism, is that the scapegoat is seen as a subjective, alien force that distorts the normal workings of society. Thus, despite its “radical” veneer, anti-elite conspiracism shares the mainstream assumptions that the United States is fundamentally democratic, and that any injustice results from selfish special interest groups, not underlying systems of power and oppression.

    U.S. elites, meanwhile, have long propagated fears of subversive conspiracies: bloodthirsty slaves plotting mass murder, disloyal immigrants undermining U.S. institutions, labor unionists spreading criminal anarchy, or godless reds bent on global dictatorship. Whether cynical constructs or projections of the elite’s own nightmares, such images have been used to demonize anti-oppression struggles by playing on people’s fears of disorder, violence, invasion, and moral collapse.

    As Frank Donner noted, propaganda based on a myth of the enemy “other” has helped to justify anti-democratic activities by state security forces and their allies, including spying, harassment, judicial persecution, forced removal, and physical violence. And, Donner argued: “In a period of social and economic change during which traditional institutions are under the greatest strain, the need for the myth is especially strong as a means of transferring blame, an outlet for the despair [people] face when normal channels of protest and change are closed.” In these ways, countersubversive scapegoating has played an important role in this country’s system of social control, bolstering elite privilege and power.
    David Brion Davis points out that:

    "…genuine conspiracies have seldom been as dangerous or as powerful as have movements of countersubversion. The exposer of conspiracies necessarily adopts a victimized, self-righteous tone which masks his own meaner interests as well as his share of responsibility for a given conflict. Accusations of conspiracy conceal or justify one's own provocative acts and thus contribute to individual or national self-deception. Still worse, they lead to overreactions, particularly to degrees of suppressive violence which normally would not be tolerated."

    Since conspiracist thinking flourishes during periods of political, economic, or cultural transformation, Davis observed that “[c]ollective beliefs in conspiracy have usually embodied or given expression to genuine social conflict.” Davis identified four primary categories of persons who join conspiracist countersubversive movements:

    • Persons who are “defenders of threatened establishments;”
    • Persons being displaced, “put in new positions of dependency,” or facing oppression;
    • Persons with “anxieties over social or cultural change;” and,
    • Persons who see “foreign revolution or tyrannical reaction,” and who search for “domestic counterparts on the assumption that fires may be avoided if one looks for flying sparks.”

    When people are mobilizing in defense of disproportionate privilege and power, they often devise rationalizations that divert attention from their underlying self interest. Scapegoating in the form of conspiracist scapegoating can provide the needed protective coloration.

    Although the specific allegations about the plots and plans by the alleged conspirators frequently are complex—even Byzantine—the ultimate model is still simple: the good people must expose and stop the bad people, and then conflict will end, grievances will be resolved, and everything will be just fine. Conspiracist thinking is thus an action–oriented worldview which holds out to believers the possibility of change. As Kathleen M. Blee has observed through interviews with women in racist groups, “Conspiracy theories not only teach that the world is divided into an empowered “them” and a less powerful “us” but also suggest a strategy by which the “us” (ordinary people, the non–conspirators) can challenge and even usurp the authority of the currently–powerful.” Thus conspiracist scapegoating fills a need for explanations among the adherents by providing a simple model of good versus evil in which the victory over evil is at least possible.

    It is undeniably true that contemporary right wing “conspiracy theories directed against the government are part of a rhetorical strategy genuinely intended to undermine state power and government authority,” as S. L. Gardner has observed. Yet the narrative of most conspiracist thinking is that the government is controlled by a relatively small secret elite. This fits the general paradigm of scapegoating because despite the actual size of the government and the power of the state, the conspiracists picture a handful of secret elites manipulating behind the scenes—a tiny cabal who would be no match for the sovereign “We The People” mobilized against them.

    Just like in other forms of scapegoating, conspiracists sometimes target people who in fact have significant power and culpability in a given conflict—Wall Street power brokers, corporate magnates, banking industry executives, politicians, government officials—but conspiracists portray these forces in caricature that obscures a rational assessment of their wrongdoing. It is not individual people who have the actual power, but the roles they occupy in social, political, and economic institutions. There are undeniably powerful individuals, but when they die, their power does not evaporate, it redistributes itself to other individuals in similar roles, and to individuals that scramble to inherit the role just vacated.

    No single power bloc, company, family, or individual in a complex modern society wields absolute control, even though there are always systems of control. Wall Street stock brokers are not outsiders deforming an otherwise happy system. As Holly Sklar argues, “the government is manipulated by various elites, often behind the scenes, but these elites are not a tiny secret cabal with omniscience and omnipotence.” There is no secret team...the elites that exist are anything but secret. The government and the economy are not alien forces superimposed over an otherwise equitable and freedom loving society.
    Scapegoating is not only about who is targeted, but also about who is not targeted, and what systems and structures are not being challenged by focusing on the scapegoat. For example, the Federal Reserve is a powerful institution that has made many decisions that primarily benefit the wealthy and corporate interests.

    William Greider’s book Secrets of the Temple describes the Federal Reserve as a significant institution of modern corporate capitalism with bipartisan support. He shows how the legislation traces back to demands by populists to smooth out boom and bust cycles and rapidly fluctuating credit rates that especially victimized farmers. Grieder also discusses the long history of the debate over the wisdom of a central banking system, and how the legislation creating the Federal Reserve was passed in 1913 after a lengthy public debate. There is no antisemitism or conspiracist scapegoating in the Grieder book.

    Compare this sober analysis to the works of G. Edward Griffin, Martin Larson, Antony C. Sutton, or Eustace Mullins. They portray the Federal Reserve as the mechanism by which a tiny evil elite covertly manipulate the economy. They trace its creation to a cabal who met secretly on Georgia’s Jekyll Island and then somehow snuck the legislation through Congress overnight. Anyone with a library card can disprove this malarkey simply by reading microfilmed newspaper accounts of the contentious public debate over the legislation.

    Sutton and Larson overemphasize the role of Jewish bankers, revealing mild antisemitic stereotyping. Mullins actually has two bodies of work. In one set of texts Mullins avoids overt antisemitic language while conspiracist theory of the Federal Reserve and the alleged role of forces tied to the Rothschild banking family. These texts involve implicit antisemitic stereotyping that might be missed by the casual reader unaware of the history of conspiracist antisemitism. In another set of texts Mullins displays vicious hatred of Jews and grotesque antisemitism. In this way Mullins uses his critique of the Federal Reserve to lure people toward his other works where his economic analysis is revealed to be based on naked antisemitism.

    All the authors in this conspiracist genre suggest alien forces use the Federal Reserve to impose their secret agenda on an unwitting population, an analysis that ignores systemic and institutional factors and personalizes the issue in the classic conspiracist paradigm.

    Conspiracist demagogues create for themselves a special status as gatekeepers to secret knowledge, a form of Gnosticism in which they are the high priests. Demagogues uses a variety of emotionally–manipulative propaganda tactics to convince an audience that their assertions have merit. They frequently use standard techniques of the propagandist, and use logical fallacies to assert connections between persons, groups, and events that may not be related at all. Some of the illogical and invalid arguments violate the historic rules of logic including the false ideas that sequence implies causation, association implies guilt, congruence in one aspect implies congruence in all aspects, and that simultaneous action implies prior planning.

    Conspiracists often argue their case by producing a tremendous volume of data, then make sweeping generalizations that imply connections that have not been logically demonstrated.

    All conspiracist theories start with a grain of truth around which is wrapped an attractive luminescent pearl of fiction which distracts attention away from the irrational leaps of conclusion. “Pat Buchanan in his 1996 presidential campaign raised real issues such as the negative effects of NAFTA,” explains Holly Sklar, “but he blamed a mix of real and false causes to suit his demagogic ends.”

    Gates gives another example based on an antisemitic book, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, published by the Nation of Islam:

    “[T]he book massively misrepresents the historical record, largely through a process of cunningly selective quotation of often reputable sources. But its authors could be confident that few of its readers would go to the trouble of actually hunting down the works cited. For if readers actually did so, they might discover a rather different picture.”

    Conspiracist demagogues as orators portray as wisdom what is, in essence, parlor tricks of memorization lubricated with fallacies of logic. While this is a form of charlatanism, it is frequently unconscious. Interviews with numerous conspiracists reveals that even when shown that their logic is flawed, they dismiss the proof as a trick or irrelevant.

    Many authors who reject centrist/extremist theory use power structure research, a systemic methodology that looks at the role of significant institutions, social class, and power blocs in a society. Power structure research has been used by several generations of progressive authors including C. Wright Mills, G. William Domhoff, and Holly Sklar. Some mainstream social scientists, especially those enamored of centrist/extremist theory, have unfairly dismissed radical left critiques of US society as conspiracy theories.

    Power structure research is not inherently conspiracist, but conspiracist pseudo–radical parodies of power structure research abound. Examples include right–wing populist critics such as Gary Allen, Antony Sutton, Bo Gritz, Craig Hulet, and Eustace Mullins. Left–wing populist critics include David Emory, John Judge, and Danny Sheehan of the Christic Institute. Conspiracism tarnishes the artistic work of filmmaker Oliver Stone. A recent book by the respected left analyst Michael Parenti, Dirty Truths, contains a very problematic defense of conspiracism. There are also a plethora of practitioners who have drawn from both the left and the right such as Daniel Brandt and the late Ace Hayes.

    Conspiracism blames individualized and subjective forces for economic and social problems rather than analyzing conflict in terms of systems and structures of power. Conspiracist allegations, therefore, interfere with a serious progressive analysis--an analysis that challenges the objective institutionalized systems of oppression and power, and seeks a radical transformation of the status quo.
    The subjectivist view of conspiracist critics of the status quo is a parody of serious research. To claim, for instance, that the Rockefellers control the world, takes multiple interconnections and complex influences and reduces them to mechanical wire pulling.” As one report critical of right–wing populist conspiracism suggested:

    “There is a vast gulf between the simplistic yet dangerous rhetoric of elite cabals, Jewish conspiracies and the omnipotence of “international finance” and a thoughtful analysis of the deep divisions and inequities in our society.”

    Separating real conspiracies from the exaggerated, non–rational, fictional, lunatic, or deliberately fabricated variety is a problem faced by serious researchers, and journalists. For progressive activists, differentiating between the progressive power structure research and the pseudo–radical allegations of conspiracism is a prerequisite for rebuilding a left analysis of social and political problems.

    The Political Assumptions of

    Radical politics and social analysis have been so effectively marginalized in the US that much of what passes for radicalism is actually liberal reformism with a radical-looking veneer. To claim a link between liberalism and conspiracism may sound paradoxical, because of the conventional centrist/extremist assumption that conspiracist thinking is a marginal, "pathological" viewpoint shared mainly by people at both extremes of the political spectrum. Centrist/extremist theory's equation of the "paranoid right" and "paranoid left" obscures the extent to which much conspiracist thinking is grounded in mainstream political assumptions.

    Consider a message sent through a computer bulletin board for progressive political activists. Following an excerpt from a Kennedy assassination book, which attributed JFK's killing to "the Secret Team--or The Club, as others call it...composed of some of the most powerful and wealthiest men in the United States," the subscriber who posted the excerpt commented,

    “We, the American people, are too apathetic to participate in our own democracy and consequently, we have forfeited our power, guided by our principles, in exchange for an oligarchy ruled by greedy, evil men--men who are neurotic in their insatiable lust for wealth and power....And George Bush is just the tip of the iceberg."

    Scratch the "radical" surface of this statement and you find liberal content. No analysis of the social order, but rather an attack on the "neurotic" and "greedy, evil men" above and the "apathetic" people below. If only we could get motivated and throw out that special interest group, "The Club," democracy would function properly.

    This perspective resembles that of the Christic Institute with its emphasis on the illegal nature of the Iran-Contra network and its appeals to "restore" American democracy. This perspective may also be compared with liberal versions of the "Zionist Lobby" explanation for the United States' massive subsidy of Israel. Supposedly the Lobby's access to campaign funds and media influence has held members of Congress hostage for years. Not only does this argument exaggerate and conflate the power of assorted Jewish and pro-Israel lobbying groups, and play into antisemitic stereotypes about "dual loyalist" Jews pulling strings behind the scenes, but it also lets the US government off the hook for its own aggressive foreign policies, by portraying it as the victim of external "alien" pressure.

    All of these perspectives assume inaccurately that (a) the US political system contains a democratic "essence" blocked by outside forces, and (b) oppression is basically a matter of subjective actions by individuals or groups, not objective structures of power. These assumptions are not marginal, "paranoid" beliefs-they are ordinary, mainstream beliefs that reflect the individualism, historical denial, and patriotic illusions of mainstream liberal thought.

    To a large degree, the left is vulnerable to conspiracist thinking to the extent that it remains trapped in such faulty mainstream assumptions.

    Left wing conspiracists strip away the underlying religious fundamentalism, antisemitism, and economic social Darwinism, and peddle the repackaged product like carnival snake oil salesmen to unsuspecting sectors of the left. Those on the left who only see the antielitist aspects of right-wing populism and claim they are praiseworthy are playing with fire. This is a time for progressives to be wary of attempts by the political right to woo the left. As one anti–racist group warned:

    “Left analysts and activists like Alexander Cockburn who are attracted to one or another point put forward by militia–led groups about  “freedom,” such as the Fully Informed Jury Association . . .need to be aware of the poison pill of racism and anti–semitism covered by that sugar coating.”

    Doug Henwood, editor of Left Business Observer in New York, has commented on the resurgence of fascist ideas around the world. Henwood cited Karl Polanyi’s, The Great Transformation, which listed symptoms for a country infected with fascism, including “the spread of irrationalist philosophies, racialist esthetics, anticapitalist demagogy, heterodox currency views, criticism of the party system, widespread disparagement of the ‘regime,’ or whatever was the name given to the existing democratic set–up.” Henwood writes that “the list is a good description of the political scene in much of the world today—the denunciation of Coca–Cola capitalism by German skinheads, chanted between attacks on Turks and Mozambicans; the racist welfare–baiting of our own demagogues; and ubiquitous, vague, and nihilistic denunciations of ‘the system’ that offer little hope for transformation.”

    Radio host David Barsamian who produces the syndicated Alternative Radio interview series from Boulder, Colorado warns that personalities who harp on conspiracies are providing entertaining confusion rather than helping people focus clearly on complex issues. He says progressives should not fall for “left guruism” where sensational anti–government theories are accepted without any independent critical analysis.

    Barsamian feels some on the left have been “mesmerized by the flawless dramatic presentation” of people such as Daniel Sheehan of the Christic Institute. This demagoguery distracted attention from the “substance of the allegations which don’t all check out.” This created a climate—even a demand—for elaborate conspiracy theories to flourish. Barsamian acknowledges “we all are longing for simple comforting explanations, but by focusing on The Secret Team, or the Medellin Cartel, we ignore the institutions that keep producing the problems.”

    There are differences between US and European right wing populism. Unlike the European countries, capitalism [in the US] did not emerge from feudal society, but rather was imposed abruptly through a special kind of mass colonial conquest. . .primarily the rule of White nationalism.

    In the US the populist vision of cross–class unity is related to the dominant US ideology of classlessness, social mobility, and liberalism in general, but populism tends to break with political orthodoxy by circumventing normal channels and attacking established leadership groups, at least rhetorically. White nationalism has meant (a) the absence of feudal remnants and the pervasiveness of liberal capitalist doctrines and institutions, and (b) a racial caste system that made working–class Euro–Americans part of a socially privileged White collective.

    Progressive conspiracism is an oxymoron. Rejecting the conspiracist analytical model is a vital step in challenging both right-wing populism and fascism. It is important to see anti-elite conspiracism and scapegoating as not merely destructive of a progressive analysis but also as specific techniques used by fascist political movements to provide a radical-sounding left cover for a rightist attack on the status quo. Far from being an aberration or a mere tactical maneuver by rightists, pseudo-radicalism is a distinctive, central feature of fascist and proto-fascist political movements. This is why the early stages of a potentially-fascist movement are often described as seeming to incorporate both leftwing and rightwing ideas.

    In the best of times, conspiracism is a pointless diversion of focus and waste of energy. Conspiracism promotes scapegoating as a way of thinking. Scapegoating in the US is rooted in racism, antisemitism, ethnocentrism, and xenophobia, therefore conspiracism encourages bigotry, even when that is not the intended outcome. In periods of social or economic crisis, populist conspiracism facilitates the spread of fascist and parafascist social movements because they too rely on demagogic scapegoating and conspiracist theories as an organizing tool. Radical-sounding conspiracist critiques of the status quo are the wedge that fascism uses to penetrate and recruit from the left.




    This analysis of apocalyptic demonization and millennialism is drawn primarily from the following sources:
    For apocalypticism: Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1992); Charles B. Strozier, Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994); Stephen O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Robert Fuller, Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Philip Lamy, Millennium Rage: Survivalists, White Supremacists, and the Doomsday Prophecy, (New York: Plenum, 1996); Damian Thompson, The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium. (Great Britain: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996); Richard K. Fenn, The End of Time: Religion, Ritual, and the Forging of the Soul, (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1997).
    For Christian critiques of conspiracist apocalypticism: Gregory S. Camp, Selling Fear: Conspiracy Theories and End–Times Paranoia, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997); Richard Abanes, End-Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon?, (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1998); and Tom Sine, Cease Fire: Searching for Sanity in America’s Culture Wars, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1995).
    For a progressive challenge to apocalyptic thinking: Lee Quinby, Anti–Apocalypse: Exercise in Geneological Criticism, (Minneapolis: Univ. of MN Press, 1994).
    For apocalyptic demonization: Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan, (New York: Vintage, 1996); and Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993); James A. Aho, This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy, (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1994).

    The word apocalypse comes from the Greek, “apokalypsis” which means unveiling hidden information or revealing secret knowledge concerning unfolding human events. The word “revelation” is another way to translate the idea of apokalypsis. Thus, the words “apocalypse,” “revelation,” and “prophecy” are closely related. Prophets, by definition, are apocalyptic. See Tim LaHaye, Revelation: Illustrated and Made Plain, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervon, 1975). p. 9.

    Devout Christians in Salem and other towns sought to expose witches and their allies as conspiring with the Devil. Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, pp. 56–61, 63. Modern scholarship has shown that persons accused of being witches were disproportionately women who did not conform to societal expectations, and that there was frequently an economic dimension to the charge, such as a disputed inheritance. See Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), pp. 46–116.

    Lamy, (1996), pp. 56-59.

    This can be found in a wide range of sources; see: Gerry O’Sullivan, “The Satanism Scare,” Postmodern Culture v.1 n.2 (January, 1991); Jeffrey Victor, “The Search for Scapegoat Deviants,” The Humanist, Sep. /Oct. 1992, pp. 10–13; Leonard Zeskind, “Some Ideas on Conspiracy Theories for a New Historical Period,” in Ward, ed., Conspiracies; Kathleen M. Blee, “Engendering Conspiracy: Women in Rightist Theories and Movements,” in Ward, Conspiracies; Evan Harrington, “Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia: Notes from a Mind–Control Conference,” Skeptical Inquirer, Sept./Oct. 1996, pp. 35–42; Kenneth S. Stern, “Militias and the Religious Right,” Freedom Writer, IFAS, October 1996; Robert M. Price, “Antichrist Superstar and the Paperback Apocalypse: Rapturous Fiction and Fictitious Rapture,” and Nicholas Stix “Apocalypse, Shmapocalypse: You Say You Want a Revolution,” in “On the Millennium,” Deolog, Feb. 1997, online, <>.

    See, for example, Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More, pp. 254-339; Strozier, Apocalypse, pp. 108-129; O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse, pp. 134-193; Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, pp.165-190; Sara Diamond, Not by Politics Alone: The Enduring Influence of the Christian Right, (New York: Guilford Press, 1998), pp. 197-215; Diamond, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right, (Boston: South End Press, 1989), pp. 130-36; Diamond “Political Millennialism within the Evangelical Subculture.” in Charles B Strozier and Michael Flynn, The Year 2000: Essays on the End (New York: New York University Press, 1997); Fred Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 1997), pp. 125–138; Linda Kintz, Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions that Matter in Right–Wing America, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), pp. 8-9, 134-139, 266-267; Didi Herman, The Antigay Agenda: Orthodox Vision and the Christian Right, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 19–24, 35–44, 125–128, 171–172

    Richard Landes, “On Owls, Roosters, and Apocalyptic Time: A Historical Method for Reading a Refractory Documentation,” (Union Seminary Quarterly Review 49:1-2, 1996), pp. 165-185.

    David G. Bromley, “Constructing Apocalypticism,” pp. 31-45; and, Catherine Wessinger, “Millennialism With and Without the Mayhem,” pp. 47-59; both in Thomas Robbins and Susan J. Palmer, eds., Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements, (New York: Routledge, 1997).

    Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970 {1957}).

    Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More, pp. 80-85.

    See generally, Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come.

    Thompson, The End of Time, p. 307.

    The word millennium refers to a span of one thousand years, but also has many deeper meanings. It has come to mean the point at which one period of a thousand years ends and the next begins, and for some this has important religious, social, or political significance. This was certainly the case as the year 2000 approached. All millennial movements are apocalyptic in some sense, even when positive and hopeful; but not all apocalyptic movements are millennial.

    See, for example, Daniel Berrigan, Ezekiel: Vision in the Dust, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997); Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind, (New York: William Morrow, 1996); Camp, Selling Fear.

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