By Taylor Tomlinson
February 23, 2021
People often have a fascination with the unknown. We love science fiction, space travel, mystery novels; we’re obsessed with things we want to understand. The alluring pull for answers leads us on a quest for “the truth”, which can lead to falling down a rabbit hole on the internet. Our searches can lead us somewhere dangerous, in the hands of conspiracy theorists. In a country where the truth can become distorted in layers of bias, hearsay, and increasingly distanced from fact, it’s no surprise that conspiracy theories seem to be making their way into the mainstream.
Conspiracy theorists have a different way of operating as opposed to the scientific method the public has known to trust. To them, you start with the conclusion you want and then look for evidence to support it, not the other way around. This biased researching process often leads to the finger being pointed at one group, in particular, the Jewish population. Anti-Semitism isn’t new, and neither is using Jewish people as a scapegoat for the world’s problems, but the internet and social media have allowed it to manifest itself in new ways. Lying underneath the surface of many conspiracy theories, Anti-Semitism festers and acts as fuel in the war against truth.
QAnon has been a buzzing news topic for the past couple of weeks after many claim that theory fanned the flames for the insurrection at the Capitol. For those who don’t know, QAnon is a far-right conspiracy that champions former president Donald Trump as a savior facing off against, as defined by the New York Times, a “cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.” Before this year, QAnon has lived in the shadows and could be easily ignored. Once insurgents donning QAnon gear stormed the Capitol last month, QAnon posed itself as more than just a foggy theory spouted by lowlifes on a few dark corners of the internet. When alleged former QAnon believer Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia’s 14th District was sworn into office as a House of Representative member, the theory proved it had more of an influence on legislation than ever thought possible.
It’s no surprise that a conspiracy based on a group of people controlling the government and media would have anti-Semitic roots. While QAnon is not explicitly Anti-Semitic in its stated beliefs, the tropes it’s founded on have been used to cause Jewish people harm for centuries. The discourse of a secret community of left-leaning, non-Christians conspiring against a white Protestant isn’t exactly fresh material. Its members have also been known to encrypt anti-Jewish rhetoric in its secret messages. According to Insider, “many Jewish figures, including (George) Soros, have been met with anti-Semitic attacks from the community.” While QAnon, a conspiracy that fosters racist, xenophobic, and anti-truth discussions, having anti-Jewish biases shouldn’t be a shock, it may be a surprise to learn that most Global conspiracy theories have some anti-Semitic roots.
Flat-Earth had a reinvigoration over the past five years. Popularized by internet discourse and social media, “Flat-earthers” believe the Earth is not a spinning ball orbiting the sun, but a stationary surface with the atmosphere hovering above it. This conspiracy has based itself in a primarily Christian support group, with claims of a fixed Earth throughout the Bible. Demonstrated by Psalm 93:1, the Bible states “Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm …” which some Flat-Earthers use to disprove a globed Earth. Flat-Earth also accompanies theories of the space exploration organization NASA coordinating to hoodwink the public about the shape of the Earth. While many consider this theory silly and baseless, few regard this theory as being anti-Semitic. It appears the venn diagram of QAnon supporters and Flat Earthers are closer than many realize.
While the theory of a Flat Earth has inherently nothing to do inherently with anti-Semitic finger-pointing itself, it’s easy to identify similar tropes that run within certain conspiracies. For flat Earth to be even remotely conceivable, it needs to be understood that NASA required thousands of their employees spanning decades to be committed to one lie. During times of political uncertainty, some grow distrustful of government organizations. This sentiment can be felt within the Flat Earth community. When journalist Kelly Weill of the Daily Beast went to the Flat Earth Conference in 2018, she observed a pattern of anti-Semitism among the convention. According to Weil, she noticed “Two tables over, vendors are selling a weighty book on Flat Earth. “Zionist Jews control the educational system,” begins Chapter 33 (“Mind Control”). The second paragraph is a block-quote from the wildly anti-Semitic and fabricated conspiracy text ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, which the Flat Earth author concludes is proof that Jews are trying to hide the Flat Earth, in order to undermine God and control the world.” As Weill points out, religious conspiracies thrive under political chaos, and this pattern can be seen way back during World War I. As people grow fearful of government, and accompanying organizations, such as NASA and the FBI, anti-Jewish fervor can spread as well. The Jewish community is not a new culprit, so it’s no surprise that when Christain ideologies are questioned and political tensions are rising, people find no trouble refusing the scapegoats of the past..
Living in an echo-chamber can have its consequences, and the internet’s “dark alleys” almost always have hidden agendas and are simply trying to push their own narrative. Internet discourse can have real-world effects. According to PR Newswire, “the new FBI Hate Crimes Statistics report found that more than 60% of religious-based hate crimes in 2019 targeted Jews, an increase of 14% over 2018.” Falling down an internet rabbit hole can be exciting, but it’s important to be mindful about where your information comes from. The social media landscape is as dangerous as ever, and in the age of misinformation, personal bias almost always affects the truth. The urge to question the world around us is a good one that can push human progress. However, the rise of conspiracy asks how much questioning can be done until we have to wonder the very basis of fact versus fiction?