Literary plots have long been linked to conspiracy theories, which, in essence, are creations of the imagination. However, these fictional ideas – often created under the guise of making sense of the world around us – can sometimes have very real, even tragic, consequences in our lives, as the author explains.
Professor of American Studies at the University of Manchester, UK, and visiting professor at Leiden University, the Netherlands. He is the author of Conspiracy Culture (2000) and The Kennedy Assassination (2007), and co-editor, with Michael Butter, of the Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories (2020).
Literature has long had a fascination with esoteric knowledge, secret societies and conspiracies – from Euripides’ The Bacchantes to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. By definition, a good conspiracy leaves no trace, and therefore a conspiracy theory is an imaginative speculation about the existence of a secret group behind the scenes that cunningly manipulates events. Conspiracy theories create a narrative that promises to assign meaning to otherwise random events by taking them as part of a vast, overarching plot.
Although many fictions dealing with conspiracies are limited to providing entertainment, sometimes they can have a surprising effect on the real world. For example, the invasion of the Capitol in Washington DC that occurred on January 6, 2021, was partly inspired by The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel permeated with conspiracy ideas that imagines an apocalyptic uprising of white supremacy. This anti-government novel also influenced Timothy McVeigh, who exploded a bomb at a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people.Continue reading “Conspiracy Theories: Connected to Literature”