Recently, a Peruvian criminal court issued an order accusing Bill Gates, George Soros and the Rockefeller family of creating the Covid-19 virus. In the official document, magistrates echoed the conspiracy theory that global corporations and political elites planned the pandemic to control the population through vaccines and establish a “new world order.”
A few days earlier, a group of Donald Trump supporters had violently invaded the United States Capitol, interrupting the session of Congress that was to certify the victory of Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. The emblematic image of the assault was that of of Jacob Anthony Chansley, a man with his face painted and dressed in animal skin and horns.
Chansley calls himself “the shaman” of QAnon, one of the groups that participated in the Capitol invasion. This movement is made up of supporters of a conspiracy theory promoted by the American far right that claims that Trump is leading resistance against an elite of politicians, businessmen and media who profess Satanism and practice pederasty.
Theories like QAnon have mushroomed in Latin America over the past decades. Although it depends on false news mass disseminated via social media, it is presented as “alternative news” and has an increasing impact on political systems, even affecting democratic institutions.
Conspiracies behind historical events
These theories consider secret conspiracies to be at the root of some of the most important events in history and, like fake news, find Internet forums, social media, and instant messaging apps to be ideal channels to broadcast.
It is a phenomenon difficult to define. According to Peter Knight, this can apply to everything from elaborate theories to mere suspicion about hidden plans. Jack Bratich points out that one of the main characteristics of these theories is that they are labeled by society as “conspiratorial” with the intention of marginalizing and rejecting them. This means that their believers tend to bond with each other to seek affirmation of identity in the face of a social majority who disdains their speech.
In recent months, the world has experienced unusual historical events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the start of vaccination to fight the virus or the assault on the United States Capitol. While there have always been conspiratorial assumptions that seek to clarify historical events, in exceptional circumstances like the present one they spread more effectively.
Some of the most recognized theories emerged at critical times such as the French Revolution, the Soviet Revolution, the Crisis of the Twenty-nine, the World Wars, the Cold War, the Kennedy Assassination, the HIV / AIDS pandemic or the 11 September, to name a few. .
Simple explanations like these give emotional tranquility to those who believe in them because they argue that the traumatic events that occur have a planned origin, that is, they are caused intentionally in the structure of ‘a hidden plan and not by factors beyond their control. Moreover, they acquire greater legitimacy when it is the media themselves that give them credibility.
Conspiracy theories in Latin America
In a region as troubled as Latin America, conspiracy theories have played an important role. Those with global impact have coexisted with more indigenous ones, such as one who states that after the Soviet occupation of Germany, Adolf Hitler did not commit suicide, but went into exile in Argentina, or l ‘one of the most recent who claims that former Peruvian President Alan Garcia faked his death to escape justice.
For Mark Fenster, conspiracy theories can be effective in challenging the established order, simplifying complex political and historical events. However, at other times they put the democratic system at risk because they can be used by extremist political groups to defame their rivals, to condition electoral processes or to stigmatize certain ethnocultural, religious or political groups.
As Karl Popper pointed out in “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” political movements with authoritarian or totalitarian tendencies often disseminate these theories as an additional argument to discredit, persecute and suppress the opposition.
These stories of hidden intrigue reinforce in their followers a Manichean view of the world in which a minority (perhaps a political, commercial or media elite, or an ethnocultural or religious group), the “bad guys”, are guilty of conspiring to one way or another against the country or humanity from positions of power, while they, the “good guys”, lead the resistance.
Dictatorships and populists have resorted to conspiracy theories
In Latin America, military dictatorships and populist movements have resorted to conspiracy theories to attack their opponents, dividing society into two competing political fields. In the 1970s, far-right academics in Argentina claimed that Jews had devised a plan to turn Argentine Patagonia into a state similar to Israel.
At the start of the 21st century, the Chavista sectors of Venezuela accused the opposition of conspiring internationally with the United States and Colombia to bring about the assassination of President Hugo Chávez. In 2016, during the plebiscite campaign on the peace accords in Colombia, extremist groups linked to the party of ex-president Álvaro Uribe spread the false theory that the negotiations between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC were a “Castro-Chavismo” maneuver to establish a “gay dictatorship” in the country.
In any case, these theories have been used to indicate who are the enemies of the country and thus legitimize actions aimed at confronting them. As Carlos Malamud underlines, these speeches are not “conspiratorial” because they warn against the presence, sometimes real, of groups which try to interfere in national affairs or to overthrow the established order, but because they are given much greater influence and capacity. than to have it.
2021 is a year marked by many electoral processes in Latin America in which conspiracy theories, global or regional, will play an important role. This is a crucial question, although complex to analyze and difficult to tackle.
Complex to analyze why there is a risk of qualifying dissident speeches as “conspiracy theories” simply because they question the established order. Difficult to fight because those who believe in these types of theories do not do so because they deem them reasonable or true, but because they reinforce a sense of individual or collective belonging to a particular group.
Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima
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