Voodoo Histories

Michael C. Moynihan at Reason Magazine reviews David Aaronovitch’s new book Voodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theory in the Shaping of Modern History.Being interested in conspiricism as a social and psychological phenomenon, I was interested in what the book had top say, and may pick up a copy when I get the chance. From Moynhan’s review:

Aaronovitch demonstrates that there is nothing new, nothing unique, nothing specifically “left” or “right” about those who see dark forces manipulating every world event, every assassination, every war. And while they might be fun to consume—who among us hasn’t watched a documentary alleging cover-ups in New Mexico or pinning the murder of President John F. Kennedy on mafia boss Sam Giancana?—they do great damage, Aaronovitch argues, to our understanding of history.

Aaronovitch revisits and debunks, with wit and in meticulous detail, some of the 20th century’s most stubbornly persistent conspiracies—the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Soviet purge trials, the various theories regarding American complicity in the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s “conspiracy so immense,” the murders of JFK and RFK, the death of Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, and the obscure-to-American-readers anti-nuclear campaigner Hilda Murrell.


Though he avoids mentioning the red thread of anti-Semitism, it is distressing how frequently shadow governments, secret religious orders, and the ubiquitous “false flag” terror attack lead right back to the ubiquitous Jews. Aaronovitch might have mentioned the case of Kevin Barrett, a former University of Wisconsin professor of Islamic Studies, who is not only a prominent 9/11 denier, but has also questioned whether the Holocaust was simply a cleverly constructed Zionist plot. When Wellesley College African-American studies Professor Tony Martin was criticized for his shoddy research and bizarre Afrocentric pedagogy, he released a book called Jewish Onslaught, blaming his troubles on an international Zionist conspiracy. (Unsurprisingly, Martin later appeared at Holocaust denier David Irving’s “Real History” conference).

Martin and Barrett were both professors at prestigious American universities. And this is the great takeaway from Voodoo Histories. It is not, Aaronovitch argues, the plebs and the racists and the obvious nutters that promulgate these bizarre and provably false theories. The consumers might be marginalized figures, but often times the producers are not. The 9/11 conspiracists are members of parliament, former ambassadors and government ministers, celebrities, movie stars, poets, academics, and musicians. As Aaronivitch points out, one academic 9/11 denier “received standing ovations from some of America’s best-educated people.”


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