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Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power

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A riveting tour through the landscape and meaning of modern conspiracy theories, exploring the causes and tenacity of this American malady, from Birthers to Pizzagate and beyond. American society has always been fertile ground for conspiracy theories, but with the election of Donald Trump, previously outlandish ideas suddenly attained legitimacy. Trump himself is a conspira A riveting tour through the landscape and meaning of modern conspiracy theories, exploring the causes and tenacity of this American malady, from Birthers to Pizzagate and beyond. American society has always been fertile ground for conspiracy theories, but with the election of Donald Trump, previously outlandish ideas suddenly attained legitimacy. Trump himself is a conspiracy enthusiast: from his claim that global warming is a Chinese hoax to the accusations of “fake news,” he has fanned the flames of suspicion. But it was not by the power of one man alone that these ideas gained new power. Republic of Lies looks beyond the caricatures of conspiracy theorists to explain their tenacity. Without lending the theories validity, Anna Merlan gives a nuanced, sympathetic account of the people behind them, across the political spectrum, and the circumstances that helped them take hold. The lack of a social safety net, inadequate education, bitter culture wars, and years of economic insecurity have created large groups of people who feel forgotten by their government and even besieged by it. Our contemporary conditions are a perfect petri dish for conspiracy movements: a durable, permanent, elastic climate of alienation and resentment. All the while, an army of politicians and conspiracy-peddlers has fanned the flames of suspicion to serve their own ends. Bringing together penetrating historical analysis and gripping on-the-ground reporting, Republic of Lies transforms our understanding of American paranoia.


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A riveting tour through the landscape and meaning of modern conspiracy theories, exploring the causes and tenacity of this American malady, from Birthers to Pizzagate and beyond. American society has always been fertile ground for conspiracy theories, but with the election of Donald Trump, previously outlandish ideas suddenly attained legitimacy. Trump himself is a conspira A riveting tour through the landscape and meaning of modern conspiracy theories, exploring the causes and tenacity of this American malady, from Birthers to Pizzagate and beyond. American society has always been fertile ground for conspiracy theories, but with the election of Donald Trump, previously outlandish ideas suddenly attained legitimacy. Trump himself is a conspiracy enthusiast: from his claim that global warming is a Chinese hoax to the accusations of “fake news,” he has fanned the flames of suspicion. But it was not by the power of one man alone that these ideas gained new power. Republic of Lies looks beyond the caricatures of conspiracy theorists to explain their tenacity. Without lending the theories validity, Anna Merlan gives a nuanced, sympathetic account of the people behind them, across the political spectrum, and the circumstances that helped them take hold. The lack of a social safety net, inadequate education, bitter culture wars, and years of economic insecurity have created large groups of people who feel forgotten by their government and even besieged by it. Our contemporary conditions are a perfect petri dish for conspiracy movements: a durable, permanent, elastic climate of alienation and resentment. All the while, an army of politicians and conspiracy-peddlers has fanned the flames of suspicion to serve their own ends. Bringing together penetrating historical analysis and gripping on-the-ground reporting, Republic of Lies transforms our understanding of American paranoia.

30 review for Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    I never do this, but here is the first sentence of Republic of Lies: “In January 2015, I spent the longest, queasiest week of my life on a cruise ship filled with conspiracy theorists.” SOLD! Anna Merlan has put herself through a brain-exploding experience to tell us about the astounding variety of lies Americans tell about themselves and their country. It’s a whirlwind tour of conspiracies, hate, ideology, religion, UFOs, and politics. They are all urgent matters. The nation is at risk. Time is I never do this, but here is the first sentence of Republic of Lies: “In January 2015, I spent the longest, queasiest week of my life on a cruise ship filled with conspiracy theorists.” SOLD! Anna Merlan has put herself through a brain-exploding experience to tell us about the astounding variety of lies Americans tell about themselves and their country. It’s a whirlwind tour of conspiracies, hate, ideology, religion, UFOs, and politics. They are all urgent matters. The nation is at risk. Time is running out. To Merlan’s point (and book title), Americans have very good reason to suspect conspiracy. American governments and government agencies have a horrific history of conspiring against citizens and lying about it. The FBI under J.E. Hoover sent a blackmail letter to Martin Luther King Jr, instructing him to commit suicide lest his sexual history be exposed. The Freedom of Information Act has led to whole volumes of FBI files being made public, showing it had files and actively interfered in the lives of innocuous groups and individuals. The FBI admits its COINTELPRO program was designed to insert disinformation into various organizations in the hope they would spin out of control. Similarly, agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration are known to have given informants kilos of cocaine as payment or incentive. There was warrantless wiretapping exposed by Edward Snowden. The CIA experimented on the unknowing with LSD, plutonium and syphilis. So Americans come by the conspiracies legitimately. What you sow, so shall ye reap, someone once said. Americans are highly trained conspiracists. The government sterilized the feeble-minded (ie. blacks), incarcerated the homeless after Louisiana floods, and routinely classifies everything Top Secret. Most recently, government agencies have taken to seeding protest marches and demonstrations with thugs who start fights and riot in the streets to discredit the efforts. So yes, there is reason to suspect conspiracy. Into this atmosphere comes social media, the ideal incubator for conspiracy theories. The result is a huge overreaction of conspiracies like false flag accusations. In false flag, absolutely anything that happens can be construed as a government act to scare people, or prepare them for military occupation, a coup, or some loss of rights. So massacres at schools, night clubs and churches never actually happened. No one actually died. They’re all false flag scare tactics. Like astronauts landing on the moon, it was all staged for somebody’s advantage. On social media, this appeals to millions to disbelieve their own eyes, in preference for a conspiracy theory. Americans have a decided preference for child molestation and slavery conspiracies. They see it everywhere. They suspect it of the “elite” and lowly pizzerias. I remember the Wenatchee child molestation trials, where the complete lack of physical evidence was successfully submitted at trial as proof of guilt, because nothing could be that free of evidence. Merlan devotes a chapter to the epidemic, focused on Pizzagate, which nearly turned into a genuine tragedy when someone took it all as real. Possibly the most revolting part of the book is these followers’ harassment of the victims of massacres. They have attacked surviving students of the Parkland School and gone after the parents of children killed at Sandy Hook. They demand proof the murdered ever existed. They doxx the survivors. They find and circulate drivers’ licenses, social security numbers and other personal data so more followers can harass and attack them with demands and death threats. Sending threatening e-mails to one parent’s lawyer causes a bill to be generated: a quarter hour for each one received. An interesting way to bankrupt someone. It puts survivors in a double jeopardy having to deal with grief and then also being attacked for good measure. Not responding is no solution either, as the attackers assume that is proof they are hiding something. It is ruining the lives of many undeserving victims. The perpetrators remain largely anonymous and shielded. What all the causes, cults and movements seem to have in common is they are operated for and by white male Christians. Merlan is Jewish (not to mention a woman) and has reported on highly charged racist gatherings where white male Christians gather to promote the removal and/or death of Jews. She routinely reveals her religion to her interlocutors, which results in backpedaling and diversions like “Well, it’s complicated” or “You’re a very beautiful woman.” The most valuable service performed by Republic of Lies is the sheer variety of nonsense underway. There is a conspiracy for every topic and every event. There are followers for all of them. It is a much bigger sickness than a simple day of Fox News would demonstrate. There is also far more of it than I realized. Merlan describes a number of political conspiracies I had not known of, but which have thousands of adherents. And newly minted celebrities. The quickest path to celebrity in America seems to be by conspiracy theory. Whoever makes it up becomes the greatest authority on it, and is legitimized by the media interviewing them and profiling them. Very often, they seem to be losers, with criminal pasts and no future. Their conspiracy theories boost them into fame and a new direction in their failing lives. She profiles a number of them, and they tend to come off as rather pathetic. They eat their own too, constantly infighting, breaking apart and creating new groups. As one participant memorably described them: “We have a circular firing squad of everyone telling everyone else they are the opposition.” It has made the USA a paranoid laugh riot. David Wineberg

  2. 5 out of 5

    Susan (aka Just My Op)

    I received an advance copy of this book through a LibraryThing giveaway. “In January 2015, I spent the longest, queasiest week of my life on a cruise ship filled with conspiracy theorists.” The interesting first sentence of this book couldn't help but draw me in, and began her tales of her time on the “Conspira-Sea Cruise." It took much much too long to read this book. The lesser reason is because I have a hard time reading paper books. The greater reason is I could handle only a little of this a I received an advance copy of this book through a LibraryThing giveaway. “In January 2015, I spent the longest, queasiest week of my life on a cruise ship filled with conspiracy theorists.” The interesting first sentence of this book couldn't help but draw me in, and began her tales of her time on the “Conspira-Sea Cruise." It took much much too long to read this book. The lesser reason is because I have a hard time reading paper books. The greater reason is I could handle only a little of this at a time. The author covers a lot of conspiracy theories, and some of them (think Watergate) were proven true. Our government, with some of the unconscionable experiments it has done in the past, can engender conspiracy theories. But some of them are so outrageous, so blatantly false, that you have to wonder why people believe them. The author did try to explain that to my satisfaction, but not entirely. So much of it seems driven by hate, by conflicting views of feeling superior at the same time as needing to feel someone is lesser because of (choose whatever option of many here). Some are harmless. Some are not only continuing to divide this country but are deadly. I can't imagine the survivors and parents of Sandy Hook must feel when they hear that they did not exist at all or that they are simply actors. Some of these theories are believed by incredibly gullible or naive people who will not look beyond their biased “news” sources. And some of the people starting these theories just want to make money. Despicable. While most of these are right-wing theories or the tin-foil hat set, the left is not immune, as with “Russiagate.” Some of the theories might have some degree of truth to them, but most are made of whole cloth. In these days of social media, the hatred, the lies, the paranoia easily becomes viral. This is an interesting book for anyone who cares about the direction our world, and especially the US, is headed.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I bought this book on the strength of one of Merlan's tweets, which for me encapsulated 2017. What does the concept of "today" mean when every day lasts for 5,000 years and contains dozens of the dumbest things that have ever occurred— Anna Merlan (@annamerlan) May 16, 2017 The weak side of this book is that it recounts conspiracy-related beliefs and internecine quarrels that I have, for the most part, already read about. I know about the white supremacist who had an affair with his wife's stepfat I bought this book on the strength of one of Merlan's tweets, which for me encapsulated 2017. What does the concept of "today" mean when every day lasts for 5,000 years and contains dozens of the dumbest things that have ever occurred— Anna Merlan (@annamerlan) May 16, 2017 The weak side of this book is that it recounts conspiracy-related beliefs and internecine quarrels that I have, for the most part, already read about. I know about the white supremacist who had an affair with his wife's stepfather's wife and how InfoWars and Goop are sourcing their woo-filled pseudomedical products from the same places and the Pizzagate people who are convinced that abuse is occurring in the basement of a building that does not have a basement. If you've been reading about all these stories all along, it weakens the rationale for picking up this book. The strong side is that Merlan does pull out some fresher themes. One is that, given all the terrible things the government has done (especially to black folks) and tried to cover up, it's not insane to believe some of these theories. Another is that some conspiracies are now fueled by what she calls "conspiracy entrepreneurs," which may not be a new thing but is certainly more effective in the Internet Age. Sobering for the library crowd is the habit of conspiracy believers to say that they were awoken after having "researched" a matter, or urging others to "do some research" to learn the truth--where "research" apparently means to Google and watch some nutty YouTube videos. A parallel notion of how discover the truth appears to be solidifying out there on the Internet. Finally, she ends the book with an exploration of wishful-thinking liberal Twitter, where people (people I have long since muted) try to convince each other that a massive, clearcut Russia plot is about to be revealed, leading to a decisive impeachment movement. If you were tempted to laugh at the conspiracy theorists in the earlier chapters, this is a sobering antidote.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I know far too many people who desperately need to read this book but never will.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Martha Toll

    Here’s my review of this book on NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/04/20/715211...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    I admire anonymously the monumental efforts like those of people at Media Matters, who endure hours upon hours of the likes of Fox News so that the sane of us don't have to watch to see what nonsense is being spewed at any given instance. And then there is Ms. Merlan, who takes such to extremes, diving into the belly of so many beasts to write this she has to have brain bleach on autorefill. Hat's off and bravo. There have always been conspiracists and their theories - whacky, out there, unreal. I admire anonymously the monumental efforts like those of people at Media Matters, who endure hours upon hours of the likes of Fox News so that the sane of us don't have to watch to see what nonsense is being spewed at any given instance. And then there is Ms. Merlan, who takes such to extremes, diving into the belly of so many beasts to write this she has to have brain bleach on autorefill. Hat's off and bravo. There have always been conspiracists and their theories - whacky, out there, unreal. I semi-argued in frustration with someone some years ago who thought the feed from the International Space Station was faked, as was the moon landing (it was faked, of course, by Stanley Kubrick, but he always liked to shoot on location ;) ). Sadly, she wasn't the only person I've known who believed that mind-boggling gem, and I know anti-vaxxers, some who think fluoride is poison brainwashing, and a few Deep Staters and birthers just for starters. The fallout from 2016 is alarming enough that when I saw this, I requested and was sent an Advance Reader's Edition from the publisher through LibraryThing. Ms. Merlan calls this "a surreal time", where the subcultures she writes about are "achieving a hallucinatory new level of fame." In the western hemisphere, conspiracies have been around since the Euro-occupants (my term) got here. She saysConspiracy theories tend to flourish especially at times of rapid social change, when we're reevaluating ourselves and, perhaps, facing uncomfortable questions in the process. In 1980, the civil liberties lawyer and author Frank Donner wrote that conspiracism reveals a fundamental insecurity about who Americans want to be versus who we are.Well, one need only look to religions to see the same thing. She's got a lot here, from the usual Pizzagate & UFOs to Agenda 21 and the kingpin, Alex Jones, medical conspiracies, mind control, Deep State, white nationalists, to the heinous false flaggers (the abuse and harassment the parents of the victims of the so, so many mass school shootings is heart-rending) who think that anything is a government action and government cover up. She's attended conventions, rallies, interviewed the more famous of the various conspiracy adherents...she even spent a week on a "cruise ship filled with conspiracy theorists."!! Yes, there is a Conspira-Sea Cruise! I love her discard of restraint when she calls out the perpetrators: on a manufactured conspiracy around a tragic unsolved murder, rumors and BS were "spurred by the biggest conspiracy megaphone there is: Fox News, specifically Sean Hannity, the network's biggest Trump defender." On the real conspiracy of Russians trying to draw the T campaign into its meddling, she says, "we know this because we had the deeply idiotic emails between Trump son-in-chief Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin..." When Ted Cruz, on his first senatorial run, said on Glenn Beck's (another serial offender) radio show to cry about Agenda 21 he warned that it would end single-family homes, ranching, private cars, ... She says, "that's not a flase flag; it's just very, very stupid. (So stupid that the national Republican Party put an anti-Agenda 21 plank in their national platform...) Double slam in one paragraph. And in response to the too little too late semi/pseudo controls of the Facebbok, iTunes, Pinterests, etc. and the really too little and way too late Twit-ter, And surely, in part, some of these services are hamstrung by a grim, darkly funny logical endpoint: Trump is the best-known political figure on earth to use social media to spread conspiracy theories. Any banning policy would, in the end, have to cover him, too.Yep. Of course, the Twit-ter lets him violate their abuse policies incessantly, so don't hold any breaths. Sometimes the paranoia is too comical: some of the false flaggers even accuse the grand poobah Alex Jones of being a false flag! A government plant spreading hoaxes as real (but their hoaxes are not hoaxes, if you will.) She calls to task Joesph Uscinski, coauthor of American Conspiracy Theories who said"I mean, they were burning women at the stake four hundred years ago, long before the Internet Facebook didn't tell them to do it." He points out, too, that the number of people who visit conspiracy sites is far lower than those who visit non-conspiratorial, traditional news sites. "There's tons of everything on the Internet," he said. "When I put in the words 'duck confit recipe,' I get half a million recipes. But nobody's racing home to cook duck confit. Just because it's there doesn't mean anyone cares. The things people look at are things they're predisposed to look." Uscinski's position doesn't take into account the role of social media, however. Through Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, more and more people who might not be predisposed to reading about the Clinton body count or pedophiles in the pizza parlor will nevertheless run across tha content.Nailed it. And she continued: "More important, Facebook and Twitter have a way of flattening information, making every source look the same or appear equally plausible." There lies a problem with our anti-social media...they feed, we can skip, but not unsee. In her epilogue, she has a sobering observation that there "are no brakes available. There is no mechanism to prevent another Edgar Welch storming into a pizza parlor or another James Field getting behind the wheel, speeding toward Heather Heyer."Countering an idea that has taken root is incredibly hard. Studies suggest that trying to argue someone out of a conspiratorial belief does not work, likening conspiracy theories to religious faith, which helps us see how they can be similarly fixed in the mind.So true. She also observes that we cannot just label something as fake and turn away, because "millions of people across the country are not doing the same." Take one look at a certain "News" Channels ratings and you'll see what she means (my words.)She quotes reporter Sarah Jones, writing for the New RepublicThe alternative is to allow conservative propaganda to fester. An impenetrable bloc of voters will continue to blame Latinos for their woes, to ignore basic facts that are staring them in the face, to trumpet American exceptionalism while neo-Nazis roam the streets, and to look to a strongman in their image to save them. We will have an unfree country, ruled by fear, and if we do not act we will bear some of the responsibility." Too much to summarize, read the book. Or don't. The best way to arm oneself against stupidity is too learn about. Read Ms. Jones's point again. [On the overall book, one problem I had was the sourcing, or lack, of a lot quoted material. There was a ten page list of sources in my copy, and no index, but no citations. And the list seemed incomplete. I noticed because I was trying to figure out where one part of a thread came from and didn't see anything in the end list of sources.] ​

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    We're all familiar by now with the fact that the poor, disenfranchised and undereducated are prone to believing in conspiratorial theories and driven by grandiose fantasies of nefarious forces colluding against them. If those people aren't in our immediate families, they're at least visible enough on our social network feeds that we're aware they exist. And, while it's been easy to ignore these people and mock their backward, peasant-like ignorance, it's all become less funny now that they're sh We're all familiar by now with the fact that the poor, disenfranchised and undereducated are prone to believing in conspiratorial theories and driven by grandiose fantasies of nefarious forces colluding against them. If those people aren't in our immediate families, they're at least visible enough on our social network feeds that we're aware they exist. And, while it's been easy to ignore these people and mock their backward, peasant-like ignorance, it's all become less funny now that they're shooting up public places, bringing back previous-vanquished illnesses and, worst of all, electing leaders every bit as delusional as they are. This is ground that's been covered extensively in books, articles and documentary films, but Anna Merlan's Republic of Lies is more than just a simple retread of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History or The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. For one thing, Merlan has the advantage of writing this book in the wake of the 2016 Election, the apotheosis of batshit conspiratorial thinking. She can reference phenomena like Pizzagate or QAnon, occurrences so outlandish previous writers on this topic could never have envisioned them. Beyond that, what Merlan really does well is look past the believers of conspiracies themselves--people to whom she's surprisingly kind (often too much so for my taste) in her portrayal--and focusing instead on the assorted hucksters, con artists, flimflam men, etc. getting really rich and successful from stoking fear and spreading division: people like Alex Jones, Mike Cernovich and, of course, Donald Trump. Merlan's analysis raises the question of whether these people are true believers or cynical opportunists. Merlan has previously written for the publication Jezebel, but she employs little of that site's trademark snark or intentional mischaracterization of alternative viewpoints here. Instead, she immerses herself with the various anti-vaxxers, false flag "researchers" and alien abduction enthusiasts. It's great analysis: timely, well-written and, as much as possible, balanced. She's skilled at contextualizing even the craziest of viewpoints and referencing moments of actual conspiracies that really happened in American history. At the same time, she follows the obvious thread linking nearly all conspiracy theories and subgroups of believers: antisemitism and white supremacy. All in all, it's a clear and exhaustive exploration.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Corgel

    This is really, really good. It explores the reasons why Americans are given to conspiracies and why it is important to recognize their importance in the current discourse. The chapters all run on themes, from Medical conspiracies (which she points out has some historical precedence, especially for African Americans), to Military, and to UFOs. It's all tied into the overarching theme I stated above. She bravely goes into the rallies, conferences, and other places where she is often not welcomed This is really, really good. It explores the reasons why Americans are given to conspiracies and why it is important to recognize their importance in the current discourse. The chapters all run on themes, from Medical conspiracies (which she points out has some historical precedence, especially for African Americans), to Military, and to UFOs. It's all tied into the overarching theme I stated above. She bravely goes into the rallies, conferences, and other places where she is often not welcomed to see what people are talking about. It's not biased; how can it be when she is talking to people who think that her religious group are responsible for the ills of the planet? But she keeps an even tone, a monumental task, I feel. I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it could easily be longer - and enjoyed that it shows why conspiracy culture is relevant, and how it can be so disruptive, even if most people think the conspiracy is harmless.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Glenda

    If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of conspiracy theories, from beliefs in UFOs to anti-Vaccination conspiracies, “Republic of Lies” will bring you closer to understanding why seemingly thoughtful people from myriad political spectrums get caught up in conspiratorial movements. Particularly interesting is the author’s research into the lies our own government has spread in the past and how the past fuels current beliefs in conspiracies.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christian

    An excellent read about the mainstreaming of conspiracy theory in American culture and (more disconcertingly) American politics.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Maritza Soto

    Great book! Thoroughly researched and well written. I enjoyed the author’s writing style, especially the bits were her wry humor peeked out amidst places, names, facts and theories.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    America has had conspiracies as long as it has existed but with rise of a "birther" as president, conspiracies and conspiracy theories that were once rightly dismissed as crackpots and crackpot ideas are normalized. This book gives nice explanations of conspiracy culture even if it is demoralizing to read and think about the future of our country and the truth tellers.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brandt

    Paranoid much? In the wake of the release of the (redacted) Mueller report Anna Merlan (blogger for the feminist site Jezebel) has released a book about the prevalence of conspiracy theorists and how they seem to be everywhere in today's political climate. Begun as Merlan's attempt to cover the "Conspira-Sea" boat cruise for the aforementioned Jezebel (this is the sort of thing that Jezebel and related sites published by Gizmodo Media like to cover and mock), it snowballed when Merlan realized ju Paranoid much? In the wake of the release of the (redacted) Mueller report Anna Merlan (blogger for the feminist site Jezebel) has released a book about the prevalence of conspiracy theorists and how they seem to be everywhere in today's political climate. Begun as Merlan's attempt to cover the "Conspira-Sea" boat cruise for the aforementioned Jezebel (this is the sort of thing that Jezebel and related sites published by Gizmodo Media like to cover and mock), it snowballed when Merlan realized just how many people actually believe in conspiracy theories. It would be one thing if Merlan just used this book to reveal a bevy of conspiracy theories and the subcultures they have spawned. Such a book would no doubt be interesting, because some of these theories are batshit crazy. But Merlan goes many extra miles here--explaining the historical context behind why people might take these theories seriously (an example: the anti-vaxxing movement has its origins in some morally dubious experiments performed on minorities, prisoners and the generally dispossessed during the 20th century) and also exploring the idea that these theories are dangerous until they aren't--the fact that anti-vaxxing is a thing is causing public health crises not just in the United States, but worldwide. In addition, Merlan focuses on another insidious side-effect of conspiracy theories--for those gullible enough to believe, there are hucksters ready to pounce and profit. While bloviating shithead Alex Jones is brought up frequently, it turns out there are armies of these snake oil salesmen taking advantage. While some of these con men get their comeuppance, Jones and Donald Trump (among others) haven't received their just due yet. Merlan is able to provide us with scientific studies as to why people believe in conspiracy theories (it's more akin to religious belief than anything else) and also the context of how fear and a feeling of powerlessness enter into the equation. White supremacy makes some small amount of sense when you understand that those who espouse its disgusting philosophies have bought into the lie that the reason they don't have jobs is because of Mexicans, African-Americans and Jews and they feel like their government doesn't do anything to help. This does not by any means excuse the white supremacists (they're assholes) but it does help to understand why someone who tread that path, and without understanding, we as a nation won't be able to solve the cause of the disease rather than the symptoms. Merlan has some suggestions for creating a society that does not invest so heavily in conspiracy theories, but these sorts of common sense ideas (fairer elections, less "dark money" in the political process, etc) are much to radical for anyone to adopt. Perhaps that's the biggest conspiracy of them all?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jo Stafford

    A CIA-operated elevator that transports people to Mars? So-called chemtrails dropped from planes in order to weaken the populace? Agents of the Deep State drugging Donald Trump by spiking his Diet Coke? Some folks believe all kinds of things. To bring us this survey of contemporary conspiracy theorists, Anna Merlan rubbed shoulders with UFOlogists, attended a gathering of white supremacists, and covered a rally of Pizzagate true believers. The results of her foray into the world of conspiracism a A CIA-operated elevator that transports people to Mars? So-called chemtrails dropped from planes in order to weaken the populace? Agents of the Deep State drugging Donald Trump by spiking his Diet Coke? Some folks believe all kinds of things. To bring us this survey of contemporary conspiracy theorists, Anna Merlan rubbed shoulders with UFOlogists, attended a gathering of white supremacists, and covered a rally of Pizzagate true believers. The results of her foray into the world of conspiracism are both eye-opening and disturbing, as she describes the corrosive effects of conspiracy beliefs on public discourse and the body politic. Anyone who doubts that conspiracy theorists can cause damage needs to read Merlan's accounts of the incessant harassment visited upon some of the parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting and the family of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich or take note of recent outbreaks of measles in the wake of the spread of anti-vaccination activism. Republic of Lies does more than provide an overview of conspiracy theories. Merlan places these belief systems in historical context and examines the factors that give rise to them. This is a well-researched, informative and timely book. In order to combat conspiracy theories, we must first understand their appeal.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dale

    A comprehensive stroll through America’s predilection for mass conspiratorial ideation. Merlan strings together a series of vignettes that range from absurd to terrifying. Her focus on the real-life victims of conspiracists is well done. My problem with this book is that it seems content to gawk and scoff at conspiracy weirdos, but has no underlying theory as to the cause of this phenomenon en masse. There is an attempt to tie things together in the epilogue, but, even there, the focus is on fig A comprehensive stroll through America’s predilection for mass conspiratorial ideation. Merlan strings together a series of vignettes that range from absurd to terrifying. Her focus on the real-life victims of conspiracists is well done. My problem with this book is that it seems content to gawk and scoff at conspiracy weirdos, but has no underlying theory as to the cause of this phenomenon en masse. There is an attempt to tie things together in the epilogue, but, even there, the focus is on fighting the symptoms, not diagnosing the illness. There is no genuine examination of the tendency of people who are unable to pinpoint the locus of their real or perceived social alienation, economic precarity, and/or declining status to seek reassurance in narratives that transfer blame to shadowy forces beyond their control, instead of reckoning with the banal and obvious material explanations behind their misery. A drunken podcaster once said, “conspiracy thinking is what fills the space that’s left where class consciousness should be.” I’d argue that this space is left unfilled in this book as well.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    I bought this because I enjoy Anna's conspiracy reporting, especially the conspiracy cruise, and the book didn't disappoint. Each chapter covers a different conspiracy, focusing on more current/popular ones, such as anti-vaxxers, sovereign citizens, neo-nazis, and lots more. Even for someone who is pretty aware (unfortunately) of random internet theories and conspiracies, I found new information and was horrified/entertained by a lot of the in person anecdotes with various conspiracy theorists. I bought this because I enjoy Anna's conspiracy reporting, especially the conspiracy cruise, and the book didn't disappoint. Each chapter covers a different conspiracy, focusing on more current/popular ones, such as anti-vaxxers, sovereign citizens, neo-nazis, and lots more. Even for someone who is pretty aware (unfortunately) of random internet theories and conspiracies, I found new information and was horrified/entertained by a lot of the in person anecdotes with various conspiracy theorists. I was also impressed that she took the time to provide historical context for some of the conspiracies which helped me understand how people might come to believe these conspiracies. It is clear she has empathy for these people, but doesn't shy away from criticizing their anti-semitic, racist beliefs as well. Definitely recommend taking breaks between chapters periodically because the whole book is A LOT.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    I received an ARC from the Publisher and NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. I've been following Anna Merlan's writing on conspiracy groups at Jezebel and the Gizmodo Special Projects Desk for a few years, and it's consistently great - providing historical context where appropriate, reporting things as they are, and providing a critical eye in exactly the right places. This book does a great job of applying this eye to the conspiracy theorists that have seemed to be on the rise since the 201 I received an ARC from the Publisher and NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. I've been following Anna Merlan's writing on conspiracy groups at Jezebel and the Gizmodo Special Projects Desk for a few years, and it's consistently great - providing historical context where appropriate, reporting things as they are, and providing a critical eye in exactly the right places. This book does a great job of applying this eye to the conspiracy theorists that have seemed to be on the rise since the 2016 election, and puts a lot of the actions they've taken in context, reaching as far back as the Oklahoma City bombing (where Alex Jones got his rise) and going all the way through the Russiagate accusations floating around now. This is incisive, points to why we keep seeing these pop up, and helped me keep all of this in context.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Interesting romp through American conspiracy theory groups. Some of them are frightening. Most of them are absurd. All of them have benefited from having an idiot in the White House. The author soo easily dismisses the idea that the FBI and CIA and Whitehouse worked to use drug distribution in black communities as a way to set them up for arrests and incarceration. Recent revelations about the Nixon/Reagan efforts to do just that suggest that it isn't a theory. Most distressing is the conclusion Interesting romp through American conspiracy theory groups. Some of them are frightening. Most of them are absurd. All of them have benefited from having an idiot in the White House. The author soo easily dismisses the idea that the FBI and CIA and Whitehouse worked to use drug distribution in black communities as a way to set them up for arrests and incarceration. Recent revelations about the Nixon/Reagan efforts to do just that suggest that it isn't a theory. Most distressing is the conclusion that there is little that can be done to prevent the crazies from multiplying. Media literacy training beginning in elementary school may be the only way... though that becomes a mind control conspiracy of its own.

  19. 4 out of 5

    SpaceBear

    Merlan's book discusses dominant conspiracy theories in the US, including 9-11 trutherism, the controversy about Obama's birth certificate, Sandy Hook, and especially "pizzagate" (the conspiracy that leading US politicians are running a secret pedophile ring). Although the author's assertions about conspiracy theories being used to bring a new political group to power risk sounding conspiratorial themselves, overall, the discussion of the various conspiracy theories is interesting enough to make Merlan's book discusses dominant conspiracy theories in the US, including 9-11 trutherism, the controversy about Obama's birth certificate, Sandy Hook, and especially "pizzagate" (the conspiracy that leading US politicians are running a secret pedophile ring). Although the author's assertions about conspiracy theories being used to bring a new political group to power risk sounding conspiratorial themselves, overall, the discussion of the various conspiracy theories is interesting enough to make this book an enjoyable read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    J.O. Teague

    Informative and well written book. Merlan not only describes the theories and the people who promulgate them, she explains historical precedents and memes that led to such misunderstandings and how the secretive tendencies of governments help promote them. I just talked to an intelligent young man who was leaning towards the belief that twelve foot aliens and the Jewish World Order were involved with the JFK assassination. Merlan explains all three conspiracies and a host more.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Maness

    Good book. I like that she’s appropriately crucial of conspiracy theories, but that she also shows that they can be understood (at least to begin as) as more and less rational responses to a society characterized by inequality, injustice, secrecy, and an increasing sense of powerlessness, despair, and loneliness.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlin Ugolik

    I learned a ton from this book and particularly enjoyed the author’s ability to wink at the reader amusingly while also showing empathy for her subjects. Will be buying copies for some wacky relatives :)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Emily Rice

    Extremely good. Not just a rundown on wtf these people are talking about, which is so necessary, but a really good explanation of the context conspiracy theories develop in and how they’re weaponized! Scary!!!! But also essential.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    This is a good primer for conspiracy theories in the US. Since I generally try to avoid them, I found this book to be very enlightening.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Addi

    I might mostly align with the politics of the author but don't quite understand the weight of their argument in this book or what it may mean for understanding our contemporary conjuncture.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    Fun to read; a little unfocused.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Learned a lot about the roots of conspiracy theories in the US and the origins of the ones we're saddled with today. Well worth the read if you're looking to give your bullshit detector a tuneup.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Hal Johnson

    This book is pretty good, but also weird because it seems to be trying to brand itself as compassionate to conspiracy theorists, and not just snarkily making fun of them (as we tend to do); but Merlan can’t stop zinging her true bogeyman, viz. the set of anyone to the right of her on the political spectrum. It’s so nonstop that even when I agree with her the dissonance can be jarring. Just one example out of many: When Anna Merlan mentions that one conspiracist looks like “a sister-wife in a sun This book is pretty good, but also weird because it seems to be trying to brand itself as compassionate to conspiracy theorists, and not just snarkily making fun of them (as we tend to do); but Merlan can’t stop zinging her true bogeyman, viz. the set of anyone to the right of her on the political spectrum. It’s so nonstop that even when I agree with her the dissonance can be jarring. Just one example out of many: When Anna Merlan mentions that one conspiracist looks like “a sister-wife in a sunny fundamentalist fantasy” (p162)—well, the average fundamentalist would doubtless be surprised to learn that polygamy is a fundamentalist tenet now. This is in fact Merlan’s fantasy, her fantasy about the Other (fundamentalists, etc.). We all know what they’re like, am I right? Am I right?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Well written, very thoroughly researched. Incredibly depressing and disheartening.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    An often engrossing look at contemporary American conspiracy theorists, some amusingly harmless, many terrifyingly dangerous.

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