Ever since the Warren Commission concluded that a lone gunman assassinated President John F. Kennedy, people who doubt that finding have been widely dismissed as conspiracy theorists, despite credible evidence that right-wing elements in the CIA, FBI, and Secret Service—and possibly even senior government officials—were also involved. Why has suspicion of criminal wrongdoing at the highest levels of government been rejected out-of-hand as paranoid thinking akin to superstition?
Conspiracy Theory in America investigates how the Founders’ hard-nosed realism about the likelihood of elite political misconduct—articulated in the Declaration of Independence—has been replaced by today’s blanket condemnation of conspiracy beliefs as ludicrous by definition. Lance deHaven-Smith reveals that the term “conspiracy theory” entered the American lexicon of political speech to deflect criticism of the Warren Commission and traces it back to a CIA propaganda campaign to discredit doubters of the commission’s report. He asks tough questions and connects the dots among five decades’ worth of suspicious events, including the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, the attempted assassinations of George Wallace and Ronald Reagan, the crimes of Watergate, the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal, the disputed presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, the major defense failure of 9/11, and the subsequent anthrax letter attacks.
Sure to spark intense debate about the truthfulness and trustworthiness of our government, Conspiracy Theory in America offers a powerful reminder that a suspicious, even radically suspicious, attitude toward government is crucial to maintaining our democracy.
Lance DeHaven-Smith is a Professor in the Reubin O’D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University. A former President of the Florida Political Science Association, deHaven-Smith is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Battle for Florida, which analyzes the disputed 2000 presidential election. DeHaven-Smith has appeared on Good Morning America, the Today Show, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, CBS Nightly News with Dan Rather, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and other national TV and radio shows.
An intriguing take on the origins and implications of conspiracy theories and the paranoid mindset itself. . . . Confronted with these compelling arguments, even the most incredulous readers will find themselves questioning their own preconceived notions of paranoia, governmental transparency, and conspiracy theorists.
List of Illustrations and Tables
Introduction: High-Crime Blind
A Curious History
A Flawed and Un-American Label
Naming the Taboo Topic
Causes and Consequences
The CIA’s Conspiracy-Theory Conspiracy
The Rest of the Book
Chapter 1: The Conspiracy-Theory Label
Perspectives on Conspiracy Beliefs
The Assassination of President Kennedy
The Single-Bullet (or “Magic-Bullet”) Theory
The Assumption Someone Would Talk
The Term’s Meaning in Practice
A SCAD Hypothesis
Reforms after President Kennedy’s Assassination
Chapter 2: The American Tradition of Conspiracy Belief
The Political Science of the Founders
Conspiracy Theories of the Founders
The Sedition Act of 1798 and the “Burr Conspiracy”
The Dialectic of Corruption and Reform
Conspiracy Charges at Nuremberg
How Conspiracy Deniers Misread History
Chapter 3: Conspiracy Denial in the Social Sciences
The Transformation of U.S. Social Science
Philosophical Perspectives on Conspiracy Theory
The Conspiracy Theories of Charles Beard
Popper’s Critique of the "Conspiracy Theory of Society”
Strauss on “Noble Lies” and “Salutary Myths”
Chapter 4: The Conspiracy-Theory Conspiracy
Decoding the Dispatch
CIA “Collaborator” John P. Roche
Popularization, Association, Connotation
Chapter 5: State Crimes against Democracy
The Victim’s Perspective
Searching for Novel Facts in 9/11
Chapter 6: Restoring American Democracy
America’s Family Secrets
Reform Where Law and Politics Meet
The Struggle Ahead
A Simple Proposal for Reform
Appendix: CIA Dispatch 1035-960
Stay connected for our latest books and special offers.
We live in an information-rich world. As a publisher of international scope, the University of Texas Press serves the University of Texas at Austin community, the people of Texas, and knowledge seekers around the globe by identifying the most valuable and relevant information and publishing it in books, journals, and digital media that educate students; advance scholarship in the humanities and social sciences; and deepen humanity’s understanding of history, current events, contemporary culture, and the natural environment.