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Trace conspiracy culture through American history with Sarah Kenziall

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Sarah Kenziall is sometimes credited with predicting the rise of former President Donald Trump long before she was elected to the White House. In her latest book, “They Knew,” she traces the broader “conspiracy culture” throughout American history.

From political scandals like Watergate to the willful neglect of the pharmaceutical companies that sparked the opioid crisis, people have been exposed to real machinations and trauma. Amidst the global plague, she argues, “an epidemic of disillusionment and mistrust” is ruling American life.

In a conversation with The Grid’s disinformation reporter Anya van Wagtendonk, Kenziall explains how American politics and media obscure the truth and undermine trust in institutions, and how American history has that distrust. I explained that people who gained power and wealth by manipulating the

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Grid: Your book introduces some of America’s most important fraudsters, including Donald Trump. What’s so American about scammers? Or why are the crooks American?

Sarah Kendzior: Great question. Because scammers show up in other places too. However, I think that what is highly valued in the United States is “rugged individualism.” story of america.All these stories of immigration starting from nothing, becoming someone else, sometimes changing names – it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it opens doors [for con men].

That, combined with the lack of a responsible and transparent state to provide public services, is where scammers come into action. They act as predators, preying on people’s pain.

Some of the examples I gave in the book, including lesser-known figures like Norman Baker, thrived in the Great Depression. They thrive in times of great turmoil and uncertainty, bringing with them incredible self-confidence and arrogance. they do it in the system. One, it doesn’t serve the masses, and two, it doesn’t instill any consistent accountability, especially among the wealthy and powerful.

G: Tell us a little bit about Normalcy Bias and Savior Syndrome.

SK: Basically one of the things I’ve been hearing since Trump was running for president was when I was raising a very serious issue. His ties to organized crime or financial crime, his ties to the Kremlin, or his ties to other illicit activities. If that’s true, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the Obama administration, or whoever will stop it. ’ So people had the default assumption that I was exaggerating, lying, a hysterical woman, or a ruckus. That’s normalcy bias. It is this unjust belief that what is truly wrong in society is corrected by those in power rather than encouraged or enabled by them.

And when that illusion begins to crumble is Savior Syndrome. That’s when you just wait for the perfect time and end up with these dark, shady yet benevolent figures that are believed to be in the background. Very dangerous.

G: We live in the age of social media and so much political discourse is mediated by technology. How do these new methods of communication interact with what you call our conspiracy culture?

SK: I think we’ve become much more concerned because of algorithms than human interactions. is. They are directed and guided to specific arenas.

So there’s a lot of information out there and you don’t really have access to the full context behind it. I’ve been presented with a number of conflicting and terrifying stories, and I want to find out the truth about them all. And navigating that maze becomes increasingly difficult not only because of the obstacles, but because you are directed to certain locations and cannot see others.

G: What does that do to our shared relationship to truth?

SK: will be described [truth] As an increasingly useless currency, I will pursue it anyway. And I encourage everyone to keep pursuing it. In , there was only a huge crisis that hurt Americans deeply: the financial collapse of 2008 and the lack of accountability for it, the lies that led to Iraq, Iran-Contra and Watergate. We can go back to the Kennedy assassination. The cynicism is very understandable in that regard.

But of course, unscrupulous politicians take advantage of sarcasm. We see this in states that are far ahead in terms of authoritarianism. Russia has never completely censored the internet. What they wanted was for people to be exposed to so many conflicting narratives, sensationalist statements and lack of truth about what was going on within their government, especially corruption. Mind you, they move on.

That’s what governments, including the American government, want from their citizens. They don’t want an honest citizen investigation. They don’t want people to feel that their representatives are public servants who are obligated to tell them the truth and to behave honorably. Yes, it is fundamentally unhealthy.

G: About raising children in this culture, he wrote, “My children learned early on that the world keeps spinning on fire.” Is it wishful thinking?

SK: They grew up surrounded by constant catastrophes. And of course they learn more about it because I’m their mother and they see me doing interviews and hear me talk about these things. made a conscious effort to teach them about this country before it collapsed.

I take them to beautiful places and national parks to leave real memories. Help them understand that they need to look carefully when they see this kind of harmful rhetoric, and that they need to see beauty in the little things. in order not to deny that

There is still some stability in life. There are some things of steady beauty, awe-inspiring things that no one can take away from you. I can feel it in the night sky. I even took him out to see the Milky Way. Drive deep into the Missouri forest. I think this is for everyone. This is for the world. And no matter how horrible things are going on around you, no one can take it away from you. There is still this beauty and goodness and little things that you can always appreciate.

There are many things, but it supports my life. So maybe that will help them.

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for editing a copy of this article.

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