February 12, 2008 | By:

#19 Around the Campfire; The Paranoid Style in American Anticonservation

Since the late 1980s, a surprisingly large chunk of the anticonservation movement has been caught up in a frenzy of paranoid conspiracy theories.  I think conspiracy theories have been a tendency in human nature, probably as far back as we can uncover, but it has only been in the last two decades or so that conspiracy madness has shown its muscle among anticonservationists.  Judy Keeler, a now and again public lands rancher in southwestern New Mexico, offers a mild version of the paranoia: “It is also a well-known fact that the radical environmental community cares little about protecting spotted owls, jaguars, wolves or any other species listed under the Endangered Species Act.  They use these species as yet another tool to destabilize the mining, timber and ranching industries of our state.”  Judy, although an entertaining character, is a moderate among the conspiracy buffs, however.

An email message sent to The Rewilding Institute a month ago gets a little closer to the big conspiracy:

The Rewilding of America is UnAmerican and is a threat to the American way of life.  Anything The UN is involved with is a threat to the United States.  I do not want to be corraled like a cow or horse/and forced to live in an overpopulated city overrun with crime/police/surveillence/and poverty, when I could live 20 or so miles outside of the “GRID”.  (Unedited.)

What’s his beef?  I would guess that he has heard from friends that rewilding will corral all people in cities as part of a United Nations plot for control. This “depopulation” of the hinterlands is a key part of the rewilding conspiracy according to those who have it figured out.

These more paranoid folks see the United Nations Biodiversity Treaty and The Wildlands Project in a conspiracy to enslave Americans and establish an “eco- socialist” state.  They prattle about black helicopters “surveilling” rural citizens and hand out crude maps purporting to show plans for a North American Wildlands Network.  These silly maps look as if someone’s toddler got hold of a red crayon and a road map.  They bear scant relationship to landforms, population density, road presence, wildlife habitat, and such, but earnest bumpkin proles are convinced the maps are the real thing.  We shake our heads in wonderment that such foolishness is taken seriously and hope it is but a fleeting madness. However, in truth, such conspiracy theories are deeply rooted in American history.  The UN/Rewilding/Wildlands conspiracy comes not just out of the recent rural methamphetamine industry but has evolved from a long tradition of deep suspicion and fear.

In the last gathering Around the Campfire, I looked at how anti-intellectualism has been a stiff current in American life since colonial days and how it now courses through the anticonservation mob.  Insightful American historian Richard Hofstadter broke trail for me with his peerless study of American anti-intellectualism.  So here, I follow up with anti-intellectualism’s kissing cousin, paranoia and conspiracy, and again he breaks trail.

Hofstadter dissected conspiracy lunacy in a landmark 1964 essay entitled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”  He sniffed out how the paranoid style has been a mainstay of American politics since the lead up to the American Revolution, if not earlier.  While the conspiratorial Satan changes from era to era, the paranoid style has been unbroken and unchanged for nearly 250 years.

Following is a series of quotes I’ve drawn from Hofstadter’s essay and elsewhere to show the seamlessness of the paranoid style:

Please click on the attachment below to read the entire “Campfire.”



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