Opening lecture: Fake News and Conspiracy Theories in the History of the USA – A Problem Outline

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Volker Depkat

Neither "fake news" nor the populist conspiracy theories of a Donald Trump are new phenomena in U.S. history; rather, they have run like a thread through the history of the United States since its colonial beginnings. From the 17th-century witch trials in Puritan Salem and President Andrew Jackson's war on the national bank in the 1830s, to the alleged conspiracy of Catholics against liberal Protestant America that nearly cost John F. Kennedy the presidency, to UFOs and aliens in Cold War popular culture and the current right-wing populist campaign against the "Measure State," hoaxes and conspiracy theories are virtually a continuum of U.S. history. This is no accident. Rather, there seems to be a connection between the pluralistic-open social order of the U.S., based on the principle of individual self-determination, and the "paranoid style" of U.S. culture, which has already been repeatedly emphasized. The aim of this lecture is to discuss this connection in a series of source-saturated historical case studies.


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