The willingness of so many people to obsess over fantasies about our leaders and political system has become the hallmark of discourse in the age of the Internet. Within hours (or was it minutes?) of the unveiling of President Obama’s birth certificate last week, e-mails were winging around the globe madly asserting that the document was an obvious forgery. Similarly, today the truthers, those who believe that the 9/11 attacks were the work of the U.S. government or Israel or some other insane conspiratorial theory, are disputing the death of Osama Bin Laden. Crackpot leftists such as Cindy Sheehan and talker Alex Jones are denying bin Laden’s death and asserting that this so-called hoax is merely a prelude to another war or perhaps, as some posters on Sheehan’s Facebook message stream say, another “faked” terrorist attack on our shores.
With President Obama and his administration now being smeared by the crackpots of the far left, perhaps this is a moment to recall the hatred that the truthers and their allies spread about President Bush. Although the mainstream media has acted as if far-right conspiracy theories about Obama were a uniquely noxious addition to our public discourse, anyone who paid attention to the anti-Iraq and anti-Afghanistan war demonstrators during Bush’s presidency could attest to the prevalence of vile extremist rhetoric employed against Obama’s predecessor. But the fever swamps are still full of those who hate America and prepared to believe any theory, no matter how preposterous, that will rationalize that hate.
While we might just put this all down to the fruit of a bad week for both birthers and truthers, it is an apt moment, as America rightly rejoices at the comeuppance given Bin Laden, to ponder the vicious nature of the paranoid conspiracy theories that originate from the far left. Polls have shown that belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories is rampant in the Arab and Islamic worlds, a trend that is closely linked to the surge in anti-Semitic hatred that has taken root there in recent decades. The links between the truthers and the Israel-haters should remind us that although the Internet facilitates them, urban legends are not a modern invention. The same kind of thinking that leads people to imagine that Israel or the CIA attacked the World Trade Center once led others to believe the vicious canard that Jews baked matzah with the blood of kidnapped Gentile children.