We have been bombarded, since childhood, with the truism that it is important to open dialogue with those with whom we disagree. We have been pressed – we are still pressed – by the news media, workplaces and academia to have conversations with “the other side”, with the promise that open and honest dialogue is the means to come about peace and change.
If this was ever true before, it is a lie now.
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Those rebranding themselves as “Western chauvinists” shouting “West pride!” under the flag of a tradition that once held Man to be the rational animal, now believe in lizard people. Those who hold tight to their belief in the superiority of Western civilisation as proven by its “values” and traditions of Athenian (slaveowners’) democracy are caught on camera breaching voting machines.
For sensible dialogue to exist at all, parties must be committed to hearing and to speaking about the world as it is – however differing their interpretations of it. Today, dialogue is a shouted plea to be reasonable over the din of a side who replies by making obscene noises with their mouths while praising Benito Mussolini. Whether it is election outcomes, the reality of the pandemic, mass school shootings, police gosh-darn klutziness, or Barack Obama’s birthplace, conversation is attempted with a side that has simply decided to lie.
We are asked, nevertheless, to hear them out. We are told that a democratic society requires hearing out all voices; both sides must come to the table – even a table bolted onto colonised land. Both sides, of course, always means the inclusion of those in red baseball caps and confederate battle flag t-shirts. It means a conversation between the left and right sides of the unfinished American Civil War – never included are those in the tradition of the slave revolt.
Anti-Black people are always the sought-out and invited guests while their opposition, Black revolutionaries, are never a side to be included in the conversation. Those who have resisted the “deep state” of anti-Blackness in American policing institutions are marooned in exile or silenced as political prisoners languishing behind the soundproof walls of American prisons for decades, their writings removed from libraries and syllabi.
American conspiracy theory is not a set of odd perspectives. It is not even perfectly accurate to refer to it as the nonsense that generally plays sidecar to fascism. It is closer to a move away from thought itself – a slip off the premises and the bases for argument.
American conspiracy is the acceptable way to toll the bell of racial hatred while wearing gloves so as to leave no fingerprints. One can speak of Jewish lasers, “thugs” putting fentanyl in Halloween candy, or “gender identity radicals” with a secret mass agenda to groom preschoolers and be assured that the worst one would be called is wacky. With conspiracy, one can shout white power from the hilltops – targeting the same populations targeted by German Nazis with equally as outlandish claims – and be pitied as a victim of brainwashing.
And it is not their fault. We are told that this brainwashing is the work of unknown racists and social media echo chambers and far-right politicians. And yet, these susceptible, unfortunate conspiracy theorists only seem to be swept up in conspiracies that have the potential to harm people who are not white.
There can be no conspiracies that lead to its adherents fighting on the side of racial justice. None that inspire following NGO profits and Western conservationist land grabs in Africa, or poring over treaties and maps of ever-receding Indigenous land in North America and Palestine and wondering aloud if the colonised world is, at this very moment, being scammed. These naïve souls do not seem interested in picking up on talk of police officers being linked to racist organisations or police gangs within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department being linked to murders of men of colour or rumours that there are racists making laws in Los Angeles’ city council.
Those going on about “secret cabals” do not seem interested in what the infamous American secret society, the hooded Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan, is up to. Those anxious about the “deep state” rarely mention the secretive Knights of the White Camelia who had its members of the upper classes of white society, including judges and politicians, swear an oath to maintain “the supremacy of the white race.”
There seems to be no healthy suspicion about whether certain current congressional caucuses swore a similar oath, despite members climbing onto stages and parroting the “great replacement theory” found in the manifestos of the white supremacists who massacred Black and Brown people in supermarkets, churches and mosques.
For these “theorists” it is “Jewish space lasers” and “Black crime” and “Antifa terrorist false flags” and never the open conspiracy of capitalism where lobbyists auction off what little remains of the world’s forests and where billions of snow crabs turn up dead, with fossil fuel money fleeing the scene; where NFL Hall of Famers divert money earmarked for the poor into their coffers and the water in majority-Black cities is brown.
Generations of Black, Indigenous and the colonised world’s people have cried out about the open conspiracy of white supremacy, settler-colonialism and neo-colonialism, telling everyone who would listen that American “freedom” is not what it appears to be. That the country is hiding something – and, in fact, that it is not a “country” at all but a colony. What’s more, smartphones and secret recordings have for over a decade confirmed the existence of widespread conspiracies from local police departments to the White House.
Still, those on treasure hunts for chemtrails and crisis actors at the sites of mass school shootings are apparently not intrigued. How quickly these gullible people we are asked to pity immediately become cynics and the epitome of discernment when the conspiracy does not offer any clear advantage to racist power.
Those spreading white supremacist conspiracy theories, as well as those who invent them, are not crackpots and kooks. They are the propagandists of white power. Their being treated as madmen reflects less their state of mind than it does the drive in liberal society to seek innocence in white supremacist compatriots and the ablest desire to pathologise clear-minded and sober racism.
American conspiracy theorists are not in the throes of delusion. They believe – that is they claim to believe – what they do because they do not like the vulnerable populations they tar and feather with shadowy misdeeds. They do not care that blood will be shed as a result of their hate speech.
The most powerful US white supremacist media platform of the 21st century repeatedly pushed the “great replacement theory” even after white supremacists explicitly referenced this conspiracy in their writings before they massacred African Americans in Buffalo, Latinos in El Paso, and Muslims in Christchurch.
They continue to push it today, broadcasting it from “news channels” more efficiently than last century’s Southern conservative editorialists did as they incited and organised lynch mobs after an alleged “Black Outrage!” They broadcast it with greater reach than European anti-Semites did through texts about “the international Jewish conspiracy” in the years building up to the Holocaust.
American conspiracy is not a tragedy of ignorance, it is a continuation of tradition. It expresses the very heart of white supremacy: the lie. It is the further desecration of its victims. It does not merely lead to racial violence, it is a racist act. On social media, it tars the traditionally hated in white supremacy in the same way the Black and biracial characters were presented as devilish in the novels and films of the last century. It expresses the anxiety over Black and colonised people’s liberation just as the feverish articles warning of “slave conspiracies” did two centuries ago.
The people who invent and spread racist conspiracies are not racist because they believe them but because they do not. They know this paints a larger target on people already marked for death and they do not care because, for them, these people are disposable. Those who entertain these white supremacists are, at best, collaborators.
All that is ignoble, all that is pernicious, all that is degenerative of the pensive mind, all that is a lie and the backside of truth and beauty is snorted up by white supremacist conspiracy. It is not where conversation has gone off of the rails, it is what lies beyond its last stop – a travelling past the endpoint of thinking beings. No reasoned speech is muscular enough to pull it back from the brink. It is, and has always been, the abyss.
It is a serious thing to commit one’s being to the bearing of false witness, a serious thing to give the human spirit over to lies in exchange for makeshift rationalisations of race hatred. It is a serious thing to wilfully join the cult of the ferociously and consciously incorrect. But that is their choice. We are under no obligation to pursue further talks.
No dialogue is useful with white supremacy. No common ground is achievable. Nor should there be.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.