Authoritarianism and conspiracy theories – what’s the connection? Is there one?

Although I don’t do it as much as I used to, I still enjoy arguing about conspiracy theories with people on the Internet. As I’m generally pretty skeptical of conspiracy explanations, I usually find myself defending whatever the conventional explanation for something is, and as often as not I get accused of believing without question whatever the government (or Big Pharma, or whoever) tells me. Basically, people accuse me of being an authoritarian, which I’m decidedly not (much to my parents’ dismay).

There has been a lot of psychological research on authoritarianism, much of it by Theodor Adorno and Bob Altemeyer. Some has even concerned conspiracy theories, but as you’ll see, the results are a bit inconsistent. Some studies have shown that people who are more authoritarian are more likely to believe conspiracy theories. For instance, in a seminal study in conspiracy psychology, Marina Abalakina-Paap and colleagues showed that specific conspiracy beliefs tend to be associated with high levels of authoritarianism. Several studies by Monika Grzesiak-Feldman have shown that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in Poland are more likely to be held by authoritarians. Likewise, a study in the 1990s by Yelland and Stone found that authoritarians are more amenable to persuasion that the Holocaust was a hoax, orchestrated by a massive Jewish conspiracy. Viren Swami, a psychologist at the University of Westminster, has demonstrated that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are associated with authoritarianism in a Malaysian sample as well.

But there’s some evidence pointing the other way as well. In a separate study, Swami and his colleagues at the University of Westminster showed that 9/11 conspiracy beliefs are associated with negative attitudes toward authority, and John W. McHoskey found that people high in authoritarianism were more likely to be anti-conspiracist when it comes to the JFK assassination.

So what’s going on here? It looks like the content of the theories is what matters. The research on the psychology of authoritarianism has long shown that authoritarians tend to derogate and scapegoat minorities, which seems to be what’s going on in a lot of these anti-Semitic cases: a minority is being blamed by the majority for the ills of society. Swami’s Malaysian study actually proposes that the anti-Semitism shown by the Malaysian respondents might be a proxy for anti-Chinese racist attitudes: there are very few Jews in Malaysia, so Malaysian authoritarians might displace their ethnic aggression from a relatively powerful and socially accepted minority group (Chinese) onto one that is almost non-existent in their society and so can be scapegoated without consequence (Jews).

In contrast, a lot of modern conspiracy theories have a very populist and anti-government tone. They blame authorities for the evils of society, not minorities – the American government blew up the Twin Towers, MI6 killed Princess Diana, and so on. So it makes sense that authoritarians would be less likely to believe that their governments are conspiring against them and anti-authoritarians would find this idea more appealing. There’s no uniform association between authoritarianism and conspiracy belief – it seems to depend on the specifics of the theory in question.

As a side note: there is still some crossover between the anti-Semitic conspiracy world and the more anti-authoritarian theories like the 9/11 truth movement. 9/11 conspiracies are very popular in the Arab world, where there’s also a lot of anti-Semitism. There is also some crossover in the domain of anti-Zionism, which most anti-authoritarian conspiracy theorists seem to adhere to – David Dees is a good example (probably most of his cartoons feature anti-Zionist elements) – but anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, it’s just a point on which authoritarian and anti-authoritarian conspiracy theorists often agree.


Figures in the crowd like Jesse Ventura and Ron Paul represent the new conspiracism, while the Jewish-caricature bankers are a throwback

Still, antisemitism used to be much more socially acceptable than it is now, and its influence persists in the darker corners of even some modern conspiracy theories. You can see this a lot in editorial cartoons, where conspirators, especially bankers, are portrayed as having exaggerated hooked noses and tentacles straight out of Der Ewige Jude. The artists probably have nothing against Jewish people, but are instead following the conventions of anti-banker propaganda that were first established in the early 20th century, when Nesta Webster was in her prime, the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion were still a going concern, and people were generally just really worried that the Jews were up to something.

This entry was posted in Personality, Social psychology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Authoritarianism and conspiracy theories – what’s the connection? Is there one?

  1. Babs says:

    Two points:
    “… anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, it’s just a point on which authoritarian and anti-authoritarian conspiracy theorists often agree…”

    I would respectfully disagree with you. Their agreement is disingenuous and more to try to defend themselves from censure than because the agreement has merit. Many Jew-haters claim to be anti-Zionists which has become a more and more acceptable form of sticking it to the Jews, and the anti-Zionist cloak is becoming correspondingly threadbare. Anti-Zionism uses many of the same tropes about alleged Israeli power as does antisemitism about Jewish power. In short, if Israel’s enemies, distant and far, don’t care to distinguish between hating Jews and hating the Jewish state, then any attempt to distinguish between them by academics, however learned, falls at the first fence.

    “… antisemitism used to be much more socially acceptable than it is now,..” Again I respectfully disagree. It is in the social discourse now to the extent that it is scarcely remarked upon.

    A cursory look below the line at some blogs linked to mainstream news papers such as the Guardian and Daily Telegraph will illustrate how disturbingly near the surface is Jew-hatred.

  2. hybridrogue1 says:

    “Many Jew-haters claim to be anti-Zionists which has become a more and more acceptable form of sticking it to the Jews, and the anti-Zionist cloak is becoming correspondingly threadbare.”~Babs

    Interesting comment. What about Christian Zionist? Is disagreement with them supposedly a form of “Jew-hatred”?

    And this term “Antisemitism”, what does this mean? Are ‘Antisemites’ people who hate a particular language group? Arabic is a Semitic language, do people who hate Hebrew hate Arabic equally?

    Yes, the questions are academic and rhetorical. In my experience people who despise Israel are disgusted with its genocidal campaign against the Palestinians, who are in fact a real Semitic people, whereas the vast majority of Israelis are Ashkenazim; eastern European peoples with origins the Caucuses. These peoples’ forefathers never even came near the land now called Palestine. And they haven’t a drop of “Semitic” blood in their veins. Yet their claim is “God gave this land to me,” and their agenda is to steal, not only Palestine, but Ersatz Israel; “from the Jordan to the Euphrates, almost half of Arabia, the southern half of Iraq, most of Syria, and part of northern Africa {Libya}.

    That these claims are bogus is not lost on anyone who knows the history of the foundation of Israel, which was spawned in terrorism and is maintained by terrorism.

    I think opposition to the illegitimate state called “Israel” is utterly justified by any person with the slightest empathy.

    • Mike Wood says:

      Christian Zionism is an interesting side note, given that American-style premillenial dispensationalist Christianity shares some intellectual roots with other strains of reactionary conspiracism. For instance, the more secular NWO theories have a lot in common with the more explicitly Christian Antichrist’s-One-World-Government type theories. The problem is that stitching them together is hard work, in part because Christian Zionism is explicitly philosemitic; meanwhile, the NWO theories, while usually not antisemitic themselves, are rooted in a conspiracist culture that has a fairly antisemitic past. This comes into conflict very visibly in the Left Behind novels, which nevertheless manage to have their cake and eat it too by drawing a hard line between the Bad Guy Jews who ally themselves with the Antichrist and the Good Guy Jews who ultimately convert to Christianity.

      My understanding of the Khazar hypothesis is that it’s been more or less debunked, and that genetic studies have shown that Ashkenazi Jews have a lot of common ancestry with Sephardic Jews and Palestinian Arabs. I use the term antisemitic in the same sense I use the word Caucasian – antisemitic has more or less come to mean anti-Jewish in common usage, just as Caucasian can refer to people who have as little ancestry in the Caucasus mountains as Ashkenazi Jews do.

      • hybridrogue1 says:

        A latest DNA study solves the long standing controversy regarding the origin of Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews stating that their maternal lineage came from Europe.

        The researchers at the University of Huddersfield used archaeogenetics to solve the controversy of the origin of Ashkenazi Jews of whether they migrated from Palestine in the first century AD or their ancestors were Europeans who converted to Judaism. They analysed the DNA samples to investigate the prehistoric settlements of Europe by migrants from Near East.
        Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA samples revealed that the Ashkenazim female line descended from southern and western Europe and not the near East. DNA analysis claims that most of the Ashkenazi Jews were at least half genetically Europeans debunking the previous assumptions that they were of Middle Eastern region.
        “The origins of the Ashkenazim is one of the big questions that people have pursued again and again and never really come to a conclusive view,” said Professor Martin Richards, head of the Archaeogenetics Research Group based at the University of Huddersfield and co-author of the study, who has described the new data as “compelling”.
        Ashkenazi in Hebrew means ‘Germans’ and is used for Jews of eastern European origin who historically spoke Yiddish or Judeo-German language. Not much is known about the history of Ashkenazi Jews before they moved out from the Mediterranean and settled in present day Poland around the 12thCentury.
        According to Dr. Harry Ostrer, pathology, pediatrics and genetics professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, on an average, all Ashkenazi Jews are genetically as closely related to each other as fourth or fifth cousins, LiveScience reports.
        In the current study, the researchers found that a majority of Ashkenazi Jewish lineages were closely linked to the Southern and Western Europe and they were residing in Europe for thousands of years.
        ‌”This suggests that, even though Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago, they seem to have married European women,” states Professor Richards.
        By studying the mitochondrial genomes from more than 3,500 people from Europe, the Near East, the Caucasus, including the Ashkenazi Jews, the researchers discovered that they basically originated some 10,000 – 20,000 years ago. They found that four founders were responsible for 40 percent of Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA. More than 80 percent of the maternal lineages of the Ashkenazi Jews could be traced to Europe, NBC News reports.
        This genetic study confirms that Ashkenazi women were basically converts from local European population.
        “….This suggests that, in the early years of the Diaspora, Judaism took in many converts from amongst the European population, but they were mainly recruited from amongst women. Thus, on the female line of descent, the Ashkenazim primarily trace their ancestry neither to Palestine nor to Khazaria in the North Caucasus – as has also been suggested – but to southern and western Europe,” according to the press release.
        The findings are documented in the journal Nature Communications.



      • Mike Wood says:

        Yes, mitochondrial DNA indicates that most Ashkenazi Jews’ female ancestors were from Europe – there’s no evidence of a genetic link to the Caucasus region. This is, as the authors noted in your quotation, evidence against the hypothesis of any Khazar origin of modern Jews.

        Of course, mitochondrial DNA is only half of the story. Studies of the Y chromosome show that Ashkenazi Jews have more or less the same paternal descent as other Jewish and near/middle-Eastern non-Jewish populations. (see, e.g.,

        Neither mtDNA or Y-chromosome data show a scrap of evidence for Khazar descent, and the Y-chromosome data is in fact fairly convincing evidence that Ashkenazi Jews have a partially Levantine origin.

      • hybridrogue1 says:

        One thing is certain however, the Palestinians have a heritage and valid claim to Palestine.
        Are you then satisfied that the Israelis are correct in their ongoing genocide of the original inhabitants?

        I still wonder where all of the Khazarian converts went. I suppose that your theory must be that they waddled off the edge of the Earth before it was discovered that it was a globe.

      • Mike Wood says:

        You seem to have made a lot of assumptions about my opinions on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. In fact my position would not change regardless of the descent of the Askhenazim – I think that not living somewhere for a couple thousand years is about the same as never having lived there at all.

        As for what happened to the Khazars, maybe they migrated east and settled in Central Asia. Maybe a lot of them converted to Orthodox Christianity or Sunni Islam and integrated into the Tatar or Turkic or Cossack populations nearby. Who knows? The evidence is pretty clear, at least, that they didn’t give rise to the Ashkenazim, and that still leaves a number of possible fates for the Khazarian diaspora.

  3. hybridrogue1 says:

    “My understanding of the Khazar hypothesis is that it’s been more or less debunked, and that genetic studies have shown that Ashkenazi Jews have a lot of common ancestry with Sephardic Jews and Palestinian Arabs.”~Mike

    One has to quash a whole lot of history on the subject of the Khazar conversion in order to accept the DNA date uncritically. It would make more sense that the genetic mixing took place after the fall of the Khazarian Empire and their movement farther into the west and south.

    Anyone trying to convince me that Benjamin Netanyahu has a drop of Middle Eastern blood in his veins is going to need more than a petri dish theory. The majority of the Israeli “Jews” are directly from Russia and Eastern Europe.

    • hybridrogue1 says:

      I have been formulating my thoughts off site from here, and made my comments about the complexity of who and what a Jew is without benefit of having this thread’s commentary before me.
      I have to admit, you are absolutely correct. It had skipped my mind that I made that quip about Netanyahu. My apologies.

  4. hybridrogue1 says:

    I thought that a Jew was someone who had a particular belief system centered around the Torah and the Talmud. Now we are seeing the issue framed as genetic, an issue of ethnicity, and in the extreme a matter of race. This is a return to the attitudes of the late 18th and early 19th century Social Darwinism, with it’s measurements of skull size and slope of the forehead as defining what is and is not truly human.

    This is a replay of the mindset of the Fabian Socialists and the establishments of the Royal Institutes based on genetic purity that finally had it’s catastrophic culmination in concept of ‘The Master Race’ of the Third Reich.

    These are dangerous ideas, too dangerous to be rehashed in a world where some are contemplating that “overpopulation” is a critical problem that is going to have to be dealt with by radical policies going beyond sterilization, and leading to genocide.

    • Mike Wood says:

      This post and its comments contained no reference to genetics or race until you introduced the subject yourself.

      • hybridrogue1 says:

        Actually I introduced the notion of geographical origin of the so-called Ashkenazi. It was in fact this sentence of your own; “My understanding of the Khazar hypothesis is that it’s been more or less debunked, and that genetic studies…” that introduced genetics.

        However I didn’t make my last comment as an argument. I made the comment as an observation into how complex and subtle the whole concept of ‘what a Jew is’.
        It may in fact be a naive notion that Judaism is simply a religion. The “Torah True Jews” who oppose Israel on religious ground, certainly see it in such terms. While the many ‘Jews’ I knew in my days in cinema in Hollywood were for the most part atheists, but ‘tribal’ nevertheless.

        It seems the Rabbi is more concerned with politics in Israel. Which is not a mindset exclusive to the Jews; it seems to me that all religion is ‘politics by other means’ to a large extent. The political power of the Catholic Church stands testament to such a notion.
        Which brings us back to your original title having to do with “authoritarianism” and political power.

        While I may be characterized as a “conspiracy theorist”, my original impetus in the study of politics and history was driven by my personal opposition to tyrannical government , and a quest for personal freedom. My first foray into the subject on my own as a teenager was to read ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’. Being of the so-called ‘Babyboomer’ generation, abhorrence to Nazism was a large part of the conditioning of my youth. As of course was ‘Anti-Communism’.

        Again, these last couple of comments here from myself are not meant as a continuation of argumentation. They are simply an honest revelation as to my thinking. Take that as you will.

      • Mike Wood says:

        My post was in response to your claim that Ashkenazi Jews ‘haven’t a drop of “Semitic” blood in their veins.’ You use language like that, and in the next breath you’re moaning about race-based pseudoscience? I don’t think you’re arguing in good faith here. You’re just trying to Godwin your way out of having to pay attention to the evidence that you’re wrong about the origins of the Ashkenazim.

      • Mike Wood says:

        Like, honestly. If you don’t want to talk about genetics, don’t make claims that have been thoroughly debunked by genetic research. It’s not that hard.

  5. hybridrogue1 says:

    My comment with apology to Mr Wood of September 4, 2014 at 3:29 pm, was misplaced in the line of the thread and should be below his last comment here.

  6. hybridrogue1 says:

    Now, let us revisit this discussion. I read very often here on ‘conspiracypsychology’, that issues “have been thoroughly debunked”. This is an oft repeated assertion as far as the physics of the demolition of the WTC, and many other issues concerning the events of 9/11. Virtually every single one of these claims of “thorough debunking” can be disputed by fully addressing all of the facts and data.

    We are lectured about “confirmation bias” repeatedly on this site. But the fact is that this bias is held most firmly by the vast majority of the population that has been conditioned and programmed for several generations by the Bernaysian Public Relations Regime of Corporatist Media.

    I will simply note the weasel words at the core of the article:

    “The latest DNA study solves the long standing controversy regarding the origin of Europe’s Ashkenazi Jew” Thus:
    ‌”This suggests that…” – “may indeed have..” – “they seem to have..” ““….This suggests that” {again} – etc, etc, etc.

    But as is said, the Khazarian genesis of Ashkenazi is “definitively debunked”.
    Which certainly depends on your definition of ‘definitively’ – as maybe yes, maybe no, but certainly maybe.

    There is a long history pertaining to the conversion of the Khazarian people, even from the Ashkenazi Rabbis as well as other scholars. In light of this, the new DNA ‘discoveries’ must be held as ‘extraordinary claims’ – which must have extraordinary proofs. A single finding by one group, must be duplicated several times over to pass the test of being an extraordinary proof in light of the long known and detailed history of the Khazarian conversion to Judaism, especially considering the large population of the descendants still living in Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Serbia, and now many relocated to Palestine in the 20th and 21st centuries.

    • Mike Wood says:

      Why, exactly, is the claim that Ashkenazi Jews are not descended from Khazars “extraordinary?” This seems rather like rigging the deck in favour of your preferred theory so that you can dismiss the genetic evidence (which goes well beyond one study) without really engaging with it. If Ashkenazi Jews have any major proportion of Khazar ancestry, we should be able to see some evidence of it in their genetic makeup, yet geneticists have quite consistently failed to find evidence of this, even in studies like Behar et al. 2013, which sampled extensively from the North Caucasus regions associated with the Khazar Khaganate. Any contribution from regions formerly associated with Khazaria is either nonexistent, below the threshold of detection, or relatively small and equally explainable by some amount of Polish, Russian, or Ukrainian ancestry (such as the ~7.5% prevalence of the H1a1 haplotype).

      Behar et al. (2013), for instance, said that “our study clearly identifies signals of Europe and the Middle East in Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, rendering any possible undetected Khazar contribution below a minimal threshold… We find that the Ashkenazi Jews carry no particular genetic similarity to the South Caucasus any more than do many other populations from the Middle East, Mediterranean Europe, and particularly, several of the Middle Eastern Jewish populations.”

      Behar, Metspalu, Beran, et al. (2013). No evidence from genome-wide data of a khazar origin for the Ashkenazi Jews. Human Biology.

      See also:

      Behar, Yunusbayev,, Metspalu, et al. (2010). The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people. Nature.

      Atzmon, Hao, Pe’er, et al. (2010). Abraham’s children in the genome era: Major Jewish diaspora populations comprise distinct genetic clusters with shared Middle Eastern ancestry. American Journal of Human Genetics.

      Kopelman, Stone, Wang, et al. (2009). Genomic microsatellites identify shared Jewish ancestry intermediate between Middle Eastern and European populations. BMC Genetics.

      This is not a question of one study. There is a broad consensus in the literature that the Khazar contribution to Ashkenazi ancestry is nonexistent or miniscule and that the Askhenazi population is very closely genetically related to Middle Eastern populations.

  7. Quinton says:

    Sähkö tutkimustyö ruissalo yhtenäisyys jussila äkillinen lamppu paperiteollisuus sonninen ?
    petra huolettaa leipomo säteillä ilotulitus pääty särkänniemi psykologia
    pristinan liigajoukkue altis !

  8. Jett Rucker says:

    The reigning (and legally enforced) version of the Holocaust is the grandest conspiracy theory ever launched.

    Convergence of evidence, my ass.

  9. Pingback: How to live with the Conspiracy? – Russian Foreign Policy and Propaganda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s