One widespread conspiracy meme concerns the belief that the Communist parties in foreign governments were brainwashing Americans with the hope of infiltrating and bringing down the United States government.
Sparked by interest in The Manchurian Candidate, I did some research of my own on the conspiracy behind what people believed was Communist “mind control.” This was a real belief in the 1950s at the height of the Korean War that Americans were having their minds reprogrammed by militaristic Communists trying to bring down Capitalism. I would consider this idea’s infiltration throughout America to be a “meme.” A meme according to Susan Blackmore (1999) is, “something [that] can be passed on again, and again, and so [it] takes on a life of its own,” (pg. 4). The idea of mind control as a method of psychological warfare spread like wildfire throughout the nation, so much so that much of the information I found on this meme does not come from “out-there” conspiracy blogs, but from well-established journalists and even Congressional consultations.
In an interview between the Congress and Edward Hunter, an undercover CIA propaganda specialist with a background as a journalist and foreign correspondent, the concept of brainwashing is explained clearly. He told the American officials to believe that Communism was not simply a military war between two opposing ideas; this war could be won with no military force against the Americans simply by infiltrating the way of thought in the country. This directly ties into the article The Paranoid Style in American Politics when it states, “the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power [. . .] he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing)” (Hofstader 85). This power is used to create fear and panic, thus propagating the meme even further. The transcript of this interview is maintained on a website called Crossroad, the online home for Kjos Ministries. This is an organization committed to giving Biblical encouragement to prepare the world for an Anti-Christian Society, thus there is a proliferation of conspiracy memes especially related to Communism. Currently, many Communist memes are floating around elsewhere on the website because of the present belief that Obama is trying to subtly turn our country into a Communist state.
According to an analysis of the conspiracy meme, the reason this meme was so successful is “that there is a ‘kernel of truth’ in almost every conspiracy theory and [. . .] once you understand the kernel, all you have to do is ‘connect the dots to make a picture’,” (Goertzel 1). A book explaining how all these dots are connected called The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control uncovers a scary part of American history. The author of this book, John Marks, worked in the State Department in Vietnam and the Bureau of Intelligence Research and was an avid activist for the reformation of the CIA. With such widespread fear, he describes the extreme behaviors used by the CIA to find a way to understand psychological warfare at the expense of non-consenting American citizens. An excerpt of this book is maintained on an Illuminati Conspiracy Archive website which has an entire section dedicated to New World Orders. While John Marks is not cited on this website for any of his other works, the chapter taken from his book suffices to explain all the fears and behaviors elicited by the Communist brainwashing conspiracy. Using such fear-filled and emotionally charged language takes the ability to view Communism rationally out of the picture. It provokes an immediate and intense emotional response that calls for the eradication of the idea and anyone who believes in it as shown in many anti-Communist writings of the day. This writing came from former Communist Louis Bundenz who was an expert witness in many court cases concerning Communism, and is obviously very passionate about the eradication of the Communist principles. An excerpt from his book is maintained on a website called Bible Believers who are preaparing themselves for the Second Coming of Christ. While a majority of their organization is dedicated to religious purposes, there is an entire section of the site that is dedicated to so-called “conspiracy scholars” that contains much of the same fear-inciting anti-Communist language that was found in the 50s. They maintain that though they may be called “conspiratorialists” it is simply a title that applies to anyone who delves into intentionally hidden history. This specific conspiracy theory shows just how powerful the spread of any idea – or the fear of that idea – can be in our world.
Susan Blackmore (1999). The Meme Machine. London: Oxford University Press.
Ted Goertzel (2011) “The conspiracy meme,” Skeptical Inquirer, 35(1).
Richard Hofstadter (1964) “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Harper’s Magazine, November.