On Friday, the former Alaskan governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate congratulated the “smart Brits,” likening the June referendum to the Declaration of Independence. After all, as she noted in a Facebook post, the citizens of the United Kingdom may have avoided nothing less than the end of the world.
Palin, a Donald Trump supporter, applauded the “leave” voters for outfoxing “globalists” who would bring about an “apocalyptic One World Government,” she wrote on Facebook. That is because the European Union, in her words, is a “One World Government mini-me.”
Palin’s comments marked a public embrace of a conspiracy theory popularly known as the New World Order. Palin did not elaborate what, exactly, the apocalypse would look like. But the details of who or what make up the New World Order depend on the theorist — it is a secret organization of politicians, banks, the Illuminati, the media or, perhaps, lizard people. Distilled, the main goal of the organization is a totalitarian regime that will emerge from the shadows: One World Government to rule them all.
Whether that goal is brought about by order or chaos is also in the mind of the beholder. Alex Jones, the 9/11 conspiracy theorist behind the website Infowars, told New York Magazine in 2011 that the members of the New World Order are working to acquire a genetically engineered mouse pox that could kill 99 percent of any given mammalian species. Rolling Stone, which described Jones as the “most paranoid man in America,” called his obsession with New World Order “Ahab-like.” The New World Order is everywhere: the Gates Foundation is a “eugenics operation,” Jones told Rolling Stone, and WikiLeaks is a government-sanctioned disinformation campaign.
Jones and Palin are not, historically speaking, anomalies. People have worried about the establishment at least as long as there has been a Man to stick it to. In fact, the Illuminati started out as a collective of nonconformist philosophers resisting the Catholic Church’s influence in the 1770s. The idea of a “New World Order” is a modern flavor of a long-held skepticism, though expressly stated as such it would not catch hold until the latter half of the 20th century.
Before it became a conspiracy theory, in the ’40s, Winston Churchill used the phrase “world order” as a counterpoint to anarchy. It was this sentiment that then-President George H. W. Bush wanted to echo to Congress at the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm during a 1991 speech: “Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order.”
But in the years intervening between Churchill and Bush, the idea of an overly ordered world accrued sinister connotations. Jones’s New World Order of inside terrorism jobs has a political tone, but other circles see the incarnation of evil itself — Satan. Beginning in the ’60s, American fundamental Christians mixed the One World Government with biblical flavors. The same month as Bush’s Desert Storm speech, Pat Robertson of “The 700 Club” wrote a New York Times bestseller on the New World Order that took aim at the Freemasons and the Trilateral Commission, and was accused of coded anti-Semitism. A decade later, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, authors of the massively popular Rapture fiction series “Left Behind,” would cement the idea that the Book of Revelations warns about a single government ramping up to armageddon.
“World government is only one leg of the prophesied three-legged stool of end times globalism,” LaHaye and Jenkins wrote on their website. “The other two are a one-world economy and a one-world religion. The worldwide interchange of goods and services today, along with the current economic chaos, seems a clear signal that the prophecies of Revelation 13 and 18 may be coming true.” Just how many people actually believe in the New World Order is unclear.
Now, conspiracy theories — or at least the language of conspiracies — is infiltrating the American political sphere, as a 2013 feature in Newsweek argued. It could be political opportunism, said Michael Wood, an expert on the psychology of conspiracies at the University of Winchester in the United Kingdom, to the magazine. “There are certainly people who will take things further than they honestly believe,” he said. “But it is also quite possible that these ideas about conspiracy theories have taken hold in top levels of politics. It would be strange if politicians were completely immune to this.”
It could also be that the Web acts as a megaphone, with amplifying ideas through conspiracy culture. People use the Internet to seek out “not information but confirmation,” University of Utah historian Robert A. Goldberg told Politico, “and they confirm what they believe and find links to other conspiracy theories they can believe in.”
Conspiracy theories, after all, belong not just to the realm of the completely paranoid and owners of tin hats. They are “ubiquitous,” points out a team of German and British psychologists who surveyed some 7,600 respondents across Europe, the United States and the Middle East.
The only difference is that some theories happen to be more extreme than others. Palin insinuated that the United States, too, could be staring down eschaton unless it extracted itself from the globalists: “May UN shackles be next on the chopping block,” she wrote.