Bush repeated a term he had already used in several speeches, claiming that abroad in the world was “a big idea, a new world order, where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind—peace and security, freedom, and the rule of law. Such is a world worthy of our struggle and worthy of our children’s future.”
Bush was not the first policymaker of the 1990s to speak of a “New World Order,” but like the others his words rested on a generally held perception that with the ending of the cold war something transformational had begun.
Other visions that saw the sunlit uplands as lying just ahead had already been offered, most obviously two years earlier when historian Francis Fukuyama had proclaimed that “the End of History” and the arrival of endless liberal democracy had arrived. However, while talk of the New World Order was heard frequently in the United States for the rest of the 1990s, this was not in the affirmative sense Bush had intended.
Instead, it gained notoriety as a code-phrase for the conspiracy theories of global control that were being disseminated in print, over shortwave radio, and, most of all, the new medium of the World Wide Web. It very soon dropped out of use by U.S. policymakers.
For the radical Right, the mere use of the phrase was enough, for these three words were already familiar to groups such as the John Birch Society. The preeminent right-wing conspiracy-mongers of the 1950s and 1960s (and the focus of Richard Hofstadter’s seminal analysis of the paranoid style in 1964), the Birchers popularized its use in their literature to describe the socialistic “One Worldism” they were convinced was being promoted by the Soviet Union via the United Nations. The vision was of a dedicated Communist conspiracy, working ceaselessly to overthrow U.S. liberties and incorporate the United States into a world state and world government.
Conspiracy writers (such as the author writing under the name “Garudas”) have charted the term “New World Order” through Henry Kissinger, Henry Wallace, the Versailles Peace Conference, Cecil Rhodes, and British imperialism, back to the traditional bogeymen of many U.S. conspiracy theories—the Elders of Zion, the Freemasons, and the Bavarian Illuminati.
Genuine organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the World Trade Organization, and the Bilderberger group are said to have conspired together to advance this goal. Needless to say, groups like the Birchers greeted Bush’s employment of it with the happy fear so typical of the vindicated conspiracy theorist.
However, the key users of the term in the post–cold war 1990s were not the traditional radical or religious Right (although figures such as Pat Robertson did dabble), but instead were the new grassroots militias and other self-styled “patriot” groups that sprang up in the United States during the decade.
The New World Order (often short-handed as “NWO”) became emblematic of their conspiracy theories about America’s slide toward global domination, with claims that made the Birchers look modest in comparison. The following is from “Operation Vampire Killer” by the “Police Against the New World Order”:
Behind the scenes is a plan for an oligarchy of the world’s richest families to place 1/2 the masses of the earth in servitude under their complete control, administered from behind the false front of the United Nations.
To facilitate management capabilities, the plan calls for the elimination of the other 2.5 billion people through war, disease, abortion, and famine by the year 2000. As we can plainly see, their plan for population control (reduction) is well under way. (Mulloy, 426–427)
Although the roots of this were often drawn from religious extremism such as the Christian Identity movement, the imagination was thoroughly postcold war. Treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), and various United Nations environmental agreements were seized upon as evidence of this super-plot.
In the patriot/militia NWO scenario one thing is made clear: the threat was not subversion. This time the globalist forces are here (as the preferred term “Zionist Occupation Government,” or ZOG, made clear), and are assisted in their plot to deprive Americans of their collective and individual sovereignty by a traitorous federal government and its many agencies.
As a militia text asked in 1994: “Do you know there are more than a million among us who are trained as traitors to the American constitutional way of life [and] are slated to be our slave-masters under the New World Order?”
In support of all this, a profligate mishmash of detail was put forward as “evidence.” This ranged from the very specific—that Highway Department notations on the back of road signs are in fact secret codes to enable foreign troops to find their way (with the typical excess logic of conspiracy theories, they are written on the back because foreign troops will prefer to drive on the wrong side of the road)—to the sweeping, such as the claim that a government agency such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), responsible for floods, hurricanes, and the like, is a cover story for the preparation of concentration camps for dissident U.S. patriots.
Among still wilder claims made are that electronic implants can control individuals, the military can control the weather, and that hovering above the United States is the all-seeing, all-knowing black helicopter.
Summing up all this, in 1994 Linda Thompson, an Indiana attorney but also the self-styled “Adjutant General of the Unorganized Militias of America,” devised a “Re-Declaration of Independence,” with this as its preamble: “The Federal Government, at this time, is transporting large Armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of Death, Desolation and Tyranny, already begun, often under the color of the law of the United Nations, and with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy of a civilized Nation.”
Although such views seem absurdly inconceivable (particularly for Europeans who have learned to have little faith in the abilities of the United Nations), such rhetoric does, of course, sometimes connect to action. Militia opinion and activity can easily be read as inevitably leading to the terrible events of 19 April 1995, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.
However, to consider all conspiracy theories about a New World Order as potentially terrorist or held solely by a right-wing fringe would be a mistake. Suspicions about the order of the post–cold war world and the United States’ role in it have become legion and have served to mobilize public opinion in the 1990s.
Any analysis of conspiracy theories and the New World Order must recognize that the term has had just as much employment on the Left as the Right, and so must question its conspiratorial alignment too. For the Left, the term came about as part of a process of counter-definition, for instance by use of the modifier “New World Disorder.”
The name on the Left one comes across most often is Noam Chomsky—no other author is so associated with a coherent viewpoint on the post–cold war order of the world and the place of the United States within it.
Chomsky offered a succinct definition in Deterring Democracy in 1992: “The Gulf War has torn aside the veil covering the post–Cold War era. It has revealed a world in which the United States enjoys unchallenged military supremacy and is prepared to exploit this advantage ruthlessly. The New World Order (in which the New World gives the orders) has arrived”.
Writing on this subject (with titles such as World Orders, Old and New) and developing these ideas has been Chomsky’s work in the last ten years and by the end of the decade his use of the term was solidly fixed for the Left—unsurprisingly, it gained an outing again in criticism of the War on Iraq. Some of the debate about the New World Order has involved cross-talk between Left and Right, leading some to regard this as evidence of a new fusion of political belief.
However, the Kennedy and King assassinations, Vietnam, COINTELPRO, and Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Tuskegee syphilis study had already offered the Left historical confirmation for overseas military adventurism, government surveillance, corporate conspiracies, clandestine intelligence agency dirty tricks, and even Hillary Clinton’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her husband. In other words, the New World Order as the Left saw it could not help but rest on a foundation of prior suspicion.
Does this make the Left’s concept of the New World Order a conspiracy theory? Not if it is taken to mean that there is only one superpower left in the world, and it uses its power to satisfy its own interests. However, the larger edifice constructed on the foundation of Left conspiracy theories does go further.
Daniel Pipes, author of Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From, claims that Chomsky is the prime architect of a left-wing “conspiracy theory that blames the U.S. government for virtually every ill in the world, including environmental pollution, militarism, economic poverty, spiritual alienation, and the drug scourge.
It manipulates the mainstream media (to divert the revolutionary potential of workers), sponsors academic postmodernism (to bewilder the uninitiated), and encourages professional sports (to distract attention from serious issues)”.
Although this is a bowdlerized description of Chomsky, it does capture the totalizing tendency and the “can do no good” flavor of his writings. A perception that Chomsky offers a conspiracy-tinged analysis because he connects neglected issues together into a narrative, which operates by what it reveals, is suggested by his method, namely the exhaustive plotting of a mass of detail—a skill for which many on the Left have praised Chomsky a great deal.
Alexander Cockburn recalled “the nights I’ve stayed at Noam and Carol Chomsky’s house in Lexington and I’ve watched him at even-tide working his way through a capacious box of the day’s intake of tripe—newspapers, weeklies, monthlies, learned journals, flimsy mimeo-ed mailers—while Carol Chomsky does the same thing on the other side of the room”.
This does seem very reminiscent of the method classically employed by conspiracy theorists on the Right—the deep mining of the world’s detail for evidence. Chomsky might easily be defined as a guerrilla academic from MIT who mines for the “Truth.”
The embrace, not of hard-edged conspiracy theories but of a softer conspiracy “mindedness,” bears upon the major source for New World Order conspiracy theories in the later 1990s, namely the anti-globalization movement.
The protests in Seattle in late November–early December of 1999 brought together figures from Right and Left as different as Pat Buchanan (who a month before had quit the Republican Party, declaring himself against the New World Order) and Situationist Anarchists intent on trashing the home of Starbucks.
Organized via the Internet and coordinated “live” via cellphones, the protests united for a few days over 50,000 demonstrators and led to the so-called “Battle of Seattle.” Follow-up protests have since taken place in at other meetings in Davos, Switzerland, Washington, D.C., London, and Venice. It is fair to say that these events were bred from a conspiratorial vision of the contemporary global order.
Why else did this hardly very secretive meeting of the World Trade Organization, a bureaucratic body of 135 nations, whose membership was publicly known, serve as a focus for such protest? The concern came from the Left perspective that it was responsible for large corporations being set free to ruthlessly exploit Third World peoples and ruin the global environment, and this proved a significant motivation for many young people. As an explicitly titled “global” organization, the WTO therefore symbolized a great deal.
The 1960s radical Tom Hayden claimed much for the protests: “For the first time in memory, the patriotism of the corporate globalizers is in question, not that of their opponents. Do the Clinton administration’s investor-based trade priorities benefit America’s interest in high-wage jobs, environmental protection and human rights? Are American democratic values and middle-class interests secondary to those of transnational corporations? As a grass-roots movement seeking the overthrow of what it sees as an oppressive system, Seattle 99 was more like the Boston Tea Party than the days of rage we knew in the late 60s”.
At the heart of this seems to be less a defined conspiracy theory than a softer, diffuse suspicion that the post–cold war world is as not as it seems, or as it could be, or should be, and that somebody (the “corporate globalizers”) is responsible—a New World misordered, perhaps?
As of 2003, the right-wing version of the New World Order seems to be tired and declining (as are the militias themselves), and the conspiracy theories of vitality about world order come from the Left.
Focusing on corporate globalization, their foundation is more concerned with servicing a generalized mistrust and suspicion of the contemporary world order than with constructing baroque conspiracy theories like those of old. Of course, such servicing became much easier after the controversial election of the second President Bush in 2000, the attacks of September 11, Enron and other corporate scandals, and the War on Iraq.
From the evidence of sales of his book Stupid White Men, Michael Moore’s view that corporate America stole the election has considerable popularity. Indeed, Vice-President Cheney has assumed for many liberal-minded Americans a place in the Bush government every bit as conspiratorial as any Birchite view of Charles Wilson.
Conspiracy theories about September 11 have not found the same appeal in the United States as in Europe (notably in France), but Gore Vidal’s contention that the attacks were suspiciously convenient for a business-oriented Bush administration anxious to secure oil pipelines in Afghanistan did meet with considerable attention after he wrote it up in a 7,000-word essay entitled, without irony, “The Enemy Within.” The war in Iraq and the tension between the Bush administration and the United Nations have acted largely to confirm what many seemed to suspect already.