Originally known as the National Spotlight, for much of its existence the Spotlight was the most important conspiracist publication in the United States. Established by Willis Carto, whose involvement in the U.S Right goes back to the mid-1950s, the paper was launched in 1975 and appeared for just over a quarter of a century.
Its contents ranged widely but a number of themes were particularly evident. One was an indictment of the banking system, in which the creation of the Federal Reserve immediately before World War I was seen as the work of America’s enemies, while one of its more unusual concerns focused on what might be termed “fringe” or alternative medicine.
A cure for cancer, it declared, had been discovered but this breakthrough was being suppressed by the Rockefeller family. Amidst the different conspiracies that the paper sought to expose, the most important involved the activities of a series of international organizations.
In late 1994, for instance, it published a supplement that suggested the United States was about to be occupied by troops under United Nations control. Other subjects of the paper’s attentions included the activities of the Trilateral Commission and its particular bête noire, the Bilderberg Group.
None of these concerns was unique to the Spotlight, but by the beginning of the 1980s the paper had achieved a circulation of some 300,000. In the 1990s, however, this had fallen to some 90,000, a decline that was particularly connected with its denunciation of the Reagan government as a tool of the Trilateral Commission. If its base among conservatives was substantially lost during the Reagan years, it found support instead among the Patriot movement, and in the 1990s was a key publicist for the militias.
This did not preclude an involvement in electoral politics, and while during the 1990s it supported the Populist Party (whose 1988 presidential candidate was the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke), it subsequently supported the presidential candidacies, first for the Republican Party, then the Reform Party, of the “America First” conservative, Pat Buchanan.
While conspiracy theory is often seen as inherently antisemitic, Patriots vary greatly as to how they explain the plot against the United States. One of the secrets of the Spotlight’s success was not only the diversity of its conspiratorial interests but also its downplaying of the overt racism of some other farright publications.
But the paper’s claim that Israeli intelligence had been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy was only one indication of the underlying basis of its arguments. This was even more evident in Carto’s creation in the late 1970s of the Institute for Historical Review, an organization that rapidly became the central force in Holocaust revisionism. It was singularly appropriate, then, that the paper’s support for Holocaust denial should lead to its demise.
In 1993, disputes over the whereabouts of a bequest led to a breach between Carto and key members of the staff of the Institute for Historical Review, and the ultimate result of the legal actions that followed was the closing down of the Spotlight in the summer of 2001. A successor publication, American Free Press, quickly emerged.